The Insanity of Christ’s Teachings

As I read through the New Testament – which I do on a regular basis – I always note something new or see something in a different light than the last time I visited the story or the passage. It has been true this time as well. As I have been reading the four gospels and the story of Jesus’s birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection I have noted how tough some of His comments and commands really are. And, how crazy-sounding some of them are.

It seems to me that those of us who have grown familiar and even comfortable with the teachings of Christ may have allowed His teachings to lose their edge. So much of what Jesus taught makes no sense from the human perspective.

      • Love your enemies
      • If you want to be great, first learn to be a servant
      • If someone smacks you across the face, turn your head and let him slap you on the other side
      • If someone steals your coat, offer him your shirt as well
      • If you want to live, you need first to die to yourself

The complete list of Jesus’ crazy-sounding teachings is a lot longer than that. But, you get the idea. A little insane. A completely different perspective from the way the world lives. 

To me, the most startling thing Jesus ever said was when He assigned His followers the task of going out in pairs to share His good news with lost people. He said that He was sending them “as sheep among wolves.” Still, He expected them to prevail. In the history of the world, no sheep has ever won a fight with a wolf. The very idea is insane. Yet, it was a direct command and Jesus expects His followers to be obedient to His commands. 

We often don’t deal with these statements that Jesus made. They appear not to relate to us or to our world and so we are able to discount them or simply ignore them. But, we should not push our questions and our struggles out of sight. In fellowship with other believers who love us and in the local house church where I attend and belong –  it is safe to deal with these ‘insane teachings’ the Lord has left us. 

This one comment in the midst of many “insane teachings” leads us to ask ourself:

      • Can God truly overcome evil?
      • Is love really more powerful than hate?
      • How can a person maintain even a small hope in a dark place?
      • How is it possible for faith to survive in an insane environment where war rages and radical religious fanatics follow their own destructive disregard for human life?
      • How can someone live the abundant, victorious life that Jesus promised in our world’s hardest places?
      • Can Christianity work outside of western, dressed-up, well-ordered nations? 
        • If so, how?
      • How does the Christian faith fit into the insanity of evil, the inhumanity of people, and the pain of loved ones dying needless deaths?
      • Is the good news of the gospel powerful enough to overcome the forces of evil in our world’s darkest places?
        • And if it is, why do we see so much ‘crucifixion’ and experience so little of the resurrection?

I work hard to answer these questions and others because although we are sent out as sheep among wolves we don’t want to be or have to be stupid sheep among wolves. 

Never be afraid to ask yourself and others the hard questions. They need to be answered and can be answered as we take our faith into all the world and make disciples. 

Step Out In Faith – Part Four

As we continue to look at stepping out in faith as a way of life for the believer, we need to look at “Freezing Fear” and “Feeble Faith”.

Two closely related enemies meet us at the threshold of passionate faith living: freezing fear and feeble faith. People of passion respond to these two enemies by being alert to  opportunities opening up in their daily lives and trusting God as they walk through them with boldness. These doors can appear in any area of our daily life. They may take the form of opportunities for continuing education, advancement at work, developing new skills, or meeting new people. They may come as opportunities for greater levels of Christian ministry: a deeper personal commitment to Christ, a new mentoring relationship, greater leadership responsibility, or increased obedience in financial stewardship. Od they may appear as opportunities for family growth: taking a class together, going on a mission trip together, or setting new priorities for family finances.

Watch for newly opening doors. God’s work is accomplished in this world through them. Don’t allow feeble faith to leave you standing at the doorstep. Be a person of passion who not only sees God’s opportunities but charges through them with faith in His provision.

God calls us in many different ways — we never know how or when He will call us to go through the next door he opens for us. That’s half the fun. Being surprised and responding in instant obedience when surprised by what He is calling us (asking us) to become involved in. An elder businessman once confided in his son, “The secret is to jump at every opportunity.” The son asked how he could know when an opportunity was coming. The father replied, “You can’t — you just have to keep jumping!” The same is true in our walk of faith.

Let’s end this series of blogs the same way we began … with a true story. A story of a young man stepping out in faith – defeating freezing fear and feeble fear to walk through a door God opened for him.

Ed nervously paced the crowded sidewalk outside Holton’s Shoe Store in downtown Boston. His brief lunch hour was nearly over, but he had not yet done what he had come to do. Inside the shoe store was an eighteen-year-old clerk who was a member of the Sunday school class Ed taught at church. The young man had seemed bored in class and generally disinterested in spiritual things since he began attending church one year earlier. Ed felt burdened to talk to him about his relationship with Christ, and today was the day he had planned to do so. But he was nervous about it. What if he won’t listen to me? What if he thinks I’m being too pushy and quits the class all together? What if he gets angry and throws me out?

Breathing a prayer for courage, Ed finally walked into the store and found the clerk busy at work. The young man was surprised to see his Sunday school teacher, but Ed quickly got to the point. “I came to tell you how much Christ loves you,” he said. They talked for several minutes, then the young man knelt down on the spot and opened his life to Jesus Christ. Later the clerk related the impact of his conversion: “I was in a new world. The birds sang sweeter, the sun shone brighter. I’d never known such peace.”

Ed left the store that day rejoicing that he had overcome his self-doubt and fear and let God use him to share the good news with the young shoe clerk. This fearful Sunday school teacher could not have imagined that during the next 150 years, millions of people would be just as thankful that he had overcome his anxiety and hesitation that April day in 1855 to share the gospel in a shoe store. Though unaware until now, you may be one of the people whose spiritual journey was influenced by this Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball.

You see, the eighteen-year-old Boston show clerk Kimball talked to that day was Dwight L. Moody, who became one of America’s great evangelists in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Moody had an impact all over the world. In addition, Moody later counselled a young man named J. Wilbur Chapman on the assurance of his salvation. Chapman became a Presbyterian minister, evangelist, and Moody’s friend and colleague in ministry. Moody and Chapman strongly influenced a young professional baseball player named Billy Sunday, whom God also called to evangelistic ministry. It is estimated that three hundred thousand men and women came to faith in Christ during Billy Sunday’s two hundred campaigns.

But Kimball’s legacy didn’t stop there. A 1924 Billy Sunday evangelistic campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina, resulted in the formation of the Charlotte Businessman’s Club, which continued to evangelize the region. In 1934, the CBMC invited evangelist Mordecai Ham to conduct a campaign in Charlotte. A young man of eighteen reluctantly attended one of those meetings and then gave his life to Christ. His name was Billy Graham. No one has preached the gospel to more people than Billy Graham. 

Was Billy Graham instrumental in your coming to Christ? If not directly, perhaps the person who brought you to Christ was influenced by his preaching. At the very least, you likely know someone who became a Christians because of this great evangelist’s ministry.

The gripping reality is this: Countless millions of people have been brought to faith in Christ through the preaching of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham during the past century and a half. What would have happened if a Sunday school teacher named Edward Kimball had allowed self-debut and fear to detour him from living out his passion for sharing Christ with others? 

He took a small step of faith, walked through the door that God had opened before him, and the angels are still singing over lost sinners being saved even today as a result of that one humble but determined man’s sharing of the love of Jesus. 

Step Out In Faith – Part Three

Stepping through God’s open doors leads to changed lives. As Christians, we will find doors of opportunity opening before us every day. The question is, do we have the courage and passion to walk through them?

Let’s agree on this: Any door God opens for you is a door you can and should walk through. 

Here are four considerations that will help set your faith and spiritual feet in motion.

1> Your faithful response to God’s opportunities will pay dividends in time and eternity.

It will cost you to walk through God’s open doors. At the very least, you will give up the security and comfort of the familiar — and usually more. But no harvest is reaped without first sacrificing a seed. Only when we learn to view life through the lens of the long view, even the eternal view, will we see that the sacrifices of this world are nothing in light of what is gained by going through God’s open doors. 

You may need to pay a price now to help a friend endure a crisis, find shelter for a homeless person, adopt an orphan, or any number of passionate ministries to Jesus and others, but think of the eternal dividends! Passionate, faith-filled people recognize that they must sow in order to reap, and they willingly release possessions, comfort, and security in order to gain the blessings of tomorrow.

2> It will cost you and others dearly if you fail to grasp God’s opportunities.

Just as you cannot estimate the positive outcome from passionately embracing God’s opportunities, neither can you guess what you and others will miss when feeble faith freezes you at the freehold. We do not have the big picture when we walk through that open door. We have no idea of what benefits we and others will receive by our step of faith into the future God has planned. But, this is certain; we will never receive the blessings and benefits that God has planned for us – still unknown and not yet within our grasp – if we don’t pay the price and step out in faith at the moment the door is opened for us. 

3> Your faithful response to God’s opportunities will be aided by those who encourage and support you.

We more readily act upon our passion when we surround ourselves with people of like passion. You need a team of supporters and encouragers on your side, such as your spouse and children, a Bible study or fellowship group, prayer partners, accountability partners, spiritual mentors, and counsellors. These individuals cannot act on the opportunities God has set out before you; that’s your job. But they can supply counsel, instruction, encouragement, comfort, and even correction to help you follow through with what God has given you to do.

4> Walking through God’s open doors will serve as an example for others.

Who is watching when you contemplate the open doors God places before you? Who is learning from your example as you express either feeble or passionate faith? Your spouse, your children, and your closest friends, to be sure. But there are doubtless many others of whom you may not be aware. A new Christian who is looking to you as a role model to follow. A Christian friend who is paralyzed by fear. A coworker or neighbour who has never learned to trust God. 

The apostle Paul did not hesitate to say, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). This was not a statement of self-promotion; it was the confident assertion of one who knew the will of God and was passionate about doing it. 

Can you make a similar, bold claim?

Step Out In Faith – Part Two 

As we saw yesterday — God opens doors but often our feeble faith prevents us from walking through those doors and grabbing hold of opportunities that He is offering us; an adventure waiting for us.  

The apostle John wrote from his exile on the Isle of Patmos to the Church in Philadelphia. He encouraged that church and us with these words, ““And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3:7-8)

John is giving Christ’s words to the Church at Philadelphia, and he says that Christ has set an open door before them. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than the promise of new opportunity as a gift from the Lord Himself. I would like to think that Jesus has this message for every Church and every believer on the face of the earth: “I have set before you an open door.”

Yet we all know that most churches are filled with people who aren’t eager to walk through any door other than the one leading to the parking lot. Why are there so many people who fail to burn with excitement about the idea of newness and growth? I’ve watched Christians face this issue for many years, and I’ve come up with four observations.

1> God’s open doors are often disguised as problems. 

It was the brilliant cartoon philosopher Pogo who once observed, “Gentlemen, we are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.” What we are certain are obstacles to our exploits for God — lack of money, machinery, methodology, or manpower — are often God’s opportunities in disguise. One person’s stumbling block is another’s stepping stone.

2> God’s open doors are often time-sensitive. 

An Arabic proverb says that the dawn does not come twice to awaken a person. When Walt Disney was planning Disneyland, he offered Art Linkletter an opportunity to buy land surrounding the site — land he knew would dramatically increase in value (see yesterday’s blog). Disney needed an answer quickly, but Linkletter balked, and the door to untold wealth slammed shut.

Passionate, faith-filled people are prompted to act on opportunities. If you fail to walk through a door God has opened, it doesn’t mean He is finished with you. But if you don’t step up in a timely manner, He will likely turn to someone who will not hesitate.

When Jewish leaders failed to accept Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, God’s door of opportunity closed. Jesus said to them, “The Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43). God turned to the Gentiles with the Gospel. Israel will yet have an opportunity to embrace Jesus, but only after many centuries of regret for having missed their first opportunity (see Zechariah 2:10). When God presents you with a door of opportunity, don’t hesitate to step out in faith. 

3> When we start through God’s open doors, we are often met by resistance.

Have you ever gotten caught in a revolving door? Few moments are more comedic — getting halfway through and deciding you don’t want to enter the building after all. Sometimes we try to back out of God’s doorways. We think, I must not have heard God correctly. I wouldn’t be experiencing opposition if God had opened this door. But if the apostle Paul anticipated opposition when approaching God’s open doors, we should too. He writes, “I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9)

The opposition trials, temptations, tribulations, or testy people is not a sign that you’re entering the wrong door. In most cases it’s a sign that you’re exactly where God wants you. No worthwhile attempt will ever go unchallenged. Opportunity and opposition are natural counterparts.

4> Open doors are often missed because of fear.

I can’t think of one opportunity God has opened to me that I did not reach for with trembling hands. Why? Because all open doors lead into the future — whether in five minutes, five days, or five years. And since the future is unknown to us, we are often fearful to step out in faith. We defeat our fear of the unknown by learning more about God, who has made Himself knowable. He has not given to us a spirit of fear, but He has promised to go with us wherever we go in His will. You can walk boldly into the future when you know that the God of the future goes with you.

Is there is an opportunity in front of you at this very moment that has left you nervous, scared, weak, and faithless? Wonderful! You may be looking at a door God has opened for you. Take His hand, trust His promises, and step over the threshold. Every step of faith you take toward God will also take you one step away from your crippling fear.

Step Out In Faith – Part One 

Walter invited his good friend Arthur to take a ride with him out into the county. They drove past groves of fruit trees and dilapidated shacks to an area that looked to Arthur like a barren wasteland. Walter began telling his friend about the exciting plans he had for this boring parcel of land southeast of downtown Los Angeles, California. Walter’s express purpose was to give Arthur the opportunity to become an investor in his dream.

Walter had enough money for the main project, but he wanted to ensure that the land surrounding his venture would be bought up at the same time. He was confident that within five years the whole area would be filled with hotels, restaurants, and even a convention center serving the throngs of people who came to visit his development.

But Walter’s friend, radio and television personality Art Linkletter (born a Canadian but living in the United States), could not see the potential and turned down the opportunity to buy up the area of land that now surrounds Disneyland, the dream of his friend, Walt Disney. Today that “barren wasteland” in Orange County, California, is worth billons of dollars.

How would you feel if you were Art Linkletter? While open doors of opportunity that size come along rarely, if ever, for people like you and me, there are many smaller doors of opportunity that are presented to us on a daily basis. God constantly invites us to trust Him and experience ever-expanding dimensions of His faithfulness and blessing. But far too often we are like the hesitant Linkletter. We hang back, not sure of what we should do. Or we walk away from the open door altogether. We allow fear and feeble faith to quench the fire of passion for a product, a project, or a plan God has put in our heart.

Why do we so often freeze up on the threshold of a God-given opportunity? I believe that many Christians fail to walk through God’s open doors because of a faulty view of God. We see Him as incapable of taking care of us in a new and possibly risky venture. Our we fear that, once we walk through the open door, He will slam it behind us and leave us to fend for ourselves. We often cannot step out because our faith in God is feeble. If we had a childlike, trusting attitude towards our heavenly Father, we would walk confidently through the door He holds open for us.

It’s all an issue of trust, isn’t it? In one nation in which I work they have “In God We Trust” engraved on their coins. But, is it engraved upon our hearts? When the big decisions really come down to the moment of truth, do you really believe Go will care for you?

You may remember what Jesus observed about His own hometown, Nazareth. Mark 6:5-6 tells us, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief.” I wonder how many people could have the same thing said about them: “He could do no mighty work in his/her life.”

God forbid that Jesus Christ should marvel at my unbelief or yours. Imagine how He must feel because He is the opener and closer of all doors. He is the creator of every opportunity and the master of every mission. When He opens a door, we need only walk through. But I’m like you; I hesitate for a moment. After all, it’s dark on the other side. We don’t know what lies in there!

Living with passion requires us to walk by faith — to go to the edge of the light that we have and take one more step. God gives me only the briefest, dimmest glimpse of what lies over the threshold of the door He is opening. He smiles because He knows that this next step, this hard step, will be a real character builder — a faith investment. As a result the next time I step through an open door, I’ll have an ounce more faith. 

The apostle John wrote from his exile on the Isle of Patmos to the Church in Philadelphia. He encouraged that church and us with these words, ““And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3:7-8)

God opens doors … and we need to trust Him and walk through the door that He is holding open for us. 

More next time

Remember What It’s All About

Because societies have a need to remember, we fill our world with monuments. The Statue of Liberty reminds us about the beauty and grace of freedom. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier helps us never to forget the countless numbers of soldiers who gave their life for that freedom. Take a walk through your city or town and I imagine you’ll find monuments and historical plaques placed there by your city officials.

Naturally, we like monuments that inspire us — the general on his stallion, sword in the air, his horse rearing backwards; the pioneer’s open hand raised to the heavens. Our statues commemorate larger-than-life heroes — or, in one case, a smaller-then small insect. Enterprise, Alabama, United States of America, has on its main street a tall statue of a boll weevil. Of all  creatures, an insect; and of all insects, a particularly destructive one. Why would the town want to commemorate a six-legged parasite? The answer is that those who erected the statue were not celebrating the insect but the God whom they believes used the small beetle.

Like much of the south of the United States, this part of the state of Alabama was once cotton country. The region was totally dependent upon King Cotton. But then in 1915 came a pestilence from the direction of Mexico — the little insect that averages one-quarter of an inch in length but can destroy thousands of acres of cotton by puncturing the boll, or pod, of the cotton to lay its eggs. In no time, the region lost its ability to bring its crop to maturity. The city of Enterprise was looking economic distastes in the face.

But necessity is the mother of invention, and a number of scientists were roused to investigate alternative crops. The peanut, it was discovered, could be planted and harvested very efficiently. Farmers diversified in many other directions, and the economy was better off than ever before.

Many people saw the hand of God in this trial. They felt that God had used the little boll weevil to guide them towards the demands of a modern economy. And in 1919 the monument was placed in the town’s central location so that people might never forger — a towering statue of a woman holding a large boll weevil over her head.

Monuments are important not only to us but to God. Without the lessons of history, we are helpless to face the challenges of the future. Throughout the Bible, God led His people to memorialize the great moments. Here are some of the highlights of biblical monuments:

    • Offerings and sacrifices, which were tangible reminders of an element of God’s relationship with the people of Israel.
    • Blue tassels, placed on the corners of the people’s garments at the Lord’s command that they might “remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” (Numbers 15:39).
    • National festivals, such as Passover. These celebrations reenacted God’s miraculous activity in Israel’s history (see Exodus 1:26-27).
    • A riverside monument upon crossing the Jordan River into Canaan, built with stones pulled from the dry riverbed. It was to help people remember how God dried up the river, facilitating the invasion into The Promised Land (see Joshua 4:4-7).

Perhaps the most significant memorial of all was instituted by Jesus in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified. Jesus served His disciples bread and wine, representing His broken body and shed blood, commanding them to partake “in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The apostle Paul instructed the Church to continue this practice to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). Communion in worship, the Lord’s Supper, is a living memorial to pass the Upper Room experience from generation to generation.

God knows that our life is “but vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). If our life is a vapour, our memories are misty at best. Our Lord works patiently to remind us, because in the wealth of experience comes the wealth of wisdom. When we forget, we are like children prone to every poor decision imaginable.

That kind of stumbling, fumbling life without memory drains us of all passion. To put the pedal to the metal and live life wide open with passion, enthusiasm, anticipation, and excitement, we need good rearview mirrors — and to remember, as those mirrors tell us, that “reflected objects are larger than they appear.”

Pick a Verse, Any Verse!

I have recently run into several situations where solid, mature believers and disciples of Jesus have suggested I claim a verse. 

In one situation it was for the deliverance and salvation of a young man I relate to in another city and whom I have connected to an apostle there that I know. He is receiving personal, loving care from someone who knows who he is and what he is doing. And, the local church I belong to is simply called to pray. However, someone believed that we needed to pray over a clothe and mail it to him so he would be free. You know, like Paul did once in the book of Acts.

The second situation was for a personal healing I was seeking. They “commanded” that I simply claim the verse in Peter’s writings where he declared that by His stripes we were healed (quoting from Isaiah the prophet where it states that by His stripes we will be healed.) As if I am not walking in faith and don’t believe God’s Word and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross for each of us who believe.

I appreciated the heart and the motive and intent of both of these people. They were suggesting what they believed would help because they care deeply and love to see Jesus touch people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But there is one simple flaw in their suggestions.

You cannot randomly select a verse out of context and claim it for yourself or for someone else. Pick a verse, any verse” simply is not biblical.And life and faith simply just don’t work that way. This is part of the heresy called The Prosperity Gospel fondly known as “Name it and claim it” or “Blab it and grab it.” As if you get to choose what you are claiming and by speaking it bring it to pass in your life. Does not work. Is not biblical. And, this teaching destroys people and churches worldwide. Not to mention making born again believers look like they are out of their minds and thus not a good witness to others who don’t know Jesus. 

So, just because Joshua marched around the city of Jericho for seven days and seven times the last day does not mean we should be marching around our city. God told Joshua to do that. A specific series of actions in a particular place and time. And in obedience it worked. God did not tell anyone else to do this. Jesus never did this. And, we can’t just pick it up out of context and apply our faith towards it. Doesn’t work that way.

Paul was directed to pray over some handkerchiefs and sent them to people who were sick and unable to be with him in his teaching times. Peter never did this. Timothy, a disciple of Paul and a spiritual son, did not try this. Jesus was never involved in this “mail order” healing ministry. We cannot simply pull it out of context and  think it is going to work. He didn’t tell us to do it. And, in the case I mentioned above – much better to have someone in person pray for them, care for them, and love them. 

Listen to offerings being taken and they tell you that if you give it will be returned to you 30 – 60 – 100 fold. And, your cup will run over. You will prosper and have more than enough. The verses they use for this false teaching are about “love.” Not money, not your tithe, not an offering… You can’t lift the verses out of context (the surrounding verses, the chapter, the book, the Bible) and simply apply it wherever you wish. Well, actually you can do that but it would be outside of the Gospel of the Kingdom and cause you to fall into heresy. 

In the midst of the global pandemic we have believers not taking precautions like wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing. They often quote “no weapon formed against them (deadly thing) shall harm them.” Again, a verse out of context. A total misuse of the verse.

There are many other examples I could share of “Pick a Verse, Any Verse” but you get the point. And, not to insult anyone, but really God would like us to use our common sense when it comes to living life in our fallen world. Common sense that He gave to us. Common sense which, when applied, would prevent this misuse of Scripture and help us to be better examples of what it means to be a disciple and true born again believer. 

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!

 

What Is God Doing In Your Life?

Recently I was meeting with a group of six mature believers for an evening of fellowship and teaching. After our time of coffee and sharing I asked those in attendance what God had shown them over the past few months when we had not met due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I specifically wanted to know what change they have made in their life because of something God spoke to them.

I was not interested in what they had learned as in more information and understanding of the Bible. I wanted to know what life-change had happened as a result of God showing them something and their putting that revelation or insight into practical, in every day life. In other words, application and transformation. Not just more information and understanding. 

When I am reading the Scriptures I invite the Holy Spirit to lead me into His truth for me that day. I intentionally invite Him to speak to me and spend time, while reading, reflecting on what I am reading allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me. When He does – and that happens almost daily – I write down what He is showing me from the Scriptures that I am reading and then I work through the application. In other words, how to apply the truth just revealed to me and what difference it will make in my life and daily activities.  Thus I am growing and maturing as a believer and disciple of Jesus.

I was seriously surprised when I asked those in the group that night what God had shown them through His Word and how they had changed over the 5 months that we had not been meeting as a weekly group. Surprised and shocked really. No one knew of a revelation that they had received from the Spirit over that length of time. No one had a life-changing “Aha moment” that they could or felt free to share. It seems that the Holy Spirit was simply not speaking to them or, as is more likely, they are not listening with their heart (spirit). 

Yes, they may have more understanding of the Scriptures; more information; more facts. But we should remember that there is no test on Bible knowledge when we get to Heaven. God is not going to ask you to name Noah’s three sons in order of age – oldest to the youngest. The Bible was given to us to help us to know God better and become more and more like Him – more Christ-like. In other words, to bring change and transformation and not just more information.

The Bible states that “faith comes from hearing the Word of God.”  “Word” in the Greek is Rhema. Rhema means a now Word from the Lord for you in your situation and current circumstances. So, we don’t get more faith by simply reading the Bible. The written word (black and red ink on white paper) or “logos” does not bring about a greater faith or personal transformation. We grow in faith and change (are transformed) when God speaks to us through the Bible – Rhema – and we apply what we hear. 

No matter how long you have been a Christian God is speaking to you through His Word on a regular basis. We need to learn how to listen and hear Him in our heart as all change (and life itself) comes from the heart according to the Bible. It is good to hear, understand and know the Word in our heads. But that is simply more information and knowledge. We truly need to learn to hear God who is Spirit in our spirit. And to apply, with His help, that truth or insight in our daily life. Then we will grow, mature, and change – be transformed more and more into His image.

Truly that is what this journey of faith is all about. Transformation. 

Expect, Endure, Embrace – Part Two

We have been chatting about what should happen when we are persecuted. To start with we should EXPECT to be persecuted when we are living life as followers of Jesus and speaking up for what is right and true. 

Then we saw that Scripture tells us that we must ENDURE the persecution and respond only in love as Jesus did. 

I would make a personal comment here: I have found that if I am earthly-minded and self-centered, I will always feel the sting of critical people. But if I’m walking close to God and my life is His, then by faith I can rise above the smaller-minded criticisms.

If you are facing persecution — or should I say when you face persecution — turn to God. EXPECT persecution. ENDURE persecution. By His power, even EMBRACE it, as Peter advices. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed …Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 16). Don’t be shocked when persecution comes. Take it another step: EMBRACE it. Rejoice that in some small ways you are counted worthy to suffer with and for the One who suffered for you.

When someone says something cruel about you because of your faith, don’t be ashamed. Instead, thank God that you belong to Jesus. Praise God that He’s chosen you. Never react with some defensive or hateful rebuttal. As you’re led and enabled by the Spirit, either respond in love or realize that you don’t always have to respond. Ultimately God is your Defender. And you live for Him.

Yes, it’s really tough when other people shoot at you. Believe me, I understand. All of us want to be liked by others. When you read a hundred positive comments about something you did and one negative one, which do you focus on most? If you’re like me, it often takes only one negative voice to drown out all the positive ones.

Becoming obsessed with what people think about you is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about you. But the opposite is true as well. If you’re living for Jesus in this selfie-centered world, you know a higher truth: becoming obsessed with what God thinks about you is the quickest way to forget what people think about you.

By faith, rise above the criticism. When persecution comes, EXPECT it. ENDURE it with the One who endured it for you. And by His power, EMBRACE it, thanking God that He is with you.

And that’s the truth.