During His ministry on the earth, Jesus sent His disciples through faith boot camp. He taught them about faith. He demonstrated faith as he healed, drove out demons, raised the dead, and quelled storms. He told them that if they had faith that was as small as a mustard seed, they could command a mountain to move. And He scolded them when He thought they weren’t exercising their faith.
And we know that we are supposed to live by faith, and that it’s impossible to please God without faith.
But how do you get faith?
If you have received any teaching about faith, you’re familiar with Romans 10:17, which reveals the primary source of faith:
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17 NKJV).
I’ve heard so many teachings that faith comes by hearing the word of God. But that’s not what Romans 10:17 says. It says that faith comes by hearing. Hear what? The voice of God to us. If we hear God, faith will come.
But how do we hear? Ah, now that’s where the word of God comes in. The word of God is the auditory system of our spirit. The word of God allows us to hear God’s voice speaking to us. And once we hear His voice speaking straight to us, faith comes.
But doesn’t that make sense? All scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:6 ESV). If we belong to Jesus, we are filled with the very same Spirit of God that breathed out the scripture we’re reading (Romans 8:9). So if we spend time really meditating in the Bible, the same Spirit that breathed out the scripture will speak to us in our hearts, and we will “hear” the voice of God. Then faith will come.
So if you ever wonder why you seem to be standing on really thin faith when you’re facing tough circumstances, give yourself a spiritual hearing test.
1. Are you reading passages from your Bible that speak to the circumstances you’re facing? The Bible is chock full of promises God has given us to rely on.
2. Are you just skimming the scriptures? Or are you quieting yourself and spending time meditating, muttering, “seeing” the scriptures at work?
3. Are you listening – being attentive enough to the impressions you receive in your heart and the words you receive as you meditate on the scriptures? Because THAT is the word of God to you.
Once we hear, and faith comes, it’s time for us to step out in faith.
So read the scriptures slowly, intentionally. Train yourself to recognize the voice of the Lord speaking to you as you read your Bible. And faith will come.
Some Christians major on evangelism and mission, but minimize the importance of corporate worship. Others look only at gathering for awesome worship, but fail to see the need to be on mission.
Some zero in on scriptures that make clear that Christians will suffer, and ignore or even fight against the many scriptures that point to God’s desire to bless His people with health, provision, and healthy relationships. Others seek God’s blessing, but ignore the many scriptures telling us that as Christians we will suffer for our faith.
Some of us focus completely on sin and God’s wrath, but struggle to extend love to people who sin differently than we do, minimizing the mercy and grace God extended through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus. Others of us so emphasize mercy that we simply won’t acknowledge that God’s wrath is kindled against sin, or the empowering truth that the grace of God and the regeneration of our hearts by the Holy Spirit should bear fruit in our lives.
The list of ditches goes on and on. Church splits have occurred over ditch-driving. Christians sitting in one ditch regularly call confessing brothers and sisters “heretics” simply because they’re not in the same ditch.
I’ve come to this conclusion. The God who created both galaxies and complex cells is capable of holding more than one thought in His mind without suffering cataclysmic consequences. As people created in His image and likeness, we should be able to do the same.
So let’s worship, and let’s be on mission. Let’s have faith to receive blessing, but let’s also be willing to endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Let’s major on grace, but let’s also be mindful that the Lord tells us to be holy even as He is holy, and gives us the Spirit to lead us in holiness.
And let’s stop shooting arrows at each other from our ditches. We’ll get enough arrows from the enemy. Arrows shot from ditches just divide the Body of Christ and sap its power.
Instead, let’s be mindful of what Jesus told us would be the neon light that would tell the whole world who His followers are: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NKJV).
For about six years, our church has ministered digitally through a web site, a podcast, Facebook, Twitter, and most recently, our mobile app. When I sensed the Lord’s prompting to minister digitally, I had no idea what it might mean.
Now our mobile app has been downloaded and deployed by over 670 users, on both Android and iOS devices. And now an update to the app has been released. Our web site statistics show that it is viewed by people in countries all around the earth – even in places where followers of Jesus are persecuted.
All of this reinforces to me that our Master, Jesus, has given us a Great Commission, and we need to use every available tool to fulfill it:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The most important way to make disciples is face to face. Digital tools can never replace personal disciple-making. But the Church would be foolish not to use digital tools to reach the lost. Jesus said we would do greater things than He did (John 14:12), and one greater way to reach people groups here and abroad by digital means.
Please pray, not just for me and our local body, but for the global Church, so that as we seek to reach the lost, we can wisely, boldly, and humbly use every digital means to fulfill our mission. Don’t just pray casually. Pray intensely, in faith. And I expect to see an overflowing harvest of souls, and disciples who walk in greater love and maturity than ever before.
In the United States yesterday, we gratefully acknowledged the sacrifices of our military veterans. Likely overlooked in many quarters, though, was that yesterday was also an international day of prayer for the persecuted church.
Around the world, Christians have their property taken, are beaten, tortured, and even killed, just because they share the joyful truth of the Gospel and are open about their faith in Jesus.
Jesus said it would be so. In Matthew 10, He described the persecution his followers would receive. It came to pass, and in the book of Acts, we read some accounts of the persecution joyfully endured by Stephan, Peter, James, and Paul.
In the United States, Christians encounter an extremely low level of persecution, and many whine about what we do face. Often, we allow fear of rejection to shackle us and keep us from sharing the Gospel with people around us. Yet there are brothers and sisters in the faith who boldly speak the Gospel, knowing they might be badly mistreated or even killed. Their attitude is like that of the Apostle Paul:
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 NKJV)
In Hebrews 13:3 (NKJV), we’re admonished to “remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.” Daily, let’s pray for our persecuted brethren. Let’s ask the Lord to strengthen them and their resolve, comfort them, reveal Himself to them, and deliver them supernaturally as He did Peter, Paul, and Silas. Instead of turning our eyes or flipping the page when we see something horrific about persecuted Christians, let’s instead stop and pray.
For those of us who are so blessed to carry our faith with a light load of affliction, let’s remember those of our brethren who suffer persecution. They’re heroes of the faith.
Campaign 2012 is coming to Athens, Ohio. The city and Ohio University are battening down the hatches, preparing security, closing streets, distributing tickets, and preparing the College Green for a campaign stop by President Obama.
The last time a sitting president visited Athens and Ohio University was in May of 1964. President Lyndon Johnson spoke from the steps of Memorial Auditorium, and announced his Great Society initiative. Parts of that initiative are the subject of debate between President Obama and Governor Romney in this year’s campaign. (I was a little guy, but attended President Johnson’s speech with my mother. All I remember is a huge crowd of people, an old guy talking with a funny accent that everyone seemed to be listening to, and that we got to get lunch and ice cream afterwards).
To me, President Obama’s campaign visit will be an opportunity for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to exercise its duty to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks for him as our president – a person in authority. We need to do it whether or not we plan to vote for him.
In fact, the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit exhorts us to do that “first of all” in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Why are we to do that? So we can lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
This passage of scripture goes on to tell us that praying for leaders is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, and that He desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. It is in this context that we are told that there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:3-6).
So praying for our leaders is a critical part of our role as disciples of the Lord Jesus. It is important for our fulfilling the Great Commission to go and “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
For those of us in Athens, we can do it close at hand. For those of you who are far away, please join us. Pray. Give supplications. Intercede. Give thanks. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God.
Do it in obedience. Do it in faith. Do it in love. Just do it – first of all.
Moses was an ordinary man faced with an extraordinary challenge. The Lord expected Moses to be a leader of people who often didn’t want to follow. He was supposed to take God’s people into a prosperous land the Lord promised to them, but the people fainted in unbelief when they saw some challenges in the way. It was that unbelief that caused the Lord to send them into the wilderness for forty years.
But there came a point when it was time to claim what was promised. Moses understood something important. If the Lord’s presence wasn’t with them, there was no reason to move. Here’s part of the conversation Moses had with the Lord:
And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:14-16 ESV)
Moses got some revelation from that conversation. Without the presence of the Lord, failure was certain, even in pursuit of something the Lord had promised. With the presence of the Lord, success was assured, and the people’s favored position would be apparent to everyone who saw them.
Here’s a great rule to follow: If the Lord’s not in it, don’t do it. If He’s in it, go until you possess it.
So seek out what the Lord has promised in your life. Search the Bible for who you are and what you’re to possess by faith. You’ll then know His will. But seek to live in His presence, and don’t move until the presence of the Lord is with you.
Then when you go in to possess what the Lord promised, give Him the glory, and everyone around you will acknowledge that He is good and His steadfast love and mercy endure forever.
I’ve written before about my frustration with name-calling, jealousy, and theological strife in the Church at large. One group won’t fellowship with another because of some issue of doctrine or belief.
Two churches won’t speak civilly, let alone serve the poor or reach the unreached together, because one speaks in tongues and the other doesn’t, one believes God wants to heal and prosper and the other doesn’t, one takes a complementarian and the other an egalitarian view of the roles of men and women in church, one holds to Calvinism and the other to Arminianism, one is fiercely devoted to one English translation of the Bible and the other isn’t.
Both churches deeply believe what they believe, and they’d rather argue about doctrine, call each other names, and write blogs about each other than accomplish something together for the Kingdom of God.
I’ve also read blogs and articles by well-respected servants of God criticizing and belittling other servants of God. What makes it hard for me is that I respect what each of the people involved is doing – the criticizer and the criticized, and I’m grieved by the venomous strife.
In the meantime, the Church – the Body of Christ – is rendered fractured and ineffective. People outside the Church are given reason to point to Christians and say, “See. I don’t want to be part of that bunch. They’re mean to each other, and all they can do is argue.”
It’s an age-old problem, and one the Lord will call us to account for.
In 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul chastised the church at Corinth for division. One group identified with Paul and another with Apollos. Each had built its own works on its own particular views. Paul noted they were being “carnal” – acting according to what made their flesh feel good, not acting spiritually. In correcting them, Paul brought them all to the centrality of Jesus – “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:12 NKJV). The rest, he said, will burn up in the day of judgment.
In that context, with pleading in his voice, Paul wrote two earth-shaking verses:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
When Paul wrote “you” are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in “you,” he was writing in the plural – to the Church, the Body of Christ, the collective assembly of followers of Jesus. It was similar to the reference Peter made in 1 Peter 2:5, when he wrote that we are living stones being built up into a spiritual house (for God), a holy priesthood.
Paul went on on to tell us that anyone who defiles or destroys the temple of God, God will destroy, for the temple of God is holy. That’s really serious! It makes me sit up and take notice.
Paul was writing about the Church – the Body of Christ. By the Holy Spirit, he was warning us that whoever defiles or destroys the Church will bring destruction on himself.
It’s also clear from the context of the chapter that Paul was writing specifically about denominational, sectarian, and doctrinal strife and division, and telling the Church at Corinth – and the entire Body of Christ – to stop it or risk destroying the temple of God – the Church.
Paul would write the same letter to us today. The 21st century Church is squandering its anointing and its calling through strife and vitriol.
For us to bicker and squabble over anything other than the centrality of Jesus as Lord, Savior, and Christ is to pull the mortar from between the living stones of the temple, to fracture the foundation of the temple, and to cause the temple to be defiled and destroyed. I for one do not want to be responsible for defiling the temple of God or rendering the Body of Christ ineffective.
Instead of bickering and arguing, what would happen if Christians put down their poison pens and loved each other, actually following the commandment Jesus gave us in John 13:34-35? What if we coalesced around Jesus to serve the weak, the poor, the widow, and the orphan? What if we went together – or even just supported each other – to reach the unreached billions for Jesus?
I think the glory cloud of God would descend on the temple – the Church – just as it did in Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8:10. I think signs and wonders would occur. I think the name of Jesus would be lifted high and glorified.
So how about it? Can we step back from our keyboards and down from our soapboxes, have some humility, and build up our fellow believers instead of tearing them down? That would be amazing.
I read a column this week. The central question was whether it had become un-American to be a Christian. Of course the writer was referring to the ridiculous government officials who were threatening retribution against Chick-Fil-A for the comments its president, Dan Cathy, had made to the Baptist Press about his Christian convictions regarding marriage.
At the same time, Wheaton College and the Catholic University of America found it necessary to file suit against the United States Department of Health and Human Services because provisions of the Affordable Care Act would require them to provide insurance to pay for abortifascient drugs (morning after pill and week after pill) in violation of their views of scripture.
We live in strange times. At the same time the United States is criticizing repressive foreign regimes for their treatment of Tibetan Buddhists and religious minorities, we witness open and officially sanctioned attempts to deprive Christians of their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion and to speak their convictions.
Granted, it’s not nearly as bad as what our brothers and sisters face in other countries. But it does appear strange things and fiery trials are upon us. Thank the Lord that He spoke to the Apostle Peter, who could give us a little warning:
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. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (1 Peter 4:12-16 ESV).
In fact, Jesus told us to jump up and down when people exclude and criticize us – even hate us – because of Him. Really? Rejoice? Yep. And He even told us we would be BLESSED when things like that happen. Here’s what He said.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23 ESV)
Jesus even told us how we should respond to people who heap hatred on us:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. . . Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-28, 31 ESV).
I’m not saying we shouldn’t take the steps our civil government gives us to protect our constitutional liberty. But we have something even more powerful. We have instructions from the Master – Jesus’ spiritual weapons to deploy.
So let’s use them. Let’s pray for those who hate us. Let’s bless government officials who want to deny permits because we express our faith, unconstitutional though it may be. Even though it may seem that ungodliness has become official policy and that our own government officials are using the prideful cudgel of power to smash our religious liberty, let’s not respond in kind. Let’s respond like Jesus.
If we do that, Jesus says we’ll be blessed! And He says we will be sons of our Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45).
To me, that’s a lot better than retaliating in the face of fiery trials and strange things.
When our electricity went out this past week, I had to do some soul searching. As the temperatures soared past 100 degrees, and the air conditioner wasn’t humming, I could sense myself becoming fussy. I wanted my air conditioner. I wanted my refrigerator. I wanted to be able to pump gasoline. And I wanted it now.
The Lord quickly corrected me. He reminded me of the young woman from our church family who is now in Africa. She’s been posting pictures and blogging. The villages look dusty. The people have trouble getting clean water. Electricity and air conditioning are in short supply. But I saw smiles in almost all the pictures.
Then I received an e-mail. It showed a picture of a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan. He was 5000 miles from home, carrying 70 pounds of gear, wearing body armor, trying to avoid being blown to shreds – all in 120 degree weather.
1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NKJV) says this:
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire [Amplified Bible: crave] to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
I may have been poor in electricity, but I had food. I had clean water. I was clothed. I had a home. I had a wonderful family, and my family and I were safe and healthy. The Lord began reminding me of all the things I had to be thankful for. Yet I craved what I didn’t have. So He told me to be content. Not complacent. But content.
Then I heard this word in my spirit: Thanksgiving fuels the engine of contentment.
Even after the electricity returned, this lesson has stayed with me. A lot of people crave what they don’t have. Often it turns into jealousy and covetousness. That’s a dangerous place to be. People will do things in that state that are not Christ-like. I don’t want to be there. I want to be thankful for what I have, and content where I am, as I believe God for the greater.
I want to be content like the Apostle Paul, who wrote in Philippians 4:12-13, 19 (NKJV):
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. . .And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
My daughter and I recently watched an episode of River Monsters on Animal Planet. If you haven’t seen it, River Monsters stars Jeremy Wade, who is an expert fisherman trained as a biologist. You’re invited in each episode to follow him as he tries to catch and release some exotic fish, often in some remote location.
The episode we watched was the season-ending two-hour special filmed in Guyana, South America. Jeremy and his two guides paddled a dugout canoe on the remote Essequibo River for many days. While the paddling was arduous, they were flowing with the river’s current. I thought about how much easier it was to flow with the river’s current than against it. Paddling against the current requires extreme and exhausting effort.
The episode brought to mind Romans 12:1-2 (ESV):
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The New Living Translation rendering of verse 2 teases out some meaning:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
What does that passage have to do with Jeremy Wade and his trek down the Essequibo? This stunning revelation: it takes more effort to paddle against the current than with it.
The fallen world around us has a way of thinking and living – behaviors and customs that it conforms to. Those who aren’t followers of Jesus, and even some who claim to be, conform to a code of behavior that is diametrically opposed to the way God has described in the Bible. The way we treat people, how we conduct our financial affairs, how we conduct sexual relationships, what marriage is and how it should be structured, how we conduct business, how we spend our time – the way we live our lives – should be totally different for disciples of Jesus than what we see around us. In fact, if our lives look like everyone else, by definition we’re doing it wrong.
The easiest and most popular thing we can do is flow along with the behaviors and attitudes of the fallen world. A lot of disciples of Jesus are in that flow. But in Romans 12:2, the Holy Spirit by the hand of the Apostle Paul, tells us not to be pressed into the mold of that world, not to pattern our lives after what the crowd does, and not to think the way the world does. Instead, he tells us to allow God to transform us radically by aligning our thoughts to the way God thinks.
Each day, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves. Are we conforming ourselves to the world’s way of thinking, or are we spending time in God’s Word – the Bible – and allowing Him to transform our way of thinking into His way of thinking – even if it’s hard and unpopular?
I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to meditate on what the Bible has to say about every aspect of life, to allow the Holy Spirit to adjust your attitude, and to be conformed wholly to God’s way of viewing things, knowing the whole time that it will require you to paddle against a strong current. But the promise from Romans 12:2 is that you will then know what God’s will is for your life, and that it will be perfect and pleasing.
Isn’t that a catch that’s way better than a River Monster?