Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8
Jack Hyles started preaching at several small Texas churches after he graduated from college in the early 50s. Many of those congregations were small, under 100 members. During his time at Miller Road Baptist Church that congregation grew from 44 to 4,000 members. He eventually moved to Indiana where he took over shepherding the First Baptist Church of Hammond. Membership grew from about 700 to over 20,000. Along the way Hyles saw the need for better Sunday school programs and eventually, through his innovative Sunday bus program, grew a small Sunday program to one recognized as one of the largest Sunday school programs in America, if not the world.
“A person who will not take care of the little things will not take care of the big things, for big things are but an accumulation of little things,” he once said. You see, Mr. Hyles took Proverbs 6:6-8 to heart. He was responsible, a good steward, of the gifts God imparted him. He didn’t need an overseer in the church or a show of hands or even a committee to see how to build God’s kingdom here on earth. He just did it.
I’ve spent many years volunteering in churches and sitting on committees. It seems an unfortunate fact that many feel they need a blessing by their church to start a ministry. You not only won’t find that in the Bible but you will find an urging to individually take responsibility for the treasure and talent you have been given.
The ant is part of a collective, yes. But an ant also knows what its role is within the community. To build, protect, and sustain. It doesn’t go to any one ant to get its marching orders. It doesn’t sit around fretting about its greater purpose before acting. It doesn’t fill out an interest survey to find out its “best suited place.” No, it just gets working.
Friend, we all have been tasked with working for God’s church. To build it, to protect it and to sustain it. Don’t wait for the perfect time or opportunity. He asks us to take care of the little things first. You may find in washing a few dishes or folding programs that God has placed you right where you need to be.
Father God, use me as you see fit. No matter where I am placed, I will work for your Kingdom. Help me to be a good steward of your gifts imparted to me. Amen
Last year my BSGs did a study on Revelation. It was a challenging deep dive into one of the most mysterious books of the Bible. Any Hollywood script writer or New York Times bestselling author would probably consider the story told in Revelation to be a pinnacle piece. It weaves its way through the story of the complacency of the times and the coming storm of evil. It has heroes and martyrs. It has all the special effects of world-wide destruction to win an Oscar. And it has a savior. And a beautiful new beginning for the world.
There’s been plenty of apocalyptic movies and stories told in the last 100 years or so that draw upon the themes found in Revelation. Man and satan lead the world in its own inevitable destruction and a savior rises from the ashes. But what is unique about the Bible’s Revelation is it’s all true.
From Genesis to Jude, new beginnings abound. But in this one final book of God’s Word, we see 1,000s, millions even. Martyrs rising from the ashes to take their place near the throne. The 1444,000 appointed Jews who are to be God’s instruments in spreading the word of the final judgement. And of course, the rapture of believers, taken up before the final judgements are passed on this world.
But there are two people that have a special place in this book. Two ordinary people to whom God will speak and send out to the world as prophets or truth tellers. Smack in the middle of the 22 chapters of Revelation you’ll find two people whose new beginnings will send shockwaves around the world.
And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3
The two witnesses’ identities have long been up for debate. Suffice it to say if they were extraordinary people I believe the text would say so. But they aren’t even given names, just like Naaman’s little slave girl. And unlike Jonah, they appear to walk boldly into a hostile world without pause. Maybe God has a pre-game “pow wow” with them where He explains the plan. More likely, God tells the witnesses, after having been prepared through their own study and trials, to go to Jeruselem at an appointed time and start spreading the Word that judgement time had come. But also unlike Jonah, they will tell how to avoid a terrible death.
“Now when they have finished their testimony,…” Revelation 11:7
Notice the two witnesses won’t go about town crying out, “The end is near!” They instead speak of God’s rescue from sin — their testimony. God will protect them for 1,260 days while they tell the world of the Good News of the Gospel and yes, about the impending judgement. And when God’s time for them is up, they will be killed by evil forces. It appears their new beginning would end there. But their death is just the middle of their story. For all the world to see after three and a half days lying dead in the street of Jeruselem, God will cause them to rise to their feet, sparking terror in the hearts of those who celebrated their deaths. Their new beginning, a reunification with the Lord, sets the world on fire.
At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Revelation 11:13
Thousands, most likely, will give glory to God. Because of two unnamed people speaking the truth about God’s love, promises, rescue and judgement. Two people that are like you and me – flesh and blood. Two people, who like Noah, heard God’s voice and obeyed courageously. Who like Moses sought out an intimate relationship with God. Who like Queen Esther will stare into uncertainty and know God will not fail her. Two regular humans like Onesimus who studied at the feet of a teacher and then asked for forgiveness from both his spiritual and earthly masters. Like Joseph who stood alone against judgement by his community knowing God was with him. And like the 3,000 who put discipleship at the forefront of their faith.
In my study of Revelation, Warren Wiersbe points out the Gospel of John shows us how and why to believe. The epistles give us confirmation of who God is and what He expects of us. And Revelation is all about being ready. Ready for what? Ready for your new beginning. To be a witness for all of God’s glorious ways.
Friend, we don’t know when the events outlined in Revelation 11 will happen. But we need to be ready, they are nearer today than they were yesterday. You might be one of the witnesses called to be part of this amazing New Beginning for the world. Your name may never be known by man but God has a plan for you. A plan for your new beginning.
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41
My husband and I are back in the process of a church search. For some of you, your church has been your lifelong home. For others, you know all too well the difficult path of church searching. We spent the last seven months trying out a church and realized it just wasn’t the right fit. Great preaching and friendly people but there were a number of pieces missing that we didn’t see being resolved any time soon. We left on friendly terms as we began our journey to the right home.
And this search led me to think about the first church. That fateful day of Pentecost when 3,000 souls turned their hearts and lives over to Jesus when the Holy Spirit was delivered to Earth. There could’ve been more. Others stood in the temple that day and heard the sound of the violent wind. They heard the Jews from every nation speaking to each other in their native tongues. But they hardened their hearts.
Some however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Acts 2:13
The 3,000, selected by God, were urged by Peter to recognize what had just occurred. He quoted the prophet Joel in explaining how the Holy Spirit would be poured out just as it had happened. He reminded the Jews of David’s words when he spoke of God’s promise to fill them with the joy of God’s presence. When Peter had his brief history lesson the 3,000 asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39
He answered with the message of the Gospel. And he went on to plead with them to abandon their corrupt generation. Imagine. 3,000 people all at once starting on their new beginning. It must’ve been glorious!
But their baptism wasn’t the end of their stories. What came next was an intense learning period. They “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship.” (v2:42). They ate together, worshipped together, studied together, prayed without ceasing, worked together to help those in need. And they multiplied.
You don’t get the impression from reading about the first church in Acts that a bunch of individuals were saved then when to their own homes and began an intensive self-realization study. Or went about their work day as though nothing spectacular just happened. No, their common goal was to spread the news of Jesus Christ dying for our sins. Remember, they spoke in many different languages. So, they were preparing to go back home to make even more believers. Preparing to go do difficult work. That first church was all about discipleship. I wonder how many of our churches can truly say the same? I haven’t been a member of one yet. But it’s what I’m looking for now.
The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we must become.
The act of baptism, confessing our faith in Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit, is typically a public affair. It’s the starting point of our new beginning. But after that one time event we call on the power and strength of the Holy Spirit to fill us continually for one mission – to be in service to God. Those first 3,000 believers would need the Holy Spirit to continue on their mission. They would most likely encounter adversity, opposition, violence, and yes, success. Beautiful success.
We should all celebrate the day of Pentecost, which comes on the 7th Sunday or 50 days after Easter Sunday (June 5, 2022). For the Old Testament Jews, it represented the giving of the Law to Moses. But the new covenant, for all the world to partake, saw Jesus enter our lives. And after Jesus’ foretold crucifixion He gave us the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. On that day 1000s of years ago, yet another promise was fulfilled by God. His Spirit came to live in all of us, permanently. And we were commissioned into His service.
As my faith and biblical knowledge has matured, my list of “must haves” for my new church has been honed. I want a church that is biblically strong, always pointing me to Jesus, a joy-filled body of believers, and one whose primary goal is to create well-versed and confident disciples. I hope you will pray for us in finding such a place.
The modern church itself needs a new beginning. As individuals, may we be spurred to greater expectations of our Christian communities. And may we seek out ways to draw each other together in unity as our forefathers in Christ did on that day of Pentecost.
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
“We are pretty much the only hope that God has for reaching people who need him.”
On a recent visit with my daughter back in St. Louis, Missouri, she invited me to her friend’s 50th birthday gathering. It was to be just a small group as her larger party had already taken place. My daughter, who is 23, is blessed to have a number of women in her life who are not only mature in their marriages and in life in general, but in their faith. As I sat listening to them, I said a silent prayer of thanks to God. He, once again, put me right where I needed to be.
I listened as these Christian women of varied ages shared memories of shared events and the joy of being disciples to younger women. You see, their church encourages all ages to seek being discipled by more experienced Christians – something I haven’t experienced in the 20 years I’ve been an active Christian.
The birthday girl’s good friend suddenly announced we were to all take turns expressing what we loved about the newly christened 50 year old. She turned to me and said, “You don’t know Renee well so you don’t need to say anything.” I disagreed. I definitely had much to love about this woman that I had just met.
As each woman spoke, I felt the love flow throughout the group. It was sweet and brave and authentic. And at my turn I’m sure they all wondered what I would have to say.
“As a mother I miss my daughter terribly. She’s so far away. She has no family for hundreds of miles. And now with a baby on the way it grieves me that she is alone out here. But I realize she isn’t. I am so thankful she has Renee as her friend and godly counsel. A mother couldn’t ask for anything better besides being here herself,” I said.
You see my daughter’s friend, Renee, has taken her under her beautiful wings. She provides wise counsel about marriage, faith, motherhood and more. I could be jealous when I hear my daughter talk about her relationship with Renee. But my faith progression has brought me instead to a place of thankfulness. My daughter is incredibly blessed to be surrounded by Christian women who are prepared and ready to offer Biblical counsel.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" Luke 4:18
That’s Jesus in the above verse. Jesus our wise counselor setting us free from our prisons. And He trained up His disciples to spread His message of salvation and freedom. Like the old shampoo commercial goes, “and they told two friends and so on and so on.” Which brings us thousands of years later to this little group at a café in Missouri.
Here’s what I noticed about those six women I sat with that night. 1) They didn’t gossip 2) They lifted each other up with genuine compliments 3) They showed love and concern for each other 4) They were confident in expressing their faith and 5) They were eager and willing to take up being disciples.
"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
These women are living the Great Commission. Teaching and guiding and loving Jesus’ flock. I sat there like a fan-girl marveling at being in the midst of ordinary women who were so extraordinary. Yes, ordinary women. They aren’t pastors or scholars although one is in fact a trained Christian counselor. They are students of Jesus. It gave me hope of what I could achieve with faith and the blessings of God.
I took the opportunity to ask a few of them a Christian counseling question.
“If I find myself in a situation with a fellow Christian who is struggling with an issue, what’s your best advice?” I inquired.
Without hesitation three of the women, including my daughter who herself disciples young women, said: “You need to really get to know the person. There needs to be a sense of trust that you come from a place of love.” And the birthday girl? She emphasized my old favorite, truth plus love. Not being afraid to speak God’s truth into someone from a loving perspective. Remember that Jesus trait of having a warrior spirit? Renee takes it to heart. She knows the end game – saving a soul.
“As you being the process of bringing correction into someone’s life, put yourself in his shoes. If you were the one sitting there, would it be easy or difficult for you to hear what is about to be said? If the person you are correcting acts closed at first it may be that he’s just embarrassed or reacting out of insecurity. Therefore don’t stop the conversation unless you can see that he’s just being combative. You need to be patient and slow in judging their reaction to your correction.”
Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek
Isn’t this the reaction we worry about the most when we need to speak truth to our Christian friends or family members? A fear of making someone angry or embarrassed? But here lies the reason why “Wise Counselor” sits at the end of our faith progression. Without love, without a sense of serving God, without courage, without knowledge of the Lord’s will, we will probably fail at being what our friend, child, sibling, co-worker, or sister in Christ truly needs.
So, when Jesus asks us to “follow” He isn’t just offering Himself up to save us from eternal damnation which by itself is a pretty amazing gift. He’s saying “join me in a journey.” He’s saying, “we’ve got work to do together.” And if we stop partway on the journey and decide we are “fine” where we are at, we miss the opportunities He wants to put in front of us to free more captives.
I don’t know about you but I need wise Christian counselors in my life. And if I could be like Renee and be a blessing in other’s lives, I know it’d make Jesus smile. My imperfect progress, as my friend Betsy likes to say, is still progress. I want to know and live out having the mind of Christ. I’m not where I was when I started and I still have a ways to go. Thankfully, I can trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are my guides and cheerleaders.
When we started this journey, I invited you to say a prayer of confession I found in Sparkling Gems from the Greek. And true to God’s ways He put another in front of me to close out this series. Please join me in this prayer and confession. I pray that you seek love, humbleness, courage, and wisdom on your journey.
“Lord, I ask you to help be kind and patient when it is essential for me to bring correction. Help me to not be offended if the person I’m trying to help doesn’t respond at first the way I wished he would have. Help me put myself in that person’s shoes and to sympathize with how he might feel. I ask You to give me wisdom to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. I also ask that You give the other person the grace to hear what I am telling him so he might see that I have his best interest at heart and that I am only trying to help him. I pray this in Jesus’ name!”
“I confess that I have the mind of Jesus Christ! When it is needful to me to speak correction to someone else I do it with love, kindness and patience. I refrain from allowing anger to rise up inside me. I am careful about the words that come out of my mouth, and I refuse to participate in vain arguing. I remain in control of myself as the Holy Spirit works mightily inside me. My words bring life to all who hear and receive them! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”
I have a good friend who has been a Christian for much of her life. She’s now in her 60’s. It’s been fascinating watching her in her faith progression. For years she sat solidly in the knowledge that Jesus died for her sins. She knew that God loved her. She can quote many Bible verses, she taught Sunday school, and has an active Bible study life. But it was only in the last year that she has firmly grasped the lesson of being a loving and faithful friend to the unlovable. She was led to finally forgive a family member. To show that person love and kindness. And what she discovered was the other places in her heart that were holding out on God’s love for others. Jesus has put out His hand to her and said, “It’s time to move forward.”
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
When I listen in to a Pastor Max Lucado podcast I find myself in the presence of a man who exudes God’s love. His voice alone invites us to sit with him by the fire. He then gently walks us through the Words of Jesus expressing God’s immense, unwavering love for us. It is truly a gift God has given him.
You and I long for Someone who will meet us in the midst of life’s messes. We long to believe in a living, loving, miracle-working God who won’t think twice about stepping into the thorny thickets of our world and lifting us out. I have an encouraging word: you are not alone.
This message of God’s love for us and His faithfulness is not a small thing to accept. And Jesus’ command – yes command – for us to open those gifts and use them cannot be leapfrogged. Without honing and living out being a loving and faithful friend to God’s people the rest of the message is rarely listened to and accepted. When the Truth of God is wrapped tightly in love we will find ourselves ready to be God’s hands and feet.
“During our first birth we relied on our mother and the doctors to do the work. We were loved and carefully cared for. In our second birth we rely on the loving God to care for us — to help create a new heart and mind for us.”
Have you practiced and perfected the Loving and Faithful Friend mindset? Or are you still stuck in the unbelief that Jesus fully loves you – not realizing your chains are broken? Are you trapped in a world of unforgiveness, judgment, or anger towards people around you or the circumstances in the world? Ask God to reveal to you any hidden places in your heart that keep you from fully living like the loving Jesus.
I’ll be perfectly honest and say that at the ripe age of 56 I still struggle with anger and resentment. I once told a group of Bible study friends I wanted to be more “sparkly.” You know, that woman that seems like she’s living her best life — seemingly floating above life’s strife. Everything not only rolls off the “sparkly” woman’s shoulders but she also dives deep into joyous moments. When my prayer life finally included this plea to God He showed me how my lack of Jesus-type love for others was the chain holding me back.
For some of us that “sparkly” life is easier to achieve. For others our well-honed training from our past and the perils of our everyday environment make it more difficult. And that’s when Jesus fills the gap between what we are able to accomplish and what we cannot. When we encounter difficult people or circumstances, it’s Jesus’ love — for us and others — that is the bridge.
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35
I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to re-visit Pastor Lucado’s teachings about love. He reminded me not only that I am deeply loved but God expects me to love the “unlovable” in my life. I encourage you to pick up any of his books or tune into his podcast, Encouraging Word. We all can use the reminders of God’s love for us and how to gift that to others. For most of us we need to be in constant training. Practicing, failing, and practicing again. When we fail we need to make note of how to do it better next time, pray for forgiveness, and ask God to tap us on the shoulder when the time comes to do it again.
I know the old “what would Jesus do” saying has gotten a bit worn out but the question still is powerful. There is no other, more powerful, more consistent touchstone for our lives than Jesus. When I pray for God’s strength, guidance, and wisdom I frequently ask for Him give me that shoulder tap when I’m about to go astray. To interrupt what is about to be my “typical” response to a person or situation and instead turn my head slightly toward Jesus as a reminder.
"And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Ephesians 5:2
You’ll notice throughout Jesus’ words and the New Testament it’s not enough to have the absence of dislike, rudeness, unforgiveness, etc. He offered Himself up as a fragrant offering. He brought something to God. We are to bring something of ourselves into our relationships with the people of the world.
There are days that I have only been able to accomplish the “lack” of something bad. And when I do that, I feel incomplete. I lay my head down at night knowing I didn’t run the race well — I just made it around the track. And so I ask Jesus to help me do it as He would the next time. He always says, “I will.”
Jesus always loves us. And He is always with us ready to tap our shoulder. As Pastor Lucado says, “You are never alone.” He is our constant example to look toward. And in my next post you’ll meet an ordinary woman who lives out Jesus’ mindset of being a loving and faithful friend, making her extraordinary to all who meet her.
To the weak I became weak,
to win the weak. I have become
all things to all people so that
by all possible means I might
save some. I do all this for the
sake of the gospel, that I may
share in its blessings.1 Corinthians 9:22-23
A prayer that I would share the Gospel with others
Merciful God, your Word has healing power for the sick and your Word gives hope to the downtrodden. Your promise of eternity is a promise for all who believe. But I allow my worries and my fears about worldly judgement guide my discipleship. I keep your holy and powerful gifts to myself, not sharing them with those who need them. LORD, our one true purpose here on earth is to serve you and by doing so we are asked, even required, to speak of you to all who will hear. Help me to succumb to your strength and guidance rather than that of the world. I know you will put the right words in my mouth at the right time. I just need to be willing to speak them. Each day place someone who needs to hear from you in front of me. With the strength of the Holy Spirit urging me on I will be faithful in spreading your gospel of Good News. In Jesus name, Amen
A few years ago, my husband and I led a Bible study of about ten Christians. Inevitably the topic of sharing the gospel arose. All but two people felt uncomfortable with this subject. Those two people had their own techniques or gifts when discussing their faith with others. One was able to employ a lot of clean humor while the other was comforting and sincere. The other members of the group, just like other Christians I’ve encountered, didn’t see sharing the gospel as a requirement of being a Jesus follower. And yet, isn’t that what the entirety of the New Testament is really about?
Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signsthat accompanied it.Mark 16:20
One of the group, whose husband loved sharing the gospel, went so far as saying that sharing the gospel was too pushy. Like being a used car salesman. It wasn’t her “right” or “place” to share the message of God’s love and salvation. And while you may scoff at her, she’s not alone.
I had us do an unusual activity that night to try and get people more comfortable about what sharing the gospel really looks like. Hint: it’s not standing on a street corner screaming “the end is near!” I paired everyone up and gave them a scenario to act out with each other – a role play. For example, one pair were to be a couple of longtime friends. Friend A, the non-Christian, was to share a problem that she kept having over and over and over. Nothing she did seemed to work to fix it. And the other, Christian friend B was to share the way her faith had helped in a similar situation. Sounds simple enough. But boy did that make people uncomfortable.
If we cannot figure out how to infuse our everyday conversations with our faith, why do you think God will give us the responsibility of helping Him save a soul?
As we found out in 2020 being a Christian cannot be limited to a Sunday church service. Because that church might be taken away from you at any time. Our friends need to know we turn to prayer when we are in distress. They need to hear us talk about God’s promises. They should see us acting in Christ-like ways. And when we fail to obey God, they must hear us ask for forgiveness. That, my friends, is sharing the gospel. At home, with our neighbors, at work, while we volunteer, at school and wherever we live our lives.
Our personal testimony of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness of sins is the gospel. It’s not a bunch of fancy words. And if the fear of being asked a tough question about God holds you back, just remember we can say the magic words: “I don’t know. I just have faith.”
I for one, am asking God to place people in my life that He can trust that I will speak the words He wants me to speak. We should wake up every day asking Him to give us the opportunity to speak in His name.
If you want this too, add the prayer to your daily prayer list and watch and see how God works in your life!
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” Matthew 7:13 . This narrow gate comes with a shepherd to guide us. When we hold fast to Him our way is made sure. . Join me starting Dec 7 as we explore 25 of the 1,000s of promises of God through the Book of Isaiah. “Follow” my blog to receive your daily “Hold The Line” posts. .
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there amazed; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
These last 11 months my BSGs have completed four different Bible studies. We have to laugh now after every question that asks something along the line of, “What does God expect of us?” The answer is always to obey. If only we humans could figure that part out. Yes, at times Jesus’ teachings seem a bit fuzzy. In fact, during His last few hours His disciples were very confused.
At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”
And as Jesus continues in John 16: 28 with, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father,” the disciples reply with “Ah, now you are speaking plainly!” So often we may think that Jesus is only the figurative speaker. And we need to pray on and discern what He may truly want from us. But by studying the Word and therefore the character of Jesus we find His is more the plain speaker than not.
When Jesus told Saul, “Now get up and go into the city” there were no ifs, ands, or buts. Do it. Obey. Yes, Saul had the choice to do it or not. Thankfully, he listened and obeyed Jesus’ amazing directive. Twice I have had God speak to me in very loud, definitive terms. Once in hearing His actual voice convicting me to true action in my spiritual life. And once in a vision directing me to do His works. And I obeyed. And yet there are many, many other times when I have heard His quieter voice directing me and I questioned or even ignored Him.
How many times has He clearly told you to stop and speak to someone and you refused? How many times has you told you exactly what you need to do to lose weight, stop smoking, stop hating, stop doing something destructive and start living out His Word? In one of my Bible studies this week a friend told me of a vision she once had. Her relationship with Jesus has been tumultuous because of family issues. She leans a lot on Eastern religions. In this vision she was being loved as a baby and coddled by the Dali Lama. And then Jesus approached and the Dali Lama handed her over to Jesus. She screamed “NO!” What I found so fascinating about this and all the times I, myself, have refused to obey, is how we humans so easily place ourselves above the Divine. You realize that is exactly what we do when we ignore the amazing directives of Jesus? We think we know better. But we can never see the whole story of our lives. We can never fully understand how interconnected all our actions or inactions are and the impact they may make.
About three months ago my friend Caroline was asked to obey an amazing Jesus directive. While walking through the patio at church she saw a young woman sitting by herself. Jesus said, “Go talk to her.” Now, my friend is not some uber, outgoing person so this made her feel a little uncomfortable. But because of the Bible study we were doing at the time she said, “ok” and sat down with the young woman. During the conversation she found out that this young woman, who recently moved from out of town to go to college nearby, was in fact a college classmate of her own daughter. She passed along her daughter’s phone number. The tasks being obeyed, the young woman and my friend went about their lives. Fast forward to yesterday. This is the text my friend received from that young woman:
“Hi!! I know this seems so random but I’m actually heading back to Hawaii for Thanksgiving until January and I’ve just been doing a lot of reflecting on all the amazing people I met here in the last 3 months and feeling so grateful! I just wanted to say thanks for reaching out to me that one night, I remember feeling kind of uncomfortable but it was so special and such a gift from God that I was able to chat with you and see that we had so many connections already!! Anyways, just wanted to say thank you again and I’m so appreciative of that time that you took to chat with me!”
My friend obeyed Jesus’ directive of a simple act of hospitality and a life was changed.
Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God sees.
Life Principle 9, Charles F. Stanley
Jesus says to, “Follow me.” It’s an opportunity for us to obey. And as my faith journey this year has evolved, I realized my growth spurts have come each time I have listened to an amazing directive and obeyed. Each time my trust grows is each time His trust in me grows. Yes, His trust in me. Because until we can be trusted to obey His small directives, like helping the person in the grocery store parking lot, He won’t entrust with something bigger. And I don’t know about you but I want Jesus to trust me enough that I will do His amazing works till the end of my days.
Today when you hear that whispered directive from Jesus, obey. You know His voice. You know His character. He and satan are clearly differentiated. So stop questioning Him. Obey.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
I think a lot of us feel like 2020 has been one giant interruption in our lives. We had beautiful weddings planned, vacations to experience, new jobs on the horizon, a blossoming business, a full retirement schedule. And then February descended upon us. To put it mildly it’s been one giant cluster. Recently, I saw an Instagram post by the Christian women’s group Proverbs 31 that addressed our need to rely on God during these tough times. One of the commentors posted a very distraught list of what she has been dealing with, including the loss of a loved one. She said she was having a hard time seeing God in the middle of everything. And yet He is right there if we truly know His character. He’s the one interrupting our plans.
In the verses today Simon, an experienced fisherman, had just pulled his boat in after a long, hard, unsuccessful day of fishing. He sat and listened to Jesus as he preached to the masses on the shore. Suddenly, Jesus asks for a ride out away from the shore to better speak to everyone. I’m sure Simon had a mix of emotions. Here he was, probably dead tired but still might have been honored to have the famous rabbi use his boat. And then Jesus really interrupted his plans to get home, have dinner and finally get some sleep. The experienced fisherman was quite sure that another few hours out on the lake would produce nothing – he should know he’d been a fisherman on that lake all his life. Jesus wasn’t even from a fishing family! But something about the rabbi made Simon comply. And as the story finishes, we see Simon and the other fisherman completely interrupting everything about their lives and deciding to become disciples.
God frequently tries to interrupt our “bright ideas” and “best laid plans.” The question for us is when we hear or feel His Holy Spirit urging us to take a new direction are we like Simon, willing to comply? Or are we like the rich king, unwilling to give up what we have and know? So many of us say we want God to speak to us but do we really?
A couple years ago I was amazingly interrupted by Jesus. I worked as an administrative substitute in our local school district. I was very busy. And I wore that busyness as a badge of honor. I had jobs assigned five days a week. And then Jesus interrupted me. He urged me, through a vision, to take specific action each week and feed the homeless for a year. This was not in my plans. But it was something I had asked for. I had been praying for growth in my trust in the Lord. I kept asking for direction. Feeding the homeless in our large downtown was never on my radar. What also wasn’t in my plan was giving up working a few days a week to accomplish Jesus’ vision for me. It was an amazing interruption.
He said, “Do this for me.” And I did. The lessons I learned during that year were ones that no sermon or Bible study could ever teach me. My patterns of worry, distrust, control, over-planning, pride, feeling alone, all were tested. It was never about feeding the homeless. It was about God finding a way to snap me out of destructive patterns – interrupting me and re-setting me.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters.
I’ve told many people about this experience. And, at the same time I tell them they should pray for something equally amazing to interrupt their lives. So many of them either look scared or even voice their fear of such an occurrence. That’s why I ask, “Do you really want to hear from God?” Because I can almost guarantee that what He says to you will be unexpected and will challenge you to interrupt your life. But like Job whose life was severely interrupted, the amazing blessings you receive will be immeasurable. God has interrupted my life a few more times since my vision. And each time has brought me closer to Him. I urge you today to pray for interruption. To pray to do God’s work. To pray that He asks to guide your boat out into the open water.
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”
There was one point in my life – actually a few weeks ago (I hate to admit) – where I would sit on my couch in utter angst and anxiety. No, not about important things, but about wall décor. Yup, you heard it. I would sit on my couch with anxiety about the lack of cute, trendy wall décor and decorations in my apartment. I was so anxious about what people would think of us when they came over, I was so anxious about having cute Fall décor before “Pumpkin Spice Season” hit. What was I going to do? Hobby Lobby FOR SURE by now has already off-loaded all of their Fall décor for Christmas stuff – the best stuff has already been bought and picked through. What was I going to do? As my heart rate started to rise, I heard the Lord say to me “Do you think I care about any of this?” My anxious thoughts stopped. I listened and heard again – “Do you think the things on your walls are treasures you will store in Heaven?” Woah – I heard the message loud and clear.
I was toiling over useless, temporary, meaningless possessions INSTEAD of spending that time storing up REAL treasures in Heaven. I was convicted.
Now, I’m not saying decorating your house or shopping at Hobby Lobby is a sin. What I am saying is to consider the weight we put on those things. I’m asking us to consider if we’ve made material things idols in our lives.
Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29-31 cut me deep to the core – I hope they do for you too. These verses stir me to ask myself, “How much of my life is spent toiling over temporary gains?” Reading Jesus’ words over again alleviate many of my silly – yet very real – anxieties about possessions and material things. We must remember that the Lord God does not look upon us and see the things we’ve collected, the money we’ve made or the beautiful house we’ve decorated for Fall. No – He sees His son standing as an eternal sacrifice for our sins. He sees us as his prodigal children whom He loves.
This truth truly amazes me. As the world tells us that we need this, we need that – this will give you favor in the eyes of man and this will surely bring you pleasure and happiness – God says lay it all down. Give it all up. And for those of you that ask, “Does He really mean ALL of it?” I would say – to some extent – yes. Our first fruits (earnings) should always go to the Lord, and as Jesus said in Luke 16:
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
If I am covetousness of what little I have – how much more will sin grow within my heart the more I gain? The Lord was speaking a very important truth to me that day. For material things are not of ANY value to Him. He wants my heart. He wants my attention. He wants my full dedication – things that cost nothing – but everything at the same time.
The disciples couldn’t believe what Jesus was saying. For their entire lives they saw the Chief Priests and Kings lavished with riches and luxuries. To them, those were the people who were closest to God. They were experiencing a real-time paradigm shift. You mean to say that now the lame, the weak, the poor are the blessed? Not the rich and noble? Pretty amazing stuff!
What Jesus was getting at here is that the more possessions one has, the more divided his heart becomes. The more his money has gone to things other than Kingdom purposes. He warned his disciples loud and clear that being rich was not the way into the Kingdom of God. No, it was intimacy with the Father, sacrifice and a dedication to seeing salvation sweep across the nations.
So – why are we so enthralled by things of this Earth? I urge you to spend time in prayer today asking God to reveal what you’ve been idolizing recently. I pray that the next time you find yourself coveting someone else’s possessions, you direct your thoughts, your anxieties and worries to the amazing God-given things above – blessings that will reward you many treasures in Heaven.