Christianity 201

September 13, 2017

The Wheat and the Weeds

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of The Kingdom Parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Wheat and the Weeds

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in the field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” Matthew 13:24-25

This second parable tells us that if the Son of Man is sowing His seed in the world, an enemy is also sowing his seed in the same field. Jesus explains to His disciples, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39).

Wherever God is at work in this world we can be sure the devil is also at work. His purpose is to counterfeit the work of God, tempting us with something that looks real but is unreal. Within the kingdom of God, the devil will offer an attractive alternative to Jesus Christ, and it is not always easy to distinguish between the real and the counterfeit. This is conveyed by Jesus when the servant asked the owner about the weeds, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” His answer was: “No, because while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:29-30).

Jesus tells us there is going to be a harvest time at the end of the age, and there will be harvesters, the angels whom Jesus will send to sort the weeds from the wheat. This parable is not about false teaching so much as it is about false Christians, people who present themselves as part of the real thing but are counterfeit. False Christianity will inevitably lead to false teaching, but at the harvest when the fruit is evident, it will be easier to identify and handle. This means we are not to set out on a crusade to purify the church of any false ingredient, because if we attempt to do so, we may disrupt the good.

On the day of separation of the wheat from the weeds, the real from the false, the bad seed will face the prospect of a fiery furnace where all will be lost and destroyed. The good seed, the righteous, will face the prospect of shining like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:41-43). In the end, the kingdom will be pure, but in the meantime, it is infiltrated with false Christians. Were we to look over a fence to the field where weeds were growing among the wheat, we would not be impressed. This is the picture of the kingdom of heaven as the world perceives it.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for these parables that teach us the importance of being genuine in our Christian faith, so that at harvest time we will be among the wheat.

 

September 6, 2017

Sown Into The World

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of the parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Sown Into The World

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8

The Shallow Seed: This seed is sown along the path and the birds come and snatch it away. This is the person who hears the Word of God but does not digest it, understand it or appropriate it. He or she is vulnerable to losing it all as “the evil one snatches away what was sown in their heart.” Truth has to be combined with faith in order to become experience, but this seed has never taken truth into the realm of experience. This person is shallow and their being planted in the world comes to nothing.

The Superficial Seed: This seed is sown among rocks and is the person who hears the Word of God and receives it with joy, but since they have no root, “they last only a short time.” When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away. In the right atmosphere they can coast along, but will blow with the prevailing wind. This person is superficial and their planting in the world comes to nothing.

The Secular Seed: This seed is sown among thorns that choke the plants. This is the person who hears the Word of God and starts off well, but “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” He or she has never been weaned from secular world views. They are deceived by wealth and seduced by worldly things. This person is secular and their planting in the world also comes to nothing.

The Successful Seed: This is the seed sown on good soil and is the person who “produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Like the first seed, they hear the Word of God, like the second seed, get excited by it, and like the third seed, live in a secular world subject to all its temptations, but their roots are deep. They survive and are successful. Their planting in the world accomplishes its purpose.

The intention of this parable is not to show how some people respond to the Word of God and are converted while others are not, but it is to show how the kingdom of God is to be advanced. Each of us who belongs to Jesus Christ is planted by Him for the purpose of producing fruit. If we were to look over the fence to the fields in the first, second and third planting of seed, we would not be impressed. This is a true picture of the church of Christ, the physical manifestation of the kingdom on earth as seen from the vantage point of those yet outside of the kingdom.

PRAYER: : Dear Lord, I pray that I not only retain, digest and understand Your word, but that it grows and flourishes in me so that I may be used in producing fruit for You.

August 26, 2017

OMG: Hearing it and Saying It

Romans 12:2 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.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

This week I had a discussion with someone on the topic of knowing God by his name. At one very brief point in the conversation, this person surprised me by saying they were not particularly offended by people saying “Oh, my God” or using the printed form, “OMG,” because unless identified or qualified, the God we serve is not necessarily the one being referenced. It may be the third of the Ten Commandments being broken if the reference is to something else.

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

It’s easy to take offense at the use of this phrase, because we are often taking it personally, but there’s no guarantee that it’s our God they’re talking about. For example, I have often lamented the general nature the term “god” (lower case) has and in so doing I appeal to this quotation by E. Stanley Jones, which regular readers here have seen before:

“When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ”

In other words, while the Old Testament points to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (see Exodus 3:6, 3:15, 3:16, 4:5 for the specific phrase in the KJV; and also look at these references) in the New Testament we speak of “the God as revealed in Jesus Christ.” That’s our God.

So on the one hand, I despair over the need to so clearly define who the God is of which we speak, and yet on the other hand I also find the “OMG” phrase to totally grate on me; but I’ve never really held the two situations in tension. The result I suppose is to be able relax a little and grant the non-churched person (or the non-Jesus-follower, or the secularist) using the phrase some grace.

…Unless…

The problem comes when believers use such phrases. (See our first key verse above.) Has that happened to you?

We covered this topic here before in a 2012 article called Exemplary Speech. In it, the writer quoted these key verses; notice the references to speech:

Command and teach these things.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Tim 4:11-13

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:7-8

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech. 1 Peter 3:10

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:5-11

As I’ve written previously, “OMG” and it’s equivalent are a line I simply will not cross, but it’s become increasingly common to hear believers lapse into using the phrase or typing the acronym.  For us, “God” is the God of Abraham; is the God revealed in Jesus. It should hurt us when we hear another Christian fall into the cultural speech pattern of using this and we ought to gently correct them.

With a non-believer, we actually have an Evangelistic opportunity presented to us. Like the Apostle Paul’s speech at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22ff, we can say, to paraphrase him, ‘This God who you make reference to without really knowing him…allow me to introduce you!’


Postscript: The person with whom I had the discussion skirts the problem entirely; when reading a passage of scripture together this week, he glossed over the word God in the text, substituting “The Most High.”

August 16, 2017

Can People Be Saved via Other Religions?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the website BibleKnowledge.com and an article on a subject sometimes called universalism. Note that the end there are links to other articles in a series on this topic, including one pertaining to the eternal destiny of those who have never heard; who have never been evangelized. You may land the plane differently on these issues, but the view presented is the one which has served Evangelical Christianity well for nearly all of its history. Click the title below to read at source:

What is Inclusivism?

Inclusivism is a view that includes all religions in God’s plan of salvation. Inclusivism is “inclusive” (hence the name) of all religions in salvation and says that a person can be saved regardless of his or her faith and/or religious practice.

Both a Buddhist and Hindu can be saved in this view — regardless of the fact that they believe in different things and hold to different views about man and the world.

Inclusivism is a view that is in contrast to exclusivism. If inclusivism means to include religions, then exclusivism is a doctrine that excludes religions or faiths. Christians who hold to exclusivism believe that one must assent to the teachings of Christ and believe that He is God and the way to eternal life if they hope to be saved.

Christians who hold to this view also disagree with all other religions and argue that a Buddhist and a Mormon, for instance, cannot be saved as adherents of their faiths; rather, the Mormon and Buddhist must turn to Christianity and Jesus in order to find salvation.

As usual, Christians want to know: Is there biblical evidence for inclusivism?

  1. That is, can people be saved by way of religions other than Christianity?
  2. Can an individual be saved through his or her belief in Buddha, Brigham Young, or some other god (Confucius, etc.)?

The Bible states unequivocally that one can only experience God’s salvation through faith in Christ, as can be demonstrated by the following passages:

  1. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB).
  2. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
  3. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
  4. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).
  5. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24).
  6. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me” (Jn. 5:46).
  7. “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (Jn. 6:27).
  8. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn. 6: 29).
  9. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:40).
  10. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn. 10:9).
  11. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him” (Jn. 12:26).
  12. “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13).
  13. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6).
  14. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn. 17:3).
  15. In all these verses, it is Jesus who is to be believed in, whose name humans are to believe in so that they can experience God’s salvation. John 3:18 says that judgment awaits the one who does not believe on the name of Jesus, God’s “one and only begotten Son.” In other words, there is only one whose name we must believe in to be saved — that is, the name of Jesus. This is the same message Peter proclaims while preaching publicly:
  16. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

First, notice that salvation comes through “no one else,” that “there is no other name under heaven” that can save humanity.

Peter’s words seem to exclude the possibility that God’s salvation can come through the names of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, or some other human that mankind has elevated throughout world history. Peter’s statement does not so much as entertain the idea that mankind can be saved through the names of others who are not Jesus Christ.

Although inclusivism seems to be an intellectually acceptable position, it does not have biblical support. If one can only be saved by confessing the name of Jesus and following His teachings (Christianity, cf. Luke 14:26-27), then one cannot be labeled a follower of Jesus while practicing Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Mormonism, Hinduism, or the Muslim faiths.

If inclusivism lacks biblical support, the next question is as follows: Can Someone Turn Receptive to Christ by Way of General Revelation? Inclusivists also hold to general revelation as a source of conversion, but as will be shown in the article, General Revelation is Inadequate for Salvation.

July 19, 2017

Sharing Life

The last time we touched base with Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog they were in Ephesians. Going one verse at a time they are now in 1 Thessalonians. After reading about 20 different verses, we decided to simply choose one since we couldn’t choose them all! So I really encourage you to click through in order to see the insights on different verses in this passage or bookmark this when you need a commentary on a Thessalonians or one of the other epistles available.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

These words tie back to the simile of the mother nursing and caring for her children of the previous verse. The Greek word translated as “So” is even stronger in intent. It means, “Because of this,” or “Along with this.” What he says is following along in the same train of thought. In this state, and as a nursing mother to those at Thessalonica, Paul says he, and those with him, were “affectionately longing for you.”

They had come to Thessalonica and had developed such a closeness with them that there was a yearning to share in life with them. This was so much the case that, as he says, they “were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives.”

As nursing mothers, Paul and those with him not only imparted the spiritual milk of the word of life, the gospel, but they also were willing to expend themselves completely. Just as a mother would tirelessly give her all for her children, so were they also willing to do. They were prepared to exhaust themselves, or even lay down their lives, for their beloved church in Thessalonica. This was, as he continues, “because you had become dear to us.”

The bond of affection which had grown in their hearts was so close and personal that they were united as a family – parents caring for children and expending their lives for them. Paul will continue to explain this in the next verses.

Life application: When you lead someone to the Lord, do you consider it as something that is done and over with, or do you consider it as a first step in their new lives? It is good to offer your phone number or email address and to express to them that you will make the necessary time available to them to instruct them in this new life which they have received. In so doing, you will be ensuring that their life in Christ will develop properly. Try to remember to do this if you are honored enough to lead someone to acceptance of the gospel message.

Lord God, it’s a new day, and a new chance for us to go out and tell people about Your wonderful goodness. Help us to open our mouths and share the marvelous story of redemption which is found in the giving of Your Son. Help us not to be timid, but to be bold and willing to speak. Who cares if people are offended? Better offended in life than remorseful at the end of it. Grant us the fortitude to speak! Amen.

April 24, 2017

Water for the Thirsty and the Great Co-Mission

Today we’re again paying a return visit to David McGee who writes at Cross the Bridge which is carried on his own website as well as at Lightsource.com. There are two shorter devotions today and we’ve posted the link for each.

Give Me Some Water

John 4:15

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.”
NLT

The Israelites and Samaritans lived in a dry, thirsty land; in a desert. It is hard for many of us to imagine how valuable water is in such a desperate place. Yet, we live in a spiritually dry and thirsty land; we are often oblivious to the lack.

I wonder how many times a day someone tells us they are thirsty. Perhaps not “Please give me some of that water,” but they put it another way. When they speak of problems with their children, troubles in their marriage, trials in their life, they are really saying, “I am thirsty.” When they are short tempered, worn out and angry, they are saying they don’t know how to quench their thirst. I also wonder how many times we don’t really understand their plea and their thirst. How many times we walk past opportunities to minister to them. Look for the thirsty and look for the dry. Hear their cries and offer them living water.

Life Lesson: We should be pouring out to the world what God has poured into us.

Dear God,
Thank You for loving me so much that You allow me to serve You. Lord, I lift this land up to You and ask You to raise up workers for the harvest. You offer the water that completely quenches our need and You offer it abundantly and freely. Open the hearts of this world to Your gift and allow me to play a part in the quenching of this thirsty world. I thank You that the results are in Your almighty hands. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Great Co-Mission

Ephesians 5:14
Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”

NKJV

The scriptures teach us that we have light when we are in Christ. When we have His light we have His insight. We can begin to see the world the way that He does and love people that way that He loves us.

Matt 28:18-20
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 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, 20 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.” Amen.
NKJV

Jesus was the lamb without blemish offered up for our sacrifice. Jesus, through His sacrifice, has now made us the bride of Christ without blemish also. Because of this we can begin to look at other believers the way that He looks at us ñ without blemish, with no condemnation. And for those who haven’t yet come to the Lord we offer the message of our Messiah, the Gospel, to share in eternal life. Have you invited someone to hear the Gospel or to be a disciple at your church recently?

Life Lesson: Your mission is to reach and teach: to evangelize and disciple.

Lord, thank You for Your sacrifice so that I might be without blemish. Please forgive me when I fail to allow Your light to shine through me to the dying world around me. Give me the power to see things and do things with the same heart that You have for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

April 3, 2017

Pray for People in High Positions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I’m not sure who recommended it, but I have had it bookmarked in my computer for some time to introduce you to Thomas Mathew whose website banner is ‘Praise the Lord Jesus Christ.’ also known as Believer Blogs. I had a really hard time choosing which article to post here, so you’re encouraged to click the title below and then surf the site for more interesting and helpful articles.

Pray for Kings

1Tim 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior

Dear friends, I thank God for the freedom that we enjoy in many nations in this world to worship Jesus in spirit and truth and to proclaim our faith freely. But not every place has this privilege. Always, everywhere, the “spirit of the world” is opposed to the proclaiming of the truth! In the apostolic times, we see the men of God much taunted and persecuted for their passionate preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In such a context, Paul exhorts the church to pray for all people, especially to those who are in authority & the kings especially.

Why should we do this ? Because it’s pleasing in God’s sight. Because, this prayer will help the authorities to change their mind concerning our faith and will cause us to lead our lives in a quiet & peaceful manner with the precious fruits of godliness & honesty.

These people may even come to the faith!! Verse 4 says: It’s God’s will that all men are saved and that they should come to the knowledge of Truth. Dear child of God, the Lord has uniquely positioned you to minister the gospel to certain people who may be your friends, relatives and colleagues. No other evangelist may reach them, but the Lord has given them into your hands to lead them to a knowledge of Truth.

A verse in Phil 4:22 is a great encouragement for me. It says: All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. Someone in those times had the anointing and calling to go into the Caesar’s palace to proclaim the gospel to them, and as a result many were saved there.

I thank God for all the blessed missionaries who are taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unreached nations and people groups. But that leaves a lot of people within our reach: Whom we can reach with the message of God’s love, if only we are filled with God’s love for them, and boldness for declaring the gospel to them. Like Paul says, we need to come to the stage where we say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God to salvation!”

Pray for all people without ceasing! Pray for Kings and rulers and governments! Pray for nations! Pray for your near & dear! Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send His chosen ones into the fields. Ask the Lord to show you the people whom you should be reaching with the Gospel. As we pray faithfully, we will see the hand of the Lord moving in our nations and turning the hearts of even the rulers towards the Lord Jesus.

God bless you !

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

Today we’re returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take ten minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source.

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

Friends, we are called as disciples to “preach the Word” and be ready in season and out of season”when the circumstances are for us and when they are against us. We are told to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Because “the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Do you know how the church can “do better”? By adhering to God’s Word and loving our neighbor in truth.

How is it that we can “dig deep” and “do the hard work” that God really desires of us? By searching His word and hiding it in our hearts. It is the TRUTH that sets people free, not our well-meaning actions. The opinions of culture, authors, historians or professors don’t set people free, in fact they can do just the opposite.

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

Our God is holy and righteous. He is also loving and full of mercy. These don’t cancel each other out, and we can’t adhere to one and not the other.

Sin has a diabolical agenda that will take us further down the road of good intentions than we ever imagined. Following Jesus requires hard things sometimes. It means we die to sin and self. We don’t rejoice in sin but flee from it. When others are stuck, we point them to a God who loves them and wants them free. The argument of “you’re too judgmental,  God just wants us to love each other” is worn out with me. A true disciple does everything in love. Speaking the truth does not equate me with Westboro Baptist lunatics. If we ignore what He says in His Word, if we rearrange it to suit our feelings, no matter how noble they may be, we are not living as Jesus followers. We are nothing more than people-pleasers.

“In the end its like two locals telling a visitor how to get into a building. One tells the visitor he must go through the main gate, while the other says to go through an easier side door. The latter fears the main gate is too far away and too hard to enter. Initially, this local appears to make it easier for the visitor to get in, while the other seems to impose a harsher standard – until you find out there’s no side door. 

While the easier instruction is well intended, it’s sadly just another way of keeping the visitor out.” – Derek Rishmawy, The Gospel Coalition

It is precisely because we don’t want any to perish that we are speaking up. We don’t want anyone left out,  Jesus didn’t come to be exclusive, He came for all of us. Ironically, those screaming to include what God has deemed not acceptable in His kingdom are shutting the door on the very people they hope to bring in.


Application: (1) Can you think of areas where the modern church has made it “easier” to be a Christian by being lax about things scripture teaches?

(2) Does this overlap on the issue of “belonging” versus “believing” as discussed in this article?

April 1, 2016

Don’t Build a Wall, Build a Bridge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The header that I chose today was meant to be deliberately provocative, as the idea of building a wall has been in the U.S. news a lot over the past winter. I was reminded it of it as I previewed today’s devotional. We’re paying a return visit to David McGee who writes at Cross the Bridge which is carried on his own website as well as at Lightsource.com  The title and subject of today’s piece is a microcosm of his overall devotional theme, Cross The Bridge. Click the original title below to read at source.

Build Bridges

Acts 17:22-23

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the one whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.”
NKJV

It is easy to throw stones. It takes more effort to build something and costs much more to restore it. What then, is the price to redeem? Well, that price is far greater than we could ever pay. Only Jesus could pay that fine. Jesus died on the cross. He bore the penalty for our sins. It is by grace that we are saved and not by works (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

As Christians, we possess this knowledge. What should we be doing with it? Should we be using it as a crowbar to pry people apart? Should we use it as a wrecking ball to tear people down? Should we strike hard with this tool pinning nail to wood with one mighty blow? Certainly not! What a horrible misuse of God’s grace toward us that would be!

How we love to nest ourselves in the grace we have been given, and then, thinking ourselves to be on a higher branch, we drop stones on everyone else. We didn’t have to earn our grace, but everyone else had better get to work! How hypocritical! When we are unwilling to show grace to others, we are misrepresenting God.

Jesus humbled Himself and dwelt with sinners.

Luke 5:31-32 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough.” NLT

In Acts 17:22-23, it would have been easy for Paul to start throwing verbal stones. Instead, he demonstrated God’s grace by seeking to build a bridge of understanding so that the great news of the Gospel could be communicated. Instead of pointing out differences, he used a bridge to present the Gospel message to the people. Are you a bridge builder?

Life Lesson: We should build bridges with people who don’t understand the good news about Jesus, not just stand back and throw stones at them.

Dear God,
Thank You that it’s not by any works of my own, but by Your grace that I’m saved. Please forgive me for times when I have torn down bridges instead of building bridges to tell people about Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please give me the fortitude to speak out of love instead of boasting. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Living to tell what He died to say,
Pastor David McGee
Cross the Bridge
crossthebridge.com


Scripture quotations marked ‘NKJV™’ are taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

 

January 27, 2016

Prophetic Reluctance: Jeremiah

A few days ago we introduced the term prophetic reluctance and interestingly enough it was also connected to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion.

…Today we pay a return visit to the blog Weeping Into Dancing. I had a hard time choosing which devotional article to feature here, so I really hope you’ll click the title below and then take a few minutes to look around at other items.

Will You Speak?

Uniquely formed by the hands of God, with special gifts and talents, each one of us has been created to fulfill a specific purpose. Understanding the cost of our redemption, a freely given blood sacrifice, humbles man into submission. Therefore, we yield our will and take up His instead. Obedience, faith, and trust draws one into Christian service, but it is our love for the blessed Redeemer that propels us forward into unknown territory.

The prophet Jeremiah was very young when the Lord called him into service. He was ordained to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God. Understanding the importance of such a position, he was filled with fear. He felt all of his insufficiencies. But God insisted that he go where he was sent, and speak as he was commanded. God persuaded Jeremiah there was nothing to fear, saying He would be with him to provide any necessary deliverance.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;  Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’

 Then said I:

‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’

 But the Lord said to me:

‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.”

From that moment, Jeremiah lost all fear and pronounced the sad prophecies and warnings of God, without regard for the king and his strong men. This was often at the peril of his life. However, God was faithful to protect and deliver him from all harm. This is not to say he was free of trials and hardship, including time in a cistern. (Jeremiah 38)

Jeremiah lived during one of the most devastating periods in Jewish history. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem, after his warnings and prophecies fell on deaf ears. How sad it must have been to speak words of warning yet see them ignored. Once the catastrophe came, he lamented the terrible fate of his people in the Book Lamentations.

Hope found in Jesus ChristAs children of God, we ALL have a responsibility to share the Good News with others. To hold on to this hope, found in Jesus Christ, and not speak of it is contrary to our calling. The Great Commission is not just for missionaries, evangelists, preachers, or teachers. We all need to be ready and willing to give a reason for the hope that lives within our hearts. Fear will try to hold our tongue, but like Jeremiah, we must trust God to give us the words to say and the deliverance from every evil.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Some will ask, “What about the Christians who have been unjustly imprisoned for their faith? How is God protecting them? So many Christians are facing dreadful atrocities, painful persecution, even murder for simply professing their faith in Christ.

Here now is the hard pill to swallow. How do we know God hasn’t delivered them? Our heavenly Father is a God of compassion. He wants the very best for us. Although our feeble minds might not fathom the purpose for such trials and suffering, should we toss aside what we do know of God’s righteous character? Surely our faith assures us that there is some good, some great work, and some wondrous reward for those who refuse to deny Christ. We must remember our inheritance is in heaven.

The heavenly Father had a purpose for Jeremiah. God’s plan was to use Jeremiah to pronounce judgment upon the people of that time. It was not a job he relished. In all honesty can we say, should an opportunity arise, that we too would speak the truth regarding our faith, even if it led to persecution? Would we deny Christ to avoid imprisonment… or even death? The day may soon be upon us when the faith of every American is questioned, just as it is now questions in Syria, Iran, and across this world.

But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33 (NKJV)

January 26, 2016

A New Song, An Old Story

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Ecclesiastes 1:9

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun. (NIV)

Decades ago The Rambos, a country gospel group, recorded My Song Is New, My Story’s Old. I had to look up the song yesterday, but the idea of the lyric has always stuck with me. There’s a line that says, “Found a new way to say it.” That’s the challenge to Christ followers everywhere; to find a new redemptive analogy that puts across the story of grace and forgiveness; or to leverage the current technology to get that message seen.

Our devotional today is by John Stuart at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. Click the title below to read at source.

Something Old, Something New

Ecclesiastes 1:10 – Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (NIV)

I am fascinated by the current cinematic trend of remaking or re-envisioning old movies. For the last couple of years, it’s been difficult to find an original story or a completely new series of pictures. Hollywood seems preoccupied with retelling old tales with new actors and brilliant special effects, yet, no matter how wonderful these remakes appear to be, they’re just the same old stories presented in a different style or new medium.

As I watch crowds of people lining up at the movie theaters, it makes me wonder if the church could not learn something from this post-modern phenomenon. Are there new ways to retell God’s stories? Should we seriously consider using innovative media techniques to present our worship, our Bible studies, our programs, and our missions in order to reach a wider community?

The answer is, of course, “Yes!” Christianity has always been good at adapting its faith to new innovative processes. The gospel writers used widely-spoken Greek instead of obscure Aramaic to spread Christ’s message. The Reformers employed the printing press to produce Bibles in various European languages to expand Protestantism. Missionaries traveled the entire world using ships, trains, automobiles, and planes to take the gospel to other nations and indigenous peoples. And today, Christian pastors use the Internet by uploading sermons and devotionals, writing blogs, and posting pictures to reach people in their homes all over the world.

A long, long time ago, in Galilee far away, Jesus Christ lived, bringing a message of hope to His people and the rest of the world. His story is our history and we are the messengers of His words, works, and ways in our own homes, churches, and communities today. The gospel may be almost 2000 years old, but its teaching is still relevant for every human being on this planet. As Christians, it’s up to us to present that old message in new forms, whether it be by texting Bible verses, sharing prayers on Facebook, or writing devotional blogs. The opportunities are both amazing and boundless; it’s up to us to use them to glorify God and expand Christ’s kingdom across the globe.

Questions for personal reflection: How has my faith been shaped by current technology? How am I using that technology to share my faith?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we live in amazing times and have wonderful resources to share Your gospel message with our families and friends, neighbours and strangers. Grant us new opportunities to express our faith in positive ways using the technology at our disposal. In Your holy name, we share and pray. Amen.

January 24, 2016

Ministry out of the Overflow

Luke 6:45b

The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. (CEB)

The things people say come from inside them. (GNT)

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (GW)

Matthew 12:34b

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (NLT)

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (NRSV)

I’ve felt that I covered this theme before, but when I went to find it here, I couldn’t locate it. It’s a theme that turns up just about every week in my conversations with people about sharing their faith and passion for Christ, His church, the Bible, and so many other aspects of Christian living. That’s probably why I felt it was recorded here.

This week at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels shared several verses of scripture that are key for him and teaching pastor Steve Carter. Steve’s verse is Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion.

Amos 3:8b reiterates this:

The Eternal Lord has been heard; His prophets can’t help but prophesy. (The Voice)

We see this also in Acts 4:20

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (NIV)

And Paul reiterates this in 1 Cor. 9:16

Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!

I like the CEB on this:

…I’m in trouble if I don’t preach the gospel.

Many years ago I attended a church where it was common for people to stand up and give messages (prophecy, teaching, knowledge, wisdom, etc.) spontaneously. As a person who is always thinking, always pondering the scriptures, I once asked a friend, “How do you know that this is something you’re supposed to stand up and speak out loud to everyone?”

He — and notice it was a guy not a woman — said, “It’s like you’re pregnant with it. It has to come out. It has to be delivered. It has to be shared.”

Later, I began to hear people speak about ministry which comes out of the overflow of the heart. There is simply so much contained inside that it spills outside.

This reminded me of another analogy — this one I might have used before — of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. If you open the top of a can of soda pop, you can look inside and say that it’s filled. The contents fill the entire can. There is no room for any more.

But what it means to be filled changes if you put your thumb over the opening and then shake up the contents. What was filled spills out. It overflows.

So it is with our verbal proclamation. Whether evangelism, encouragement, or even rebuke, it has to come from somewhere. There needs to have been some point where content was poured into our lives. But then, when shaken, the contents overflow.

Matthew Henry says of the Amos passage:

They [the prophets] are so full of those things themselves, so well assured concerning them, and so much affected with them, that they cannot but speak of them; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.

Their prophetic reluctance is overcome…

…And Bill Hybels’ own similar verse of scripture? 1 Cor. 15:58, with which we close today:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV)

 

January 17, 2016

The Good News, Bad News of Ministry Life

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

January 5, 2016

The Sauls Around Us

NIV Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17a Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.

Sometimes we return to a blog that we’ve sourced content from before, only to find that the author is no longer posting new material. Still, some of what is there is so good, we want to keep it alive through sharing it with our audience here. That’s the case at the blog Commissionary (Great Commission + Missionary).

This appears to be the second-last post from Greg Wilton on the blog, from May, 2014. Click the title to read at source.

Can God Save Anyone?

The Conversion of Ananias – Acts 9:1-18

The story of the conversion of Saul tests our faith because it causes us to wonder if we really believe that God can save anyone. Saul, the one who watched people’s garments while they stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58) and the one who was breathing threats against believers (Acts 9:1), was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. When we read this in Acts 9, we are immediately confronted with our own faith. God radically saved Saul, but can God radically do the same for my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors? All of us know people who are very worldly, very apathetic, or very devoted to another faith. All of us have been guilty of thinking that God couldn’t save that person. We sometimes think, “They just don’t care about spiritual matters…there’s no way,” “She’s too devoted to her own religion…there’s no way,” “He loves living like the world so much…there’s no way.” Our preconceived or initial judgments condemn us. Our spirit testifies to this because we know there are times when we don’t speak to someone about Jesus because we have already convinced ourselves that they wouldn’t believe in Jesus regardless. We are very quick to affirm cognitively that God can save anyone, but we are very reluctant to affirm that God can save anyone through our obedience in bringing God’s good news to that person. This is why Ananias is so important to those of us who struggle with this. Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul, but equally important is how Acts 9 describes the conversion of Ananias.

Who is Ananias? Scripture only speaks about Ananias in reference to the conversion of Saul. Ananias is a disciple in Damascus (Acts 9:10), a devout man according to the law (Acts 22:12), and is well spoken of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus (Acts 22:12). This is an honorable description that most believers strive for. We all want to be known as a follower of Jesus in our community. We want to be known as people who are guided by a moral code. We all want to have a good reputation in our community because we know that a good reputation is a good witness for Christ. How Ananias is described is how most of us want to be described. As a relatively obscure, moral, reputable disciple of Jesus, Ananias represents us in this story of Saul’s conversion.

AnaniasBut why does Ananias need to be converted? He does not need a salvation conversion, but rather Ananias needed a belief conversion about salvation. Just like us, Ananias doubted if God could really save anyone. In a vision, God tells Ananias to go find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ response reveals his doubts about Saul, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name’” (Acts 9:13,14). Notice the doubt, the fear, and the apprehension in his reply. This does not sound like a man who believes that God can save anyone. Ananias sounds like most of us, believing in our heads that God can save anyone but doubting that in our hearts. Despite his doubts about Saul, Ananias obeys the Lord and goes to visit Saul. His fear of God was greater than his fear of Saul, and for this reason we witness in Acts a very important kind of conversion. Ananias was converted from believing in “a God of possibilities” to believing in “a God of impossibilities.” Saul’s conversion challenged Ananias faith because Ananias had to decide if he truly believed that God could save anyone.

Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus said this because his disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” This popular phrase, “All things are possible with God” was initially related to Jesus’ statement about who can be saved. Jesus himself wanted his followers to believe that no one is beyond hope. Without question, the most impossible task we will ever face in life is trying to save ourselves. On our own, salvation cannot be obtained through being good or doing good. Be absolutely certain about this: apart from God salvation is impossible. Yet this most impossible task becomes possible because of Jesus Christ. He alone makes the impossible possible. Jesus lived perfectly, sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross, and defeated Satan, sin, and death by resurrecting three days later. Because of this, we can have confidence that God did the impossible. Jesus saved us when we could not save ourselves. Ananias came to believe this through his involvement in the conversion of Saul. Ananias too was dramatically converted.

So what can we learn from Ananias’ example? Knowing that we want to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, and knowing that we struggle at times to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, what can we learn from Ananias?

  1. Say, “Here I am Lord.” Ananias responded to God by saying, “Here I am Lord.” This is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am Lord, send me.” It’s a simple response, but it’s always the right response. Do you want to live your life as though you truly believe that God can save anyone that you might encounter today? Don’t get caught up in the details. Let it be sufficient to start by saying, “Here I am Lord.”
  2. Acknowledge your fears, but don’t embrace them. Ananias admitted his fears to God about Saul. He was aware of the evil Saul had already done and was capable of doing. Be honest with the Lord. In prayer, tell the Lord why you struggle with believing this person can be saved. But don’t embrace that doubt, that fear. Never. Leave the impossible to God.
  3. Embrace obedience. After Ananias confessed his concerns to the Lord, he listened to the Lord’s reply and responded in obedience. Go when God says go.
  4. Lay your hands on Saul. Ananias didn’t just pray for Saul from a distance. He got personal. He got involved. Ananias obeyed God and got so close to notorious Saul that he put his hands of him. If you believe God can save anyone, don’t be a witness from a distance. Have them in your home. Go to their home. Become friends with them. Learn what it means to rub shoulders with the people you once thought were beyond hope. You’ll likely be surprised how they have been crying out for truth, grace, and people from God all along.
  5. Speak Jesus to Saul. Ananias came to Saul as an ambassador of Jesus. He shared Jesus with Saul. That’s what people need to hear. Give them Jesus. No matter what, make sure you give them Jesus because Jesus is their only hope.
  6. Disciple Saul. Ananias played a role in baptizing Saul. We must not only be ready to believe that God can save anyone, we must be prepared for that reality. Be ready to disciple. Believe that God can save them, and be ready to show them the Christ-filled life.

There are Sauls all around us, people we thought would never believe, yet God disagrees. God is asking us to be Ananias. We must go get God’s Sauls. Believe that God can save anyone.

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