Amazing grace

Do you ever see yourself in Jesus’ parables? Maybe you’re the widow giving your last few cents. Perhaps you’re the servant who buried and hid what had been given to you for safekeeping. Or you could be the Good Samaritan, giving of yourself to a complete stranger.

Today, I am the brother who stayed at home with the father.

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of your was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)

Sometimes, when I hear the stories of those whom God saved from lives of sin and destruction, I think, God, I haven’t experienced that much grace. Why has that person received so much from you, but I haven’t?

You see, I was born and raised in a Christian home. I was four years old when I made a decision for Christ, barely older than that when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and just eight years old when I was water baptised. My parents have both been leaders in the church for as long as I can remember, and my grandfather, until he moved to heaven, was my pastor. I started playing on the worship team when I was twelve, leading worship when I was sixteen, and have never looked back. I have literally lived my life in the church. I am the older brother who stayed home.

For those who have grown up similarly to myself, we see what God has brought some people out of and easily forget, like the older son, that God has given us the very same grace that He’s given to the greatest of sinners. The thing about grace is that it’s amazing no matter how it’s applied.

For me, I have to remind myself that I have been spared a lifetime of memories and regret that come with a worldly life. I have great memories from my childhood of God working in mighty and miraculous ways. Those things are because of amazing grace.

For those who have come to Jesus later in life, or have still yet to come, the grace you receive is just as amazing. While the grace I have received has allowed me to grow up knowing God and His infinite love, the grace you receive allows you to see the extent to which He will go to bring you to Him. The grace you receive covers your life of memories and regret. And you can live the rest of your life knowing that, like the prodigal son, your Father has welcomed you back with open arms.

Grace isn’t only amazing because it saves us from ourselves, it is amazing because it keeps us close to God no matter where we find ourselves in life. And what makes it even more amazing is that it’s the same grace that covers us all.

Read: 1 Samuel 19-21, Luke 15:11-32

His harvest

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Luke 10:2 (NIV)

It takes a lot of pressure off of what we do as Christians, as ministers, doing the work of the Lord when we focus on one simple aspect of this verse. We could very easily take it upon ourselves to do all of the work and bring in all of the harvest while worrying about how to plant, water, and grow it as well. But notice that Jesus calls it his harvest field. It is not our duty to worry about anything but bringing it in and praying for more people to help us bring it in.

Not everyone has had a revelation of who God is—they have not yet heard the Gospel, but according to Jesus, many have heard the Gospel and need help taking that final step toward salvation. It is up to the Church to go out and gather these people so that they may develop a deeper relationship with God.

All these things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Luke 10:22 (NIV)

Jesus chose not to reveal himself to the kings and rulers of the day. He revealed himself to the average person. He did not seek to attain political power, but humbly approached the lowly and simple. In doing so, he changed a nation from the bottom up. By the time the rulers discovered who Jesus was and what he was doing, it was too late to stop him.

There is no reason why our ministry now should not reflect what Jesus did in his time on earth. We should pray for our leaders. We should be leaders. But we don’t have to go out looking for the harvest. The harvest, God’s harvest, is among our peers and those with whom we do life with on a daily basis. It is those people we should be talking to, building relationships with, and showing them the love that Christ has already extended to us and to them through us. The harvest is all around us and we are all the workers God has called to bring it in.

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Luke 10:20 (NIV)

As much as we long to (and should) see the power of God in signs and wonders, our greatest joy should be found in the fact that we are the children of God. That joy only grows when we are able to lead others to join us in our heavenly citizenship.

Don’t worry about how to grow the harvest. It’s not yours. Just go out and get it.

Read: Judges 15-17, Luke 10:1-24

A little more action, please.

It is an astonishingly low number of Christians who attend church with any regularity. Even the measure by which we base church attendance is startling—just three of every eight weeks (nineteen church visits annually). One study showed that just 20 percent professing Christians attend church “regularly”. What about the other 80 percent?

Sure, we can all come up with excuses as to why we don’t go to church. The kids had a ball game. It was a rough week, I needed the rest. Church is boring, there’s nothing there for me. I can serve Jesus at home as well as I can at church. Church is full of hypocrites. Have I hit home yet? I could keep going… But I won’t.

If we really break it down to the very root of the issue, most Christians aren’t in church on Sundays because they’re not willing to make the effort. Somehow, we’ve come to the conclusion that church needs to be like everything else—on demand, how we want it, when we want it, now!

But what about those very first believers? How did they feel about gathering together?

[Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those trouble by evil spirits were cured.

Luke 6:17-18 (NIV)

How far are you willing to travel to go to church? How much time are you willing to spend in transit? If there’s traffic, do you decide to stay home and try again next week?

This account takes place near Capernaum. Do you know how far Jerusalem is from Capernaum? 164 kilometres. That’s about 34 hours of walking. Tyre and Sidon would be comparable in distance. The crowds that followed Jesus travelled great distances at great expense. And I hear people complain that a 14 kilometre car ride is too far to go to church.

So what’s the difference between those who followed Jesus as he walked the earth and us now?

Expectation. These people came to hear Jesus. They came to get close to him. They came to touch him. They came to get something from him.

…and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Luke 6:19 (NIV)

Excitement. Jesus caused a stir everywhere he went. Whether it was by contradicting the Pharisees or raising the dead, he gave the people something to talk about.

Evidence. Not only had people heard of Jesus’ message, but they had seen the evidence of it. Those who had experienced miracles by Jesus’ hand told others who told others who told others. The crowds knew that there was power and that it was a power that could change lives.

Without the first of these three, the second two don’t exist.

We must start with expectation. Very few people who go into church with the thought that it’s going to be another boring service are ever met with anything but. But the majority of those who walk into church expecting to meet Jesus there, do.

A little more action is required on our part. First, we need to get to church. Second, we go with the expectation that will we see God move. Third, we can’t give up.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

This leads me to my final point. When we come with expectation, we will show excitement and see the evidence of our beliefs. When we do these things together as a group of believers, something else happens.

Encouragement. The more you stay away, the less likely you’ll be to return. But the more you show up, the more involved you get, the more relationships you make, the more you’ll want to be there.

There is more purpose in the local church and the gathering of believers together than I can even begin to discuss here, but I cannot stress enough the importance of it.

On your way to church this week (I hope you do go), look forward to it—no matter what did or didn’t happen last week. Expect to receive something from God. Engage with the people around you. Sing along to the music. Maybe even clap along or raise your hands. Pay attention to the words being spoken. Listen for that one thing you can hold on to through the week. Don’t rush off afterward. Ask to be prayed for or pray for someone. Smile and wave to people on your way out. Then try it again next week. Do it for a month. See if all those ideas about church are really true or were simply made true by your own attitude and expectations.

Read: Joshua 21-22, Luke 6:1-26

With authority

They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

Luke 4:32 (NIV)

At any given time, it is important for believers to send out a message with authority. This time of year, as Easter nears, it is even more important.

Across North America churches are popping up. They are hip and trendy. People from all walks of life flock to them because they are made to be comfortable no matter what their background. Pastors are superstars. Worship leaders become rock stars. They send a message, alright, but where is the authority?

These words in Luke were spoken of Jesus just after he’d been run out of his hometown of Nazareth. He’d spent forty days and nights in the desert being tempted by Satan. Upon his return, it was his turn to read from the book of Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19 (Isaiah 61:1-2) (NIV)

Jesus then went on to proclaim that this scripture had been fulfilled in the hearing of all those present. The people were amazed, but it didn’t take long for them to get over their amazement and rush Jesus to the nearest cliff with every intent of throwing him over.

In his time on earth, Jesus was loved and he was hated. He spoke his message with authority wherever he went whether his words were accepted or not. Was he trendy? No. Did he make people comfortable? Obviously not. Was he one of the popular crowd? I don’t think so.

So why are we, the church, trying to be all of these things?

I believe that it was the power of the Holy Spirit on Jesus that allowed him to accomplish all that he did in his short ministry. And it is the same power that has been provided for us.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, 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 28:18-20 (NIV)

We weren’t called to bring a comfortable, trendy message to the world. We are called to make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus. And I’m not certain that we can do both of these things together. Jesus certainly wasn’t comfortable when his own friends and family turned against him. And his entire message was counter to the culture of the time.

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with churches using available resources and technology to bring people in, but when those things become a greater focus than delivering the message of Jesus with authority, we run a great risk of being disobedient ourselves.

What is the message you are sending? Do you send it with apology or with authority? Are you speaking it to be popular or to be obedient? We are all ministers of the Gospel, and as such, need to take these questions into account. But take courage. Just because a message isn’t popular doesn’t mean in can’t still be effective.

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark 16:20 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 11-13, Luke 4:1-32

Lessons learned

There are many ways that people learn. Some learn in certain ways better than others or by a combination of methods. Some of these methods are:

  1. reading
  2. speaking
  3. hearing

I was homeschooled in my early years. Once I could read on my own, I could go off, read my lessons, and complete my assignments. I still love learning through reading.

Once I began public school, I learned that not everyone could be so easily self-taught. Some of my peers struggled through silent reading time. There were kids in my class who had to hear the lesson in order to retain the information. And there were students who had to repeat main points back to the teacher to ensure that they grasped the concept. And there were some still who used a combination of these things, as well as others, to learn.

In the days of Moses and Joshua, silent reading was almost unheard of. When the Book of the Law was read, it was read aloud.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Do you know that only 19 percent of churchgoing Christians read the Bible daily? (A Christian is considered to be churchgoing by attending church just 3 of 8 weeks.) It is no wonder that the Word of God has so little power in our lives.

Consider this, if every professing Christian were to read a portion of the Bible every day, how would you expect the world to change? If we all read the scriptures out loud, would there be even greater change?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 (NIV)

If just over 7 percent of Christians read their Bibles daily, it is no wonder the church has lost its influence on society. It is no wonder we are perceived as weak hypocrites.

There is a reason why God was so emphatic about Joshua keeping the Book of the Law near him.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

Our success, both personally and as the body of Christ, I believe, is based entirely on our grasp of the Word of God. Most Christians have never seen a move of God. They don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like because they’ve never read or heard about it. The more I read about all that God has done, all the miracles Jesus performed, the power that came with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the more I crave those things. I yearn to see God move the way He did in the days of the early church.

Our mouths are required for a move of God. We need to open up our mouths and pray. We need to speak the Word of God with boldness and courage. We won’t see the Word come to pass until the Word passes our lips.

Read: Joshua 1-3, Luke 1:57-80

In season

Read: Deuteronomy 1-2, Mark 11:1-19

Did anyone else grow up thinking that the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree was a little harsh? I mean, the Bible even says that it wasn’t even fig season, and here’s Jesus all mad that there was no fruit behind those big, beautiful leaves. So he curses the tree and it withers up and dies. I’ve always felt bad for the tree.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Mark 11:13-14 (NIV)

Now, I’ve seen fig trees in leaf without fruit. If you like figs, it’s a little disappointing when there’s nothing there to sample. But when you know it’s not the right season, you shrug and walk away and hope you can come back when there is fruit. Jesus just couldn’t shake it off, though.

Why is that? Paul explained it to Timothy.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

1 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)

I don’t think Jesus’ disappointment was so much with the fig tree, but with the Jews. Here he was, the fulfillment of centuries of promise, standing in front of them and they were far more concerned with pretty leaves—religious tradition—than fruit—the spiritual enlightenment he brought.

Let’s break this down to a very simple, personal level. Let’s say that one of your best friends isn’t a believer. You know that, and your friend knows that you are a believer. You don’t hide your faith, but at their request, you don’t talk much about it. Then one day, your friend starts asking you deeper questions about your faith. But, since you didn’t really talk about it much, your friend doesn’t know that you haven’t been going to church much and your Bible is sitting dusty on a shelf. You’re not in a fruitful season. And because of that lack of fruit, you are unable to truly share with your friend even though they’re finally ready to hear the Gospel.

According to John 15:1, God is the gardener. If God is the gardener, then the local church sort of acts like a greenhouse. Since Roman times, gardeners have worked to coax fruit from plants even when the season isn’t right. Greenhouses bring light and heat where there otherwise would be cold and dark. These two elements help plants to grow out of their natural habitat and through what would normally be a dormant season.

Do you see what I’m getting at? The gathering of the saints, regular fellowship with other Christians, helps to keep us warm and full of light. As a result, we can be more fruitful in  more seasons. Just because we may be going through a rough time, doesn’t mean that we can’t still bear fruit. If a hothouse can grow tomatoes through a Canadian winter, surely the strength of a church community can both help you through your trial and even cause a little fruit to grow.

Looking pretty doesn’t matter. I’m sure Jesus would have rather seen a scraggly tree, heavy with ripened fruit than the leafy, fruitless wonder he did find.

The trick to staying in season? First, stay connected to the vine—Jesus. Second, stay connected with the gardener—God. And third, stay in the greenhouse—the church.

Give me a sign

Read: Numbers 24-27, Mark 8:11-38

Mark 8-11-12.jpg

It seems a little bit contradictory that Jesus would say this right after performing some of the most spectacular miracles of his ministry. This would be like asking an Olympic gold medalist to repeat their performance to prove they were good enough and have them refuse. The evidence for their athleticism already exists in the form of the gold hanging around their neck. For Jesus, the evidence of the wonders he had done was all around in the form of the thousands of people Jesus had healed, set free, and fed.

By refusing to perform a sign from heaven for the Pharisees on command, does this mean that Jesus didn’t want to do the miraculous anymore? Of course not! He knew that, if the evidence already available to these men wasn’t enough, one more miracle wasn’t going to do the trick.

He who is not convinced of the value of unseen things from a knowledge of the personality and spiritual message of Jesus will be unmoved by the most spectacular miracle.

J. Newton Davies, The Abingdon Commentary

I’m so confused! Do we want miracles or don’t we?

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:17-18 (NIV)

These were some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven. I think it’s safe to assume that this message was an important one.

But why are miracles for some people and not for others? Harper’s Bible Dictionary says this:

The miraculous healings and exorcisms, then, were unique personal experiences of the salvation brought by Jesus.

As much as miracles prove the existence of a loving God, they are not for unbelievers, but those who believe. Notice that when Jesus healed someone, he often told them that their faith had made them well. Jesus didn’t heal them to make them believe, he healed them because they believed.

It then begs the question: why isn’t the church as a whole seeing miracles?

Do we really believe?