Not yours

Do you need God to move in a big way in your life? Wait. That’s a silly question. Who doesn’t need God to move in a big way in their life? If you’re sitting there thinking that you don’t, then you really need God to move in a big way.

We all need God. And we all need Him to move in our lives. But most of us never really see God move in the ways we’d like him to. Jim Cymbala said in his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, that he despaired at the thought that [his] life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on [his] behalf. What a sorry existence we live as Christians if we never really see God move in or through us.

So what does it take to see God move?

  • Individuals. A move of God starts when one person decides that they want more for their life than what their own plan can accomplish. It takes one person making the choice to put God’s plans ahead of their own.

The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands father than the practices of Israel.

2 Chronicles 17:3-4 (NIV)

  • Leaders. A move of God requires leaders—those who have made the choice to put the plans and purposes of God above everything else—to stand up and encourage others to do the same.

As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”

2 Chronicles 20:20b

  • Families. If one person can make a decision, a family can make a difference. The entire nation of Israel was one family descended from Abraham. When they chose to walk in the ways of the Lord, God went before them and blessed everything they touched.

All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.

2 Chronicles 20:13 (NIV)

  • Worship. Our response to God, His goodness, His faithfulness, His good plans for us, stirs His heart. God cannot move where He is not welcome and what better way to welcome His Spirit than to stand in an attitude of adoration?

After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his love endures forever.”

2 Chronicles 20:21 (NIV)

In the case of Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah, God went ahead of the army and defeated the enemy for them. By the time the troops arrived on the battlefield, all that remained were dead bodies and so much plunder that it took three days to gather it all.

We may not be headed into a physical battle, but we are most certainly in a spiritual one. If we want God to move on our behalf, there are certain things required of us. The greatest of these things is the sacrifice of ourselves.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 3:30 (NIV)

It’s hard to let go of our own wants and needs. Scary, even. But when we recognise God for who He is—a good God and a loving Father—it becomes easier to allow Him to set the course for us. And that is what we must do. God will move, but it will be in His direction, not ours. We must be committed and submitted to His will.

For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

2 Chronicles 20:15b (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 20-22, John 16:1-15

If the world hates you

The world. Unredeemed society, estranged from God, held in the grip of sin and the evil one, blind to spiritual truth and hostile to those who have the life of God in them… Hostility is rooted in spiritual dissimilarity.

Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary

More and more, it would seem, the world hates the Church. I don’t believe that it is so much because we carry a message of hate—our message is quite the opposite—but that they do not understand our message. It’s different than what they’ve been told to think. Talk to anyone who is militantly against faith in Christ. More often than not, they don’t even know why they carry so much anger or hatred nor do they know enough of the Bible to make any relevant argument against the faith.

As frustrating as this can be to Christians around the world, Jesus gave us fair warning.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, That is why the world hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NIV)

People fear what they do not know and that fear can easily be turned into hatred. A child may claim that he hates all vegetables. As it is unlikely that he has tried every vegetable in existence, it can be assumed that their conclusion of dislike for all produce stems from either a bad experience with vegetables or a fear of the unknown. That which hasn’t been sampled can seem strange and different and uncomfortable.

The world’s ignorance is the true cause of its hatred to the disciples of Jesus. The clearer and fuller the discoveries of the grace and truth of Christ, the greater is our sin if we do not love him and believe in him.

Matthew Henry

The mention of Jesus, however, elicits a far stronger reaction than broccoli. Most people who claim to hate Jesus along with those who follow him really know nothing about him and what he really taught. Their opinions are often based on hearsay or that one bad experience. Because we don’t share common values or beliefs, we all become like vegetables—hated for no other reason than being a vegetable, or in our case, Christians.

There are those who believe that, if Christians would just act more like the rest of the world, it would be better. Wrong. It wouldn’t be better. Jesus called us out of the world. We shouldn’t look like the world. That’s like a mother mashing cauliflower and carrots into the potatoes to make her kid eat vegetables. Sure, the cauliflower is still cauliflower and the carrots are still carrots, but they’ve been blended in with the potatoes so much, you can no longer tell what’s what. The original substance, texture, shape, and flavour has all been lost.

How did Jesus respond to the haters? He loved them. It is our love for one another and our love for the world that sets us apart.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:27-31 (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 17-19, John 15

Three strikes

Three strikes and you’re out! Much to my mother’s dismay, I love baseball. I watch a lot of baseball. Because I love to watch baseball, my mother has learned to endure baseball. In my father’s absence, we had a very nearly intelligent conversation about it just the other day. She even knew what a DH was. While Mom doesn’t know nearly as many of the ins and outs of baseball as I do, she does know that three strikes means that the batter is out. Three outs and the inning is over.

One could argue that baseball is in the Bible. You know, in the big inning God created the heavens and the earth… (groan). There was one occasion, though where someone did reach the three strike count. But that didn’t mean he was out.

Jesus, while reclining at the table after sharing the Passover supper with his disciples, announced to Peter that before the rooster crowed, he would deny knowing Jesus three times. Peter was opposed to this idea. He was willing to go to prison or even to death for and with his Lord. Words are all fine and good, but that’s not how things ended up for Peter.

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:60-62 (NIV)

If life were a game of ball, Peter probably would have been out a long time before this, even if he weren’t, the third denial would have been the third strike. The umpire of life would holler from behind home plate, “You’re outta here!” But he wasn’t out. Peter had not been disqualified. In fact, Jesus made preparations for such a situation. He changed the rules.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22:32 (NIV)

Keep in mind that this is the same Peter who had cut the ear off one of the guards who had come to arrest Jesus. This is the same Peter who had the courage to step out of the boat, but began to sink into the waves. The same Peter who suggested they build shelters on the mountain of transfiguration for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. But this is also the same Peter who had the revelation of Jesus being the Son of God.

After his third strike, no one would have blamed Peter for walking away. Perhaps the other disciples would have even suggested it. But just as he remembered Jesus’ prediction of his denial, Peter would have remembered Jesus’ prayer for him as well. In that moment of decision, Peter could have turned his back on Jesus or, as was prayed, used that experience to strengthen himself. He chose the latter.

After Jesus had ascended into heaven, the believers sat waiting in the upper room for something. They weren’t sure what, but they were certain they’d know it when it came. Then came the wind and tongues of fire.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:4 (NIV)

So when the crowds heard all this noise and recognised their own native languages who went out to speak. John, the one whom Jesus loved? James? Levi, the tax collector? No, Peter, the one who had denied Jesus. And as he spoke to the crowd, maybe Jesus’ words echoed in his mind, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” That day, three thousand more souls were added to their numbers. What should have been Peter’s downfall became his starting point. He had tasted the bitterness of his own defeat, yet seen in Jesus the sweetness of victory.

Thank God that there is no umpire for life. There is no one behind us to tell us we’re out. The only way we are disqualified from the life we’ve been called to is if we step out of the batter’s box. God will never pull one of His children from the game. He is our Father, cheering us on from the sidelines. He is our coach, giving instructions from the dugout. He is the pitcher, throwing a perfect strike every time. There is no such thing as an out. We get to swing until we hit something. There is nothing we can do that will withdraw God’s call from our lives.

If Peter could stand in front of Jesus and deny ever knowing him, yet just days later, stand in front of thousands declaring him as Lord, we can go on knowing that God has our backs. And our fronts. And our sides. He has called us up to the plate, but a bat in our hands and He will never take it away.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Read: 1 Kings 1-2, Luke 22:54-71

Cheap and easy

Have you ever known another Christian who thinks you should do things for or give things to them just because you’re both Christians? Somewhere along the line, a lot of believers got it in their heads that everything should be cheap and easy. Free is even better. We’ve got this idea in our heads that it’s a blessing. Generally, it’s not. It’s cheap. It’s greedy. It’s unbecoming of a group of people who should be known for their generosity, not their ability to rip people off in the name of faith.

David, having grieved the Lord, was instructed to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at a certain place. That certain place was a threshing floor belonging to a man named Araunan. Araunan offered everything to David for free.

But the king replied to Araunan, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

David paid for the threshing floor, the wood for the fire, and the oxen to sacrifice. As the king, it probably didn’t break the bank. But he still refused to offer something to God that he didn’t have to pay for.

Centuries later, another sacrifice was required. Like David’s sin needed a sacrifice, our sin, too, needed a sacrifice. Only the payment for our sin was much greater than the purchase of a floor, wood, and ox. The payment required on our behalf was the life of God’s Son.

As Jesus prepared for what he knew he had to do, he let out one last agonising prayer.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Luk 22:42 (NIV)

I cannot imagine the torment Jesus went through during that time in the garden. He knew the physical pain would be unbearable. He knew the weight of the sins of the world would be crushing. And he knew that he would forever be separated from his Father.

These are just two examples, in a book of many, that we are to emulate. Jesus taught on and lived a life of generosity. That practice continued in the early church as Paul writes to commend the church at Philippi.

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.

Philippians 4:15 (NIV)

Only one church of many understood the concept of generous giving. The point was not that Paul needed so much (even though he did), but that the church received far more because of their gifts.

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Philippians 4:17-18 (NIV)

David could have very easily accepted the gift Araunan offered to him, but he knew that he needed to pay a price or the sacrifice would not have been his, but Araunan’s. Jesus, too, could have prayed that the cup be passed and stopped there. God may have even allowed it. But Jesus knew a price had to be paid. Paul could have sent the gifts back to Philippi since he had more than enough, but he knew that the church needed to give so that they could receive more.

You see, generosity is not something we should expect from others, but it is something we should expect of ourselves. How much value do you place in something that came cheap and easy? Compare that to something that you paid dearly for.

Someone may or may not have need of what you have to give, but you have far greater need for the space your sacrifice creates in your own life. If you want a blessing, you have to make room for it. If a gift costs you nothing to give, is it really worth giving? What does that say about you? What does that say to the person receiving the gift?

No matter who you give to or what you give, whether it be to the Lord, a brother or sister in Christ, or the homeless person on the street, give generously. Give faithfully. Give as though it’s the first gift you get to give and the last you’ll ever be able to give.

Read: 2 Samuel 23-24, Luke 22:31-53

Losers

I think it would be fair to say that most of us do not relish being losers. We all want to win. At everything. But there are some cases in which losing will gain us far more than winning ever will.

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.

Luke 21:12-19 (NIV)

Anyone who tells you that life as a Christian will be sunshine and roses is a liar. The Bible makes no guarantees that, once we put our faith in Christ, our lives will be stretched out before us like a freshly paved highway on the prairie. It’s more like a narrow path through rock, jungle, desert, and ocean. In just a few statements Jesus told his followers that they will be betrayed by those closest to them, that they will be hated, and that they may even die. But don’t worry, not a hair of your head will perish!

Though we may be losers for Christ, we shall not, we cannot be losers by him, in the end.

Matthew Henry

To those new to the faith, it may seem that Jesus is asking a lot of us. Maybe too much. He’s asking for our lives. If we don’t fully understand the benefits that are afforded to us as believers, we may well be unwilling to do all that Christ asks of us.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Philippians 3:7-8 (NIV)

For one who has only faith in themself, it is difficult to understand how a follower of Christ could be so willing to give up everything—become a loser—for someone who existed thousands of years ago. But even in the face of complete and utter loss in this life, we have gained far more than they can ever know unless they, too, come to an understanding of the grace by which we stand. We have already won because Jesus has already won. Christ has already defeated the one thing which the world cannot—death. And because we are in Christ, we have already won as well.

Losers in this life we may be, but we have already gained everything in the next.

Read: 2 Samuel 17-18, Luke 21:1-19

The one

Jesus was a storyteller. He liked to get his message across using stories that related to people where they were at. In Luke 15, he tells three stories one after the other. Since most of our Bibles have headings before each story, we have a tendency to pull them apart and use them as stand-alone tales. But I think Jesus told them together for a reason.

The first story is of the lost sheep. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine who are safe and accounted for to find the one which was lost.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over the one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Luke 15:7 (NIV)

The next story is of a woman who has ten coins, but loses one. She turns her house upside down to find that one lost coin.

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Luke 15:9-10 (NIV)

The last story is perhaps the most referenced parable Jesus ever told—that of the prodigal son. A son asks his father for his inheritance and gets it. Immediately, he leaves his father’s house and squanders all of his money on debauchery. He returns home in utter humiliation.

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:22-24 (NIV)

There are three types of people Jesus addresses with these three stories.

  1. The wanderer. This person is completely unaware of their drifting. One moment they are with the flock and the next, lost and alone. They wander away not knowing any better. But God still chases after the one.
  2. The neglectful. This person, like the coin, is lost through neglect or carelessness. They stop paying attention to where they are going and, like the sheep in the previous story, find themselves lost and nowhere near the rest of the group. But God still chases after the one.
  3. The prodigal. This person knows exactly what they’re doing, and they leave anyway. They’ve made themselves to believe that life is better on the other side and they squander the riches they’ve been given. But God still chases after the one.

I’m not sure that Jesus could have reached any more people with a fourth story. In one way or another, we can all find ourselves in at least one, if not all, of these parables.

Maybe you’ve wandered away because your faith is still new and you just don’t know any better or your roots weren’t deep enough to keep you close to God. Maybe you’ve neglected your faith and have found yourself out of touch with the Lord. Or maybe you made the choice to walk away. But no matter what situation you may find yourself in, God wants you back. He always wants you back. To Him you are the one.

Read: 1 Samuel 17-18, Luke 15:1-10

Methodless Man

Jesus performed miracles. Lots of miracles. Most people who do a lot of the same thing over and over again come up with a method for doing just that.

When I worked for the bank, my job title was Workflow Specialist. It was my duty to make our necessary processes run as efficiently as possible. We had methods of doing things. We did the same thing the same way every day so that it was easy to teach, easy to learn, and as easy as possible to do. Fewer mistakes are made when you get into a simple routine.

I don’t think Jesus knew about workflow specialists.

In Luke 7:9, Jesus healed a man’s servant simply because the man believed Jesus could do it. Jesus never even met the man he healed.

In verse 14, he touched the coffin of a dead man and the man was raised to life.

In verse 21, Jesus went all to cure many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits and gave sight to many who were blind.

Jesus was consistent in what he did, but now how he did it. Maybe he got bored with just touching people. A little spit and dust would certainly stir things up. Or maybe, he needed to avoid a particular method so that the Pharisees and other religious fanatics wouldn’t latch on to any particular way of performing a miracle and try to replicate the method.

Admit it. When something works out really well for you one time, you try to replicate the circumstances the next time you go to do it. If it works just as well the second time, you may start to refine your method for even better results.

Jesus didn’t do that. There is no one method we can use to get something from Jesus. That was the whole point. The only common strain that ran through all of Jesus’ miracles was faith. People went to him expecting a miracle. It didn’t matter how it happened, it only mattered that they got it.

If you want something from God, if you need a miracle, there are no surefire steps to take. To the man who wanted his servant healed and believed that if Jesus only said the words, it would happen, Jesus said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel!”

More than any one method, I believe it is the confident faith with which we approach Jesus that will see the greatest results. If God made us a promise in His Word, we can approach Him with all confidence that it will happen!

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV)

Read: Judges 1-2, Luke 7:1-30