Get out of the way!

I’ve been to a lot of church services. I grew up in the day when we went to church twice on Sundays, once on Wednesdays, and attended extra services when a guest speaker was in town. We had youth group on Fridays and maybe even a mid-week Bible study. When I say I grew up at church, I mean that I actually spent the majority of my time at the church. Not much has changed.

In all of those church services, I saw a lot of ministry lines, altar calls, hands go up for prayer. But I rarely saw a pastor or speaker interrupt his or her sermon to do so. They weren’t wrong, but in recent studies and conversations, I’ve begun to wonder if they were always right.

While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was listening as Paul preached, and Paul noticed him and realized he had faith to be healed. So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking.

Acts 14:8-10 (NLT)

As far as I can tell, this is the first the crippled man had heard the Good News.  It was Paul and Barnabas’ first trip to the area and they were bringing a new message to the people there. Churches and training centres hadn’t been set up yet. The apostles were setting up the groundwork for future ministry.

Then this crippled man shows up. He hears a message of miracles and salvation and his faith is stirred. What do we do now?

In some churches, he’d be required to spend several weeks in studies on faith and healing before someone may or may not lay hands on him.

In other churches, he’d be told that healing isn’t for today, God made him crippled for a reason.

Yet in other churches, he might have to wait for the end of the message for a call to the altar to be offered and hope that someone could help him to the front before the altar closes to new arrivals.

But what did Paul do? The moment he recognized that this man had faith, he stopped what he was doing and called out to him to stand. He didn’t pause to teach on how healing works. He didn’t have to explain what faith is. He didn’t fall to his knees to petition God with pleading groans so the man could be set free from his affliction. In fact, I haven’t found anywhere in the Gospels where this was the case.

Miracles happened when faith was present and the men of God acted on their recognition of it. Long, flowery prayers not needed. Explanations unnecessary. A simple command was all that was required to activate the faith that was already there.

If God says He’ll do something, it’s up to us to believe and proclaim that He will do it. And when the gift of faith shows up, get out of the way! Shut up and let God show off. This message we preach is not about us. It’s about the God who came to give us abundant life. What we have to say is far less important than what God came to do.

Start looking for faith and then practice acting on it immediately. It may require retraining our minds and our spirits to respond in a different way, but if the result is seeing the crippled walk, the blind seeing, and the sick healed, it’s worth it. Isn’t it?

Daily Bible reading: Job 35-37, Acts 14

Beam me up!

I’m not what one would consider a Trekkie, but I do enjoy Star Trek. I’ve always wanted to be teleported. To be able to say into your com, “Beam me up, Scottie!” and be lifted from one place to another in a matter of moments would be pretty sweet. But long before Kirk was captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a man from Samaria was beamed from one place to another—without Scottie at the control panel.

The latter portion of Acts 8 gives us the account of Philip and a man we know as the Ethiopian. Philip had been leading a successful ministry in Samaria when an angel came and told him it was time to move along. Now. He needed to be on a certain road at a certain time. No time to waste! Philip didn’t hesitate. He went.

On his journey, he came across the treasurer of Ethiopia. A man of great power and authority. Philip was able to give witness of Jesus and even baptized the man. As soon as Philip had baptized this stranger, he was gone. He didn’t leave. He was just gone. The eunuch never saw Philip again, but still took the Good News with him.

Meanwhile, Philip found himself in another city altogether. He continued to preach the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:40).

While the fact that Philip was able to minister to this high-ranking official from Ethiopia may seem insignificant, the entire account is not. I don’t believe the fact that the Ethiopian took the Good News with him was even the most important part of this story—I believe Philip’s obedience is.

Perhaps Philip was not the first person God had sent to speak to the eunuch. Maybe, on his journey, the man had come across many believers. But he had yet to hear and accept the Good News. God needed someone to reach him. Philip was maybe not the first one who was told to go, but he was the one who responded. Not only did he respond, but he went immediately. There was no waiting. No wrapping things up in Samaria. No setting up the next leader so that the ministry wouldn’t be without. He left. He needed to be on a certain road at a certain time or the call would have been for naught.

Once that first task was accomplished, God then took Philip to a completely different city. Philip had already proven himself faithful. He’d go where God needed him when God needed him to go.

I am quite certain that if the large majority of us suddenly disappeared from our lives and landed in a foreign city we wouldn’t just continue on our merry way. We’d call home. We’d try to get home. We would be quite livid at having been unexpectedly uprooted. We would have a hard time detaching ourselves from our former lives if at all.

Philip understood that, in ministry, his life was not his own. His life’s mission was to accomplish the will of God in whatever that capacity may be. His faithfulness to the call allowed God to move him from one place to another with no interruption in what Philip was able to accomplish. His preaching never stopped. He didn’t try to rush back to Samaria or send someone to make sure things were going okay. God moved him, so he kept preaching.

How confident are you in your Christian walk that, if God decided to beam you up, you’d just go with it?

Daily Bible reading: Job 13-15, Acts 8:26-40

To boldly go

… to boldly go where no man has gone before.

You’ve probably heard that phrase more than a few times. It’s the mission of the starship Enterprise.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

The Church has a similar mission—only it’s a life-long one, not just five years.

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

Did you know that this instruction from Jesus doesn’t apply only pastors? It applies to Christians. Period. But a lot of us tend to look at this as a job not an opportunity. The more we see taking the Gospel to the world as work, the less we’re apt to do it. So how did the early church manage to grow so much so quickly?

“And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After this prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they preached God’s message with boldness.

Acts 4:29-31 (NLT)

The church prayed and—amazingly enough—God answered their prayers!

They didn’t pray for their leaders to be bold, they prayed for boldness for themselves. Every member of the church received the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Good News boldly. We don’t have to share the Gospel, we get to. And we don’t have to do it on our own power. If your desire is to see more people brought into the Kingdom of God, God is not going to withhold the power of His Spirit to help you do so.

Jesus told us to bring the Gospel to the world, but he also promised the Helper.

It’s time that the Church—the whole Church, every member of the Church—pray for boldness to preach the Good News. Now is not the time to sit back and reevaluate our message so that we don’t risk offending certain groups of people. Now is the time for us to pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to fall on us all so that we boldly go forth and preach God’s message.

Daily Bible reading: Nehemiah 12-13, Acts 4:23-37

Be strong

Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged by the size of the task, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly.”

1 Chronicles 28:20 (NLT)

We, the Church, have the great task of building the Kingdom of God. We are to go into all the world preaching the Gospel and making disciples of all nations. That is a sizeable task. It can be daunting if we take the entire work upon ourselves as individuals or even individual churches.

But it is not our responsibility alone. While we should feel a great sense of responsibility to carry out the Great Commission, the pressure to complete it does not rest on any one individual, but the Church as a whole.

Jesus said that he would build his Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. If he promised it, he will perform it.

Like David instructing Solomon on building the Temple, Jesus instructed us on building the Church. David’s words to his son are as applicable to us in our endeavour to build the Kingdom of God as they were to Solomon in his to build the Temple.

We must be strong and courageous, and do the work. God is with us. He won’t fail us. He won’t forsake us. He has called us to work with Him and will equip us with all we need to complete the task as we need it.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Chronicles 28-29, John 11:47-57

No thanks

Everyone likes a little (or a lot of) recognition. It’s nice to be appreciated for the work you do. And we should show appreciation to other who do a good work. There is, however a difference in enjoying appreciation for the work you do and requiring appreciation in order to do it.

Jesus addresses this with his disciples.

When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, he doesn’t just sit down and eat. He must first prepare his master’s meal and serve him his supper before eating his own. And the servant is not even thanked, because he is merely doing what he is supposed to do. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, “We are not worthy of praise. We are servants who have simply done our duty.”

Luke 17:7-10 (NLT)

I’ve seen volunteers quit because they feel they aren’t shown enough appreciation. I’ve seen people turn up their noses at menial work because no one would ever see them do it—and if no one ever saw them do it, they would never be congratulated for it. One must then question the reasons for why we do what we do when it comes to service.

I don’t know about you, but in my Bible, Jesus tells all believers to go into the world and preach the Gospel (Mark 16:15). He tells us to honour our fathers and mothers and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Matthew 19:19). He tells us that we should do for others what we want them to do for us (Luke 6:31). These are just a few of the things Jesus instructed his followers to do. But in none of these guidelines have I found the provision for appreciation.

There is nothing that might stipulate that we should only do these things if proper gratitude is shown. In fact, we are told that if you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too (Matthew 5:39).

Christian service can be a thankless job, but that doesn’t negate our responsibility to Jesus’ teachings. The entire point of his ministry was to reach those who could not or would not show gratitude.

This lesson is twofold. First, don’t quit just because you aren’t being thanked often enough. You will never know how far your reach is until your race is complete. By quitting early, you may miss out on touching the one life that could have changed the world. Our service has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Jesus. Second, show gratitude. Make it a point to thank the people who do the lowliest of jobs in the church. Maybe even help them out. There is no such thing as stooping in the Kingdom of God. Pastors can clean the toilets and janitors can share the Gospel.

We are all there to serve. Period. We can all be servants. We can all be encouragers. And we can all do it together and be happy about.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 27-29, Luke 17:1-19

All the reasons why

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (NLT)

In my life, I think I’ve been both Martha and Mary. I’ve been concerned about getting everything just so and complaining about the people who sit around seemingly doing nothing at all. And I’ve been the one sitting and drinking in what is being offered rather than running around making sure everything runs smoothly.

If you’re a Martha, you’re not necessarily wrong. Notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke her. He didn’t tell her that what she’d been doing was wrong. He told her that there were more important things.

If you’re a Mary, I believe that there are some times that we need to look to Martha for direction. But, Jesus knew he would only be with these people for a short time. He had to teach them as much as he could before his time on earth was up. Mary was right to pay as close attention to him as she did.

In our Christian walk, there is a time to emulate both of these women. If we act like Martha all the time, we can very easily fall into empty works. We get so busy doing that we can forget the reason why we’re doing it in the first place. If we act like Mary all the time, we risk becoming spiritual gluttons. If you’re always being fed and never doing the work, you become at fat and useless Christian because you will never be able to fulfil the Great Commission of bringing the Gospel to a lost world.

If you’re working, take a break to refresh yourself in the Word of God. If you’re being taught, go out and put what you’ve learned to work. Whether you’re Martha doing the work or Mary being taught, don’t let yourself forget all the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Daily Bible reading: Judges 18-19, Luke 10:25-42

Shake the dust off

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

This verse is probably as well known to you as John 3:16. We call it the Great Commission. Every Christian is called to bring the Good News to a lost world. But what if the lost world doesn’t want the Good News?

Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.

Mark 16:16 (NLT)

It sounds a little harsh, doesn’t it? Some churches might even preach that hearing the Good News is good enough. Surely God wouldn’t condemn someone who has heard His Gospel.

Yet that is exactly what this scripture says. Believe and be saved. Refuse and be condemned. It’s a pretty simple, but hard truth to swallow. And, once we come to the realisation that not all who hear the Good News will accept it, how do we, as the ones who present that Gospel deal with the guilt of seeing someone condemned to a life of eternal torment?

We shake the dust off our feet and move on.

If the people of the village won’t receive your message when you enter it, shake off its dust from your feet as you leave. It is a sign that you have abandoned that village to its fate.

Luke 9:5 (NLT)

We can and should hold ourselves responsible to the Great Commission. We should be sharing the Gospel and spreading the Good News to the best of our ability, but we cannot and should not hold ourselves accountable for those who refuse our message. In Luke 8, Jesus addresses the different types of people that will hear the Word. He wouldn’t have talked about the seeds that would never grow if everyone who heard the Good News accepted it with joy.

Let this lesson free you—not from the burden to share the message of salvation—but from the guilt that may come when there are those who refuse your message. If you have prepared yourself and presented Jesus to the very best of your ability, you have fulfilled your Commission. If your message isn’t received, shake the dust from you feet and move on encouraged that you are still doing the work of the Father.

Daily Bible reading: Judges 10-11, Luke 9:1-36

Be a lert

Be alert. We need more lerts.

That silly joke comes to mind almost every time I hear the word alert. It’s stupid, I know. It was funny when I was twelve. But now that I’m older, perhaps there is more to it than nonsense.

There is no such thing as a lert. There should be. We should all be lerts.

And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

Mark 13:33 (NLT)

Jesus is speaking of the end of time. When the world (and even much of the Church) will fall away. He speaks this warning to his people. Stay alert! Jesus knows that humans are fickle creatures. We’re more apt to pick the easy way rather than the right way. Sit rather than stand. We’d rather sleep than be awake.

Jesus’ intent was never to come back for a lazy Church. He’s looking for a spotless, blameless Bride. Vibrant and full of life. His life. His Word. We need not only to keep the Word near to us and in our hearts, but we are to proclaim it to the nations.

And here’s what many find the most difficult: we are not to add to or take away from it. Once the Word has been meddled with, it is no longer the word and therefore no longer contains the power to change lives.

We need to stay alert so that we can be sure we are preaching the true, life-changing Word of God. We need to wake up the sleepers so that we can meet our Groom with wide eyes and oil in our lamps.

Be a lert!

Daily Bible reading: Deuteronomy 14-16, Mark 13:14-37

The King and His Thieves

Let me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.

Mark 3:27 (NLT)

This may be one of the only times where Jesus seems to condone theft. But not just any theft. Let’s give this verse some context:

Jesus has just been doing a bit of his Father’s work by healing people and casting out demons. The local priests have accused him of being possessed by Satan. Jesus is setting them straight by explaining that a house divided cannot stand. If he was working for Satan, why would he be casting out demons? Then he goes on to say that, in order to rob a strong man, an even stronger man has to go in first and tie him up. Wait, what?

The odds that Jesus is actually encouraging people to go into someone’s house, tie him up, and steal his things are, well, none. But in this context of binding the devil, perhaps the strong man Jesus is referring to is Satan himself.

This idea is new to me, so bear with me as I make a feeble attempt to make sense of it all.

We know that, because of sin in the Garden of Eden, man gave authority of the earth to the devil. The earth is now the devil’s “house” and the property in the house is humanity. Salvation is pretty much God stealing from Satan.

When Jesus said that all power and authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him, he’s saying that his is the stronger man who went into the strong man’s house and tied him up. Now the house can be robbed.

Jesus, as the strongest of strong men has done the difficult work. It’s now up to us as the Church to do the rest and go into the house and plunder the goods. To go into the world and preach the Gospel making disciples of all nations.

If we’re stealing back what was already stolen, are we still thieves?

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 3-4, Mark 3:22-35