As we approach the seventeenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Towers that killed nearly 3,000 people, we are hearing again the many stories about the people who were late for work for one reason or another and missed their “appointment with death.” And then there was the man who had a flat tire on his way to Boston’s Logan Airport and missed his flight to California. Brooding about his “bad luck,” he returned home only to receive a phone call from a family member shocked to hear that he was still alive, since it was his plane that became a “flying bomb” that destroyed one of the towers. He replied, “God must have had a reason to keep me off of that plane.” He is certain to spend the rest of his life figuring that one out. But how are we to think about such occurrences? Was it luck (good or bad) that he had a flat tire? Was God exercising providential care in keeping only this man away from danger? Such questions are beyond our ability to understand. They deal with issues locked away in the mind of God.
But as interesting as it is to debate such rare occurrences as these, I am more concerned with what the Word of God does teach us about the providence of God. Unfortunately, the topic almost never comes up in general conversation unless it has the mass appeal of this passenger’s story. What the Bible does indicate is not that God is interested in keeping us alive or taking us home through His providence, but in putting us into situations where we can be of use to Him. In other words, my personal survival on this planet isn’t as important an issue as my availability to be used for His purposes. One thinks especially of the story of Joseph in Egypt and the providence of God that brought him to the right place at the right time. Or, we think of Esther, whom her uncle wisely counseled: “Who knows whether you were come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” But we are not to think this happens only to the “ancient greats.” It appears that God is at work in the lives of all of us preparing us for areas of service far beyond our ability to understand. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we should not be so quick to label the events of life either “good” or “bad” for he promises that “God works all things together for good to them that love him, who are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28).
The question our friend who missed his plane should be asking is not “why?” but “what?” What is God leading me to become? What is He leading me to do for Him? For there will come a time when neither he nor we will any longer be preserved from death. And then the only remaining question will be “What have we done with the opportunities for service God has offered us?”
Kevin Harney is an outreach coach. He understands how reluctant so many Christians are about sharing their faith. Here are some helps he gives us that will not only make our attempts effective but perhaps will light a fire under so many of us who are holding back.
1. Ask for permission and don’t be pushy. When you sense that a door is opening say, “Would you mind if I told you about a way God has changed my life?”
2. Use ordinary language. People far from God will not understand some of the “churchy” words we use. It is best to use plain language.
3. Start briefly and share more as it becomes appropriate. Rather than telling your whole life story, just share one experience.
4. Highlight God’s presence and power. If Jesus has healed you from an addiction or bad habit, or has provided guidance, let people know. People really want to know if God is real and active in the world today.
5. Clearly present the before and after pictures. The list is as long as our life experiences: from self-centered to caring, from no purpose to deep meaning, from fear of death to hope for eternity, from anxiety to peace….
6. Share the source of life transformation. The only power that can change us from the inside out is the work of Jesus.
7. Let joy shine through. Don’t fake it, but joy will be part of our story because Jesus is the author of joy.
8. Communicate with humility. We need to be careful not to come across as saying we are right and they are wrong or we are good and they are bad. We simply want to share what God is doing in our life.
9. Remember, you have many stories. Be careful not to get locked into telling the same story over and over. And make your story fit the needs of the person you are talking with. If they are suffering from loneliness, tell how God’s presence has strengthened and comforted you.
10. I would add one more: Talk to God before you talk to someone far from God—PRAY!
A few years ago Kathy and I visited the former Auschwitz/Birkenau Prison Camp near Krakow, Poland. The Nazis, in a hurry to exterminate all kinds of “undesirables” (especially Jews), had installed poison gas “showers” to expedite the process and had built more ovens to dispose of the vast number of corpses. Everyone who visits this memorial is aghast at the depravity that humanity is capable of. We have been told for years by all kinds of secular authorities that mankind is basically good. The problem is we have this pesky thing called guilt that constantly bothers us.
The Bible says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19). The reason we experience this pesky thing called guilt, the Bible tells us, is because we ARE guilty. The whole world is guilty before God. We can pretend it is not there. We can find someone else to blame for our problem. But the only real and effective way to remove guilt is to get to the root of the problem, which plainly is sin. The truth is that humanity is not basically good. Humanity is basically sinful. That is God’s assessment of humankind. We see it in the acts of terrorists who heartlessly murder people with no apparent pangs of conscience whatever. We see it every day in our own nation In the crimes that are committed, especially against children.
The Bible tells us that these things happen because people have no fear of God in their lives; “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28). I hear people say all the time, “Well, you have chosen to follow God and I have chosen other pursuits in life.” They carelessly think that all that is at stake is simply a difference of taste or opinion. NO. The eventual outcome of turning away from God is a life of evil, which may be expressed many different ways. Solomon, after his binge into every kind of sin imaginable, came to this conclusion: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He was essentially saying, “Listen, here is what I have learned from life: after doing everything that God told me I should not do, I have discovered that God knew what He was talking about.” We would do well to come to that conclusion as early in life as we possibly can
—Adapted from an article by Greg Laurie
One of my spiritual “mentors” (although he died 40 years before I was born) was George Muller. Mr. Muller began his life’s career in England as a pastor, but he is best known for beginning and carrying on an orphanage that ultimately supported about 2,500 children in five huge buildings which he built with a huge staff of helpers and all the furnishings, daily clothing and food that was needed. All of this with no capital, no contacts, and no solicitations. Faith in God’s provision was the only tool he relied upon. He confessed later in life that he really had no intention of beginning an orphanage except that he felt compelled by the love of God to do so, but his personal motivation was to show his fellow Christians that “there is reality in the things of God.” He was distressed by the fact that so many of his fellow Christians lived their lives as if God was unavailable to work in them. So his entire career was, so to speak, a show-and-tell demonstration.
The Bible is full of stories of ordinary people who possessed extraordinary faith. Many of these were people so ordinary that there would be nothing else to distinguish them were we to meet them today. But something inside of them shouted “You can trust God!” And they did. And we have been profiting from their accomplishments for over 2,000 years. Faith is a dynamic, forward-looking relationship with God. It is not a psychological tool. It is not faith in faith. It’s object is the Lord of the Universe, a Being so willing to respond to us that He promised “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). He also said, “According to your faith will it be done unto you” (Matthew 9:29). That strongly implies that the means to accomplish great things in life is laid squarely upon our shoulders. We hold the key that unlocks the Treasure House of Heaven. But what amazes me about the Bible’s teaching concerning faith is that this key is not for the few, the fit, and the fortunate. The promise is universal. It is a challenge God issues to every son and daughter in every generation.
No age has needed great men and women of faith more that the one we are presently living in. William Carey, who labored tirelessly for God in India 200 years ago, said it like this: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.” That is the secret of a life of great spiritual achievement—the confidence that God can do anything, the courage to ask Him, and the trust to expect an answer.
Jesus said two things that often troubled me. The first is one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled,” and the second is referred to as the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength….” These sayings troubled me because of the intensity they demand. We live in a society where so much balance is required. We are a little of this and a little of that. We are taught not to be intemperate about anything, including religion. Wouldn’t such conduct as Jesus demands make us fanatical, unbalanced and perhaps, if taken too far, even mentally ill?
This is what Satan would have us believe. The prevailing wisdom, after all, is worldly wisdom. It proceeds from the flesh, not the Spirit. The Spirit continues to call us to total commitment, to a God who alone brings purpose and depth, meaning and joy to life. This you will never see on TV, or read in magazines or find suggested by a Hollywood movie. But you will hear about it frequently from the lips of the only One who has perfect understanding of what life is meant to be. Total commitment is not a burden to be borne but a fantastic opportunity to be embraced. Jesus tells us about a man who was walking across a field one day and stubbed his toe against the edge of a partially buried treasure chest full of fabulous wealth. As soon as he could calm himself he ran off and sold all that he had and bought that field. He has been hugging himself ever since that he had sense enough to do it. That, says Jesus, is what finding the Kingdom of God is all about.
My God forgive the passionless sermons and lessons I have delivered over the years. May God wake up His church that is half asleep atop the treasure chest of the Kingdom. Please don’t hesitate to kick me in the leg the next time I give the impression that the Christian life is anything less than an opportunity to tap into the unlimited wealth of God.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Corinthians 1:18
Have you ever met someone who laughed, sneered, or jeered when the subject of Jesus Christ came up? While most people are more polite and tolerant of someone else’s point of view there are also many who just find the whole subject of faith in Jesus Christ as….well….just a little bit ridiculous. This is, by the way, one of the chief reasons so many Christians refuse to talk about their faith with anyone, ever. It is one thing to express a point of view with which others disagree. It is quite another to have it laughed off the stage. We shouldn’t be too harsh with those who respond to this sacred subject with a laugh. They are only reflecting the real state of things as they now exist in our increasingly pagan society. It is not that there is something inherently funny about the subject of faith in Christ. To them it is more like trying to get a serious discussion started on the person of Santa Claus. The first shock to them is that you actually believe in Him and the second is that you are trying to get others to believe in Him. While the serious Christian may not understand how this mindset came about in a so-called “Christian nation,” it is certainly becoming firmly entrenched.
How is this possible in a country that overwhelmingly says it believes in God? With churches on every corner and mega churches sprouting up everywhere, how could so many people miss the message? While the temptation is to blame Satan for this newest twist or to bemoan the spiritually backsliding society we live in, I put most of the blame squarely on the backs of Christians themselves. While so many Christians talk about God, faith, church or even a “relationship with Jesus Christ,” their unwillingness to live out their faith openly before their peers is the one thing, more than any other, that continues to move the subject of Jesus Christ into the realm of fantasy. For instance, if you had a neighbor who professed to love the country of Italy more than any country in the world, yet he spoke no Italian, never read books on the subject, never listened to Italian music, never went to an Italian restaurant or ever visited the country of Italy, wouldn’t you begin to suspect that the country of Italy never really existed?
Jesus himself has the answer for us: “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16). You see, our speech will mean absolutely nothing unless it is supported by our actions. It’s as simple as that.
This is the age of “Image is Everything!” Businesses spend millions for that “just right” look. And if you really watch the TV commercials you’ve got to believe that individuals do too. In our craze to “market the church” Christian leaders also have been deeply influenced to create and maintain an image. From the color of the paint on the walls to the tone and content of our preaching we are constantly directed to present a consistent image. Of course that image is to be one of warmth, compassion and acceptance in a user-friendly environment. It is not my intention here to belittle this practice because we have all experienced the barrenness of churches that have been totally indifferent to the question “How do others see us?”
But there is a built-in shallowness to this image question. If this becomes a dominant concern with us, what makes us think we will become any less vain than the man or woman who can’t resist endless primping each time he or she passes a mirror. We should first be asking an entirely different question: “How does God see us?” To deal honestly with this most important question we must put aside the church marketing books and read THE Book, especially the part where Jesus answers that question for the church at Ephesus. In His brutally frank way He lets them know the truth. Amidst all the good things they had going for them (of real substance, by the way) He let them know that they had a potentially fatal flaw: they had lost their “first love.” No amount of tinkering with externals would make up for it either. In fact, Jesus said that if they didn’t do something to restore it quickly He was going to put them out of business.
That got me thinking about which of those two questions we have decided is the most important to us. I think this whole idea of trying to become a friendly, accepting, compassionate church is going about it backwards. Our goal should be to allow the Spirit of God to work within us to produce what He promised to produce if we cooperate with Him; that is, real faith, hope, love and all those other things that people genuinely long for. To concentrate on acting friendly without experiencing a genuine work of the Spirit within us is only to offer an empty shell. The substance that fills that shell can only come as we truly desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him. That is my prayer for all of us.
Robert Hussein has converted back to Islam. The Kuwaiti businessman who had announced his conversion to Christianity, has returned to the faith of his childhood. He publically read out the Islamic confession of faith, an event covered in all the Kuwaiti newspapers.
Robert Hussein’s case had caused quite a stir in Islam, the faith that prides itself in the hold it has upon its people. Islamic courts quickly convicted him of apostasy, which carried with it a death sentence. He fled to the U. S. where he was baptized. But when he became a Christian Robert lost most of his rights as a citizen. His wife refused to see him and he was forbidden to have anything to do with his children. And all of this just became too much for Robert. So he has gone back to Kuwait to announce his return to Islam and his renunciation of his faith in Christ.
As sad as that story is, I nevertheless understand it. What I do not understand are the numerous cases of apostasy by so many people in this country who have no death sentence hanging over their heads and whose families are apparently supportive regardless of their decisions. Why is life in Jesus Christ so vitally important to so many in nations whose one intent is to punish them for it, and yet in nations who are indifferent or even supportive, Christians are so willing to throw it all away? I am not really sure which factors best answer that question but it has caused many Christian observers to suggest that probably the best thing that could happen to America is a serious reversal of our freedoms which we take so much for granted. Perhaps, they reason, if it begins to cost something to practice our faith it will take on a greater importance to us. I hope it doesn’t have to come to that. Yet, as I look at what is really happening in this world, I see the gospel of Christ spreading all across atheistic China and Muslim-dominated Africa because Christians are willing to put their lives on the line for God. I wonder—I really do—just what God is willing to do here with us if we ever become willing to put our lives on the line for Him. Because God doesn’t just “hang out” in the Eastern part of the world!
A Pastor once told of being chauffeured to a speaking engagement by a cab driver who had been sent to pick him up. The cabbie gave his testimony and waxed eloquent about Jesus Christ until the pastor asked him what church he was a member of. He replied, “I have church right here in my car. I’ve got preachers on the radio and congregants in the passenger seat.” In other words, he hadn’t stepped foot into a church in years. The cabbie’s situation highlights how badly we’ve misunderstood the role of the Christian community in God’s plan for our growth in Jesus Christ. The fact is, you can’t be the kind of Christian you’re meant to be without people. You can’t be the kind of Christian you’re meant to be without real relationships in a local church family.
Much of our growth in holiness comes in the context of relationships. In Ephesians 4 Paul instructs the Christians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Did you catch that? Paul tells us that walking in a manner worthy of our calling (that is to say, holy living) happens in relationships. God isn’t interested in you growing in patience and gentleness toward yourself! He wants to grow in you a love for others that helps you bear with them. He wants you to love yourself less and love others more.
God’s plan for your life is far bigger than your individual salvation. He has saved you into a people that are His own, people who are eager to do good (Titus 2:14). He has made you a living stone in a spiritual house (I Peter 2:5). He has given each believer gifts of grace for the edification of the church body (I Corinthians 12). He has called you to love your enemies and embrace those who are different from you (Ephesians 2:11-22). None of that can happen solely in your car, your office, or your family.
God has given the gift of other brothers and sisters in the local church who can spur us on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). In turn, we have an obligation to do the same for them. We weren’t meant to simply pursue holiness alone in our rooms. We were meant to grow in holiness together as the body of Christ
-Adapted from an article by Michael McKinley
Among Jesus’ last discourses before his arrest and crucifixion was the story about a wealthy man who entrusted part of his wealth to one of his servants with the understanding that the servant would invest it wisely while the employer was gone on business. But the servant made the mistake of looking around him and comparing himself with other servants who had been given more than he was given. When his employer returned and asked for an accounting, the servant replied, “I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.” These were the words the “one talent” servant used in an attempt to justify his inaction to his master. Each of us can identify with his motivation. Fear has frozen many of us in our steps. “What if we make a bad decision?” “What if we lost what little we have?” “What if we fail?”
It isn’t difficult to understand why he hid his small satchel of money. But in spite of it all this master still replied, “You wicked and lazy servant!” We are tempted to think the master over-reacted. We find it easier to sympathize with the servant. But Jesus plainly teaches us that the servant was disobedient, that he evaded his basic responsibility, that he failed to take any risks whatever.
We have been called by God to take risks. This is not a wild and crazy thing to do. It is not an immature reaction or a momentary emotional response. It is a normal part of our walk as Christians. They are “risks” only as we look at them through eyes conditioned to see conventional wisdom and power. But our Master is not limited to conventional wisdom and power. He is unlimited in power, and “faith” is our recognition of this fact as applied to every area of life. We are asked to take risks with our families by daring to lead them in ways that others would not. We are asked to take risks on the job by demonstrating attitudes that no one else exhibits. In fact, we are asked to take risks in every area of life by making decisions and choices or exhibiting conduct out of touch with our culture but consistent with our calling as children of God. Don’t lose your nerve. God loves it when we step into risky territory. It’s why we’re here.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship