I first read through the Bible cover-to-cover when I was nineteen years old. I’d been a Christian since I was four, baptized in water at twelve, but I’d never read the entire Bible before. My campus pastors encouraged me to carve out devotional time every day, and so at nineteen years old, I set out to do just that. I read four pages a day out of my thousand-page KJV Bible, so it took me two hundred fifty days (about nine months) to finish.
It was during this period that I experienced something that I never had encountered before. As I was reading, the Holy Spirit highlighted specific verses to me that impacted my heart–so much so that I had to write them down on index cards and keep them close. I didn’t really know what to call the phenomenon, so I labeled the first one “Prayer Card,” since the verse was about prayer. I knew that it would fuel my prayers as I reread the verse in the future. By the end of that first read through the Bible, I had three prayer cards. They are verses that continue to grip my soul, and I’ve read and reread them countless times. Here they are for you to read:
“The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”–Matthew 9:37-38
“Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; because I Myself am with you, and no one will assail you to harm you, because I have many people in this city.”–Acts 18:9-10
“How then shall they call on Him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!'”–Romans 10:14-15
I encourage you in this: when you encounter the Holy Spirit impacting your heart through the Word, remember those times well. God may be laying out the foundation of your calling. These verses have stuck with me through trials and joys, both the mundane and the glorious times. The words still burn in my heart. Read, and let His Word burn in yours, too.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”–Philippians 3:20-21
I grew up in the Church, and it seems like I always knew that Jesus was my Savior. However, I distinctly remember the night when I received the revelation of Jesus as Lord. I was nineteen. I was in a weak place in life, scared, wanting to obey God but not knowing how to overcome the sin that was creeping in. I heard an incredible teaching on Matthew 6 that night: “Do not be anxious… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Those words hit me like some glorious bricks, and I found victory in the days following.
Every kingdom has a king. The Kingdom of God is found first by submitting our hearts and lives to the lordship of Jesus. He is the One King, and He holds all the authority in the universe. Authority means power. What He says goes. By submitting to His lordship, we freely enter His Kingdom, freely receive His righteousness and freely walk in His power, overcoming sin.
I am amazed every day by the gentleness with which God reigns. In this Kingdom, under His Rule, we are the farthest thing from slaves, for we are His daughters and sons. In fact, He shares his power and authority and makes us all kings and priests. Our daily challenge is to walk in the center of His heart. In that place, His will and authority become ours. As we take the Gospel message to the world as citizens and ambassadors of the coming Kingdom, His light never stops shining through us. We ourselves are the evidence of our message of peace and reconciliation. We are friends of the King.
Reposted from “Unlocked Words,” July 13, 2014.
“Hello,” said the man sitting by the side of the stream.
“Hello,” said the stream.
“Hello to you both,” I said, as I walked steadily towards them, coming to rest beside the clear water. The path had taken me by this simple stream, which was apparently starved for conversation, despite the talkative man sitting on its opposite bank.
The man looked somehow malnourished, even though his body was in prime physical condition. When I looked closer, I saw a large indentation in the spot where he was sitting. He had been there for some time, and the earth was packed and stale beneath him.
“Seventeen years.” He spoke up, happy to share with me. “I can tell what you’re thinking. Everyone asks the same thing. But it’s worth it.” He smiled, and there was no hint of deception or craftiness in his voice.
“Why?” I asked. I didn’t want to doubt his integrity, but it seemed strange. If anything, I was insanely curious as to why someone would sit in the same place for seventeen years straight. I quickly received my answer.
“This, my friend, is a healing stream.” He paused and let that piece of information sink in a little. He could tell that I didn’t quite get it. After all, I was new to the Kingdom. He continued: “Seventeen years ago, I barely made it here. My right leg was rotting away, muscles degenerating more every day. When I washed in this stream, I was completely healed. I owe it everything, and I stay here, telling travelers my story.”
“Amazing,” I replied across the water. “It really is amazing. You two must be great friends by now.”
“I really wish we were,” said the man, “but he doesn’t even talk to me any more. You know, I wish I could pick up these banks and take him everywhere, to all the hurting people in the world. I wish I could take him right back to my hometown. They need him there. But his borders are stuck here, and earth is a hard thing to move.”
I sensed the longing and frustration in the man’s voice. The stream was such a source of comfort to him. All he wanted to do was share it with the world, but he was entirely powerless to do so. He didn’t even have a shovel or bucket. All he could do was sit there. Even as he sat in the dirt, he fell asleep. I didn’t have a heart to wake him. His existence seemed so meager, and I thought that maybe his dreams would be a more comforting place.
Even as the man drifted to sleep, the stream bubbled to life, and I turned my attention to it. I peered into its clear waters, happy fish swimming freely within, light shining through, dancing on polished stones. In the daylight, it shone with an elegance I had never seen before, and I could imagine it shining all through the night as well. It was pure. It was a good stream.
“He doesn’t listen to me.” The ripples and current of the water spoke with a tone of sadness. I watched and listened in awe. “He doesn’t listen…” The voice drifted away.
“Tell me more,” I said softly, dipping my hand in the cool water. In that one touch, I felt refreshing and renewal coursing through my heart. The stream carried such power, such love. I wondered, what could have happened to bring such sorrow to it concerning that man? With another swell, a sighing swell, it continued to speak.
“Seventeen years ago, I met a broken man. I gave new strength to his limbs, but he is still broken. Still he sits there, and his limbs rot away again. When it becomes too unbearable, he returns to my water and is renewed again. But those times are becoming less and less. He thinks he knows me, but he’s going to die there. He speaks my praises, but he doesn’t listen to me.”
I thought I saw tears forming on the surface of the water, small drops rising, then returning to the rippling current.
“There is a Source, far upstream,” the tone of the water rose with delight as it spoke of its great joy. “I tell this man, ‘Go to the Source!’ There he can become like me. He can carry the same power, take it back to his family. Still he sits here, unmoving.”
Suddenly overcome with emotion, on my knees, I plunged both my hands into the stream and dipped my forehead in the cool water. “Is this Source the King I’m looking for?” My words buried themselves in the sound of the rushing water, and my heart leaped in my chest.
“Go to the Source,” the sound whipped through my ears, and the passion of love hit my whole being. I sat back softly on the bank, tears streaming lightly down my cheeks.
“Thank you,” I said to the stream. I stood up and walked back to the path. I ran for a while, then walked again.
God is not a moral code or a set of rules. He definitely has rules and laws that He’s given to us, but they are not Him. He is the Way and the Truth, and His beautiful boundaries and limits are unmatched in all the universe. His ways are meant to be followed, from the core of our being unto eternity, but they are not Him. We cannot “figure God out” with a mathematical formula or a rule book. He is not an equation or a game, a number, symbol or shape.
God is also not an experiential emotional high. When we seek Him, we are not looking for an intense feeling. We may experience feelings when we are aware of Him, but He Himself is not the feeling. He cannot be controlled or drummed up. Guitar riffs and electronic beats do not create any part of God, because He’s already whole. He was there before the feeling, and He’ll be there forever after. Emotion exists because He was the one who set everything in motion.
God is a person with whom we can have a relationship. The “rules” are part of that relationship. God has things that He likes and things that He doesn’t. He has an original perfect design for His creation. As we get to know Him, we understand what those things are. As we get to know Him, He reveals His mysteries to us. As our heart draws close to His heart in love, these things become valuable to us, because they are important to Him. His ways are only good, and I hope that we all can follow them perfectly.
The emotions are experienced within and because of our relationship with God. As in any good relationship, we feel good when we are close to Him, when we feel His acceptance. Because our relationship with God is the most important relationship in existence, it stands to reason that we should feel the deepest and most intense emotions when we communicate with Him. When He talks to us, hangs out with us and shows us His goodness, I hope that we are all overwhelmed by the Nature and Beauty of the God we love.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”–Hebrews 10:16
“People are good and intend to do good.”
The phrase felt like it had punctured my chest, deep to my soul. I’d heard things like it before, but never in the context that it should actually be believed. Actually, it sounded more along the lines of heresy, and if nothing else, just plain ignorant. But it came off the lips of our guest speaker, Eric Johnson. He was quoting a theologian, Harold Eberle, the only theologian Pastor Johnson had mentioned that morning: one for whom he had just given the highest of recommendations. And this phrase–it was the focal point of his sermon. He said it must be believed, for this reason: to empower our effective evangelism.
Anyway, the phrase sounded either ignorant or deceptive to me at first. A thousand different questions started forming in my mind. After all, Pastor Johnson is the lead pastor of Bethel Church, a group that we honor greatly, a local church in California that’s really influential around the world. And here I was in Virginia, listening to this. What in the world was it supposed to mean? The questions kept heaping, one upon another. Doesn’t he know about sin? Is he purposefully ignoring it? If we’re all “good,” then why does he think we need Jesus? Is he a Universalist? If everyone intends to do good, then why do we not do good? Is he trying to confuse people? Is he in denial? Why is this happening? Why does someone in such authority here have to say something so controversial, something I disagree with so strongly? What am I going to do now?
My heart was alert through the close of the service and beyond. The phrase didn’t offend me; it just troubled me. It made think hard about what I believed. That kind of phrase—the kind that makes you think hard—is the most revolutionary of all. As I prayed in the hall after service, I felt the Lord whisper this to my heart: “You don’t have to believe him.” As that word sank into my heart, I felt fear leave and peace enter. Then I just started thinking about Him and His Word, and I started searching for truth.
I looked at the first half of the phrase: “People are good.” In this, what do I really believe to be true? Well, I believe that humanity is fallen, guilty and separated from God. It may have been created good in the beginning, but it fell from that position. In the dimension of purity and holiness, it is so very far from the term good.
“See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”–Ecclesiastes 7:29
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;”–Isaiah 53:6a
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”–Romans 3:23
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’“–Mark 10:18
I also know that God is merciful and that we are loved by Him. He has extended His hand of mercy, to forgive us of every sin, to cleanse us of every stain.
“and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus)
the iniquity of us all.“–Isaiah 53:6b
“and [all who believe] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”–Romans 3:24
“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'”–Mark 10:29-30
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”–1 John 2:2
Our salvation is undeserved. There is clearly no amount of “goodness” present in humanity that deserves salvation. But… God found something to love. He found some potential, an original design, something valuable in us that goes beyond the realm of time, looking past our present mess, to His future spotless bride. If He didn’t love us when we were still sinners, we would have no hope. But we do have hope. We have the path of salvation, because God did everything in His power to redeem us. In this sense, humanity is “good,” for we are valuable to God.
I looked at the second half of the phrase: “[People] intend to do good.” Now, that wasn’t too hard to believe, but I struggled to find a reason why it mattered. Good intentions never accomplish anything unless they are lived out in perfect truth. Good intentions can be twisted by anything, held back because of fear, or placed on something sinful or pointless. In fact, the Bible says many times that people do what is “right in their own eyes,” whether it actually be good or evil in reality.
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”–Judges 21:25
This verse in Judges isn’t talking about righteousness. It’s talking about anarchy. Someone could look at that verse from a morally relativistic view and say, “That’s good! Everyone had the freedom to do the right thing, and they were all empowered to do it!” But the people in that day were not only exempt from external authority and control; their hearts were also far from God. Their “good” intentions (and actions) were, in reality, largely adding to the cycle of moral degradation in their society.
In the end, this was the key for me: people really do intend to follow their own moral code. This might not seem like much on first glance, but it ties directly into the concept of evangelism. If we as Christians carry the message of hope and salvation, we should expect to find an alternate view in the hearts of unsaved people. A conflict is to be expected, but we have the upper hand in any argument. We may carry the moral Truth of God (which is offensive to many), but we also hold their true identity. The true identity of all humanity is “valuable to God.” When people encounter this truth, it doesn’t matter what sin they still have in them. It doesn’t matter what lies they’re still believing. If the reality of His love strips away the barriers of relationship with Him, the power of that relationship will continue to sanctify their morality over time. When Faith enters the picture, when new birth occurs, sin no longer has dominion.
So, I am left with this interpretation of the phrase, which I really do agree with: “People are valuable to God and intend to follow their own moral code.” As we pursue the heart of God, we will value people just as much as He does (which is a lot!). We will love and pursue the lost just as much as He does. As relationship with God grows stronger, our values and morals align with His and become our own. There is no need to fear people or hate anyone, not for what they’ve done or ever will do, and not because of anything they may believe. God does love with an everlasting love. As we love with that same love, people’s hearts are radically transformed. That is revolution.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”–Titus 2:11
I put my hope in You and nothing less
Not in Time – time does not heal all wounds
But You do
“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”–Psalm 42:5b-6a
In my last post, I talked about transmitting culture by sharing with and teaching others. Today, I’d like to talk about the flip side of that: creating Kingdom culture by learning and receiving it.
Kingdom culture is good, and it is a thing that we should have. The values, power and character of God are very good things. And God is a good Dad. First of all, we must understand that the deep things of God are things He wants to give us, things He will give to us who ask Him. Jesus put it this way:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”–Matthew 7:9-11
Since God is the greatest of fathers, we have only to look to Him for everything we need, including a good heart, good character and exceptional morals. He is the source of all wisdom, boldness and life.
There are many ways to look at the concept of freedom. “Negative” freedom seems to be the call of the world today; it is the freedom to do whatever we want: good, bad or ugly. Positive freedom, on the other hand, is the freedom to do as we ought to do. This is what God intends for all of us: to be bound, choked and destroyed in matters of the flesh, but completely free to do His will, inside and out. The enemy intends to trap us in fear, comfort and reservation, but God desires us to be completely, utterly, lavishly and unashamedly living out of love for Him, in total freedom.
This concept of positive freedom applies to our reception of God’s Kingdom culture. If we are to know Him and do what He says, we must be free to believe and act. Thank God that He made a way for us! As we live with our hearts in complete submission to Him, we are continually washed by Jesus’ blood, free from the power of sin and death, free to live our lives in righteousness. God has broken the chains from our hearts.
Since God gives us freedom and responds to our requests, what is there left for us to do in our pursuit of God’s heart? Our role is simply to ask and receive. Reception can be tricky, though. Sometimes we miss what God is saying, because we are distracted by many things. We must “choose the good part”(Luke 10:42) by positioning ourselves to receive from God.
Our physical posture even plays a role in this. We can get down on our knees. We can raise our hands high. We can even dance wildly! Our physical posture often directs our emotional posture, aligning our mind and heart with Heaven. The purpose here is that our whole being be fully engaged with what God wants to place in us.
And so we pursue Him by waiting on Him, for He is faithful to give. Whether we wait in a prayer closet by ourselves, small meeting room with two others or outdoor stadium with ten thousand others, our Dad will show up. May we never fail to recognize Him and be changed by Him.
“John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.'”–John 3:27
It’s a new year! I realize I haven’t written in this blog in about seven months, and so much has happened. I married my amazing wife, bought a house, among many other things! I finished reading a great book, but more on that later. Today, I’m starting this new season of posts with a commentary on creating Kingdom culture.
“Culture” is actually a fairly new sociological concept, but we can trace its roots all the way back to when groups of people started to move as one, for whatever reason. Personally, I love looking at different church cultures, the different ways people experience and live out the heart of God. I love seeing groups that are committed to holiness, prayer, worship, healing, discipleship, evangelism, training, the prophetic, all on different levels. But it’s all good! I love seeing people encouraging each other in the things of God, and that’s ultimately what makes culture happen.
Let’s dive in! In my research, I found two definitions of culture:
An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
- The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group
Capacity for thought and learning
Reading into the first definition, we find a dependency for creating a supernatural culture: the individual capacity for spiritual learning. This is the renewed mind of each individual. A willingness to repent, to change both the way we act and what we believe, is key. At our core, we as members of the body of Christ must receive the Holy Spirit. He teaches us to repent, “to say no to ungodliness.” He opens our eyes, and He produces virtuous fruit in our lives. (One incredible thing about spiritual learning is that we don’t need a huge intellect to comprehend the things of God. Small children can understand. People with extreme brain injuries can receive a renewed mind, because it’s ultimately a miraculous gift.)
Set of shared… everything
Looking at the second definition, we find an action point in creating culture: sharing. Under this model, those of us who have more must give to those who have less. It’s the process of creating a culture of love and generosity. For example: the Apostles laid hands on new believers, and they received the Holy Spirit(Acts 8:17). Evangelism is simply the sharing of the good news of Jesus. Reading in Acts 2:42-47, we find that the church had “everything in common,” because they were devoted to learning and sharing with each other. There’s joy in the midst of it all. It’s a beautiful thing.
Carrying His heart
A key in Kingdom Culture is faith–really believing what we believe. But faith in what? As Christians, we know that our faith is in God, His love for us, the gift of Salvation in Christ, forgiveness of our sin. We must believe in Jesus, and not only that, but shape our entire value system around Him as Lord. So, if Jesus is Lord of our group of people, and we call Him that, if God is our Father, and we call him that, we should value the things that are on God’s heart. What does He value, and what are His goals for humanity? Righteousness and holiness; freedom from sin, sickness, hopelessness and bondage. Maturity. Intimacy. Power. Humility. Love.
To spread culture, spiritual leaders must model their faith publicly. Full of the Holy Spirit and unashamed of the good news of Jesus(His death and resurrection, present lordship and coming reign as everlasting King), they act out of the value they have for Him and His Kingdom. Sharing these values produces discipleship, which produces more mature leaders, able to skillfully share as well(2 Tim. 2:2). If done well, this produces exponential growth of Jesus’ Kingdom/Family.
More to come!
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”–2 Timothy 2:2
And I’m learning,
TODAY is JOY.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”–Romans 12:18
Drink of His Spirit,
And you will never thirst.
For nothing else compares.
“Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.'”–Matthew 26:27