The apostle Paul had a dramatic and unique conversion to faith in Christ. As a young man, he was zealously persecuting Christians and was on his way to Damascus to arrest any believers he found there. On the way he was blinded by a light from heaven that was brighter than the sun, and he heard the audible voice of Jesus speaking to him 1. Jesus told Paul he was his chosen instrument, and he was appointed to carry his name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel 2. Paul’s calling occurred at his initial encounter with Christ, and this calling set the course for his entire life. Many years later, Paul would proclaim he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision 3.
From a logical perspective, Bruce Olson’s story is blatantly absurd. From a spiritual perspective, it’s one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard.
At the age of 19, Bruce left his home in Minnesota and set out for the jungles of Venezuela with a passion to take the gospel of Christ to a primitive aboriginal tribe with the fierce reputation of killing anyone who ventured into their territory. He traveled on a one-way ticket and arrived with $70 in his pocket and no knowledge of the local language. He had no support and no connections. Who in their right mind would send a 19-year-old kid on such a foolhardy mission? Well, apparently God would. And this became evident from the powerful move of God among the jungle tribes, and then their influence for Christ on an entire nation.
Jesus was questioning his disciples about who he was, and Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.1 Jesus commended Peter, telling him “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”.2 What a wonderful moment for Peter; to be told by Jesus that God the Father had given him revelation about who Jesus is. Yet, just a few verses later we see a very different interaction between Jesus and Peter.
Most believers are familiar with the Biblical story that contrasts Martha’s busyness with Mary’s choice to sit at Jesus’ feet. There is no complicated theology here, just a simple story. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Biblical passage challenge people’s sense of practicality the way this one does.
The Bible gives much insight into the love and goodness of God, and these truths are incredibly positive and reassuring. But it’s a mistake to isolate personally gratifying scriptures and treat these truths as if this is all the Bible has to say about God; as if he is always this way and cannot be any other way.
The definition of cherry-picking is to choose and take only the most beneficial items from what is available. This approach to the Bible is a temptation that is quite easy to fall into, but it results in a distorted view of God himself, and an inaccurate assessment of where we personally stand with him. If we value an honest and healthy relationship with the Lord, we must persistently seek and welcome everything that God says to us throughout the scriptures.
A mystery is something that is veiled and not easily understood. The word mystery is used over twenty times in the New Testament. One example is in the last part of Ephesians chapter five. This passage is expounding on the relationship between husbands and wives, but at the end it takes a surprising turn and finishes with an astounding revelation.
It’s common for most churches to be led by an individual who is recognized as the senior pastor of that church, and that person is usually addressed as Pastor so-and-so, or sometimes just Pastor. This long-established practice is considered a way of showing love and respect. While love and respect are very biblical, addressing a select few within the church by official titles actually goes against the teaching of Jesus. Challenging a practice that is born out of good intentions may seem like nitpicking, but Jesus specifically addressed this issue for good reasons and we should give careful thought to what he said rather than shrugging this off as something trivial.
If a doctor knows his patient has a life threatening disease that can be successfully treated, is he being negative if he tells them their condition, or is he negligent if he keeps quite? If someone knows there are dangerous road conditions ahead, are they being negative if they warn fellow travelers, or are they negligent if they keep quite? I think everyone would agree that in these life-or-death situations, the right thing, the responsible thing, would be to speak up and clearly communicate the truth.
However, in matters of eternal life or death, we don’t seem to have the same clarity. Today’s Christian culture seems to operate from a deep conviction that above all else God wants us to say positive things. This misconception has rendered the church impotent when it comes to speaking life-or-death truths that desperately need to be heard.
Man’s highest calling is to put God first. Jesus made this clear when he said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). This statement encompasses everything within our being, and Jesus drives the point home by using the word “all” three times. All that we are is to be directed towards God with loving devotion. Jesus’ statement of man’s ultimate purpose has great clarity in its simplicity, yet is very profound in its all-consuming goal.
Just as man’s highest calling and purpose is found only when we put God first, our greatest failings have their roots in putting ourselves first. Original sin was the result of Adam and Eve putting themselves before God; putting their reasoning before His command; giving in to the temptation that they were somehow missing out if they remained under God’s authority. When man chose to put himself first, sin, and all the suffering and misery it brings, found entrance into the world (Rom 5:12), and our relationship with God was broken by our rebellion (Rom 1:21, 25).
The gospel is God’s message to fallen man, telling us how we can be restored to right relationship with Him. Since the root problem is man putting himself first, the goal of the gospel is to restore God to His rightful position of being first in our life in every way. Yet, the gospel is frequently reduced to a people-centered message of personal salvation. The message I hear most Christians and churches proclaiming is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. While this is certainly true, it is only a portion of the truth, and if the gospel is reduced to this message alone, it is not actually the gospel of the Bible that restores right relationship with God.
Every Sunday morning, lots of people head out their door to “go to church”, or as some people put it, to attend a “church service”. The vast majority of these services will have a remarkable similarity, no matter what brand, denomination, or non-denomination the church is. Everyone will sit shoulder-to-shoulder, facing a stage on which a select few people will be actively involved in “ministering” to everyone else. There will probably be a greeting, a time of singing, some form of announcements, a sermon, and possibly an altar call. The style may vary to some degree but the structure will be pretty much the same in every church; so much so that you would think there must be some place in the Bible that clearly outlines this particular structure that everyone is following. But the reality is that nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible give any kind of support for an order of service at all, much less the particular order of service that most churches follow so religiously. Some will argue that the order of service is a minor issue and God doesn’t really care one way or the other. I would agree that God is not hung up on a particular order of service. However, He cares very much about what takes place when His people gather together, and if a rigid order of service is an obstacle to the ministry and interaction that God wants to take place, then yes, He is actually against that particular structure.