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.
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.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth to seek and to save that which was lost 1. However, in the Bible we never see Jesus inviting people to pray a prayer to “receive” salvation. Throughout the four gospels we see Jesus calling people to follow him, and it’s this commitment to follow Christ that leads to salvation 2. How we understand and respond to Jesus’ call will have eternal implications.
Let’s examine some Biblical examples of Jesus calling people to follow him, and the different ways that they responded.
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.
A miracle is an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses human and natural powers and can only be reasonably understood as a supernatural act. The word supernatural, means supercedeing the natural, or simply, beyond the natural. The Bible is full of miraculous, supernatural events. They are seen throughout the Old Testament, in the life and ministry of Jesus, in the ministry of the apostles, in the ministry of the early church, and are spoken of prophetically as something God intends to be an ongoing part of the church’s ministry (John 14:11-12). As common as miracles are in the scriptures, they are still rather controversial. Throughout history people have debated both the validity and necessity of miracles as a part of God’s plan and work on the earth. Some people take a theological stance against miracles, teaching that God no longer enables believers to operate in the supernatural. Others take more of an apathetic view, they believe miracles are possible but are not very concerned about whether they actually happen or not. Still others believe miracles to be a vital part of God’s plan, and that without them the church will struggle greatly to fulfill its mission of proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God and the gospel of Christ. There are those in the latter group who are deeply concerned at the scarcity of miracles in the American church and are committed to seeking God for answers and calling on Him for this to change.
Many churches today are very concerned about the kind of atmosphere people will encounter when visiting one of their services. They invest a tremendous amount of time, manpower, and money trying to create an environment they hope will be attractive to those who attend. It’s certainly a good thing to create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere; but endeavoring to make church appealing can be very misguided and even counterproductive to what God actually wants to accomplish when the church gathers.
How should a church measure success? Many churches will give lip service to the idea of discipleship and seeing people become more like Jesus, but if you examine where they spend the majority of their time and effort it becomes clear that these are not priorities. For many churches, the primary gauge of success is the number of people attending their Sunday services. They want an exact head count of each and every being on the premises and are quite perturbed if they think the ushers didn’t do their math right and came up a few people short. If attendance is increasing everyone feels quite confident that things are going well, but a drop in attendance will trigger concerns that something is wrong. Continue reading “How God Measures Success”