How Do You Read?

John 12:44-45 “Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.’”


“I can only imagine” is the title of a popular and inspirational song. What will it be like to see the Savior in all of his splendor? We can only imagine! On the other hand, there is a way to move into the presence of Jesus and understand how he responds to us.


We can move beyond our imagination by looking at the many examples of Jesus interacting with people in the gospels. How he responded to them is how he responds to us. 

Look at Jesus!


First, it is important that we hear Jesus when he says, “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) He is for us, and we see this in the historical examples recorded in the gospels

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For example, look at the Luke 7:36-50. Jesus allowed himself to be touched by this “sinful woman.” This is not a parable! This is a life event in Jesus’ time on earth. What a contrast between the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner and the sinner woman who, no doubt, came without an invitation. This did not take Jesus by surprise; he knew the mind of the Pharisee as well as the mind of the sinner woman. He also knows our mind and is still willing to touch (Luke 5:13) and be touched by each of us.


When Jesus spoke forgiveness to this woman the guests asked, “Who is this who even forgives sins.” They knew only God could forgive sins (Mark 2:7; Isaiah 43:25; Luke 5:20-23).


The response of Jesus was, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Our faith will also save us, and we can go in peace.


There was a time that I read the Bible like a legal document from which I was to sort out all of the arguments pointed toward those I thought were in religious error. A book of do’s and don’ts! No more. I now read the Old Testament as the story of God mingling with his creation, getting his people ready to meet the Christ. I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to see Jesus in all of his fullness of God.


How Jesus responded to the folks in the historical setting of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is how he responds to us today and how he will continue to respond to people in the future.
Read the many interactions of people with Jesus and place yourself in the character of those who had that first-hand experience. This is an adventure that will take the dull out of reading!

Vision Casting

Vision: “The goals that an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the future.” Vision is intended to serve as a clear guide for both current and future courses of action. 

A vision’s effectiveness, whether good or bad, depends on how it is brought together and executed. It is almost, if not completely, impossible for one person to cast a vision for a group. Above all, it must be under the rule of God!  

A vision generalized on the front end can become very specific as it develops. Several years ago I attended a workshop on evangelism in Florence, AL. During one of the sessions Marvin Phillips, a minister from Tulsa, OK,  together with his elders publicly asked God for a vision. They prayed, “God, please do a work through us that is bigger than we are!” Garnett Road Church of Christ, where Marvin preached, numbered 125 in attendance at the time. They subsequently grew to over 1500 souls over the next couple of decades. A serendipity of their vision was the beginning of the annual Tulsa Soul-Winning Workshop which numbered 10,000 at peak attendance.  Their vision lined up with God’s vision to “seek and save the lost.”

Some years earlier, I served with a church in the Midwest with many opportunities to share Jesus but only limited resources. After praying for God’s direction, the congregation  considered possible ways to share their resources. By congregational vote, each possibility was prioritized; those receiving the most votes were funded to the best of the church’s ability. This resulted in unified support in the church family, and a budget that was exceeded for the first time in years. The congregation grew from 180 in attendance to over 300 in two years with 100 baptisms per year. 

The rural congregation I now worship with had dwindled to less than 50 people in early 2000. They considered shutting the doors and scattering to other congregations.  In the words of one of the members, Dr Karen Jones, “We had gotten so legalistic that it made everybody sick. We believed our friends were going to hell, but we were not doing anything about it.” (A two-page article on this church is in the August, 2007, Christian Chronicle.)  The members decided they could either shut the church doors or do something to free themselves from the cold, hard legalism binding them.

A vision was cast! They committed to focus on the hurting, the disenfranchised, the unchurched! Dr. Lou Butterfield, the lead evangelist at the time, decided to emphasize serving others in his sermons. Several women approached the church leaders about beginning a Sunday night class on relevant topics such as sex, marriage, drugs,and debt management. They wanted these sessions to be led in a non-threatening, non-judgmental manner that might lead folks to inquire about the organizers’ faith. They met in a near-by Community Center building rather than the church building.  That number soon grew to well over 100 each Sunday night.

To further fulfill their vision the church made summer camp for children a priority.  “Any child who lives in our county can go to summer camp for free!” That action became the leading evangelistic tool for a time. One summer they invested $24,000 in these children. Entire families embraced Christ as a result of the summer camp experience.

Because these Christians saw the need to try and combat the rampant drug problem, they began to pray that God would grant them wisdom and guidance in addressing it.  A recovering addict, Shane Goings, started the Jackson County Recovery ministry at the church in 2006. Four years later God used Shane to start Anchor Pointe Recovery Center, a 501-c-3 rehab. It was recorded as a non-profit in 2011 (27-1404321). In 2013 Shane left and Anchor Pointe Recovery resumed as the John 3:17 Ministry for Women. This year-long discipleship program has graduated over 100 women and has 45 ladies in residence today. 

Psalm 118:5 is stenciled on the front wall of the worship center for all to see: “In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.”

Across the auditorium is another sign that states, “OUR MISSION: To nurture and equip the saved while reaching the lost, as we honor God, share Jesus and are led by the Holy Spirit.”

Fasting

Fasting is not a command but a privilege.  Perhaps the most familiar fast to the Bible student is that of Jesus in the wilderness.  He went without food for 40 days. (Matthew 4:1-11)  It was assumed by Jesus that his disciples would fast (Matthew 6:16-18).  The disciples of John the Baptist engaged in fasting and so did the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14).  They questioned why the disciple of Jesus were not fasting.  Jesus answered them saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, then they will fast.”  (Matthew 9:15)  They will fast! 

And, so they did fast.  “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work for which I have called them. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3)  Paul and Barnabas went on a mission to appoint elders in each church they had planted and did so “with prayer and fasting, committing them to the Lord.” (Acts 14:23)

Again, while Jesus was with his disciples they did not fast.  Other religious groups, namely the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, thought it strange that Jesus’ disciples did not fast.  It is also interesting that Jesus did not push fasting for his disciples. He was okay with them not fasting.  It seems however that the death of Jesus would motivate his disciples to fast and he expected them to fast after he died.

A take away from the scriptures shared in this article is that there is a deep spiritual experience that can be found in worshiping the Lord while fasting and praying.  James 4:8 states, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”  Worshiping, fasting and praying with intentionality will draw God near to us and us near to God.  Imagine a long rope with you on one end and God on the other.  You both are winding the rope up and as you do you are drawn closer to each other.  God is ready to start winding!  Are we? AM I?

The circles I run in seldom practice fasting.  A statement from Rick Atchley plays in my head as I read these text on the practice of Jesus and those that he said would fast after he was no longer with them: “Is the Book of Acts a collection of exceptions or a collection of examples?”  There are other things in the Acts 14 text that are equally outside of our normal practice:

  1. Fasting
  2. The Holy Spirit speaking to us
  3. Experiencing a call from God
  4. Fasting and praying as we commission missionaries
  5. Placing hands on those we fast and pray for

Fasting has a long history with the people of God.  Read Isaiah 58 to understand what a “true fast” is. What will we do with these truths? 

Jim Woodell, Executive Director 

www.John 3:17 Ministry.org

MAKE DISCIPLES

Jesus said, “Go make disciples…” Are we missing something? I heard a preacher say once, “When reading the book of Acts, you will not read of one person who ate a bite, drank a drop, or slept a wink after hearing the gospel before he surrendered his life to Christ.” I suspect I have repeated that a thousand times in the past, but not in the last decade. Am I missing something?

Isn’t it also true that those first disciples went out with a message so powerful that, for the most part, converts were made after one presentation? What was their message? Do we have the same message and the same power? Are we missing something? “Is the book of Acts a book of examples or a book of exceptions?”(Rick Atchley) What did these folks have that we don’t have?

I invite you to examine the nine (9) conversion stories in the book of Acts and see if you can discover what we are missing.

I also ask, “If you had the opportunity, right now, with someone sitting right in front of you, that you could share the message of salvation with, what would you share?” Do you have a plan? What are we missing?

The Christian and Politics


Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

Can Christians avoid being political? One definition is “activities within an organization that are aimed at improving someone’s status or position and are typically considered to be devious or divisive.” For instance, check out this text:
Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV [8] Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. [9] Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Doesn’t this apply to the unborn? It is right to speak out to defend the unborn against being killed, but not without being political. Dr. Devin Swindle, a Professor of Bible at Harding University, recently wrote, “If you preach this, you will be accused of being political, but remember this: if you claim citizenship in the Kingdom of God, you will be pledging allegiance to another King who makes political claims on your life, and those claims will be diametrically opposed to the kings and kingdoms of this world. Preaching the King’s politics does not make you a republican or a democrat; it makes you faithful”.

Some want to sit on the sidelines and criticize those who speak out on such issues as abortion. In doing so they are being political themselves. This should not be a surprise since Paul wrote, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

You would have to go into a monastery to avoid being political, and even in that move you could be political. A Pacifist is being political by refusing to join the military. Taking a non-combat role in the military is being political. Paying taxes to support our government is being political.

Personally, I spent over 8 years in the U.S. Navy. Over 5 of those years was on/in the same conventional diesel driven submarine, the USS Trout (SS-566). I have served 28 days submerged in that “boat” with 100 other men (not very romantic). One year I was at sea, away from my wife and children, for nine months. Others have done so much more for our freedom. I can’t imagine life in a foxhole or eating the dust of a desert storm or jumping from an airplane into enemy fire. To speak up for our great Nation is political. I can’t be otherwise.

I am a Christian and I am political. I say I am independent but most of the time I vote Republican. I am in ministry working with women in addiction (John 3:17 Ministry for Women with Addictions) I am a supporter of our President. In today’s vernacular I am a “right-leaning conservative.” You may oppose what I have shared. If you do you are being political.