God uses little things to make big things happen

“But when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man… Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh.” Judges 3:15-16

After Joshua died, Israel started to compromise their commitment to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan (Judges 1:21-36). And so began the following cycle: departure from the Lord, discipline by Israel’s enemies, the Lord has pity when His people cry for help, God raises up a deliverer (judge) who defeats their enemies, their deliverer dies, and Israel returns to the false gods of the pagan inhabitants of the land (Judges 2:11-19).

One such deliverer that God raised up was a “left-handed man” named “Ehud,” who would deliver Israel from the oppressive rule of “Eglon king of Moab” (Judges 3:12, 15). We are told, “Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh” (Judges 3:16). Ehud’s “double-edged” sword was sharp on both sides and would be an effective weapon against Israel’s enemies. The fact that Ehud “fastened” this sword “under his clothes on his right thigh” would make it difficult to be detected.

When Ehud delivered “the tribute to Eglon” who “who was a very fat man,” he “sent away the people who had carried the tribute” and told the king he had “a secret message for” him (Judges 3:17-19a). This prompted the king to send “all who attended him” out of his “private chambers” so he could be alone with Ehud (Judges 3:19a-20a). After Ehud told the king, “I have a message from God for you,” he “arose from his seat” and took the king completely off guard when he “reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly” (Judges 3:20b-21). After killing king Eglon, Ehud led the tribe of Ephraim to victory over the Moabites and Israel enjoyed “rest” in “the land…for eighty years” (Judges 3:25-30).

It is important not to miss the fact that God not only providentially moves in the course of history to accomplish major events, but He also uses a string of little things like a “left-handed” man who wears his “double-edged sword… under his clothes on his right thigh” to bring about those major events.  

God uses little things to make big things happen. Like when a team of six short-term American missionaries and six Filipino evangelists went to a spiritually dark island called Dinagat in the southern Philippines in January of 2012. After arriving on the island which had a reputation for driving missionaries off the island or even poisoning them, one of the older mission team members began to preach the gospel outside a marketplace. An older woman said the Americans on the mission team fulfilled an ancient prophecy on the island which spoke of white-skinned people coming to the island and bringing many blessings.

As result, the Lord opened up many doors, including a radio/television station, for the gospel to spread throughout the island. The Lord used the skin color of a small team of American missionaries to help spread the gospel throughout the island. Let us not forget that God can string together little things (e.g. the color of your skin, your left-handedness, the size of your nose, your love for fish, etc.) to make big things happen for His glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for reminding us that You can use little things in our lives to make big things happen for Your glory. Help us to pay attention to how You fit together the little things to make major events take place. You can use our looks, mannerisms, and interests to advance Your gospel message in a world that is becoming increasingly dark without Christ. We surrender all we have to You for Your glory. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Transforming a nation and world

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower.” Matthew 13:18

Jesus explains His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:2-9) to His disciples to prepare them for the different types of responses to the preaching of God’s Word (Matthew 13:18-23). Each soil in this parable represents a different response to God’s message. Some to whom we share the gospel are like “the wayside” soil (Matthew 13:4, 19) who will not receive or believe in Jesus (Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:12).

Others are like “the stony places” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) who “believe [the gospel] for a while” (Luke 8:13) but never really make a commitment to follow Christ as His disciple and “fall away” because of adversity (Matthew 13:20-21; Luke 8:13). They are “hearers only” of the Word like James talks about (James 1:22). They deceive themselves into thinking they can grow spiritually simply by hearing God’s Word without doing what it says. They are not willing to follow Jesus regardless of the costs.

A third type of person we will discover is like the seed that “fell among thorns” (Matthew 13:7, 22). These are those who believe in Jesus and start to follow Him, but they never bear much fruit because they are so distracted by worldliness and wealth (Matthew 13:22; Luke 8:14).

So far this has been disappointing. If this is the kind of response we can expect to get from many people, why go on? Jesus tells us why! He tells us not to become discouraged because eventually we will come across the fourth kind of person, a person who bears much fruit after believing the gospel (Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:15). Unless we are willing to endure those who reject His message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, we will never discover the pure joy of finding those who are fruitful!

And notice that Jesus tells us that some of these fruitful ones will bear fruit “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). One of the blessings we will experience if we continue to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word, is that we will begin discovering these amazingly productive believers. These fruitful believers are “super spreaders” because they are super at spreading the seed of God’s Word. These are the “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They will far exceed us in witnessing and planting new churches.

The way to discover these “good soil” believers, is to train everyone in discipleship who believes the gospel! The “good soil” believers will quickly emerge. They will immediately become doers of the Word of God. As these super spreaders emerge among us, we will begin to see a more significant movement take place in our country and world as well. But the whole process begins with those who are faithful to sow the seed – to preach the gospel and train in discipleship those who believe in Jesus (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the key to a transformed life and nation, not the political process. I believe more than ever, that Jesus is calling His church to return to the discipleship process in order to see our nation and world change for His glory! Christ implores us, “Hear the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:18). Will we hear and obey our Lord and Master! Perhaps today is when some of us begin  to sow the seed of His Word!!! Please know that His Word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all authority has been given to You in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Your one and only plan to reach the world for Your glory is the discipleship process whereby we preach Your gospel message to everyone in the world, and then call those who believe Your gospel to commit to follow You as a disciple through water baptism. Then we are to teach them to obey all Your commands (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). Please enable us to be faithful to spread the seed of Your gospel message to this world which is perishing without You, Lord Jesus! Thank You for explaining the different types of responses we can expect from our audiences as we proclaim Your Word. By Your grace, enable us to endure those who reject Your message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, so we may discover the pure joy of finding those who are super at spreading the seed of Your Word to others!!! Your discipleship process is what transforms individuals, nations, and the world, not a political process. Please forgive us for looking in the wrong places for transformation. I beg You to bring us back to the basics of the Bible and the discipleship process, my Lord and my God. May Your Holy Spirit give us the boldness and vision to pursue You and Your discipleship process until all hear Your gospel message!!! Thank You for the assurance that You are always with us as we make disciples for Your glory (Matthew 28:20b). In Your matchless name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 4

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. Christ can do this when we…

– Ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).

– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).       

The fourth way the Lord can transform our grief into gladness is to ALLOW OUR GRIEF TO DIRECT US TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (John 16:23-24). Christ’s resurrection would change relations. Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (John 16:23). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would not be with His disciples physically and so they would not be able to ask Him questions. But the Holy Spirit would teach them and answer their questions (John 16:13-15).

We also see that Christ’s resurrection and ascension provided unlimited access to the Father in prayer. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples had often asked the Lord to meet their needs while they were with Him, but they had not asked the Father in heaven for anything in His name. Christ promises that after His ascension to heaven, the “Father …will give” them “whatever” they ask in Jesus’ name.

Praying in Jesus’ name is not a magical formula that we add at the end of our prayers. To pray in Jesus’ name means we pray what Jesus would pray to accomplish God’s will and bring Him maximum glory. When we pray according to God’s will, He will hear and answer our prayers to magnify the name of Jesus (cf. I John 5:14-15).

Next Christ says, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). “Now,” because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. The word “ask” (aiteite) is a present imperative verb and conveys the idea of asking God continually and persistently. Christ assures them that the Father would “give” them whatever they prayed in Jesus’ name to accomplish His will. The purpose of all of this was so that their “joy may be full” or complete. 

No matter what pain or sorrow we experience, it is essential that we stay connected to Jesus because God the Father is still in the prayer-answering business when we love and seek to honor His Son. 1 A disciple of Christ centers his or her life around Jesus (cf. Philippians 1:21), so when Jesus is glorified, his or her joy will “be full” or complete. Nothing is more enjoyable or satisfying for a follower of Christ than to see his or her Lord magnified.

When we go through painful times as did Jesus and His disciples, we have a choice to make. Will we turn away from the Father and pout or will we turn to the Father and pray? If we turn to the Father in prayer, He can fill our hearts with joy that the world cannot take from us. Our joy is connected to prayer. It cannot be made complete in any other way. Isn’t this exciting!?! God desires to make us glad by working in and through us as we pray to Him.

How do you respond to trials? Do you allow pain in your life to turn you to God or away from Him? Many of us want to take matters into our own hands when we experience pain. We may try to medicate our pain with different behaviors, feelings, people, or substances (e.g. alcohol, anger, anxiety, cell phones, depression, drugs, friends, gossip, lust, ministry, music, pornography, rage, romantic relationships, shopping, sports, TV, video games, work, or worry, et al.). But the Lord  wants us to turn to Him as we face painful times. He is waiting to hear from us, so He can fill our hearts with gladness.

What keeps believers from turning to the Lord in the midst of their pain? I believe much of it has to do with the lies we believe.  Let’s look at some common lies and the corresponding truth with which to overcome them:

Lie #1: God must not love me to allow all this pain in my life.

Truth #1: No one and nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Lie #2:  God is against me, not for me.

Truth #2: God is for me and He proved it when He gave His only Son for me (Romans 8:31-32).

Lie #3: God will not understand my feelings.

Truth #3: Christ experienced the same feelings as you, so He could understand your feelings and help you process them (Hebrews 4:15).

Let’s lean into the Lord especially during these uncertain times. He longs to fill us with His joy that cannot be taken from us.  

Prayer: Father God, I come to You now through the Lord Jesus Christ Who loved me and gave Himself to die in my place on a cross for all my sins and then rose from the dead. Please forgive me for embracing lies that lead me away from You instead of the truth that brings me closer to You. I am so thankful that I now have direct access into Your presence because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You at any time about anything knowing that You understand and are listening. Right now my Lord and my God, I give everyone and everything to You. I surrender everyone and everything to You, Lord. You are a good, good Father Who wants to bless His children. Thank You for the safety and security that I find in Your everlasting arms of love and mercy. Hold me, Lord. Hold me…. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 6

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” John 15:7

Thus far in our study of John 15:1-8, we have learned that we can become more fruitful for the Lord when we …

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).        

– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).

– Repent when we lose our discipleship relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

The sixth and final way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to RELY ON JESUS THROUGH PRAYER (John 15:7-8). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples,If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). What is the secret to answered prayer? “Abide in” Christ by keeping His commandments (cf. John 15:10; I John 3:24a). We cannot expect Jesus to answer our prayers if we are living in disobedience to Him.

A second condition for answered prayer is “My words abide in you.” For Jesus’ words to abide in us “requires more than merely reading or listening to them. You must internalize them. Another way to describe this is meditating on God’s Word, rolling it around in your mind to grasp what it means and how to apply it to your specific circumstances. We must chew and swallow Scripture, so to speak, so that it becomes part of us.” 1

It has been said that God has given us two ears and one mouth, so we will listen twice as much to Him as we talk to Him. The more we know and experience Jesus’ Word, the more we can pray the way Jesus would pray. Before spending time talking to God in prayer, take a few minutes to abide in His word. Read and reflect upon Scripture to align your thoughts with God’s. Then “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” because your will has aligned with God’s (cf. I John 5:14-15).

How do you know that you are relying on Jesus? Look at your prayer life. The more you pray the more you are depending on the Lord. And a life of answered prayer will produce much fruit for Christ.

Christ then said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8). The main purpose of bearing fruit is to glorify God the Father. As we remain in vital contact with Christ, much fruit is produced so that God is glorified. Why? Not because of our human effort, but because of Jesus’ work in our lives. Jesus wants His disciples to bear much fruit and in this way be His disciples. Fruit-bearing is a sign of a believing disciple, not a Christian.

When a person does not bear any visible fruit, do not assume they are not a believer in Jesus. Assume that they are not a disciple or committed follower of Christ’s. John 15 is dealing with discipleship, not salvation. Let’s stop playing God and judging who is saved and who is not saved based on how much fruit we can see in their lives. You may not see an outward transformation in a believer’s life, but God sees the inward transformation that has taken place.

God wants all Christians to produce fruit – to lead others to Christ and develop Christ-like character. How?

REALIZE that Jesus Is our Only Source of Life (John 15:1).

– RECEIVE Jesus’ Encouragement From His Word (John 15:2a).

– RECOGNIZE Jesus’ Pruning Process (John 15:2b-3).

– REMAIN In Christ By Obeying His Word (John 15:4-5).

– REPENT When We lose our Discipleship Relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

– RELY on Jesus Through Prayer (John 15:7-8).

What stage of fruit bearing are you at now? Are you at the level of “No fruit”(15:2a) because of discouragement? Your need is to be lifted up or encouraged through Christ’s promises?  Or are you at the level of bearing some “fruit”(15:2b) because of wrong priorities? Your need at this level is for pruning. Or are you at the “more fruit”(15:2c) level because of self-reliance? Your need is to trust and obey Christ. Or are you at the “No fruit” (15:6) level because of disobedience? Your need is for repentance. Or are you at the “much fruit”(15:5, 7-8) level of fruit bearing? The need at this level is for deeper intimacy with Christ through prayer and obedience.

In Revelation 7:9-10 we are given a glimpse of heaven during the future Tribulation period. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10). What part of that innumerable crowd in heaven will be there because of you? Because you stayed connected to Jesus Christ so He could bear much fruit through you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes it is difficult for me to pray because I am so preoccupied with trying to control situations and people. But the moment I surrender to You in prayer, there is a sudden release of the weight I am carrying. Thank You for inviting me to grow deeper in my relationship with You through prayer. You are the God Who hears my prayers. At times I can feel that no one listens to me. I can feel all alone with the weight of worry or loneliness. But You hear me when I pray according to Your will instead of my own. You are the God Who changes lives through prayer, including my own. Thank You so much for being such a good God Who answers prayer. May all the glory be to You, my Lord and my God. Please use me to help populate heaven by preaching the gospel to the lost and discipling those who believe in You. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 4

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We are learning from Jesus in John 15:1-8, how to become more fruitful for the Lord. We can become more fruitful for the Lord when we….

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).          

The fourth way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to REMAIN IN CHRIST BY OBEYING HIS WORD (John 15:4-5). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples,2b Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:2, 5). Jesus wants us to go from bearing “more fruit” (15:2b) to bearing “much fruit” (15:5). How? By abiding in Him.

Jesus said, 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5). The word “abide” (menō) means “to remain, continue, make one’s home at.” 1  Jesus defines abiding as obeying His commandments. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10). John also defines abiding in this way, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him.” (I John 3:24a).

A branch on a grapevine has no life in itself because it draws life from the vine. As long as there is an uninterrupted flow of life from the vine into the branch, the branch is capable of bearing fruit. But the moment the branch is severed from the life of the vine, it cannot bear fruit. What is true in the natural realm is also true in the spiritual realm (cf. John 15:4-5). Jesus is our vine or source of life and fruit. The moment we believed in Christ for eternal life, He placed us in Himself as branches so we may bear fruit. As long as we “abide in Him” we can “bear much fruit.”

It is our responsibility to “abide” in Jesus by obeying His commandments (John 15:4-5, 10; I John 3:24a). Jesus promises that He will abide in us when we abide in Him (“Abide in Me and I in you… He who abides in Me, and I in him.). When we abide in Jesus by keeping His commandments, we can enjoy close fellowship or intimacy with Him. We cannot experience Jesus’ abiding presence in our lives if we are living in disobedience to Him. We must stay connected to the Vine so Christ’s life in us can produce fruit that honors the Father. If we stop abiding in Christ, we “cannot bear fruit” because branches can only bear fruit when they are connected to the vine. 2

When Jesus says, “For without Me you can do nothing,” He means that believers cannot do anything that glorifies the Lord when they are living in disobedience to Him. Every day Christians have a choice to obey the Lord or disobey Him. When we choose to live in obedience to the Lord, He can produce “much fruit” in our lives that glorifies God the Father. Since Jesus  is the only One Who can provide the spiritual sustenance and vitality we need to be useful believers, we must spend time with Him. “You can’t avoid Jesus all week and then show up on Sunday morning expecting growth. We only produce much fruit when we remain in Him (15:5).” 3

I have discovered in my own Christian life that as I grow older in the Lord, I may have a tendency to rely on my own abilities and competency. It is common for us to struggle with self-reliance in areas of our greatest strengths. For example, in February/March 2017 on a couple of mission trips in the Philippines, I began to experience more difficulties in areas of my greatest strengths which were evangelism and teaching. God used that painful time in my life to show me how much I was relying upon my own abilities and wisdom instead of His.

Jesus Christ has commanded us to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). These commands are not content for our minds, they are commands for our will. When Jesus says to do something, do it! He is more interested in our obedience than our opinions.

In February 2018 before I went on a mission trip to the southern Philippines, I thought I was losing my zeal for evangelism. I thought if I led thousands of people to Christ on that trip, it would increase my enthusiasm for evangelism. But God had other plans. At our very first evangelistic film showing, only one person came forward to indicate she was trusting Christ for His gift of salvation. At first, I was so disappointed. “Only one person?” I thought to myself. “What am I doing wrong?”

The Lord convicted me by reminding me that it is not how many people that come to Christ that determines my fulfillment and enthusiasm in evangelism. It is not the fruit! My enthusiasm and fulfillment come from staying connected to Jesus Christ – the only Source of Life! We can be just as fulfilled leading one person to Christ as a thousand – if we stay connected to the True Vine – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I cannot do anything that glorifies and pleases God the Father apart from You. When I try to honor the Father in my own strength, life takes a turn for the worse and I have no sense of joy or fulfillment. Forgive me for focusing more on the fruit than on the Fruit Producer. Please show me how to abide in You and You in me so Your life can flow through mine and produce much fruit for the glory of the Father. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 503-504.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 534.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.