I have decided to follow Jesus

I heard an inspiring story during one of my trips to India. But before I share the story, a little background. Northeast India for many decades had been known as the missionaries’ graveyard. Primarily because nearly every missionary who had moved there and attempted to establish a mission station was faced with unbelievable rejection and failure. The region has been a demonic stronghold for centuries. It was rare that any missionary team would last over one year. It is reported that many got sick and some even died. But most left defeated by an unbelievable hardness of the people’s heart toward the gospel.

Even though the region was considered closed to the gospel, somehow there was one family who became a follower of Jesus. The story is told of a man who lived in a small village in this region of India. We are not sure how he heard the gospel but he was a passionate follower of Jesus. His conversion and commitment to Christ plus his zeal for the gospel had so irritated the villagers that a mob formed. They rushed this man’s house and shoved him and his family to the public square.  The village chief questioned him about his faith and gave him and his family a chance to recant. The man didn’t know what to do. So he began to sing a song that some believe he had composed.

” I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

With that his children were horrifically killed as he and his wife watched in horror. He was given another chance to recant and save his wife. Again, not knowing what to do, he sang another verse.

“Though none go with me still I will follow, though none go with me still I will follow, though none go with me still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back.”

He watched as they brutally murdered his wife. Then he was given one more chance to recant. He continued to sing.

“The cross before me the world behind me, the cross before me the world behind me, the cross before me the cross behind me, no turning back, no turning back.”

Even though that man and his family were killed that day, something remarkable happened. A seed was planted in the heart of the chief. It was a seed that began to grow over time. Then one day he gathered the villagers in that very same square and renounced his previous faith and he declared his allegiance to Jesus Christ. A celebration began to break out and the gospel spread not only through out that village but through the whole region. It spread because they had seen true faith and had seen the real character of God.

I believe this is one of the events that God used to open up this region of India. In the last couple of decades hundreds of thousands Indians have come to Christ. I have personally witnessed this incredible move of God.

Bottom Line

There are several lessons we can learn from this inspiring story.

1. When you make a decision to follow Jesus you will be called on to “draw a line in the sand”. We may not be called on to give our life in martyrdom like this family but we will be faced with a decision(s) that will set us apart from the world. Will I chose to follow Jesus absolutely or will I compromise just to keep my personal dream alive?

The world is not for us. The scripture tells us that we are ‘strangers and pilgrims’ in this world. In other words, we are not familiar with the territory (way of life), and we are pilgrims, just passing through on the way home (heaven).

2. God can take any tragedy, disappointment and turn it into an incredible victory. The principle of Romans 8:28 (“all things work together for our good”) is that God takes all of the successes, failures, unfairness, sacrifices and tragedies and is able to blend them all together to accomplish His will for your life.

For every tragedy and failure God has already gone ahead of his children to begin a process of turning our greatest hurt and disappointment into an incredible work of God.

3. Make sure you have absolutes in your life. We live in a “relative world” where the culture dictates what is right and wrong. As a committed follower of Jesus our life is dictated by absolutes. The old saying is true, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” Absolutes encourages us to be firmly planted on the absolute faithfulness of God.

The Blessing of Struggle

How often have you heard the phrase “trouble is your best friend”? No matter how often I hear that phrase; there is something within me that rebels to the very core of my being. Who in his right mind would welcome difficulty?

Whether we like it or not, there is perceived value in struggle. If you are a salesman you must hear an overwhelming number of “no’s” before you get to the “yes’s”. A baseball player endures more failure than successes at the plate. As a matter of fact, an all-star baseball player fails getting on base 70% of the time. I have read where Thomas Edison failed over one thousand times before he successfully invented the light bulb.

Life is about successfully dealing with failure. It’s about getting up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting back to the task. It sometimes means you do those things you don’t naturally enjoy doing. I read a quote by Success Magazine’s editor Daren Hardy. He said, “If there is a job related task you really don’t want to do, it’s probably the very thing that you should be doing. “

Properly applying lessons learned from failure is a key element to our success. That is true in our day to day challenges, but it is especially true if we want consistent growth in our Christian life.

I have a hunch that most believers think the primary struggle in the Christian life is learning to overcome the devil. But the real battle is surrendering our life to Christ’s control. The ultimate goal is to allow Jesus to live His life through us.

Listed below are four areas of personal struggle that leads us to personal growth. Successfully navigating these four areas of conflict allows us to let go of our “self-effort” mentality and live a more Christ-centered life.

Opposition – Grace can only be experienced when we encounter opposition. How do you respond when someone says something critical or unkind? Or as we like to say in the South, how do you respond when someone “smarts off to you?” Are you reactive, and let them have it, or do you draw on God’s grace in those moments of conflict? Roy Hession writes:

“Every person who crosses us, every person who discourages us is God’s way of breaking us. It creates a deeper channel in us for the life of Christ. The only life that pleases God is His life, never our life. Our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His. We can never be filled with His life unless we are prepared for God to bring our life constantly to death.”

Conflict is God’s way of revealing our flesh. When backed in a corner, what’s inside will come to the surface.

Forgiveness – In order for us to practice forgiveness there must first be hurt or betrayal. Even though God does not create conflict, He allows it in our life to learn the grace of forgiveness. Without practicing the continual act of forgiveness we can never experience the depths of Jesus Christ. Biblical forgiveness says, “I forgive you and release you from the debt of ever making it right with me. “

Hurt – We can never know healing until we have been hurt. The deeper the personal hurt, the deeper the healing. God’s touch goes deeper than the forgiveness of the offender; it creates a healing in us that can only happen when hurt is present. When God allows us to experience deep hurt, He is preparing to do a work deep within us that will result in a new level of intimacy with Him.

Weakness – The opposite of strength is weakness. Weakness must be present in order for us to realize that in and of ourselves we have no strength. As the Scripture says, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) When we live out of our weakness we have an unseen strength that allows us to do “all things through Christ that strengthens us. “ (Philippians 4:13)

Weakness does not mean that we are weak and impotent people, it means we are willing to lay down our self-strength for Christ’s strength. I like to describe this kind of strength as “an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove.”

The Bottom line
Yes indeed, trouble is your best friend. Trouble properly received allows us to practice God’s grace and eventually come to the place that nothing or no one can offend us. Trouble allows us to forgive our offenders and keep the debt account at zero. Trouble gives God the opportunity to go deep in the healing process when we are hurt or betrayed. And then the Lord caps off the process by giving us the opportunity to trade in our weakness for His strength.

God in His mercy allows us to go through trouble, and when we do, we are never alone. He is always walking through the process with us. He lovingly endures the suffering with us in order that we might have a greater capacity for His life. During this process we realize that Christ in us makes us complete. He is truly all we need.

Trusting the Lord in all Situations

I think that “trusting the Lord in all situations” is the most difficult aspect of the Christian life. Actually, it is the one big thing that keeps us from living a victorious and fulfilled life.

When I was a kid our church had regular testimony meetings. I have to admit that I enjoyed the testimony meetings more than the preaching. It was a sampling of what it’s like to live as a follower of Jesus. I heard how Jesus intervened in all sorts of life experiences, such as providing money just in the nick of time, how He healed a sick body, or a broken relationship, and miraculously intervened in potential tragic accidents.

I miss those testimony meetings. I believe these meetings did more to confirm God’s Word in my heart than any other church activity. I learned more about God’s intervening power in those meetings than any other activity in the church. I heard credible evidence of God’s faithfulness and power from people I loved and respected. These were real life examples of God’s power lived out in daily experience.

If we will learn to trust Him, God will provide us with plenty of relevant and recent examples of His power and His care in our own lives. Of course the real question is, “Will we trust Him”? Most of the time we hinder God’s provision because He is waiting for us to take that step of faith and put all our trust in Him. The Scripture is clear on this point, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and (then) He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB)

Another passage of Scripture that is relevant to the subject of trust is Isaiah 40, “They that wait upon the Lord will gain their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not get tired, and they will walk and not get weary.” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB)

When I think of this passage of Scripture two thoughts come to my mind. One is the phrase, “Are you living with the turkeys or are you soaring with the eagles?” The other is “God’s perspective is always the best perspective.”

Eagles fly higher than any other creature. Have you ever observed how effortless they reach the high altitudes? They don’t frantically flap their massive wings; they flap only when necessary. They simply extend their wings and ride the God-provided currents to unbelievable heights. When they get to the highest points they have a perspective that us earth bound folks don’t have. The higher they go, the greater the perspective. The more you trust your current circumstances to the Lord, the higher He will carry you so that He can increase your perspective.

Or you can choose to live like a turkey and fly only as high as a tree limb. A turkey reaches its maximum elevation only by constantly flapping his wings – all self-effort. And his perspective is a mere medium size tree top.

With most believers, the trust issue will always be a challenge. That’s because when the Lord calls you to go higher and deeper with Him, you will encounter a new level of trust. Each step of growth requires greater faith and trust.

If you are in the most difficult situation of your life, you can be assured that God is about to increase and deepen your perspective. He is calling you to a new God-encounter and all you have to do is trust Him. Really, if you think about it, that’s all God asks of us, that’s to trust Him.

Never get so busy doing the work of the kingdom that you forget who the King is.

Taking Risks

Recently I read an article by a missionary that reminded me of the courage of Caleb in the Bible. After a rereading the Scripture passages regarding this courageous servant, I was struck by his passion to take risks even in his old age.
Not long after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, Moses asked Caleb and other Israelite operatives to go spy out the land to see what it would take to overcome the enemy and capture the land. Everyone came back with a negative report, except Caleb (Numbers 14). The spies were full of fear and were totally faithless. The fear of the spies spread to the people, they became fearful and even complained to Moses that they should have stayed in Egypt.
But Caleb, who was 40 years old at the time, was full of faith and courage. He knew God would go before them and give them victory if they would just trust God and step out by faith.
Forty-five years later, after all the other spies had died, Caleb was once again confronted with an opportunity to trust God for the impossible. He boldly declared to Joshua, “My strength now is as my strength was (back) then, now give me this mountain…the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out as the Lord has spoken.” (Joshua 14:12)
After reading about Caleb I have determined I want to be like Caleb. He was not only courageous, but he was willing to step out by faith and take a risks. He was not resting on past obedience and experiences, but he was just as willing to boldly step out and trust God in his old age as he was when he was a young forty years old warrior.
Can you imagine the impact that Caleb’s faith and courage had on those young Israeli soldiers?  I am sure Caleb told the story of being tutored by Moses and how Moses sent him and the other men to survey the land forty-five years earlier. He must have reminded them that they will be the soldiers who chose to do what their ancestors would not do, and that is to have the courage to believe that the battle is the Lord’s.  They will partner with God and witness first-hand, the miraculous power of God. Their stories of conquest will be told for centuries.     What have I learned from the life of Caleb?
  1. Risk takers hear from God and go for it.
  2. Risk taking destroys all confidence in human strategy or models.
  3. Risk taking first involves obedience, even though the “how” is not yet visible.
  4. Trusting God for the impossible has no age barrier.
  5. God desires to use us at every stage of our life, if we will take the risk to follow His direction.
Will you be a risk-taker, stepping out in faith and be willing to obey God to make the way, even though you can’t see how it will all come together? I believe God is looking for some Caleb’s…those willing to say yes to the Lord. Would you be willing to forsake all that is safe and comfortable and follow His leading? Would you be willing to say to the Lord, “I am willing to be a Caleb, show me the way and I will go?”
“The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world.” – A.W.Tozer