I walked into a Chinese restaurant and was surprised that a young Latino came to take my order. I spoke to him in Spanish, wanting to connect with him and wanting practice! After I ordered, I noticed statues on shelves against the wall. There were quite a few of them, lined up so that it looked like a shrine. I asked him, “What are those?” He answered, “dioses (gods)." I smiled and said, “no, idols.” He responded, “It depends on what you believe.” I countered, “No, it depends on what is truth.”
Our belief does not create reality. Yet, we live in a time where much of the world is content to embrace relativism concerning all spiritual things. You’ll hear people say things like, “All religions basically teach the same thing,” and “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just be a good person.” It seems to me people are often led by feelings rather than reason. A Christian author shared that the time we’re in, "post-modernity", is essentially a mood. A mood can be a dangerous state of mind because it crushes reason under the weight of feeling.
Dialogue with people who have this belief in relativism is fun for me. If you engage with a smile on your face and the love of Christ within you, it really can be a joy. A topic that always comes up is the exclusive claims of faith. What people don’t realize is the statement, “All religions basically teach the same thing” is an exclusive claim as well! Remember, we follow the One who said he is the truth (John 14:6)! Training is helpful when the conversation involves different beliefs, religions and world-views. We live in a time where training is at our fingertip and amazing resources are available. If you need some recommendations, please reach out to me.
Some people like to argue about all the differing truth claims and honest dialogue can fall apart. When the arguments begin, I usually switch to testimony. People can argue about God, religion and whether or not something is ultimately true. However, it’s a lot harder to argue with someone’s story. During the 40 days Jesus was with the disciples after rising from the dead, he said, “. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)."
How wonderful is this! God, by His Spirit will dwell within us, giving us power and boldness to tell our stories about what Christ has done for us! Jesus uses the word "witnesses" – not theologians, not lawyers, but "witnesses." You’re the expert on you! If Christ has forgiven you, saved you, healed you and given you new life, you can put it into your own words and share!
Jesus had an encounter with a Samaritan woman in John 4. As Jesus reveals his identity to her it is an amazing story. Her response doesn’t get enough attention! She went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ (John 4:29)?" They were moved by her words, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony (John 4:39a)." After they spent two days with Jesus, they said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world (John 4:42)!" What!? The whole town proclaiming Jesus as the Savior of the world! God used her testimony to bring a town to true faith! The disciples hadn’t done anything near that level yet!
If you’ve read this far, I urge you, walk closely with Jesus and tell others what he has done for you! You never know how God will use your witness for his glory! My friend Kurt has been helping me out with some video projects and I’m thrilled that my testimony is now recorded. Some don’t know about how Jesus pulled me out of darkness and danger. In the video, you will hear how God used the testimonies of my mom, Pastor Al Honaker, a friend named Spencer and many testimonies on the Emmaus spiritual retreat to open my eyes to the truth of Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all! I encourage you to watch it and share it with a friend if you think it could be of help.
We belong to Jesus as He has bought us with His very life! He longs to rescue others using our testimony, acts of love and service to help people know him. Hallelujah!
I’m not sure about you, but this is how I’m entering 2021: with lament and hope, a living hope! A number of years ago I came across a teaching video by one of my favorite singers/songwriters: Michael Card. The title intrigued me: Lamenting is Worship ! It’s a deep concept and for a full understanding, you probably need to be grieving. The difference between an idea and an experience is vast. Experiential knowledge is often a knowing that is beyond words.
In my own journey, lament is somewhat new and helpful. In the past, I would spend my energies praying for the negative circumstances to change, or I would worry about them getting worse. In lament we are not trying to change anything. Rather, it is when we acknowledge the darkness and tragedy while taking all of it to God. In some Christian circles, people feel the need to be "up" all the time, “Too blessed to be depressed!” It’s as if admitting things are really bad means we’ve failed somehow. Lament can help. Lament is about being honest about where you are and letting God and friends, family meet you there.
In Rosaria Butterfield’s Book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith, she shares about a non-Christian friend who was dying of cancer. The friend was reacting to the suffering in Rosaria’s life when they said,: “I didn’t give a damn about who God was to you in your happiness. But now that you are suffering, I want to know: who is your God? Where is he in your suffering?”
It can be a powerful witness to those who don’t know Christ when we grieve honestly, yet persevere through painful times. The Apostle Paul urges us to: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The "tear bottles" pictured above are made by a skilled potter, who happens to be my Mom! What a revelation from God’s Word, "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record" (Psalm 56:8)? Not a tear is shed without God knowing, God is with us in our suffering. My Mom made the "tear bottles" for some victims of gun violence in Virginia Beach.
We have a book of the Bible titled Lamentations. It is the response of God’s people to the city of Jerusalem being conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. While it’s attributed to Jeremiah the prophet, the book is written in poetic form and may be a compilation of the laments of the people. In the passage of lament below, the word "hope" appears 3 times. The only other time the word hope is mentioned in the whole book is in 3:29.
"I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."
- Lamentations 3:17- 26
So, even in the midst of great ruin and destruction, we have reason to hope. Corrie ten Boom, who survived Ravensbrück, but lost her family in that Nazi concentration camp said, “No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still; with Jesus even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.” Amen!
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed” – the Hebrew word for ‘great love’ in this passage is chesed. It is the Old Testament word for grace! Here, we see the focus shift from the terrible circumstances to the character of God! This is a great lesson for us. Knowing who God is gives us hope! A faith that is dependent on things going well is not a faith in God. In spite of the disaster and suffering it is still true, "his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
Our nation and world have experienced a painful year of loss and death. Suffering comes to us all, but it doesn’t have the last word and it cannot steal a hope anchored in God’s love through Christ. Michael Card says, “After all, God used suffering to save the world.”
I pray you are entering 2021 with a living hope that lifts you through the suffering and losses you have experienced. Our hope is in the crucified One, the risen One, who is Christ the Lord. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). In that overflow, may others come to hope in Christ as well!
“My dear friend, when grief presses you to the dust, worship there.” - Charles Spurgeon
Even in the middle of the pandemic, God will provide ways for faith to be awakened, revived and built up.
I’ve been working with Rev. Joe Varner at Thalia UMC in Virginia Beach. We were focused on small groups
and a recovery of the Wesleyan Class Meetings. Then, the conversation turned to the need for revival. Here’s what we did in addition to small group training:
We sent out a full outline of the ‘Revival Night’ with questions, Scripture and thoughts for each person to think upon and pray about before the revival.
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, LORD, and grant us your salvation.” - Psalm 85:6-7.
Some of the questions we asked included: “Do you personally believe you need revival? Do you personally believe you need more of the life of Christ within you? Do you long for it?”
John Wesley illustrated the Gospel by preaching on “the porch of repentance, the door of faith and the house of holiness.” I encouraged participants to think of the houses in nearby Smithfield, VA, like the picture above, for a good visual!
So, during the revival I used the porch, door, house illustration, preaching a short message on each of the three topics. Following each topic, we moved into small groups for discussion. There were three small
group times during which specific questions were asked to engage each person. In this way we modeled the Wesleyan Class Meetings. During these times each person shared an account of their own spiritual condition within an atmosphere of grace and truth. So the question: ‘How is it with your soul?” was asked in terms of where do I need repentance, greater faith and holiness in my life. We closed each small group time with each person praying for another in the group. If someone wasn’t comfortable praying out loud, we asked them to pray silently, then say "amen" when they were done. Again, we intentionally empowered each person to take an active role in the group by both sharing and praying.
Below is an outline. I used more Scripture in the preaching/teaching times. I am available to help churches or groups if you believe this could assist you in building up the body of Christ.
good news!'” - Mark 1:15
come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." - John 10:7-10
brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" - 1 Peter 1:13-16
Most of us are visual learners. If you have a friend that is active in sharing their faith, I’d encourage you to
spend time with them, listen and watch how they communicate. Of course the best example of sharing faith, is
Jesus. There are vast insights, principles and truths to be understood from a study on faith sharing in the
Gospels; and not just knowledge, but wisdom from the Spirit that is revealed. Looking at Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well is a great start.
John writes, “Now he had to go through Samaria” (John. 4:4).
Jesus had a need and a plan. Many Jews went around Samaria to avoid it. Therefore, it wasn’t geographically necessary for Jesus to pass through there. There was a deep rift between the Jews and the Samaritans rooted in different views of faith and culture. Disdain and hatred were common between the two peoples. Principle 1: Jesus goes to the people that the others avoided.
The humanity of Jesus comes through clearly in this passage – Jesus is tired and thirsty as he rests by Jacob’s well. It’s high noon and Jesus is alone when the Samaritan woman comes and he asks her for a drink. In our culture of independence, we are often reticent to ask others for help, even people within our "group," much less a stranger.
I have seen many groups circle the wagons when doing church work, not allowing others to join in. In your church experience, which comes first: Belonging or believing? I would suggest that people come to authentic faith in Christ more easily when the community welcomes them in, before they believe.
Principle 2: Jesus invites help from people whose faith is unsure.
Jesus creatively changes the subject from the division between the Jews and Samaritans to spiritual realities, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John. 4:10). There is no shortage of negative and depressing news around the topic of faith and religion. We can redirect conversations to more positive topics and truths. Yes, there are hypocrites in the church, but don’t you think there are more people who are trying to do the right thing and admit it when they fall short?
Jesus points people to himself, and rightly so. He’s the Savior! The Son of God! “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John. 4:14b). So, we point people to Christ! We ask questions like, “What do you think of Jesus and his teachings?” “Are you aware of his amazing
claims, like offering eternal life to those who put their trust in him and being one with God the Father?”
C. S. Lewis boldly confronts those who try to put Jesus on the same level as other teachers in his classic book Mere Christianity,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was,
and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
We’re trying to shake people a bit, because too many are content minimizing Christ as a teacher or even a prophet. Sometimes people try to dismiss the whole story. I love to help them consider again. We have
eyewitness accounts from people who saw Jesus, his teachings, his miracles, his resurrection! It would have
been cool if they recorded it on video . . . but all they had were their voices plus pen and paper; and they are
shouting to us across the centuries, "God has sent us a Savior! God has made Himself known . . . he died for
us and is risen from the dead!"
Principle 3: Be positive and winsome, gradually moving the conversation to talk about Jesus.
Jesus brings up a difficult topic with the Samaritan woman, “You are right when you say you have no husband.
The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (John 4:17). Many
people interpret this passage as Jesus revealing her immorality. I disagree. A woman in the 1 st century who
had five husbands is a woman who has been serially mistreated and discarded. Women did not have any
power to divorce, only the men did. I go with the theory that she was barren and was therefore of no value in
the selfish eyes of her multiple husbands. She was a desperate woman. This also explains why she is getting
water in the hottest part of the day, to avoid seeing other women. Almost everyone in our day understands the language of brokenness. So many young people today are crying out for healing. Jesus’ compassion for the hurting, sick and burdened brings real hope and help to people today – but they must hear of Jesus.
We also need to talk to people about sin and God’s law, clear Biblical truths and I would suggest some are even self-evident truths. As we tell unbelievers that they need Jesus, they perceive us saying: “Here is some medicine, it will cure you, it is free!” All the while, they are thinking, "Thanks, but I’m not sick." John Wesley told his preachers to preach the Law and the Gospel! The Law referred to Jesus’
commandments, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Seedbed, an online ministry, has a great article on this this topic HERE.
When we see we have fallen short of God’s standard, that we have rebelled against God’s goodness and love,
the Holy Spirit brings conviction and we begin to know our need for a Savior.
Principle 4: Share God’s good standards, God’s Law and share God’s amazing love seen in Christ laying down his life for us. “Law to the proud and grace to the humble,” is how Evangelist Ray Comfort sees Jesus sharing with people. I think he is right. The Samaritan woman changes the subject when things get too personal and she brings up a well known religious debate between the Samaritans and the Jews: Where is the right place to worship? Jesus, never gets bogged down in controversy, he has answers that transcend the options, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John. 4:23-24).
Therefore, the location of worship isn’t the issue, it is how we worship! As you share Christ, be prepared for distractions and smoke screens, but also for honest debate. Some of the topics people bring up are: hypocrisy in the church, the church just wants your money, validity of other faiths, and the question of salvation for those who have never heard the gospel. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t try to make something up. Just say, “I don’t know, I’ll research that. Good question.” I always bring conversations back to what we know of Christ and his resurrection. If he really did rise from the dead, it’s the most important event in the history of the world, don’t you think?
Principle 5: Don’t get pulled too far into side issues, deal with them honestly, but come back to the main topic: Jesus, His life, teachings, claims, death and resurrection. Jesus changes the focus of her question from where we worship to what kind of worshippers God is seeking, and this prompts the Samaritan woman to speak of the Messiah. Jesus tells her plainly that he is the Messiah and her faith comes alive. In the next newsletter I’ll pick up here on helping someone to put their faith in Christ and call on him for salvation.
Here are some illuminating questions to go with each of the 5 Principles above. I’d encourage you to ask them of yourself, of your family and of your church:
1. Do I/we interact with people of other cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds? If not, why
2. Is there a place of welcome for atheists, agnostics and people of other faiths in my/our lives? If not,
3. Am I/are we positive and hopeful as I am in conversation with people and as I witness to them? If not,
why not? Am I/are we able to naturally bring Jesus into conversations?
4. Do I/we communicate with confidence that God’s standards (Laws) are good? Am I/are we able to
talk about sin in such a way that people understand? Do I/we have some excitement about sharing the
love of God in Christ with others?
5. Am I/are we able to deal with honest inquiry and critiques on a variety of topics and still come back to
the main topic, Christ?
**I am available to train churches in evangelism and basic apologetics face to face or via Zoom.
We are in incredibly challenging times. Our nation is divided. God’s Church is divided. We have failed to be faithful to the teachings of Christ. There are great injustices and inequities in our land. Violence is ongoing with threats of more coming. The COVID-19 pandemic continues with worldwide deaths passing 1 million and more than 200,000 lives lost in our nation. The wildfires rage in the west and hurricanes have battered states on the Gulf of Mexico. We have bitter division in our politics as the election draws near. It seems the only thing both parties agree upon is that the apocalypse will happen if the other party is elected.
In the midst of this, there is no shortage of voices who claim to have the answers, they quickly tell us which ones God favors and which side to be on. Dig deeper, don’t let others do your thinking for you. It is often more complex than some people make it out to be. In these times, we would do well to remember this story from the Bible.
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so." - Joshua 5:13-15
A friend told me this was the Biblical story that inspired President Abraham Lincoln’s famous response to the question about whether God was on his side during the Civil War . . . “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Lincoln was very familiar with the Bible and sought to lead with God’s truth and wisdom. There’s a very insightful article with wisdom for today written by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik on this topic, you can read it HERE.
In our nation we have Christian leaders calling for violence or failing to denounce it.They misrepresent God’s nature and tragically fail to understand how God’s Kingdom comes. I do not want to be overly dramatic, but I have been thinking of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. At the time Rwanda was one of the most “Christian” nations in Africa. However, because of centuries old divisions, injustices and strife, the tribal identities of Hutu and Tutsi carried more weight than their identities as followers of Jesus. In less than four months between half a million and a million were murdered in Rwanda.
Again, I don’t want to be an alarmist. I am praying for peace and justice as integral parts of God’s Kingdom to be established here and now on earth as they are in heaven. In the U.S.A. we love stories of “good violence” overcoming “bad violence.” From John Wayne and Clint Eastwood to James Bond and Marvel movies, we love it when the “good guy” crushes and destroys the bad guy. There is a time for this. World War II is a clear example. However, Jesus is radically different. Jesus overcomes evil not with force and violence, but with sacrificial love, laying down his life.
Friends, let’s be sure no matter what happens in these next few months that we seek to line up with Jesus on all things – being peacemakers, ministers of reconciliation, salt and light! And it’s a good idea every once in a while to take off our shoes and socks and remember it all belongs to Him. We’re on God’s ground, holy ground!
It’s been said that the two most difficult things about evangelism for Christians are: #1) Starting and #2) Stopping! A lot of Christians keep their faith to themselves for various reasons. However, our calling and joy is to abide in Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit gives us courage and boldness to share (John 15:5; Acts 4:31). If you aren’t active in sharing your faith with others, I encourage you to ask yourself, “Why?”
There are roots to hesitancy in sharing faith. If you can identify them, you can find the resources to overcome them. Remember, Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Matthew 4:19 NLT)! So, starting can be challenging, but God is with you and for you!
Then the stopping! You know what I mean. You’ve met people who share their faith and don’t come up for air! At some point you feel trapped because they have shifted into sermon mode. Dialogue is so much more effective and fun! Have a few questions ready so that the other person is invited into the conversation. “I’ve shared about my faith and I’m grateful for you listening. I’m curious, are a person of faith? I’d love to hear some of your story.” Then make sure you don’t interrupt them. Ask clarifying questions or encourage them to expound on some aspect of their story. If they have different views, don’t react negatively. Remember, the Holy Spirit goes ahead of us, is with us and goes after us. Don’t try to force a change. Try to sense how open they are and follow the leading of God’s Spirit. Remember, we are called to be witnesses, not prosecuting attorneys!
The Greatest Commandment is crucial in true faith sharing – Love God, love the person you’re sharing with. These two points are also crucial in effective faith sharing: #1) Don’t treat the person as a project! They are a unique human life created in God’s image. #2) Don’t reduce your witnessing to a formula or a technique. I’m not against having some specific points to share, but tune in to the relationship, where the person is hurting, broken or needy. Be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to share your own shortcomings and hurts in order to connect with them. Here are a few other questions I like to ask to get to know people and understand where they are: “Do you have a faith background? What is it and has it been played a positive role in your life?” “Do you think God is active in the world and, if so, how?” “What do you make of Jesus? Do you know his teachings and what do you think of them? Do you think he is the Son of God? God revealed in human form? Why or why not?”
As I get to know people who are not Christians, at some point I share with them that I’m betting my whole life that the greatest truth at the center of the universe is this: “God loves you, and the clear evidence is seen in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ!”
**I am available to train churches in evangelism and basic apologetics face to face or via Zoom.
I write with deep conviction and an urgency as I try to understand the times. God’s people, the Church, are to be ambassadors of Christ, to reflect the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Honestly, how do you think we are doing?
Evangelism is sharing Christ with others and calling people to faith and belief.. However, if we only call them to faith in Christ for the purpose of forgiveness and rescue, but fail to call them to obedience to Christ as Lord, we have failed greatly.
I’ve seen the rush to get people to "accept Christ" even when they know very little of what they are signing up for. Yes, we want everyone to know the love of God in Christ, but we cannot cheapen the message by minimizing the cost of discipleship. When we do, we get people who are Christian in name, but live in ways that are clearly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. This repels people. It repels unbelievers and even causes people in the Church to renounce their faith! God help us!
Jesus questions us all, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say (Luke 6:46)?” He follows this up with the story of two people building houses, one on a foundation of rock and the other on sand. The message is simple, if “disobedience and neglect” are the building blocks of our lives, they will crumble in the storms of life. If the foundation of our lives is loyalty and allegiance to Christ and all of his teachings, we’ll withstand the tempests that are sure to come. Let’s be found faithful!
In the U.S.A. right now, we are in multiple crises at the same time: the pandemic with the number of dead nearing 200,000; the ongoing struggle for racial justice with far too many wounded, suffering and dead; an economic crisis for many with desperation growing; and a political battle that’s raging with ratcheted up accusations, tensions and attacks every day. Please ask with me, are we as Jesus’ people reflecting His character, His grace and His truth into these crises? Are we offering help, offering hope, loving our neighbors and yes, loving our enemies? Do we know and proclaim that justice is an essential part of the Gospel (see Matthew 12:17-21)? These are not options for us to consider. If we follow Jesus, they are commands to be obeyed; and we obey not merely out of a sense of duty, but with joy knowing that our lives will please God and help manifest the Kingdom of God, which is coming “on earth as it is in heaven.”
In light of some recent failures among prominent Christian leaders, Melissa Stuebing, a friend of mine, posted an article. Her husband, David, called out an amazing quote, “There are men that would take on Christ’s name and none of His attributes.” Wow! This one made me think deeply. I believe many are well intentioned, but they drift from Jesus’ teachings, if they ever knew them. They pursue a righteous aim, but then endorse any method to get them there and become corrupt. In Dostoevsky’s "The Brothers Karamazov", we see a profound betrayal of Christ by the Church. The Grand Inquisitor believes he has found better methods than Christ’s teachings to get to the same end. It never works. We have to be vigilant, making sure we're not in error or deceived. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this was a danger to the Civil Rights Movement and spoke boldly, “I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”
Friends, remember “. . . our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20 NRSV)." Beware of the tribalism that can divide us. Remember the catastrophic lessons of tribalism within the “Christian culture” of Rwanda in 1994. Their loyalty to their tribe, whether Hutu or Tutsi, was greater than their loyalty to Christ. We must be sure of where our allegiance lies and who we will follow, in good times and bad. We are not only citizens of heaven, but ambassadors as well. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18 NIV)."
Have you ever been stung by a bee? Not a fun experience! Did you know that after a honey bee stings someone, it dies? They are giving their lives to protect the hive or to defend themselves. A couple of weeks ago, I visited Pastor Bob Weeks and his church, Verona UMC. I went to preach two recorded sermons. However, my visit was intentionally timed to include helping with a “honey harvest.” Yes, Verona UMC has about 250,000 employees living in their ten beehives! This “Honey Bee Ministry” helps to fund missions, while taking a pro-active role in caring for God’s creation.
Bees are fascinating and so helpful to us as they pollinate 80% of the world’s plants and more than 90 different food crops! Years ago, I actually had two of my own beehives. Helping with a honey harvest of 10 hives was a new and amazing experience. Pastor Bob’s expertise in beekeeping showed as he guided the team of volunteers. The bee suits are hot, to say the least, but they do keep you free from stings . . . worth it! We opened up the hives from the backside and then used smoke to break the communication of the bees and drive them deeper into the hives. We pulled out the frames to see if they were filled with honey or brood (larvae). We placed the frames in the honey extractor which spins the honey out – using centrifugal force. Then, we took them back and put them in the hive for the bees to fill again!
You all know that preachers are often looking for sermon illustrations. Here are some interesting ‘bee facts’ that didn’t make the cut for sermon material.
Friends, how amazing is it, that God by His Holy Spirit produces “fruit” in us so we can enjoy it, but there’s enough of it that others can have plenty too! Paul writes to the church in Galatia, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). He is saying as God’s Spirit dwells in you and you yield to the Holy Spirit, a different kind of photosynthesis takes place and we are changed to produce visible results! Make no mistake, the Christian life is a supernatural life! Our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)! This supernatural love, joy, peace, patience . . . all are received in relationship with the living God. Our lives are qualitatively better, because God dwells with us, but it’s not just for our benefit.
The Holy Spirit produces this ‘fruit’ in us for others to experience! Is this your experience? Is there joy in you that transcends your circumstances? Do you have a love from Christ that is even extended to “enemies?” In the chaos of the pandemic and all of the crises around us, is there the “peace that passes all understanding?” It is all available to you. I know in my life I often have to wrestle against my flesh and yield to God’s Spirit before I experience bearing “fruit.” In this way, God makes himself known in the world. The world will never be interested in a “religious version of itself.” As they see in us a quality of life that they are lacking, they become open to life in Christ!
Friend, please be aware, the situation is urgent. Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world, but if people reject him, they are choosing a Christ-less eternity. Let us live boldly, a life in the Holy Spirit! 20 centuries ago, the Apostle John wrote to the church:
“This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:13-14).