Dare to Be Different!

by David Brandt Berg

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A world-famous nonconformist named Jesus, while exhorting His disciples to leave their old lives in order to follow Him, warned them that they would be “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). “If you were of the system,” He as good as said, “the system would love its own. But you are not of the system; therefore the system hates you” (John 15:19, paraphrased).

Dare to be different, He was saying. Venture to vary from the norm which the systematic system addicts have established to conform to their own Establishment behavior, and they will hate you for daring to challenge their authority to tell you what they have decided is right and wrong.

Just you dare to be so bold as to think, act, live or teach differently from the vast robotic, narcotic, conventional, pretentional, conformist, performist, zombie bombie, so-called silent majority of the supposedly average worldlings, and you will soon discover that they are not so silent, and you will hear them too, for it is the hit dogs that howl! And if you learn to run with these wolves, you will learn to howl too, especially when someone dares to say and prove that the “normal” way of life is not the only way!

History has proven time and again in every age that the majority is usually wrong. As Jesus said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it: because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13,14). As the German philosopher Hegel said, one thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history. Therefore the sordid chapters of the horrors of history continue to repeat themselves.

When any courageous iconoclast becomes so presumptuous as to dare to smash the idols of the generally accepted behavior of the vast and wrongful majority, or if some brave pioneer of spiritual matters or of science is so foolhardy as to even suggest that society could possibly be wrong on some things, he is often hooted down as a maniac, denounced as demented, persecuted as a departurist, and sometimes even condemned as a criminal, hanged as a heretic, or crucified as a menace to society!

Why? Because the darkness cannot stand the light, and the wrong cannot bear the right, and the big lie cannot tolerate the truth, and those who are bound bitterly resent the freedom of the free, because by all of these the wrongful majority are exposed for their sins of darkness, deception, greed and the enslavement of the exploited. They must therefore furiously endeavor to smother the light, say that wrong is right, attempt to shout down and drown out the voice of truth, frustrate and bind the free, and exterminate those who would expose and terminate society’s hypocrisy.

When Noah built his big boat on dry land and said there was going to be a worldwide flood (when it had never even rained before), he was laughed at by the vast, vocal majority of his day who were later to drown in that very same flood, while Noah and his family had the last laugh (Genesis chapters 6-8; Hebrews 11:7).

When Abraham, at the age of one hundred, claimed that he was going to become the father of many nations and that his descendants would be as numerous as the sands of the sea, his own barren wife, Sarah, laughed him to scorn. But Abraham was soon to laugh last, because Sarah, herself in her nineties, bore him Isaac, the forefather of the Jews. And Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar, bore him Ishmael, forefather of the Arabs (Genesis 17:1-21; 18:1-19; 21:1-5).

When a lowly shepherd from lonely Sinai claimed he was going to single-handedly deliver six million Hebrew slaves from the greedy clutches of their all-powerful Egyptian oppressors, Moses’ own people made fun of him. But it was he who later had the fun as he led them miraculously through the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 3:1-10; 14:8-30).

The people of Jericho jeered when Joshua jogged his Jews seven times around their impregnable walls, but it was really a blast on those tiny trumpets when those walls came tumbling down (Joshua 6:4-5,15-16,20).

The Midianite army of thousands must have really cracked up laughing when most of Gideon’s army departed, and he was only left with three hundred men. But it was the Midianites’ turn to flee when Gideon’s paltry party pelted them with pottery in the middle of the night (Judges 6:11-14; 7:1-23).

The mighty lords of the conquering Philistines sneered when Samson, the proverbial Israelite strongman, stood blind before them as their captive. But when he pushed the pillars of their temple apart, it was his turn to snicker as he slew more of his enemies with his death than his life (Judges 16:23-30).

The giant Goliath ridiculed the little lad with the slingshot, but when David cut loose with just one honest bit of rock, the Philistine phony fell flat on his face and the children of God danced for joy (1 Samuel 17:1-10,42-51).

The prophets who predicted the doom of the dominant dominions of their day were derided as daft and demented, but when each power fell in its time according to their rhyme, they were no longer found to be fanatically funny!

When Jesus told His religious foes, the Pharisees, that their proud temple would be pulled down, they denounced Him in derision. But forty years later when the Romans burned it to the ground and pulled it stone from stone to get at the melted gold in the cracks, Jesus’ prophecy wasn’t so funny anymore (Luke 19:37-44).

When the early Christians prophesied the fall of the Roman Empire, Nero exiled, beheaded and crucified them, burned them at the stake and fed them to the lions. But Nero died a perverted, raving maniac, and Rome burned and her empire eventually crumbled—and the remains were joyously taken over by the Christians themselves!

The early Christian martyrs were vilified, pilloried, tortured, torn apart and sawn asunder by the pagans who attempted to stamp them out. But soon the heathen themselves were conquered by the truth, love and peace of these berated bands of beautiful people.

Then when Christendom itself became the next powerful system, the Church establishment tried to suffocate the findings of men of science and stifle the voices of freedom. But in so doing, the Church rang its own death knell as they extolled their fleeting victories over the new enlightenment and the dawn of the Renaissance of learning!

Nearly all the prophets and leaders of God throughout the Bible and past ages were thought to be crazy by the rest of the world—dreamers and visionaries who hallucinated, heard “voices,” and were pretty well “flipped out” over religion.

The conventionalist, traditionalist, or conformist never makes news or changes anything. He’s just like all the rest. Who cares about hearing about somebody that’s no different than anybody else and is right on man’s so-called norm? It’s the unconventional, non-traditionalist, nonconformist, radical, fanatical, iconoclast who usually makes the news.

The people that stay put and never go anywhere and conform to what everybody else is doing don’t even raise an eyebrow; they don’t wake you up or cause a stir. They always think and do whatever they’re supposed to, what society tells them they should. They wouldn’t be caught dead doing what just isn’t done, what nobody else is doing!

The placid little pipsqueaks, Mr. Milquetoasts, string-for-a-backbone jellyfish, that just float around and drift with the tide, like everybody else, and never change anything, never do anything different, never buck the mainstream, never stand up for the truth or what is right, never get out of line, are never out of step with the vast, spineless majority, are therefore never even heard of. They just drift along with everyone else in the flotsam and jetsam, the froth and the foam, the slime and the ooze of normalcy. They never make a sound, never make a dent in progress, never change a jot or a tittle, never make a mark, never make any impression, so the world doesn’t even know they exist! They sink down with the rest in the morass of anonymity—in the mire of Nowhere—and fade into oblivion, never making history!

But the so-called crazy nuts are the ones who make news! History is full of those who dared to challenge the system, dared to be different, dared to buck the tide, dared to shock their generation, dared to defy the science or challenge the mores of their day, dared to champion an unpopular cause, or did something beyond the call of duty. Those who made history were those who lived outside of the norm, the radical, seemingly heretical, revolutionary, misfits, discoverers, inventors, explorers, and the like.

They are the insane dreamers who envisioned doing things that nobody else had ever done before, who thought and behaved differently than their predecessors. And most were thought to have a few screws loose or to be just a little off their rockers compared to the rest of the people. Be they heroic or fiendish, good or bad, diabolical criminals or angelic saints, all were certainly unusual and none of them indifferent!

They lived in fame and died in flame, but nothing and no one could stop them, because the others didn’t know how to handle it; they didn’t know where these pioneers were going, because nobody had ever gone there or done that before. The rest just weren’t prepared for it, so it took them quite a while to catch up with them.

Of course, the majority usually managed to smother the flame by overwhelming it with the sheer number of their dead bodies. But they have never been able to put out of the memory of mankind that here were those who stood out from the rest, outstanding for their achievements! They dared to be different and did what everyone told them not to, or what others said couldn’t be done, because they thought it should be done and they could do it, no matter what anybody said. And they did it, and the world heard about them!

Beaten paths are for beaten men! Burning the candle at both ends may look crazy, but it sure gives a better light! You may not last long, you may wear out fast, but you’ll generate a lot of heat! And when this life is over and the angels beckon you, the world will remember you. If what you did was right, God will never forget it! You’ll shine as the stars forever, and you’ll hear Him say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your Lord”—you and all the rest who dared to be “fools for Christ’s sake” (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 25:21; 1 Corinthians 4:10). (Dare To Be Different, A Mountain Streams Book)

 
 

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Your Best Friend

by David Brandt Berg

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All of us have been guilty of getting down in the dumps. It’s a terrible state to be in, especially because we can never be down in the dumps alone. We always drag somebody down with us. We can’t keep our problems and our draggy spirits to ourselves. Others can just take one look at us and know that we’re in the dumps. We can’t hide a bad spirit that radiates gloom and doom any more than we can hide a good spirit that radiates happiness and light.

Happiness is what you make it. It’s a spiritual law of God, just as sure as the law of gravity, that we don’t get happy by trying to make ourselves happy or by trying to get somebody else to make us happy. We don’t find happiness by chasing it. We get happiness by trying to give it to other people. If we go around trying to make others happy, then happiness will find us. Sooner or later it will catch up with us, and we’ll find we’re happy too.

There’s a saying, “Love isn’t love till you give it away.” What does that mean?—Love isn’t real love unless the main motive behind it is to make the other person happy. Trying to get love isn’t love; it’s selfishness.

When we’re down in the dumps, we want everybody to be miserable with us; we want everybody to sympathize and be sad with us. “How can you be happy and cheerful when I’m so sad? Come down here in the dumps with me!” It’s pitiful! That’s human nature. But it’s godly nature to try to encourage and cheer up others, even when we need cheering up ourselves.

The manifestation of the problem is not the important thing. The symptom is not the disease. The core of the problem is us. We need to quit blaming our lack of victory on everybody else.

Most people’s problem is that they blame all their problems on somebody else! They think, “It’s that person I have to work with” or “that person I have to be with”—or this one or that one. But when they move on to a new job or new relationship, they take that same selfish spirit with them and drag down a whole new set of people. And the thing is, no one will ever be able to make them happy, because the problem is not the other person; it’s their own selfish, self-centered, proud spirit.

It’s the Devil’s own tactic to try to get people to always blame their problems on everybody else. “Why me, Lord? It wasn’t my fault! It’s his fault or her fault! They’re to blame! They’re the ones that made me feel like this!” If those people could only see themselves the way others see them, they’d understand how ridiculous and wrong that attitude is.

My, how we love sympathy when we’re down! But sometimes that’s the last thing in the world we need. Somebody needs to come along and wake us up out of our stupor of self-pity so we can get our minds on the Lord and others, and forget ourselves! We’ll never get the victory by looking at ourselves. There’s nobody that drags me down worse than me! Self is horrible! Self is terrible—that kind of self!

Christian denominations have various doctrines about getting the victory. Some say that everybody’s got a “good” self and a “bad” self, and the only way to get the victory is to get the good self on top of the bad self and hold him down. They call it “the doctrine of suppression.”

Others preach the doctrine of eradication: “Yes, you’ve got a good self and a bad self, and the only way to get the victory is to get rid of the bad self. Go through the operation of entire sanctification, have the bad self cut out, and throw it away like a cancer, so there’s nothing but good self left.” They then say, “This is the good me! This is my real self, my good self! There’s no evil thing left in me now, I’m all good!” Self-righteous and holier-than-thou is what they really are!

Well, the true doctrine of the Holy Spirit is neither one! You don’t get the victory by holding down that bad spirit, that bad self, that temptation or weakness yourself, in your own strength. You’ll never get the victory that way!

Neither will you ever get the victory by thinking that you can have God cut out the bad self once and for all and leave only the good self. There is no such thing as good self! Even the apostle Paul said, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18).

True victory is not found in ourselves, but in Himself—Jesus. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

That’s the theological doctrine of “habitation”—cohabiting with the Lord. God tosses out the bad self and He also tosses out the good self, because it’s bad too. Sometimes it’s even worse—self-righteous, hypocritical, holier-than-thou, and critical!

No self is good! “There is none righteous, no, not one! … All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10,23 KJV). You’re no better than me, and I’m no better than you. Nobody except Jesus is any better than anyone else! He’s the only one who can be truly good, and without Him we’re nothing, empty, zero! We can’t be good without Jesus, so why keep trying? We can’t be good. We can’t be righteous. We can’t get the victory. We can’t overcome. We can’t get rid of the darkness by trying to chase it away, but we can get rid of it by letting the light in. Let Jesus in, and He’ll take care of the whole problem!

We can’t get the victory! Jesus has to get it, and we have to let Him or we’ll never have it. Let’s quit trying to be something we aren’t and can never be, and that’s righteous. Only Jesus can make us righteous. We don’t have to work it out, pray it off, pray it on, or pray it down. We don’t have to do anything except just let God do it through us. Just let Jesus in! Get our minds off of ourselves—even our supposed good selves—and let Jesus come in and shine through us. There’s an old song that says:

Lift your heart to Heaven and His glory will come in.
Let Jesus have possession, He’ll save you from your sin.
Lift your heart to Heaven and His glory will come in.

Only Jesus is good enough, but He’s good enough for us all! What is the glory?—It’s the Spirit of the Lord! It’s His Spirit, His glory, His self—not our self.

I play a little Ping-Pong [table tennis], but I’m not very good. I miss the ball and usually lose, and it’s not always because my opponent is all that good. It’s because of my own mistakes. When that happens, I often say that I’m my own worst enemy.

We can be our own worst enemy! I’ve heard people complain, “The Devil did this and the Devil did that. The Devil caused me all this trouble!” Well, I’d say that in many cases the real trouble was not evil spirits but their own spirits.

We can’t blame it on everybody else or evil spirits or even the Devil. He can’t touch us unless we let him in through our wrong attitudes and own bad spirits. It’s our own spirits that we have the most trouble with. It’s our own spirits that are the most difficult to conquer, and the only way we’re ever going to conquer them is not to conquer them, but to let Jesus conquer them. He’s our own best Friend! He is the only one who can help us get the victory—not over our situations or others or whatever, but over ourselves where the big problem is. If we let Jesus conquer our spirits, He can easily take care of all the rest!

Keep your eyes on Jesus;
Do not watch the waves.
Keep your eyes on Jesus;
It’s faith in Him that saves.
Keep your eyes on Jesus;
His promises avail!
Keep your eyes on Jesus;
Praise God, He cannot fail!

Quit trying to succeed yourself. Quit trying to win the victory yourself. Just let Jesus come in, and let Him win it. Get your mind off the supposed problem and on the Lord. Get your mind on helping others. Seek their happiness before your own. Have real, genuine, sacrificial, unselfish love. Ask Jesus to help you love Him and others so much that you’ll forget yourself, your worst enemy, and live for Him and others. Get filled with His Spirit, His joy, and His happiness, and your best Friend, Jesus, will do it all. Let’s pray and ask Him right now to do it.

(Prayer:) Do bless and keep us, Jesus. Keep us not only from the Evil One and his minions, but most of all keep us from our evil selves. Help us to keep our hearts right and wide open to You, so Your light can come in and chase away the shadows and the darkness. Amen. (Greater Victories, A Mountain Streams book)

 
 

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God’s Will

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The best way to find God’s will is to say, “I will” to God.

God may give you your choice, but He alone knows what is best, so you’d better ask Him what that is. How do you find God’s best? The first requirement is having no will of your own. According to the Scripture, you need to surrender your life, your mind, and your will, and not be conformed to this world:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

Ask God to lead and guide you. Ask Him to open your heart and mind to His truth. Ask Him to help you to understand it and follow it. Be willing to yield to His will, whatever it may be, and then you’ll find out—you’ll know—because then you’re in a position for God to show you. If you’re His child and you’re letting Him do the choosing, what’s He going to choose for you? He’s going to choose that which is the best for you.

He knows, He loves, He cares,
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him.
—Author unknown

 
The secret of success: Choose and yield to God’s will.

God has given us a free will, but to be successful for Him or even as happy as He would like to make us, we have to continually yield that will to Him. We have to find out from Him what His will for us is—what He knows is best for others and us—and then choose that.

Once you have found and chosen God’s will, He will reach down and take ahold of you and move you where He wants you to go. Everybody has their place and job for the Lord, like the pieces on a chessboard. Chesspieces have no will of their own. When a player picks up a chesspiece and moves it to another square, the chesspiece doesn’t protest; it yields and goes where it’s sent, right? Well, you’re in the hands of the Master Player and He’s going to put you wherever He wants you, so trust the Lord.

You don’t have to make all the decisions; you only have to be yielded to His moves and let Him do the thinking and the choosing. You’ve got very limited vision, but He can see the whole game, the whole chessboard and all the pieces. It’s wonderful to let God decide, because He always has our best interests at heart and He knows what’s best.

 
Don’t trade the best for something merely good.

A lot of people try to get away with what they call “God’s second best.” They desert God’s highest calling because they aren’t willing to pay the price.

But we shouldn’t even consider second best because as far as God is concerned, there’s only one best—the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 KJV). If we take second best, it’s not really His second best; it’s our best.

What is sin? It’s missing the mark, missing the target, missing the bull’s eye. It’s not really doing the most important thing that God wants us to do. So “let us lay aside the weights and the sins” (Hebrews 12:1)—anything that keeps us from doing God’s highest and His best, anything that keeps us from being where He knows we’ll be of most use to Him and the biggest blessing to others.

(Prayer:) Lord, bless and keep us all in the center of Your will. Keep us single-minded, single in purpose. We have no idea how great Your purpose is, but we’ve answered Your call. Do help us to do Your best—the best we can, and nothing less.

 
The first place we look for the will of God is in the Word of God.

God’s written Word is the known, sure, absolute, revealed will of God. So when you aren’t sure what to do or how to go about it, look in His Word at all He’s said before. If God never tells you another thing, if you never get a revelation, if you never see a vision, if you never receive a message from Heaven in prophecy, if you never have the gift of knowledge, if you never have wisdom, if you never have discernment, if you never have the gift of healing, if you never have the gift of miracles, if you’ll just operate according to the written Word of God, you’ll accomplish a whole lot.

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The Bible also tells us: “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in Heaven” (Psalm 119:89). When God speaks to you right from His Book, you know it’s right. There’s no question or any doubt about it! It never fails!

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled!
—John Rippon, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, 1787

 
The safest place in the world is in the center of God’s will.

No matter where you are, or how you are, or what you are, or what’s against you, God will keep you safe if you are in the center of His will. It’s a charmed circle where you live a charmed life. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Don’t run outside that circle of God’s will and protection, or God may allow Satan to give you problems. We can suffer sometimes for our sins of carelessness, prayerlessness, haste, and disobedience to the Lord. God is bound by His own rules and laws, and He can’t protect you when you violate the rules. When you’re out of His will, He may even allow you to fall prey to the snares of the Devil.

(Prayer:) Help us to stay close to You, Lord, in the center of Your will. Then we know we have nothing to fear because we’re also in the center of Your provision and protection and blessing, and can trust You utterly because we know we’re being obedient and doing Your will. Amen.

 
God’s will for you is what He made you for.

Believe it or not, God has a special and unique calling for you—something that only you can do. He is the One who designs both the jobs and the tools to get those jobs done. He knows what kind of tool you are. He knows which job you’re best suited for and what He wants to use you for, so you’d better do what He knows you can do best. Find the job that God has gifted you for, and then stick to it.

If everybody would only be willing and satisfied to fulfill their calling and not want any more or any less, God could greatly use them and make them very happy. But we sometimes make ourselves unhappy by being dissatisfied with what God has given us to do for Him because we haven’t learned, as the apostle Paul did, to be content in whatever state we’re in (Philippians 4:11). We all need to learn to be satisfied and thankful for the place and ministry God has given us.

“Make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10 NIV).

* * *

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God
–Romans 12:1-2

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
–Philippians 3:13,14

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;
–Hebrews 12:1,2b

Make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall.
–2 Peter 1:10

Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto Thee.
–Psalms 143:8b

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.
–Proverbs 3:5,6

Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.
–Luke 22:42

Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
–1 Samuel 15:22

If ye love Me, keep My commandments.
–John 14:15

Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
–John 15:14

Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
–Ephesians 6:6

 
 

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Anchor

When Unorthodox Meets God’s Plan

By Maria Fontaine

free-bible-studies-online-anchorBreaking with the norm of what is expected can be seen as unconventional and eccentric, and yet those unorthodox people and methods can have a powerful, life-changing impact for good—including in the realm of witnessing.

I love it when people are unafraid to follow God’s leadings, even when He’s showing them to do something a bit different, because they consider the results to be worth any sacrifices! It’s wonderful to see and hear about individuals who do what the Spirit leads them to do, in order to help someone to understand the Lord’s love. It’s inspiring to see the lengths that some people will go to in order to save someone’s soul, to convince them of the veracity of their faith.

Sometimes the key may be for people to see you just like one of them, yet with that extra “something” of God’s Spirit. At other times, an unconventional or bold move on the part of a witness can be just what someone needs in order to help them dare to believe.

While I was pondering these thoughts, I ran across a couple of personal experiences from Tony Campolo that show how different methods of witnessing that can seem a bit “out there” can, in fact, be effective in their own unique way in winning souls to Jesus.

Witnessing is about being willing to do what Jesus asks us to do and to rejoice for all the ways He designs His love to be manifested to meet each need—whether it’s the out of the box and unorthodox, or the traditional and accepted, or anything in between. The method we use will be blessed by Him if it’s what He has shown us to do in a particular situation, and is in line with His Word and its values.

Tony’s personal accounts made me think. Maybe they will do the same for you. Here’s what he shared:

As my wife and I strolled along Waikiki Beach in Honolulu we came upon a very strange-looking man standing with a Bible in one hand and waving his finger at every passerby with the other. He was barefoot and wearing a T-shirt and tattered trousers. To everyone who passed he pronounced the judgment of God on those who would not accept Christ.

As we passed him I said to my wife, “It’s guys like that who are an embarrassment to the kingdom of God. People look at weirdos like that and get turned off to the gospel. Guys like that leave me a bit disgusted.”

An hour or so later we were heading back to catch the bus to the airport, and we came upon this same man. To my surprise, there were two very normal-looking, properly dressed men standing with him. He had his arms around their shoulders, and as I passed I could hear that they were saying a prayer, surrendering their lives to Christ.

My wife looked at me and simply asked, “Well? How many people did you lead to Jesus today?”

Tony tells of another experience he had, sitting at a table with a group of sophisticated intellectuals, who, as their conversation progressed, began to make fun of evangelical Christianity. At one particular point, he had had enough and decided that he had to speak out in defense of evangelicals. He said:

You guys have got the wrong idea! You judge evangelicals on the basis of some stupid displays of zeal. For instance, at every Super Bowl game there’s some crazy guy in the stands who holds up a big sign citing some Bible verse. He expects that somebody will look up that verse, fall under conviction, and be saved. You think that’s what we’re all like, and you judge us by that kind of stupidity.

When Tony had finished his forceful declaration, one of the men at the table took the pipe he was smoking out of his mouth, set it down, and said:

Interesting you should mention that. Three years ago I was watching the Super Bowl. It was just before halftime when the Cowboys kicked an extra point. Behind the goal post was that man that you were talking about. He held up a sign that read “John 1:12.” I didn’t have anything else to do during halftime, so I reached up on the bookshelf of the den, pulled off my old Bible, and opened it to John 1:12, just out of curiosity. When I opened it, there were some old notes from a Bible talk I had heard at summer camp many, many years ago when I was a teenager. I read over those notes and remembered what I had forgotten and forsaken. I got down on my knees, there and then, and gave my life back to Jesus. (Stories from Let Me Tell You A Story, by Tony Campolo)

This was a good reminder to me of staying open to the possibility that the Lord may ask us to say or do things that may seem odd to others or may be criticized by others, because He knows it’s what is needed for the sake of someone He is reaching out to. Or, on the flip side, He may ask someone else to do something a bit different, which we may be tempted to criticize.

Most of us have experienced how God can show us to do things in ways that seem to run contrary to the usual or the expected, and we’ve seen the benefits for ourselves and others when we’ve obeyed. If we don’t do what He shows us, we may miss opportunities to bring people to Him.

So let’s not despise the unconventional or unusual or out-of-the-ordinary methods of witnessing if that’s what Jesus shows someone to do. Our part is to be open, to be willing to do what He asks of us.

My prayer is that we will never lose two of the beautiful qualities that have brought us thus far. They are what we’ll always need in order to stay in step with what the Holy Spirit is doing through us: the humility to look to Jesus and His Word for direction, and the willingness to do what He asks us to do, any time, any place.

I’m encouraged when I hear about innovative ways that people are finding to build their connections with others and influence their lives for good, wherever they are. I pray that we will continue to embrace what the Lord may ask us to do, even when His leadings may be unexpected.

We need to maintain a balance so we can relate to others without allowing what people think of us to overrule the voice of the Holy Spirit and the leading of God’s Word in our lives. The key is in being yielded to what Jesus asks us to do in the way He wants us to do it.

 
 

Copyright © The Family International. All Rights Reserved.

Anchor

Light at the End of the Valley

By Maria Fontaine

free-bible-studies-online-anchorHave you ever faced something that seemed totally hopeless; you felt like there wasn’t any way out of your difficulties and everything looked lost? Or maybe you’re in one of those places right now where the situation seems impossible and it looks like it’s going to go on and on, and there’s no hope in sight.

Maybe you seem all alone and feel like no one else is going through such intense and painful circumstances, like you’re encircled on all sides with no place to run. You can’t seem to hear God speak to you, and nothing seems to indicate that He’s there.

Maybe it would help to remember that there have been some pretty well-known people who have felt the same way—those who experienced great adversity. If you think I’m going to tell you that they slid by basically unscathed with great joy and victory in their hearts, no, I’m not, because that’s not what happened.

Here are a few examples of men in the Bible who suffered incredibly. We are given little glimpses into what they went through, but a few words on a page can scarcely convey the enormity of the struggles and battles that they had to fight.

We all know about Job. It wouldn’t hurt to go back and read the very vivid accounts of what he went through. He was in such anguish and distress that he bitterly blamed God for even letting him be born. He was at the point where he begged God to end his life.

Abraham is another one who could hardly bear the excruciating pain when God asked him to send away his firstborn son, Ishmael. It’s painful to even think about the indescribable agony he went through when he was faced with sacrificing Isaac, his son of hope, his son of promise, the one to carry on the family line, the one to support them in their old age, and the one he loved so very dearly.

I imagine Moses got pretty disheartened (to put it mildly) when the people he was giving his life to help turned against him and became vindictive and critical, constantly finding fault and barraging him with their grievances and assailing him with their verbal abuse. They leveled serious charges against him, repeatedly accusing him of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them, until at one point he cried out to God desperately, saying, “What am I going to do, Lord? These people are getting ready to stone me.”

David lost some of his sons, he lost his kingdom, he lost his health, and he lost a whole series of battles against his enemies. It’s hard to imagine the torment and trauma he must have endured for long periods. His feelings of woe and despair spilled over into his writings in Psalms. Listen to this one: “Will the Lord turn away from us forever? And isn’t He going to be kind to us any longer? Is His unfailing love gone permanently? Has His word come to nothing? Has He forgotten to be compassionate? Is He withholding His tender mercies because He’s angry with us?” (Psalm 77:7–9) It sounds like he was at the end of his rope.

I think Jeremiah must have felt deeply discouraged. It could hardly get any worse than this: Very influential people were plotting to kill him. He was rejected, he was mocked and despised, he was thrown in jail, and he was dumped into a well that had no water in it, only deep mud into which he sank.—Thank God, or that would have been the end of him! So there are always things to praise God for. But I have a feeling he must have gone through some major depression over all that, deeper than the pit he’d been thrown into and the mud he was mired in.

And Joseph! Poor Joseph! He must have faced intense discouragement and times of depression. He was sold into slavery, and then as soon as things began to look up, as most of you know, he was unjustly thrown into prison with no hope of getting out. Hopeless. Helpless. Impossible.

Peter was evidently ready to give up his calling after he denied Jesus. Think about what kind of feelings that must have brought with it. Having denied knowing his own Savior, not once, but three times, how could he ever want to show his face in public again, much less be trusted as a leader of the early church?

Even Paul, who mostly tried to present his victories in his letters of encouragement to the churches, felt hopeless and despondent at times. In 2 Corinthians 4:8 Paul voiced the well-known verse, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed. We are perplexed, but not in despair,” and yet in the same epistle, he also said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV) It just shows that we can still have faith in Jesus even when things are so bad that it seems like it would be better not to even be alive.

These men are some of God’s greats. If they passed through such terrible anguish of spirit in their lives for God, why should we think it strange that we, as God’s children today, have our times of desolation and even despair when we can’t see anything good coming from our lives? We can’t see the rewards. We can’t always see the fulfillment of His promises. It often just looks like failure.

Everyone goes through the valley of weeping and mourning at some point. David described it as the “valley of Baca,” meaning literally weeping, lamentations—a vale of tears. (Psalm 84:6)

The key is that we go through it, and as we do, we can, as the Bible puts it, “make it a well.” It can become a place of refreshing springs.

In the previous two verses, David states that those who are praising God find their strength in Him. In their hearts are the ways of those who, passing through this valley of tears, make it a well. (Psalm 84:4–5) We can tend to equate praising God with something we do when we feel all warm and happy and content, but one thing that all these “men of faith” have in common is that they continued to praise God through their valleys of Baca, their misery and suffering. They were in agony.

Sometimes they were enduring such intense suffering or despair that all they could do was cry out for the Lord’s mercy, but even that was a praise because it was acknowledging God’s total control and their faith in His mercy and power to deliver.

Verse 6 in the original text then goes on to tell us a beautiful secret. According to Strong’s Concordance, the phrase that the King James translators translated as “the rain also filleth the pools” in the original Hebrew can also be translated as “The Teacher (referring to God, the Great Teacher) overshadows with blessings.” What a beautiful interpretation, and how fitting it is.

So as we pass through the valley of tears and suffering and hardships, yet still praising Him, we can make that desolate valley of suffering into a spring of refreshing, and our Teacher overshadows us with blessings.

The water that becomes a fountain of refreshing can turn our journey of life—that would otherwise be gloomy and sad—into joy; turn our mourning into dancing, and give us comfort and beauty. (Psalm 30:11) And later when we’ve come through the valley, we can look back with gratitude, realizing that these things have given enrichment and enhancement to our lives. Our Great Teacher will have enveloped us with priceless blessings of spiritual growth and a deeper understanding of Himself, and a heart that comes to resemble His own more and more.

 
 

Copyright © The Family International. All Rights Reserved.

Activated

The Seasons of Life

By Mara Hodler

free-bible-studies-online-activated-the-seasons-of-life

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
–Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV

This is a big life lesson. It is really good news … and not such great news at the same time. Regardless of how you may feel at the moment, what season of life you are currently living through, you can probably expect a change at some point, because, as we know, seasons come and go.

When King Solomon wrote the preceding scripture, he gave a lot of examples of the seasons and ways our lives can change:

A time to be born and a time to die
A time to plant and a time to uproot
A time to kill and a time to heal
A time to tear down and a time to build
A time to weep and a time to laugh
A time to mourn and a time to dance
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing
A time to search and a time to give up
A time to keep and a time to throw away
A time to tear and a time to mend
A time to be silent and a time to speak
A time to love and a time to hate
A time for war and a time for peace.
–Ecclesiastes 3:2–8 NIV

One of the most beautiful promises in the Bible is given in the same chapter: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)

I like the part that says “no one can fathom.” When I was a teenager, I had so many plans and ideas of what I wanted my life to look like. Most of the ideas I had were good, or at least okay. I wasn’t (only) dreaming of being a celebrity or millionaire. I also wanted to be able to rush to anywhere in the world that needed help. I wanted to help orphans and wipe out poverty. If and when I had kids, I wanted to raise them in an African village where we all worked together to help a community thrive. That’s what I wanted. It really sounded like a good dream; it still does sometimes.

But God had a plan for me that I did not fathom.

I’m still watching that plan develop, but I’ve learned enough to know that God’s design is so much more far-reaching than anything I could fathom. I’ve learned that God is present in both times of sowing and times of reaping. And something else I’ve come to realize is that both seasons are repeating.

A farmer plants his crops every spring and harvests them every fall. Each year. He doesn’t get upset that he’s planting again another year. He doesn’t scream out in frustration, I just did this last year! Why again? In the fall when it’s time to gather in the crops, he doesn’t tell himself, Yay! I’ll never have to do that again! The farmer knows the cycle will repeat every year, and he’s okay with that.

In that way, we should all make peace with the seasons in our lives. There is a time to laugh, and a time to cry, a time to sow, and a time to reap, a time to give, and a time to receive. It’s all gonna happen.

In Texas, where I live, the weather is crazy. One day you’re in shorts. The next day you’re pulling out your winter gear because there’s a cold front coming through. On the blistering hot days, of which today is one, it’s hard to remember that it also gets cold around here—even freezing cold.

It’s the same with the seasons of life. When the sad times come, it’s hard to remember that there’s also a lot of happiness. When things disappoint, it’s easy to forget about all the things that have worked out smoothly.

To God, one season isn’t more precious than another. He can use each season in our lives to bring about His design. Sometimes I think that God is smiling on me when things are going great, and that a trial or misfortune means I have fallen out of His favor. But experience has taught me that this is not so. A great artist will use lovely, bright colors—reds, yellows, purples, and blues—to convey inspiration, but not without the contrasts of black, the muted grays, and the blurred whites.

We need to trust the Artist. His work speaks for itself, and time and again, He has proven that He does indeed make everything beautiful in His time. Each of our lives is no exception to the high and low seasons. And neither is it an exception to the promise that it will be beautiful in His time.

 
 

Copyright © Activated Magazine. All rights reserved.

Conviction vs Compromise

free-bible-studies-online-conviction-vs-compromise
 
For God’s sake, know what you believe and stand up for it!

For life to have real meaning and purpose, we have to believe in something. Then we have to be ready to stand up for what we believe; we have to have conviction.

God likes wholehearted, stouthearted men. If He is what you believe in, have you got the guts to be one of these? If you’re going to serve God, know what you believe and serve Him no matter what anyone else says. Be prepared to take a stand of faith, like Martin Luther (1483-1546) did on the issue of salvation by grace before the religious council of his day: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, I can and will not retract. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God!”

You cannot stop the man of faith. You cannot dissuade him. You cannot divert him. He’ll go on with or without you or right over you, if necessary. He is determined to go on by faith because he has found the truth. He is of one mind, one heart, one soul, one spirit, one purpose, and will not quit!

 
Beware of compromise.

The Devil will do everything he can to tempt you to forsake God’s way. If he can’t get you to stop, he will try to get you to compromise. He tempts you with half-truths that make you doubt your convictions or not live up to them fully.

Most people don’t realize that if they hold one little thing back from God, if they make one little compromise, they are distancing themselves from God. One little disobedience leads to another, one little refusal and denial leads to another, and one bit of selfishness leads to more. You may think, “Oh, just this one little sin, just this one little thing, it’s not important,” but that crack in your armor is all the Devil needs. His gas of deceit begins to seep in and poison your mind because you disobeyed what you knew God wanted you to do, and pretty soon you’re totally off the track.

Don’t let that happen to you. Be faithful to the Lord. Be faithful to the voice of His Spirit when He tells you to do this or that, or to not do this or that. Be loyal. “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Don’t give him an inch, or he’ll take a mile—everything you’ve got. Give no place to the Devil (Ephesians 4:27).

 
“To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).

A lot of people try to go ahead in their own strength and their own wisdom and do what they think is God’s will and God’s work, but we can’t serve God unless we obey God. We can’t just do what we think is right, no matter how good it might be. Our best isn’t good enough; it takes God to really do the job right. Our best, your own human strength or supposed wisdom, is not sufficient.

Do exactly what the Lord tells you—no more and no less. King Saul thought he could do better than that, and he lost his job. He had God’s anointing and blessing as long as he obeyed and waited on the Lord, but when he started going his own way and disobeying, he lost it (1 Samuel 15:1-23).

There’s no “little” disobedience to God. Any disobedience is a big one. Nothing short of right is right. It’s either all or nothing at all with God. You’re either obedient or disobedient. God’s Word says, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

Wait and obey. That’s one of the most valuable lessons you can ever learn about serving the Lord!

* * *

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.
–1Corinthians 9:26

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
–James 1:8

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.
–Revelations 3:15,16

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy Angels.
–Mark 8:38

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth;
–Romans 1:16

 
 

Copyright © The Family International. All Rights Reserved.