The Question that Changed My Life by David Ryser
A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a school of ministry. My students were hungry for God, and I was constantly searching for ways to challenge them to fall more in love with Jesus and to become voices for revival in the Church. I came across a quote attributed most often to Rev. Sam Pascoe. It is a short version of the history of Christianity, and it goes like this: Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.
Hand raised, Some of the students were only 18 or 19 years old–barely out of diapers–and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the import of the last line, so I clarified it by adding, “An enterprise. That’s a business.” After a few moments Martha, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. I could not imagine what her question might be. I thought the little vignette was self-explanatory, and that I had performed it brilliantly. Nevertheless, I acknowledged Martha’s raised hand, “Yes, Martha.” She asked such a simple question, “A business? But isn’t it supposed to be a body?” I could not envision where this line of questioning was going, and the only response I could think of was, “Yes.” She continued, “But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?”
The room went dead silent. For several seconds no one moved or spoke. We were stunned, afraid to make a sound because the presence of God had flooded into the room, and we knew we were on holy ground. All I could think in those sacred moments was, “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that.” I didn’t dare express that thought aloud. God had taken over the class.
Martha’s question changed my life. For six months, I thought about her question at least once every day. “When a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?” There is only one answer to her question. The answer is “Yes.” The American Church, tragically, is heavily populated by people who do not love God. How can we love Him? We don’t even know Him; and I mean really know Him.
What do I mean when I say “really know Him?” Our understanding of knowing and knowledge stems from our western culture (which is based in ancient Greek philosophical thought). We believe we have knowledge (and, by extension, wisdom) when we have collected information. A collection of information is not the same thing as knowledge, especially in the culture of the Bible (which is an eastern, non-Greek, culture). In the eastern culture, all knowledge is experiential. In western/Greek culture, we argue from premise to conclusion without regard for experience–or so we think.
An example might be helpful here. Let us suppose a question based upon the following two premises: First, that wheat does not grow in a cold climate and second, that England has a cold climate. The question: Does wheat grow in England? The vast majority of people from the western/Greek culture would answer, “No. If wheat does not grow in a cold climate and if England has a cold climate, then it follows that wheat does not grow in England.” In the eastern culture, the answer to the same question, based on the same premises, most likely would be, “I don’t know. I’ve never been to England.” We laugh at this thinking, but when I posed the same question to my friends from England, their answer was, “Yes, of course wheat grows in England. We’re from there, and we know wheat grows there.” They overcame their cultural way of thinking because of their life experience. Experience trumps information when it comes to knowledge.
A similar problem exists with our concept of belief. We say we believe something (or someone) apart from personal experience. This definition of belief is not extended to our stockbroker, however. Again, allow me to explain. Suppose my stockbroker phones me and says, “I have a hot tip on a stock that is going to triple in price within the next week. I want your permission to transfer $10,000 from your cash account and buy this stock.” That’s a lot of money for me, so I ask, “Do you really believe this stock will triple in price, and so quickly?” He/she answers, “I sure do.” I say, “That sounds great! How exciting! So how much of your own money have you invested in this stock?” He/she answers, “None.” Does my stockbroker believe? Truly believe? I don’t think so, and suddenly I don’t believe, either. How can we be so discerning in the things of this world, especially when they involve money, and so indiscriminate when it comes to spiritual things? The fact is, we do not know or believe apart from experience. The Bible was written to people who would not understand the concepts of knowledge, belief, and faith apart from experience. I suspect God thinks this way also.
So I stand by my statement that most American Christians do not know God–much less love Him. The root of this condition originates in how we came to God. Most of us came to Him because of what we were told He would do for us. We were promised that He would bless us in life and take us to heaven after death. We married Him for His money, and we don’t care if He lives or dies as long as we can get His stuff. We have made the Kingdom of God into a business, merchandising His anointing. This should not be. We are commanded to love God, and are called to be the Bride of Christ–that’s pretty intimate stuff. We are supposed to be His lovers. How can we love someone we don’t even know? And even if we do know someone, is that a guarantee that we truly love them? Are we lovers or prostitutes?
I was pondering Martha’s question again one day, and considered the question, “What’s the difference between a lover and a prostitute?” I realized that both do many of the same things, but a lover does what she does because she loves. A prostitute pretends to love, but only as long as you pay. Then I asked the question, “What would happen if God stopped paying me?”
For the next several months, I allowed God to search me to uncover my motives for loving and serving Him. Was I really a true lover of God? What would happen if He stopped blessing me? What if He never did another thing for me? Would I still love Him? Please understand, I believe in the promises and blessings of God. The issue here is not whether God blesses His children; the issue is the condition of my heart. Why do I serve Him? Are His blessings in my life the gifts of a loving Father, or are they a wage that I have earned or a bribe/payment to love Him? Do I love God without any conditions? It took several months to work through these questions. Even now I wonder if my desire to love God is always matched by my attitude and behavior. I still catch myself being disappointed with God and angry that He has not met some perceived need in my life. I suspect this is something which is never fully resolved, but I want more than anything else to be a true lover of God.
So what is it going to be? Which are we, lover or prostitute? There are no prostitutes in heaven, or in the Kingdom of God for that matter, but there are plenty of former prostitutes in both places. Take it from a recovering prostitute when I say there is no substitute for unconditional, intimate relationship with God. And I mean there is no palatable substitute available to us (take another look at Matthew 7:21-23 sometime). We must choose.
What is love? In our American culture, we’ve been told and taught and trained that love is based upon feelings. We often think about that ‘high’ feeling when we ‘fall in love.’ Or maybe it’s ‘love at first sight.’
When I was a boy, I heard someone ask this question. ‘How will I know if I love the right girl? How will I know she is the one to marry?’
The answer given was, ‘When the time comes, you will know. And, boy, will you ever know because you will feel the love.’
If love is based upon emotions, what happens when my feelings change, and are not loving?
As humans, we all have emotional highs and lows. We have mountain top experiences, and we have deep emotional valleys. Our emotions (feelings) are constantly changing. We have ups and downs. If love is based upon feelings, then our love fluctuates with our moods.
Often in our culture the idea is …
Understand that powerful emotions ‘may’ accompany love, but the core part of love is not based on emotions.
A search in a dictionary for love brought up the following:
That raises a question, what is love as found in the Bible? There are three Greek words.
Phileo (Brotherly love) = means "affectionate regard, friendship", usually "between equals."
Eros (Erotic love) = means "love, mostly of the sexual passion.
Agapao (Godly love) = means "love: esp. charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes the latter, Godly love:
The Bible does not say God is ‘loving’. Rather it says God IS love. (John 4:8)
Too many folks, including Christians, get caught up in emotions and feelings, which constantly change. It’s not uncommon for people to ‘give up’ or ‘throw in the towel’ when difficulties arrive and things get tough. Or perhaps they turn away and forget that other person.
But God’s love does not change, there is no shadow of turning (James 1:17). His love for you and me is based upon a decision. Throughout the Bible, the term of love is most often explained as Loyal Love. This is a commitment demonstrated by action in the interest of another. This word indicates no reference to self-interest. It’s ALWAYS for another.
Whatever is short of God’s love (1 Corinthians 13) is not biblical love. Anything less will focus on, or point toward ‘self’. ‘Self’ is certainly not what God intended.
Parental-love and sibling-love, both (in the purest sense) focus on another person and are given for the benefit of the other.
In the ultimate definition, the root of love is a decision. That decision must hold firm and be unwavering.
What kind of love do you have?
Rewards and Salvation – Part 1
In this study, we must keep in mind a principle that can be a huge stumbling block.
That principle is condemnation before investigation. — Edmund Spencer
That principle could be used as supposed-proof against all argument and if it is wielded, that principle will keep man in ignorance, barring him from understanding truth.
He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. (Prov. 18:13)
Whoever answers before listening is both foolish and shameful. (Prov. 18:13 ISV)
So let us carefully examine scripture to learn what God wants us to know.
Let’s begin this study with a few questions:
… neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. … and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:28-28)
Notice, there are two hands involved. If you are saved, and if you could lose your salvation, then God’s hand, and Jesus’ hand are not strong enough to keep you.
Therefore, if we are saved, aren’t we going to be equal in Heaven?
Understand, all Christians are equal in being justified which is declared not guilty.
There is a difference between entering the Kingdom vs. Inheriting the Kingdom.
When Jesus said on the cross, ‘It is finished’, the word used means ‘paid in full.’ John 19:30
Salvation has three tenses: past, present, and future.
I am saved. Justification – separation from the penalty of sin.
This is a gift from God of everlasting life received by faith in Christ alone.
I am being saved. Sanctification – separation from the power of sin.
A work in progress that involves the faith and the works [fruit bearing] of the believer.
I will be saved. Glorification – separation from the presence of sin.
All believers will be glorified (resurrected and given a body like Christ).
Justification is for us:
Sanctification is in us.
Justification declares the sinner righteous:
Sanctification makes the sinner righteous.
Justification removes the guilt and penalty of sin:
Sanctification removed the growth and power of sin.
Many Christians have been taught if you’re saved, you will rule and reign with Him.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ … (Romans 8:16-17)
Most Bible teachers and preachers stop at that point. But notice, Paul adds a footnote:
“… if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
Ouch: a footnote. It has a condition.
Paul also says something else in: But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1Corinthians 9:27)
Wait a minute. Is Paul terrified about losing something? What’s he afraid of?
Keep in mind, Paul is not afraid of losing his salvation. He’s the one who penned Romans chapter eight. He wrote the book on eternal security.
If we should travel across the country and go to a hotel, we can enter the room, but it doesn’t mean we inherit the room. Inheritance means privileges, in other words, rewards.
There are two kinds of inheritance:
The word partakers means: one who shares in, companion, comrade; partner (in work, office, or dignity.)
Throughout scriptures, inheritance is always conditional upon faithful obedience.
In the New Testament, the word for inheritance means a reward for a life of faithfulness.
When we study the Old Testament, we can find where sonship, heir (inheritance), and firstborn, were promised by virtue of birth, however it was subject to conditions of obedience.
The land of Caanan was an inheritance — Deut. 15:4; 19:14; 25:19; 26:1
At the same time, it was to be merited by obedience — Exodus 23:20; Deut. 2:21
Israel was God’s ‘firstborn son’ — Exodus 4:22-23
Other inheritances were forfeited
Esau sold it for a dish of pottage.
Ruben, Jacob’s firstborn
Not Cain, but Abel
Not Japheth but Shem
Not Ishmael but Isaac
Not Manasseh but Ephraim
Not Aaron but Moses
Not Eliab but David
The generation of Israelites during the Exodus was promised an inheritance but failed to obtain it at Kadesh-Barnea. (Numbers 14) It was there that God did the following:
The Lord told Moses that because the Israelites had provoked Him, he would disinherit them. Moses interceded for the people, and God then pardoned them. However, the Lord swore on His own Name that those people would not see the Promised Land. Numbers 14:11-12, 19-21.
Because of Moses, they were forgiven, but they would not receive their inheritance.
Only two persons of the 2 million people took possession of their inheritance, Joshua and Caleb. Even Moses was excluded because of disobedience.
So we see that they [the Israelites in Exodus] could not enter in because of unbelief. (Hebrews. 3:19)
Their inheritance was conditioned upon faithfulness.
Notice Israel did not lose their status as a redeemed people.
They were still the redeemed: the chosen people of God.
Nevertheless, they did lose the blessing of their inheritance in the Promised Land.
Rewards and Salvation – Part 2
Now let’s look at passages in the New Testament.
In reading the parable of the prodigal son, he lost his inheritance, but he never lost his sonship.
Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4:11)
The writer of Hebrews is not discussing salvation, rather rest attained from works and obedience.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)
When Paul said we must all appear, he referred to everyone who was saved.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:11-15)
Again, Paul is indicating every believer’s work will be revealed by fire. It’s fire which shall be applied to the work. Rewards will be handed out based upon work. A person’s work will be either consumed by the fire, or revealed as precious by the fire.
It is not the fire of hell, it’s a fire to test the quality of work. The fire does not test the person.
It’s all about rewards. The person is already saved. Only the person’s works are being tested. It’s important to note, this has nothing to do with salvation. These are believers; their justification is not the issue.
But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. (Hebrews 6:9-10)
The writer is encouraging the believers to press on to maturity to receive God’s blessing of rewards.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12)
It appears that some promises are optional, and dependent upon faithful works which leads to rewards.
And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. (1 John 2:28)
How could a believer be ashamed before Christ at His return? Because of a lack of faithful works which cancels out any rewards.
For we [believers] must all appear before the judgment seat [bema seat] of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)
Believers [already saved] are being judged by Christ according to their works/fruit that they have done while they were believers.
This is a time of rewards for faithfulness:
Some are entrusted with special privileges – some not (1 Cor. 3:11-15)
Some will reign with Christ – some not (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev 3:21)
Some will be rich – some not (Luke 12:21, 33; 16:11)
Some receive heavenly treasures of their own – some not (Luke 16:12)
When we study scripture, we know there are at least five crowns mentioned which believers will earn. There could be more.
Crown of Life – for those who have suffered for His sake (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10)
Crown of Righteousness – for those who loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8)
Crown of Glory – for those who fed the flock (1 Peter 5:4)
Crown incorruptible – for those who press on steadfastly (1 Cor. 9:25)
Crown of Rejoicing – for those who win souls (1 Thess. 2:19)
Those who receive a crown can be called overcomers. In Revelation seven are mentioned.
Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. (Revelation 3:11)
Ouch. Notice that determination and steadfastness are necessary. Or else a believer may lose their reward.
Salvation is never in question. That was sealed at the cross for all who believe. Rewards are determined by the faithful works of a believer after having received the Lord into their life.
Sin is not an issue. That is done at the Cross.
Our fruit bearing is at issue. Our rewards depend upon this.
The opportunities we wasted, or the ones we blew.
The judgment seat of Christ may leave us with tears in our eyes.
Regret, when we realize at what was at stake.
We know the Lord will reward every believer for whatever good he does. (Ephesians 6:8)
Our challenge today is to search-out what the Bible says and not accept what others may say.
As believers in Christ, we are taught and instructed that prayer is an essential element for/in the Christian life. We know this. We hear sermons about the importance of prayer. The Bible is brimming with examples, admonitions, and commands to pray.
However, many believers, when asked if they pray as much as they think they should, and this is the crux of the matter, will shake their head. They know they should pray more but they don’t do it. They know this is important and yet the discipline to pray is left alone or ignored.
A quick browse of websites about prayer reveal that many take time to preach how-to-pray. Others provide scriptural examples and verses to bolster a readers resolve to pray. A check with booksellers and there are numerous volumes about the discipline of prayer. Respected pastors and scholars have written on the subject of praying. I have one in front of me right now, ‘Listening for God’ by Marilyn Hontz. Examples and admonitions are peppered throughout this excellent book. Lists and acronyms are provided for the reader to utilize.
And yet, believers, Christians, and church-goers still admit they don’t pray like they should. When asked why, people often provide answers like: I don’t have time; or My problem isn’t that important; or Praying won’t make a difference.
After a bit of online research, these additional reasons are offered: I sometimes forget; and I feel guilty about not praying more; and I can’t pray like so-and-so does; and I don’t know how to pray; and I get discouraged that God doesn’t answer.
When folks are asked, ‘If you pray, when do you do it?’ Their reply might include: ‘I pray at mealtime’; or I silently pray in church when the pastor prays; or ‘When I’m called on in a group’; or ‘When there is a big problem, I might bow my head.’
If this topic is becoming boring, wait a minute or two. I’d like to present something different. Something that may reveal an unfamiliar idea.
In the Mel Gibson movie, Hacksaw Ridge, the actor who plays the lead role of Desmond Doss, says the following: “I pray to God and I like to think He hears me but it ain’t a conversation ….”
That comment reveals something mighty important. Notice, his talk with God is considered a one-way-chat. Normally, when two people talk, there is a give-and-take as each person contributes. It becomes a back-and-forth as each one adds to the topic under discussion.
However, in prayers to the Lord, it’s always ‘us’ doing the talking. We don’t hear a response or receive a reply. This is discouraging, depressing, and turns ugly. Why pray? There’s no answer.
Some Christians might say, ‘the answer will come later’. Like when? How much later? What if I wait days, or even weeks? What if there’s still no answer, do I keep on? Most believers throw in the towel; they give up talking to God. Their prayer dialogs are one-sided and lack any reply.
Someone may pipe up and say, “I’ve had an answer to my prayer?” My question would be, “Was it answered yesterday?” Silence. “Uh, no.” My next question, “Was the answer this past week or month?” More crickets. My follow up question, “Was the prayer answered this past year?” They hesitate. “It was back when ….” That’s the idea, it’s been a while.
Having a lack of an active conversation with God changes the attitude of most people. Someone might say, “Praying doesn’t work.” Therefore, it becomes easy to find other things to do, other things more important. They give lip-service to the importance of prayer, but in their personal lives they have ceased talking to the Lord.
“Really,” they may think, “why pray at all?” Perhaps there are stories or situations where others have received an amazing answer, but you haven’t. It doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t work. So, why do it? And so, that aspect of the believer’s life drops off, or lags behind.
This article is an attempt to paint a picture of why Christians don’t pray. If what is depicted is close to your experience, read on. There is no promise of a quick-fix, or an amazing formula, or fast answer. All that is offered are things to think about. Perhaps, just perhaps, there might be a nugget to uncover.
It is my contention that God talks to us every day, even hourly. The problem; we aren’t listening. I believe God wants to talk to us, He wants to fellowship with us, He desires to share with us. Again: the problem? We aren’t heeding, or we don’t how to listen.
God’s voice is soft, very soft. He wants us to seek, to search, to look for Him. Listen to this:
My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5 NIV)
Do you catch all that? I am supposed to be seeking the Lord, crying out for wisdom, looking for God with all my heard, keeping His commands, and searching for Him. There is a great deal of energy, determination, and struggle to find the Lord. He wants us to LOOK, not sit back and twiddle our thumbs while we wait for Him.
Our problem may likely be that we fail to put any effort into listening to the Lord. Rather, we travel through life and hope for the best. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that we must knock, we must seek, we must look, we must ask. There must be a definite effort in our seeking God.
Do we sit back and expect the pastor or Bible teacher feed us? If that’s the case, then ‘No,’ won’t know when God answers prayer, we won’t hear when God speaks. Why? Because we aren’t listening. We must set aside our personal ‘self’, our own desires, and our problems. We must focus upon the Lord, not for just ten minutes, but for much longer; long enough that seeking God becomes a daily habit.
Let us pray. He will answer but we must listen.