Saturday, May 28, 2022

Arguments and Compromise

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”
-- Acts 15:39

Remember the scene in the movie “Elf,” when an enraged Miles Finch huffs and puffs across a conference room table to beat up poor, startled Buddy the Elf? Well, sometimes truth is just about as wild as fiction. Years ago, one of our church leaders told me the story of a meeting at a church down the hill where he once served as an elder. During this meeting of the elders—a group of seasoned, experienced leaders in the church—an argument broke out. Two of the elders were adamantly disagreeing about something. As they argued, tempers started to flare, words were exchanged … and it escalated to a point where one of the elders pulled a Miles Finch.

Yep. He stood up and started to crawl across the conference table to exchange blows. The other elders had to hold him back before the punches started flying. Not exactly church fellowship at its finest, was it?

If you live under the same roof with another human being, sooner or later you’re going to argue about something: maybe about the bills, maybe about who’s supposed to do the dishes, maybe about who left the toilet seat up. Similarly, if you have a church family, sooner or later you’re going to argue with another brother or sister in Christ about something. You don’t live with a clone of yourself, and you don’t go to church with a clone of yourself. So, there’s bound to be some conflict along the way. In the Book of Acts, an unexpected conflict came up between two of our favorite church leaders: Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas made a GREAT team! They did amazing ministry together in their home church of Antioch in Syria. They led great numbers of people to a saving knowledge of Christ. Then they joined forces for their first missionary trip, spreading the gospel and planting healthy, self-sustaining churches throughout Cyprus and Galatia. But at the end of Acts 15, they had an argument that tore their relationship apart.

After Paul and Barnabas had been back home in Antioch for a while, Paul suggested they go back to visit the Christians in all the towns where they had preached the gospel and planted churches (v. 36). Barnabas thought this was a great idea. But then Barnabas suggested taking along his cousin John Mark (v. 37). And Paul basically responded, “Over my dead body!” (v. 38), remembering that John Mark had jumped ship early into their first mission trip. So, the argument began. Verse 39 says that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company”—and as far as we know, they never did ministry together again.

It pains me to say this, but it seems clear to me that these two great heroes of our faith—Paul and Barnabas—screwed up. They could have come to a God-honoring compromise … but they didn’t. And I believe God placed this incident in the Bible without sugar-coating it so that you and I don’t make the same mistakes in our marriages, in our families or in our churches.

So, how do we argue in a way that honors God and nourishes relationships? Here are 3 keys:

Key #1: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). When I think about the most immature, toxic arguments I’ve had with my wife, my kids or with other Christians, they have this in common: I talked too much. I listened too little. And I became angry too quickly. Can you relate? Never forget: God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason.

Key #2: Even if it seems to be out in left field, work hard to see and understand the other person’s point of view. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). So often we climb on top of our moral high horses and make the case that our opinion is so much more right and biblical than the next guy’s opinion. Believe, really BELIEVE, that the person you’re arguing with is better at certain things than you are and smarter in many ways than you are. So, listen to them, learn from them and understand their point of view. It’s valuable. They are valuable. 

Key #3: When both sides have validity, seek a wise compromise. Moral compromise is sin. But loving, submissive compromise is very Christlike. During his ministry years, Jesus routinely sacrificed his own personal comforts and preferences for the good of those around him. And He’s calling us to do the same.

Barnabas had a deep desire to give his nephew Mark a second chance. Paul had a deep desire to assemble a trustworthy, hard-working team of missionaries to do the best work possible. Both perspectives were valid. Both men made some great points. So, if they had been living out these three keys, their knock-down, drag-out argument could have turned out so much better. God ended up using their breakup in an amazing way. But that doesn’t mean their rift didn’t grieve His heart or cause their church collateral damage.

So often what we argue about is not sinful, but the way we handle the argument IS sinful. And sin always causes damage. So, let’s honor God by handling our arguments and disagreements wisely—like Jesus—with humility, love and grace.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

What Was Paul’s Secret Sauce?

 “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:2

Years ago, a church was having a farewell dinner for their pastor, who was moving out of state. Partway through the dinner the pastor noticed that one of the charter members of the church—a sweet, gray-haired widow—was crying. So, the pastor went up to her, put his arm around her, and said, “Don’t be so sad. The next pastor might be better than me.” She responded, “I doubt it! That’s what they said five years ago when they hired you!”

There’s no doubt: Doing life-changing ministry has its ups and downs, for both churches AND the pastors who lead them. When Paul and Barnabas traveled through Galatia, the first town they visited gave them a cease-and-desist order and kicked them out. In the next town, they narrowly escaped before their critics carried out a plan to beat them and stone them to death. And in the third town, Paul’s haters DID stone him and left him for dead. From a human standpoint, Paul and Barnabas’ ministry wasn’t going so well.

But Paul and Barnabas returned to every one of those towns, encouraged the disciples they’d made there—and planted churches that would last. How? For centuries Christian leaders have wondered: “How on earth could Paul roll into a town, lead people to Christ and—in a matter of just a few months—plant a healthy, self-sustaining church that survived and thrived without him?” What was Paul’s secret sauce?

Well, his secret sauce really wasn’t so secret. And it wasn’t even complicated. It was actually quite simple, and the Bible reveals it to us in Acts 14:22-23. Here are the three keys to building a healthy new church that survives and thrives long after its founding pastor leaves town.

Key #1: Paul laid a foundation of Christ-centered gospel teaching (v. 22). When Paul and Barnabas made their way back through the towns they’d been tossed out of, they spent time “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” How did they do this? They strengthened and encouraged them in God’s Word—specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Years later Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul’s teaching could be summarized in three powerful words: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! And the churches Paul planted didn’t close their doors six months after he left town, because there is no better or stronger foundation for a church than the foundation of Jesus Christ: crucified, buried, and resurrected to glory.

Key #2: Paul appointed and trained mature Christian men to pastor their church in his absence (v. 23). Verse 23 tells us, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.” Every day churches rise and fall on their leadership. Just as kids start to think and act like their parents after living with their parents for years, a congregation starts to think and act like their pastor after a few years. If a pastor’s teaching and preaching are shallow, the congregation’s relationship with Christ will tend to be shallow. But if a pastor sets a good example of being faithful in prayer and the study of God’s word, loving people and prioritizing the next generation, the congregation will tend to follow in his footsteps.

But wasn’t every Christian in these new towns a recent convert? Where, then, did Paul find qualified candidates to appoint as elders/pastors? Remember where Paul almost always went when he arrived in a new town: to the Jewish synagogue. Most likely, there he found Jewish men who had spent years studying the Old Testament and living moral lives before Paul ever rolled into town. So, in all likelihood, they were the ones who, after becoming followers of Jesus, were able to become Christian leaders in a short amount of time.

Key #3: Paul trusted the Holy Spirit to protect and lead the church long after he was gone (v. 23). Verse 23 tells us that when Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, “with prayer and fasting, [they] committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” Just a few hours before Jesus was led to the cross, he told his disciples, “I have much more to say to you … But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” No one in human history was as good a teacher as Jesus. Yet even He left before He had finished teaching his disciples all they needed to know, because they couldn’t absorb any more at the time. So, when it was time for Him to leave, Jesus fully trusted the Holy Spirit to pick up where He left off and lead His followers into all truth. In the same way, Paul could move on to the next town without any guilt, shame or regret—because he, too, was leaving the new Christians in the very capable hands of the Holy Spirit, who would pick up where he had left off.

These are three powerful keys that we should never forget. When it comes to building healthy, self-sustaining churches—and healthy, self-sustaining Christian kids and grandkids: Lay a solid foundation of simple, Christ-centered gospel teaching. Raise up and train mature, godly leaders. And finally, trust the Holy Spirit to protect and lead those around you long after you are gone.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Perseverance Pays Off

“We must all go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
– Acts 14:22

I’m not a big Survivor fan, but I have been watching and enjoying the latest season. And I’ve been enjoying it for one main reason: one of this year’s contestants, Jonathan Young, a 29-year-old bodyguard from Gadsden, Alabama. When he was just 3 years old, his dad taught him how to do pull-ups, and he’s been building his muscles ever since. He holds the Guinness world record for doing the most chin-ups in one minute …with 100 pounds strapped to his back. This guy is something else!

As you might know, in every episode of Survivor, there are immunity challenges that protect you from getting voted out of the game. In one of this season’s team immunity challenges, three teams had to retrieve a heavy ladder that was strapped to the ocean floor in choppy seas. Two of the teams had to give up after almost drowning. But not Jonathan’s team! He put that ladder on his shoulder—while he dragged his struggling teammates through the waves to safety.

On Survivor, Jonathan Young demonstrates strength, determination and perseverance. And it consistently pays off. The same could be said about the Apostle Paul. He demonstrated incredible strength, determination and perseverance. And it consistently paid off, as we’ll see in Acts 13 and 14.

When Paul traveled on from the mainland of modern-day Turkey, his missionary team was down to just two people—Paul and Barnabas. And Paul was dealing with some kind of life-threatening illness, likely malaria. But even though he was physically sick and emotionally spent, he persevered. He and Barnabas hiked over 100 miles, climbing 3,600-foot mountain peaks, to reach the city of Pisidian Antioch.

Paul’s first stop was the Jewish synagogue, where he was called on to speak. Given that opportunity, Paul didn’t beg off because he was worn out from a long journey and recovering from an illness. Instead, he delivered an inspiring, God-centered sermon, letting them know that “God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised” (Acts 13:23). As a result, many people were drawn to the Lord. And everyone loved it, right? Not exactly. Instead, jealous leaders from the synagogue “stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas” and kicked them out of town (v. 50).

Undaunted, Paul and Barnabas traveled on to the city of Iconium. There, once again, they “went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed” (Acts 14:1). And there, once again, they met resistance from the local leaders, who cooked up a plan to stone them to death. But Paul and Barnabas got word about the plot and fled.

They reached the town of Lystra. Once again, they preached the gospel. Once again, people listened and were beginning to believe, when guess what? Some of Paul and Barnabas’ opposers from Antioch and Iconium showed up and “won the crowd over” (v. 19). They stoned Paul, dragged him outside the city and left him for dead. After suffering a major concussion and lapsing into unconsciousness, Paul was finally ready to throw in the towel, wasn’t he?

Fat chance. Look at verse 20: “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.” Notice that little word, “disciples.” Evidently, there were people in Lystra who had become disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul wasn’t about to leave them without a proper goodbye. So, once he regained consciousness, he stood up, turned around and staggered right back into town. And the next day, Paul and Barnabas moved on to the city of Derbe, where they “preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (v. 21). Then, incredibly, they went BACK to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, to encourage the new disciples they’d made while they were there.

Paul is a marvelous example of a Christian who persevered through pain, hardship and difficulties. I’d like to highlight three of those difficulties that God has called you and me to persevere through as well.

#1: Persevere through surprises and unexpected curveballs. It seems clear that in Pisidian Antioch, Paul didn’t know he was going to be given the opportunity to preach on that Sabbath Day. He was not feeling 100 percent, and he was tired from his 100-mile hike over the mountain range. But when called upon, he spoke a clear, powerful message about Jesus.

#2: Persevere through compliments and criticism. You’ve probably heard the old saying: “Don’t believe your own press releases.” I’ve discovered over the years that the truth about Dane is rarely found on the lips of my biggest fans. Neither is the truth about Dane found on the lips of my biggest critics. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. I’m definitely not Jesus. But I’m not Satan either. The same is true of you. So, don’t let either compliments or criticism sidetrack you from your God-given mission. Persevere through compliments AND through criticism.

#3: Persevere through pain and persecution. I doubt that any of us will ever be knocked unconscious by rocks being thrown at our heads by a mob. But in one way or another, all of us will experience pain for Jesus. All of us will suffer persecution for Jesus. Jesus promised it. He tells us in John 15:20, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” But every bit of pain and persecution we endure for Jesus Christ is fruitful.

Paul said in Acts 14:22, “We must all go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” If you were to ask Paul whether it was worth it, he would respond—with scrapes and bruises all over him and a splitting headache to boot—“Absolutely! When we persevere for Jesus Christ, it ALWAYS pays off in the end.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Brace Yourself for a Bumpy Ride

“Paul and his companions sailed to Perga … where John left them to return to Jerusalem.”
– Acts 13:13

James Gilmour was born in Scotland in 1843, and at a young age felt God calling him to the mission field. As he read Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go and make disciples of all nations,” he became convinced that if he stayed home, he would be disobeying God. He said, “to me the soul of an Indian seems as precious as the soul of an Englishman, and the Gospel as much for the Chinese as the European.” So, after graduating from college, Gilmour went to seminary and trained as a missionary.

When Gilmour was in his mid-20s, his dream came true. He was sent out to be a pioneer missionary in Mongolia. Gilmour learned the Mongolian language, built relationships and preached the gospel to all who would listen. But after four years of pouring his blood, sweat and tears into his great missionary effort, James Gilmour wrote in his diary: “In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.” And after 21 years of missionary work, Gilmour died of typhus fever a few weeks before his 48th birthday.

The world looks at James Gilmour’s life and says, “What a waste!” But God looks at James Gilmour’s life and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We’d like to think that good ministry is easy. That it always leads to thousands of lives being transformed by the power of the gospel. But the truth is, more times than not, Christians who pour their blood, sweat and tears into God’s ministries find it to be a very bumpy road. Even the great Apostle Paul discovered this to be true.

Called by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Paul set out on the adventure of a lifetime: to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout Northwest Asia. Their first stop was Cyprus, the island where Barnabas was born and raised. And Luke writes in Acts 13:5 that “John was with them as their helper.” This was John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. About 10 years later, Mark would write the second of the Gospels in the New Testament. But at this point, John Mark was a young Christian, and he was pretty green.

In verses 4-8, Luke traces the journey of Paul and Barnabas through Cyprus. In the city of Paphos, they ran into resistance from a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus, an advisor to the local pro-consul. Since Bar-Jesus practiced Satanic sorcery, he knew that if his boss accepted Jesus as his Savior and Lord, he’d probably be out of a job. So, Bar-Jesus selfishly tried to convince his boss NOT to accept Christ. But God’s message prevailed, and the pro-consul became a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

Barnabas and Paul did some good ministry in Cyprus. But it didn’t come easy. They faced a fair amount of pushback, and that pushback seems to have made a big impact on both Saul and John Mark. After their endeavors in Cyprus, the three men boarded a ship and sailed 200 miles northwest to Perga, where John Mark threw in the towel and went back home to Jerusalem. Many have speculated about why John Mark jumped ship partway through their missionary journey. Some make the case that he was homesick for his hometown; others suggest that as Barnabas’ cousin, he felt offended that Paul was being promoted while his cousin was being demoted. Still others suggest that the journey was just too grueling for John Mark. It wasn’t as rosy as he had imagined. He couldn’t take the heat, so he got out of the kitchen. I think this is the most likely explanation.

At this point in his life, John Mark’s heart wasn’t in it. So, he didn’t stick it out when things got tough. But years later he became one of Paul’s most dedicated helpers in ministry. He had learned that good ministry is rarely a bed of roses. But if God is in it, it’s worth everything that we pour into it. Take these two life lessons to heart:

Life Lesson #1: Our culture desperately needs to hear you and me speak and live out God’s word with boldness and conviction. When Paul preached in Acts 13, he preached with power and conviction, whether he was preaching to Jews in a synagogue or confronting a self-centered sorcerer. Paul spoke God’s true word with boldness and conviction. Sadly, in our day, there are far too few Christians who do that. Truth be told, there are too few pastors who do that.

Life Lesson #2: Good, life-changing ministry is rarely easy. Most often, it’s really hard. It is a thrill helping sinners get saved. It is a blast seeing God’s Word transform Christians’ character. It is a joy to witness broken relationships being restored. But at the same time, it can be exhausting. And at times it will tear your heart out.  There will be times when you think you have nothing left to give. Like Mark, you’ll find yourself saying, “This is so much harder than I expected! I’m tired, and I just want to go home!” Good ministry is hard, but it’s the BEST kind of hard. It’s ALWAYS worth the effort.

Take it from Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Stay in the kitchen. Sure, it’s hot but that’s only because God is hard at work preparing a feast like no other.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Why Were You in Church on Easter?

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” – Matthew 28:6

 In the mid-1950s, a British pastor named W. E. Sangster began to lose his voice due to a rare disease that caused his muscles to deteriorate. For him, this was devastating, because he loved to teach God’s Word and sing praises to God. Sangster eventually lost the ability to speak at all. On the Easter morning just a few weeks before his death, he took out a pen and paper, and with a trembling hand he wrote these words to his daughter: “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!’—but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”

On Easter Sunday, most Christian churches saw their biggest attendance day of the year. People who rarely if ever attend at any other time showed up to pack the place. And we might ask ourselves … why?

Before we look at that question, let’s take a look at that first Easter morning. We usually focus on the group of women who went to Jesus’ tomb, but they weren’t the first to arrive there. They were beaten to the tomb by about 36 hours … by Roman guards. Governor Pontius Pilate had ordered the tomb sealed and guarded by armed soldiers after the chief priests and Pharisees remembered that Jesus had predicted, “After three days I will rise again” (Matthew 27:63). They wanted to make sure Jesus’ disciples couldn’t steal the body and claim that he’d risen from the dead. So, when the women arrived, the guards were standing right outside.

As a sign of respect and love, the women had come to anoint Jesus’ grave cloths with spices and oils. But their plans were shaken up—literally. According to Matthew 28:2, there was a “violent earthquake” as an angel from heaven came down rolled back the stone and sat on it. “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (v. 3), and the guards were so terrified that they “shook and became like dead men” (v. 4). They were frozen in place—so scared they couldn’t even run away. The angel announced: “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (v. 6). The angel sent them to share the good news with the disciples, and the women saw Jesus for themselves on their way back.

In verses 11-15, Matthew tells us some of the guards went into the city and told the Jewish leaders what had happened. The leaders hastily met and devised a quick plan. They gave the soldiers “a large sum of money”—likely a year’s wages, or about $30,000 in today’s currency. They ordered the soldiers that, if anyone asked them what happened to Jesus’ body, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (v. 14). The soldiers took the money and obeyed their orders (v. 15). That was their story, and they were paid well to stick to it. But deep down, the soldiers knew the truth. And so did the women. And later that day, so did Jesus’ apostles. Within a few short years, Christianity swept across three continents, because the fact of the resurrection was plain for all to see.

Now, I want to ask you two very important questions:

Question #1: Did you go to an Easter service to worship Jesus because you were somehow PAID to be there … or because you WANTED to be there? The soldiers at the tomb were there on Easter morning because they were PAID to be there. The women at the tomb were there because they WANTED to be there. Across our nation, millions of Americans attended Easter services last week who haven’t set foot inside a church building in a long time. Many of them came because a family member pretty much made them come. Others might have come to church because they were serving lunch afterward. Still others came for an Easter Egg Hunt, prize giveaways or free entertainment. All that to say, many people come to Easter services because they are—in some way or another—paid to be there.

Question #2: Are you walking past a goldmine of eternal treasure for a few quick bucks? As the Roman guards left the temple courts with a bag full of cash, they thought they’d struck it rich. They were fools! They ran past a goldmine to pick up a few pennies. That’s how it is when we choose money over Jesus, when we choose goods over God, when we choose the temporary things of earth over the eternal things of heaven. And many of us do it every day. We live for the moment. We live for pleasure. So, many of us don’t read God’s Word every day, because we don’t feel like reading God’s Word every day. We don’t go to church with our families each week, because we don’t feel like it. We’ve got more important things to do. You can do that. God has given you free choice. But when it comes to your time, your priorities and your money, if you and your family are the center of your universe, you and your family ARE your god.

Are you more like a paid soldier who was at the tomb for the money, or are you more like one of Jesus’ followers, who came to the tomb because they truly loved Jesus Christ and wanted to be close to Jesus, worship Jesus and live for Jesus? If you’re just in it for the money, your church will still be glad to see you. But you and I both know—that’s not going to fly with God. I hope and pray that when you come to church, it’s because you WANT to be there. I hope and pray that instead of toying with Jesus Christ, you trust in Him … love Him … and serve Him.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Preparing for Change

“Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” – Acts 13:2

A certain man went to see his cardiologist, and the report wasn’t good. His cholesterol was high. Several of his arteries were 40 percent clogged. So, the doctor told him, “You need to make some changes to your diet. You should start by cutting out red meat.” The man thought that was a good idea … so he promptly stopped putting ketchup on his hamburgers.

We don’t like change very much, do we? But here’s what Albert Einstein said about change: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” And the journalist Sydney J. Harris put it this way: “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

I imagine the Christians in Antioch would have said much the same thing. The Church in that city was firing on all cylinders. Under the leadership of Barnabas and Saul, the Holy Spirit was drawing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people to salvation. They were baptizing those new Christians and teaching them all that Jesus wanted them to know, so they could grow in their faith, lead many others to salvation and bring glory to God. I can just imagine a group of Antioch Christians coming out of a worship service and saying, “This feels like heaven on earth. I hope this never ends!” But a big change was coming to their church.

For a whole year in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were used by God in an amazing way. People were drawn to that church, including a few Christian prophets from Jerusalem. One of them, a man named Agabus, prophesied that “a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (Acts 11:28). The church’s response was immediate: “The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea” (v. 29). As far as we know, this is the first time in church history that a special offering was taken to help Christians hundreds of miles away. And amazingly, the offering was collected before the Judean Christians even had the need that would have prompted them to ask for help. That’s Christian charity at its best: meeting needs even before a brother or sister in Christ shares the need … at times, even before the person knows he or she has a need.

The Antioch Church entrusted Barnabas and Saul to deliver this special offering to the church in Judea, which would have taken at least a couple of months. That required the church to make some adjustments, because Barnabas and Saul were a critical part of their leadership team. But soon after Barnabas and Saul returned, they received a set of marching orders for a much larger and more important mission: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). God made it clear that their ministry in Antioch was temporary. It wasn’t a final destination for them—it was a launching pad.

After fasting and praying, the Church family in Antioch did what must have been one of the most exciting yet heart-wrenching things they’d ever done: “They placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). It probably didn’t make complete sense to the Antioch Christians. But they were obedient to the leading of God’s Spirit.

Here are a few life lessons we can take from these world-changing events:

Life Lesson #1: Christ calls us to be cheerful givers who give freely and generously to God’s work. And the most generous givers don’t wait to be asked to give. I find what the Antioch Church did in Acts 11 to be SO inspiring. Perhaps Paul had the Antioch Christians in mind when he wrote in Philippians 2:3-5, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Life Lesson #2: As Chuck Swindoll once said, “Let’s be willing to release gifted men and women without reluctance. And when you are called by God to go to a place you would never have expected to go, there’s no need to be afraid of change…. Faith and risk go hand in hand.” Sometimes God calls Christians to leave one church and go somewhere else. We need to be okay with that. And at whatever point God calls you or me to go, we need not be afraid. God knows what He’s doing.

Life Lesson #3: In the words of missionary Henry Martyn, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we must become.” Regardless of whether God calls you to go or to stay, He is calling you to be a missionary.

So, if you are growing in your faith and deepening in your relationship with Christ, but you are not impacting more people around you for Christ, there’s something wrong. Wherever you are, make sure you are sharing Christ with others.

As Barnabas and Saul left Antioch, they had probably talked about where they were going. But I think it’s safe to say the Holy Spirit doesn’t give them a detailed road map. Much as He did with Abraham, He simply said, “Go.” And they obediently went. A big change had come to the Church at Antioch, and I am so thankful that they were smart enough and—more importantly—obedient enough to accept it from the hand of God.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The First Christians

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”   Acts 11:26

Beginning on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Jerusalem was the original launchpad of Christianity. It’s easy to see why. Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem. Jesus had risen from the dead in Jerusalem. And all 12 of the apostles lived in and led the church in Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was the launchpad of Judaism, it made sense for Jerusalem to be the launchpad of Christianity as well. But in Acts 11, Jesus Christ created a strategic shift.

In Acts 8:1, we read that on the heels of Stephen’s martyrdom, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem.” As a result, “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (v.4). It’s remarkable to realize that the great persecution against the Christian Church in Jerusalem was led by Saul. But his plan to wipe out Christianity backfired. His persecution actually helped Christianity spread—just as Jesus had planned all along.

Driven out of Jerusalem, some followers of Christ began to spread the gospel 300 miles away in Antioch. And just as Jerusalem had been the launchpad for the Christian church to reach ISRAEL for Christ, Antioch would become the launchpad to reach the WORLD for Christ. It was in Antioch that some Christian men began to do something revolutionary: They “began speaking to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (v.20). This may not sound like a big deal today, but it was a HUGE deal! Up until that point, Christians had only been leading Jews and Samaritans (who were half-Jews) to Christ. But these Christ-following men in Antioch didn’t hold back from sharing the gospel with ANYONE; they even shared the gospel with Greeks.

And the Greeks referred to here were complete pagans. Not only were they not Jewish, many of them couldn’t care less about God. They probably worshiped gods like Zeus, Apollo and Daphne, and many of them likely spent their weekends getting drunk and having sex with Daphne’s temple prostitutes. These were not God-fearing or moral men. They were heathens—heathens who desperately needed to hear and be transformed by the power of the gospel. And some Christian men in Antioch were willing to stick their necks out and try what had never been done before—lead complete pagans to salvation. And look what happened: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21).

What was happening in Antioch was so revolutionary that word of it spread 300 miles south, all the way back to Jerusalem. So the church leaders found just the man to go up north and check it out: Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement.” When Barnabas went to the church at Antioch, he liked what he saw: “He was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). But something must have been missing, because he tracked Saul down—150 miles away—and brought him back to Antioch. Verse 25 tells us, “For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” And don’t miss this last sentence in verse 26: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Non-Christians most likely were the ones who coined this term for Christ’s followers. Outsiders who observed the Christians in Antioch noticed that their lives were all about Jesus Christ. Christ was first on their lips. Christ was first in their actions. Christ was first in their worship. It reminds me of a wonderful morning prayer written by St. Patrick, whose holiday just came around in March: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today.”

Here are three life lessons to consider:

Life Lesson #1: If you are a Christian, you have to think, act and share Christ outside the box. Jesus’ followers in Antioch were the first to freely share the Gospel with ALL people regardless of their socio-economic, ethnic or moral differences. Regardless of how unchurched they were. Regardless of how godless they were. Regardless of how immoral they were. To live up to the name “Christian,” you and I need to do the same. We need to reach beyond social, ethnic and religious barriers and introduce people to Jesus Christ. And once they accept him, we have to disciple them—helping them to build a brand-new life centered on Jesus Christ.

Life Lesson #2: You need a Barnabas in your life—a faithful, spirit-filled Christian who will encourage you to love and serve Christ with all your heart and will stand with you as you do. That’s one of the reasons Jesus gave us … the CHURCH. Chances are, your home church has many Barneys and Barnitas who can come alongside you and encourage you to grow in your faith and obedience to Christ.

Life Lesson #3: Just like Barnabas and Saul, we are much better and stronger together. So, don’t be a lone-ranger Christian. When God calls you to do something for Him, enlist at least one other Christian to do it with you. Evangelist D.L. Moody hit the nail on the head: “It is better to put 10 men to work than to do the work of 10 men.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

World Changer Boot Camp

The gospel I preached is not something that man made up…. I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.   Galatians 1:11-12

The other day, I found myself imagining what I’d say to the Apostle Paul if I had a time machine. If I could go back to A.D. 33 and speak to Paul right after his baptism, what would I say to him? I’d probably start out like this: “God has a GREAT plan for your life! You have no idea how big an impact you’re going to make in this world!” So far, so good, right?

But since the Bible gives us a written account of Paul’s life and ministry, we know that he was martyred for his Christian faith just over 30 years after his conversion. Think about that. Paul had just over 30 years to plant dozens of churches on two continents … to write half the books of the New Testament … and to become the most influential Christian leader of the past 2,000 years. So, knowing that he only had about 30 years to accomplish all that, I’d be tempted to add: “Hurry! The clock is ticking! You don’t have any time to lose! Start preaching! Start writing Scripture! Go! Go! Go!!”

Well, that’s one of the many reasons God hasn’t given me a time machine. My plan for Paul stinks! MY plan for Paul wasn’t GOD’S plan for Paul. Get this: Paul didn’t set out on his three missionary journeys through northwest Asia and southeast Europe for at least 10 years after his conversion to Christianity. He didn’t change the world in 30 years. He did it in less than 20. And for those of us who are always busy, busy, busy ... going here, going there … squeezing in one more errand, one more class, one more thing on our “to-do” list … this first 10 years of Paul’s Christian life seems puzzling. To us, it seems like a waste of time!

Paul had so much potential, and he had so little time. So, why didn’t God send him to Jerusalem right away? Why didn’t God send him to Corinth, Ephesus or Rome right away? Why didn’t God have him start writing Scripture right away? And the simple answer is: Paul wasn’t ready.

God had something much more important for Paul to do first. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But God shows us once again that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways are higher that our ways, and His methods for shaping world-changing Christians are different than our methods. For example, let’s take a close look at Paul’s first three years as a Christian. What was he doing, and why?

During his first three years as a Christian, Paul definitely spent some time preaching the word of God. But it seems clear that, more than anything else, he was living alone in the Arabian desert. Paul’s time in the desert was God’s World Changer Boot Camp, preparing him to change the world.

When Jesus met Paul on the Road to Damascus, He introduced himself and gave Paul a brief snapshot of what his mission would be. But Jesus had SO MUCH MORE to teach him. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul tells us that “the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Paul was in the Arabian desert for the better part of three years, one-on-one with Jesus: meeting with Him, asking Him questions, listening intently to Him, and receiving the greatest revelation in the history of the world: The revelation of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, Paul writes, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time.” Where did Paul learn that? He learned it from Jesus Christ.

You and I tend to look at Paul’s three years in the desert as a waste of precious time. But the truth is: It was the BEST use of Paul’s time. Paul could not have planted dozens of churches on two continents, had he not first spent so much one-on-one time with Jesus. Paul could not have written Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians or his other 10 books of the Bible, had he not first spent so much time at Jesus’ feet. Paul could not have become the most influential Christian leader of the past 2,000 years had he not spent so much time doing the most strategic thing ANY Christian could EVER do who hopes to make a lasting impact in this world: Get alone with Jesus and let Him prepare you for battle.

More times than not, eternal impact isn’t attained by speeding up, but by slowing down. Not by talking to people more, but by listening to Jesus more. So, if we desire to reach further for Jesus, we must first go deeper with Jesus. And when we do that—making church a weekly priority AND making time with Jesus a daily priority, listening to Him and going deeper with Him—you will be in a much better place to make a greater impact in this world for Jesus Christ.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Surprising Messenger

 “Jesus … has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
- Acts 9:17

On the Road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus was given a huge wake-up call from Jesus Christ. For months Saul had been running around Jerusalem, barging into synagogues and homes, arresting, beating, and petitioning for the execution of Christian men and women. But on the Road to Damascus, Saul came face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Jesus knocked Saul off his high horse as He appeared to him in a blinding light and asked him a point-blank question in Acts 9:4: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

And as Saul lay on the ground, overcome by fear, guilt and regret, he asked Jesus the best question he could have asked: “What shall I do, Lord? What shall I do?” Jesus told Saul he had been chosen to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles alike so that their sins could be forgiven through faith in Christ. But before Saul could do that, Jesus instructed him merely to “get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6).

To deliver Saul’s next instructions, God chose an unlikely messenger: a man named Ananias. Ananias is first mentioned in Acts 9:10—and he disappears just 10 verses later. I find it very interesting AND inspiring that God used this obscure Christian to play a pivotal role in Saul’s conversion to Christianity. Paul went on to become the most influential Christian leader in church history. Yet God didn’t choose Peter or any of the other apostles to lead him to Christ. God chose a simple, little-known Christian named Ananias. I love it!

Three days after Jesus Christ appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road, Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision. Jesus told him: “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight” (vs. 10-12). Ananias was floored. He probably thought, “Saul of Tarsus? Every Christian in Damascus knows about that guy. If he's blind right now, it’s probably best just to keep him that way so he can’t find us.” Ananias can’t keep quiet about his concerns. So, he said in vs. 13-14: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.” 

The Lord patiently listened to Ananias, but then simply responded: “Go! This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (v. 15). Jesus Christ, in essence, is saying, “Ananias, you don’t have to UNDERSTAND My perfect plan, but you do need to OBEY it.”

So, Ananias obeyed the word of the Lord. He went to Judas’ house on Straight Street, and he was surprised by the man he saw praying in front of him. Saul didn’t look at all like the bloodthirsty wolf of a man everyone talked about. He looked like a humble, desperate man praying to God for mercy and grace that he knew he didn’t deserve. Saul hadn’t eaten or tasted a drop of water in three days. He was a broken man. And Ananias began to see what God saw. He walked over to Saul, placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (v.17). Instantly, Saul’s sight was restored.

Then Ananias told Saul the amazing news: “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from His mouth. You will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name” (Acts 22:14-16). Saul wasted no time doing exactly that. No quick snack or cup of water to tide him over till dinner. He got up, confessed Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord and was baptized in water. And Ananias was most likely the man who had the privilege of baptizing Saul.

The vast majority of us are called to be Ananiases, not Sauls. Without fame or fortune, God calls us in our obscurity to do precisely WHAT He asks us to do WHEN He asks us to do it. You and I need to accept and live out our calling. Chuck Swindoll says it this way: “A rare few in God’s family enjoy fame and renown, position and influence. The great majority, however, are the Ananiases of the world—the errand runners, if you will, doing precisely what God has asked them to do, in precisely the place He’s called them to go. They keep the Body functioning in good health. None will ever know, until eternity dawns, the enormity of their investment in the cause of Christ.”

Remember: Jesus Christ is full of surprises. So don’t get too comfortable where you are—physically, emotionally, spiritually or geographically. God has a way of shaking up your plans to stretch you and move you into deeper levels of trust and obedience. He is ready to use you today … as long as you listen to His word and obey His leading. Be the best Ananias you can possibly be.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Taming a Rabid Wolf

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” -- Acts 9:4

Back in the early 1970s, Chuck Colson was Richard Nixon’s White House counsel and hatchet man—one of the most ruthless political operatives of the past 50 years. During Nixon’s first term as President, Colson was behind the scenes carrying out Nixon’s dirty work—no matter how dishonest or unethical it was. Someone who knew Colson well described him as “the kind of guy who would run over his grandmother if necessary to get the job done.”

But early in President Nixon’s second term in office, Chuck Colson gave his life to Jesus Christ. Once he was a Christian, he was determined to become an honest man. And he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk. In 1974, over a year after leaving the White House, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and he served a seven-month sentence in Alabama’s Maxwell Prison.

In his book, “Born Again,” Colson reflected on his time behind bars: “I found myself increasingly drawn to the idea that God had put me in prison for a purpose and that I should do something for those I had left behind.” And Chuck Colson did do something. In 1976, a year after being released from prison, he founded Prison Fellowship, which is now the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners and their families.

You see, as I mentioned in my last column, God doesn’t just save hell-bent sinners. He recruits them to change the world. That was true of Nixon’s hatchet man, and it was also true of a young Jewish thug named Saul.

Saul was a Pharisee—a well-educated, legalistic member of the Jewish establishment. He was, as he wrote later, “convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). In those days, Saul was like a rabid wolf mangling his prey. He often went from house-to-house and synagogue-to-synagogue arresting Christians. Some he whipped. Others he imprisoned. Still others he recommended for execution. That all changed suddenly one day when Saul was on the road to Damascus, on his way to take more Christians as prisoners.

A blinding light from heaven blazed around him, and Saul fell to the ground. A voice asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). When a terrified Saul asked who was speaking to him, he learned it was Jesus of Nazareth. And God didn’t just appear to Saul in order to save him. He appeared to Saul in order to appoint him as a servant and witness to both Jews and Gentiles to “open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). In other words, Jesus wasn’t just interested in saving hell-bent Saul. He was recruiting him to change the world. And Saul responded with obedience. He stood up—blind as a bat—and walked the rest of the way into the city of Damascus to await his instructions from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In that moment, Saul’s world turned upside down. Here are a few quick lessons we can learn from his conversion.

Lesson #1: More often than not, those who most aggressively attack Christians and claim that God is dead are in an unseen spiritual battle, wrestling with faith in God. So, hold out hope and pray for them. What we see on the surface in just a glimpse of what’s going on inside a man or woman. Oftentimes, under the surface there’s a spiritual battle raging that we don’t know about. So, despite what you see or hear on the surface, pray for God to keep working on that person’s heart and overcome his/her resistance.

Lesson #2: Like Saul, we’re no match for God. Because He loves us, He will relentlessly pursue us until we willingly submit to Him. As the great British author C.S. Lewis put it, God was like a Divine chess player—systematically, patiently maneuvering his opponent into a corner until finally Saul conceded. “Checkmate.” So, if you’re resisting God, I encourage you to knock it off. You’re hurting yourself. And in all likelihood, you’re hurting others around you. So, stop being so stubborn. Saul learned the hard way, but you don’t have to.

Lesson #3: On the road to Damascus, Jesus Christ didn’t just turn a wolf into a sheep. He began turning a wolf into a shepherd. Think about it: God didn’t waste any of Saul’s wolf-like past. Instead, He used it for advancing Christ’s Kingdom. And the same could be said about Chuck Colson and you. God won’t waste any of your past. If you’ll let Him, He will use your stubbornness, your orneriness, your broken relationships, your addictions, your failures and even your greatest sins for His glory. Remarkable, isn’t He?

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Friday, March 18, 2022

The Most Unlikely Christian

“Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate believers.” – Acts 8:3

Every few years, historians around the country are asked: Who was the greatest President in American history? And the one who almost always comes in first place is Abraham Lincoln. As much as the Civil War tore our country apart, it could have been much worse if we hadn’t had such a strong, godly leader in the White House.

You might think that his success as President was the culmination of a successful career.

But surprisingly, it wasn’t. Lincoln had almost no formal schooling. He started two businesses that failed. When he applied to law school, he was rejected because of his miserable qualifications. He ran for the Illinois General Assembly, Congress, the U.S. Senate and for Vice President—and lost every time. In 1858 he ran for the Senate and lost again. By then, no one in their right mind would have predicted that two years later, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln not only would be elected as the 16th President of the United States—but that he would become the greatest President in our history. If you’d made that prediction in 1858, people would have thought you were clinically insane.

And in the year following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, people would have said the same thing about Paul. If you had told the people of Jerusalem that the young, hot-headed Pharisee known as “Saul” was going to become a Christian, they would have called you delusional. If you had told them he would go on to write half the books of the New Testament and become the most influential Christian leader in the history of the faith, they would have thought you were a lunatic!

The first time we meet Paul in the Bible, he’s standing by, guarding the coats of the executioners who threw stones at Stephen, the first Christian martyr. These murderers were the same false witnesses who had condemned Stephen on phony charges of blasphemy. And in case there’s any doubt in our minds about whether or not Paul approved of this lynch mob, we’re told plainly in Acts 8:1, “And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”

As Stephen’s blood splattered on the ground at Saul’s feet, he developed a thirst for Christian blood. Because we read in verse 3, “Saul began to destroy the church.” This word “destroy” is a translation of a Greek word that described a wild animal mangling its prey. Saul was like a blood-thirsty wolf who wanted to mangle Christians. The Living Bible says it this way: “Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate believers.” And verse 3 continues, “Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”

The Jewish leaders hated Christians. But Saul hated them even more. Saul hated Christians with a passion. Because, from the bottom of his heart, Saul hated Jesus Christ. He hated Jesus so much that he set out on a mission to eradicate the name of Jesus not only from the lips of Christians in Jerusalem, but from the lips of Christians around the world. Yet this is the man God chose to write half the books of the New Testament. This is the man God chose to be the most influential Christian who ever lived. No one in his right mind would have ever seen that coming!

I’d like to share three life lessons from the example of Paul.

#1: Even the greatest Christians have a dark side. We all have checkered pasts. Think about it. David, the man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer and a murderer. Jacob, father of the 12 tribes of Israel, was a conniving liar. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. And Paul arrested and killed Christians, because the bottom line was: He HATED Jesus. Even the most loving, caring, world-changing Christians have checkered pasts. We all have a dark side to our testimony.

#2: No matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you’ve strayed from God, there is hope for you in Christ. If you’ll let Him, God will save you. I tell people often: God’s grace is greater than my disgrace. The most loved, most sung Christian song of the past 200 years is “Amazing Grace.” Its writer, John Newton, was once a disgraceful slave ship captain. But after he became a Christian, he was so convicted by what he had been doing, he quit the slave trade. And years later he penned the words, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found. ... Was blind but now I see.” If God could forgive and save a man like John Newton, then he can save you and me, too.

#3: God doesn’t just SAVE hell-bent sinners—He recruits them to change the world. This lesson applies to everyone around you—especially to those who are the furthest from God right now. It applies to your brother or sister who hasn’t gone to church in 10 years. It applies to your son or daughter who told you a few months back, “I don’t believe in God anymore.” It applies to your niece or nephew, strung out on drugs. It applies to your uncle in prison. It applies to everyone.

Christians, don’t stop praying for those around you who are the least likely people on the planet to be saved and chosen by God to change the world. In His amazing grace, God loves choosing the worst of sinners to do some of His greatest work. He loves to pull wicked sinners out of the grip of hell and raise them up to bring heaven to earth. God did it 2,000 years ago with a Jesus-hating murderer named Saul, and He still does it today.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Who Wants to Be Poor?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:3

Ask any Christian what the most important verse in the Bible is, and more often than not they’ll answer, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That verse beautifully summarizes the fact that we can never EARN our salvation. Salvation is a gift from God. And the key to receiving that gift is faith. We must believe—truly believe—in Jesus.

But somewhere along the way, many Christians have bought into the crazy idea that Christianity is ONLY about holding the right beliefs. As long as I believe right, I will be right with God. As long as I believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, as long as I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, I can call myself a “good Christian.”

But there’s just one problem with this notion: It’s not true. Jesus never taught us that Christianity is only a matter of BELIEVING right. Christianity is also a matter of DOING right. We are not just believers in Jesus Christ. We are believers and followers of Jesus Christ.  And nowhere is that made more clear than in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

The first type of teaching Jesus uses in this great sermon are known as the Beatitudes, which we find in Matthew 5:3-12. The word “beatitude” is taken from the Latin word “beatitudo”, which means “blessed are.” Many pastors and Bible teachers translate this word simply as “happy.” But “happy” is far too narrow a translation. “Blessed” means so much more than happy. Years ago, one of my Bible college professors, Knofel Staton, did an in-depth study of this word “blessed,” and he learned that it means two things beyond “happy”:

1: Congratulations. In his Beatitudes, Jesus isn’t just saying that those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn and those who are merciful will be happy. He is also saying “Congratulations are in order for my followers who are poor in spirit and those who mourn.”

2: Buoyed up. Jesus is also saying, “In this sinful world we live in—no matter what hardships or insults come your way—the world will never be able to sink your faith or drown your relationship with Christ. God will see to it that you will always bounce back to surface. You are buoyed up in Christ. Neither this world nor the armies of hell can sink a faithful follower of Christ.”

Let’s focus on the first Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3). Someone once asked the evangelist Billy Graham: Why doesn’t Jesus tell us to be rich in spirit instead of telling us to be poor in spirit? Reverend Graham answered: “If you put the word ‘humble’ in place of the word ‘poor,’ you will understand what [Jesus] meant. We must be humble in our spirits. In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us. The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).” So, “poor in spirit” means humble in spirit and empty in spirit.

If I am serious about being in Christ’s heavenly kingdom, I must begin by confessing that by myself, I can’t ever get there. By myself I will never get to heaven. By myself I can never be right with God. By myself I can never ever be saved. If you don’t fall in line with this truth, you CAN’T be blessed by God.  So, if you can’t live out this first beatitude, there’s no point moving on to the other seven.

Some of us come to Christ with notions of our own righteousness. This first beatitude knocks us off our high horse. Some of us come to Christ thinking we’ll impress Him with our religious heritage: “I grew up in a good Catholic home.” “I was baptized as a baby and confirmed as a teenager.” “My wife and I were married in the church.” But this beatitude makes it clear, not only that our religious upbringing doesn’t impress God, but that it actually turns Him off when we hold it up like some sort of trophy. If you puff out your chest and brag to God about making it onto the religious honor roll, Jesus Christ will flunk you out of class. Religious pride is repulsive to Him. But He is drawn to spiritual poverty.

At the heart of this first beatitude is a humble recognition of my weakness and God’s strength, an understanding that I offer God nothing yet God offers me everything. Spiritual poverty is attractive to Jesus because it’s honest, it’s real, and—most importantly—it gives Him plenty of room to come in and fill us with more of God. The biggest problem with being a religious snob is that we’re so full of ourselves, there’s no room left for Christ. But when we are spiritually humble, spiritually empty, there is plenty of room for Jesus to come in and fill us with Himself. So, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Follow me humbly, or you won’t follow me at all.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His latest book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.).

Monday, February 7, 2022

What Does God Say About Divorce?

“They are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 
– Matthew 19:6

A married couple had their first big fight. They got so mad at each other that they started giving each other the silent treatment. Both of them were pretty stubborn, and this silent treatment went on for days. But then, three days into their standoff, the man realized he needed his wife’s help. He had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning to catch a flight to Chicago, but he had a bad habit of sleeping through his alarm.

But he still didn’t want to be the first one to crack and break the silence. So, the husband wrote a note to his wife and set it in front of her: “Please wake me at 5 a.m.” The next morning the man woke up, looked at the clock, and saw that it was 9 a.m. He’d missed his flight! He turned toward his wife, about to yell at her. Just then a Post-It note fell from his forehead and fluttered into his lap. It read: “It’s 5 a.m. Wake up.”

That’s an example of a marriage that needed a lot of work. But is it ever okay to give up on a marriage? What does God think of divorce? In the book of Malachi, He’s as direct as He could possibly be: “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel” (v. 16). Three different times in this chapter, God speaks of the sin of “breaking faith with the wife of your youth.” He says it most clearly in verse 14: “The LORD is acting as a witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” You see, when a man and woman get married, they stand in front of God and each other and forge a covenant—a binding, lifelong commitment—promising to love, honor and cherish each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. And that covenant is binding until one of them dies.

So in essence, God says in Malachi 2, “Husbands, when you divorce your wife, you are shredding your marriage covenant. You are abandoning your marriage partner. You are breaking the trusting relationship that you promised to her on your wedding day. And when you break your relationship with her, you break your relationship with Me. And I hate it!”

Fast forward 400 years. When the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce in the book of Matthew, He takes His listeners back to the very beginning—Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” And then in Matthew 19:6, Jesus adds the words that have been repeated millions of times in Christian wedding ceremonies. “So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Jesus’ critics ask a follow-up question in verse 7: “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (As a side note, they’re twisting God’s words. Neither God nor Moses ever commanded a husband to divorce his wife in the Old Testament law.) Jesus responded, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (vs. 8-9). Why? Because in God’s eyes, he’s still married to his first wife. Their divorce might have been LEGAL, but it wasn’t BIBLICAL.  It might have been sanctioned by MAN, but it wasn’t sanctioned by GOD.

In Matthew 19:9, Jesus goes on to offer us only one reason for a divorce that is acceptable to God: marital unfaithfulness (aka, adultery): “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” You may ask, “Does Jesus give a divorced Christian permission to marry someone else if there WERE biblical grounds for divorce?” If you look very closely at what Jesus says in verse 9, the answer appears to be, “Yes, He does.” If a husband commits adultery, God gives his wife permission to divorce him. God doesn’t command it. God doesn’t even encourage it. But He permits it. And if, after the divorce is final, she chooses to marry another man, God doesn’t command it. God doesn’t encourage it. But He permits it. She is not committing adultery with her new husband, because in God’s eyes she is no longer married to her first husband.

There is only one other acceptable reason for a divorce according to the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul writes that a Christian spouse isn’t “bound” to a non-Christian spouse who physically abandons him or her. He seems to allow divorce in such situations, but he doesn’t address the question of whether or not re-marriage is permitted by God.

However, if in some way your marriage is struggling or broken, it’s not enough for me to just tell you, “God hates divorce, so don’t do it!” With good counsel and God’s guidance, I believe struggling Christian couples can build a brand new marriage. One that works. One that God has always wanted the two of you to enjoy together. I urge you to seek that guidance. God HATES divorce, because God LOVES marriage. So, you’d better believe that He is willing to roll up His sleeves and work with you to make your marriage better than ever. For marriages that are hurting, unhappy or broken, I highly recommend Dr. David Clarke’s book, “I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.