Author Archives: valsonabraham

The Early Christians Recognized this Threat

Sometimes it really strikes me—the irrationality of unbelief. The refusal to bow to fact, to rational argument, even the clear hand of God. What is most striking is how the most unbelieving can also be the most religious.

In Acts 4, Peter and John, by the power of Christ, have just healed a man lame from birth, convincing 5,000 people to follow Christ, demonstrating the power of God. But the ruling religious Sanhedrin of Jerusalem arrest both Peter and John and throw them into jail. The religious leaders could not deny the healing. They could not deny the power and boldness of Jesus’ uneducated disciples, but they want to stop them.

They knew about Jesus’ miracles. When Jesus died, they saw the massive temple veil rip from top to bottom. They could not deny Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts 5, Gamaliel, a wise elder member of the Sanhedrin even warned them that if what Peter and John did “is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” They could have reconsidered their position, but they refused.

Unbelief shows little compassion for those freed by Christ from bondage. The religious establishment did not share the healed man’s joy. They did not empathize with his years of infirmity, his inability to care for himself, his wasted talents, his decades of destroyed dreams, the lectures from others about his imagined “sins” that brought his condition, the taunts of thoughtless children. They were lifeless and loveless.

Stone-cold unbelief can strike fear in those who speak truth, especially if the unbelievers have more power, money and political authority.

Don’t we find stone-cold unbelief in our own world today, even in our churches, whether in India or the USA? In both nations, men and women with power and authority care nothing about the God of the Bible and want to hurl Him from His throne (see Psalm 2). At times, they appear to be invulnerable, subject to no other law but their own whims and agendas that drip with unbelief and contempt for God and others they regard as lesser than they.

The early Christians recognized this threat. They saw the odds against them, but they did not flinch before the stronger foe. Peter said, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

They went to prayer, remembering the God who called them is the same God who created the heavens and the earth. They remembered Jesus’ wondrous acts. They remembered how God uses even His enemies to accomplish His purposes. They knew that the stronger power of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead would sustain them. The scriptures tell us they prayed for boldness to preach, for signs and wonders.

God answered their prayers. He filled them anew with His Holy Spirit. In time, in 70 AD, after much patience and giving the religious authorities forty years to repent of their unbelief, He destroyed their decadent and unbelieving religious structures. In the meantime, the gospel continued to spread to “the uttermost parts of the world” as it does today.

May God help us to continue steadfast in their footsteps before our present opposition. The gospel of Jesus Christ always has the last word.

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How to Convince Many

Often, Christian witness today is based upon apologetics—rational arguments. While apologetics has importance and may win a few people to Christ here and there, too often we are satisfied with a few. The problem with apologetics is the likelihood for someone to make counter-arguments and excuses. The arguments may go on forever.

Acts 3 demonstrates that in the power of the Holy Spirit, our witness can become an irresistible force with which no one can argue.

Acts 3 begins on an average day with Peter and John just before afternoon prayer at the temple. They confront a lame man. For years, the man was a fixture at the temple gate, eking out a living in the only way he knew—begging. Most likely, Peter and John had noted the man before, but on this day, the Holy Spirit enabled them to really see him.

They did not just stop to toss him a coin or two, or ask God to bless his day with successful begging. Instead, they invoked the authority of God to heal the man. That day, the man, lame from birth, stood and walked.

A great crowd saw the miracle and gathered around, amazed. They were not hostile. They gazed in wonder. They all had seen this man for years, carried in and carried out, unable to move on his own. Now, he was running and leaping in joy. The healing of the lame man got their attention.

Peter and John quickly told them it was not their own power, but the power of Jesus that healed the man. A few weeks earlier, some of the people who heard this had called for Jesus’ crucifixion, but they did it in ignorance, not knowing who Jesus really was. Peter told them how the prophets prepared the way for Jesus and for this day. This healing was a sign that a time of great restoration had begun that will eventually rid the world of Satan, evil and death.

The amazed people hung on to Peter’s words. In Acts 4, we read that at least 5,000 men believed the message because of what they saw that day.

A display of God’s power prepared the way. The people could not deny what happened. Arguments alone would not have won so many people.

This same power of God is available in our own day. Our evangelists in India, many from non-Christian backgrounds, experienced healing and deliverance which brought them to Christ. Now, they go into unreached areas doing the same works in the power of the Holy Spirit that changed their own lives. Acts 3 is taking place all over India today—power encounters that convince many that Jesus’ power exceeds the power of their old deities.

Acts 3 is our model as well. Let us not be cowed by the anti-supernatural element in many of our churches that tries to preserve an orderly status quo but paralyzes our influence. Let us not say we aren’t good or pious enough for this. Like Peter and John, we have been made clean by the blood of Christ.

Around the world, people are convinced more by God’s power, less by arguments. In today’s evil world, why would Jesus abandon his most powerful weapons against Satan? Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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A New Era in World History

Acts 2 is one of the most amazing chapters in the Bible. It marks the beginning of a new era in world history—the era of the Holy Spirit. That new era came by the will of God, but at the same time, God willed it to come through the actions of His children.

First, they waited on God. They had to wait in order to learn that God’s plans are bigger and better than their own. They had to abandon their own expectations. They waited on God because God was waiting on them to adopt heart attitudes needed for receiving the Holy Spirit.

Up until now, most of the 120 who waited in the Upper Room expected Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom. They didn’t realize that such an earthly kingdom would become subject to the same forces that brought to ruin every other kingdom—the power of the devil.

Jesus’ plan was to completely rid the world of the devil’s power, and that depended upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Once their hearts were ready, the Holy Spirit came upon them with great power that shook the place and attracted thousands from the outside.

That day, Peter preached a short and simple message that went right to the point and pricked the hearts of those who heard it. There was nothing seeker-friendly about it, yet 3,000 people responded—a 2,600% increase in their number in less than 24 hours. All because the original group had gained expectant hearts to receive the Holy Spirit.

How many churches today expect great things from God through the power of the Holy Spirit? Today, too many churches depend upon seeker-friendly methods, intellectual powers of persuasion, social media and fancy programs, but the culture and influence of the church has continued to decline. Little is said in most churches about the Holy Spirit. In fact, there is much suspicion about the Holy Spirit. This must truly delight the devil!

Yes, we must establish a strong intellectual foundation for belief. But Peter was no intellectual. His blunt message to the crowd reflected his own “blue collar” background as a fisherman. His message demonstrates what the Holy Spirit can do through anyone who abandons his agenda and waits upon God with expectancy to do great and mighty things in his/her life.

A few years later, Paul came along and demonstrated his great intellectual powers in such works as his epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians. But even Paul knew that any intellectual arguments he used depended upon Holy Spirit power to truly transform lives.

Too many people treat Acts 2 as an isolated phenomenon. But Acts 2 lies at the heart of what Jesus introduced in John 14-16 regarding the Holy Spirit. In John 17, Jesus prayed not only for His disciples in their generation but all His people including our own generation and beyond. No, Acts 2 is not an isolated phenomenon but a model for every generation.

Like the 120 who waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we also must put aside our own expectations and wait upon God to work through us in Holy Spirit power to preach the gospel to all peoples. In the meantime, God waits for us…

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God’s New Thing

In our troubled days, it is good for us to remember and practice what Jesus’ disciples learned and did as they faced their own days of uncertainty when Jesus left them and ascended into heaven.

The memory of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was fresh. Yes, Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would. But now, He did something totally unexpected. He was not about to restore the kingdom of Israel as they hoped. Instead, Jesus was about to leave them.

This caught them unawares. Now, the future became a question mark to them. Their expectations became irrelevant. Instead, Jesus promised them the coming of the Holy Spirit about whom they knew nothing. In effect, Jesus told them, “You are at the beginning of a New Thing.” But they still didn’t understand the implications of that “New Thing.”

In His departing conversation with His disciples, He gives them at least five instructions as they wait for this “New Thing.” His instructions carry down to us as we wait for God’s “New Thing” in our own time of uncertainty and change:

  • Give up your own expectations.
  • Trust Christ Himself alone—He has the bigger picture.
  • Don’t try to figure out the future. Live in the present and leave the future to God.
  • Trust the power of the Holy Spirit to take you to the promised “New Thing” about to happen.
  • Continue in prayer and supplication before God, and expect God to answer with great and mighty things.

This was a huge and painful paradigm shift for the disciples, but they still trusted Jesus to do what He promised.

Acts 1 tells us that 120 followers of Jesus gathered together and prayed “steadfastly,” that is, without distraction. They prayed “continually,” that is, with perseverance. They prayed “with one accord,” that is, with united focus on Jesus’ instructions. They prayed “with the women,” that is, with those they normally didn’t pray with but who shared the same Lord and destiny.

The Greek word for “to pray” (see also 1 Timothy 2:1) indicates they prayed prayers from the heart directly to God, not as a rote religious ritual. They did not just voice wishes but direct and specific requests of God. They kept a spirit of thanksgiving, remembering Jesus’ miracles, His resurrection, and everything else He did in love for multitudes of people. They knew they were not abandoned, though they still didn’t understand the profound changes about to happen.

They did not focus upon their weaknesses and failures. Their small number did not trouble them, nor the formidable power of the Romans or the impressive religious establishment. The size of the unbelieving community did not sway them, nor did their lack of social or religious influence.

They kept focused on the promise—the good future to which Jesus pointed them and the power He had already displayed in their own lives and those of others.

In our troubled days, let us remember that Jesus has not changed. The promise of the Holy Spirit He gave to His followers comes down to us today. Let us continue to follow the instructions Jesus gave His uncertain followers that we might live out the “New Thing” God has for us in our own day and for a world that still does not know Him.

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What To Do When You Fail

Do you ever feel you have failed your Lord? Have you felt you have denied Him by your words, deeds, inactions—even your cowardice? Let Jesus’ redemption of Peter in John 21 encourage you.

Like Peter, we set high standards for ourselves in our discipleship. We have the best of intentions. We will succeed where others have failed. Yet not only do we fail, but our failure is miserable, humiliating, wretched.

Look at Peter, boasting of his loyalty and bravery. But when the test came, he crumbled. He denied Jesus Christ three times, with curses, cowering even before an unnamed, powerless slave-girl.

Now, even after he witnessed the resurrected Christ, he felt like a failure, unworthy of his calling as a disciple of the Lord of Glory. In consternation and confusion, he went off to fish, joined by several of his fellow failed disciples. They caught nothing. Another failure.

Enter Jesus, who first reminds Peter of His original calling by giving Peter another miraculous catch of fish (see Luke 5). Then comes a remarkable confrontation. “Do you love [agape] me?” Twice, Jesus asks Peter, using the word for perfect love. Peter can only say, “I love [phileo] you,” a lesser form of love. Can any of us honestly do any better than Peter? Then Jesus comes down on Peter’s level and asks a third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?”

Remarkably, Jesus accepts Peter’s imperfect love. It is not perfect, but real. Peter reveals himself as a “flickering flame.” His love flickers, but it still burns, and Jesus is a master at fanning flickering flames (Matthew 12:20).

Jesus responds to Peter in three ways. His responses in the Greek reveal that His call on Peter’s life has not changed.

Tend my lambs” suggests his future care of immature and vulnerable people in need of special attention. “Tend my sheep indicates Peter’s role as an overseer, a shepherd. The third response should read, Pasture the sheep,” indicating Peter’s role in preaching and teaching from the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s failures have broken him and given him humility, the very quality he needs (and we need) to perform his (and our) calling. We know from history that Jesus fanned Peter’s “flickering flame” into a refiner’s fire through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Days later, filled with the Holy Spirit, he stood before thousands, boldly preached his first sermon, and saw 3,000 people follow Christ.

Later, he stood before the same religious authorities who crucified Jesus, now threatening him with prison or worse if he continued to preach Jesus. Peter fearlessly responded, “It is better to obey God rather than man.” Jesus indicated that Peter would give his life for Him with a rare courage.

It is good for us to confess and grieve the times we deny Christ by our words, deeds and inactions, but it is better for us to remember how He has also filled us with the same Holy Spirit that filled Peter. He still says to us, as He said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

In our families, communities, workplaces, schools, creative activities, governments, and around the world, we have opportunities to do just that. Jesus has even told us as He told Peter, “Greater works than I have done, you will do.”

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Living in Truth

As we enter Easter month, our series from the Gospel of John brings us to chapter 18, one of the grimmest chapters of the Bible. This chapter recounts the betrayal and binding of Jesus. What makes this chapter especially grim is that Jesus’ betrayal and binding take place at the hands of people who should have known better.

Judas Iscariot was Jesus’ own disciple. More than anyone else at that time, the disciples experienced Jesus’ love and saw countless numbers of His miracles. Along with other disciples, Judas preached the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus commissioned him with power to heal the sick and cast out demons. Yet this man who saw and experienced so much of God threw it all away for 30 pieces of silver.

Annas and Caiaphas were relatives. Each served as high priest and headed the powerful Sanhedrin, the assembly of elders. They knew the prophecies concerning a coming Messiah, but they chose to interpret them their own way. Instead of seeing the obvious signs of Jesus’ divine presence in their midst, they chose their own political and religious agendas over the truth of God, corrupting themselves and helping to condemn generations of their people.

Pontius Pilate, the cynical (“What is truth?”) Roman governor of Judea, saw through the jealousy and false accusations of the Jewish religious hierarchy. He found Jesus innocent of any crime, but still gave up Jesus to the mob for crucifixion. Cheap politics paralyzed his ability to do the right thing when it counted.

We look with horror at these villains who should have known better and wonder at how wickedly they tortured and killed the Lord of glory. But we should also examine ourselves for times when we bind Christ in what we do (or don’t do) and say. For example . . .

Do we read the Bible as a religious habit rather than to hear His voice and express more of His light and glory through our lives to a darkened world around us?

Do we secretly judge others for whom Christ died and rose again, acting more like Annas and Caiaphas than our Lord and Savior who died for us?

Do we regard Jesus as something less than Son of God, King of kings, brother and best friend?

Do we deny Christ by behaviors/attitudes that clash with our professions of loyalty to Christ?

Do we tie His hands, through unbelief, from doing His mighty works through us?

Do we fail to trust Him with the issues of our lives, with the lives of those with whom we live and work, and those in places of authority in government and culture?

Do we fail to live the gospel in its fullness, or deny to the world the salt and light that Jesus intended to come through us?

Do we fail to obey Christ when His commands conflict with our understanding and desires?

Thank God that Jesus Christ did not stay bound! After three days, He rose again and destroyed the power of death and every other weapon of Satan. In His boundless love, He has forgiven us and given us His Holy Spirit to help us. Let us confess our sins and thank God for His everlasting love for us in spite of ourselves. Then let us tell everyone how He has taken away our sin and overcome the world.

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Not of, yet in

We live in a depressing and troubled world.  We face many trials in our personal lives and as a society.  It is tempting for us to want to escape it all.  In the past century, rapture theology has become extremely popular in many churches.  Many people spend much time wishing God would “take them home.”

Personally, I believe the Bible teaches the rapture, but in these troubled times there are other important things we must keep in mind, otherwise we will find ourselves in rebellion against God and His purposes.

In John 17, Jesus’ prays for His disciples (and for us).  His prayer does not allow us any kind of escapist thinking.  He prays, “I do not ask You [God the Father] to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (v. 15).

As Jesus’ prayer makes clear, we are not of this world, run by Satan, but Jesus does not want to remove us from the world.  The previous chapters indicate He has too much for us to do for us to leave.  He wants to replace Satan’s kingdom with His own.  He wants us to become involved with Him in making it happen.  We can’t do that if we get raptured or retire to the sidelines of life and wait for His return.

In this prayer, Jesus asks God to sanctify them (and us) in the Truth for the task—for here and now.  He sends them (and us) forth into the world—now.  He wants them (and us) to live in unity—now.  He gives them (and us) the power to live in His glory—through His Holy Spirit.

The gospel of the kingdom has not been well taught in many of our churches.  As a rule, the church has not generally lived in unity in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our governments, educational systems, businesses, media industries, arts and entertainment, etc. all seem under the domination of anti-Christ forces.  Non-Christians have called the shots while the church reacts defensively to the world instead of taking charge as Jesus commanded.

For Jesus to rapture His church now would signal defeat—a failed experiment.  Defeat is never in God’s vocabulary. His original plan has never changed.  

Who of us will remain faithful to Christ’s original aim to establish His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?  Who of us will live in the world and take the world for His kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit?  That’s what our troubled world really needs right now—a united church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, ready to represent Christ in every facet of our cultures and societies.

Has the Great Commission been fulfilled in India and the rest of the world?  Has the kingdom of God come to earth through the church as Jesus envisioned?  Is there unity in the body of Christ?  If not, then we are not yet finished with our tasks on earth.  Let’s not think of escaping quite yet!  We must stay around until we have done it all Jesus’ way.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus tells us to “occupy until I come.”  In other words, keep busy for Him in the here and now and let God the Father decide His future return.

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Re-discovering His Power

Go into a mortuary and try to carry on a conversation with a dead person lying in a casket. No matter how charming, charismatic or logical your words, you will get nowhere. That dead person cannot respond.

A spiritually dead person cannot respond to the things of God. God is a stranger to him. He cannot perceive God in the world or people around him. A life with God is meaningless to him. He has no longing for God. He gives his life only to those things perceived in the five senses. 

Most people see imperfections in themselves and in others, but tend to blame them on forces in our past, other people or, in places like India, on the bad karma of past lives. Blame is put upon something wrong in the environment. We attempt to “clean up our act” through moral discipline and religious practices.

All of this is like putting band-aids on cancers. Morality and religion do not deal with the root problem which is sin. We sin because we are sinners. Sin is another word for spiritual death.

Just as a dead man cannot respond to the world around him, a spiritually dead person cannot respond to the things of God. Logic and eloquence are of no use. Only the Holy Spirit can change the situation.

In John 16, Jesus tells His disciples that He will soon leave them, but He will give them the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

The Holy Spirit, the creator of life, is the only one who can bring life out of spiritual death. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken a spiritually dead person to his sin. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken a spiritually dead person to the righteousness of God greater than his sin. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken a spiritually dead person to the Good News that Jesus has judged his sin at the cross and makes him righteous before a good and righteous God.

When the disciples spoke under the power of the Holy Spirit, spiritually dead people came alive by the thousands. In the Book of Acts, the church added and then multiplied the number of people who were being saved.

Such is not the case in most of our churches today. Churches rely on gimmicks rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, few people are convicted of sin. They do not see the righteousness of God to which they fall disastrously short. They do not conceive the power of Jesus at the cross and in the resurrection to judge the devil who has darkened their minds. As a result, our churches have become powerless, and society has become a mess.

The solution to our basic problem is both simple and profound: re-discover the Holy Spirit and His power to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment. Then we will see a big turnaround that will surprise everybody.

We will also see the gospel reach into every corner of the world. I can tell you from experience, millions of people in India are groaning for the Desire of the Nations. Only the Holy Spirit can convince them that His name is Jesus Christ.

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One Trillion Species

In the most extensive study of its kind, the National Academy of Sciences sought to discover how many living species inhabit our earth. They sought for living species on land and sea, on all continents except Antarctica. They included not only species we see with the naked eye but also the tiniest living microorganisms. 

After a long and detailed study, they estimated that this earth is home to more than one trillion species of life forms. Just one gram of soil may contain up to a billion organisms representing as many as 10,000 different species.

This mindboggling number tells us something of the creative mind and imagination of God. It displays the power of the Spirit of God, who Genesis 1:2 tells us, was involved in the creation of the world. This same Holy Spirit dwells within each of us who has given our life to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit can do far more than we expect—if we let Him.

Why is this important? In John 15, Jesus warns His disciples they will face stiff opposition. They will be hated and persecuted. Alone, they will not have power to accomplish the task He has given them.

But they will not be alone. They will have the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will enable them to abide in Him as branches abide in the vine. The Holy Spirit will enable them to love one another. The Holy Spirit will empower them to face opposition by those who hate Christ.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we should always be the best witnesses possible. We must prepare ourselves for the task. But our preparation alone will not convince others of the truth of our message. That witness must also come from the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who created the world from nothing, 

This principle applies not just to evangelists and pastors but to all believers. We are all priests of Jesus Christ, mediating Christ to the world in our homes, vocations and schools. We can do nothing the way God intended apart from the Holy Spirit. Alone, we cannot withstand opposition, nor can we love one another as we should.

There is much unforgiveness and lack of boldness among Christians, a strong temptation to compromise the truth of God. Too many Christians and churches fail to pray. Much activity takes place in the churches, but that is not always the work of Holy Spirit power. The miserable state of society today reflects this lack of Holy Spirit power among people who call themselves Christians.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon has said, “The best man that mere morality ever produced is still ‘without form and void’ if the Spirit of God has not come upon him.”

God’s plans for us and for the world always exceed our own. Becoming convinced of that changes how and why we pray, helping us to match the mind of God’s so He realizes His perfect plans in and through us.

God is glorified, not by doing everything Himself, but by doing it in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we approach Christmas and a New Year, let us come to know the Holy Spirit better. This is why Jesus came to us.

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A Fierce Love

The love of Jesus is beyond our comprehension. We get a glimpse of this in the foot washing episode of John 13.

In a few hours, Jesus will face a mock trial. He will be flayed without mercy by sadistic soldiers. He will face mobs of people who cry for His death though He has likely healed many of them. He will die by crucifixion, a death so obscene that no respectable person mentioned it. Our tame pictures of the crucifixion do not convey what Jesus endured. Varnished church crosses numb us to what He actually experienced. 

All of this loomed over Him and was on His mind. Yet just a few hours before His impending death, He thinks of His disciples and their comfort in one of the most humbling and trifling of details—their feet. He, their Master, even takes the role of a lowly servant and washes each disciple’s feet, including those of Judas Iscariot who will soon betray Him, and Peter who will deny Him with curses. Soon, the others will flee and abandon him, leaving Him completely alone to His executioners. 

He knows all of this will soon take place, yet He performs this humble task anyway. 

All the gospels portray Jesus’ disciples as dull learners who, over the past three years, forget what He says almost as soon as they hear it. Yet He says to these twelve pitiful men, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.” His love for them never wavers in spite of their habitual stupidity.

The love of Jesus is stronger than death. It is a fierce love that stops at nothing, is discouraged by nothing. His love accepts the full reality of sin but completely overrules and overcomes it by good. It crushes every lesser thing in its path. 

Charles Spurgeon once said: “Earthworms are miserable company for angels . . .yet love made our great Master endure the society of His ignorant and carnal followers.” His great love is conditioned by nothing.

In contrast, our own weak and sentimental love is conditioned by a thousand different things. We are always getting offended by something or someone. We allow trivial things to divide us. Political correctness is a symptom of how unloving we have become as a society and within the church itself.

We are told that only about 4% of today’s young people maintain contact with the church. The church remains unattractive to most because they see church people as unloving. They fear coming to church to hear more rebuke than encouragement. They are aware of their sins and feel guilt over them. They hunger for redemption and release, but they do not hear it.

Once more, the church needs to experience the fierce love of Jesus that stops at nothing and will not let us go. This is the greatest weapon by which we fight the works of the devil. This is how we defeat fear and hopelessness. This is how we stop medicating ourselves with materialism and worldliness. The fierce love of Christ restores relationship and ends mere religion and legalism.

When we recover the fierce love of Jesus, we will have the one thing for which the rest of the world hungers. May that day come sooner rather than later!

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