Old Bicycles in Prague -- Mike Short, Photographer

Old Bicycles in Prague -- Mike Short, Photographer

I have a new friend that has been a Christian for four months. So if you are going to laugh, don’t laugh at what he did until you hear the end of the story. (I told this story to some of my pastor friends and they laughed at first but they had to stop when they heard the whole story.) My friend lives in a neighborhood that is considered by most people in town to be a place where ex-felons, addicts and drug dealers live. Some of our praying grandmas in our church encouraged him to pray over his house and anoint things with tiny amounts of oil that is used for prayer. They encouraged him to pray over his house, wife and daughter seeking God’s protection and covering over his home.

While we are in the process of taking steps to expunge his record, three years ago he was arrested and convicted of drug possession. Because of his arrest and resulting sentence, most of the time his only means of transportation is his bicycle. People that get in trouble with the law can lose everything and like my friend, they can lose a lot of possessions and rarely have a car. Individuals that get caught and prosecuted for possession are a lot like you only they lose the opportunity for a good paying job, and control over where they travel and live. Years before, he had a job that took him all over the United States and the world. Since his arrest three years ago and after serving five days in jail, he has been virtually under house arrest (neighborhood arrest).

To say the least, his first day praying over his home and family was very interesting. He anointed and prayed over everything he could think of in his house. He then reasoned that if he anointed his shoes, he could walk around the neighborhood and pray for the people that lived there. Knowing the power that drug dealers have over the neighborhood, he began to pray for them. He didn’t pray against them, he prayed that their eyes would be opened to their need for Jesus Christ as their Savior. He prayed that they could experience the same kind of transformation that he has experienced since he received Christ.

As the day went on he again thought about praying for the neighborhood but now considered putting oil on the tires of his bike. He reasoned that if he put oil on the tires he could travel around the neighborhood and pray over the community. He concluded, by anointing his tires he could anoint more of the neighborhood and pray for more people. He anointed the tires of his bicycle and started praying for the people, families and drug dealers as he rode down the streets. There is a highway overpass that gives a vantage point to look down over the neighborhood. He stopped on the overpass and as he looked down upon the community he prayed for the people that live there. There are tougher and meaner neighborhoods in other parts of the country but many of the people that live here still live in the same kind of bondage and travail.

When he got back to his house his daughter called and needed another pair of shoes at school. She was already downtown so he decided to anoint his tires and head downtown. This time he prayed for the city and prayed that the people in our community would see their need for Jesus Christ. By the afternoon he finished his round trip at his home.

Late in the afternoon and at home his thoughts turned to questions. “What am I doing?” He thought to himself, “This is stupid.” (Admit it, you had the same kind of questions when you began to read this.) Who am I to presume to pray for people like me? This is silly, “Who ever heard of putting oil on your tires to anoint a community?”

He doesn’t remember what prompted him to go outside, but he stepped outside of his house and looked at the intersection that is 100 ft from the door of his home. A police cruiser pulled up behind a man that stopped at the intersection. Then another police cruiser cutoff the path of the man in the car from another direction. Then another police car and then another car and then another. A total of five police cars and one motorcycle patrolman pulled up and arrested one of the drug dealers that works the neighborhood. My friend was shaken. In the days that followed he learned that before taking on the devil he needed to be prayed up and supported by others in prayer, but I am glad he put oil on his tires. The sceptic denies any connection between prayer and results; and sometimes we chuckle at good news but at other times we laugh in unbelief. Remember what Sarah, Abraham’s wife, did…she laughed at the promise of God that she would bear a son, “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself….” (Genesis 18:12.) I say faith puts oil on the tires and unbelief scoffs in laughter. Just think of what you could do with a car…

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2011.)

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Auditorium. Abandoned City Methodist Church. Gary, Indiana

Abandoned City Methodist Church. Gary, Indiana

People chuckle now and again when they ask me where I’m from. I was born in a place that some have described as the Pompeii of the Midwest. I think of it as an American Nazareth and am reminded of Nathanael’s question concerning the village in which Jesus grew up, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Because of the toxic waste in parts of the city, some just assume that the American government considers it to be one big Superfund site. Interestingly, a number of famous people came from there. Just to name a few: Astronaut Frank Borman, Nobel Prize winner Paul A. Samuelson, actor Karl Malden, football coach Hank Stram, football players Alex Karras, and Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon. The place of my birth was Gary, Indiana, and it is obvious to all that it has seen better days. As happens so often with folks when I tell them, perhaps the refrain from the song “Gary Indiana” wafted through your mind as you read the words.

While I was at the Phoenix Airport a few years back, a woman from Chicago gave me a hard time about where I was born. During our conversation she indicated that she didn’t think of Chicago as being located anywhere near Gary. You have to remember that I moved from Indiana when I was a very small boy and my memory may be faulty about something so long ago, but we lived outside the city in the outlying area. I thought Gary was somewhere near Chicago…but apparently not. She got on her plane and went back to Chicago. I got on my plane and got to fly back to my home in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve learned something that is pretty basic: you can’t choose where you are born but you do choose where to live. While I was born in Indiana, I have lived almost 90% of my life in the American West: the San Francisco area, Denver, Colorado, Seattle, Washington, Portland, and Salem, Oregon. I haven’t been back to Gary for over 45 years. I have lived most of my life in Oregon and the majority of that time in a county that in pioneer days was known as “The Garden of Eden at the end of the Oregon trail.” 


They say that as a boy my grandfather was a shepherd in Romania, but at the age of 15 he left the place of his birth. He walked approximately 340 kilometers from his village near Brasov, Romania to the ancient Romanian seaport of Constanta (211 miles). There he boarded a ship and immigrated to the United States. My grandmother was also from the Transylvanian mountains in Romania, a place called Agnita. No doubt it was the hope of work that brought them to Gary, Indiana. Grandpa eventually found work at US Steel in one of the most dangerous jobs in the mill, working at the open hearth. It is ironic that his supervisors never knew my grandfather’s last name and always misspelled his name the entire time he worked at the mill.

My grandparents arrived in Gary when it was a boom town back when it was still called “magic City,” “the city of the century,” and an “industrial utopia.” How did Gary go from being a city with such hope and promise? Since much of it was built on an old sand dune, Gary was literally built on the sand. Spiritually it was built on an weak foundation since it was created for the purpose of making money for US Steel.** No doubt there are several factors that contribute to Gary’s struggles, but let me advance a theory: Racism. To some I am stating the obvious, but it is important to point out that racism and racial tensions made it a place where it is difficult to attract new industries. It was the inability of various ethnic groups to live together with mutual trust and respect that inflicted mortal wounds upon the community. It was easier to leave town than it was to fix things. I believe that Christians and churches must shoulder a great deal of responsibility for what happened. Churches failed to adapt their ministries to include outsiders from different ethnic groups. Recognize that in the early part of the 20th century Indiana was a hot bed for the Ku Klux Klan. Many white Christians simultaneously embraced their faith and racism together, and they resisted outsiders. Ironically, Christians will send missionaries to Africa, Mexico, South America, etc but have difficulty integrating people from these regions into their ministries here. [**The city was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant. The city was named after the lawyer and founding chairman of U.S. Steel, Elbert H. Gary. (Source: Wikipedia.)]

My dad used to tell a story about how back in the 30’s his mother and father took a Sunday drive out to Hobart, Indiana. Two Klansmen on horseback stopped them on the outskirts of town and told them to go back and said, “We don’t want your kind here!” It is ironic that over the decades that followed, Hobart incorporated the rural area my family lived in. Had we remained in Indiana, we’d be living in Hobart—in spite of the men on horseback. (Note: I am not trying to impugn a whole community for the actions of a couple of men riding on horseback while wearing bed sheets.)

Klan marching in Hobart, Indiana, in the early 1920s

Klan march in Hobart, Indiana, in the early 1920s

I never understood why my father couldn’t handle working at US Steel after World War II. It sounded like he had a good job to me. Before being drafted into the army at the age of 24, he was an overhead crane operator at US Steel. Then he served in the South Pacific and no doubt suffered from what we now know to be delayed stress syndrome. As a veteran, he went back to his old job. Now I understand that with his delayed stress and personal issues returning to the mill after the war would have been difficult for him. Since he was involved in defense work, I’ve always questioned how someone like my dad, married with one child, could have been drafted in the first place. Over the years I’ve met many men my dad’s age from Seattle and Portland that were never subject to the draft because of being involved in some kind of “defense work.” Gary, Indiana, had a major part in what was called the “Arsenal of Democracy,” but dad’s boss simply told him, “I went in World War I and you’re going now.”

Sometime ago I came across a presentation by a graduate student from the University of San Francisco, Megan Nordin. It has helped me understand the dynamics that race played in the steel mill. She posed this question about where people worked at the US Steel plant in Gary: “So… who works where?” She then gave this response: “Well… it’s complicated. Originally, Eastern European immigrants manned the eastern end of the plant, where most hazardous processes occurred. American born whites manned the cleaner western portion of the facilities and held management positions.” Now I understood something about grandpa and dad. Grandpa worked at the open hearth and dad ran a crane that traversed constantly over toxic materials. Why? They were Eastern Europeans.

Of course, during World War II the racial composition of Gary and the steel mill changed even more. Blacks came from all over the country to work in defense work and the complexion of the mill was changed in the eastern end of the plant. The community changed ethnically, many couldn’t handle the change and these tensions spilled over into the community.


Since my brother remembers the story it must have taken place in the fifties. One day a black woman showed up in a Sunday service in our all white Baptist church. She became too boisterous for the pastor. She kept praising God at his preaching and kept saying “Amen!” The minister considered her exhortations to be an interruption and couldn’t contain himself any longer and in the middle of his sermon called her down. He admonished her to hold her tongue for the rest of the service and suggested that in the future she attend a church with her people. Now I’ve been a pastor for many years, and I don’t care what color the person is, if they’re saying “amen,” it tends to get me a little more fired up. Instead of considering her an intruder, the pastor should have considered her the first fruit of a broader ministry in the community. The pastor cursed that church that Sunday and added to the curse on the city.

In the decades that followed the crime rate in Gary rose, and that Baptist church covered its windows with chain link. Symbolically, the church shut the community out even more. Church members were robbed in the parking lot, and I remember hearing a report that a girl was raped in the church basement. What I am suggesting is that had that church considered the woman an opportunity instead of a threat, its members could have been a part of reaching the black community for Christ.

My point is even broader than this. In the New Testament, the ideal church wasn’t the church in Jerusalem—a church made up of only one ethnic group. The model church was the church at Antioch—a multiracial church. Listen to the Bible’s witness: “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” (Acts 13:1.) This church had Jews, gentiles and black people—people from all over the Mediterranean area. Earlier in the book of Acts, this church was described as a thriving church: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21.)

I believe that Gary became a dangerous place because the churches and Christians there failed to seek to help its newest citizens and they created a barrier. They failed to take steps in order to build bridges and that barrier led to more and more hostility and danger. They sowed to the wind and reaped the whirlwind. I’ve been told that this church sold its property to another group and moved to Hobart. Why in the world would you send missionaries to reach blacks in Africa but not seek to reach and train blacks in your own community?

There is another famous person from the Gary area the musician Michael Jackson. His lyrics from his song “Black or White” are: “Where Your Blood/Comes From/Is Where Your Space Is/ I’ve Seen The Bright/Get Duller/I’m Not Going To Spend/ My Life Being A Color. In a gentle way Jackson was declaring that he wasn’t going to allow someone else to define who he was by his color. Perhaps Jackson saying that his own perspective on the people’s color may have dulled (changed)—”I’ve seen the bright get duller.”


There is a church just south of Seattle and its leadership created a similar dilemma for its congregation. The church board didn’t know what to do when a black family attended so they decided to encourage the family to attend elsewhere. The Seattle area is even more diverse than Gary, and has had strong Black, Spanish speaking, and Asian communities for decades. The all white congregation dwindled down to nothing and the church was turned over to a young Korean pastor. The reports are that the church is growing and even ministers to whites. A major key to its current success is it seeks to do things to help people in the community.

Several years ago I ministered in a church in South Seattle, and I wish I had the same understanding of ministry then that I do now. When I was there I worked in a bedroom community that was created for the area war industry and was already in a state of decline. Ultimately I moved on to another church in Oregon. After several years had passed we returned to discover how things had gone from bad to worse. Now you need to be careful as you move around in that section of town because of the gang activity. We also discovered that the grocery stores that we used to shop in have been converted into sleazy looking casinos. (Do you remember in the movie Back to the Future II! The main character Marty McFly returns to his home town. When he returns he finds it filled with all kinds of unsavory characters and that the city is dominated by a large casino. Now you’ve got the picture.) Was there an alternate future that might have been? Technically we will never know. After I moved from Seattle, the church I pastored dwindled in numbers. When I was in Seattle, much of what I did was limited to ministering to the people that walked through the door and working in denominational activities. We did nothing to bring relief to the neighborhood and community. Much of the community ranged from lower income to poor (poor according to American standards).

Let me suggest a different approach to ministry that builds bridges, helps those who have lost their way, and can be invaluable in bringing a community back to life. If you are preoccupied with the concept of targeting (focusing on reaching people who are young urban professionals who already have their lives pretty much together) you may have difficulty relating to what will follow.

Silver Falls, Marion County, Oregon

Silver Creek, Oregon: "South Falls Fog." Marion County "the Garden at the End of the Oregon Trail"

I now work in what some consider a rough neighborhood in my hometown but because of my roots it is hard for me to think of it as being that tough. Regardless, some call it “felony flats,”and its much like the neighborhoods in almost every American city that has had a history of drug activity. I am certain that God brought us here to minister and help people no matter their ethnic background. We aspire to fulfill the principle that the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

You might ask what does this all have to do with the purpose of this web site which seeks to help people that are struggling with addictions? My purpose has been to point out that we need to teach people to ignore issues like where you are from—or your ethnicity. We need to get people to focus on where they’re going—focusing on their heavenly future. They need to be trained to live in light of their future—not their past. I also wanted to raise the issue that when the Church focuses on the wrong things, it diminishes its credibility and effectiveness. A sick church will have a hard time helping sick people. When a church focuses on denominational activities and chooses to feature activities designed to only perpetuate the organization, it has difficulty relating to people struggling with addictions.

Unwittingly, many American churches seek to entertain their congregants with sports competition, the handbell choir, the musical extravaganza, drama, the coffee bar, and preaching that coddles the status quo. “Kingdom ministries” or “helping ministries” are designed to help the outsider, the poor, the infirmed, the elderly, and those in prison. Churches that help people through helping ministries break down barriers and transform and revitalize. Churches that just entertain people waste precious time especially in a community that is falling apart. They distract the people of God and keep them from conducting meaningful ministry.

Our church has no building—on Sundays we meet in a school gym. In spite of lacking what most church people believe to be absolutely essential—a church facility with all of the trimmings-over the last four years our little church has helped 3,600 families through its mobile food bank (14,000 people). We have provided thousands of sets of school supplies and winter coats for free. We work hard to make certain that the people that really need the help get the help (this is extremely important). Some may think that this strategy is simplistic but remember what Proverbs 14:34 states, “Righteousness exalts a nation.” In other words, “Doing the righteous deeds to help others lifts up a nation…a city…a neighborhood…a life.” There is a renaissance in our neighborhood. Families are moving in and homes and homeowners are replacing rentals with landlords, but its not about real estate—its about lives.


I believe that it is essential to involve individuals that struggle with addictions in helping others in order to bring the addict to a place of spiritual health. We help the addict find his or her way back to health by giving the opportunity to help others. It’s hard to get excited about perpetuating church as a religious institution, but the normal Christian becomes excited when they help the helpless. When a drug user is craving his next fix it’s called “Jonesing.” They wait for their drug dealer to show up with their drugs and they’ll be Jonesing—looking out the window. There is a couple in my current church that received Christ a little over two months ago. Three years ago they were arrested for their amphetamine use, but they are developing a new craving. I first met them about the time of our Fall School Supply Fair, when they started attending church we got them involved in helping with our food bank. The Lord has brought healing and strength into their lives, and they are already participating in prayer meetings and Bible studies. They told us at our prayer meeting the other night they’re “Jonesing” for God. They wait eagerly for our people to return to the neighborhood. When a time scheduled for an activity approaches, they stand at the window of their home and watch. They said they now wait for our truck or for people to show up for the meetings we hold in the neighborhood.

We don’t choose where we’re born but we choose where we live. I didn’t choose to be born in a certain location—no one does. I wonder if I had I grown up in the area could I have made a difference or would my thoughts and beliefs been poisoned by my toxic surroundings? I really didn’t choose to move away-it just happened. I don’t remember the bad things, I was too young and we moved before things got out of hand. It’s not about where you’re from. It’s not about you’re color. It’s about making a difference for Christ. That’s what really matters—making your life count for something of eternal significance.

The idea of choosing where we live can be a metaphor about whether we live in the shadow of the past or in the light of the future. The idea of choosing where you live can also represent choosing “how” you live. Where you started isn’t as important as how well you finish. It’s really about eternity. Where you were from won’t amount to a hill of beans in eternity. The choices you made will make all of the difference.

Make certain that you have made the most important decision of your life. Make certain that you have been born again. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3.) You start on a sin cursed planet but you must make a choice about how it is to end. You may have lived in New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Calcutta, or even Gary, Indiana. But where will you spend eternity? A couple a verses later Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5.) Heaven is the place to be but will you be there?

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2011.)

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General Robert E. Lee

Following the American Civil War, a congregation in Richmond, Virginia prepared to participate in a communion service. In keeping with its practice, the congregants were about to stand and walk forward to the altar to partake of the elements. Before they could stand, a black gentleman walked down the center aisle and knelt at the rail in order to receive communion. Not knowing what to do, the stunned congregation began to stir and whisper among themselves. Since this was a breach of the church’s practice of serving whites first, no one moved. The minister was frozen in his place and was filled with bewilderment. Then a graceful and dignified figure strode down the aisle and knelt by the black man and by his actions declared the tradition of the past to be null and void. The man that stepped forward was none other than the former leader of the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee.

It was a symbolic gesture, but the message was clear. Lee had accepted the outcome of the war and now more importantly, received a black man, a brother in Christ, as an equal. It is tragic that the nation had to suffer the agony of the war but a mind set and actions had to change. Since Lee’s conduct on that Sunday went against the ideology that he’d fought to preserve, Lee’s action was an act of self-denial. There could be no more significant convert to the new order than General Lee.

Even a superficial look at General Lee’s life will demonstrate that Christ’s teaching in Luke 16:24, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,” was a principle by which Lee lived.

Another anecdote from Lee’s life reveals this principle to be his core value. A young mother brought her baby to Lee in order to be blessed. As he was doting over the infant, the topic of the child’s instruction came up. The mother asked Lee, “What shall I teach him?” To which Lee responded, “Teach him to deny himself.” Lee’s preoccupation with this principle seems out of place to our generation. Our time is characterized by self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement, not self-denial. But self-denial brings us to the end of ourselves so we will turn to Christ for salvation. Self-denial is the realization that the solution to our problems is not to be found in ourselves and leads us to find the solution to our problems in Christ. Self-denial involves setting aside one’s own priorities and seeking to fulfill the Lord’s desires instead since they are best. In addition, self-denial is central to our being able to overcome the snare of sin and sinful habits. It doesn’t just bring us to Christ and the new birth, it is a part of a lifestyle that is to be observed by Christ’s followers.


Sin is not only a damning limitation; it is also a disease that handicaps us all. Coming to Christ as Savior not only sets us free from the penalty of sin, it also opens us to a process that can rehabilitate us and equip us to resist sin. To be rehabilitated from the practice of sin, we need the Holy Spirit’s help to acquire the necessary skill. If we are to keep from being entrapped by sin, we must learn to practice self-denial.

There are some things that the Spirit can’t do for us, but we are commanded to do ourselves in the Spirit’s power. The basic training and preparation of a soldier is something with which we are all familiar. A soldier’s training involves self-denial and conditioning. The soldier must lay aside a mind set that keeps him thinking as an individual. He is conditioned to have a mind set that pushes him to think as a part of a team. Rather than doing what comes as a result of our fallen nature we need to be conditioned like soldiers by doing what is right. The purpose of the military drill is to memorize certain actions until they become instinctive through repetition. We are to obey the commands of Scripture in the Spirit’s power while allowing them to become instinctive.

There are several commands in Scripture that must be practiced as if carried out as a part of a soldier’s drill. No one can do these commands for you—you must obey them yourself. I remind the reader of the command from Ephesians 6:14 which is of this nature. Consider its words: “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . . .” This is Paul’s point with the breastplate of righteousness. This cannot be referring to putting on Christ’s righteousness— we do that when we receive Christ as Savior. This is talking about righteous behavior— righteous deeds. Our righteous deeds are to become a part of our character that are integrated into the fabric of our lives.

Notice that this command can only be obeyed by one person—you. The pastor or youth pastor can’t do it for you. Your mother or father cannot obey this command for your sake. Your spouse can’t take your place and be your proxy. The only person that can fulfill this command and secure its benefit is you.

There are a number of similar commands in Scripture that are related to Ephesians 6:14. They chart out a course to be followed in our drilling and training. Here is a list of commands that demand the individual believer take action and if obeyed will involve self-denial. They are our call to arms:

· “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness . . . .” — 1 Timothy 6:11
· “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” — Romans 13:14
· “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” — Ephesians 6:11
· “. . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . . .” — Romans 12:2
· “. . . redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” — Ephesians 5:14-16
· “. . . exercise yourself toward godliness.” — 1 Timothy 4:7
· “. . . arm yourselves also with the same mind . . . .” — 1 Peter 4:1
· “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge . . . For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ .” — 2 Peter 1:5 and 8
· “. . . keep yourselves in the love of God . . . .” — Jude 1:21

Each of these commands is directed at the individual believer. These verses illustrate the fact that obedience is essential in releasing its power in our lives. You become a Christian the moment you trust Christ as, but your behavior is likely to be still rather heathen. Your mind and heart must be retrained by intentionally imitating Christ in faith with Christlike behavior. Musicians practice their music over and over until it is played flawlessly. A member of my family is a gifted cellist and she practices on a given piece of music for hours until her hands move instinctively. There are things she would rather do but she sets those things aside in order to master her instrument. Athletes practice plays until members of the squad act in unison and reactions become intuitive. All athletic endeavors involve self-denial: training in the early morning, running, lifting, following a restricted diet, etc. All of these activities involve setting aside the things a human body would rather do and following a regimen the body would rather not follow. Believers are commanded to practice these imperatives in such a way that fulfilling them becomes automatic.

We remember 80 percent of what we do or experience, versus only 10 to 20 percent of what we hear. Educators speak of service learning as a powerful technique for instruction. Service learning is the knowledge that is gained through doing. The concept of service learning is in contrast to reading about or hearing someone talk about a particular concept. Service learning is a parallel to the concept that we are advocating, but there is a major difference. I am not just talking about doing good deeds in the flesh, these commands must be fulfilled in the power of the Spirit. These positive behaviors will change us when we lay aside negative fleshly behaviors as a result of self-denial.
(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2010.)

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Pharisees, Karl Schmidt Rottluff

There are things we’d rather not know. For example it has been said: real mothers don’t want to know what the vacuum just sucked up. If we were honest we’d admit that sometimes we don’t want to know God’s will. One of the reasons we avoid Bible reading is because we know that reading the Bible makes us responsible to do His will. We want to be able to claim to be agnostic about God’s will–we want to be able to say we just didn’t know. Christians talk about God’s will and the faithful pray about it and carry on like it is an incomprehensible mystery. At times when we do know God’s will, we view it like a religious relic to be stored on a dusty shelf. Charles Dudley Warner said this about the weather: “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Similarly it could be said about God’s will: Everybody talks about God’s will but few do anything about it. A preacher of a former generation observed: “Most people don’t want to know the will of God in order to do it; they want to know it in order to consider it.” (William L. Pettingill.)

This articles’ title: “How to Be Safe and Whole Without Obeying Jesus,” is based upon a big lie but it is a popularly held lie. It is the idea embraced by many American Christians. They believe that they can be spiritually whole and safe from spiritual threats while ignoring Jesus’ will and priorities. This view is unwittingly promoted by preachers, counselors and laymen alike. At times our preaching and counseling leads our listeners to the conclusion that obeying Jesus is optional. We must make the false assumption that a person can be made whole by schmoozing them with gentle words. We are self-deceived and believe falsely that through reason alone we can lift believers out of their spiritual malaise.

We are saved from our sins by faith in Christ alone (Sola Fide) but obeying Jesus is key in developing spiritual strength. However, by our failure to entreat people to obey the Lord we force them to conclude that a person can set aside Christ’s commands and still be set free from his or her addictions. The result is many American Christians leave the impression that they believe that they can be set free from their problems without obeying Jesus. The consequence is that many assume that significant healing and transformation in our lives can take place without lifting a finger to obey. The assumption is that: spiritual health and stability can be achieved apart from obedience. Let me state my thesis: obedience is an essential part in recovery and overcoming sinful addictions. There is a therapeutic effect that comes from obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we can only be safe and whole when we have learned to obey.

You may be wondering what I’m talking about when speaking of God’s will. When speaking of obedience I am not talking about complex theological concepts. I am talking about basic 101 Christianity. I am talking about the simple concepts, “love one another,” “love your neighbor,” and going with the gospel message—fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. To be specific helping those who are helpless. We cannot be healthy spiritually if we ignore the clear commands of Scripture. Our spiritual health and development are impacted by our obedience. Matthew 25:37-41 is descriptive of the nature of a true and genuine faith. The passage declares: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” You may object to my use of this passage and my short answer is one generation cannot be judged based upon obedience and another judged based upon its theological beliefs alone. It is obvious that the Lord expects His followers to help people who are hurting and vulnerable.

Notice ignorance of God’s law here is no excuse. Those who didn’t know what Jesus was talking about still faced judgment. The only simple way of understanding these verses is to recognize that they are descriptive of a true faith in Christ. A true faith in Christ imitates Jesus. Jesus helped the helpless and Christ’s true followers will help the helpless in our day. True faith will demonstrate itself in true obedience, and those who failed to obey showed their true colors through their disobedience.

As I stated above, there is a therapeutic effect that comes from obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. A person may experience deliverance from sin, but he must fill the vacuum that is left with the right things. The enemy’s immediate threat may be removed, but there is a void that must be filled. Unfortunately we have a skewed view of obedience and equate service with activities designed to perpetuate the church organization. I am claiming that imitating Christ by declaring the good news and helping the helpless produces spiritual health and strength. When we help others and tell them of God’s love, it transforms our thinking from a harmful worldly value system to a heavenly value system.

There is an old proverb, “To know right, and to do right, are different things” (C. H. Spurgeon). Many churchmen must believe that attending a church service once a week and listening to a good sermon is all that is necessary to develop spiritual vitality and strength. Some sit in church service after church service and listen to sermons on an endless number of topics. The sermons produce temporary comfort but do not produce action and change that leads to spiritual strength.

Charles Swindoll wrote about the negative aftermath of this situation: “There are many people cruising from church to church, from Bible conference to Bible conference, filling note book after notebook, wearing out Bible after Bible, who are still some of the crankiest, fussiest, most irresponsible people you meet. Why? Because they do not practice the things they hear.” (Charles Swindoll, Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, p. 21.)

R. A. Torrey wrote about the importance of service in spiritual development: “One of the important conditions of growth and strength in the Christian life is work. No man can keep up his physical strength without exercise and no man can keep up his spiritual strength without spiritual exercise . . . [that is] without working for his Master.” (Ruben Archer Torrey, How to be a Successful Christian, page 82.) I must admit Torrey was speaking of service in the broadest sense, but I am asserting it is helping the helpless that has the greatest impact in transforming our thinking.

Some worship can also disguise a similar type of disobedience. Some participate in worship that produces powerful emotions and feelings. I fear that to some the worship experience has become an end unto itself where the worshiper receives a kind of spiritual high. Many contemporary American Christians must believe the lie that listening to sermons and singing praises is a substitute for obeying Christ. We have failed to learn the significance of Jesus’ words in relationship to our own lives: “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.’” (Matthew 15:8.) We must ultimately admit to ourselves that fervent worship does not guarantee that we are pleasing God or doing little more than entertaining ourselves. We cannot be content with getting a kind of spiritual buzz on Sunday that does not produce results in how we live.

We make the false assumption that a person can talk his way to spiritual health through counseling. It is commonly believed that a person can be transformed by listening to a counselor sort and talk through his or her problems. It is assumed that a person can attend a recovery group, confess his problems and if this is done often enough over time he or she will become healthy. We ignore the need to substitute new behavior for old behavior and that a major step in our healing is to be found in obedience. Unfortunately, many embrace the false assumption that they can experience God’s healing in their lives without being diligent about following Christ.

It has been claimed that we remember 80 percent of what we do or experience, versus only 10 to 20 percent of what we hear. This fact brings into focus the truth that an active and obedient faith becomes more deeply rooted in our hearts and minds. Much contemporary American preaching and teaching often fails to look for any action in response to its message. For this reason we can conclude that it is only meant to entertain and amuse (take a person’s mind off of his or her problems for the length of the sermon—30 minutes or so). As is stated above, many Christians naively believe that their church attendance is all they need in order to be successful in their Christian walk. Counseling and accountability groups can leave the impression that our faith is going to work for us if we just talk about it once a week. But nothing could be further from the truth.

What promise or blessing from God was ever gained by just talking things out? God’s blessings and promises have been tied with obedience. Salvation is obtained through obedience to God’s command, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23) While we are not saved by loving others, authentic faith will seek to bring relief to those who are suffering. The promise of the Holy Spirit’s power is also tied with obedience: “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32) And yet we believe that we can talk another person into spiritual health. All he or she has to do is sit back and listen.

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