Will the World Force the Church to be the Church?

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

It may have been when New York passed the late-term abortion legislation in January. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the world from those who call themselves Christians. If we love the truth and consider God’s Word as the truth, then it would seem our view and response to issues as Christians, as the Church should be led with great clarity. And yet, headstrong opinions leading to erroneous thinking become the foundation for some Christians who forget what is the truth (you look in the mirror and then forget what you look like). They begin to mirror the world and soon don’t see what’s so wrong with the world’s thinking and approach to issues.

But it may have been when New York passed the late-term abortion bill in January that it felt like more of the collective Church gasped — abhorred not only by the bill’s passage but by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s celebrating and heralding the bill as “a victory for all New Yorkers.” He also encouraged the rest of the nation to follow suit.

At times I have wondered what issue or crisis would be enough to awaken and tip off the collective Church to realize that it can no longer walk hand in hand with the world; that it can no longer remain dumb, numb, indifferent or silent on evil. That the world would become so sick that to stand with it would go against our every sensibility. We were never meant to walk in step with the world. We were never meant to fit in. We were never meant to make people comfortable in their sins. As the Church, as God’s Elect, we were already told of our identity in Christ: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, New International Version) We need not look to the world for validation. The world will never validate us. 

We are supposed to be calling others out of darkness–not joining them in it. We are to be the light, drawing them to the light.

light bulb people gathered around

I am encouraged by many of you who have been living as “living stones” as built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). I know many of you are living your faith authentically and without compromise and discipling others in this way as well. This latest grievance may be the very culmination of evil that forces the rest of the Church to be the Church.

As English abolitionist and politician William Wilberforce (1759-1833) wrote in his book, Real Christianity, “The true Christian knows that if he or she is to hold the favor of God above the favor of men, he or she will have to become indifferent to the dishonor and lack of esteem that might be encountered in practicing authentic faith.” You will be despised just as Jesus was despised and rejected.

If we should be indifferent about anything it is no longer caring to have more friends. May those who once tried to be friends with the world realize that the best friend the world could have is the truth: Jesus. This will certainly make you an enemy of the world and you may receive fewer dinner party invitations but give them Jesus anyway. The world may resist the truth, but love them anyway. Giving them Jesus and loving them will keep you in right relationship with your King (Jesus) and offer the world a real friend against its very real foe (Satan).

Stand in holy courage,

Nicole

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We Have the Keys

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

A couple weeks ago, I incorporated the hashtags #NoTurning Back #Persevere in our social media posts. My use of the hashtags was inspired by two things: first, by the well-known hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”  The song had been in my spirit for days for reasons not necessarily for me but more so to encourage those brothers and sisters in the body of Christ feeling the pull of the world; to encourage them to stay their Kingdom course—to persevere and run their race.

Second, my use of the #NoTurningBack hashtag was inspired by one of the young ladies I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring for nearly four years. My mentee, Bria Russ, recently experienced her “no turning back” moment that has set her on an intentional, “all in” pursuit of the Lord. She has lived many years for the Lord. Yet, over the past few months she acknowledges catering to her flesh and making choices that were leading her down a slippery slope that would ultimately take her way off course. She knew this–and so did her enemy (your and my enemy too) Satan, who encouraged her destructive choices. Anything to take another one of God’s servants off the field.

Recognizing this, she immediately turned away from her sin and discontinued the activities she was engaging.  She has fully returned to the Lord to sincerely walk in His ways. This is what repentance actually means–to turn away from sin; to change one’s mind and return to God’s direction. She has truly decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. She has “thrown off the sin that so easily entangles” so she can run her race in excellence as described in Hebrews 12:1.  Psalm 85:8 says, I will listen to what God the LORD says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants–but let them not return to folly (sin, foolishness). (NIV) Bria can attest that she has experienced greater peace in her immediate turning away from sin, distancing herself from it like it was plutonium.

Soon to be 26 years old, I am pleased by this young lady’s wisdom. I am excited about her bright future which has been made possible in part by her desire to be obedient. In obedience lies our success.

With that said, I am delighted to share her blog post below with a message titled “We Have the Keys.” Many people look for freedom, identity, joy, love, peace and security outside of God when He has promised all of these things and more to us through relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. But even God has relationship standards. Many want to either do life without God and still have all of these things or they will do life with God (maybe just a toe in) and still live however they please. The keys to our freedom, our identity, joy, love, peace, security and more rest alone in Jesus Christ. When we choose to do life without Him, we find ourselves “locked out” of His blessings.

God bless, and thank you Bria.

-Nicole

We Have the Keys 

Bria Russ cropped 032919A month ago, I found myself locked out – locked out of my own head. My head should have been a space of peace but was instead chaotic due to my own choices. As much as others wanted to help me get back in, the locks were changed because I didn’t pay my rent (in order to have a space to live you have to pay rent). I tried to climb through a window, and God reminded me the terms of our agreement.

I grew up in the church and I knew of God’s mercy. I knew that I had only made it thus far by His favor and grace. I’ve had many influential people guide me back to the church. However, I wasn’t ready to let go of things that made me “happy” and because of that I was drowning in sinner’s remorse.

 

Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I grew tired of feeling tired, sad, anxious, and depressed. I grew tired of ignoring God, my Savior, the one who’s always had my front and my back. And in one moment I decided to come to God.

God is like our landlord. He’s created an environment with plenty of amenities. He has created terms for your lease and handed you the keys. All He expects us to do in return is follow His ways and pay the rent (love Him, serve Him, give of your time). Before he evicts you from His blessings, from His protection, He gives you warnings, “Go to church… study your bible… stop cursing… stop fornicating… etc.” He knows you know the terms of your agreement. In fact He has given you the things you asked for, the desires of your heart. All you have to do is follow His rules. He already promised He won’t give us more than we can bear, so why are we always breaking the rules and cheating Him? Is it really that hard or are we taking advantage of His kindness and being negligent with our walk?

Acts chapters 1-2 speaks of the creation of the church. Jesus rose from the dead, traveled the earth for 40 days giving his Apostles the instructions to teach, and then He ascended into the sky. After His ascension, the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and when they spoke, all of those who listened understood their message. God’s instructions were meant to help us survive and those who would follow Him he provided them a safe space (the church) to thrive and lift His name.
Many times, we hear leaders in the church say things like, “We have to meet the people where they are.” True, and yet, God has given us dominion over our life and understanding; therefore, it is for us to come to him.
set of golden key rings
Earlier, I stated I was out of my mind because figuratively speaking, I didn’t pay my rent. I knew of God’s blessings, I know his terms and the things he expects of me. All he asked of me was to follow him and he would keep me. He gave me chance after chance and still I was disobedient. He has already made the biggest sacrifice for us, with the crucifixion of Jesus, so we could be saved. Our safe place is the church (fellowship). We cannot leave and reenter on our terms. We are to live as he wants us to live or we will be locked out of His blessings. The message does not and will not change. He’s looking for us to ask “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) and then do it. We have the keys to our salvation: stay in God’s house! Stay near to Him. Study your word, read your bible and practice daily.


Love,

Bria

“Get in the Bush”

Saints, I do not want to watch Isaac die. I share with you the following powerful message that struck my heart written by dear sister in Christ, Bambi Jenkins. “Get in the bush” was a fresh word she gave me during one of our recent conversations on a specific situation I was feeling led but reluctant to address. I encouraged her to share this message with a wider audience as I believe many of us in the body of Christ feel discomfort and may resist sharing the truth with those who may reject it because we desire to keep their company. But regardless of our discomfort, we cannot sit and watch Isaac die. We must get in the bush. Go ‘head, my sister. Deliver this message as only you can. Read on!  Blessings.  -Nicole 

 

bambi jenkinsGenesis 22:13 (NIV) Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

How many of you know that Jesus didn’t save us just for ourselves? In other words, He wants to use you.

If we don’t get in the bush, we will stand by and WATCH Isaac die.

There was a story that God had given me to explain this to one of my children. It was about a new warden of a prison. He was strange to most because of how he operated. This warden wasn’t so concerned about the prisoners being locked up. His concern was more about how he could get them to be free.

The new warden made an announcement, that for one day between the hours of 12 noon and 4 p.m., he would open every cell door as he walked through the entire prison. He told them, that any prisoner who comes and gets behind him and follows him out of the prison will be set free and their records expunged. Many speculated if this could actually be real or just a test.

The day had arrived for this to happen and at noon all the doors opened and the warden began his walk. Many of the prisoners ran out and started fighting each other. Some started grabbing as much stuff as they could steal and ran back to their cell to hide it. A lot of the gangs took this opportunity to try to kill rival gangs. Out of 500 prisoners only 13 walked behind the warden.

Most of the prisoners never even left their cells. They were making fun of the ones walking with the warden telling them that this is just a set up, a joke, and that they were being tricked. One of the guys following the warden begged his friend to come out of his cell and come with them, but he shook his head and told him “he was a fool to believe this stuff.” Others spit at and threw things at the warden and the prisoners following him, calling them “sell outs.”

…3:58 p.m. had come and before you knew it, the warden and the followers neared the exit. At 3:59 p.m., all the guards were ordered to put any prisoners who hadn’t followed the warden back into their cells. When 4:00 p.m. came, as the followers began to exit the prison, a few prisoners yelled from their cells, “Wait! I didn’t think this was real. Please let me go too.” They desperately screamed, “Just walk through again and this time I promise I’ll follow you out.”

But the doors slammed shut.

The warden then looked at the prisoners who followed him out and told them, “Just as promised, you are all free and your records have been expunged. I just have one request from you.”

They all replied, “Anything man you name it. You just got us out of there, you just set us free.”

He said, “I know this is going to sound crazy…”

“Excuse me,” one of the freed prisoners interrupted the warden, so happy that he was free, and eagerly said, “Crazy, no sir. Ask anything, I’ll do it.” The warden continued: “I want you to go back in there and tell them the same thing I told you. That by my authority, the gates will be open for two hours this time and if they follow you to the exit door where I’ll be waiting, that they will also be free.”

Gratitude suddenly changed to fear. The gentleman who was previously so eager asked the warden was he crazy. They all started to gripe and complain. One said,  “I’m free now. I don’t want to go back in there.” Another said, “They had their chance, but they didn’t care so why should I.”  A few asked the warden, “Didn’t you see them killing each other in there? Don’t you care about what happens to us? Didn’t you hear them making fun of you? What makes you think that they will listen to us if they didn’t even believe you? They are going to reject us!”

The warden answered, “We have cameras and security. I will watching you the entire time. I know that they ignored and made fun of me but I still want them to be free. Yes, you will all be taking a huge risk by putting your life on the line. But think about it–it was the same thing I just did for you.”

Out of the 13 men only two stepped forward. One of the two men said, “How can I not go back? How can I not show others the way out? How can I not risk it all for those still imprisoned and for a warden who risked it all for me. How can I not!!”

Ezekiel 3:18  (NIV)  When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[a] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.

So many of us have been saved and set free, but we sit on the sidelines of fear, hide behind fear of rejection, fill our lives with programs, all in hopes that we look holy enough to cover up our disobedience.

Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He had his reasons and concerns.

Matthew 4:19 tells us: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

 

ram-in-a-bush

WE are the sacrifice. WE are the ram in the bush, but most bushes are empty. The harvest is ripe but the labors are few. We don’t like the idea of being uncomfortable. The idea of being rejected has made us chameleons. Blending in with the crowd, changing with every conversation as the need to fit in grows far faster than the desire to stand out for God’s glory.

Some have even taken what God has said out of context.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us to come together to encourage each other while we continue to fish. But we get comfortable right there. We would rather fish each other because there is no risk in dealing with people who already agree with you.

Also, Jesus responded to those who questioned why he was spending time with those who were considered outsiders.

Mark 2:16-17 (NASB)  When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”  And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

You who are already “well,” stop fishing each other and get in the bush. I know it hurts, you keep getting pricked, and it’s so painfully uncomfortable at times. But ask yourself: Why are you living and for whom do you live?

We are quick to say, “Send me Lord I’ll go.” But when the assignment arrives we hesitate. We choose ourselves over God in our denial to be obedient to Him. We rationalize this decision to disobey by displaying our overflowing works (that we hand-picked, by the way), by believing that the assignment is just too difficult. We don’t want to fan the flames of disappointment in relationships. In other words, we don’t want to be disliked by anyone, even at the very price of their soul.

So we sit and watch numerous “Isaacs” die as we maintain our great image in the eyes of man. We watch our friends, loved ones, coworkers, and others that God brings across our path, perish and drift away into a darkness from which there is no return, because we refuse to get in the bush.

God has called you to a place of discomfort that will cause many to be saved and set free, but you must be willing to choose God over yourself. You must volunteer to serve God in the presence of pain and disappointment, while trusting that He will work everything together for your good and His glory.

Take your position child of God. Your assignment awaits you.

Isaac lived, because there was A RAM IN THE BUSH!

In Christ,

Bambi

 

 

 

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: Our Representation Matters

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Dear saints, it’s been a while since I’ve written you. And I’ve missed you. It hasn’t been for lack of things to say, that’s for sure. From 2018 and into the New Year, there have been plenty of issues to pray about and elevate for our discussion. It is simply that lately my schedule has been packed—and so has my head and heart—packed with prayers. Prayers for our nation and world. Thoughts about our present-day issues and what should be the biblical response. All of these items and more have been in my head amid my daily joy of leading this ministry, a healthcare ministry, mentoring young ladies and also keeping to my project management consulting work— similar to how Paul kept his trade as a tent maker while sharing the Gospel.

Among the deluge of disturbing issues, many of us were angered and grieved by the late-term abortion legislation passed in New York last month. Christian physician and public policy leaders with the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) of which I serve as their area director for Washington, D.C., and is the nation’s largest faith-based association of doctors, responded to this abhorrent legislation calling it “medically unnecessary” and “morally bankrupt.” Read the full response and press release here.

True to 2 Timothy 3:1-5, wickedness is increasing. Wickedness is boasting of itself and carrying on in plain sight. It is no longer hiding. In their confusion and rebellion, those who encourage it call evil “good” and good, “evil.” Sin is no longer hideous to them if it ever was. There is no fear or reverence for God. As British politician, philanthropist and slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833) said in his book, Real Christianity, “They have no love for holiness and no desire to acquire it.”

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, New International Version)

Christian Representation Matters

Writing this blog post would be unnecessary if Christians were truly welcomed within the diverse cacophony of voices. But by our very nature as God’s elect, we’ve already been called “a peculiar people,” “a holy nation,” “a royal priesthood,” set apart for God’s purposes (1 Peter 2:9). So we should not expect to be embraced by the world but delighted when hearts are open to receive His truth and light; delighted when eyes are no longer veiled to truth; delighted when people finally come to the end of themselves and want what only God can give them.

As things continue to implode, do not be alarmed by all of the disintegration happening. It must happen and continues to signal Christ’s return. The increasing wickedness does not disrupt our call. God has placed us here as His servants and witnesses for such a time as this. The Christian voice matters. Our representation matters. The best thing we can do is to come into agreement with what God wants to accomplish for His purposes and glory in a perishing world; that more may repent and be drawn to Him in these last days.

Our voices should not be contained to church pews, the pulpit or only among those with whom we share sweet fellowship. As a dear sister in Christ said recently, “Christianity is a lifestyle,” and as such, our faith is our life. It is not compartmentalized. We live Christ’s life in us out in the open. It is an inside-outside work.

walking-to-light-in-dessert-small

Do not underestimate the power of the light of God abiding in you. While moral and societal decay and wickedness seem to be having their way, this is not so. As Christ’s vessels, the light and new life residing in us is stronger than the darkness trying to press in. Such to the degree, that the words from John 1:5 speak to the unconquerable power of such light: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (New International Version)

We have everything to gain by being His representatives. And we don’t need anyone’s permission to act as such. We have already been called to fight against the powers of darkness.

When Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” it’s a sobering reminder that our culture will fill it with something. It might as well be filled with our voices as Jesus’ representatives in the earth.

When we walk in the light and lead others in His light, our and their future is indeed bright. If we do our job well and without compromise, many will benefit and this will be reflected in our culture. We seek to disciple and equip others to respond to issues from a Christian standpoint. As my fellow brother in Christ and Christian Medical & Dental Associations Washington colleague Jonathan Imbody writes in his book, Faith Steps (Legion Publishing, 2016), “Faith steps simply means making choices in God’s direction.”

We desire to impact our culture in response to God’s direction so that others may experience what Jesus has promised, “life and life to the full.” (John 10:10)

Our representation matters. We are rich in opportunities to share Jesus, His light, love, and truth with the world. We can represent Him right where God has planted us or wherever He sends us. The world is in need and nature abhors a vacuum.

As the Lord asks in Isaiah 6:8, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?,” I hope your response will be, “Here am I. Send me!”

Embolden us Lord, that we may glorify you.

God bless you and Go in courage,

Nicole

“These Are the Results”

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

On October 27, 2018, I was invited to share a message for the third year in a row to students at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. The message I delivered was entitled “Identity Theft” on how Satan steals the identity already given to us by God. God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Called the “father of lies,” Satan from the very beginning has been challenging God and His designs to fabricate a counter design. In order for us to acquiesce to Satan’s design, we’d have to change our identity. Many people are living off of a false identity to deal with traumas, abuses and brokenness. They concoct and are attracted to what the false identity offers and tells them.

The false identities are camouflaged in “courage” and “acceptance.” That’s the appeal. But they are empty promises from Satan. In confusing the truth about our identity, he sows seeds of depression, hopelessness and apprehension about our future. But here’s the Good News: Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full! Question is, Will you volunteer to suffer? A dear sister in Christ and guest writer for Voices Against the Grain, Bambi Jenkins, shares a sobering message on this subject entitled “These Are the Results.” I implore you to read and consider what identity you are living today. If you have accepted false information, there is hope.   -Nicole

To the Broken: “These Are the Results”

bambi jenkinsI had a vision. I was driving down the street and saw a woman walking around in her home with a broken spirit. She is smart, has all types of degrees, is a peak performer at her job and holds a top position. But, in her home when no one was around, she was torn and depressed. As she walked slowly throughout her home, head hung down, she looked back over her life.

Her history was traumatic. She had been sexually abused, exposed to a lot of trauma and severely mistreated at the hands of those she trusted. Being raised in the church, she had begun to trust the Lord but soon lost her connection with Him. She turned to alternative religions and paths that opposed the Christian faith in which she was raised. Desperate to escape her pain, she created a false image of herself. At work, she was skilled, confident, and personable, but when alone at home, she was defeated, depressed with thoughts of suicide. She was confronted with the reality of her tormented past, without any viable repost. The identity she was able to portray at work, was not sufficient to sustain her destroyed self-esteem at home.

These are the results of abuse, neglect, and fear.

You see, if the devil fears anything, it is the future you and what God has planned to do through you. The enemy wants to discourage and disrupt your progress towards being who God created you to be. So Satan sows seeds of self-doubt. Seeds that can be carried throughout and impact virtually every area of your life.

Without God’s help, many will surrender their true identity in order to cope with deep-seated pain. We will put on a mask to conceal old but still-painful wounds so that people may see a more beautiful, successful and powerful person —a person that we are unable to see for ourselves, but one that we desperately create in an attempt to fit in with society. We will turn away from what God says about us and become what the world says is more acceptable.

deception-john-rizzuto

But know this beloved: God is calling us out of all the self-made tombs that we have accepted for our lives. He’s calling us out of the darkness and the very painful chains that bind and distract us. He will show us what it means to live free in Him. He will give us a new identity and the confidence to live in it as He mends our broken hearts.

Psalm 34:18 NIV The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

We can stand against pleasing our flesh, the devil and this world’s agenda, by simply trusting in who God says we are.

James 4:17 NIV Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

To the Church: “These Are the Results”

In my frustration about what is happening in some churches and with its leaders, the Lord allowed me to see and understand that if we don’t recognize the results, then we won’t understand how to fight to be free of them. The results that I’m speaking of is when leadership lacks truth, love, and order, we create church members who are simply religious, without a true relationship with Christ. This often turns nonbelievers away who don’t care to participate in what they see as hypocrisy.

We have many great leaders among us, however, too many are more concerned about their image, church rosters and/or financial success. This leads to ineffective and powerless sermons and teachings that compromises the very power, strength and saving Grace of God’s Word.

All too often the body of Christ has come under attack because of those who use the house of God as just another social club to alleviate their loneliness and boredom. But the Word of God makes it clear the role of the Church leadership:

Proverbs 27:23 NLT Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds;

Jesus is calling for Christian leaders to follow Him and to speak the truth in love, without compromising it in order to avoid offending anyone. We are to put our trust in Him— not in numbers — and believe that He will provide everything that is needed. Leadership is responsible for teaching the truth as well as living it. As leaders, we have to be serious about God’s Kingdom business and not religious busy-ness.

1 Timothy 3:2 NIV 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.

Many church members have relinquished the responsibility of their relationship with the Lord and knowing His word, giving this work totally over to the church. This has resulted in fickleness, inadequate power, ineffectual prayer, and instability. Hebrews 10:25 encourages the gathering together of saints but that is not where it stops. Christians, we are to study daily as well as teach those in our care the word of God. No one can eat once a week and be sustained. As with Christians, we must continue to feast on the word of God every day. When we neglect to read and meditate on the word of God, this weakens our spirits and allows the flesh to take control.

Jeremiah 15:16 NKJV 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.

We must be willing to look in the mirror and get real with ourselves. We have to allow God to penetrate those painful areas that we’ve attempted to hide and hold back. We need to understand that anything that we hold on to, is the very thing that the enemy will use to target and distract us. Obedience must become non-negotiable to us. Children of God, I encourage you to get to know God for yourselves. Pray for those in authority. Lift each other and live God’s truth before everyone.

Jesus is calling for nonbelievers to put their trust in Him alone and to yield their lives to Him based on His love and truth. He loves you so much that He died for you. I can agree that there are those in the church who seem to be living different lives from what they profess. There will be many who profess to know Him. This can be disappointing and discouraging but nevertheless, God’s word is still true.

Titus 1: 16 NIV 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Also, please understand that there are many who aren’t playing with God but are simply struggling in different areas and could be in the process of change. Don’t run from God because of them. Run to Him because of Jesus. We are all in need of God’s strength to stand. I’m praying that you will come to know Him for yourselves.

Altar Call to Alter Your Path

These are the results, but it’s not the end. There is hope.

i surrender all

Do you desire the real thing? To no longer live a facade? Will you volunteer to shed your robe of comfort in exchange for pain — on purpose? Are you ready to be someone who no longer wants just a surface relationship, who runs to the throne of grace to surrender all to God?

My prayers are with you.

Your sister in Christ,

Bambi

When You Understand Your Position, Beneficial Decisions Will Follow

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Might you go through some unnecessary experiences based on a decision made in desperation? Yes indeed. All of us can immediately recall a decision made in haste that we had to pay for. As a dear friend and mentor says, “The most expensive thing you will own are your decisions.” Such a situation was experienced by one man who lost a great deal over a bowl of red lentil soup.

Recently, and as always, I was enjoying sweet fellowship with a dear sister in Christ as we shared about our Christmas fellowship with family and friends, reflected on this year’s triumphs and challenges and how the Lord has been with us in all of it. She also shared with me new revelations learned in her study on Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Great revelations she shared about their story I may communicate in a future blog post, but it is on my heart to remind you of something that came forth as she and I spoke.

If you know the story (see Genesis 25-33), Esau was born first and then Jacob. We read the account of their birth in Genesis 25:24-28 (NIV):

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau (or Edom, which means “red”). 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob (which means “grasps the heel, he deceives”). Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Now comes the crux of the story for this particular message:

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew (it was red lentils)! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die (at that time there was a famine in the land),” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

Red lentil soup

 

 

??? Hold up (emphasized with a “No he didn’t” neck twist). I love lentil soup and make a good one too. Esau gave up his birthright and all the blessings that come with that for some red lentil soup?? It had been a while since I’d read the story so when I reread this my mind was boggled. Puzzled, I said, “What was he thinking??” I then felt compassion for Esau, recognizing that in those times when you are really hungry (notice that he said “famished”) you don’t always think clearly or rationally. You may act in haste or in desperation as Esau did — and lose far more than you ever intended. Your decision made in haste, in weakness, without recognizing what you already possess, what you already have, what is your position, may take you through some unnecessary experiences.

I thought, “Couldn’t somebody have given Esau some nuts to take the edge off his hunger so he could think clearer??”

But this was not simply a decision based on Esau’s thinking compromised by hunger. Esau did not value or appreciate what he had as the firstborn son (verse 34 says, “So Esau despised his birthright.”). In dismissing what he had, he did not internalize the weight of what he already had and in not understanding, he was shortsighted. But the impact of his decision was long-term (read further in Genesis). Now, his brother Jacob fully understood the worth and value and of Esau’s birthright and what came with it. Jacob was very upfront with Esau in asking what he wanted. We later read in Genesis 27 that Jacob gets blessings from his father Isaac that would have belonged to Esau, through a deception.

As one reading this, you were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). The world will sell you many things contrary and counterfeit to your identity, but there is only one truth to base yourself on. For those in Christ Jesus, we are seated with Christ Jesus in heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). We are the head and not the tail. Through Christ Jesus, we have already been made victorious. Through Christ Jesus, we are already rich. We have a glorious inheritance. Nothing the world offers can compare. Do not accept or fall prey to the temporary and fleeting pleasures that the world is selling. What is offered may appease temporarily but will surely pass as a bowl of lentil soup. Do not exchange your position to gratify a craving or in attempt to remedy a situation.

Understand what you already have. Understand your position. When you understand your position, you will better understand your value and the value of your position. You know what you will and won’t allow into your life, you know what you will and won’t pursue. When you know your position, beneficial decisions will follow.

Heavenly Father, thank you for telling us in Your Word who we are. We are greatly positioned. Thank you Lord! Thank you Father for your love, grace and mercy shown toward us when we’ve made hasty decisions. You can work even these situations out for our good. We pray for those who have exchanged their birthright and all that comes with it for something far less, something so sinister as to leave them empty handed. In Your Word you tell us that Satan comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. May those things stolen from us be restored. The only way we understand who we are is to know who You are.  If we have accepted something less, something counterfeit, please help us to see it and bring us back to the right position so we may live life to the full with nothing missing as you’ve promised. In Jesus’ Name we ask this. Amen. 

Love and blessings to you in the New Year,

Nicole

Before God Publicizes You, Pray That He Prepares You in Private

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Name in lights. Red carpet nights. Your “come up.” Many people fantasize about and relentlessly pursue platforms that they think will quickly rocket them to celebrity status. In their desperation to arrive, numerous celebrities would likely advise them not to rush or force it; to approach it with great caution and preparation. As they reflect on their own negative behaviors and decisions amplified in the public sphere from poor wardrobe choices, to drunken outings to disparaging words said, they admittedly would have desired more time to be hidden away, more time to have been prepared in private beforehand. They might have prayed for anonymity.

Female celebrity red carpet arrival

For several years, God has been preparing me in private before launching me public. Much of this preparation or “oven baking” as I refer to it, has occurred during my prayer time and commune with Him. Also, while reading and studying His Word. In my commune with Him, I have learned to hear how He speaks to me and trust the information and revelation imparted to me. Some information was meant to share to encourage, equip or instruct others, and other times it was only intended for me — and wisdom has helped me to distinguish between. I’ve also been surrounded by trusted godly counselors for who I am truly grateful.

He has been honing my diligence and obedience in completing routine tasks that grew my ability to be entrusted with greater responsibilities, such as mentoring young people on a weekly basis. He has allowed various situations to deepen my confidence in Him as my Provider, my Healer, my Everything. He has prepared my temperament (and continues to) for public and knowing that not every issue requires a response, and how to respond when needed. He continues to deepen my patience and love toward others which hasn’t always been easy but is becoming more of my default.  🤗

In a society whose value seems to rise and fall based on the number of “likes,” “followers,” views, comments, shares and retweets, I’ve learned not to base my direction or success on the rise and fall of human accolades or disapproval, nor shout outs or silence.

It has been during the wilderness experiences where I grew confident in how He leads me but this confidence did not come overnight. It’s also been where I have learned to fight in the spirit against Satan’s lies and attacks in his attempt to distract, derail and diminish me.

I’ve learned to operate in my lane obediently. I do not seek nor desire someone else’s lane. I also accept the costs of my calling (every calling has a cost and we should embrace those costs) and what it means to run in my lane — which also means I am willing to risk being misunderstood.

As a dear brother in Christ, Hakim Hazim, founder of consultancy Relevant Now, recently said, “People don’t realize that what you do publicly for the Lord directly relates to what you do privately in the Lord.”

So true. The years of daily walking with, talking to, listening to, learning from Him in private have prepared me to be His representative in public. Step out too soon, speak too soon, or get ahead of Him and we may find ourselves in a snare. May we seek to dwell/abide in the “secret place” to keep us hidden from being entangled by the snares of this world. I love Psalm 91:1 which says “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (NIV) When we abide in Him (keep our mind on Him) we are covered, hidden in His shadow! Even as He brings us forth publicly, may we SEEK to dwell and remain in His shadow!

Secret place cave

In her blog post entitled “Made in Secret,” author, speaker and co-founder of Messenger International, Lisa Bevere, captures preparation well. She describes this process like a pregnancy with the skillful and intentional shaping, forming, developing of that embryo from the moment of conception to the time of birth.

How awesome is our God! She writes that “God does His biggest work in us privately so that He can powerfully work through us publicly.” She also writes that, “There are many occasions where God has us in seasons of anonymity in which great growth occurs. What is often celebrated and applauded in the spotlight is the result of what was developed in the dark.”

New Territory

I wasn’t looking specifically for this opportunity, though I repeatedly made known to the Lord my desire to do more work that afforded a biblical worldview. After much prayer, searching, asking, knocking, refinement and waiting, in mid-April of this year, the Lord made way for me to serve as the new Washington, D.C. area director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Prior to, I had never heard of the ministry/organization but God is amazing! After a providential introduction to CMDA in mid-April and several conversations with CMDA headquarters in Bristol, TN, I was officially brought into this role on August 27.

In this role, I will have the opportunity to minister to the spiritual and professional needs of medical and dental school students in the D.C. area, as they continue their schooling, residency and prepare to render care to patients and share the gospel. I love it!!

Since 2014, I have mentored young people and have seen the fruit of this labor bear out in their lives along with the fruit they are producing in the lives of their peers. God knows the particular burden on my heart for reaching our young people and this position is tailor-made for me. As I say, “God wastes nothing” with regard to our life experiences, relationships, work, skills, etc., in how He will knit them together for His purposes and glory.

I kid you not though: This role is stretching me in new ways. In those stretching moments, I catch myself questioning the Lord’s judgment in placing me in this role. Am I really ready for this? Am I the right candidate for this work amid the other well-qualified folks He could have used for this role? Am I really equipped? Certainly, He thinks so. But I take it one day at a time. I am by no means acting like I know it all but I am trusting in and being led by the One Who knows all.

As an habitual planner, my private moments of preparation have tempered me to trust Him in areas of ambiguity and “firsts” and “I don’t knows” when I am asked questions by others excited by what the promise of my role and work may deliver through the ministry. I am building the plane as I am flying it. Thankfully, Jesus is the pilot, the engineer, the designer and the mechanic. When we see Him as such, you and I can rest that we are in His trusted hands, even in times of ambiguity and “firsts.” But only a private preparation offers you this assurance.

Bevere concludes with this counsel:

“If you love the spotlight more than the secret place, you’ll gravitate toward self-promotion and move ahead of God’s timing. Embrace the hidden place. God has you strategically positioned while He prepares you for future promotion. Refuse to be in a hurry.”

We all desire to better understand and live out God’s purpose for us. Are you giving God the time and opportunity to prepare you in private for His work, that He may exalt you in due time, for a season that is fitting (1 Peter 5:6)? In what areas can He trust you to be His representative? Will you set aside your interests for His? Our enemy is always “prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), to get at someone who slacks off or refuses to undergo development and thereby has multiple chinks in their armor for the devil to access.

Before God publicizes you, PRAY that He prepares you in private. May you seek to dwell in the secret place, abide in His shadow to preserve you from the enemy’s snares.

Love and blessings,

Nicole

Do Not Allow the Kavanaugh/Ford Effect to Become the Butterfly Effect

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Contentious. Raw emotions. Triggers. New wounds made and some old ones thought healed, now reopened. The past few weeks in our country have been among some of the most divisive experiences that I can recall recently. It’s been difficult to watch.

Newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 53, and psychology professor and research psychologist, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, 51, were in the hands of a very public and irresponsibly mishandled process neglected by that “wisdom that comes from above — considerate, impartial and sincere” — as described in James 3:17-18. What we painfully watched unfold for nine hours on our televisions and digital devices — a woman bravely recounting a deeply traumatic event before millions of people and a man defending his character before those same millions of viewers— has created a highly polarized nation. Presumption of innocence. Presumption of guilt. The process has pit women against men, men against women, women against women, party against party, faction against faction and has ultimately led to tribalism. The real enemy behind every division (Satan) has no prejudice against who he divides from pursuing righteousness so long as we unite in lawlessness and hate toward one another. Gasoline and matches.

Brett-Kavanaugh-sad-Christine-Blasey-Ford-The Stream

Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh (left) and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (right) give their sworn testimonies during Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate on September 27, 2018, amid sexual assault allegations made by Ford against Kavanaugh that she said occurred 36 years prior. Photo courtesy: The Stream.org

I believe that what you see depends on where you sit. What you see often depends on how you’ve had to view life through the lens of your experiences. I discussed the issue with a number of dear loved ones of faith and we saw the situation differently. The emotions and gut perspectives shared by each of us were valid as we sat in the seat of our own experiences. We were a microcosm of our larger viewing society that is now at each other’s throats. The only difference in our group was, amid our disagreement on what we were seeing, we came together in love and prayed for truth and God’s will to prevail.

Hopefully more people will carry this disposition forward.

Do not allow the Kavanaugh/Ford effect to become the Butterfly Effect. What do I mean by that? It’s a small change that causes a ripple effect that can give rise to a tidal wave we cannot come back from. An escalation of name calling, hateful and ignorant words spoken, compassion lacking, wicked thoughts acted upon, death threats made to both parties and their families, has led our society further down a path of inhumanity and even less civility. Do not allow the emotions of these present conditions to beat with such a ferocity that it takes us to conditions and consequences with one another that we cannot come back from by “changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole” as the Butterfly Effect chaos theory suggests. To where we are no longer recognizable to one another, as human being to human being, created in God’s image.

Butterfly Effect Animated

So how do we heal? In what seems like chaos and evil unhinged, do we trust God to handle all parts of it?

We need to remember that in all of the sifting, shaking and dismantling that God is reconciling all things to Himself.

In Christ’s supremacy, He is the same One Who holds all things together: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:15-17)

Since God is in control, our disposition is to follow His lead and to lead in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:19-20)

And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:21

America is in desperate need of a love letter from you to keep this union.

This may sound Pollyannaish to some but it is very real. God is love and His love in us truly can overcome hate. The butterfly effect is upon us. You have a choice. One bitter word spoken can cause a ripple effect of no return. Undeniably, our country needs healing on numerous levels. Will love lead you or will you be part of the chaos? Will love distinguish you in today’s “us vs. them” climate? Will you be a peacemaker with others whether their view is near or distant to yours? Will you be a voice against the grain? We have a great opportunity here to be that love letter. Can God trust you to model His love letter to others?

Heavenly Father, thank you for first loving us so that we can know how to love you and model that love to others. Remove anything in our hearts that is not of you so we may do this work to your glory. Renew a right spirit within us. Help us to be your love letter to our families, friends, colleagues, communities, nation and world. Jesus, we need you, we need your healing. Help us to be your hands, feet and mouthpiece. Prepare hearts in advance to receive your love. Help us to be both the messenger and the message. We cannot do this work without you. Thank you. We love you.

In Jesus’ Name, we pray and ask this. Amen.

Nicole

Note: We continue to remain apolitical and nonpartisan with our content and mission. The events of these past few weeks required a biblical response.

Smorgasbord or Bread of Life: Which One Truly Satisfies?

 

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

His apartment walls and shelves were covered with hardly any open space to spare. Not much more room for additional photos, paintings or posters to be hung. Though organized, the shelved knick knacks and novelties collected during his various travels, religious ornaments of all sorts, altars and shrines with multiple “saints” or gods who were supposed to render health, good fortune or other, was a lot for the eye to take in. Much for the mind to digest. From Hinduism, to Kabbalah, to New Age beliefs, to a Star of David, other religions I didn’t recognize, and some Christian references, I was unsure what or which item(s) was offering this man a sure foundation and anchor in his life.

I was at this man’s apartment to accompany my friend who had a business exchange to make with this man who is a photographer. The man kindly welcomed us into his home. With great pride and enthusiasm, he explained what each saint, relic or ornament meant. He spoke of his travels, his Cuban, Jewish and Chinese heritage, his homosexual lifestyle, his exploration of religions and paths and his belief in reincarnation (who wants to come back to this world??). In his delight in telling us about his beliefs and himself, one might have come away feeling more enlightened; that a great key to answering life’s great mysteries and myriad questions had just been handed to them through this buffet, through this smörgåsbord (Swedish term for buffet) of stuff. You should be full and satisfied. But quite the opposite occurred, at least for me, because I am already satisfied. As I looked into the man’s hazel green eyes, though his speech was passionate and enthusiastic, the deadness in his eyes could not lie. The absence of true joy gave him away. Essentially, this middle-aged man had sampled and tasted everything, and had come away still hungry. Still searching. Still seeking substance and sustenance.

In his profound emptiness and trying to convince us of his happiness, I simply felt sadness and compassion toward him. He’s “been around the world and I, I, can’t find my baby” as the ’80s Lisa Stansfield song says. He’s dabbled, sampled, been around the world and still hasn’t found the real food that sustains. The emptiness could leave one asking, “What all did I eat? Shouldn’t I feel satisfied?”

Smorgasbord dinner

A smörgåsbord dinner.

 

Instead of offering us a smörgåsbord and leaving us unsatisfied, Jesus came to satisfy and sustain us. He is the Bread of Life. In John 6:25-59, Jesus tells His disciples this. Let’s look at verses 30-35:

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[a]”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

As I wrote in this April 2018 blog post, “All You Can Eat,” Jesus leaves us filled, running over and more than satisfied. He is our daily bread and Bread of Life. We can feed at His table continually and the longer we stay, the more we love Him and desire more of Him. It’s okay to linger and go back for seconds. The abundance is ours if we want it. Eating of His Bread at His table is where brokenness is healed. It’s how we gather strength to be refined by and overcome life’s challenges. It’s where we are filled and able to pour into others with a fresh word to revive their downcast souls.

The man then asked me what it is that I do.  🙂 I delightfully shared with him my serving the Lord in ministry, discipling others (particularly our youth), and also my consultant work in public relations and project management. I lovingly planted seeds of truth. I immediately felt his internal defensive walls go up when I mentioned “ministry” and “Jesus Christ.” In short, he responded with “let everyone find their own path that leads to God.”

Upon conducting our business there, my friend and I hugged him and went on our way. I continue to pray for him. Though being there was not on my agenda that day, it was on God’s. I know my being there was not by chance — if only to show the love and truth of Jesus Christ.

Many people are deceived and seeking, so we as the body of Christ continue to pray for them. The enemy is diligent to confuse, deceive and co-opt. We know God’s truth when heard, received and responded to, can overcome that. We thank God for His great mercy for those He is giving time to return to Him. We pray that they respond.

I am encouraged by a dear sister in Christ whose past is similar to this man. She had traveled the world, explored and dabbled in this religion and that one. All of this and she still had emptiness. Then at age 44, she literally wore herself out “searching.” She finally came to the end of herself. Thank goodness! In that winding down, she looked up to Jesus! Her new life began! Today, at more than 30 years later, she continues to live boldly and passionately for Him. She wastes no time nor turns down any opportunity to share about the Lord! I just love her. Her testimony encourages me and hopefully you that God’s love is so great, His patience so amazing, that those who come to Him, those who are His, He will give them eternal life, they shall not perish, and they will never be snatched from His hand (John 10:28-30).

Thank you Jesus! Keep praying saints. Be ready and available for those divine appointments.

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15).

Nicole

 

 

 

 

 

I Thought I Was a Christian

Today, we are delighted to share with you the testimony from a young man who thought he was a Christian by trying to be a “good person.” Like many others with similar stories, he grew up in the church, believed on the surface that God existed but he did not have a true relationship with His Savior, Jesus Christ. But as he continued through college, it was becoming clear to him that he was far from living as a Christian…and the Lord was reaching out to him. Read his story below and please share if you’re led. We pray his testimony blesses you and others.

Kurt Yoder Bio Pic 0082718

Kurt Yoder, VATG Guest Blogger

If you would have asked me about five years ago how long I’d been a Christian, I would had said my whole life. You see I grew up going to church. I always had at least a surface belief that Jesus is God, and I used to think that as long as I try to be a good person, I’ll make it to heaven because I believe in Jesus. A lot of people fall into that trap, but Jesus said himself that,

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

Looking back, I had no desire to keep God’s commandments.

I remember reading Matthew 7:21 and it really hit me like a freight train. Jesus said, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

And this, The demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)

Even demons have an intellectual knowledge of God. In some ways they probably know more about God than us since they were once in his heavenly kingdom. But they do not have the type of belief that saves; saving faith that produces repentance and a longing to live godly.

I did not have saving faith growing up. To show you that, I will tell you a bit about my old self. I quit going to church in high school. To give you an idea of what kind of kid I was, at the age of 17, I started drinking every weekend. Nobody around me found that wrong – not my friends, family, or family’s friends. Everybody lived like that and once you were around that age, you start partying. People thought that was just a part of growing up. The false notion is that you’ve got to have rebellious times when you’re young, so you have something to laugh about when you’re old. By worldly standards, I was a fine kid. I got good grades, was pretty involved in extracurricular activities, and played sports. I even did some good things while I was an unbeliever. I remember specifically standing up for an outcast several times when he got made fun of. You see, I thought of myself as a pretty good person.

I thought I was a Christian

Lines from poem written by Michael P. Johnson

In college, I joined a fraternity. It was the type of stereotypical fraternity you hear about – lots of drinking and sexual immorality. Although, I was not the most immoral person in the fraternity, I was no doubt a part of that lifestyle. There were always people around me that seemed worse than me, and they made me think, “I’m a good person.” I had a friend from high school who went to college with me and did not join a fraternity. Instead, he lived in the dorms his whole time at college and tried to win people to Christ.

At the time, I thought that was a nice thing he was doing, but it wasn’t for me. We had coffee a few times. I remember he would always bring the conversation to Jesus. My thought while talking to him was always, “Why is he telling me this stuff? I believe in Jesus. I believe everything in the bible.” I don’t remember exactly what he said but looking back he knew I was lost. I made clear to him that I believed in Jesus and always had. I promised him one day I would read the bible. Just not now. I was too focused on college then.

Procrastination is what holds a lot of people in unbelief. They put off reading the bible, joining a bible study, going to church, and doing so they never come to face with the truth that they’re a sinner and need reconciliation. They fall more and more into sin and then lose the desire to know God. The governor Felix procrastinated. Paul presented him with the gospel, and Felix began to understand that God is a holy God and we are sinful people. Felix said, “I will hear you again on this matter.” He put off getting right with God. As far as we know, Felix never repented and came to faith. Procrastination damned him.

I procrastinated for a while, but God kept working on me. Shortly after college, I did start reading the bible. At the time, I thought of it as a checklist item. I have to do this once in my life. I thought of it as merely a pursuit of knowledge. I wanted to add bible knowledge to my belt. I did not know that through reading God’s word, God would reveal to me how sinful I was and would give me a new heart. Shortly after I started reading, I was seeking through the radio stations one night, and was compelled to leave the station on a station of a man giving a sermon. I never listened to talk radio at the time. If I was seeking through stations, I would listen for music. If I didn’t hear music, I would instantly keep seeking before I even heard what was being talked about. For some reason, this night I left the station where it landed and heard the man preach and continued to listen to him. I didn’t even know there were Christian radio stations. The next morning when I got in my truck, a new man was preaching. I kept listening and I’ve been listening to sermons on the radio ever since. It was through that radio preaching and my own reading that I began to receive Christ.

Since I thought I was a Christian all along, I can’t exactly tell you the moment I was converted. I can look back on a few moments and say it wasn’t then.

I remember the first time I read the book of Romans, it was like it went through one ear and out the other. I had no idea what I just read. Then, I read Romans about a year later and was in awe. I thought, holy smokes! That was incredible! So much doctrine in that one book. I remember looking back and thinking, I don’t think I had true faith the first time I read the book of Romans. You can only understand this book if you have a new heart. Unbelievers can understand things like historical and geographical things in the bible, but they can’t understand doctrine. The book of Romans is rich on doctrine. The only reason we can understand God’s word is because we have the Holy Spirit. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God… But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them. (1 Corinthians 2:12, 14)

Unbelievers cannot understand the word of God. I see that proven all the time and it breaks my heart. There are several people close to me that started reading the bible once and they said they had to quit because they just had no idea what it was saying. I couldn’t understand when I first started reading, but God convicted me of my whole sinful life and I came crawling to God to give me salvation and with that salvation he gave me understanding of his word.

Another moment that I can look back and confidently say that I wasn’t a Christian – the time I heard on a Christian radio program a man telling a woman that she can be forgiven for her sin of abortion. My thought was, “What? Abortion is murder. Murderers don’t make it to heaven.” I was confused what this man was talking about. Now I know that anybody can be forgiven. We are all sinful.

There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, there is not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

I may be slightly better than a murderer, or an adulterer, or a drug addict. They’re here and I’m here. But the reality is that God is way up there at the sky. He is HOLY, HOLY, HOLY! He demands perfection in his holy kingdom.

We are not saved by our works. We are only saved by Christ’s works! He lived the perfect life, then died on the cross and bore our sins. He paid for an eternity’s worth of wrath for each one of us in those hours on the cross. It pains me to think how much pain Christ bore for me on that cross, not even including any others wrath that he paid for, but I’m sure glad he did.

No, we’re not saved by our works. Because once you put your works into the equation, you have to also put all your bad works into the equation, too. One sin cancels all your good works and is enough to condemn you forever. I now know that salvation not by being a basically good person. Salvation is by faith!

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) The righteous man shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4) “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:30-31)

My old self thought I had been a Christian my whole life, but there is no such thing. We all are born into sin and live a life rebellious to God. The only way we can live a life of glorifying God is if we have been born again. I thought the born again was only for really bad people – prostitutes, drug addicts. The truth is that I am just as guilty as they are. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)

Jesus told that to a leading Pharisee, Nicodemus. Even Nicodemus, who was surely much better than me, probably didn’t fall into that partying lifestyle, and probably went to synagogue several days a week, and prayed several hours a day, needed to be born again.

To reiterate the point,

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have learned that the Christian life is much more difficult than an unbelieving life. It’s much easier to go with the ways of the world and be a man-pleaser. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

Jesus received undeserved hate. He proclaimed the truth and way of salvation, and the world hated him for telling them they were deceived and living a life against God. The whole world is hostile toward the true Christian viewpoint. They’re not hostile to false Christian viewpoints, such as cheap grace – just believe in Jesus and go on living like a heathen; or the prosperity gospel – that God wants to make you healthy and wealthy and he’s going to really take care of you if you just have faith; or universalism – that God is a loving God and everybody’s going to heaven and there is no judgement for sin. God is a loving God, but he is also a just God. The world loves those false forms of Christianity, but they hate true Christianity. The Christianity that says, “All men have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God,” and all men need to repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

I know this Christian life is tough. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Although I know this Christian life has been and will be tough, I have great joy and peace. I do because I know the price has been paid for me by Jesus on the cross and whenever I die or Jesus comes to take me home, I will have eternal life in a kingdom where there is no sin and I have no sin and I can worship my savior face to face! I can’t wait for that day! I also have great joy and peace because of Christ’s last words on the cross, “It is finished.” My salvation has been worked out! Victory has won over death! And I know that because I didn’t earn this salvation, I cannot lose this salvation. God freely gave me salvation, and my salvation is in his hands. No one can take this salvation away from me.

For Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29) 

Kurt Yoder, 27, has been a Christian for about three years. He lives in rural western Missouri and is a member of a Southern Baptist Church. He and his wife have been married for two years, and have been blessed with a six-month old daughter.