Stand, and give light to everyone in the house. The world will see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
“There’s a Fly in my Tea! The Importance of Maintaining a Christian Testimony; By Crystal L. Ratcliff; CrossLink Publishing 2016
A Book Review
Crystal Ratcliff, has presented a metaphor we can probably all relate to whether we drink our tea sweet or otherwise. Flies are pesky and dirty. We don’t want them crawling on the rim of our glass. The metaphor fits perfectly for the subject of this 11-session Bible study about our witness for Jesus. The cover design adds beautifully to the “ewwww” factor.
Maintaining a sweet, pure Christian testimony, says Ratcliff, means doing many things she believes we can learn from the life of the Apostle Peter. Her first lesson, however, gets someone off on the right foot before the study begins. She challenges her readers to examine their lives in light of their personal salvation and person relationship with the Lord. Since the book is meant to be studied with others, discussing these answers honestly can only be of benefit to each member and to the group itself.
Ratcliff’s style is relaxed and her tone is friendly. She expects the audience is women and that they share their stories within a group. However, the study could be done independently, if necessary.
The fact that Crystal takes the student right into scripture helps them to see how it relates to other scriptures. The lessons include just enough related verses to help the reader understand the lesson and how the lesson should be applied. An aspect of the study I appreciated was her openness regarding her own failings. Done in a safe environment, sharing what keeps us coming back to Jesus for help aids in discussion.
Subjects covered over the eleven-session study are trusting God totally; keeping my focus on God; walking in the Spirit in relation to how we spend our time; and believing who Jesus says he is versus the world’s view of him.
Ratcliff also mentions the tendency Christians have to witness about their church rather than being a sweet and pure witness for Christ alone. In her own way she says we would do better to point people to Jesus rather than a specific church body or denomination.
No church is perfect, she says, because no people are perfect. We all need to learn to pray more faithfully, forgive more quickly, and serve in love. But “our goal in studying this,” she says, “should be to protect ourselves from being an ‘offender.’”
To some readers, “There’s a Fly in my Tea” will seem like a course in Bible 101. If that’s the case, let me suggest you become the person Jesus commanded you to be and disciple others by leading them through this short study. Those new to the Christian faith will certainly get some of their questions answered. Recruit a couple of your more mature Christian friends to join in and they will help teach the younger women, which is a biblical principle taught by Paul.
The narrative sections are refreshing to anyone who even remotely understands the importance of a relationship with Jesus. The lists of questions at the end of each chapter (never more than 6-8) are just challenging enough to keep us teachable.
The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.
Hello, Media Monday, when we talk about books, movies or music. Today’s offering: “The Red Letter Life: 17 Words From Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical and Purposeful Living” by Bob Hostetler.
The adjectives in the subtitle of this book, The Red Letter Life give us a hint into Bob Hostetler’s message for living as a disciple of Jesus. Hostetler writes with purpose; his message is practical; and his writing is simple so anyone can understand it.
Hostetler has delivered his message in a ‘pure’ way: truth, grace, simplicity and clarity of thought are all in place. Sure, he uses his knowledge of Greek to explain things. But he only does it to enhance the message. I never got the feeling I was being talked down to because these explanations are not overdone.
The seventeen words chosen are excellent choices and indicate the author’s careful study of Jesus’ message and mission. From “Come” to “Go,” every word inspires us to deeper relationship with Christ and a call to carry out His mission as commanded. Often, we get to see Jesus, his disciples and the people He encountered with fresh eyes. Expect some “Aha” moments.
Hostetler has a way of telling stories which not only lend themselves to giving meaning to his message, they often are entertaining and sublime. That’s the way Jesus Himself told parables. Overall, his heart and personality shine through. He makes being a Christian sound challenging and enjoyable at the same time. After reading The Red Letter Life, I would enjoy sitting down with the author, simply talking about our respective spiritual journeys.
While not your typical Bible study text (with questions for participants to explore), the book could certainly be used as such because Bob offers a challenge at the end of each chapter. At any rate, the book begs to be discussed. Lately, I read less Christian non-fiction than I used to, choosing more often to study the Bible. While there is no substitute for God’s Word, there are certainly excellent supplements. This one happens to be one of them.
You can find Bob–a speaker, blogger and pastor, in addition to being an author–in “Stuff I Read.” He’s the One Prayer Daily fellow.
When it comes to God’s grace, don’t worry about whether you qualify.
Don’t worry about whether or not the things you regret doing disqualify you.
God’s grace is immeasurable and one size fits all.
In fact, I remember the day when I was having a telephone conversation with a friend and a light bulb went on, so to speak. You could say the light of Jesus shined into my life and I became aware of the darkness I’d been living in. I realized how many were the sins I’d committed. That was hard to admit and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use the word “sin.”
But there I was, crying about it. And I felt dirty. I knew I needed forgiveness, but wasn’t sure God could forgive all the things I’d done. Or failed to do.
Furthermore, it sometimes seems God isn’t doing much to make this world a better place. How can so many terrible things be happening around us if God is in control like Christians claim he is? How can we trust a God who seems absent?
I wish I had an answer to that. The best I can do is point to history. Look at how people have been behaving–or not behaving–since the beginning of time. Things aren’t worse even though it may seem that way. People have been hating, terrorizing, killing, stealing, lying, gossiping and just plain acting out for several millennia. Do you feel betrayed right now? Alienated? Misunderstood? Left alone? Jesus experienced the same. He understands every trouble we can ever know.
All I know is what I’ve found to be true because of what God tells me is true in the Bible. He says his grace is there no matter who we are and no matter the size of our sin. Believe it or not, I also count on having personally experienced grace. Ask anyone who’s been walking faithfully with God for a while and they’ll tell you his goodness and grace never fail.
Not long after that disturbing telephone conversation, I made a decision to recommit my life to following Jesus. I read and re-read the Bible and became familiar with the gospel. Not just the Gospels, as in books of the Bible, but what the message of Jesus’ birth, life of ministry, death and resurrection meant. I joined a small group of women who met regularly to pray, study scriptures and talk about living life according to God’s plans.
I then understood grace. With that understanding and the peace and hope I’ve experienced, I’m sure. God’s grace is big enough to cover my sin and the sin of anyone, no matter what it is.
Go ahead and put it on today. Come under the cover of God’s free gift of grace. You may not feel like it fits yet. But God will even appeal to your logic, telling you it’s all you need if you’re willing to believe him.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18)
“Everybody has to believe in something. I believe I’ll go fishing.”
Last week “Whatever” spoke to the importance of sharing with others our story of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. This week, I’m offering a book review dealing with the same subject: evangelism.
By Mark O. Wilson
The topic is evangelism. Or is it fishing? In Mark O. Wilson’s book, Purple Fish, both activities become his topic. The book is peppered with stories of Jesus–and everyday people–“fishing for men.” You’ll also find stories about fishing for…well…fish.
The title comes from a Greek word, kalchaino, meaning “to search for the purple fish.” The purple fish referred to is highly treasured because of the deep purple dye found in this particular shellfish. Therefore, the treasured purple fish became the metaphor for Mark’s book.
The purple fish secret, according to Wilson, is “more about attitude and perspective than technique.” And that’s why he doesn’t use “techniques.” Naturally, Wilson has advice for going forward with evangelism efforts. At the top of the list is prayer. If he has any kind of technique, it comes from his acrostic for finding connecting points with people.
Discussing Family, Interests, Situations, and Hurts with people, he says, helps us to find our common humanity and opens the door to telling the Good News of Christ. Wilson contends, like many, that evangelism is a process. He also spends time encouraging those with ichthyophobia (fears associated with sharing the gospel.)
Purple Fish is a book with simple ideas for evangelism, patterned after Christ’s model of meeting people where they are and approaching in love. Jesus didn’t follow the same method with each encounter and Wilson says this is the key to being the “second witness” in witnessing. The first witness of course, he says, is the Holy Spirit.
With thirty-three chapters, the book might seem daunting, but each is a quick read with no chapter longer than seven pages. If you’re the type that gets caught up in a book and says, “I just have to get through this next chapter,” this book is a cinch for you.
Because the book is written so simply and can be downright entertaining at times, Purple Fish will work well with small groups as well as an adjunct to a sermon series. Rather than being a text book-style reading on how to win people to Jesus, the book seriously and cheerfully mixes stories of fishing for fish and fishing for…well…people.
Mark Wilson is a seasoned pastor when it comes to evangelism, having taught nontraditional ministerial students through the Wesleyan FLAME program. He’s developed and put into practice methods that take people into the mission field of their own cities and neighborhoods. From the examples–he calls them ‘treasure hunts’–noted in this book, if his charges aren’t convinced before they begin of God’s power to draw people to Himself, they are convinced at the end of the day.
A friend of mine once said that she didn’t believe her testimony would mean much to anyone because she’d been raised in the church and gave her life to Christ when she was quite young. She said there wasn’t any really “exciting” stuff to tell. I’ve also heard numerous stories of people who’ve come to faith in Christ when they’re older, having lived a pretty wild lifestyle.
One might say that my friend was saved ‘from’ a pattern of sin and the second person was saved ‘out of’ a pattern of sin.
Please don’t think I take my brothers’ and sisters’ salvation lightly. By saying “whatever” I mean that, although God is pleased that we are now his children, no salvation story is better than another. I say this for two reasons.
The first reason is that both people–the one saved ‘from’ and the one saved ‘out of’–were saved by the same grace and power of the very same God. His love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the basis for them both.
The other reason I say this is that both salvation stories can have impact and both glorify God.
I have friends who’ve seen family members come out of a wild lifestyle to become Christ followers and it convinced them of the truth of the Gospel. But I’m also familiar with a story of a man who wasn’t convinced even after hearing those testimonies. What convinced him was the power of God to enable a person to have no desire to ever enter into a wild lifestyle.
We all have a story to tell. Each one is unique and with value. We need to tell it.
When it comes right down to it, God says we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. No matter what age we were or what we’d done or failed to do before we came to faith in Christ, we needed the grace he extended. So every testimony matters.
Are you sharing yours?
An acquaintance of mine said when she first began her walk with God that she didn’t seem to fit the same mold as the women at church. She was grateful that they were patient with her as she grew more spiritually mature, but still believed she would never be quite like them.
That’s probably a good thing. I’m quite sure that God planned ahead of time for that.
Her remarks got me thinking about my own ability to relate to other Christians. My thoughts turned to trying to figure out why we’re all so different. While a sincere heart change and character growth are what we’re after, I don’t believe God wants cookie cutter Christians.
He wants us to be exactly who we are; what he created us to be. Naturally, if we come to him with severe character defects, his Spirit will work in us to change us into people who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23).
But God created us with unique talents and personalities. His purpose for us in his redemptive plan means he’ll use those talents and personalities for his own purposes. He refines our personalities, but he doesn’t change them.
For example, the apostle Peter was obviously an impulsive sort of guy. He seemed to act and speak sometimes without thinking first. Jesus even rebuked him for it at one point.
“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men'”(Matthew 16:23).
Yet Jesus knew the potential in Peter and chose him to be the “rock” on which the Church would be built. Peter’s impulsiveness was refined into a boldness which was used to preach the Gospel, winning many people to faith in Christ.
Being handpicked for a purpose is true of everyone who chooses to believe and follow Jesus.
Isn’t it great knowing that God can use even your personality to serve the kingdom?
My observations have seen God using people who are shy and people who are bubbly and enthusiastic conversationalists. I watch as both introverts and extroverts take on ministry and glorify God. Some of us are stoic; others more laid back.
I admit there are times when I meet someone whose personality seems to jive perfectly with mine. Still, there are plenty of differences in us to make our individual service unique and to keep the relationship we have refreshing.
God knows that we need the connections of those similarities. He also knows that our world would be boring if we were cut from cookie cutters or poured from the same mold.
That’s why God celebrates that there’s only one you. You can celebrate it as well.
Praise and worship in the form of hymns and contemporary music are a long-honored tradition in Christian churches. Whatever style of singing a church offers, the purpose is always the same: to glorify God.
Ever notice there are specific themes in the songs? Here are just a few.
Salvation The greatest gift of God is his Son, Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God gave his Son to die for us and we praise him for giving with immeasurable love. Without salvation, we cannot approach God. Through our faith in Jesus, we have him as our go-between.
Dependence We wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything of value or eternal purpose without God. We are weak and tend to wander, but with God’s power and our willingness to surrender to him, all things are possible.
Evangelism Christ has given us a mission to make disciples. With so many who haven’t heard the gospel, it’s a big responsibility. It’s an individual responsibility. “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love” is a great attitude to have. Even better to put it into a loving action.
Suffering We all go through trials, but God provides strength to get through them even if he doesn’t remove them. We don’t praise God for the trials. However, lifting up his name as our source of strength is good for us. It helps us to remember his faithfulness.
Holiness In John’s revelation, he describes a scene in which creatures sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” God is holy; we recognize this and worship as they did. Our own holiness is another topic of many songs. God said because he is holy, we must be as well. Again, we can do it only with his power working in us.
The Holy Spirit When we sing “open the eyes of my heart,” we’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us see spiritual truth. We humbly ask for his aid because we can block God’s word through various means. Even standing in church with the body of believers all around us, it can be difficult not to let our attention go elsewhere. The Holy Spirit desires our hearts be open to receiving God’s truth and bearing fruit.
Peace and Joy Two things Jesus said he gives to us which are not of this world. His peace. His joy. When we’re worshiping God for who he is, we can’t help feeling the peace and joy he gives. Acknowledging all of his attributes–from his holiness, justice and sovereignty to his mercy, love and forgiveness–we know we have a God and Savior who can bring peace and joy no matter what’s happening in our lives.
Gratitude Being always thankful to God is another excellent way to worship him. Gratitude doesn’t have to be sung, but when voices are lifted up to praise God with our mouth saying, “Hallelujah!” God hears and is exalted.
We have many things to sing about when it comes to our Father in heaven. Don’t have a great singing voice in your own opinion? Be assured that God doesn’t see it that way. He gave you that voice.
So lift it up in worship.
Years ago when I was…years old, I read Robinson Crusoe. Like most people, the first thing I would think of thereafter when I thought of the story was “Friday.” Friday, was the name given to the man Crusoe met on the island who became, not just his servant, but also his dear companion.
Crusoe had been shipwrecked on his island for over twenty-five years when Friday showed up. On my re-reading of this, I was surprised since I’d always thought it happened immediately after he saw that footprint. To my recollection, the appearance of that footprint had happened earlier in the story as well.
Going into the details of how Crusoe and Friday came together might be a spoiler, so I’ll stop there.
Well, here I am reading and re-reading some of what are called children’s classics and discovering content of which I don’t believe a child would take any notice. Unless they were the most astute of children. Numerous ideas of what it would be like “stranded on a desert island” come to light in the story.
But as a Christ follower, I also picked up ideas for living my own life and carrying the message of the Kingdom.
I have to admit that, since I knew a “Friday” was coming, I was impatient for his appearance. Then again, in the meantime, I was learning just how stressful and difficult a life Crusoe led in the couple of decades he lived alone. He learned how to build a home for himself against the elements, find sources of food, and invent ways to cook and preserve his food. Even keeping busy with the basics of maintaining food and shelter, doesn’t negate his loneliness and despair.
Aside from his own, he never heard another voice speak until he caught and tamed a parrot–Poll–and taught it to repeat his name and a few sentences.
So far, I fear I haven’t presented much of a defense for reading this old classic written in a style some would call difficult to read. “I’ll watch the movie,” some will say. “That’s good enough, right?”
But last night as I was reading, Crusoe’s faith in God, which had previously been as dashed to bits as the ship he was wrecked in, comes to the forefront. Friday is one of a tribe of cannibals and doesn’t understand fully what Crusoe is trying to teach him about God, the devil and evil. Crusoe believes he can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, help Friday to see Jesus as the redeemer and, as he puts it, “receive the light of the knowledge of God in Christ.”
Their conversations seem comical. However, when seen from Friday’s point of view, one understands. These ideas are foreign to him.
‘Well,’ says Friday, ‘but you say God is so strong, so great; is He not much strong, much might as the devil?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ says I, ‘Friday, God is stronger than the devil; God is above the devil, and therefore we pray to God to tread him down under our feet, and enable us to resist his temptation, and quench his fiery darts.’ ‘But,’ says he again, ‘if God much strong, much might as the devil, why God no kill the devil, so make him no more do wicked?’
Crusoe had been fortunate to find a Bible on board the wrecked ship right away and studied it regularly after some time had passed on the island. With time, through sharing the gospel and his personal studies, Crusoe was able to explain in a way Friday could understand. He soon became what Crusoe called a Christian ‘much better than I.’
My point in telling this (wondered if I had a point, eh?) is that I became acutely aware of the process of evangelism with a person who’s never heard of the one true God and Jesus Christ. One would have to start from scratch, so to speak. Most of us have an advantage in that the people we come into contact with have at least heard of God and Jesus.
Crusoe and Friday formed a relationship of trust first. Certainly, Friday saw himself in a position of servitude because the other had saved his life. But over time, the two became companions. That gave Crusoe an opportunity to be open with Friday about God’s truth and his own beliefs.
Seeing Friday’s simple and unguarded questions, I can understand how Christianity might seem difficult to believe. Indeed, as Crusoe knew, it would take the help of the Holy Spirit to bring Friday to a point of receiving Christ as his redeemer.
Friday’s questions about evil and the devil echo some of the same questions we have, i.e., “If God is all-powerful, why is there evil at all?”
I like to think that, in reading fiction, a book has at least one redeeming feature. I have not always found it to be true. Sometimes I finish a book and cannot for the life of me, even a month later, tell you the basic premise of the story.
But with this one, I’m glad I returned to this so-called children’s classic. I have a greater appreciation for missions work performed in all areas of the world. What experience or knowledge had the author, Daniel Defoe, with spreading the gospel? Did he have friends or people in his church who were missionaries? What spurred him to include this aspect of the relationship between a castaway and a savage?
For whatever reasons, these little discoveries are why I continue to read fiction. Currently I’m on an adventure on a deserted island–with two men and their animals–and enjoying it immensely.
For the second time.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:15
Many Christians, members of the religious group to which I belong, have been trashing the word ‘religion’ for a long time. They shouldn’t, in my opinion, especially when referring to their own Church. A follower of Christ may be called upon to answer someday whether he or she claims this religion.
News sources all over the world openly reported countless incidents when this was true during 2014.
Taking a word for its literal meaning gives us one reason for accepting ‘religion’ into our vocabulary without prejudice. The basic definition my dictionary offers for the word and what most people, if pressed, understand it to mean is simple and direct.
“a personal set or institutional system of attitudes, beliefs and practices”
Our world is made up of people who practice a multitude of religions. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Confucians and more. For some reason, Christians have no problem with saying, for instance, “The Islamic religion.” They may even study a course in college comparing world religions.
But they don’t want to be called ‘religious’ themselves.
Many Christians throughout the world regularly recite either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed in their church services. Other creeds exist, but these two are most well-known. The Creeds are statements of faith. The words describe the belief system of a Christian. It’s important for a believer of any religion to know and understand his or her personal faith and remember that a creed isn’t synonymous with “rules.”
Followers of Christ tend these days to emphasize their relationship with God, and a relationship is important. We revel in the fact that we can call God our Father and that Jesus is not only our brother but our friend. However, doctrine–one’s belief system–is also important. Here are a couple of good reasons why.
Witness and Discipleship
Anyone hoping to share their faith with another must be able to communicate their beliefs. We can talk all day about our personal relationship with Jesus, but when the rubber meets the road, it comes down to “What do you believe in?” How can we help win someone to the faith without telling them who Jesus is and that he died to save them? Our core beliefs are the essence of the Gospel.
Christ himself had a conversation with a man named Nicodemus and witnessed to him with the words quoted in John 3:16-17, among others. Jesus told this Pharisee that he came to save the world. Christians today use these words of Christ more than any others to witness to people. I dare say there hasn’t been a professional football game played since the 1960s that hasn’t had some guy holding up a huge sign with that scripture. If those words were good for Jesus, they’re good enough for us. Nicodemus became a follower, after all.
Jesus talked about his relationship with his followers, but most of all, he said, “Believe in the Father; believe also in me.” Over and over again people Jesus encountered for healing were restored because of their faith. Their belief in who he is. Likewise, spiritual healing comes as a result of our belief. It means a lot to God and to his Son that we believe.
Our belief is what allows us into the relationship we talk about with such fervor.
Furthermore, we can’t help people in their walk with Christ (Jesus calls it making disciples) if we can’t speak about our own faith in Christ. It’s that simple. Again, we can talk all day about our relationship, but another Christ follower has to find his or her own way into that unique communion with the Lord.
What’s In a Word?
I understand when people say things like, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” Or “Christianity isn’t about religion, it’s about relationship.” Or “Lose your religion.” They usually say those things because other Christians were sometimes less than helpful when they tried to enter the kingdom. The approach was hard, judgemental, or downright scary. So they blame ‘religion.’
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it’s not ‘religion’ (by definition) that’s to blame; it’s people. Ever since Moses received the law from God, we’ve been guilty of misinterpreting and manipulating God’s word to suit ourselves. Then we want to make others follow those rules too. For people who do that now, as then, Jesus had fiery words.
“Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).
I speak from personal experience that it’s still true. It was part of my upbringing and I’ve had some ‘spiritual’ folks bang me over the head with their ‘spirituality’. In fact, I confess that at one time, I too was a spiritual bully.
As I said, any believer of any religion may one day be asked to give answers about what they believe.
We Americans often think we’re being persecuted if the government, our bosses or some organization take actions we disagree with. We can be more vocal about what we are against than what we’re for. Many of us take issue with the smallest slights, when Christians in foreign lands are truly suffering because of their beliefs. These people don’t pass under our daily radar. If ever. Maybe when there’s something in the news. I don’t speak about all Christians, because many are really trying to make a difference.
But what’s inspiring is that those truly persecuted Christians consider it a privilege to “claim their religion.” So that’s what they do.
In most of these countries true persecution begins when a Christian claims his or her religion. At baptism–the public statement of belief–that person will become estranged or ostracized from the family and the community. If that country is in the very least accepting of Christianity, believers may worship according to the government’s standards. If there’s no tolerance at all, those Christians worship in secret.
Many times they don’t have it that good. Their lives are at risk. The opposition to Christianity in those countries won’t ask, “Do you have a relationship with Jesus?” They’ll ask something more like, “Do you believe in this Jesus?” “Are you a Christian?”
Not a friendly environment.
Name It, Claim It
We don’t need to be afraid of the word religion in referring to Christianity. Knowing the security we have in our relationship with God will encourage us to boldly claim our religion instead of “losing” it.
Talk about your relationship with God. It’s okay because that relationship is what sets us apart from other religions. But spreading the Gospel message begins with doing what Jesus did: preaching the good news of the kingdom. The Good News starts with talking about Jesus. Tell people what he did and why he did it. Tell them about some of those beliefs in your creed. He rose again as he said he would. He’s coming back to claim his own.
If you can get that message across, you may have helped win someone over just as the Spirit led you.