“Ok, let’s turn to Romans 3:23,” I said as Aria sat staring at me. After an awkward silence, she timidly responded, “What is that?”
Aria had agreed to meet me for a one on one bible study, but as our conversation continued, I realized that maybe she didn’t understand what “bible” study really meant. “It’s a scripture in the bible that we are going to read together,” was my response. My heart began to understand as she muttered, “A scaa…rip…tuurre?” I knew what her next words would be…”What is a scaa…rip…turre?” I sat in silence as my mind raced with what to say next. I don’t ever remember being asked this question before this very moment.
Aria soon filled the silence by continuing to ask more questions.
“I’ve always wondered what these little numbers were. What is a book in the Bible?
Not unlike most Ukrainian homes, the brick and concrete walls showed it’s age through decades of communist rule and hard living conditions. We were greeted at the door of this humble home by it’s owners, Andriy and Natalia, along with their four children. They led us into their home with great honor where chairs and sheets of wood formed a table. On the table was the traditional food items you would see on any Ukrainian table, potato, cucumber, bread, and egg salad. None of the plastic plates, silverware, or cups matched. Pictures from old calendars had been cut out and placed neatly on the table for decoration under the food bowls.
It didn’t look like much, but you could tell this table was set for a king in a humble manner that their culture and means allowed. Looking at the table, you would think the food was enough for about five people, but this evening, there would be fifteen in attendance. When dinner started, chicken and potatoes were served and we all ate until we were full. The food was more than delicious because it was served with love and grace. When we thought the meal was finished, Natalia brought out a Ukrainian specialty dessert, along with a large sheet cake and a large platter of fruit (bananas, apples, oranges). All homemade. Everything on this table was grown and/or raised by this family.
I noticed something different as I watched this family. A joy that illuminated the faces of the children and peace, accompanied by a strength that rested on Andriy and Natalia. Then as they began to explain their heart for God, I soon understood.
Andriy was once addicted to drugs. His veins were unrecognizable from the years of drug abuse. A local pastor found Andriy with a rope in his hand on his way to commit suicide. After his wife left him, Andriy was convinced that no one loved him, not even this God that this pastor spoke about. Through God’s love, Andriy not only gave his life to Jesus but was immediately delivered from the drugs and demons that controlled his life. God called him to be a church planter in a nation where most believe as he once did that there is no God.
In six years, Pastor Andriy has pioneered and planted three churches. He had been ministering in this small village for the last six months and already fifteen people had given their lives to Jesus. All who were born atheist and lived in communism all their lives. When we asked him, “How do you present the gospel to these people who don’t believe there is a God?”
His words rang loud in my ears, “These people watch us work and raise our children. They notice at school that our children are different than the other children because they are well behaved and peaceful. We work hard in our garden as a family and invite neighbors into our home for meals. Many have given their lives to Jesus in our garden and around this table.”
I’ve heard sermons and stories of how to share the gospel. Go out into the streets, knock on doors, and proclaim the gospel to everyone you meet. What if it was so much easier than that? What if instead of doing, we just started living… Living life with others, off our phones, out of our houses, and into the lives of others?
What if like Andriy & Natalia’s life and Jesus’ example…. “We go preach the gospel and if necessary, speak.”
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I am getting older, but I’m way too young to be having a forgetful moment like this one. I was sitting at a stop sign trying to remember where I was located? What’s my name? Where am I going? Which way was I suppose to turn?
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Our lives get overwhelmed, stressed, busy, and in a moment we zone out.
I had only driven this route a hand full of times and was confident as I traveled back into the city that I could remember the directions without the help of my GPS. Not recognizing anything around me, I asked Siri to give me directions back to the office. Sure enough, 20 minutes later, after enjoying the new sites I didn’t recall from my drive in, I realized I took the wrong turn, but still ended up at the right location.
This is not too dissimilar to my life. I’ve decided to follow the way I think I should go, only to end up taking the long route to the same destination God had planned for me. If only I had consulted with Him before leaving instead of trying to find my own way, it may not have taken me as long to get there. He certainly knows the way better than Siri.
As a child, I was taught that when I give my heart to Jesus, He will come and live inside of me. First of all, that’s kinda weird. I don’t want someone living inside me. My mom said that my brother was living inside of her, so does that mean Jesus is going to be a baby inside me? Does that also mean He will come out in 9 months? Wait….that’s what happened to Mary in the story they tell me at Christmas time.
To clarify, He is not going to live in my belly. He’s going to live in my heart. I was also taught that in order for Him to stay in my heart, there was a list of rules I had to follow. If you chose not to follow the rules, then “you were not a Christian anymore.”
I couldn’t go to the movies,
I couldn’t drink wine (Jesus turned water into wine, why can’t I drink it?),
I could only listen to Christian music,
I had to be at church every time the doors were open, which meant I had to go to church even when I was sick and vacations with my family were out of the question,
I had to read three chapters of the Bible every day,
I had to pray every day for one hour,
I had to go to the altar every church service to ask for forgiveness for my sins,
I could only wear certain types of clothes,
Every person I met, I had to tell them about Jesus,
and the list goes on and on.
I’m sure you could add several more rules yourself.
If I didn’t follow every rule, all the time, then I couldn’t be a Christian or go to heaven. I think we can agree that reading your bible, attending church, and other actions listed above are all good things to do. However, it was the unrealistic expectations of how these actions were lived out that made them rules to follow, instead of opportunities to live out a life of worship.
All these rules had me so bound up that after 20 years (I can’t believe I lasted that long), I was ready to walk away from God not towards Him. I was told that if I stopped attending church, I would be walking away from God and I didn’t want to do that. I had seen so many people walk away for the same reason. Just like those people, I love God and wanted to know Him more, but didn’t want to live under the constant pressure and unrealistic expectations anymore.
Then one day, God showed me the difference between religion and relationship.