Our transition to New England has been nothing short of the most tumultuous upheaval imagineable. It’s been shell-shocking, heart-wrenching, and emotionally chaotic. It’s also been abundantly blessed, amazingly grace-filled, and powerfully revealing of God’s heart and goodness. Name the extreme of emotion—from fantastic highs to lonely lows, and yes, we’re there—sometimes both at once!
There are two things that surprised me greatly in our transition.
The first was the presence of faith in New Englanders toward the gospel. Everywhere I go, I find people who are open to a church invitation and a gospel presentation. I don’t mean politely tolerant—I mean they are curiously intrigued and contemplative. It’s a common experience to find someone very responsive to the gospel.
The second was the absence of faith in New England Christians toward the lost. Throughout the early days of our transition we were repeatedly warned from friends far and near that New Englanders “are cold and hard.” We were cautioned, “Get ready—it’s not the same. People are not open…” Well meaning people tried to prepare us for “the worst.” It was as if the whole world had written off New England with a “why try” belief system.
In the gospels, there are two times the scripture records that Jesus “marvelled.” There were two times when Jesus was “delighted and surprised with wonder.” What does it take to “delight with wonder” the very God of the universe? Well, it boiled down to two things.
Belief in those least likely to believe. And unbelief in those most likely to believe.
Matthew 8:10 “When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
Mark 6:6 “And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.”
Jesus marvelled at a centurion who expressed “great faith.” And then he marvelled at friends and family who had no faith. Those closest to Him, those who should have been the most likely to excel in belief, were the most unbelieving. And one furthest from the truth, loyal to a pagan empire, powerful in authority, and far removed from the God of Israel, had the greatest faith. Amazing. At least to Jesus it was.
The centurion’s belief allowed Jesus to do a miracle. The family’s lack of belief tied his hands. “He could do there no mighty work…” It all hinged on the belief of those through whom God desired to do His work.
One of the clear takeaways—sometimes God passes over the “most likely to be used” because of their arrogant unbelief, and then chooses to use those least likely (those we would rule out) because of their simple willingness to believe. With faith—it’s all possible. Without faith—it’s all impossible.
So how’s your belief system? What’s the condition of your faith? Have you pre-concluded that others are unreachable, God isn’t moving in hearts, and your situation is hopeless. If so, then you are right. Have you chosen rather to believe that God is at work, someone is receptive to the gospel, and your situation is wide open in God’s hands? Then you too, are right!
It will be as you believe.
I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking. I’m not saying that faith is a force. I’m simply saying, God will respond or not, based upon your belief. He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. He acts when He sees faith. And He doesn’t act where faith is absent.
There are essentially two kinds of Christians in the world.
First, there are Christians whose experience creates belief. That belief drives behavior which perpetuates belief. In other words, your beliefs are built upon the external circumstances of the world around you—your experience—what you see, hear, and calculate by sight. You then behave based upon that belief. And your behavior creates further experience that perpetuates and reinforces your belief.
Think of Jesus’ family. They chose not to believe. Their experience—Jesus was their brother, relative, etc.—created a belief that he was just another man. Their belief generated behavior—rejection, murmuring, verbal disbelief. That behavior caused Jesus to walk away without working. Hence their belief was perpetuated—“See, Jesus didn’t do anything special…”
If you’re starting with foregone conclusions and experiences, you’re going down the wrong road. That’s not faith. In the case of New England, if Christians and pastors begin with experience, they will see New Englanders as liberal, faithless, and hopeless. That experience will create the belief that New Englanders are not open to Christ. That belief will generate behavior—primarily silence and inactivity—which obviously perpetuates the belief that these people are cold and closed. And hence, “He could do there no mighty work.”
Simply put—if I believe that everybody is closed to Christ, I probably won’t even speak of Christ to them. And it will be as I believe.
And the whole thought process excludes TWO major, game-changing dynamics—first the power of God and the gospel. Second, the emptiness of the unbeliever’s heart. Running deeper than liberal values, humanistic thinking, intellectualism, and false religion—deep beneath all of that is still a human heart that’s spiritual in nature, desperately empty, hopelessly lost, and longing for eternal LOVE from JESUS alone! And the answer is still the powerful GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST.
The second group of Christians are those who begin with belief. Their belief drives behavior which creates experience that perpetuates belief. In other words, they begin with faith. They don’t buy into circumstances and obvious status quo. They don’t let external calculation build their belief system. They begin with a faith proposition, based upon the promises of God, and that belief generates behavior which moves God to action to reward and bless belief!
Consider the centurion—a man least likely to believe. He refused to go with the obvious. He refused the probable cynicism and disbelief that most in his position would have. Rather, he chose to believe. He chose to begin with faith. His faith moved him to behavior most unlike a Roman soldier—namely, to approach a penniless, itinerant preacher (some would call a renegade or even a political threat) and audaciously ask Him for a miracle. What humility! What risk! To some, what stupidity! What outrageous belief that moved him to action.
The result? God intervened, worked a miracle, and belief was validated and perpetuated. I’m sure the centurion left Jesus’ presence with a stronger belief! His faith produced behavior which produced experience that perpetuated greater faith.
If you start with faith, you will view every soul and every situation through different eyes. You will expect someone to be open to Christ. You will anticipate that God has gone before you. You will know there are things happening beyond and behind the circumstances. You will see the human heart as desperately needy regardless of the “hard exterior.” You will see the gospel as nuclear to those needs! That belief will drive you to act in faith—to obey. And that obedience will be blessed! God will reward. God will act on your faith. And you will see your faith grow and perpetuated!
For example: Simply put—if I begin by believing that people in New England are open to Christ, then that belief will drive me to speak up. As I speak up, I will find people responsive and open—surprise, surprise. And as people come to Christ, to church, and grow in faith, God takes that mustard seed faith and grows it.
In either case—it is as you believe. If you believe people are closed. They are, because you will never attempt to see God open them up. If you believe people are open, you will find them open, because the Holy Spirit will bless your faith and go before you. You will act in faith to participate with what you already believe God is doing!
It all hinges on your faith—or lack thereof.
I’m writing this article in a Dunkin’ Donuts (the closest thing to Heaven in New England.) And right now I just had a bizzarre confirmation of these principles. Several days ago, I came into this shop exhausted and groggy, and forgot my tracts. So I opted NOT to invite the store manager to church. “She probably isn’t open to the gospel any way…” I thought. (Unbelief.)
The next day I was back, this time, obedient to the Holy Spirit. I handed the manager a tract, smiled, and invited her to church. (Belief) She thanked me, and that was that. Life moved on. (“Like I thought… she’s not open.” I prematurely concluded.)
Well today, I’m back, sitting here working and writing. And in the middle of this article, Abby (the same manager) came over to my table, introduced herself, smiled, and said, “You’ll be seeing me and my family on Sunday!” And God said, “Booyah!”
I continually marvel at my own tendency toward unbelief. It’s systemic! It’s a reflex. It’s almost spontaneous and seems involuntary. I jump to the wrong conclusion of unbelief before I even give God a chance to work. I’m one messed up pastor.
But something tells me, I’m not alone. There’s a pretty good chance you deal with this same struggle.
In man’s economy—experience equals belief. This is my experience, therefore it is.
In God’s economy—belief equals experience. I choose to faith God, therefore it will be as God wills.
God didn’t bring me and my family to Connecticut to start a work for God. He didn’t bring us to languish in a desolate region devoid of His Spirit. He brought us here because He’s already working in New England, and He wants us to participate with Him in that work with Him. It’s not US, it’s HIM. But we are blessed to get to labor with Him!
When we choose to stop believing—“He could there no mighty work”—we prevent Him and quench Him. When we choose to believe and participate, we see Him move mountains that we thought unmoveable! We see Him do things that ONLY HE can do!
Without fail, every time I have believed God to be at work in New England, He has proven Himself to be—verified, validated, sealed in stone! He is undeniably at work. And without fail, every time I don’t believe He is at work, I don’t see Him work. Amazing how that happens!
When you believe the mountain is unmovable, it is! Miracles begin with belief. No belief—no mountains move. It’s that simple.
Christian—it’s not your responsibility to pry open cold hearts. It’s your responsibility to believe God, and obey Him based upon that belief. In so doing, you will find He creates Divine intersections—moments where your obedient believe comes into direct contact with open hearts. He places faith-filled servants on collision courses with God moments—intersections where believing meets blessing.
There’s nothing like arriving at one of these intersections! It’s like meeting someone you’ve never known, but feel like you’ve known forever. You knew them by faith, and now you’re meeting them face to face. God brought you to this Divine moment. Then you share Christ. You find that the Holy Spirit has gone before you and prepared the heart. He is with you in the moment bringing conviction and truth to bear. The heart opens. Faith is born. A softened soul prays to receive Christ and tears flow. New life and new birth unfold before your eyes. And the Holy Spirit takes that new life and new relationship and begins to mature and grow His new child. It’s awesome!
And you know in your heart, you had NOTHING to do with it—except the faith part. You were just simple enough, foolish enough to believe and obey. You were just the conduit—the vessel—and an unworthy one at that.
Whether you realize it or not—your belief is driving behavior. That behavior is creating experience that perpetuates belief.
In the short time I’ve been in New England, I have come to believe the challenge of New England is not the unbelief of the lost. It is the unbelief of Christians. Those closest to faith—those most likely to believe, are often those with the least faith, and hence the least obedience.
Does Jesus ever marvel at you? And if so—what does He marvel at? Your belief? Or your unbelief? It’s your call.
Be certain—there is a harvest! But if you believe there isn’t, guaranteed, for sure—there won’t be!