Rodney Starks, in a very interesting book that’s probably worth reading – he’s a secular author. I don’t know if he’s still a secular author, because this book, I think, rocked his world. He wrote a book called The Rise of Christianity. He’s a sociologist, and he wanted to figure out – because it didn’t make any sense to him – what were the cultural or sociological issues that, in the first century, could begin with a few thousand people, and, by the fourth century – actually, 313 A.D. – have the majority of the population of the Roman Empire be followers of Jesus.
It was estimated there were about 60 million people in the Roman Empire at 313, and about 33 million of them were followers of Jesus. And, with him, there’s no Book of Acts; there are no miracles; there’s no this, no that. All he does is, he’s looking at the research. And as he looks at it, he realizes, in the first century, there are two epic plagues that wipe out, at times, a third of the whole population. And so, the elite run to the hills and run away, but there’s one group that feed people, nurse people, give them food, and, in many cases, lose their lives. At times, whole towns – two-thirds of towns – would be lost. This happened twice in the first century.
And out of all his empirical data, what he says is, the Christians loved people. The Christians cared. The Christians didn’t change the culture externally. What happened was, the people that were left were Christians, or the people that Christians loved, and when your family members have died, and these are the people that loved you and cared for you, there were great conversions.
Later on, in the next few centuries, Starks points out that there were three major cultural issues that destroy a culture. Number one, he said, there was no sanitation, and there was ethnic division. Number two, he said, the treatment of women was deplorable. And third, he said, we had a situation where, all around the known world, infanticide – children were routinely drowned.
And what the Church did is, they expressed the goodness of God, and they began to clean up and find cultural solutions that were creative to sanitation. They elevated women as coheirs of the grace of God and, in their relationships, treated them quite differently than a piece of meat to be passed around or to be used. And they began to pick up the children from the dumps and raise them themselves. And he said it was this internal magnification of the – he wouldn’t call it the “grace of God,” ‘cause he didn’t use those terms, or the “goodness of God,” but from a cultural perspective.
Do you get – that’s what God wants to do.
Now, here’s what I want you to get. When the consequences of unrighteousness multiply, and God’s judgment, out of His compassion and sovereign plans, align, it’s time for a major breakthrough.
One, He always calls individuals. Two, they first return to an accurate view, first and foremost, of His goodness and mercy that leads them personally to repentance. Three, dependency and humility follow, evidenced by cries for help and direction from God. Four, people seek God, personally and corporately, in prayer and fasting, for forgiveness and direction. And that becomes the norm in their experience. Adoration and praise replace consumer-oriented prayers of, “Fix my life, and make me happy.” Fifth, a missional concern for God’s love for others, and the need to demonstrate God’s love for one another, break through religious activity into service outside the Church, and the relational support and unity with tangible expressions inside the Church that cross denominational and gender and ethnic boundaries.
God’s Spirit then prompts individuals to take specific steps of repentance and obedience – in their families, in their churches, in their communities – to reach into their neighborhoods and to their workplaces with an unusual boldness and sacrifice, often accompanied, then, by supernatural manifestations of God’s presence and power to authenticate His Word and His work.
It starts organically. It’s an office here, a family here, a neighborhood there. And, like a mustard seed, it begins to grow. God’s favor and hand in blessing is poured forth, resulting in renewal, revitalization, and a massive movement of people outside of Christ finding Christ as Savior, and a new level of commitment and love of those inside the Church. It’s God’s plan. God will do breakthrough. It starts with individuals, then groups, churches, cities, nations.
I believe God, if you look at our world, is ready for a breakthrough. I think you and I are in a window of time where we are ripe for, not just individual and group and church and city breakthroughs. We’re ripe for a time of God doing a great work.
And by the way, He’s doing it. It’s happening in China; it’s happening in Korea, it’s happening in Africa, it’s happening in South America – it’s not happening in America. Why? My premise: We haven’t made room.
Okay, there’s the big picture. What would it look like, for you, what would it look like, for me, to make room in your heart, your life, and your relationships for God to break through? You ready? Two action steps – your personal pathway to breakthrough.
Action step number one Mark 1:15: “The Kingdom of God is near.” The Kingdom is, who’s King, Jesus, is here, with unlimited power, and His heart is full of goodness and mercy to do good.
So, how do you respond to the King, who wants to do good to you and to everyone around us? “Repent and believe [in] the good news!” The truth: God is good. God wants to bless you in all that you do. Do you believe that? He’s good. The first step to breakthrough is understanding and believing God’s goodness.
Here’s the question, though – put a star by this one. The question is, from where or whom do you believe the good in life will come? That’s critical! Ask yourself, from where do you believe – I mean, the good. What I mean, the good in life – satisfaction, fulfillment, great relationships, prosperity – however you define that. Or from whom?
And what I’m gonna tell you is, the Bible’s really clear. There are two options: There is Jesus, and there is the world system. And I think if you would stop and pull back, and say, “My energy, my time, my thoughts, and my money – do I believe the good in life is, man, when we go public, when I finally have kids, when we remodel the kitchen, when I find the right girl, when I find the right guy, I’ll tell you what, if I can keep working out and, man, when I get really buff and look really sexy, then, then, then, then, then . . .”
The world offers idols. That’s all they are. And the idols say, “We’ll deliver for you! We’ll love you! We’ll make you famous! We’ll make you significant! We’ll make you happy!” And instead, they make you a slave, and they put you in bondage.
And God says, “Believe that I’m the source of goodness. Believe that I will give you the highest and the best. I’ll not withhold any good thing from those who walk closely with Me. I’ve got your best.”
And so, when you answer that question, now we’re hitting the pay dirt of where and why and how you need to make room, because action step number two is, make room in your life for God’s breakthrough. Isaiah 57:15, you might jot in the corner. It’s one of those interesting passages. It says that God can only dwell in freedom, and in all that He is, in two places. And it says He dwells in the highest place in the heavens, that is absolutely pure and angels adoring Him, and also with the humble and contrite in heart.
Well, how do you make room? The truth is, it’s the goodness and kindness, the tolerance and the patience of God that leads to repentance.
And then, in the – put the next line, put a parenthesis around it. Because it’s really just the definition of repentance. It’s a change of mind that always leads to a change of behavior. That’s how you make room. You realize, I’m thinking like this about God. I’m thinking like the prodigal son. I am in the pigpen, and I’m thinking, “Give me my money; I’m gonna do my thing. And God, you know, I might want a little fire insurance, but I’ll do my thing, my way, when – and I’m gonna do my own stuff . . .”
Repentance is, “I’ve royally messed up my life.” “I’ve royally messed up my relationship.” “I’ve royally messed up my health.” “I’ve royally messed up my work career.” “I’ve royally messed up . . .”
And, unfortunately, most people think, then, I guess I need to work my way back to getting religious, and try really hard, and prove my morality, and someday, some way, somehow . . . And over there, there’s a Father, this day, a Father – arms open, “Come, daughter. Come, son.” And when you see His goodness – no one wants to run toward someone who’s, you know, saying, “Okay, I’m glad you finally came. You are a jerk, okay? We got that down. And you’re an immoral jerk. And, by the way, you do this, you do this, you do this.” I mean, it’s, like, hey, I don’t need that. It’s all true. See, we do that to ourselves.
God will show us our sin, without condemnation. He’ll say, “All that’s true. I placed that on My Son. I love you, and I’m gonna change you from the inside out. But you gotta make room for Me.”
And the way you make room for God is, number one, you gotta get rid of the competitors. And then, He gives us a very clear process.
Would you open your Bibles to James? I wanna give you just a beginning, to start here. James chapter 4. The context is, this is the very first book of the New Testament written. So, mostly Jewish Christians, they’re being persecuted, they’re spread abroad. I mean, they’ve lost their jobs; they’ve lost their homes. Some have been kicked out of their family. Life is really hard.
Chapter 1 tells them, never forget where the good comes. “Every good . . . and . . . perfect gift [comes] from above . . . from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Regardless of your circumstances, the real good in life isn’t out there; it’s with God. And so, obey His Word. Don’t live in hypocrisy. Get a hold of your tongue.
Then, in chapter 4, He begins to speak to them, because some of them have made a new friend. Some of them have made a new friend that they think will deliver the good in life, and in verse 4, it says, “You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend [with] the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you [not know, or] think [that the] Scripture says without reason that the Spirit [is] caused to live [with jealousy because He intensely cares for you, but He says to us . . . And He gives more grace, and [that’s why this] Scripture says: ‘God [is opposed to] the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” And so, He says you gotta make room for Him in your life, and part of it is realizing the idols that we Christians worship, that are filling our life, have to get removed.
And then, are you ready? He tells us exactly how to do it. I wanna give you the verbs. And what you’re gonna see is, there are some verbs – they’re action words – and there are some promises.
Notice the first command – it’s overarching: “Submit therefore to God.” Write that down. It’s a military word – hupotasso – come under your commander. It’s a picture of a captain calling his troops. They say, “Yes, Sir.” First step to make room: You come over to God’s side, whatever it is you’re dealing with – whatever relationship, whatever addiction, whatever idol – and you say, “Reporting for duty. You are the good, kind God. Whatever You say, the righteous path, I will do life Your way. I’m taking on Your yoke. I don’t know what it is. I want You to know, I’m really afraid. But I want You to know that it’s not working for me. And You wanna do the impossible.” Step one: “Submit therefore to God.”
And then, notice the next command: “Resist the devil and [he’ll] flee from you.” It’s a command. We’re talking about your soul! We’re talking about a battle that’s huge. And you will not be let go of lightly. And so, you don’t just say, “Reporting for duty,” and think, Oh, it’s gonna be great. No, it’s gonna get really hard. And so, you need to resist those lies: “You know what? You’ll be single all your life if you’re living together, and you move out.” “You know what? You’ll never rise in the company if you do that.” “You know what? I know everyone’s doing this, and they don’t report their taxes, and you’ll never build a business unless you lie, lie, lie, lie.” “Resist the devil and [he’ll] flee from you.”
And then, positive command: “Draw near to God . . . [He’ll] draw near to you.” Is this awesome? This is the prodigal daughter, or the prodigal son, taking steps toward God, and before they get close, He runs. He will run to meet you. He wants you to have prayer times where you feel like He’s in the room. He wants to comfort you and love you and care for you and hold you.
Notice the next verb. He says, “[Wash] your hands . . . and purify your hearts” – notice – “you double-minded.” We get our word schizophrenic. What specific activities are you doing, that you know are wrong? Stop it. You say, “I can’t.” Well, of course you can’t. You choose to stop it, and you get some help. But you take that step.
But He says it’s not just external activities that you know are wrong; it’s your motives in your heart. “Purify your [heart], you double-minded.” See, their problem is the same as ours: “I wanna be a good Christian. I wanna go to heaven. I wanna be deeply loved. I want God to bless my life. And . . . my way, my stuff, my thought, my goals, my idol, my work, my family, my picture.” There is no middle ground with God. He won’t have competitors.
And idols can be your grandkids. Idols can be success. Idols can be your body. Idols can be money. . Idols can be the school they get into. It can be where they were on the traveling team, or their SAT scores.
And when you look at where your time and where your energy and where your focus and what really matters, that will tell you what you worship. And all He’s saying is, “You know? It ain’t gonna be pretty later. ‘Cause they’re dead. They don’t give life. Make room for Me. Let Me love you.”
And so, then He talks about the emotional level. He says, “Grieve, mourn . . . wail. Change your laughter –” It’s a picture of, not, like, “ha-ha” laughter. It’s a picture of the sensual, foolish laughter of living the literal “gay” lifestyle of: who cares, whatever. And He says, “Turn it to mourning.”
So, this isn’t some little formula. This is heart to heart. This is on a certain day, at a certain time, preferably today, and you have a real gut check with God. And you not only say, “My way’s not working,” you not only own and identify what the idols are, but you come to a heavenly Father who’s extended goodness and kindness and mercy, and goodness and kindness and mercy, even when we keep neglecting and rejecting Him, and in tears, you say, “I’m sorry. I’ve been dissin’ You.” Have you ever betrayed someone, another human being? I mean, really betrayed ‘em, and be caught, and just think, Oh, why did I do that?
Notice we’re called an “adulteress”: “You adulterous people.” See, sin isn’t about external behaviors. Sin is about relationship. Sin is about betrayal. It’s us having other lovers, other than Jesus, and believing those other lovers will satisfy. It’s coming to God and saying, “I broke Your heart. I don’t hear Your voice. People don’t see the love and the light and the grace and the purity of Jesus in me.” And what He wanted to say is, “I know. I love you anyway. Let’s start again.”
Last command: Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. I mean, that’s just – you know, “I give! I can’t do it!” And what’s the promise? “He will exalt you.” Literally, the word – He’ll lift you up. He’ll take you in His arms. He’ll fix things. He’ll turn things around. Overnight? No. Without effort? No. It’ll require courage.
You need to have a Shepherd that is good. You need to have a God that’s powerful. I want you to use this as your source of adoration. I want you to spend two or three minutes, a couple times a day, and just use this as a basis, “I praise You and I thank You that You will fill my cup. I praise You and I thank You that You have. I praise You that, no matter what I’m going through – the darkness and the fear out of the decisions that I’ve made – that You’ll be with me.” Make this a source of adoration.
And I will tell you what happens: When your God gets bigger, your problems get smaller. And He’ll work in you, and then He’ll work through you.