Keith Urban won Entertainer of the Year at last night’s Academy of Country Music Awards. Thomas Rhett and Kacey Musgraves won Male and Female Artist of the Year.
But, in my opinion, the most significant achievement in country music came earlier in the week.
Brad Paisley and his wife, Kimberly, broke ground on a Nashville grocery store that is unlike any I know. Customers will walk through the aisles selecting fruit, vegetables, cereal, and other groceries. Then they will check out at the register.
However, no money will change hands.
The Paisleys partnered with Belmont University, a Christian university and Brad’s alma mater, building the store next to the school’s ministry center. They hope to serve three thousand impoverished people a year.
Their Christian faith is on clear display in a way that will impact lives far beyond Nashville.
“All healthy things grow”
Many years ago, I attended a church growth conference led by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California. His approach was not at all what I expected.
I assumed Rick would talk about his church’s leadership structure, ministry organization, and marketing strategy. Instead, he spent most of the conference discussing the importance of spiritual health—for himself, his leadership team, and their members.
He explained his passionate focus on spirituality this way: “All healthy things grow.”
Plant a tree in your backyard, water and fertilize it, protect it from bugs and other adversaries, and it will grow. It’s designed that way by God.
If we’re looking for a way to impact our world for Christ, a strategy that will help our churches and personal ministries be more effective in our secularized culture, let’s take Rick’s advice. Let’s focus on our spiritual health. And then let’s watch healthy things grow as we impact our culture with God’s love.
Headed south at noon
I’m reading through the book of Acts in my personal Bible study and was greatly encouraged this weekend by a story we don’t discuss much.
In Acts 8, an angel directs Philip to the road “south” from Jerusalem to Gaza (v. 26). The Greek word for “south” can also mean “noon,” the more likely translation in my opinion.
Everyone knew that the road to Gaza led south. God sent Philip to that road at noon, during the heat of the day, a time when hardly anyone traveled it. It was a “desert” road, sparse and forbidding.
We often wonder at the time why God sends us where he does.
He “went on his way rejoicing”
But our Father usually shows us: “And he arose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship” (v. 27). This man would be our treasury secretary today with his signature on our currency. His conversion would carry the gospel to the highest reaches of Ethiopian culture and influence.
The Lord had already gone ahead of Philip, as he goes before us. The Ethiopian had been reading from Isaiah 53, the best text in the entire Old Testament to use in presenting the atoning death and love of the Lord Jesus.
Then the man asked Philip to explain the text, making it easy for him to share “the good news about Jesus” (v. 35). The eunuch believed, was baptized, and “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39). Early tradition identifies him as the first Christian missionary to Ethiopia.
All this because Philip allowed the Holy Spirit to lead him where he had no plans to go.
When we follow God, he always goes before us. He will prepare the heart of every person he intends us to reach with his gospel. Then he will give us the words to say and the works to share.
Where God is most at work in the world
Where God is most at work around the world, the common denominator is that his people are dependent on his Spirit—usually because they have no other option.
I’ve witnessed Cuban Christians praying fervently for the power of the Spirit and then testifying to their faith with incredible courage and passion. I know Spirit-empowered former Muslims who risk their lives to tell Muslims about Jesus. The Charismatic movement is transforming churches across Central and South America.
As we watch reports of declining church attendance and Christian commitment in America, is our prosperity impeding our dependence on the Holy Spirit? Is self-sufficiency grieving the Spirit and hindering his power?
If all healthy things grow, how is our health?
“The Spirit longs to reveal how near he is to you”
We can expect the enemy to do anything to keep us from being submitted daily to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). He knows how foundational this relationship is to us and those we influence.
By contrast, the Holy Spirit urgently wants an intimate, transformational relationship with us. Craig Denison writes in First15: “The Spirit longs to reveal how near he is to you. He longs to make you more aware of his manifest presence. He longs to lead you, speak to you, fill you, satisfy you, heal you, set you free, and empower you. He longs for your heart to find freedom and security in him. He longs to be your best friend, companion, and teacher.”
So, Satan wants you to depend on yourself today. God wants you to depend on his Spirit.
The deciding vote is yours.