Our nation needs a radical encounter with Jesus, says Dr. Javon Ruff, pastor of Free Chapel’s Spartanburg campus in South Carolina. Nothing else will turn the tide of evil we’re seeing today.
Pastor Ruff knows this to be true because he had a radical encounter with God—the only thing that could transform his soul and redeem his hardened past.
When Ruff first darkened the doors of Free Chapel, he was in a desperate state. He was suicidal, depressed, and hooked on drugs and alcohol.
“A radical encounter in a service at Free Chapel literally changed my life,” Ruff says. “I don’t despise rehab in any way, but I didn’t even have to go through any rehab program for drug addiction. The chains of addiction and bondage were broken off my life.”
Growing up in Church or in Christ?
Unlike the stereotypical addict, Ruff grew up in a Christian home. But just because he grew up in church didn’t mean he grew up in Christ. The difference between the two, he says, is profound: The former creates a shallow faith that depends on entertainment in church while the latter teaches us to have ever-deepening relationships with Jesus.
It’s dangerous, he explains, “when the church becomes more of a routine and a ritual as opposed to producing a faith that’s based upon a relationship and walk with the Lord.”
How can a person know they’ve grown up in church with a shallow faith? Simply put, they have no fruit. Evidence of real faith, Ruff says, is life transformation that flows from an authentic encounter with God through salvation.
“The worst thing, I believe, is to have access to a full life but still live empty,” he says. “We have to get back to the basic foundations of our faith: the Word of God, prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, and activating the spiritual weapons of our warfare.”
Entertainment vs. Encounter
It’s easy to confuse emotion-focused entertainment with a radical encounter with God, Ruff says. So what’s the difference?
He often hears people say they got goosebumps from a service. Although there’s nothing wrong with goosebumps, Ruff says physical sensations aren’t a sufficient indicator for a real encounter with God. After all, before becoming a Christian, he used to go to secular rap concerts and get goosebumps, too—and he knows it wasn’t because he was glorifying the Lord.
“God gave us emotions, and we are emotional beings. The presence of God can make us emotional—Scripture is very clear about that, where there’s weeping and brokenness,” he says. “But I don’t think God’s presence should be minimized to that. We have to go beyond emotion.”
Those with a past of substance abuse like Ruff can tend to seek one high after another. And if it’s not drugs and alcohol, it can easily become emotional highs at church. Instead of coming to church seeking a feeling, we need to come to encounter the living God, to meet with Him, hear His Word, and build up His people.
“The goal is an encounter, and an encounter will always lead to life change,” Ruff says. “Our priority must be God’s presence and seeing Him.”
King David understood this distinction. In Psalm 63, he communicates his longing for God’s presence by saying, “Earnestly I seek you … I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory” (Psalm 63:1a-2, ESV, emphasis added).
“Our job as parents is not to get our kids addicted to church,” Ruff adds. “Our job—and our hearts’ prayer and our cry—is to get them to fall in love with Jesus. If they fall in love with Jesus, they’ll fall in love with His house.”
Encountering God at the Ark Encounter
Ruff is praying that this is the kind of encounter every attendee will experience at the Ark Encounter this August through September at the world’s largest Christian music festival, 40 Days & Nights of Gospel Music.
He’s praying, not for an emotional moment that simply makes people feel better, but for a move of God that leads to life transformation.
“We want to encounter Christ. We want to honor the presence of God,” he says. “That’s my heart’s cry in this season, in this hour, to see God move in all our lives, including mine.”
Purchase your tickets now to watch Dr. Javon Ruff preach live at the Ark Encounter! Hurry—tickets and local hotel rooms are going fast!