followers make followers

Matthew’s last words record Jesus before he ascended to heaven,

“Go therefore and make followers of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Between Matthew 4 and Matthew 28, Jesus transformed twelve followers into a new kind of fishermen. In the Book of Acts—or Acts of the Jesus Followers—you see these men going into all the world telling the world about Jesus. Why? Because Jesus was the answer to the world’s problems. Jesus and his followers would turn the world upside down.

Maybe God will never call you to be a pastor or a missionary. Maybe you will never be called to go to the desert of Chad or the jungles of Brazil. You have your own jungle. As a church God has placed you strategically in a dark, broken, and hurting community.

As Daniel 12:3 says,

“Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever.”

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are those stars shining brightly for others to see the Light of the World. It was a title he also passed onto his followers. The mark of a committed follower of Jesus is if he is making more followers of Jesus.  Followers make followers.

Are you a curious, convinced, or committed follower of Jesus?

Curious: Will you accept Jesus call to follow him today? Spend time with Jesus. Read Matthew.  Put yourself in the shoes of a follower.

Convinced: Do you resemble your Rabbi? What nets do you need to leave to cling to Jesus?  Are you ready to spend the rest of your life following Jesus?

Committed: Who is following you to Jesus?  Make more followers.

Before you open your mouth

If you could ask God for anything right now, what would you ask? If you had one prayer to pray, what would you pray? Here is a request for prayer that hit me hard this week,

“Pray for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” – Ephesians 6:19-20

These are not my words. These words are from the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (6:19-20). He said them following his teaching on spiritual warfare. The apostle gave more time and space to talk about prayer than any other weapon. He gives us three powerful truths to think about before opening your mouth.

Pray for opportunities to proclaim the gospel (Ephesians 6:19a).

Everyday you proclaim many things. You talk about the news or weather, the football match from the night before, how your work or health is going, how you are having trouble with your neighbors, or how the preacher went really long on Sunday at church.

On average women say 20,000 words a day and men 7,000 words a day. That’s a lot of words! No, this is not a message encouraging women to speak less and men to speak more. Rather it is to encourage you to consider the opportunities you have each day to speak. Isn’t it important to pause and pray. Pray that God would give you a good word.

What should we pray? Paul says pray for opportunities to proclaim the good news. In other letters he says to pray for open doors for the good news. Pray for readiness and a response for the hope that is in you.

I’d like to say that before I visit my neighbors house I pray. Or before I chat with a group of men at the market I pray. Or before work with others I pray. Sometimes I neglect to pray.

There is a story in Acts 4:24-31 when Peter and John healed a blind the beggar in Jesus name. It caused a lot of attention and they were invited to speak before the the leaders. After they were released they gathered with believers and told them what happened. They asked them pray. Here is what they prayed,

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” – Acts 4:24-31

It is interesting how the believers start that prayer by appealing to the sovereignty of the Lord. They quote David speaking about how the nations gather together against the Lord, and how Herod and Pontius Pilot conspired against the Lord, but at the end of the day God is in control. When there is resistance to the name of Christ, a recognition of the sovereignty of God and His plan is of utmost importance.

Prayer isn’t passive, it’s active. Prayer is really doing something. Prayer isn’t the least you can do, it’s the most. Prayer is never secondary, it’s always primary. It’s not the last thing you do when there is no other option; it’s the first and best thing to do. If there is no prayer, there is no power. Prayer is trusting God that He can accomplish more when you are on your knees than you can accomplish on your feet.

Prayer warriors with no real grasp of what the gospel is all about, may be spirited, but they are no more useful on the field than a soldier without weapons. That leads us to the second truth before opening your mouth.

Proclaim the Gospel (6:19b).

What is the gospel?  The gospel is good news. There are many things that are good. A house that doesn’t leak when it rains is good. Fried chicken is good. A faithful friend is good. Marriage is good. Healthy children are good.

What is the good news? Before we zero in on what the good news is let’s begin by talking about what the good news is not.

The good news is not about having a good character. Some people think a Christian is someone who don’t drink, smoke or chew or go with girls that do. Yes, it is true Christians are different. Christians aren’t to be like the world. They are to be more like Christ. On the other hand, some Christians only talk about the good they do. They brag about how much they pray, go to church, or even fast. Being good is good, but it is not the good news.

The good news is not talking good about God or religious things. Maybe when talking with friend or stranger you bless them in God’s name. They think you are religious because you have religious talk. That is good, but it ’s not the good news.

The good news is not doing good things for God or people. I work with an organization that does good things everyday to help poor and needy people. Other like-minded organizations fight hard for social issues and justice. Christians all over the world have done good—building hospitals, building wells, and freeing slaves. These are good things, but this is not the gospel.

These are all good things. We should be good people, who say good things and do good things, but that is not the good news. There are a lot of people who do and say good things, but ‘good’ people go to hell too.

The Scripture talks a lot about good news. What is the good news and why is it so good? In order for there to be good news there has to be bad news. Do you want to hear the good news or bad news first? Good. Let’s hear the good news first.

The good news first starts with God. God is good. He is more than good. He is great. He is holy. He is wise. He is unlike no other. He is powerful. He created the world by his word. He created it good. He created man from the dust and breathed life into his. He created man very good. He cares for his creation. That is really good news. Could you imagine what this life would be like if God wasn’t like God. Not good.

That leads us to the bad news. Yes, there is bad news. When God created man he gave them one rule. One. What was that rule? Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Did man listen? No. What happened? Man did not listen. When God came to the garden. Man hid. Why did he hide? He was ashamed. Can anyone hide from God? No. Who did God call first? Adam. Why Adam? God created Adam first. Adam was made responsible. When asked if he ate the fruit how did Adam respond? He said, “The woman made ma eat it.” Is that true? Yes and No. Yes, Adam ate, BUT he was there when she ate too and he did nothing. Not good. When God asked Eve if she ate the fruit what did she say? She said the serpent made her eat it. Both Adam and Eve took no responsibility for their disobedience. Therefore, they were cursed. They were created eternal beings, but they would now die. All their children and children’s children would inherit their desire to sin. Not good. The bad news is that no one is born good.

Thankfully there is even better news. God did not start over. He didn’t leave his plan or forget man. He did not utterly wipe humans from the face of the earth. Before creation he had a plan to send a redeemer—a Savior. He himself came to earth. Jesus was his name. God with skin on. We celebrated this on Christmas. Jesus lived the only sinless life. He became the only sacrifice for mankind sin.  The really good news is that Jesus saves people born bad.

Why is the gospel so important and good? Without it bad news remains. You remain dead in sin. Yet there is no hope for you. The good news. Do you believe it? Only the gospel has power to make something dead become alive. Those that repent of their sin and believe on Jesus will inherit eternal life.  That is good news! It is the greatest news on earth! Do you believe it? Then will you proclaim it? That brings me to the third and final truth before opening your mouth.

Proclaim the gospel boldly without excuse (6:19-20).

Why did Paul ask for prayer for assurance or courage? Did he fear man. Yes. He was human. Fear is a real thing for everyone. Even apostles.

Did you know there are some Muslims who are coming to faith in Christ? It is truth. It is exciting. Right now there are a small group of men who are reading the Bible from Genesis to Jesus. God is giving them faith to believe. One of those men recently came to faith in Christ two months ago. His name is Mark. He grew up the firstborn son in a strict Muslim family. His teacher at secondary school was a Christian from southern Chad. After class that teacher would read his Bible under a tree. Mark was interested and would ask his teacher what he was reading. His teacher would explain that he was reading the Bible and share many stories. Mark wanted to read more of the Bible so the teacher gave him a copy, but his dad took it and burned it.

A few years later, another believer from a Muslim background was passing through his town. They met by a miracle of God and this believer invited Mark to come learn about the Bible at a workshop. He went. There he began hearing the stories of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and more. He asked for his own Bible and was eating it up. When he went back to his village his uncle found his Bible and ripped it up. That didn’t stop his interest.

A few months ago, while talking to my colleague and a member of this church he said, “I believe who Jesus says he is.” He repented of his sin and committed to following Jesus. Immediately, he had some fear. He knew if he were to tell his father he would likely be beaten, imprisoned, or disowned. He hid. Yet the Bible and the Spirit of God kept reminding him that the good news is not something to hide. After much prayer he decided to call his father and tell him he had become a Christian. His father did not take it well. He threatened to catch him and put him on house arrest. He threatened to disown his mother and siblings. He treated to cut off his inheritance. Mark risked a lot. Yet his faith is growing. Pray for Mark to be bold. May his example encourage us to be bold.

Paul says, “I am an ambassador in chains.” Why is he in prison? He proclaimed the good news. People don’t like the good news. Yet in prison, Paul has an opportunity. He has a captive audience. He asks for prayer to be bold to share where he is, even in prison.

You are an ambassador of the King of kings, the Commander of the armies of heaven. Speak as His representative with boldness. Do not be ashamed. Remember the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who do not know the gospel. The good news offends people, especially good people who say good things and do good things.

If everyone likes you and likes your message likely you aren’t sharing the good news. Jesus said to his followers. If you follow me you will be persecuted. Expect persecution. It is the way of a Jesus follower.

Have you heard of the Back to Jerusalem Movement? There are Christians in Chinese. Some 100,000,000 Christians. These Christians are praying to send 100,000 Chinese missionaries from China back to Jerusalem. Along the way they are praying to break the walls of Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. Wow! Let’s pray for the Chinese believers. That is bold! May the church be that bold. May I be that bold.

What is your excuse for not being bold? What are you afraid of? What prevents you from sharing the good news? It is good news to you? Do you believe it? Will you begin by praying for an opportunity to share it? Will you pray for your boldness?

Will you pause for a moment, right now, and consider these questions and ask the Spirit of God how you should pray. Then pray. And act.

unashamed I stand

Hutts wheat field

My first “real” job was at Schmidt Sporting Goods in the Wausau Center Mall. It was the perfect job for a teenager into sports. I was fifteen, a new Christian and a bit awkward socially. There were many times during a shift at work when the crowds would dwindle and stocking was slow and the employees would gravitate together to chat. You can imagine the variety of conversations that would unfold between young adults. This was the first testing ground of my faith. At first I was shy. I didn’t want to reveal my identity as a Christian. I was ashamed. I learned to camouflage to my colleagues. At church, I was outspoken and on fire, always attending youth group, serving where I could, even going on missions trips, but outside of church I hid my light under a bushel basket. I will share more about my time at Schmidt’s later.

Oddly enough, I am now on mission in North Africa. I’d like to say that I have changed. That I share my faith like a wild fire burning through the bush in a windstorm. However, that is not always the case. I often resort to hiding the light. Why am I so ashamed? Chiefly, I think much of what others think of me and think little of what God has done for me.

I know I am not alone when it comes to timidity of faith. The Bible is chalked full of examples of people reluctant to bear the name of God. Moses tried every excuse in the book not to go back to Pharaoh and represent God. Jonah ran opposite Nineveh to the sea. Peter denied Jesus multiple times before the rooster crowed. If you were to ask each of these men to write Romans 1:16 it might have read, “For I am ashamed of the gospel for is it the weakness of man unto slavery to everyone who disbelieves.”

You and I both know that isn’t how that verse reads. I have rehearsed that verse ever since I started attending Sunday School. Instead the verse reads, “For I am unashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” According to this verse the gospel does two things: 1) it brings out shaming behavior in those who will not believe it and 2) it gives freedom from shame to those who do believe it. In other words, the gospel that causes shame also frees us from shame.

It is difficult to keep quiet about my faith in North Africa. When people see me or my beard their first question is, “Are you Muslim?” because most Muslim teachers have beards. I sport my beard on purpose. First, my wife digs it. Second, it’s a great conversation starter. Of course, I respond, “No. I follow the way of Jesus.” So I had this same interaction with a group of Islamic teachers and they responded, “Ah, we follow Jesus too and God’s other prophet, Mohammad. Do you follow Mohammad?” When I responded “No” the teacher with the biggest and whitest beard preached at me for 10 minutes trying to convince me of my error and foolishness. The way I was being belittled made me think about the religious guys during Jesus’ day. I left the interaction gut-checked and scarred, but like Paul’s words (see: Colossians 1:24), I was able to understand a smidgen the sufferings of Christ.

It would be great if this was a one-time interaction, in fact, it happens a lot. A few months ago, I arrived at our neighborhood corner store. There was an older woman arguing with the boy managing the store how there isn’t any coins to make change in this town. It is a true exaggeration. We sometimes make it our ministry to tape up crust old bills that are falling apart and return them to circulation. I tried sympathizing with the woman, but she turned at me and said, “You are white. You probably have lots of money and change.” Now, in this culture, it is not appropriate to talk much with woman publicly, so I didn’t make much of it. I just smiled awkwardly and said, “I just brought enough change to buy bread.” She then asked, “Are you Muslim?” When she learned that I only followed the way of Jesus she yelled, “Why are you here, you unbeliever.” I stepped back, blessed her and turned to walk back home. As I walked off she cried out, “Become a Muslim.” I thought she was just having a bad day, but the next day she had a similar interaction with a female colleague. We were bearing the shame for the name of Jesus and ouch, it hurt.

How did Paul or Jesus handle the shame heaped on them? Hebrews 12:2 says about Jesus: “For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus did not let shame gain the upper hand, rather he set his heart towards joy in His future place with His Father. Jesus saw His temporary pain as eternal gain. Paul echoed this when he said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) It’s a win-win when you are in Christ.

In Acts 5:41 when the disciples were beaten and charged not to speak about the name of Jesus. It says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They ‘despised the shame’ trading it for joy because they suffered with Jesus because no amount of earthly shame can erase the joy we will have when we’re with God. Jesus erases all shame. “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)

Coming back to Romans 1:16, Paul said he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is “the power of God unto salvation.” What makes the gospel so offensive is that it takes me, man, out of the salvation equation and it puts Jesus Christ front and center. I can do nothing to earn salvation. Jesus did everything. That offends people because people want some credit or merit points to put on my imaginary good deeds sash.

My friends and I have recently committed to memory Acts 4:12 into Arabic, which in English says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) When sharing this verse with my Muslim friends it causes a stir and bring upon me shame from those who do not believe, but for me, these words have freed me from shame.

Therefore, with Jesus and Paul, I say to you. Suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, you bet. Be shamed, absolutely. But do not be ashamed. You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Temporary pain. Eternal gain.

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” It wasn’t until after the Alca tribe slaughtered Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and their three colleagues that they realized the men they killed had lived the words they had been taught to them about Jesus. They saw Jesus in the way they lived and died.

It was a slow shift at Schmidt Sporting Goods and I gathered near the cash register to chat with Nate and Brian who were working that night. The question came up, “Why don’t you like to work on Sundays or Wednesday night?” I told them that I went to church and met with my friends to learn about Jesus. In the minutes that followed they allowed me to share the gospel with them. Nate responded, “Justin, you really believe that nonsense? That God wrote a book? And that Jesus is really God?” He went on to shame me for my beliefs. To fast forward a few years, while in college, I got an email from Brian. He told me how that summer he had a life-altering boating accident in which he broke his neck. In his recovery God brought to mind our conversations years earlier and he began reading his Bible and attending an evangelical church. Soon after he gave his life to Christ. He thanked me for not being ashamed.

I praise God for His work in Brian, but usually I expect responses to the gospel like Nate. If the Bible says people will think of me as foolish it is what it is (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-31). In 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Paul says that we are to expect afflictions and slander (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-26). Peter echoes Paul, in 1 Peter 3:13-18 when writing to group of believers under fire for their faith to expect suffering because Christ Himself suffered.

1 Peter 3:8-9 is a key verse in which Peter calls the you and I, the church, to stand under persecution, shame, ridicule, misunderstanding for the sake of the gospel. Would you make this verse a prayer for me? As I will make it a prayer for you and your church. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (cf. Luke 6:28)

loving your brother while living in a messy world

mess worth making

You just don’t let anyone in your fridge. Why is that? It could be that there is a mess in there or something you wouldn’t want just anybody to see. That might embarrass some. Yet for those privileged few you give permission to find something to drink or eat from your fridge you have reached a certain level of comfort. Even though there might be a mess, you are comfortable showing your mess because you have nothing to hide.

I’ve been walking through 1 Corinthians, a letter written to a messy church (and what church isn’t?). Looking at the church in Corinth is like looking into a messy fridge. It’s a little embarrassing. We see all the faults and fears.  Yet it is somewhat comforting looking at Corinth because it’s somewhat normal church.

The question I’ve been asking while reading 1 Corinthians is: How can I make much of Christ in a messy church in a messy world? There is no mistake that Paul brings every question and every concern of the church back to Christ (so important!). For Christ is the solution and the center of the church, and if not, the center becomes the mess not the Messiah. Christ has come to be the Messiah of the mess we have made.

As I enter 1 Corinthians 8, the question becomes specific: How do I follow Christ (or exercise my rights and freedoms in Christ) while living in a messy world without bringing more messes into the church? To this the Bible gives a mosaic of wisdom that when pieced together helps me to see how I am to live in a messy world.

First, seek His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:31-33). Jesus wants me to think of God’s kingdom and righteousness as two lanes of a oneway street. To seek God’s kingdom is to honor His authority, not usurp it. To usurp God is to veer off the left shoulder of the road. To seek God’s righteousness is to honor His standards, not disobey them. To disobey God is to veer off the right shoulder of the road. Together seeking both God’s kingdom and righteousness help me to walk the road of freedom in Christ when everyone else around me is abusing that freedom.

Second, be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus says I live in this world by default. I cannot escape it. Therefore since the world is my temporary home, I must choose to live purely (salt) and shine brightly (light). In the process, by God’s grace, I display the gospel of Christ to a messy and darkened world.

Now it is possible to seek God’s kingdom, to seek His righteousness, and to be salt and light, but there is still a missing piece of the mosaic, which is thirdly, love God and your [brother] as yourself (Luke 10:27). This piece is seen in 1 Corinthians 8, which in reality, is that Great Commandment made practical. Loving your brother or considering others in your community of Christ, makes much of Christ. Our text today gives three truths towards loving your brother while living in a messy world.

1) Love your brother, love not what you know (vs.1-3).

Paul introduces the issue, “Now concerning food offered to idols” (v.1a) but before dealing with the question of food sacrificed to idols, He comments on related matters: 1) the danger of knowledge about such things and 2) the primacy of love over knowledge as the guiding principle for Christ-like behavior.

Knowledge is good, but dangerous. Paul begins by quoting certain Corinthians who thought they were ‘in-the-know’ who said, “all of us possess knowledge” (v.1b) The ‘knowledge’ quoted here is a specific kind of knowledge related to the idols who they knew were nothing compared to the One True God (see: v.4). Their knowledge was theologically spot on. Paul had no disagreement, but what he did disagree with their application of that knowledge to those not in-the-know. Paul saw their knowledge or know-it-all-ness as a danger sign.

It is said, “knowledge is power.” Have you ever known someone who was really knowledgeable, knew it and flaunted it? Have you ever possessed a little bit of knowledge and felt it’s dangerous affect? Sometimes the most dangerous Christians are those who gain a little bit of knowledge and wield it with reckless tactlessness like a kid with an broadsword who’s just watch Braveheart. The Corinthians knew a few things about Christian theology, but they became so full of pride and they lost sight of more important teachings, such as loving and edifying others.

Love over knowledge is our guiding principle. Paul warns those in-the-know that “knowledge puffs up” (inflates), “but love builds up” (deflates). Knowledge makes us feel important, but it is love that strengthens the church. There is absolutely no room for arrogance in the Christian community. Paul will not put up with it. Not because he is anti-knowledge, but because he is anti-knowledge that is anti-loving. For a swollen head does not equal a swollen heart.

Recently, I met a grand marabou at a friends house. Once that he found out I was a Christian he railroaded our conversation by waxing eloquent his view of Islam and the Quran. He might have some good things to say, but it had no effect on me. For anytime I tried to ask a question he refused to answer and anytime I tried to insert a comment he interrupted. After 30 minutes of talking and chanting he finally asked my opinion. I said, “You love hearing yourself talk more than you love me or your God.” I told him I’d like to talk more later, but that I’d come to be with my friend.

True knowledge humbles those in-the-know because they realize how little they know. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (v.2). Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

After seminary, I was a know-it-all. I graduated from Bible College with a small piece of paper and a big fat head. Then I began to pastor and went to seminary. It was then that realized I really didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. When I compared my faint and fragment knowledge with the infinite knowledge of God, there was a humbling that went on within me that was good. I never really know enough until I recognize that God alone knows it all.

This text hits me hard because I love what people think of me more than I’d like to think that I love them. That is so anti Christ and it’s an extremely dangerous attitude in the community of Christ. Maybe, you, like me, need to take a moment to reflect upon the infinite knowledge of God and the incomprehensible love of Christ.

Love is redeeming. Paul illustrates this by saying, “If anyone loves God, he is known by God” (v.3). The expression “known by God” appears elsewhere in Paul’s writings (cf. Galatians 4:9) as a description of redemption. Paul meant that, unlike the prideful people who center their religious lives around knowledge, those who focus on love demonstrate that they have been redeemed. Christian love is always constructive. It builds up. It encourages. It shows people a picture of Christ who Himself possessed all knowledge yet loved his brothers to the death. He knew-it-all, yet He was the most humble man. // Love your brother, love not what you know.

2) Unite around what you know about God (vs.4-6).

Since Paul has laid a foundation for love over knowledge, he now returns to the main topic of concern: “eating food offered to idols” (v.4). He affirms to theological truths those in-the-know knew, first, “an idol has no real existence” (cf. Isaiah 40, Psalm 115) and second  “that there is no God but one.” With these statements he resolves the issue that there was no problem with eating idol meat since it had been offered to something that did not really exist.

Now Paul is not minimizing idols, rather he is magnifying the God of Israel. The One True God compared to every other god is a non-comparison (vs.5-6a). Moreover, there is but “one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (v.6b). These verses take the form of an early catechism or hymn of praise to God the Father and God the Son that all Christians could unite around.

How should theology unite us rather than divide us? For example, as we see how the Father and Son relate to one another, we also see how we in the church must relate to one another. That’s practical and applicable theology! It will get even more so next.

3) Be willing to sacrifice your rights for your brother (vs.7-13)

Next, Paul shares a case study (vs.7-13). He introduces us to someone “not” in-the-know (revealing a wrong assessment of the church; v.1). Likely a young Christian recently saved out of a life connected to the pagan temple. To this new Christian, eating idol meat poses a serious concern, if not sin. For him, every shopping trip to the market, every town festival, every dinner party or BBQ with the locals presented a quandary. And one day, he sees a strong and respected Christian at a local restaurant likely affixed to a pagan temple and he has a bigger quandary, “If it’s okay for him to eat idol meat, then it must be okay for me to sin too.” He then syncretizes his new found faith in Christ with his former lifestyle in idolatry.

In case you did not know, there are varying opinions and consciences within the Body of Christ. That’s okay. The church will always be filled with new, old, mature, immature, strong or weak believers. Even though we have great freedom in the gospel and our freedom grows as our understanding grows, we must be willing to sacrifice freedoms for the sake of one another. It is no trivial thing, for when we cause other brothers to sin, we ultimately sin against Christ.

Remember when God asked Cain where his brother Abel was and he responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Essentially, that is the type of attitude Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Paul responds to the Cain’s who bring their offerings and worship to church, but do not love their fellow brothers rather they lead their brothers to destruction.

Notice the emphasis in this text isn’t on with the weaker brother who needs to know more about his unfound freedom. The emphasis is on the stronger brother who is thoughtless towards the weaker Christian (cf. Romans 14). By insisting their rights, even Christian rights, it is a sign that something else other than the One True God is being worshiped. The problem for the stronger brother is that his right to use freedom is more important than relinquishing it for his brother. He is not willing to sacrifice his rights for his brother. (How is this text applicable for us in Chad?)

Paul is willing to become a vegetarian to protect his brothers growth in Christ. He expresses in words how love trumps knowledge. Wouldn’t you be willing to give up going to dinner for your brother? Would you be willing to sacrifice your opinion of the style of worship service or social rights for your brother? Are you willing to follow the example of Christ who Himself gave up everything? Remember, it always comes back to making much of Christ.

Can you think of a church member or brother or sister in Christ you have a hard time loving? What about them is hard to love? How could you love them better? Would you take a moment to pray for them and a God-given love towards them?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11)

Lord Jesus, we are delighted that you were so principled that you cared about the lost, the weak, and the worldly. We are so grateful for your tender mercy and unconditional love. Now, O Lord, give us the same love for others, that we may honor both you and them. In Jesus name, Amen.

6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

proclaim it

I have read dozens of books on evangelism. I have sat in conferences and seminary level courses on how to share my faith. I have equipped churchgoers with tools to present the good news to neighbors, strangers, and foreigners. On paper, I have a lot of knowledge and experience sharing the gospel, but in reality I still feel inadequate when it comes to personal evangelism.

I find the Book of Acts an indispensable and encouraging guide for proclaiming the gospel. It is heads above all other resources on evangelism available today. I am able learn all I need to know to share the gospel in the 21st Century by how 1st Century church did it. Acts is filled with case studies, one of which you and I will study together today. In this case study, I will share six essentials for proclaiming the gospel by plagiarizing another mans sermon, Paul’s sermon that is.

1) Stand in the midst the lost (Acts 17:22a)

Our text begins with “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” literally it means “high place” and it rests above the city of Athens on top of Mars Mill. It was sort of a temple to the human brain, a forum for philosophical talks. Why would Paul stand in the middle of a crowd of philosophical eggheads? To understand Paul’s present situation you need to go back in Acts and hear the undergirding motivation for his trip to Athens (cf. 9:15; 16:10; 17:16ff). What you discover is that Paul has a deep rooted, God-given burden for people to hear the truth about Jesus. His burden for the lost leads him to stand in the midst of the lost.

You might ask, why doesn’t my heart beat for the lost, like Paul? Why do I struggle so much just to love my neighbor? Remember, a burden for the lost is birthed and nourished by the Spirit of God setting your heart blaze for the lost.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”1

Undoubtedly, you have a burning passion for the gospel, however, one must never assume that just because one serves God as a career that you are actually living out the gospel or proclaiming it often and well. When was the last time you stood in the midst of the lost and spoke about Jesus? Does your heart ache for the lost? Will you die if God doesn’t give you converts? Stand among the lost.

2) Know the people to whom you are speaking (17:22b-23a)

Paul was in Athens, the seat of the worlds intelligentsia. It was home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno who have influenced human thought ever since. In Paul’s day, Athens was a city in philosophical flux, particularly between two parties of thought: the Epicureans (pleasure seeker) and Stoics (long-sufferer). Both quests for truth were polar opposite, and therefore, truth was thought of as unknowable, yet the people continued to spend their days talking about the newest philosophical fads at Areopagus (v.21). Athens was Starbucks on Steroids!

Paul knew the people to whom he is speaking because as he toured Athens he took good notes. He walked in the shadow of the Acropolis. He saw temples filled with a smorgasbord of gods. Upon invitation by the local philosophers, he said with kindness and clarity, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…”

Are you a learner of people around you? What do you observe about their beliefs and culture that are different or even similar to yours? How would you describe their God? In their words and deeds, how do you see their beliefs lived out each week? How are they struggling? What questions are they asking? What do you observe?

Now you will never know another culture completely like you know your own, however if you walk around, sit with people, and ask questions you will learn a lot. Yesterday, I sat with a father who lost his 4-year old son through an unexpected accident. The boy who was sleeping on a mat when in the night a car backed over the boy crushing him to death. I regarded many men come to my neighbors mat, greet him politely, and then each guest proceed to repeat short prayers. I heard these prayers at least a dozen times within the 10-minutes that I sat with him. I was broken for him and the others who were praying. I perceived they are very religious.

3) Seize interest in the gospel by using common ground (17:23b)

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t rest with just learning about people and culture, he turns his observations into a provocative statement. Can you imagine ears perking up? Especially, as he says, “I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Paul seizes their interest by using the one thing he has in common with the Athenians. What is their common ground? Worship. Paul sees at the heart of Athens is a quest to understand life, a desire to find meaning and significance, and a hunger to worship, even if they did not know exactly what it was they were worshiping. Isn’t that the quest of all men? People want to know what matters most. People want to worship something or someone bigger than them. Worship is at the heart of the matter.

Albert Einstein echoes this in his 1932 credo,

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”2

A.W. Tozer clarifies Einstein’s words by saying,

“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring and awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause (the ultimate truth), but which we call Our Father Who Is in Heaven.”

Paul uses worship as a springboard to say, “This unknown God that you worship. Yeah, I know Him. And you can know Him too. This God you say you cannot know, in Him, I live, I move, I have my entire being.” It’s an audacious statement Paul makes and in a sense he says, “I know God, therefore, I know Ultimate Truth.” How is Paul so confident that God knowable? He met Him on the road to Damascus (cf. 9:5).

I find that the religious culture I live in can be accurately summed up by this phrase, “ignorantly worshipping an unknown God.” My heart is burdened when I see people praying to a God they do not believe is unknowable just to continue with religious traditions and expectations. My neighbor believes that if God wills he will go to paradise one day, but he will never really know the God that He is praying to, but I’m sure that he will always pray. A religious façade has become his god. The form of his worship becomes more important than the one he is worshiping.

Listen, if your faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ, you too are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church or tradition rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshiping, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If the gospel ceased to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction, you are ignorantly worshiping and unknown God.

4) Make sure your message is saturated in Scripture (17:24-29)

Have you noticed that Paul’s sermons are saturated with Scripture? What Paul understands it that the power in a message is always in the Spirit of God through the Scripture. Paul is not the authority, he has another authority. Scriptures are his authority. In short, Paul will use the Scripture to give the Athenians a crash course on God 101. And without a doubt, this is one on the most beautiful treatises on God in all of Scripture.

  • God is the omnipotent Creator (v.24a). Your world begins with God, not you.3
  • God is omnipresent (v.24b). You cannot limit or localize God. He doesn’t dwell in tiny hand-made shrines,4 He dwells in hearts.
  • God is completely self-sufficient (v.25). God doesn’t depend on us; we depend on God for everything.5 This is the most humbling verse in Scripture and a good verse to remember as you serve others.
  • God is sovereign sustainer and ruler (v.26). He is intimately involved within history and geography.6
  • God is a gracious pursuer (v.27; Romans 1:19-20). God has placed within each man a GPS (Godward Pursuit System), a homing beacon that is questing for the Most High.
  • God is a revealer (v.28a). God imprints Himself everywhere, even in secular poetry and art (creation and heart).
  • God is the life-giver (v.28b). God is the Father of all humanity.
  • God is eternally priceless (v.29; Romans 1:22-23). People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Why does Paul give this treatise on God and His character? Remember, when Paul entered Athens, he was provoked within his spirit when he saw the city full of idols (v.16). He was deeply torn and his heart stirred because the God of Scripture is stirred by idolatry too. God is jealous and angered and does not share His glory with another. He is provoked to crush any substitute, “high place”, or Areopagus in this world and in your lives. God alone desires the high place because He is the Most High God. The Scripture says there is no adequate substitute for the living God.

5) Boldly proclaim the whole gospel: call for repentance (17:30-31a)

As Paul presents the living God to Athens, he doesn’t just say “Believe in Him.” Yes, belief in God is critically important, but it’s not the whole gospel. Many people believe in God, but it doesn’t change their life. That’s why Paul, like Jeremiah, walks into an idolatrous hot bed and proclaims, “Repent!” He says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed.”

Who is “the man God has appointed to judge the world”? Jesus. Jesus is the blazing center of Paul’s gospel. Jesus is what makes the gospel shine. Athens could no longer claim ignorance or hide from the light. They were now cognizant of Christ, the Judge, and they stood before Him guilty and condemned (just as are those to whom you share the gospel). Yet Paul gave them a life-changing proposition: humble yourselves before Jesus and repent. If not, now, when? When Jesus judges you on the fixed and final day? It is better to face Jesus today as Savior than tomorrow as Judge.

6) Proclaim the gospel expectantly, but leave the results to God (17:31b-34)

Notice the different responses to the gospel? (vs.32-34) Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt (mock), some wait to hear more, and some believe. We find out that at least two women were changed by the gospel, including a member of the Areopagus council. Even if no one believed, the mission to Athens wasn’t a failure. God be praised!

God calls us to proclaim the gospel (v.31b); he doesn’t call us to convert people. God holds us responsible for faithfulness; not fruitfulness. He calls us to scatter seeds, water and till peoples souls; not harvest them. Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It took the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth, it is the Spirit that opens eyes to have faith in His Son, like Lydia (cf.16:14). Conversion is the work of God and God alone. We can expect results in good faith. So let’s do God’s work in God’s way with God’s power and leave the results to Him.

In high school, I worked at Schmidt Sporting Goods. It was a great high school job. I got sweet deals on new shoes, Packer gear, and I got to watch sports while working. It was also a great opportunity to mingle with many unbelievers. During the evening shift the customer flow would slow and I’d have time to talk to other employees. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see a breakthrough. No one ever came to church with me. No one repented and turned to Jesus. However, 10-years later, long after our days working together, I got an email from a fellow employee. He shared a story from that summer. He jump out of a boat into a murky lake. Unknowingly the water was shallow and he snapped his neck. As he lay in the hospital paralyzed he recalled our conversations at work, he also had another close friend who was shared the gospel with him regularly. He gave his life Christ that summer. The seed I planted, another watered and tilled, but God opened his eyes and produced a harvest.

You might not see the results of the gospel in your lifetime. Keep sharing. Continue praying. Never give up.

Jesus redefines your “neighbor”

2326732718_0bd842314c_z

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” It’s a catchy little jingle, eh? Did you know that Barry Manilow wrote that for State Farm back in 1971? What this slogan implies is that people can have certain qualities that make them a good neighbor. What qualities make a person a good neighbor? Jesus gave meaning for the word, but probably broader than you might think. Consider the significance between the meanings of the word neighbor as a noun and as a verb.

The Good Samaritan is probably one of the most widely recognized Bible stories. When we hear it used in newscasts, the stories surrounding it usually give us a warm and fuzzy feeling. But what was Jesus really trying to teach when He told that story? Was He encouraging us to do random acts of kindness or was He implying something more?

Going to the Scriptures to find answers is the right place (Luke 10:25–28)

In Luke 10:25–28, we meet a lawyer. The title lawyer indicates that he was an expert in the law. In particular, this lawyer was a student of the Mosaic Law. We don’t know his name, but what we know is that he comes to Jesus with a question to test Jesus’ understanding of the law, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25; cf. Deuteronomy 6:16).

Jesus does not give an answer; instead He deflects the lawyer back to the Scriptures. Jesus knew the lawyer knew the answer, since the man spent his entire life searching the law for answers. Jesus simply wanted to hear from his own lips what his understanding of the law said about eternal life.

After the lawyer answers correctly, with a clip on his shoulder he asks Jesus another question. This time his question reveals the condition of his heart, “And who is my neighbor?” (v.25). It’s already clear the lawyer is trying to test Jesus (cf. 7:30), not learn from Him. Also, he is trying to justify himself before men by asking smart questions to appear “wise and understanding” to those listening (cf. 10:21).

The lawyer does what is wise even though he doesn’t acknowledge it. By coming to Jesus, he is coming to the One who authored the law. Jesus understands the law in its purest form. Jesus not only affirmed the law (v.26), He brings a clearer understanding and application to it. Jesus desired the lawyer to see the purpose of the law pointed to his need of Jesus.

Where do you run when you need answers? Do you search on Google or Wikipedia? Do you reference the newest self-help book or horoscope? Do you seek the advice of a friend or family member? Do you come to God in prayer? There are many places people run for answers. If Jesus went to the Scriptures, how much more should you?

Asking who qualifies as my neighbor is the wrong question (Luke 10:29–35)

What’s the lawyer really asking? He’s trying to exclude responsibility for others by making some people “non-neighbors.” It’s like he’s saying, “Who deserves to receive my kindness?” His religious and social status has clouded his understanding of his own kindness. Though smart, he’s super insensitive. A more appropriate question would’ve been, “Jesus, how can I be a loving neighbor?”

good-samaritanSince the lawyer does not understand, Jesus will help him understand by telling a story of a man robbed, beaten and left to die. As the story goes three men walk down the same road where the man is laying, a priest and a Levite “pass by” the man, but a Samaritan stops and has compassion on the man. Like a good neighbor, the Samaritan is there.

This story would have seriously challenged the worldview of the lawyer. Jesus’ use of a Samaritan as the hero would be quite a shock to His listeners because of the longstanding hatred between Jews and Samaritans. Culturally, it would have been unthinkable for a Samaritan to help a Jew (cf. John 4:4, 9; 8:48). Not only does the Samaritan help, he shows compassion to a neighboring enemy. Thus Jesus makes the point that to love one’s neighbor involves showing care and compassion even to those with whom one would not normally have any relationship (cf. 6:27, 35).

Boundaries exist between the Jews and Samaritans (vs.30–33). And Jesus intentionally expands “neighbor” to mean more than people like us who live near to us. He says they are people who we consider enemies who live on the other side of the tracks. It’s not so much who our neighbor is, but how we are demonstrating concern for neighbors (vs.34–35). Jesus eliminates any excuse not to take care of a neighbor.

Being a merciful neighbor is the right action (Luke 10:36–37)

With the story told, Jesus asks the lawyer ,”Which of the three men was the neighborliest (v.36)?” The answer of course was obvious.

Jesus’ story forced the lawyer to reconsider the condition of his heart. It forced him to compare the actions he considered righteous with those he considered unrighteous. The story reveal how far his interpretation of the law had moved from the law’s true meaning. God gave the law to encourage His people to love Him and others,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9; cf. Isaiah 49:6)

The command to love others is a continuation of loving God. Jesus is concerned that we are to be merciful neighbors to those across the street and across the globe because He desires all to see His love and mercy through us.

Jesus’ last statement is the most challenging, “Go and do likewise,” (v.37; cf. 1 John 3:16-18), but the promise He gives earlier is most encouraging, “Do this and you will live [eternally].” (v.28) The way we love one another reflects the way we love God. Who is the neighbor  you have difficulty showing mercy and love? Is he a Muslim, a criminal, a beggar, or a homosexual? How will you act neighborly, showing the compassion of Christ? Like a good neighbor, will you be there?

Jesus eats with sinners

bar

Most religious people would not catch themselves in a biker bar or talking with pimps and prostitutes, but when reading through the Gospels we catch Jesus talking to these kinds of people in these kinds of places often. Why does Jesus hang with sinners? Well, in Luke 5:27-32, Jesus eats with a tax collector and his companions, and it is here you get the answer.

What’s with the tax collector?

I-love-tax-collectorsIn Jesus day, tax collectors were hated. Some things don’t change! They were especially hated then because Israel was under Roman oppression. Certain Jews got the job of collecting taxes for Rome. They were viewed as a traitor or enemy who cheated their own people to get rich. For that reason, they were commonly avoided or the punchline of many bad jokes.

Who are the “tax collectors” in your life? Think of the person you avoid or talk bad about. Is it your beer drinking neighbor who parties too loudly, even on weeknights? Is it girl who is known by her second-rate reputation at your office. Is it the politician you love to bash?

Levi is a tax collector. He’s the guy you love to hate. But he’s also the guy Jesus loves to love. Jesus finds him. He doesn’t avoid him like someone with a virus. He finds him at the tax office counting his coins. Jesus doesn’t come in and blast his character or belittle his profession. He simply says a simple statement expecting a simple answer, “Follow Me.” Amazingly, Levi leaves everything and follows Jesus.

Who’s sick?

Levi’s life changed the day Jesus intersected him at his office. He’s so excited he throw a party. Since tax collectors don’t have many friend their friends are usually other tax collectors. The guest of honor at Levi’s party is Jesus.

Word spread faster than a British tabloid. The religious leaders came to Jesus’ disciples with their list of gripes and complaints. As the Pharisees see it, Jesus is in a lose-lose situation. Sinners are following Him. But Jesus sees it as a win-win. Sinners are following Him. Jesus defends Himself by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (5:31) What did Jesus mean by this?

Jesus directs his words towards the religious leaders. They are (spiritually) sick and don’t even know it. They are like a man who will not admit that he is sick and refuses go to a doctor for help. In their pride, they will suffer defiantly, if not die. Jesus came to bring healing our sin sickness that leads to death. Pride leads to death, but humility leads to the cross.

Will you repent?

Jesus follows up his first statement by saying, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentence.” (5:32; cf. 13:3-5; 15:10; 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 5:31) He’s not called to the righteous because they don’t think they have a need for Christ (when they really do!).

Jesus is called to the sinner who knows he is in need of Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15) and humble enough to come to Him for a life transformation. To repent is to humbly turn away from your sin and your self-righteousness and turn towards Jesus and His righteousness. It’s a life-transforming turn.

Do you see the contrast between Levi’s response to Jesus and the religious leaders response to Jesus? Levi follows immediately and throws Jesus a feast. The religious leader grumble, question, and judge. Levi wants Jesus to transform him, but the religious people want Jesus to conform to them. Levi has an attitude of repentance, while the religious leaders think they have no need for repentance. The religious leaders measure their goodness among themselves, while Levi measures His goodness against Jesus. The religious leaders follow their code of conduct, while Levi simply follows Jesus. Being a follower of Christ is much different than being a religious person.

follower of Jesus vs religious person

A good question to ask yourself when reading this text is, Who do I respond like more often Levi or the Pharisee? If I were honest, I would have to say I respond more like the Pharisee. How about you?

So how do I change and love like Jesus loves? First, I must remember I was once like the tax collector to God. I lived the most unlovely life yet I was unconditionally loved by Him. I was infected by the most destructive disease known to man, sin.  I can love my enemies because I was once God’s enemy and He loved me.

Second, repent and run to Jesus Christ. Repentance is your only means of healing. Repent of your pride, repent of hoarding God’s grace, and repent of your hateful attitude towards the tax collectors in your life. When you repent don’t expect life or loving others easier. Sometimes it can be harder. Jesus got Himself killed because of the way He ate.

Third, with the remaining days of your life make it my aim to follow Him, which means eating with sinners too. Extend to all the life-transforming eternity-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one, including you or the tax collectors in your life, are too sinful to enjoy the pleasure of sitting at Jesus’ table.

let there be light

christmas-star

This message is used by permission from my good friend Brian. Brian is a former physicians assistant and shepherd. Now Brian is serving the gospel to the least reached. He is living the Words he wants you to hear. Be a light in darkness this Christmas…

2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

For the first time in my life I made the connection between this passage and the creation account in Genesis 1.  The opening verses of Genesis are some of the most well known verses in all of scripture, right up there with John 3:16.  And we’ve probably heard or read these words at least 100 times before. But now I was beginning to make the connection between God’s strategy for saving the world and that which He was breathing into a visible and tangible form at creation.

Genesis 1:1-5 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Every time I’ve read this or heard it, I always thought, Wow, God is a powerful God.  He is amazing.  He is a creative and awesome God.  For by the breath of His mouth, the universe and all of creation was called into existence.

But there is something even more amazing being spoken of in this passage.  Something  that I had never seen before.  Something that pulses deeper than even the glory and majesty of creation.  And its something that existed long before Genesis 1 ever did.

And that was God’s plan for redeeming the rebellion of humanity and winning His bride back to Himself.  I want you to see that when God called forth light out of the darkness, it was pointing to Jesus.  But not only was it poetically prophesying the coming of Christ, it was manifesting God’s design and call upon all those who would follow Him.

So I think there are 2 vitally important things we need to learn from this passage that relate directly to our lives as we pursue after God and seek to be imitators of Christ.

Light Shines in the Darkness

The first is that light was created to shine in the darkness.  Genesis 1 paints such a clear picture of this.  It starts out by saying that darkness covered the face the deep.  In other words, it was crazy dark.  You know, the kind where you can’t see your hand when it is right in front of your face.  And it was into this that God says: “Let there be light.”

Now I want to be clear about this because the practical applications of this are costly.  Its fun to talk about and intellectualize, but to change our lives to bring them in alignment with the truth of what this teaches is a whole other story.  So I want to make sure we are all on the same page here.

God did not call forth light to shine in the light.  It wasn’t because “light” covered the face of the deep that God says “Let there be light.”  It was because there was darkness.  God said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” Light has a created purpose and was designed to exist and shine in the darkness.

So now we have to begin to deal with the implications of this for our lives.  Because we are that light.  We are the light that was redeemed to shine in the darkness.

Matthew 5:14-16 says “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Now I just want to make one clarification.  We are not the Light capital “L.”  When this passage says that “you (and I) are the light of the world,” it means we are the light of the world like the moon is the light of the night.  The moon is just a big round pile of dirt.  It has zero ability of producing light.  But when you go outside on a dark night and look up into the sky, the moon’s brightness can light up the night.

And we say, look at the moon. Look how bright the moon is shinning.  And in doing so, we ascribe or we attribute the ability to produce light to the moon, when in reality, it is only reflecting the light of the sun.  It can’t make one tiny shred of light itself.  And so it is no different for us.

In this passage and anywhere else in Scripture for that matter, when you see it referring to us as the light, just know that it is not us that is the light.  We only shine when we are reflecting the Son, “S-O-N.”  And just as the moon was created to shine in the darkness by reflecting the sun’s light, so we were made to do the same.

So the first issue we have to deal with is where are we shinning? I have to tell you.  I was so convicted by this, that as a youth leader I had the audacity to be so excited about taking our students on summer mission trips.  And I would get so excited about being this great beacon of light in those dark areas for one glorious week every year, but I did little to nothing to shine in the darkness the rest of the time.

And now Becky and I find ourselves living in the very neighborhoods that we served on our mission trips to those places and all I could think about is moving somewhere else.  It was good enough to do for a week on a mission trip, but to actually live there and start to raise our family in such a place was hard to come to grips with.

God is not calling us to have an experience every now and then when we shine in the darkness.  Its not about having this special little time in our lives once a week every year where we turn the light on for a little while and pretend this is how we live all the time or this is how we would live all the time if we only had the opportunity.  Because we do have the opportunity.  It just takes sacrifices that if we admit it, are probably not willing to make.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things.  Engaging in short term missions is absolutely necessary.  I’ll be the first one in line when given the chance and I’ll be the biggest cheerleader encouraging anyone and everyone to go.  All I’m saying is that what happens in the that week should simply be a reflection of what happens in our lives every single day.

You see, I have come to the humbling place in my life where I began to realize I was doing all this “stuff” for the Kingdom, but it was all being done in the light.  I was involved in this and I was involved in that, and it was all good and worthy stuff, but it wasn’t about shining in the darkness.  I found I was just fooling myself behind this disguise of advancing God’s Kingdom without actually setting foot in the darkness.

His Kingdom is a Kingdom of Light.  No matter how hard we work or what great things we accomplish in the light, His Kingdom is already present there.  And if we are going to be a people who are about advancing His Kingdom, it can only be done in the darkness.

We were called into His marvelous light in order that we might shine in the darkness.   This means that our lives must be lived out in the those places.  Now I’m not saying that everyone needs to move to the inner city, but some of you might.  Some of you may need to go home and start packing boxes.  And don’t be looking round at your neighbor right now, cause I’m talking to you.  And maybe its not about where your home is, but where you work or where you go to school.

What I am saying is that we need to take a good hard look at where we are shining.    And we need to stop making excuses for keeping our distance from the darkness.  Its not comfortable.  Its too hot.  Its not safe.  The school district isn’t good enough.  Its too far.  Its too hard.  Its too costly.  It takes too much time.  It doesn’t align with our goals, or our family or our future.

To be a light in the darkness is costly.  It is not safe.  It is not always comfortable.  It is certainly not the easy way to live.  But why would be dare be content with anything else?  Don’t settle to be a light among lights.  Don’t compromise for the sake of safety or comfort.  We have but one candle to burn, and I’d rather burn it out where people are dying in darkness than in a place that is flooded with lights.

God Separated the Light from the Darkness

The second thing I want us to see is that God separated the light from the darkness.  That is, God set apart the light to be different.  While the light was created to exist and shine in the darkness, it was made to be fundamentally different from it.  When God created the light, there was no question as to which one was which.

God didn’t make a light that most days of the week looks like darkness except on Sundays.  Or one that maybe shines all week except for Friday and Saturday night.  And He didn’t make a light with a motion detector so that when left alone it was identical to the darkness, but as soon as somebody came around, it would turn on as if it had always been on.

Light doesn’t look anything like the darkness.  And there are some pretty hefty ramifications for our lives because of that.  It doesn’t walk the same.  It doesn’t talk to the same.  It doesn’t act the same.  It doesn’t spend its money the same.  It doesn’t have the same goals or values.  It is different from the darkness in every way, but yet was created uniquely to exist in beautiful harmony with it.

And this separation in essence is why we exist.  Because this is what distinguishes light from the darkness.  This is what separates believers from everybody else on the face of the planet.  Because the goal of the darkness is to make much of itself, but the purpose of the light is make much of Christ.

How is it then that the lives of sinful humans can display the glory of our Almighty God to the world?  How is it that we who are so little can make much of One who is so great?  I believe the answer is to echo the cry of John the Baptist found when he said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John Piper said this: “This is why we exist – to display the glory of God… It is our created nature to make much of God.  Not to fulfill this purpose… is to be a mere shadow of the substance we were created to have. Not to display God’s worth by enjoying Him above all things is to be a mere echo of the music we were created to make. It is to be a mere residue of the impact we were created to have.”

The overriding thing that separates the light from the darkness is an unbalanced passion for the glory of God and the Kingdom of heaven.  And I realize that for some of you that may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Because a lot of times in our culture we associate unbalanced to mean unhealthy.

We talk about the need for balance in our lives all the time, right?  Balance, balance, balance.  We have to have balance.  We don’t want to be too far one way or too far the other.  And at times this is true, but I think sometimes we have watered down Jesus for the sake of balance.

There was a man by the name of Nee To-sheng, otherwise known as Watchman Nee.  He was born in communist China in 1903.  He came to know Christ at the age of 17 and spent the next 30 years traveling throughout China planting churches and shinning the Light of Christ in some of the darkness places on earth.  But in 1952 he was arrested for his faith in Christ and leadership among many of the local churches in China.  He sentenced to 15 years in prison,  although he was never let go and died in his cell 20 years later. Some of his teachings have been complied together into a profoundly powerful book called “The Normal Christian Life.”

Average and normal are not the same.  You see, average just means we look like everyone else.  Normal means we look the way Jesus expected us to look.  It means we shine the way Jesus expected us to shine.

Did Jesus really mean to love Him with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength?  Did Jesus really mean to love our neighbor as ourself?  Did Jesus really compare the Kingdom of heaven to finding a treasure in a field and selling everything for that field?  Because that doesn’t sound very balanced.

There is a word for someone who becomes that fixated on someone or something, but it isn’t balanced.  Its obsessed.  It is being driven by an all consuming passion to the point that none of what Jesus taught even sounds remotely crazy.  Quite frankly, it makes perfect sense.

If there is anything in life we need to be obsessed with.  If there is anything in life we need to be consumed by.  If there is anything in our lives that we need to be unbalanced about, it is the Jesus Christ.  It is the glory of God.  It is the Kingdom of heaven.

The more our lives display Christ’s worth above all things, the brighter He will shine in us.  This is why it is so fundamentally important for the light to be separated from the darkness.

Because when we look like we care about the same things they do.  When we look like we hope in the same stuff they do.  When we look like our values are the same as theirs, Christ will never look great in our lives.  Our lives must show that Christ is more precious than life.

To do this, we must make sacrificial life choices knowing that magnifying Christ is more valuable and more satisfying than protecting and preserving our own personal comfort or agenda.  So we may need to start asking ourselves some tough questions.  Questions that we may very well not want to know the answers to.  Because I think all to often we are far more content desiring to justify our actions instead of seeking to magnify Christ with them.

Now this is the part of the message where I would normally tell you some inspiring story about a missionary in Africa or Asia or something who is living this out.  The problem is, most of us really can’t relate very much to that.  So let me give another example that may hit a little closer to home.  Its a story about a guy who asked the right questions.

There is a pastor by the name of Francis Chan, maybe some of you have heard of him.  He has a love and devotion for God that you will rarely find anywhere.  He also happens to be an incredible speaker and when you put those 2 qualities together, it makes for a very dynamic pastor.  Thus the church he started in California grew like mad quickly topping 3000+ people.

They were making plans for building a 50 to 60 million dollar facility when he took a little trip to Uganda that changed his life forever.  He saw poverty first hand like he had never imagined.  And it got real personal for him when he saw little girls the age of his young daughters rummaging through garbage for food.

And all of a sudden it hit him, what does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?  Cause you know, Jesus said that.  In fact, He said it was so important, it was only second to loving God first.  So one of the first things he did upon returning to the states was to move his family of four out of their 2,000-square-foot house into one half that size so they could give more to missions and to the poor. He said: “I couldn’t reconcile how I could live in such a nice house while others were starving.”

The very next church board meeting Chan showed up with a one track mind.  When their church, (Cornerstone) first started and for many years there after, they gave away 4% of their budget.  Chan now walks in in the door and asked them to give 50% away.  His salary was slashed along with all other staff taking pay cuts and serious sacrifices in their programs were made.  But in less than 1/2 hour their budget was flipped on its head.

Instead of building a massive multimillion dollar building, they built an outdoor amphitheater saving countless of millions of dollars.  They have worship outside every Sunday, rain or shine.  And if it happens to rain on a Sunday morning, they get wet, but they know it is for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.

Now here is a guy, living in the United States with the exact same pressures, the exact same influences, and exact same struggles that we face, but yet consciously and intentionally positioned his life to be separated from the darkness.  While the rest of America chases after it’s illusive dream, he has refused to be seduced by it.  Instead, his heart, mind, his soul and wallet are fixed on heaven.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

My prayer is that Christ would be so prized in your lives that you would blaze so brightly it would fry the retinas right out of the eyeballs of those who look upon you.  That your  hearts be so fixed on Christ that everything else would pale in comparison.

My goal isn’t that you be moved by the stories of those people who are living radical lives for Christ, yet do nothing to act yourself.  But instead, that you would earnestly seek the face of God for where and how He would have you to shine.

I don’t claim by any stretch of the imagination to be living this perfectly.  That’s precisely why I had to preach it.  Because this message is for me as much as it is for any of you.  It is time we be the light we were created to be.  Its time we let our light shine in the darkness.  And its time that the only thing people see when they look at us is a life obsessed with Jesus Christ.

triumphant odiferous sacrifice

Staying on mission is tough. Even, as I prepare for the mission it’s tough. God has used the stories of missionaries like Hudson Taylor, David Brainerd, and Mary Slessor to keep me moving. These men and women lived on the front-lines suffering for the sake of the name of Christ. Today, I will look at one missionary’s testimony of how he pressed through tough times. His name is Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul had just written a hard letter to Corinth and is anxious how it was received. So he sent Titus ahead to find out how they were doing. “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) Although the door was open for Paul in Troas, He could not shake God’s moving to connect with Titus and the call to spread the gospel in Macedonia.

This is the context behind two illustrations Paul gives to help us understand how he presses on through tough times in ministry and stays on mission spreading the name of Christ, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2:14-16)

1) ARE YOU PLACING YOURSELF IN THE TRIUMPHANT PROCESSIONAL GIVING SACRIFICES TO THE NAME OF CHRIST? (v.14)

Paul’s first image is common to Rome, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” After a great victory there would be a parade. It wasn’t a parade of candy and clowns, rather a huge triumphant processional with rank after rank of trumpeters, streams of soldiers and senators, wagons of spoil, prisoners to be enslaved or executed, and ended with the hero or conquering general dressed ceremoniously riding a chariot.  Along the route people cast flowers, burned incense or poured out perfume. Wonderful fragrances filled the air.

So why does Paul use this illustration? It serves two purposes. On the one hand, Jesus is triumphant and Paul is in His service. But on the other hand, Jesus is like a heroic general and Paul is conquered and called to suffer in His service—even die.

The word triumph is used one other place in the NT, Colossians 2:15, “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.” In Colossians, Paul says God leads the devil in triumph, but in 2 Corinthians, he says that God leads Paul in triumph. Both have been defeated in their rebellion against God. Both are being led in triumphal procession and shamed for their rebellion. However, there is a great difference, Paul is “in Christ.” He was defeated and taken captive; but he was brought to faith and forgiven, and became a joyful servant of the greatest General who ever was. Jesus, the One who conquered sin and death.

Although Jesus was the one marched to His death, He rose victorious from the grave. He conquered death as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9). And it is Jesus’ sacrifice that gives Paul motivation to also give his life as a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2). When you are finding ministry difficult, place yourself in the triumphant processional praising the name of Christ. Recognize your place in the parade and give thanks to your Hero.

2) ARE YOU SPREADING THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST EVERYWHERE YOU GO? (vs.15-16)

Paul second illustration is a continuation of his first, “And through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” Smells is a God-given sense that affect us all—for better and for worse. Smell alerts you to danger, such as, a building on fire. Animals use smell to survive.  Smell tells you when someone else is around. There are delightful smells like freshly bake cookies, meat on the grill, fields of lavender, the smell of a little baby, or a new car. There are also putrid smells like dirty socks, moldy cheese, Mosinee’s paper mill, skunks,1 or even worse, a dead skunk.

Paul thinks of his missionary life and ministry as spreading fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. He considers the gospel odiferous. Using OT imagery, Paul says we are like incense being offered to God or animals being burned upon the altar, “we are the aroma of Christ to God.” Notice our aroma is first to God, not man. It is to Him we give our first, best, most, and greatest sacrifices of praise. As God warns the children of Israel: “If you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me…I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas.” (Leviticus 26:27, 31)

Also wrapped up in Paul’s message to Corinth are heart-rejoicing and heart-breaking words about missionary service: spreading the name of Christ pleases God, but it does not please everybody. His fragrance divides the world, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” To those on the side of Christ His smell is of victory and life (cf. Romans 10:15),2 but to those on the side contrary to Christ His smell is of defeat and impending death (John 15:18-25). As a bee makes sweet honey sweet to the taste, it can also sting too. So it is with the work of Christ and spreading His name to your neighbors and the nations. Don’t expect everyone to like the message or the you the messenger.

WHO IS SUFFICIENT FOR THESE THINGS? (vs.16-17)

Paul concludes by asking a crucial question—“Who is sufficient for these things?” Who can bear the weight of knowing that the aroma of a Christ-exalting life will lead some to eternal life and reveal to others death? The answer: no one. That’s why Paul says, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17) Paul carries out the mission by the grace of God. He is not sufficient—you and I are not sufficient—in ourselves. No missionary feels sufficient. And 2 Corinthians 3:5 Paul says, “Our sufficiency is from God.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12; Romans 1:5)

Staying on mission is tough. Each day you face the temptation to cling tightly to your life, comforts, treasures, and self-sufficiency. Are you willing to lay down your treasures to treasure Him? May God lift your eyes to see His incomparable worthiness and may you without reservation place yourself in the triumphant processional giving sacrifices to your victorious Savior spreading His sweet and putrid fragrance to your neighbors and the nations.

preach or heal?

Missionaries are often divided into one of two camps: preachers or healers.

Healers are known for their compassion and love (Col.1:27; Mt.22:36-40; Lk.10:29-37; Js.2:15-16; Lk.12:48; Mt.25:31-46), but they must remember to teach (Mt.28:19-20). They often heal to get to the heart. Preachers are often known as good news messengers (Mt.24:14; Rom.10:14, 17; 1:16b; 1 Cor.9:16; 1 Tim.4:13; 2 Tim.4:2), but they must remember the poor (Mk.14:7a). They often get to the heart to heal. Both are needed; both are called of God; both are on the same mission; both can be one.

Our engagement tactics are largely born out of our bias; preachers engaging with preaching tactics and healers engaging with healing tactics (13).

ONE COMMAND

Was Jesus a preacher or healer? (Lk.4:40-43; Mt. 9:35) He was both. He benefitted the needy as he preached (Mt.10:7-8; Mk.6:7, 12-13; Lk.9:2; 10:1, 9). The apostles in Acts continued to preach and heal. Jesus modeled the preach and heal tactic, He commanded it, and the disciples obeyed Him by using it as they went out (17; cf. Acts 3:6-8, 12-13, 19-20; 4:4, 9-10, 33-35; 5:16, 29-33). Jesus sent out all of His disciples to preach and heal. They were given one command, because the two ministries work together in God’s master strategy.

GO WITH WHAT WE KNOW

We need to leave our identity compartmentalization (or specialization or professionalization) at the door when we do the work of the gospel. You might be a doctor, farmer, engineer,tent-maker, homemaker, or pastor, but don’t let that become your total identity. The disciples were not Jedi Masters, they were fishermen, taxmen, politicians, doctor, and ordinary men commissioned to do something greater than their own identity. They took on a new identity in Christ. The problem with compartmentalization is that we often leave participation in the gospel at the door for the sake of our specialization or profession. As our engagement tactics are largely born out of our bias, our bias is largely born out of our educational background. The disciples all performed services as the Holy Spirit enabled them–not with in those realms for which they had been schooled. The identity of the disciples was being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Preaching and healing is a two-handed plow. Both handles must be held with equal pressure and commitment for the one plow blade to dig deep into the ground and transform the soil into a place best prepared for the seed. A hoe or one-handed tool is much less effective and requires more dependence.

IS STRATEGY A BAD WORD?

Most of Jesus’ disciples traveled widely and planted churches extensively: John Mark (Egypt, Libya, Rome), Peter (Jerusalem, Babylon, and more), Andrew (Georgia, Caspian Sea, Istanbul, Russia, Greece), John the son of Zebedee (Rome, Asia Minor, Ephesus, Turkey), Phillip (Asia Minor, maybe France), Bartholomew (Asia Minor, Armenia), Thomas (India, maybe iraq, Iran and China), Matthew (Palestine, Persia, Macedonia, Syria, Ethiopia), Jude (Armenia, Syria, Persia), Simon (Egypt, North Africa, Syria, Persia, Rome), Matthias (Armenia), and Paul (note:3 missionary journeys).

There are two kinds of people: strategy lovers and strategy leavers. It is always our prayer and expectation that our projects and programs will be hijacked by God and driven in His direction. Making disciples and church establishment are the work of God, not men (Acts 19:20). So strategy is simply a starting place that identifies where we are, where God says to go, and how to make intentional step froward, trusting Him for all the process and everything that we need. We cannot predict or control what God will do. But by positioning apostolic ministers and the peoples of unreached nations together, we do provide a venue for God to do something great (38).

What we see happening in Acts is a people movement towards Christ (i.e. church planting movement) or a multiplication of disciples and churches (cf. Mt.13:33; yeast). Indigenous movements of disciples and churches is not our measure of success; only obedience is. Our objective is indigenous movement of reproducing churches (42).

All strategies include two components: meeting the needs of hurting people, providing daily opportunities for preaching, and positioning the apostolic workers so that God can use His power to bring about a Christward movement (43).

Adapted from Preach and Heal by Charles Fielding

6 suggestions when talking to skeptics or someone with doubts

If you care about people and risk talking to the doubting, the skeptical, the confused, and the angry, you will soon run into a person who says to your counsel: I’ve tried that. Whatever you say, they will minimize it and say it doesn’t work or is unbelievable. Do not be surprised at this response. This is what it means to be doubting, skeptical, confused, and angry. It means that whatever they hear sounds pointless. Here are six suggestions when dialoging with people like this:

1. Keep Calm.

Resist the temptation to be offended. Don’t pout or take your ball and go home. That’s what you may feel like. They wanted to talk; in many cases, they gave you a question airing their doubts or concerns. Don’t leave. Don’t give up. Not yet. “Love suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Be humble and teachable too. God might have something to teach you through their questions and doubts.

2. Listen.

Listen to their responses. This is the number one way to show you care about what they are saying. Part of your power is not only what you say, but how they feel about the way you listen. If your truth produces empathetic ears, it will feel more compelling. This listening will be a witness. In 2 Timothy 2:24–26, Paul describes the kind of engagement that may set people free from sin and error. One feature is “patiently enduring evil.”

3. Don’t Panic.

Sometimes we don’t have the answers, or easy answers. As Christians we think we should have all the answer because we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, but there are a lot of things the Bible does not explain fully or the Holy Spirit does not reveal. Some answers will have to be left undone. If there is an answer, but your just don’t know or remember be humble enough to say, “I don’t know, but I will get back to you on that.” Just make sure you do get back to them on that.

4. Let the gospel lead your answer.

It is tempting to try to win an argument, but that’s not winning them to Christ. In fact, you might be driving them away. Being defensive and saying the doubters doubts are stupid repels people away from your message. Let the gospel Christ’s amazing grace shine through your words and actions more than your polished answer to their question. When you have spoken all the counsel you can think of, and they seem to have no effect, don’t let them have the last word of despair. You leave the last word of hope.

You might consider saying some like, “I know that you don’t feel very helped by what I have said. I think I understand some of what that’s like. I don’t mean to be offering a quick fix, as though your questions or doubts can be turned around that easily. But I have more hope than you do that God’s truth is powerful and will have its good effect in due time. May I share one more thing before you go?

I simply want to make sure you hear the best news in the world. Jesus said He spoke so that we would have peace (John 16:33). And Paul said that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). You don’t feel this right now. But God says peace and faith come from hearing. I will pray that the obstacles to peace-filled faith in your mind will be overcome by these truths. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Meditate on these verses. May the Lord give you light.”

5. Pray.

Remember, it is not your savvy answers or smooth oratory that will convince the skeptic or contraction seeker of the truth. It is solely the Word of God by the Spirit of God that can change a heart and mind. It is difficult to understand truth if one does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Pray for the blinders to be lifted from their eyes and His light to come into their darkened understanding.

6. Pray and pray again.

bringing the gospel home (book review)

I ordered this book out of curiosity.

Sharing the gospel with family is tough!

First, I have unsaved family members that I really desire to share the gospel with, but direly fall short of doing regularly. I really love and care for them and want to see them in heaven someday too. This is a book on evangelism that hits close to home.

Second, there are not many books out there on the subject of evangelize friends and family, but never have I read one quite like this. I am certainly surprised by what I am reading. It is not your ordinary book on evangelism with step my step or play by play approaches for witnessing to different kinds of people. It is not methodological or programmatic. It is simply a book about the gospel and it’s ramifications on me and my family. The illustrations are refreshingly honest and easy to relate to. I heavily recommend it to anyone interested in sharing Christ with their loved ones (which should be everyone).

Third, the book has a beautiful explanation of the gospel. Although I wished the book explained the gospel clearer the implications of the gospel could not have been more clearer. That is the beef of the book. And it is good to eat!

The chapters flow is unexpected, but once immersed you quickly see how they flow in a biblical and natural sort of way:

Chapter 1: FAMILY, a beatitude and yet a burden. All here in this chapter is a theology of the family from the Scripture. THe theology of the family includes two opposing angles; God and Satan. Both have their strategy and purpose for your family. It is good to understand both since one strategy is established before time the other is to destroy what’s always been. And there is hope to redeem what’s been destroy.

Chapter 2: GRACE, Amazing and yet breaking. A very important chapter on putting yourself on the same plain as your family in need of grace, rather than letting pride put you above them. Grace is one of the most neglected components when sharing the gospel, but one of the key components to understanding the gospel.

Chapter 3: TRUTH, liberating and yet narrow. In Acts 17, Paul is communicating with intelligent and religious people. People who are proud and think they’ve nailed the meaning of truth. That is until Paul introduces them to the gospel of truth. Some mocked, but some believed. Is that a familiar response in your family? In a truth starved world we need to understand where it went wrong and rightly meet it with the gospel. That’s where this chapter begins.

Since gospel truth has substance, we should think deeply about it. Since it draws lines, we should stand boldly in it. Since it illuminates all of life, we should celebrate its fullness. Since it prompts a response, we should ask for one. Since it’s easy to get wrong, we should reflect carefully about how to communicate it. (102-103)

Chapter 4: LOVE, always craved and yet seldom conveyed. Love is a mysterious and romanticized word. Defining love can be hard, but the Bible makes it easy. Learning to love your family with a gospel-love will help them see the initiative and sacrifice of Christ in action. This chapter helps you not only with the content of the gospel message but your context of sharing it.

Chapter 5: HUMILITY, divinely modeled and yet difficult to find. I can extend grace, truth and love to my family, but humility? Are you serious? Yes. And so is Jesus. He had humble holiness. This chapter helps you not only dish your pride and eat humility, but serves up Christ on a silver platter.

Humility us to see ourselves as God sees us in Christ–hopelessly sinful but graciously saved, rebellious yet redeemed, incapable of producing any righteousness on our own yet empowered to do all that God calls us to, appropriately bold yet taking no credit for the basis of that boldness. (136, Titus 3:3-8)

Chapter 6: TIME, freeing and yet fleeting. What time you ask? With eternity as our deadline we feel the pressure to dump the gospel on those we love and press them for a decision like life insurance agents. Sometimes the simple yet so heavy truths of the gospel need time to settle and marinate. This chapter helps us not to rush, but let God do His work in His time.

The God who calls us to live in time lives outside of time. We feel the burden of deadlines, but He never does. We grow impatient, while He knows nothing of that weakness. (155) Witnessing to family takes wisdom…and all that takes time.

Chapter 7: ETERNITY, comforting and yet terrifying. 100% of the people reading this will die. That truth can either cause your jaw to drop or draw you into unfathomable joy. Death is not the end only the beginning. This chapter touches on lives reality while giving you hope in the gospel as you share it with those you love the remainder of their days.

The distinct nature of the finished work of the gospel delivers people from fear, denial, and false hope. When we point people to Christ, we show them a way that takes the sting out of death, thus making it something to anticipate instead of dread. As Dietrich Bonheoffer once preached, “Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in Him.” (182; John 3:16-18)

Two dominant world views vie for our affections: One sees this life as all there is. The other sees life as preparation for the next. One thinks only in terms of the temporal. The other values the temporal because it sees it in light of the eternal. The first way does all that it can to avoid thinking about death. The other faces death squarely. The first speaks only of people “living in our hearts” after they die. The other envisions Revelation 7:9-10. (205-206)

thumb licks [4.26.12]

Is the internet ruining your brain?

How to deal with the loss of a spouse.

That’s not fair.

Sweet gadgets for the one percent who can afford them.

Do pets go to heaven?

10 of the most difficult theological issues Christians must face today.

How to lead a child to Christ?

The secret life of plankton. So small but so great.

More than just Christmas.

4 ways to plug into the power of the Holy Spirit today

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

1. Saturate yourself with the Word of God, the Bible. There is no reason to think that God will ignite the powder of His Spirit if you don’t load your cannon with the bullet of the Word. Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:48 teach that the power is given for effective witness of Jesus and His miraculous power. And you witness primarily with the Word of God, as it speaks about the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

2. Believe what the Word of God says. If you don’t believe the Word, you wont have the power of the Word.

3. Pray earnestly for it and fast. In Acts 1:13, the disciples devoted themselves to prayer while in Jerusalem waiting for Pentecost, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.”  Also, this is what the disciples were doing in Acts 4:24–31 when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. They were praying. And they were praying the Word of God.

4. Submit to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you have resisted the Holy Spirit so often when He is calling you to bear witness to Christ you are unfit for the flow of His power. The channels have become so clogged with fear and doubt and worldliness that what you allow through is a barely visible trickle of obedience. God’s power is a waterfall and will flow torrentially if you obey His Spirit.

4/14 Window

What is the 4/14 Window?

The 4/14 Window refers to all children between the ages of 4 to 14. During this decade or “window,” most children in this demographic develop their moral and spiritual foundations.

Why is this age group so important?

There are 2.3 billion children on earth under age 15 and they represent the largest unreached people group in the world. Boys and girls in the 4/14 Window are given priority because they are more open and receptive to the gospel than older youth and adults. Nearly 85% of people who make a decision for Christ, do so between the ages of 4 to 14!

What is the 4/14 Window Initiative?

The 4/14 Window Initiative is “to raise-up a new generation from the 4/14 Window to transform the world for Christ.” This is simply the mission statement of the 4/14 Window Movement.

Who oversees the 4/14 Window Movement?

The 4/14 Window Movement is a partnership of Christ followers and Christian leaders from the Body of Christ around the world. While many denominations and ministries are represented, the 4/14 Movement is non-denominational. Many who serve within the movement are employed by local churches or other ministries. The 4/14 Movement has no headquarters, no formal organization and no paid staff. Everyone who serves, does so out their love for Jesus Christ and the children in the 4/14 Window.

Find out more about at the 4/14 Window website. Download the prayer and fasting guide.