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.

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Galatians: In Defense of the Gospel

Galatians is about the Gospel.  It is about protecting the good news because it is constantly under attack. Paul was ahead of his time when he wrote this letter to Galatia because the same issues they faced centuries ago we face today.  Learn from Paul and the early church how to defend the gospel from attacks from within or without.  This isn’t a study for the faint of heart.

Click here to download the Galatians Study Guide

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6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

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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.

Barnabas: gospel encourager

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”…and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:22b-24)

Before we unpack those verses, let’s backup and gather what Acts says about Barnabas and in turn what we will gather is an blue print of a gospel encourager. Interestingly, in Acts 4:36, Barnabas didn’t enter the world with that name. His Levite parents gave him the name Joseph. It was later the apostles nicknamed him “Barnabas” or literally “son of encouragement,” which was a name he earned and owned. So what makes Barnabas or anyone a gospel encourager?

gospel encouragers are generous givers (Acts 4:32-37)

Luke’s first reference to Barnabas is an illustration of his generosity. He is so transformed by the gospel that he take action to spread it to others. He, among others, sell property and give the money to the church. Now in his day, property was ones greatest asset and retirement plan. For Barnabas, selling his property was not wasting his future, but investing in the gospel so that others might have a future with Christ. He lived in a way that showed he was free from money or things. Why? God trumped stuff. Barnabas was generous because his God was generous.

Are you someone who is free from money or things? Are you characterized as being generous? You probably know someone like Barnabas, a “son or daughter of encouragement”. Like you, Sarah and I have seen God provide for our family via Barnabases who have “sold their land” so we could go to the nations. We are so blessed to have many generous partners in the gospel (cf. Philippians 1:5).

gospel encouragers gravitate towards outsiders (Acts 9:26-30)

In Acts 9, Saul, becomes one of the most unlikely Jesus follower. After his conversion, he travels to Jerusalem to meet other followers. However, the whole church freaks out. It is Barnabas who helps the former terrorist of the church take his first steps into the church. Barnabas is the kind of guy you want in your church greeters ministry because he proactively encourages and engages with outsiders.

Don’t forget that your journey began as an outsider and “enemy” too (Romans 5:10). It is only through the gospel that you became an insider and friend with God. And it is by the gospel that you can find the greatest encouragement in life, both now and for all eternity. And top it off God uses people to be vehicles of His encouragement.

Who was your Barnabas? Who brought your inside the church? Mine were Mike Huseby and John Miller. They were the first men who encouraged me as a young Jesus follower. They showered me with love and Christ-like affection. They discipled me in the Word and encouraged me by creating opportunities to serve with them in the local church. I am eternally grateful they befriend me as a broken and messed up middle schooler!

Jesus was a great example of one who made friends with people on the fringe. He was a magnet to broken and needy outsiders. He lovingly gravitated towards outsiders. And you and I become more like Him when we see people as He sees them. Don’t underestimate the power of the gospel to transform outsiders. Who knows who the He might want you to befriend? Who knows who the Lord might use to build His church?

gospel encouragers see no boundaries to the gospel (Acts 11:19-23)

For the first time, in Acts 11, the gospel reaches the big city (vs.19-20). Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Think of it like Chicago compared to NYC and LA. It was nearly 10 to 20 times the size of Jerusalem and also more urban, pluralistic, and multicultural. A perfect place for the gospel to flourish.

History and perspective shows us that this was a wonderful thing, as you and I are the byproducts of the gospel spreading beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judaism. Acts says that the church at Antioch was experiencing exponential growth. In fact, it saw the greatest expansion to the church since Pentecost. Therefore, the mother church in Jerusalem, decided to send a representative to Antioch. Not to see if their reports were embellished, not to see if their theology was orthodox, not to gain new church growth strategies, but to encourage the church, like a mother encourages her children.

Who does the church call? Who else, but Barnabas, the one-man-encouragement-committee (vs.21-22). Barnabas was an excellent choice to bridge the Greek and Hebrew members of the church. Having come from Cyprus, he was not a typical “Jerusalemite” Jew, and he already established a solid reputation for generosity and encouragement and, after all, what do new converts need more than encouragement?

When you need a word of encouragement who in the church do you call? Who is your Barnabas? Moreover to whom are you a Barnabas?  Ben has been my friend and Barnabas since middle school youth group days. What I still love about Ben is that he encourages me not in a way that strokes my ego, but in a way that challenges me, sharpens me, and points me to Jesus.

God created you for one another-ness and to encourage one another. Yet some Christians think that since they don’t have the “gift of encouragement” it gives them an excuse from being encouraging (Romans 12:8). Some Christians think a “critical spirit” is another gift of the Spirit, but the Christian army has a dreadful history of shooting down it’s own.

Are you someone who tends to be critical of the church? Do you crave the encouragement that another Christian is getting? Do you regard the ministry of others with envy or jealousy? Do you struggle with skepticism towards testimonies of God’s work around the world? Let it be known, almost all so-called constructive criticism towards the church is destructive criticism. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, but it is always saturated in a spirit of encouragement. That is what is to love about Barnabas. He arrives in Antioch, he sees the grace of God, rejoices, and cheers them on towards faithfulness (v. 23).

gospel encouragers mimic Jesus, the True Barnabas (Acts 11:24ff)

Luke’s living eulogy of Barnabas in verse 24 is moving and theologically pregnant. It should not be a surprise that the marks of a son of encouragement mimic the Son of God, the True Barnabas.

First, a son of encouragement is praiseworthy (“he was a good man”). Luke used this phrase only of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50). It’s not a phrase stroking Barnabas’ ego, as in saying, “Good job, Barnabas. He da man!.” Not that those compliments are wrong, but this phrase speaks to a greater goodness. Paul later writes that goodness is a fruit of Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And Jesus said that you can tell the type of tree by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:16). What is hanging from Barnabas’ branches are good fruit produced by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Second, a son of encouragement is powered by the Holy Spirit and proven faith (“full of the Holy Spirit and faith”).6 The fullness of the Holy Spirit and faith is the root of Barnabas’ goodness. You don’t get the Holy Spirit because you are good, rather when the Holy Spirit takes over your life He infuses you with His goodness. Galatians 3:2 asks: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” The assumed answer is “faith”. Then Paul asks, “does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (3:5) And again the assumed answer is “faith”. Barnabas’ faith is from and through the Holy Spirit.

Third, a son of encouragement is productive in bringing people to Jesus Christ (“and a great many people were added to the Lord.”). Gospel encouragers full of the Spirit and faith usher people to Jesus.

Why was Barnabas so encouraging? He knew the “Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement” (2 Corinthians 1:3). He knew the All-Sufficient Encourager and it was His Spirit that changed Barnabas into a “son of encouragement”. Like Father, like son. Let us aim to be sons and daughters of encouragement too.

It was at that point that Barnabas likely thought to himself, “These people need to grow deep and wide. I know just the guy. I’ll go get him.” Thus, “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul” (v. 25). The verb “to seek” used here indicates that Barnabas was going on a difficult hunt; nobody had a GPS read on Saul’s exact whereabouts. The last Barnabas had heard about Saul was that he was somewhere in and around Tarsus. So Barnabas went to seek Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.

The church and mission field need people who can take the ministry forward, but it also needs humble people who can spot the very people that God is calling. That isn’t always easy. Barnabas does a selfless thing. He didn’t decide to feather his nest. He didn’t desire to build an empire or church bearing his name. He didn’t become a celebrity disciple, pastor, or missionary. What he did was to give Saul a job.

“So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (v. 26). Up until this point in church history, Jesus followers had been called “people of the Way”. They were not known as Christians because the term was derogatory and mockery, but those in Antioch welcomed it as their identity. For the gospel has the power to bring together diverse people and erase biases or boundaries.

Being Barnabases is not about encouraging with warm and fuzzies. Gospel encouragement brings hope to the suffering and hurting (vs.27-30). Barnabases actively live out the gospel by helping people see how their situation fits into the bigger picture that God is painting.

It is your joyful commission to be a gospel encourager. How? By being a generous giver, giving abundantly, cheerfully, and sacrificially for the sake of the gospel. Second, gravitate towards outsiders, hospitable to the broken and needy. Third, see no boundary to the gospel because the gospel transcends culture or ethnicity. Fourth, mimic Jesus: good, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and bringing people to the Lord. Being a messenger of hope, never doing ministry alone, and humbly equipping others to serve the local church. How will you be a gospel encourager to someone this week?

How does gospel encouragement and communion mesh? One of the ways we encourage each other as Christians is gathering together. Like two burning hot coals, together they are encouraged, but separated they burn out quickly. In other words, to stay apart or to not relate with fellow Christians has the opposite affect to encouragement. It leads to discouragement.

”And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Communion as its name signifies is a community meal for mutual encouragement until Jesus returns (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). No matter if you are rich or poor, new to the faith or established clergy, we are all equals.  Communion is not about me and Jesus it’s about “we” and Jesus. That’s gospel encouragement.

the gospel without borders

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Gospel and missions, which go together like macaroni and cheese. The gospel is simultaneously at work in us and through us. Inwardly, our desires and motives are being changed as we repent and believe the gospel. As we are moved by Christ’s love in this way, we are compelled to outwardly engage those around us with the same kind of redemptive love. The gospel is active, it’s on a mission, in us and through us.

In Romans 1:8-17, we see Paul’s motivation for gospel ministry. Missionary ministry. Paul is fired up about the global scope of the gospel because God’s fired up about it. This is what I talk about when I speak of missions: “Missions is the activity of God’s people partnering with God’s mission.” Let’s see how this is made practical in Romans 1.

1. THE GOSPEL MISSION BEGINS WITH YOU, THE CHURCH (8-13)

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” (v.8)

Who’s the “you” Paul refers to when he says, “I thank my God for all of you”? He’s referring to the Christians in Rome. Although this letter was first to the Christians in Rome, it is also a letter for you. This letter is a gift from God to the church of every generation.

Why is Paul thankful for them? They are spreading their faith to all the world. They are not just expanding their facilities (or home churches); they were expanding the fame of Jesus’ name to the nations.

1.1 THE GOSPEL MISSION THROUGH THE CHURCH IS BIRTHED THROUGH PRAYER (9-11)

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

Like most letters, including Romans, Paul begins by sharing how he is praying for that church. I love reading Paul’s prayers. He loves the church. He constantly prays for them. He pleads with God to be with them. What Paul understands is that mighty movements of God are birthed through prayer. It’s not about Paul or His mission. It’s about His God and His mission.

Prayer serves to showcase whatever is on your heart; it reflects your passions. If you do not pray consistently and fervently for the nations, pray for workers for the harvest, pray for the reach of the gospel, pray for Christ’s glory to be made known in all the earth, you do not have any reason to believe that those things will happen through you or the church.

When God burdens people to pray for missions, He lights a fire that is not easily extinguished. Churches and their people begin to pray, then to give, and then to go. The first missions endeavor on record emerged from a period of worship, prayer and fasting among the members of the church in Antioch (cf. Acts 13). Christ Himself established prayer as a precedent for missions. “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'” (Matt. 9:37–38). Whenever the church joins together to pray for God to send workers, He does.

Prevailing prayer stirs the heart and opens our eyes to see what God sees, to love what He loves and to long for what He longs for. Spending time in the presence of One who loves and pursues the nations cannot help but be contagious.

1.2 THE GOSPEL MISSION THROUGH THE CHURCH IS A COMMUNITY CALLING (11-13)

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.”

The church is beautiful. It’s beautiful because Jesus is the Groom and we are His Bride. We are incomplete and insufficient without one another. If I am not pouring into the church or allowing the church pour into me, I am forsaking God’s means for my spiritual growth and together we are forsaking our calling (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). Paul longs to pour into the church, but he also longs for it to pour into him. He wants to be mutually encouraged by their faith. Paul wasn’t a super saint. He wasn’t a one-man-show that could function solo.

Serving the nations can be discouraging, lonely and difficult. What Sarah and I miss most about our home church is their fellowship and spiritual nourishment. We miss our small group where we were confronting sin in love. We miss sitting under the pastor’s preaching. We realize how much we need the church, we need their prayers, we need their encouragement, we need their fellowship, we need their nourishment, we need them to ask us the hard questions, and we need them to come with us.

Mission is a community calling. Paul desired a harvest among the Romans. As we go to the nations, you are going to your community. The harvest is not in the pew, it’s beyond your parking lot. Go to it. Missions begins with you, the church, your prayers and your common calling.

2. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS YOUR JOYFUL OBLIGATION (14-15)

“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

An obligation is an action we are bound to by commitment. It’s a word that reminds us of a burden or duty or chore, yet why is Paul eager (joyful as a monkey in a fruit market) to preach the gospel to all people? Remember, Acts 9? Remember how he was changed by the gospel on the road to Damascus? People transformed by the gospel have a joyful obligation to propagate the good news. Paul is under obligation by Christ to preach the gospel to all peoples, not just his people. The gospel mandate to “make disciples of all nations” is our joy. Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”

If the gospel is not your joyful obligation refresh yourself with the gospel again. Notice, who is Paul eager to preach the gospel to? Romans. Why Romans? In other words, why is he eager to preach the gospel to Christians? To Paul, the gospel is not just initial saving faith; it’s a call to continue to walk in faith each day. The gospel is not the ABC’s of your faith, it’s the A-Z’s of your faith walk. Everything you do from your spiritual birth to death is rooted in the gospel. That’s why it is your joy it is to preach the gospel to all people, including yourselves again and again each day.

The gospel calls us to action. The gospel cannot be contained within the four walls of the church, but it will not rest until it has reached the four corners of the earth. “My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). This verse stands as the slogan for many missionaries and church planters. To act on the gospel is to obey it and proclaim it until all have heard. It is not enough to cut checks each month to families who are serving around the globe and call it missions. It’s when all the church is going to all the world. That is missions.

Certain countries build barriers and make it hard for Christians to cross borders, but God is there. God is at work. Look at China and read the story of Brother Yun, The Heavenly Man. Or look at the Iron Curtain and read the story of Brother Andrew, The God Smuggler. These are just a few of the stories showing how God busts through man-made barriers. Walls of fear between your neighbor build brick by brick, but those barriers are invisible to God. The gospel sees no barrier or border (i.e. race, status), therefore, you must see no border to the gospel either. The gospel without borders is missions.

The scope of the gospel is global and local. It starts with the border closest to you. The person who butts up to your property. The grumpy guy who is particular about his yard and yells when your dog runs through it. Silent Sally who you barely hear a peep from the apartment across from you. It’s your mission to bring the gospel to your neighbors. It’s your joyful obligation.

Our family parked in Philly for 3-months. It was there we had our daughter Sophia. We lived in a parsonage and we had neighbors that we really wanted to share the gospel. It was a family with teenage children. I knew I should reach out and befriend them. But my sense of “should” had no motivating power. It was law, not gospel. My love was conditional—if we had more in common, if we were here longer, it would be easier. Two-months passed and we made very little contact with our neighbors. Until one day, Sarah was backing out of our driveway and our neighbor was backing out of their driveway too. Our cars collided in the middle of the street. The opportunity to connect with our neighbors appeared suddenly. The majority fault for the accident was our neighbors and they we’re quite ashamed. In the days that followed we were able to have conversations with our neighbors. Sarah especially showed love, kindness, and grace. She even took time one evening before we were about to leave for Quebec to share with them the gospel. It was her joyful obligation with a little help from an accident.

3. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS FUELED BY A PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL (16)

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Have you noticed that Paul talks about the gospel constantly? You do not have to guess Paul’s hobbyhorse. If you’re in a conversation with him for one-minute you can bank your bets on him directing the conversation to the gospel. Paul boasts boldly and bountifully in the gospel. It’s his passion. It’s his mission. He has no shame because the gospel has erased all and any shame he had before or after Christ. The gospel has set him free from shame. The gospel might bring shame upon Christians from a sinful world, but it’s message will remove the shame that stains the world.

According to Paul, the gospel is not just something that saves; it is the only thing that saves. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. So without the gospel there is no missions, and missions is not missions without the gospel. They go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Mission is a label put on many things. We can do a lot of good things that we ought to do (i.e. care for widows, orphans, build homes for habitat, feed starving children, cure aids, etc.) all motivated by a passion for God and compassion for needy people, but is this missions? Let it be known, healthy in hell isn’t our mission. Ministry without the gospel it is not missions. “Missions is the activity of God’s people partnering with God’s mission.” And God’s mission, from before the foundation of the world, has been to redeem a lost and broken world. Paul alludes to this earlier in Romans 1,

”Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1-6)

If reaching the nations with the gospel is God’s passion, I want it to be my passion too. May our prayer mimic Amy Carmichael who wrote, “Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod: Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”

4. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS ROOTED IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (17)

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

People desperately need hope, they need God’s love and goodness, they need His righteousness; a righteousness that originated in God, was prepared by God before time, is revealed in the gospel of Christ, and is offered to all. Missions is about God giving faith to people who previously had miscued faith and no faith in Christ. The gospel is God’s means to open blind eyes to the beauty of Christ’s righteousness,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11; cf. Romans 3:21-26)

To recap, missions begins with you, the church, through your prevailing prayers and your community calling. Missions is your joyful obligation. Missions is fueled by a passion for the gospel. And missions is rooted in the righteousness of God. How are you actively partnering locally and globally with God’s mission?

black friday

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There are two Fridays that people reference frequently: Black Friday and Good Friday.

How did Black Friday get its name? “Black Friday” had an early meaning of referring to the day that normally retailers “sell in the black” or make a profit from their sales for the year. Religiously, the day after Thanksgiving, we make a mad rush to stores long before they open to get bargains before Christmas.

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More important is “Good Friday.” It was the first Black Friday. Good Friday is ironically named. It’s good because something horrific happen, a death. How can a death be called good? It’s who died and why He died. Jesus died. And when he died, on Friday, He carry the weight of our sin on the cross, bore the wrath of God, and paid the price for our sins!

Isn’t it ironic we call it “Good” when Jesus suffered incomprehensibly for us? As horrific as it is, it’s Good News! Jesus took our place! Without Good Friday we have no eternal profit, rather we are bankrupt. We would be in the red.

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Who has believed what he has heard from us?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53

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.

a short story of the gospel

1. Where sin came from.

Holy creator God. Righteous Judge. He created angels (including Satan). Satan was prideful and wanted to be god (Is.14:13-14), but instead became and enemy of God and was cast from heaven.

2. How we became the children of Satan.

God created heavens and earth and mankind. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan in the garden to eat the fruit to be as wise as God. A lie. They bit the fruit. God cast them from the garden and were accursed and not allowed to come into His perfect heaven (Rom.6:23; 3:23). They obeyed Satan’s voice rather than God’s.

3. How God adopted us into salvation.

God came to earth in the form of a man. His names was Jesus.He came to live a perfect life and die as the sacrifice for sin. After He died He resurrected from the grave and ascended into heaven conquering sin and defeating death. Jesus brought eternal life to all who believe on Him and follow Him (John 3:16; Mt.28:19-20; 11:28-30). You receive His Holy Spirit and become a new creation.

4. What will happen when Jesus returns.

He will come back as judge. Until He returns we must be a part of His church, be willing to suffer for His name, and live as His child.

Adapted from Preach and Heal by Charles Fielding (Appendix E)

daily responding to the gospel

If there is no invitation to respond to the gospel by living in the light of it each day it is no gospel.

If you do not daily respond to the gospel it is wasted.

The gospel is not a collectors item or trophy your keep on the shelf or in storage to remind you of an event past. It is the classic car you drive. It is the little league game you relive every day. There are no such thing as glory days or good old days when it comes to the gospel. It’s everyday.

As Jerry Bridges says, “Preach the gospel to yourself daily.”

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 [6.7.12]

Best graduation speeches.

What do introverts think of church?

How much do you owe mom since your birth?

Is Mormonism a cult? What about a Mormon president?

10 things you have to do if you want the next generation to listen.

It Is What It Is, But It Is Not What It Shall Be.

Why Bible study doesn’t transform us?

The Real Avenger.

The gospel for those who’ve grown up in church.

Muslim Unreached People Groups.

from beggar to worshiper

While visiting the market in North Africa, especially in bigger towns, it does not take long before children come to you begging for money. It is hard to withhold helping them when they are so dirty, skinny and needy. However, to give them money is to give the mosque money. These boy and girl beggars are employees of the Imam. Therefore, we give them bananas or a drink of clean water. And what they really need money cannot buy; they need the riches of Jesus Christ.

As we arrive in Acts 3, we arrive to a church that is newborn. Peter has just preached his heart out, the Holy Spirit is at work, and thousands were added to the church. The infant church was booming with excitement. The day after Pentecost, Peter and John head to the temple for mid-afternoon prayer. On their way they pass by the local beggar. He’s in need of a turning point.

1. Everyday expect there to be unexpected opportunities to freely give out the gospel by introducing beggars to Jesus [Acts 3:1-10]

Doctor Luke gives careful details that this beggars been crippled since birth. He’s never walked. He probably slept near the gate and carried him up lots of stairs to his post at the gate each day where he hoped for a handout. He’s been doing this for 40 years. Isn’t it ironic that the beggar is by the beautiful gate? Can you see the contrast? The gate was a modern marvel and a symbol of wealth. It was an ordinary dirty bronze gate, but it was overlaid with silver and gold. In the light it glistened. And beggar sitting next to it as a stinky, dirty, and pitiful eyesore.

The two apostles make eye contact with the beggar. Have you ever made eye contact with a beggar? There is an unspoken vagabond code that says: ignore the beggar and he won’t bother you, but if you make eye contact expect to dish out. I have been around beggars. I am guilty of taking the long way around or looking the other way pretending to be fixed on something important. It is like being in class and your teacher asks a question that you do not know the answer therefore you dare not make eye contact lest you be chosen. Strangely Peter and John call the beggar to look at them.

Peter and John have literally sold everything they owned to serve Christ [2:44-47]. They do not have what the beggar wants, but they do have what he needs, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [3:6] I am sure the man was disappointed or felt shortchanged at first, but Peter took his hand and helped him to his feet. The man not only began walking but also began jumping [Isaiah 35:6]. It’s something he’s never done before, even as a child. And like a child he’s not shy to show his joy in what God has done. He has just become a living, breathing, walking, and talking commercial of Jesus’ power and provision. I am sure he was an undignified spectacle within the temple.

I love the excitement of the beggar. He worships God and cares less what the crowd thinks. All the while the religious around him are thinking, “Settle down rookie. Your zeal will fade in time.” The religious are usually the most cantankerous. God detests the religious and their man-made rules and regulations. Long gone are the days their passion for God and joy in the transforming power of the gospel.

A similar event occurs in Luke 5:17-26. A crowd had gathered to see Jesus. A paralyzed man was lower through the roof of the packed house. Jesus healed the man. He got up from his mat, and walked home glorifying God. Imagine the reaction from his mother when he walked through the door that day! Not only was he healed, but also he forgiven by the Son of Man. The religious grumbled, but the crowd was amazed at what they saw and said; “We have seen extraordinary things today.”[1]

This story gives illustration to some biblical truths common to all. First, we are all beggars before we become Jesus worshipers. We are born beggars. We beg God to accept our good, which really is dirt and dung. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6] There is no good bone or blood in us. But those who humble themselves to Christ whose bones were crushed and blood was spilt for their sin will be healed. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:3]

Second, the way to Jesus is through a narrow gate, but the most beautiful gate. I used to have a poster that depicted this scene. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” [Matthew 7:13-14; cf. Luke 13:24; John 14:6]

Third, the riches of Christ are infinitely greater than the wealth of this world.[2] Salvation in Christ is the greatest rags to riches story of the universe. How amazing it is that God can rescue a soul signed to an unending lease within hell and pay his sin debt and freely offer him an opulent room and inheritance within His kingdom.[3]

When theologian Thomas Aquinas visited Rome he met with Pope Innocent II. Aquinas was amazed by the opulence of the Vatican in that day. And this was prior to the building of St. Peter’s, but even then it was a glorious headquarters for the Catholic church, filled with riches, and the pope was somewhat proud of the riches, and he said to Aquinas, “No longer do we say, ‘Silver and gold have we none.’” Thomas looked at the pope and said, “Maybe that is why we can no longer say, ‘Rise up and walk.’” Now the church’s riches were not why the church lost its power to heal people. The reason is that the power evidenced in the early days of the church was given by Christ to His Apostles to establish the church. Aquinas knew that, but I guess he did not want to miss the opportunity to jab the pope.[4]

Today the church has great wealth. Little of that wealth goes to global gospel ministry. In fact, 95% of the churches money, people, and resources go to Christians. All the while unreached worldwide remain heavily unreached.

Fourth, everyday you are surrounded by beggars who are unaware of their real need of Christ. As a Christ follower you have all they really need. Stop taking the long way around and quit looking the other way pretending to do something more important. Invite them to look into your eyes and say, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [3:6]

I was confronted by this truth just this week. I attended a pastor’s conference with nearly 2000 pastors and missionaries. At the conference I met, Tyrone, an employee at the conference center. I watched as he opened doors for servants of God, but not one person acknowledged he existed. He was a beggar in our midst. You have beggars in your midst too.

2. Don’t neglect to share the transforming power of the gospel is faith in the name of Jesus and no other [Acts 3:11-16; 4:1-12]

Miracles make news travel fast. Soon a crowd gathers to see the healed man. He’s clinging to the apostles like a shadow. And the people are staring at Peter and John awaiting their next trick as if they were Penn and Teller. Since Peter’s got a crowd, why not preach? Peter is quick to deflect the attention, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus!”

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, The God of our Fathers who has glorified His servant Jesus” [3:13]. Just in case there was any doubt that Jesus is the focus of Peter’s message, the name of Jesus is named 9 times in chapters 3-4.[5] Peter lists five absolute exaltations of Jesus—that’s the essence of this sermon—to magnify Jesus. He is:

  1. the long-awaited servant of the Lord; [cf. Isaiah 52:13, suffering servant]
  2. glorified by God; [as He sits at the right hand of His Father]
  3. the Holy and Righteous One; [He’s not a criminal or blasphemer]
  4. the Author of Life; and [co-creator and Savior]
  5. raised by God from the dead. [the apostles saw Him with their own eyes]

The sermon was also a scorching indictment of all who gathered. It’s as if Peter points a finger in their faces saying (with three pointed back at him), “You are the very people who betrayed Christ, who delivered Him, screamed for His blood, and are guilty of His murder. By the power of that same Jesus, this man was made whole. It wasn’t me, but Jesus.”  Peter also a former denier acknowledges their ignorance [3:17], but they are no longer, so the only solution is to repent and turn to Jesus. Jesus on the cross, cried out, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do” [Luke 23:34].

Doing ministry in name of Jesus is what got the apostles into trouble. Jesus and His growing group of followers were a sore subject for the Jews [4:2, 17; cf. Luke 20:27-40]. They thought Jesus was a joke, a fake, a blasphemer, and the same went for His followers. Earlier crowds convicted Jesus of a crime, which led to His death. Now the religious leaders threw the apostles in jail hoping they might think a bit. But the next day, they were brought out before the religious big wigs they did not back down from making Jesus known.

Jesus is the focus of the apostle’s ministry. So should yours. It’s not about the numbers in the crowd [cf. 4:4], coolness of the program, effectiveness of the event, or pat on the back for your faithful years of service. It’s about lifting high the majestic name of Jesus. This might not make you the most popular person, but it gives credit where credit is due. Peters words cut to the core of the issue: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” [4:12] These are not politically correct, tolerant, or sensitive words, but true words nonetheless. Christianity is exclusive: Jesus is the only way to God. But it is also inclusive: for all who would believe on Him.

There is even more here that you need to see. Sometimes people will say, “Yes, Jesus is the only source of salvation, but you don’t have to know Him in order to benefit from the salvation He offers.” In other words, “If you are a faithful Muslim or Hindu or Jew or animist, Jesus will save you. There is salvation in no one else, but you don’t have to believe on Him in order to be saved by Him.” That is modern day universalism. It’s heresy!

Is that what Peter said or meant? Peter focused on the name of Jesus, “There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” He did not say there are some other names by which you can be saved and Jesus is one of them. “There is no other name,” and Jesus’ name is your only entrance into fellowship with God. Peter says in Acts 10:43, “Every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” The name of Jesus is the focus of faith and repentance. In order to believe on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, you must believe on His name. That is, you must have heard of Him, know of His saving work on the cross, and understand He rose from the dead.

Paul echoes in Romans 10:13–15: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed and how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” There is salvation in no one else—and that means there must be missionaries, who make Him known by name so that people can believe and call on His name for salvation. “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, apart from Him no one comes to the Father” [John 14:6].

Jesus is absolutely unique. He is absolutely supreme among all the gods and lords of the world religions. Knowing Him and believing on His name is absolutely necessary for salvation. Peter’s sermon is calling us to Christ.

It calls you to clarity.  It calls you to understand your faith. If all sincere roads lead to an afterlife, then understanding the road you are on to make sure it is the right one is not very important. If there are not many ways to God, but only one way, then the highest priority in life is to understand Jesus and follow Him. The supremacy of Christ as the only way to God calls for clarity. This is important in a world of universalism. Make the message of Jesus clear!

It calls for courage. There is no point in dying for your faith if another way will lead you to God. What gets you killed is to believe Jesus is the only way. Around the world Christians are being martyred, I met some former Muslims who became Christian in North Africa. In the early days they were beaten, threatened, kick out of their families, fired from their jobs, and ostracized from their communities. Living for the name of Christ is difficult. It takes courage. It takes courage to speak to the beggars. Are you courageous?

It calls for humility. Humble yourself to the name of Christ. What is the use of making your name great when in a few generations it will be forgotten? The name that will last forever is the name of Jesus. Fan the flame of His fame. Humble yourself and give the credit for the good in your ministry to Jesus. You cannot pack your credentials in your coffin when you die. Work hard to deflect attention off you onto Christ.

It calls for joy. Let us stand to our feet and leap for joy at the transforming work of Jesus Christ. Peter could have said to the people, “Why aren’t you in the temple jumping, leaping, and praising God like the healed beggar? It is your God, the God of your fathers, the God of your heritage, who is glorifying His Son.”

This is the response of a beggar turned worshiper. Today can be your turning point!


[1] Cf. Luke 4:36; 5:9, 26; 7:16

[2] 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 2:7; 3:8; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; Titus 3:6;  2 Peter 1:11

[3] Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7; Ephesians 1:18; 3:6; Titus 3:7; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:4;

[4] Sproul, R. C. (2010-11-03). Acts: St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (pp. 76-78). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[5] Cf. 3:6, 16, 4:7, 8, 12, 17, 18, 30

the gospel is for grandma’s, too!

From a missionary to central Asia:

For the past few months, God has been burdening my heart heavily with the fact that so many of the old people around us are dying without knowing Christ. Usually it is more difficult to bring old people into the Kingdom as they are so set in their ways of Islam to even want to listen. Nevertheless, I started to pray for my aged neighbors. One of them is Diana’s mother-in-law, I will call “Grandma Margaret.” (Diana is our neighbor who had come to faith a few months ago. I am discipling her.) Margaret has heard my testimonies and sharing of His Word with open heart before but since she started going to the old ladies’ Koran reading group, she seemed to have become more distant.

I was so burdened for her soul that I asked God for one more opportunity to share the Truth with her. Several weeks ago, God gave me that opportunity to share but as soon as I mentioned Jesus, she started quoting the usual defensive lines about Islam. It seemed like what I was sharing was falling on deaf ears. With my heart aching for her soul, I shared with her that it is because God loves her so much that He has put her on my heart to pray for and to share with her like this. I shared with her that we don’t know how much longer we will live on this earth but that I would like to and that God would like to see her by His side in Heaven. Somehow, the reality of God loving her seemed to melt that closed heart some to enable her to finally listen. Though she said that she cannot accept Him right now, I am praying that God will be merciful to Grandma Margaret and open wide her heart to receive God’s precious gift of Jesus. Pray that she and her whole household with get to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

A few days later, God gave another opportunity for my husband and I to share God’s love with a 75-year-old woman we will call “Grandma Sherry.” A few months before, she didn’t agree with the Good News and even was teaching us about Mohammed. We left her the movie about Jesus called Magdalena. Even though she didn’t seem interested, she decided to watch the movie. Then when we visited a few weeks ago, with childlike faith and tears rolling down her cheeks, she said that she believed in Jesus being the Savior and the way to God! During the visit, she also mentioned that her back really hurt. So we laid hands on her and claimed Jesus’ healing over Grandma Sherry’s back, and moments later she said it was feeling better that she stood up with no pain to see us off. Praise God!

Please join us in asking God for Grandma Sherry to understand and experience the abundant life that she has received in Christ. And may her whole household and the generations come to put their trust in Jesus and surrender their lives to Him.

Thank you for your continued prayers for this city!


The 65/95 Window? Because the Gospel is for seniors too. Much is said about the 4/14 Window (religious decisions are mostly made by youth). But in a world that is aging, how do we reach out to seniors?” Read missions commentator Justin Long’s thoughts on the 65/95 Window.

Other recommended resources: Joe Thorn writes about how “the gospel is for Senior’s.”  John Piper’s talk “Getting Old for the Glory of God” and Dr. John Dunlop’s Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician (Crossway, 2011). Read an excerpt of Finishing Well. Read Tabletalk’s interviewwith Joni Eareckson Tada, on the secret of her joy and contentment in the midst of relentless pain. The entire Tabletalk issue [October 2011] is devoted to death and disease from a biblical perspective.

from unknown to renown

Today 2.6 billion people are completely unreached with the gospel. They do not have a church or gospel message in their midst. Nearly 4 billion people are unengaged by the gospel. Meanwhile the world’s major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam—are making inroads along with a variety of cults and New Age philosophies. People are not shy to hide their beliefs like this bumper sticker I saw Friday, “Born-again pagan.”

The religious culture and climate of North Africa has been unreached for nearly 1200 years. Islam has long taken root and is blossoming even to this day, which can be heard from the daily prayers echoing from the tall spires of the local mosque. Islam mixed African animism is woven into almost every fabric of their lives from mealtime, to family makeup, to laws, and to greetings. To call them to Christ is to call them to live counter-culture.

I am sure you are around people every day that are unengaged with the gospel. You could say these people are ignorantly worshiping an unknown god. If you are like me you might wonder, how am I going to reach all these different kinds of people? How do I reach out to hardnosed sibling or parent, question asking co-worker, or philosophically intelligent neighbor? There is no cookie-cutter method. However, observing the apostles in Acts 17 you can learn some valuable principles for making known the gospel of Jesus Christ Here are three truths to keep in mind:

1. GO WHERE THE GOOD NEWS IS NOT [Acts 17:16-23]

It might seem obvious, but in order to reach the unreached or unengaged, you got to go where they are. In Acts 17, God directs Paul and Silas to crowds of unreached in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Wherever they went they met a mixed bag of people. Some were unruly and hostile, some studious and skeptics, and some eager to examine the Scripture. Where do you begin with the wide variety of crowds God has placed around you?

First, ask God for a burden for the unreached [16]. Evangelism is something that doesn’t come natural to many Christ followers. In fact some dread it. Ask God for Christlike compassion for those you would normally ignore. I have been able to remedy this by paying closer attention to the forgotten people around me [waitress, postman, store clerk, etc.]. I will pray for a desire to reach them. Then ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them. It is amazing to see the opportunities God opens up along the way.

Second, learn about the unreached around you [17-18a]. Paul was in Athens, a pagan and philosophical capital. Athens is city similar to university towns like Madison or West Lafayette. It’s a town where the average person has plethora of PhD’s. Home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. As a secular city center, Athens was a melting pot of culture, philosophy, the arts, and a smorgasbord of gods. Towering above the city on Mars Mill sat the Areopagus. It was sort of a temple to the human brain that served as the chief courtroom and a place to hold philosophical discussions.

Two schools of thought dominated Athens. First, Epicureanism emphasized a world governed by blind chance, with the absence of an afterlife, gods were distant and uncaring, and the pursuit of pleasure was the only thing worth seeking. Second, Stoicism emphasized a world determined by fate, where human beings must pursue their duty. As John Stott said, Athens “resigned themselves to live in harmony with nature and reason, however painful this might be, and develop their own self-sufficiency.” It was a culture with a lot of similarities to ours today that challenged truth.

Third, expect opposition to absolute truth [18b-21]. The thinkers of Athens call Paul a “seed-picker,” which is a slang term [i.e. bird eating mixed grain] for a peddler of second-hand philosophy—an intellectual scavenger that picks and chooses what he wants to believe. However, Paul was no intellectual slouch. He was a straight-A student under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He was an expert in the law. And when he came to Christ, Christ, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit shaped his worldview. Viewing life through a biblically based, Christ-centered worldview is foolish to those who do not know God [1 Corinthians 1:17-21].

Proverbs says, a fool is one who does not consider all sides of a situation. Paul teaches that Gentiles “walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding” because of their “ignorance and hardened hearts,” [Ephesians 4:17–24] and their thought are “vain babblings” [1 Timothy 6:20]. In fact, all around you is undeniable and inescapable proof of God—for He has made Himself known through Creation and Christ—and all men are “without excuse” [Romans 1:19–20]. The knowledge of God is “suppressed in unrighteousness”, which places men under His wrath because they “know God, yet they glorify Him not as God.” Expect opposition when speaking up for Christ.

Fourth, uncover common ground [22-23]. Paul did not have much in common with the people of Athens. Certainly he had no common ground of agreement with their erroneous philosophies. He did not try to make the gospel more palatable or tolerable. But he did see one thing they had in common—worship. Everyone worships. They worshiped their knowledge and an unknown God, while Paul worshiped a knowable God.

I find it interesting that the Omega people we are reaching out to claim their roots to be with Solomon and the Ethiopians eunuch, but for centuries they have followed Muhammad the Prophet. Most Muslims have a fascination with the Bible and Jesus Christ. Pray for hearts open to hear the gospel. The Quran commands to read the Christian Scriptures including the gospel [Injil], which will introduce them to the Prophet, Priest and King.

2. QUICKLY POINT PEOPLE TO CHRIST & THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL [Acts 17:24-31]

I am sure Paul had a certain level of frustration with his audience. He probably wondered, “How am I going to reach this puffed up knuckleheaded people?” Notice he doesn’t scream at the audience, he does sweep them off their feet with irresistible oratory or amazing argumentation, he doesn’t sell himself to the audience, he simply shows them a soul surrendered to Christ. He deflects the attention off himself onto his Savior. This is key to any apologetics or heated spiritual discussions: point people to Jesus.

First, the power of persuasion is always in the Spirit of God [24-29]. Paul points to the character of Christ. And this is how Paul preaches Christ: He gives them a brief history lesson on God 101.

  • Christ is the omnipotent Creator [24a]. He owns the deed to His creation, since He has created all things.[1]
  • Christ is omnipresent in His children [24b]. He does not dwell in temples made with hands,[2] but hearts.
  • Christ is completely self-sufficient [25]. He needs nothing from man; man depends on God for everything.[3]
  • Christ is sovereign sustainer [26]. He’s not distant or indifferent, but as ruler of all He’s intimately involved.[4]
  • Christ is a gracious pursuer [27; Romans 1:19-20]. He creates man and pursues their affection. He has placed within each man a GPS [Godward Pursuing System]. Your homing beacon searches and finds rest in Christ.
  • Christ is the center of Worship [28]. Even Greek poets acknowledge we are from God.
  • Christ is eternally priceless [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.

Paul’s theology revolves around his Christology. Jesus is the blazing center of his universe. Athens could no longer claim ignorance, but were now cognizant of Christ and His character. The Son of God goes from unknown to renown. They could ignore the facts [as many do], but the unknown God is made known. Like a set of keys you’ve been looking for, but all the while they are in your pocket. He has not only made Him known; he’s revealed His renown!

Second, the character of Christ calls people to repent [30-31]. Paul challenges the foundations of pagan philosophy and calls the philosophers to full repentance. Paul is like Jeremiah walking into idolatrous hot bed preaching one message, “repent!” with little response. They are a people who have long thought they were god. They equated themselves with god. But God is not your co-pilot; He doesn’t even want you in the cockpit. Paul describes an incomparable Christ. He is like no one and no one is like Him.

However, God is knowable through His Son Jesus Christ. And the mystery of all ages has been revealed in Christ. The age of ignorance is over. Gentiles can know Christ too [cf. Ephesians 3:4–6]![5] In Romans 10:13–15 Paul says,  “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” And “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]

Paul is not arrogant or a pompous jerk, but is gentle and humble in his approach. He is bold when confronting them with Christ for He knows Jesus is judge.[6] After His resurrection Jesus charged the apostles “to preach unto the people and to testify that this is He who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead” [Acts 10:42]. This truth Paul shared in the Areopagus. The power in Paul’s preaching was provided by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.[7] The same power is available to you [Matthew 28:19-20]. The power is in the gospel—God is holy, man has fallen short of God’s glory, but Jesus pays man sins debt, and man’s hope is to respond with faith and repentance. That is the gospel.

3. PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL BOLDLY, BUT LEAVE THE RESULTS TO GOD [Acts 17:32-34]

Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It takes the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth. He does God’s work in God’s way with God’s power. Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt, some wait to hear more [sometimes the hardest to reach because they are no longer ignorant yet choose to reject the truth], but some are ready to commit to Christ. The mission to Athens was no failure. The gospel was preached and at least two people got saved that day, including one member of the Areopagus council. Two people had a radical turning point.

What are the implications today for you and me? First, today is the day of salvation. Preach the gospel boldly to all men, not hold back, but bringing them face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Second, today is the time to mobilize the church to send out locally and globally. If your church is completely inward focused you are missing your mission. Third, today is the day to live out the gospel with your life. The gospel is not just the ABC’s of your salvation; it is the A-Z’s of working out your salvation with fear and trembling. This is the desire of our family’s heart—we long to live out the gospel as parents, as husband and wife, as people living in North Africa spreading the fame of Christ name among the unreached.

Are you ignorantly worshiping an unknown god? If your faith is not rooted in a gospel-centered relationship with Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshipping, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If the gospel ceases to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction the day after you trusted Christ as Savior, you are ignorantly worshipping and unknown God.

Jesus has made Himself known. His renown will last the test of time. Only His name prevails beyond the grave. Do you know Him? Make Him known! “Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” [Psalm 135:13-18]


[1]  cf. 14:15; Exodus 20:11; Psalm 24:1, 146:6; Isaiah 37:16; 42:5

[2] cf. 7:48-50; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1–2

[3] cf. 14:17; Psalm 50:9–12; Isaiah 42:5

[4] cf. Genesis 1:28; Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 2:21

[5] There are two parts to the mystery of Christ: 1) Gentiles are not second-class citizens in the body of Christ: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:14). Both are fellow heirs of the same inheritance. 2) This Gentile privilege comes only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where Christ is preached and believed, Gentiles are grafted into the tree of God’s people. In Colossians 1:26 Paul says that this mystery was “hidden for ages and generations but now is made manifest to his saints.” And in Romans 16:25 he says that the mystery “was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed.”

[6] cf. Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Daniel 7:13; John 5:27; Romans 2:16

[7] cf. Acts 17:18; 4:2; Romans 4:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

thumb licks [10.21.11]

What’s a good question? How to evoke curiosity the right way.

The gospel or Justice, which? Balancing the mission of the church.

In defense of Disney princesses. The benefits are more than just their beauty.

Three rules for polemics. Tim Keller weighs in on a debated issue.

The world is built on discipline.  An open letter to college freshmen.

10 reasons Christians should care about science. Can faith and science reconcile?

Little big world. See what an unordinary Nikon camera can do looking at God’s micro creation.

Victor-y. Overcoming cancer as a kid. Be inspired.