overwhelmed

There are days that are downright hard, ugly, and overwhelming.  Sometimes there are seasons of life when all I see is what overwhelms me most.

There are so many things that can overwhelm us that leave us feeling like we are sinking and can barely breath.  Many of things that overwhelm can begin as good things, but become hard and ugly like a struggling marriage, a wayward child, a strained relationship, or a load of expectations or responsibilities from work or home.

Do you ever have days or seasons like that?  Do you sometime have a difficulty seeing the good in grim situations?  Do you dread the idea that God sometimes places you in really hard places or situations to help you to realize just how desperate you are and how delightful He is?

Today I will look into the heart of a man who is overwhelmed.  He is overwhelmed in a unique way.  Yet he has the help of a good friend with new eyes to help him see the good in the overwhelming.

Paul is the friend who wrote two personal letters to Timothy; a young man.  Timothy was a leader in the church at Ephesus, which Paul planted a decade earlier.  He wasn’t passionate and radical like Paul, rather he was timid and tender.  Paul, as a spiritual father and mentor, writes Timothy a critical juncture to encourage him through heavy challenges he was facing because certain persons were taking cracks at his youthfulness and in the same breath undermining the doctrine of Christ.  Timothy was overwhelmed.

What Paul models for Timothy is that while ministry is difficult and problems with people are real and overwhelming, it is possible to be overwhelmed by the realities of God’s promises and see His purposes in all situations.  Paul helps us to see an alternative in a biblical pattern toward becoming overwhelmed by God, even when my day or season in life is hard or ugly or overwhelming.

1.  OVERWHELMED WITH THANKS (vs.12-14)

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Thankfulness is where becoming overwhelmed with God begins.  As we look under the lid of Paul’s heart we see a man overwhelmed with thanks.  He cannot help but thank God.  He saw the deep crimson stains of his sin, yet saw the grace of God being deeper still.

Before Jesus, Paul was a religious terrorist.  He was the Jewish equivalent to ISIS.  He was radically devoted to his religious system and aimed to stop anyone who differed or threaten it.  When God intersected with Paul on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9), God miraculously altered Paul’s faith and future.  Only God could have altered Paul’s route.

Do you remember who were you before Jesus?  Similar to Paul, you could say, “Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent—though formerly I was an enemy of God, doubter, skeptic, agnostic, cheater, liar, thief, addict, adulterer, womanizer, slanderer, sloth, fool—But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Aren’t you grateful for that “but”?  That little conjunction brings hope in the most hopeless situation.

Paul reflects on his unglamorous past and what the glorious gospel has made him to be.  The gospel takes him back, like when you’re driving in the car and “your song” comes on the radio taking you back to a certain time and place.  Thinking of the gospel had that affect on Paul.  He is so thankful.  Does it have that affect on you?

‘Thank you’ is one of the highest forms of praise.  When someone says, “I am thankful for you,” it can be one of the most precious and powerful things said.   When is the last time you said those words to God?

My first year of life in North Africa was the hardest.  I had created a list.  Not a written list, but a mental list of all the things I was unthankful for; all the things that overwhelmed me most.  This is the part of the message that you should not take home nor replicate, but I want you to see under the hood of my heart because maybe you can relate.

My Unthankful List:  It’s hot (again).  I have heat rash (again).  I am so tired and exhausted.  Someone is knocking at the gate and it’s 5:00am?  I feel so used.  Do people only come to visit to get ice, charge their cellphones, and ask for ride to the next town?  If another person comes to visit and I am expected to be hospitable, I think I will snap.  Are those boys throwing rocks at the tin roof again?  The man who I thought was really interested in hearing about my faith is now forcing his faith on me.  I cannot understand the language or be understood.  They are laughing at me (again).  I am trying so hard.  Today my chores took me all day and I’m still not finished.  Why am I here?  I am sick again.  This has to be my 43 day in a row with diarrhea.  Sophia has lost a quarter of her body weight is she going to be okay?  What I wouldn’t give to have a burrito right now.  I am so fellowship starved.  What I wouldn’t give to be in a church right now surrounded by my brothers and sisters.  I feel like my faith is mimicking this dry thirsty land.

Maybe you can relate.  Although we might live in different places, we are still so easily overwhelmed.

That was until a friend recommended that I go take a walk and pray.  So I did.  I began prayer walks a few times a week.  It took a few walks to stop thinking about all that overwhelmed me and to see what God was doing in me.  Out of these walks came a new list.  A list that I wrote down.  A list that I am proud to share and recommend that you would take home and replicate.

My Thankful List:  I am not alone.  God, you have surrounded me with a family, a team, and a cloud of witnesses.  I am seeing You answer prayers from the front lines.  God, you are providing for all my daily needs (again and again).  When I am tired You are my strength.  You are my protection.  You have helped me make new Chadian friends; many who are hearing the good news for the very first time.  Little by little You help me to communicate (and laugh at myself) and be hospitable.  People are knocking on my gate to visit me. You are giving me a love for those I’ve had a hard time loving.  God you are changing things.  You are changing me!  Thank you!!

A thankful heart is the remedy to one overwhelmed by a myriad of things towards becoming overwhelmed by God.  Thankfulness helps us to see hard and ugly situation through new eyes.  Ask God for a thankful spirit.

2.  OVERWHELMED BY SALVATION (v.15)

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Paul is overwhelmed by his salvation.  He is overwhelmed that God would redeem a sinner like him.  He knew who he was and would be without Jesus. Paul had the right scale on which to measure himself.  Often I don’t.  More often I compared myself with another person thinking I look pretty good in comparison, but compared to Jesus there is no comparison.

This realization can change your life—I am the worst sinner I know.  Like Paul, I am Public Sinner Number One.  I am the worst sinner I know because only God and I know the depth of my sin.  But thanks be to God that he stepped into my shoes, lived sinlessly, died in my place to clear my debt, championed the grave, all so that God could save me from God’s wrath and my own destruction.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I’m not that bad!  I teach Sunday School.  I listen to Christian radio.”  Remind yourself just how bad you are by looking at the cross.  Remember the price paid for your sin.  Remember the red blood shed for your sin.  Remember how ugly and horrible cross of Jesus was. That’s how ugly your sin is.  Doesn’t that overwhelm you in a good way?  You got to see your utter depravity before you can see Jesus’ glory.

John Newton was a captain of slave ships for the British Royal Navy and in his own words said he was a ruthless businessman and unfeeling observer.  Despite a regrettable past God intersected with him en route and saved him.  Like Paul, as he looked back on his past he said, “I am a great sinner but Christ is a great Savior.” Later he wrote a song which we sing still today, “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound), That sav’d a wretch like me!”  Many would say that is “my song.”

Verse 15 is a beautiful missions verse, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  That is the gospel in a nutshell.  That alone gives me the motivation to wake up everyday and share Jesus with others because if it weren’t for Jesus I would not love my neighbor or stay in Africa.  That alone is enough motivation for you to do the same wherever God has placed you, even if it is hard and ugly.  That is a verse to rehearse to yourself everyday.

Why evangelize those around you?  Why go to the ends of the earth?  If God can save Paul.  He can save anyone.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  He can save your boss, your father, your child, your crazy uncle, your annoying neighbor, the abuser, the prostitute, the terrorist, even you.  It happens when God gives faith to a person to believe that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

To be overwhelmed by God is to be overwhelmed that God would save a sinner like you.  Or that God would even use a sinner like you, which leads us to the next thing.

3.  OVERWHELMED BY MERCY (v.16)

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Have you ever heard the words, “You’ve changed”?  Those can be words you either love or hate to hear.  But God changes people.  It’s his job and joy to change you.  He himself never changes.  But he loves to keep changing you more into his image.   People who do not want to change are either perfect or disobedient.  Which are you?

Paul is overwhelmed by mercy.  To him God’s mercy is a river wide that keeps flowing and never runs dry, it is flooding over its banks, and Paul’s is drowning in it.  And one who is given mercy, gives mercy to others. Mercy multiplies mercy.  God’s design in saving Paul is to make him the poster child parading God’s mercy.  God’s shows off Paul as if to say, “Here is what I can do.  See for yourself.”

God had you in mind when he saved Paul.  That is what the verse says.  That is an awesome thought.  God saved Paul for your sake.  So that you would see God’s “overflowing grace”, divine “mercy” and “perfect patience” and take courage and hope for your own salvation and the salvation of others.

God wants you to see the most unlikely people can believe and do believe.  God can change people and is changing people.  God’s mercy and power are not limited to people who have been set up for Christianity by a good family or live near a church or have a clean moral track record.  The chief of sinners was saved.  And that means hope in evangelism and in your own underwhelming walk with the Lord.

Don’t belittle the mercy of God by saying, “I can’t be changed” or “I’m just the way I am!”  The message of God’s mercy is that what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed.  A critical spirit can be changed.  Alcoholism can be changed.  Irritability can be changed.  Ingratitude can be changed.  Laziness and overeating and lust can be changed.  The habits of not tithing and excessive TV watching and gambling can be changed.  Lack of hospitality can be changed.  Self-righteousness can be changed.  Fear of telling others about Jesus can be changed.  It’s God’s joy and job to change you.

In what ways are you parading the mercy of God to those around you?  Everyday you are displaying God’s perfect patience and as an example to who are to believe in Jesus for eternal life.  This is a reason to run to God not from God unashamed because of his mercy.

ph-kalvin-maarten-iriba-6391

In Africa, sometimes it’s too hot inside that we sleep outside.  Our night light are the bright stars in the sky.  Why are the stars so bright and beautiful?  It is because the sky is so dark.  In the same way, you live in a dark world tainted by sin, but God in his mercy uses you as his lights to shine for all to see what God can do in a person or a community overwhelmed by him.

4.  OVERWHELMED WITH PRAISE (v.17)

Paul ends his personal thoughts with a bang.  He does this from time to time.  Its as if he gets caught up in the thought and his pen explodes into doxology on the page.  God’s goodness becomes his anthem. He is overwhelmed with praise.

To the King of the ages (past, present, and future), immortal (who never naps, takes a break, or dies), invisible, the only God (who doesn’t have a living comparison), be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (For more see Revelation 5)

Enough said.

When comprehending God saving power over your past, when you see yourself against the cross, when you acknowledge the mercy of God saving a sinner like you, it is natural to be overwhelmed, overcome, overjoyed, and overflowing with gratitude and worship to God.  A person overwhelmed by God sees his troubles or trials through news eyes.  He sees people problems through new eyes.  He sees whatever is hard and ugly and overwhelming through new eyes. For all that you lack is supplied for you in Christ.  All that ruined you was renewed in Christ.

May God give you new eyes to see the beauty of what he is doing in you and those around you, even when it is hard and ugly.

May we be around the worst sinners looking for gospel opportunities.

May your complaint turn to thanks and praise.  May you be refreshed by the joy of your salvation and that God would use a sinner like you.  May God overwhelm you and your church.

 

Application

What areas of your life do you struggle with thankfulness? How does thankfulness change the way you see your circumstances, even difficult ones?  Spend some time in prayer thanking God.

What do you remember about your salvation story?  What does it look like to rehearse the gospel to yourself everyday?  Why is it important to be reminded of the gospel so often?

What is the mercy of God? How have you experienced the mercy of God? In what ways are you parading the mercy of God as an example for others to see?

Read Revelation 5.  How is Revelation 5 a bigger picture of 1 Timothy 1:17?  How is John’s vision of Jesus overwhelming with praise?  Why is it helpful to have this future picture of Jesus? 

When was a time when you were overwhelmed by God?  What about God’s working in your past, present, or future marvel you?

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living and serving with others

serving with others

Living the others can be difficult. My first experience living with another person was in college. As a freshman, I was preselected a roommate and had no idea who he would be. I was going to share a fifteen foot by fifteen foot room with a stranger. It turned out my roommate was a dairy cow farmer from Ohio and a camping ministries major. I remember after a whitewater rafting class he got a bad sunburn. He bathed himself in vinegar and smelled like a pickle for a week. Although we were very different and butted heads on occasion our living arrangement worked out.

Sometimes living and serving with others doesn’t work out so easily. Sometimes it is work. Hard work. If you are doing life with members of a church or are serving on a team with other Christians you know just how hard it can be.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes five rapid-fire imperatives and one promise to those who are living and serving together in the church. The five imperatives have one singular focus on bringing unity to the Corinthian church. Take note of how intentionally intrusive they are. Paul knows firsthand that ministry relationships are full of passion and opportunities for disunity are apparent. Unless you are a hermit, being intentionally intrusive with others is important, especially if you are living and serving with others.

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

1. Rejoice.

There is no surprise that the first imperative is “rejoice”. Why? Paul longed for the Corinthians to be a cause for his own rejoicing (cf. 1:24; 2:3). He loved the church deeply. He knew there would be rejoicing in the church if all members listened to him, trusted his apostleship and walked in repentance. Paul had every reason to despise the Corinthians and to give up on them. So “rejoice” is an imperative full of faith and expectation that the Corinthians were on the verge of joyous unity. He was nowhere near giving up on them. They brought him that much joy!

How can you rejoice in the Lord giving you a church? How are your church members a cause for your own rejoicing?

2. Mend.

The second imperative, “Aim for restoration,” has the sense of putting back into place or mending or repairing. Living and serving with others is a group assignment and the more you are with each other the great the probability there will be friction and fraction. Paul lays the responsibility directly on the church—“Get it together”—work at restoring your unity in Christ (cf. 13:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul echoes this when writing another church, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3)

Are there any relationships within your church that need mending or repair?    What are the most prominent heart idols that you anticipate may get in the way of you allowing others from being intentionally intrusive into your life (i.e. fear of man, lover of pleasure, pride, wanting control, comparing yourself to others, failing to believe the best in another, etc.)? Are you working towards restoration rather than destruction? Explain.

3. Comfort.

The third imperative is to “comfort one another” or listen with tenderness (cf. 1:3-11). Paul was aware of the depth of the hurt among both those who were in the right and in the wrong. He himself needed comfort as his relationship with the Corinthian church was frayed.The situation then and now in Corinth demanded mutual tenderness and comfort. Comfort is the currency of unity and harmony. To comfort another means you spend your time and energies to reassure, relieve and repose another who is hurt or struggling.

Who is someone in your church who needs the tenderness of Christ right now? How will you comfort them?     If you were to be struggling with allowing someone to be intentionally intrusive into your life, what would be the manifestations of your struggle (i.e. not returning phone calls, short answers, no eye contact, easily irritable, blame shifting, etc.)?

4. Harmony.

The next imperative is to “agree with one another” or “be of one mind” or “live in harmony” (cf. 1:10). Every church needs this admonition, but no church needed it more than Corinth. The elitist, Corinthianized super-apostles had issues with everything Paul stood for. Harmony is sounds working together on different notes that make a pleasing sound. Paul did not ask the church to agree on everything, but they were called to agree with one another on the the main things like his role as an apostle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are there secondary issues that are causing disunity among you and another church member (i.e. decision making style, not being understood, not liking what someone else is doing, etc.)? Have these secondary things become an idol in your heart? How can focusing on the main thing or the essentials help build harmony between you and others?

5. Peace.

Lastly, the imperative to “live in peace” flows out of such harmony, since being out of tune is not a peaceable sound; rather it’s discord. Peace doesn’t come passively. Nevertheless, living in peace requires intention and determination (cf. Mark 9:50; 33-37; 42-48).

How are you pursuing peace with church members? Would others describe you as a peacemaker? How can you actively live in peace?

God’s Promise

Now, if you step back and look at the whole, all five imperatives call the Corinthians to continuous action day in and day out. If the Corinthians heed them and walk in them they are given a resplendent promise: “and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b). God promises to give his children his love and peace as they actively do his work together.

What is it like to not experience the love and peace of God? How can the love and peace of God be with you when others do not seem to be at peace with you? In what ways are you being blessed by God’s love and peace with your church members?

Unity by living and serving with others in a team/church does not come easily. We must work at every facet at all times. Restoration is work, comfort is work, harmony is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires work. Paul called for continuous, specific focus for the church—and everything depends upon their response.

“Passion for the church involves diving into the community of the local church. It means ‘doing life’ with other Christians by pursuing relationships that extend beyond the church building and official church functions… ‘Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience,’ writes pastor John Loftness. ‘Fellowship is participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationships – our experience of God Himself.’ Fellowship means belonging to each other” (Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church pg. 75).

Paul was so concerned about restoration and unity in Corinth that he became especially directive about demonstrating affection. First, he called them “brothers.” (v.11) Paul’s relationship to the church is not professional. The familial language assumes that Christians are family in meaningful spiritual relationship. Second, to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12) was a cultural expression of affection among family members. It is difficult to embrace another person with whom you have discord. Third, Paul shares a “Hello” from his companions in Ephesus, “All the saints greet you” (v. 13). The unity he desires to renew in Corinth is universal. Christian unity is true for the whole Body of Christ. Finally, in Paul’s final benediction he says, “The [amazing] grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the [extravagant] love of God and the [intimate] fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) The example of the Trinity is also a picture of unity. The promise was for everyone—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was Corinth’s hope. And today it is ours too!

Who is a person in your life whom you welcome to be intentionally intrusive who you know will love you in Christ, show you grace and provide intimate fellowship? How will you be more intentional involved in the fellowship of your church? How does the grace, love and fellowship of God encourage you to share the same with others?

absolutely surrendered

Absolutely Surrendered

The day that I asked Sarah to marry me was wintery. We walked around our favorite park (also the sight of the Battle of Tippecanoe). I had everything I wanted to say scripted, but the one thing I couldn’t plan was her response. As we neared the bridge overlooking Burnett Creek I stopped and tried to engage in some sweet talk, but all Sarah wanted to do was beeline to the car because she was cold. As she began to walk off the bridge I got down on one knee and said, “Sarah, I got one more thing I’d like to say.” As she turned around I said, “Would you marry me?” Her response was not the traditional “Yes!” but her one-word answer I will never forget. She said, “Absolutely!”

Why was Sarah so willing and eager to absolutely give herself to me? It is still a wonder to me (and for you married men too)! I have a similar wonder as I read about Paul’s absolute surrender to Jesus in Acts 21. Why is Paul so committed to walk into a life threatening situation? How can I have power and passion like that for ministry? The text will answer these questions among others today.

Serve On Purpose (vs.1-16)

To give a brief background, Paul is traveling from Ephesus back to the Big Apple, Jerusalem (500 miles). He is finishing his 3rd and final missionary journey. And Luke gives us Paul’s travelogue (vs.1-3). And you thought you had it bad with 2 connections and a 6-hour layover in Paris!

What was awaiting Paul in Jerusalem was no vacation or Sunday School picnic. According to Acts 20:22-23 Paul had some clue what awaited him, ”Behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

It’s interesting that along his journey, Christians also “through the Spirit” advise Paul not to go to Jerusalem (vs.4-12). How does the Holy Spirit give information that seems so contradictory? Could it be the Holy Spirit gave both Paul and the Christians the same information, but the application of the information was different? I think so. Paul was willing to obey the Spirits directions, but the others likely did want to lose Paul or be responsible for his martyrdom. They also might have thought, “Who wants to go to prison or face afflictions? Certainly we can help him find an easier way.”

If you were in Paul’s sandals you would have family and friends steering you towards gentler meadows too. As hard as it is to accept God’s will or calling, it is still the harder for those who love you. Now it’s not wise to ignore sound advice from spiritual leaders or blow off the opinions of your teammates or scoff at your organizations safety and security policies. You are accountable and it just might protect you from a huge blind spot. However, like Job’s friends or Paul’s friends, could one limit the work of God by holding people back from going where God is at work, even if it is dangerous or unsafe? Just something to chew on.

What was Paul’s response to the advice not to return to Jerusalem? (v.13) It broke his heart. He was ready to be imprisoned, even die for the name of Jesus. Paul knew his ultimate end. God made it clear on the day of his own conversion (cf. Acts 9:15-16 “he must suffer for the sake of my name”). Paul knew his purpose and it was worthy of his life and death. Paul had zero leashes attaching him to this world. No earthly ambitions anchored him down. For early he said, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) The first mark of absolute surrender is to serve God on purpose no matter the cost.

If you are married you probably remember your wedding day and the honeymoon bliss. Ours ended about 2-days after the honeymoon when Sarah and realized we couldn’t spend 24-hours a day together anymore. If you are in the ministry you probably went into the ministry because God did an amazing work in your life and you wanted other people to know Him too, no matter the cost. Then life happened. Honeymoon over. The daily routine became taxing on your time limiting ministry. Your team tasked you with doing certain projects that you did not enjoy or feel skilled to accomplish. You became so busy by the demands of people, and all sense of privacy was eliminated. Transition or conflict with colleagues was disheartening. And through the months and years your original calling and vision for ministry has weathered.

Doing ministry can often separate you from the reasons you went into ministry. As Mike Breen said so well, “We are so addicted to and obsessed with the work of the kingdom, with little to no idea on how to be with the King.” How can it be that you can serve God and spend yourself for Him yet become so tired, hallow, burnt, even distracted from your original call to ministry?  It is good to come back to the reason you came to the field, to the One who called you, gifted you, sustains you, and gives you purpose to wake up each morning and walk out your gate.

Paul is very intentional and purposeful about what he does, he’s not dissuaded by the opinions of others, he has no limits on following Christ, and he serves on purpose for the sake of Jesus’ name. It took a bit of persuasion, but Luke and the others gave Paul over to the “will of God.” (v.14) And Paul continues his death march (v.15-16) enjoying one last night under a friendly roof.

Endure False Accusations (vs.17-36)

As Paul arrives in Jerusalem the first person he meets is pastor James, the half-brother of Jesus. Ah, missionary-to-pastor we all know where this conversation is going, but notice Paul doesn’t talk about numbers of converts or churches planted, he only spoke about the things the Lord had done (vs.17-20a).

James on the other hand talks numbers. He then introduces Paul to rumors related to his teachings or lack of teaching certain truths among the Gentiles (vs.20b). What is most striking in this passage is how Paul responds to rumors and false accusations upon his ministry. There is much you and I can learn from his example:

First, listen to the accusations (vs.21-22). Initially Paul says nothing. He keeps his lips zipped. Luke doesn’t record any immediate reaction from Paul. He simply listens to James and takes in all the details.

How do you handle it in the ministry when you are falsely accused? Are you quick to deny, defend, or devour? How do you respond when someone says something about you that is not true? Sometimes the biggest attackers to your ministry aren’t your neighbors, but your own brothers and sisters. Christians have a bad reputation for gunning down their own.

During my second year as an assistant pastor I was presenting a vision that the leaders had spent many months praying and fasting over. The desire was plant sister churches in our area. The idea was birthed from Scripture and we desired to be a church that not only reached our Jerusalem and uttermost parts of the world, but also our Judea and Samaria. Following my presentation a lady stood up and said, “Why should a church of 200 people think about planting another church when I have a hard time staffing our Sunday School classes. You are obviously a shepherd who doesn’t care about the sheep. You are leading our church astray.” She then proceeded to list every peeve she had about me as a young pastor which were many.

She might have made some valuable and helpful remarks, considering I was such a green leaf just out of Bible College with fresh ideas, but all her arguments were voided due to the character bombs she dropped. It was like she threw a grenade loaded with shrapnel aiming to shred my character, reputation, and ministry. Thankfully an elder also stood up and became a shield to my defense. She continued to spread rumors about my teachings and made many false accusations about my character. I was crushed and hurt. What was even more painful was her unwillingness to meet together or accept Matthew 18 counsel. The elders of our church prayerfully asked her to leave the fellowship.

Second, obey the advice of wise spiritual counselors (vs.23-26). When James asks Paul to cleanse himself he does as he is told. He doesn’t have to do what they are asking, but he goes the extra mile to help diffuse the situation. And it worked, but only for a few days.

Third, humble yourself (v.27-36). Can you hear the attacks and exaggerations given Paul? None of which are remotely true, yet despite the lies Paul responds with gentle and humble obedience to the authorities. There is no mistake that Paul’s response is similar to Jesus during his trial and crucifixion. What he is modeling is how the least of these can be the greatest of these. Humility displays the greater man and is one of the greatest defenses when under attack.

How do you respond when attacked? God never promises serving Him will be easy or that everyone will respond fairly, but he does promise to stand with you in the face of accusation. As you endure accusation with the gentleness and humility of God you mimic Jesus. And Jesus is glorified when you turn the other cheek for the sake of His name.

Testify in the face of opposition (vs.37-40)

Paul has more than a black eye and bloody lip. He was beaten within an inch of his life (vs.37-40). He doesn’t fight back with fists, but he really desires to use this as an opportunity to tell them about Jesus. He goes on to tell His testimony of how Jesus transformed his life (Acts 22:1-22); giving one of the great defenses of his life. Even in the face of opposition, Paul is eager to testify the name of His Savior (cf. Acts 23:11).

When ministry gets rough, go back to your conversion and call. Relish in returning to your story often. Fall in love with Jesus all over again. I came to Christ at the age of 12, I gave my life completely to Christ. When I reflect on my story I am floored by the miraculous grace of God. How God plucked me out of a dysfunctional family born to two teenage parents and plucked me out of a lifestyle addicted to self, lust, and people pleasing. Those who know me best see the life-transforming power. It’s a power I want others to know about too.

At the communion table in the upper room just hours before His crucifixion Jesus told His disciples what would happen to Him for the sake of their salvation. He broke bread and passed a cup of wine. Then he said, “Whenever you gather together do this in remembrance of Me until I comes back again.” And indeed, our Bride Groom will come for us, His Bride, may we with one voice say, I am yours “absolutely” now and forevermore (cf. Revelation 22:17-20).

Maybe it is time to keep on your knees once again. Raise your flag of surrender. Surrender all to your Love beginning with your life, family, children, and ministry.

God’s grace uses people as His intruments

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Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s grace. Jesus, the commander-in-chief of the universe, intersects with Saul on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only He could change a soul like Saul’s. And Jesus isn’t finished with Saul. Grace isn’t a one time thing, it’s given for a lifetime of transformation. It’s a gift to be given again. In the next few verses, God’s purpose with Saul will be outlined to a little known Jesus-follower will give Saul another touch of His grace.

Who is the little-known disciple? Ananias (Acts 9:10a). How does Ananias respond to God’s initial call? He too, like Isaiah and Saul, expresses his willingness to obey God (v.10b; cf. v.6; Isaiah 6:8). What does God ask Ananias to do next? God doesn’t give any details about what had just happened to Saul, but asks Ananias to meet Saul at the street called Straight (i.e. Main St.) and touch him (vs.11-12).

Do you wonder what was going on in Ananias’ mind? Now, think about your response to a man of Saul’s reputation, “Lord, maybe we need to rethink this…Saul is coming to imprison me…maybe leaving him blind would be a good idea…at least long enough for me to pack my bags and get out of town…” This response isn’t far from Ananias’ (or the church) response (vs.13-14; cf. vs. 21-28). Have you ever questioned or challenge God’s demands upon your life? If so, you are not alone. Many biblical characters have done the same thing (i.e. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah). God accepts questions, but will you accept His.

Notice the how God responds to Ananias’ questions: He is gracious, not harsh, but firmly commands Ananias to go down the street (v.15a) and He gives him insight for the journey. What does God say about His plans for Saul? (v.15b) By His sovereign grace, He chosen Saul and will use him as an instrument to take His name to to the Gentiles, to people in high places, even to His people. What does it mean that Saul is God’s “instrument”? He will be a tool or vessel in God’s hands to increase and expedite the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.

God always errs on the side of grace and so should we. Grace is seen in Ananias first face-to-face with Saul. How does Ananias greet him? He calls Saul, “brother” (v.17). What more intimate term could you think of? It’s as if Ananias says, “brother Saul, the Lord has sent me so that you may regain your sight. Once was a day that Jesus opened my eyes too.” And the intimate touch of Ananias hand healed Saul’s blindness (vs.18-20).

God uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s reputation, and knows he could be walking The Green Mile. I can relate to Ananias. I tend to be timid. I fear the unknown. I doubt or question God’s grace. Yet His grace is sufficient everyday. He carries my feet outside the gate. He opens my mouth to speak with feeble French and ever more amateur Arabic. He uses me as His instrument to proclaim the name of Jesus.

God’s grace is on display today through your life. It is an example of grace to those around you just as Saul’s conversion is an example. Later, Paul reflects on this with his young pastoral student, Timothy,

“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

In the words of R.C. Sproul, “Just minutes before his conversion, all that Paul could think of was what he could do to Christ, but immediately after, all he could think of is what he could do for Christ.” That’s grace on display!

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (2-weeks ago).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (last week).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (today).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (next week).

who?

Who?
Who made the flowers white – more white than morning snow?
Who made the sound of water and the fireflies to glow?
Who put the brightness in the sun and made the moon to shine?
Who put the faith that saved my soul into this heart of mine?
Who shakes the mountains? Who quiets the seas?
Who whispers tales to tall, shivering trees?
It is my Jesus – strong and meek.
The One who washed disciples feet.

Poem by my wife, Sarah Hutts

Artwork used with permission from Calvin Carter Art.

righteous extravagance

What would you do if you had one week to live? This is a question posed in the movie, One Week, in which a young man named Ben is faced with the reality from doctors he has end-stage cancer and will soon die. He impulsively buys a motorcycle, leaves his job and fiancée, and takes off on a solo trip across Canada. In a scene with his fiancée he argues, “It’s not about the cancer; it’s about the life I built for myself. Why am I over-insured? Why do I care so much about being responsible all the time? Why do I give a $%&* about the appliances we’re putting into our kitchen?”

Society conditions us to believe life is about a nicer house, a prestigious high paying job, and granite countertops. Yet when you are faced with the reality that you only have one week to live those things you use to covet, fear, worry about, or fixate upon take a backseat to what’s most important.

What would you do if you had one week to live? Would you live extravagantly? When we think about extravagance we think of money and spending lots of it. There is a Facebook page dedicated to asking people what they would do the last week of their life. The answers reveal what we value. Here are some of the responses:

  • I would quit my job, buy a boat and get a tattoo. I would get married as quickly as possible.
  • I would travel by helicopter to Ireland, the Grand Canyon, and end at a beach spa on Bora Bora.
  • I would pig out on all the cheese fondue and chips and guacamole I could stomach.
  • I would max out my credit cards and spend it on frivolous things like renting a convertible Ferrari.
  • I would write letters to all my children or people who touched my life and spend time with them.
  • I would go out and get a second opinion from another doctor.

Today is Palm Sunday. It is the day we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ last week of earthly life. Within a week He is praised by the crowds, lynched on a cross, and raised from the grave. Like Ben, Jesus knew He had one week to live. What do you see Jesus do differently the last week of His life compared to the 33 years before? Nothing. What you do see is an expectation of His followers to live extravagantly the remaining days of their earthly life. Not extravagant, as in spending frivolously or living recklessly, but extravagant as in living out your faith with excessive elaborateness that people are sure to hear and see the Savior in your speech and actions.

1. If you truly know Jesus, you will respond with extravagant worship [John 12:1-8]

Within 6-days Jerusalem will celebrate the Passover. People are flocking from all over the region. This Passover will be different. Jesus will die. He will become the Passover lamb. Jesus is moves towards danger not away from it. He does not hide. In fact, He goes to the Bethany—the location of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles—the resurrection of Lazarus. He knows His time is near. The chief priests and Pharisees have already sent out a warrant for Jesus’ arrest [11:57].

When Jesus arrives in Bethany He is honored with a sinner party. It is a thank you celebration for Jesus miraculous power raising Lazarus from the dead. Gathered are the disciples. Lazarus is reclining at the table with a big smiling to the one who gave him new life. Martha is in her usual place organizing the meal and making sure it’s well served. And Mary is about to express her heart to Jesus in a lavish way. This is the same Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet soaking in every word He said and to whom He said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

The time comes when Mary presents Jesus with an extravagant gift. Perhaps the whole family planned this moment. Perhaps they pooled their savings together to buy the gift fit for a king [Songs 1:12]. Perhaps it’s a family heirloom that has been passed on for years. Or perhaps Mary heard about the “sinful woman” at Simons house who poured perfume at Jesus feet and also desired to honor Jesus [Luke 7:36-50]. We are uncertain her reasons, but Mary poured out about 11 ounces (the size of a soda can) and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The fragrance filled the house. It’s an unforgettable moment of extravagant worship from hearts filled with gratitude.

Not all who were at the party thought Mary’s scene of extravagant worship was such a wise idea. Judas Iscariot thought it was a waste of good perfume. And as if he were ‘Mr. Spiritual’ asks why the expensive perfume was not sold and given to the poor. This is quite the blow coming from the tightwad who is robbing from the disciple’s moneybox.

If Judas wasn’t over exaggerating the 11-ounce flask of spikenard was worth about $26,000 (300 days pay at minimum wage). Judas makes us aware that it is easy to be the judge of another persons worship, rather than just worshiping Christ. His values were so deeply different from Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ that in a few days he would do the opposite. Instead of giving $26,000 for Jesus he would sell him for a thousand bucks (30 pieces of silver). Judas’ heart is full of dollar signs, but Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ hearts valued what money could not buy, a relationship with God.

What do you treasure? If you treasure the things of this world you will hang by them, as did Judas. If you treasure Christ above all things you will live. Jesus said to Martha after He raised Lazarus, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” [John 11:25–26] Jesus wants to make sure that in six days at another grave—His own—they do not lose their sense of worship that He is indeed the Resurrection and the Life, but that they would “keep it” even on the day of His burial.

Jesus does not rebuke Mary’s gift, instead He approves of her extravagantly beautiful worship. Jesus loves extravagant worship. The only thing that matters in worship is God’s approval. He created you for His glory and praise. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” [Romans 11:36] “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth…All things were created through Him and for Him.” [Colossians 1:16] “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory.” [Isaiah 43:7]

According Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But Jesus has come to live to die so that you might give Him “praise for His glorious grace” now [Ephesians 1:3-14] and throughout all eternity.[1] He came to be worshiped. He created you as a worshiper. And He has called you to make worshipers. Worshiping God is your mission.

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship is, therefore, the fuel and the goal of missions.” – John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 2003. p.17

2. When you worship extravagantly, you are Jesus’ witness to the world [John 12:9-22]

Palm Sunday was an event of great understanding and misunderstanding. The great understanding is that this Jesus really is “the King who comes in the name of the Lord” [Luke 19:38]. He is the Messiah, the Son of David, the long-awaited Ruler of Israel, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises. But the great misunderstanding was that He would enter Jerusalem take His throne and make Israel free from the oppression of Rome.

The understanding of the crowd that day gave joy, but the misunderstanding brought about destruction that led to the murder of Jesus a few days later and the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later. Jesus saw it all coming as He came into Jerusalem. And as Jesus entered into Jerusalem there were a two interesting cultural nuances to the event:

First, Jesus makes a kingly entrance. Why did Jesus choose a donkey? It demonstrated Jesus’ humbleness; and it showed that Jesus’ entry was part of God’s plan [Zechariah 9:9]. During Jesus’ day, donkeys were part of the peasant life. However, Hebrew kings rode the ‘beasts of burden’ when they traveled throughout their kingdoms in times of peace [1 Kings 1:33–35]. And the king always had a donkey reserved for him that no one else had ever ridden.

Second, the people proclaim Jesus as king. Not only are the people singing Messianic psalms. According to Luke 19:35–36, the people spread their cloaks on the donkey and the road. Cloaks were of great importance. The cloak was so important to the owner that it would never have been loaned out to someone else. Compare it to something important to you like your home, car, or favorite dress or suit. Hence the parable when Jesus says when one asks for you tunic, give him your cloak as well [Matthew 5:40-42].

The disciples did not understand the purposes of the events that day, until after Jesus death and resurrection. Now the Pharisees completely misunderstand what is happening. Their pride blinded them, and they refused to bow to Jesus ‘the blasphemer.’ In disgust they mumble to each other, “Look, the world has gone after Him!” [12:19] In the crowd, Greeks gathered with the join the crowd, which is ironic proof that the world had come to see Jesus.

The idea of world (kosmos) in John is not a negative term [3:16–19]. Neither is it just geographical, but it’s a reference to the population or people of the world. Jesus is called the light of the world [1:9; 8:12] and “the Savior of the World” [4:42]. His coming into the world [1:10] was to take away the sin of the people of the world [1:29]. But because of hard hearts and rejection, the coming of Jesus also meant the judgment of the world [9:39].

Within a few days those same crowds shouting “Hosanna!” would shout, “Crucify Him!” Jesus knew what was about to happen. The Pharisees would get the upper hand. The people would be fickle and follow their leaders. And Jesus would be rejected and crucified. And within a generation the city of Jerusalem would be obliterated,

“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying,  “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” [Luke 19:41-44]

This is sobering news for Jerusalem. But it made way for the good news to reach the ends of the earth [John 3:16].

In Luke 19:39 the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But He answered and said to them,  “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” [Luke 19:40] How can stones cry out that Jesus is Lord? All nature, just by being, testifies about the God who made the world.

Do you remember pet rocks? Companies must have made a millions selling rocks with felt feet and beady little eyes. It’s silly to think that a rock could talk, much less shout the praises of Christ. But if you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains, you realize that the rocks do cry out praises to their creator. All of His creation makes His presence and praise known. Why would mankind, the crown of His creation, choose to be silent? He’s called you to be His witness to the world!

3. As a witness of Jesus, God honors your service with unfathomable extravagance [John 12:23-26]

These verses mark a turning point in Jesus ministry. He sounds the alarm saying, “My hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”[2] Using an agricultural story of a dying seed that gives life to the following years harvest, so Jesus must die in order for the world to have eternal life. Only by understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection can you make sense out of what seems to be the senseless waste of life. Jesus will sacrifice His life so that all may have life.

Jesus is not just talking about Himself but is giving a template for everyone of His followers. Following Jesus may involve the ultimate cost of discipleship, namely the death of the disciple. There are hard things in these verses for Jesus followers. It is not easy to die to sin and self, hate you life in this world, follow Christ, and serve Him. But there are glorious things for followers who do hard things for His name sake. If you die, you bear much fruit. If you hate your life you will keep it for eternity. If you follow Christ you will be where He is and He will be there too. And if you serve Christ the Father will honor you.

If you had 7 days to live how would you make His name known? How would you spend and be spent for the sake of His fame? The way you live the last week of you life reveals your priorities or what you value. When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew when he would die he responded, “If I thought the world were going to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” He gets to the heart of the matter, that when the end comes the Lord should catch you doing the things you were called to do all along.

There is great honor for serving in your church. No matter if you are a deacon, Sunday school teacher, nursery helper, or sanctified toilet scrubber, God is honored with selfless service. There is great honor in sharing your faith out loud to your unbelieving classmates, coworkers, and family members. As Jim Elliott said and lived to his death, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Mark was part of a team of two families serving Muslims. Late in August, the team received death threats. The families were evacuated, but Mark stayed for one last meeting with believers before joining them. The night after the meeting while at home preparing his dinner, Mark was shot. He was discovered the next morning in his home, but he had lost too much blood to survive. At his passing, Mark left a young wife and two infant twin daughters. Mark’s agency feared the possibility of legal action from Mark’s father, who was not a believer and who vocally opposed his son’s service among Muslims. But at Mark’s funeral, Mark’s father was among fifteen people who gave their lives to Christ. His wife plans to minister in the same region where her husband was killed.

I think of the five men who lost their lives in Ecuador to reach the Auca Indians. A wife and a sister returned to the village and the wife raised her daughter among the tribe that killed their husband. Many in the tribe converted because of the similarity between Christ sacrifice and the five men. The risk versus rewards for extravagantly following Christ is literally out of this world. You are guaranteed to be an heir of everything that God has created and eternally be at home with Him. God is lavishly, excessively, exuberantly, graciously, outrageously loving. In a word, He is extravagant. When His extravagance registers in your hearts and minds, extravagant devotion flows towards Him.


[1] Cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:8-14; 7:9-10; 15:4

[2] Cf. 2:4; 4:21, 23; 7:30; 8:20; 16:4; 13:1; 17:1

I don’t feel relevant

I was in a conversation with a middle-aged lay youth leader last week. He has been serving in his church with his wife for years. He has teenagers himself. He really cares for the teenagers and goes out of his way to love them and connect them with Christ, but he still appeared a bit discouraged that he himself was not connecting with them. Moments later he said, “I am too old to be a youth leader. I do not feel relevant.”

What is relevant?

Relevant is a word that is often overused and hard to define. It’s a buzz word. It is a word that gets tossed in the air but quickly evaporates into cultural jargon. Relevant supposedly has connotations towards how one generation relates to another, but is seemingly out of style or touch.

I like Webster’s definition of the word relevant, “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand.” Could older Christians be more relevant according to this definition than they get credit? I want to encourage all the older people serving in churches among teens, children’s Sunday school classes, young adults, and the man I met this week struggling to be relevant to today’s generation.

Am I relevant?

You might be old, but your faith is still refreshingly youthful. I think it is great when parents of teens serve their own teens in their church. My favorite servants as a youth leader were the old ladies in the church that would pray for and write cards to the teenagers. They loved it and the teens loved getting real mail. Faith does not have a sell-by-date expiration. Nothing stirs the faith of a church more than multi-generational ministry.

Youth are the same today as they were when you were a youth. I would also add, youth are the same today as when Jesus was a youth. Teens are sinners. When you were a teen you were a sinner too. Each generation of young people have the same temptations just disguised in new clothing: pride, lust, and issues with authority. Even though a decade or generation may have passed since you were a teen, as a sinner you have something in common, and together you can help each other look to Christ to fight your temptations.

The struggle to be relevant is one of the great lie of our ministry-age. To think about the amount of ministry that has been missed or messed up because elder believers did not feel relevant enough to minister to younger believers. This is a tragedy. Satan’s strategy is to deceive and the church has bit into the fruit of the tree of relevance. Young and old need to stop believing the lie that they are not relevant enough.

The gospel message is always relevant. It has been for 2000 years and it will be for 2000 more. It never goes out of date. Sinners need a Savior. Stick to this truth. Stop trying to be so relevant. Teach about Jesus and seek to live like Jesus. What could be more appropriate or connected to the matter at hand than the good news of Jesus?

Now I might sound like an old codger myself, but I’m an advocate of being relevant and change for the sake of change. However, while being relevant I do not want to forsake the gospel or compromise biblical truth. I am encouraged that for more than two millennia Jesus and His message has been relevant enough to transform lives and communities. It will for two millennia more! In my opinion, working in youth ministry the past 8-years, being relevant has less to do with you and more to do with your message. I’ll stick with Jesus.

Mary & me

Who are the top-5 most popular teenagers in the world? According Google search engine the top-5 are: Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Emma Watson. Are you a Bieliber? Biebergasted? Have the Bieber fever? Or OJBD? [Obsessive Justin Bieber Disorder] Are you a cult follower of Bieberism? [i.e. screaming crowd of 10-year olds]

Fame and fortune are fleeting. We have seen how the fame and fortune have gone to the heads of many teens, such as Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears, and countless others. Next year there will be a new set of teens that will top the billboard charts and gets their moment to shine in the spotlight.

Who are some teenagers God highlights for their relentless passion for Him?

  • Joshua was a young servant of Moses who became a godly leader that took the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land [Numbers 11:28].
  • God called Samuel at a young age and he obeyed the voice of God [1 Samuel 3:1-21].
  • David loved to sing to God on the sheep farm, but as a young man he also stood up for his God before the giant Goliath with a few stones and a sling [1 Samuel 16-17].
  • Daniel as a young man is faithful to his God and is willing to stand up and be thrown into the fiery furnace than bow down to any other God than his own.
  • Josiah ruled the kingdom of Judah at the age of 8-years. At the age of 16, he sought God and began to reform the nation back to Him [2 Chronicles 34:3-7].
  • God called Jeremiah a prophet at a very young age. God also encouraged Jeremiah not to be afraid, because He was with him [Jeremiah 1:4-8].
  • Timothy was a timid young man, but Paul, his father in the faith, encouraged him say, saying, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” [1 Timothy 4:12]
  • And Jesus who was still living with his parents was in the temple rubbing shoulders with the rabbis from an early age [Luke 2:41-52].

God uses teenagers throughout the Bible and history. God loves young hearts that and not polluted by the world and are willing to relentlessly and tenaciously give themselves to God. Are you willing to be used by God? Are you available to obey Him no matter the task or cost?

God is using young people to be characters in His story [Luke 1:26-34]

You know Mary. She is the one you see knelt next to the dirty manger with the Son of God swaddled inside with animals huddled together for warmth. A star is shining brightly above.  It is a beautiful scene in Bethlehem. But let’s go back 9-months before the baby is born. Let’s look at Mary. Why did God choose Mary? What’s so special about her that God gives her the task of bearing in her womb the second person of the Trinity? You might be in for a surprise.

On an unordinary day, an angel appears to Mary with a message from God Himself. Days like this did not happen everyday with people in Bible times. She is somewhat scared yet curious about what she’s seeing and hearing She probably heard stories from her Sunday School teacher about how God came to people through messengers in the past. Little did she realize she’d become one of the characters you and I would read about centuries later.

Why does God choose to work through people, including you? It is not because you are worthy, popular, rich, good looking, smart, or have some special skills that make you are more favorable than another. It is just the opposite. God is worthy, good, rich in mercy, generous, and wise. He enjoys using ordinary people to carry out His extraordinary redemptive plan.

God has shown favor to Mary by His grace. Mary is young. She is only a teenager. She was probably no more than 13-15 years old. She is pregnant and not married. This would have been socially scandalous. She could have been label loose or a whore. Imagine the conversations among the girls in the hallway at Mary’s school. “Did you hear? Mary’s pregnant! I didn’t think she was that kind of girl. Who’s the baby’s daddy? Could it be her boyfriend Joseph?”

Mary is the student at your school who isn’t well known. She isn’t great athlete, not a scholar, not the coolest kid on the block, she isn’t drop-dead gorgeous, she isn’t a gossip girl; she isn’t obsessed with fashion or boys. She’s a simple girl. She’s from a rural hick town. She’s from an average family that’s has an average salary. She’s got a modest amount of Facebook friends. She’s the kind of girl you probably would not notice walking through the hall. But God noticed her. He has a plan to use her. Overnight Mary becomes a key character in His story.

God is seeking young people who respond with humility and availability [Luke 1:35-56]

If you were Mary what would you be thinking if God asked you to do something really important? “This is crazy! This cannot be happening to me! What about Jennifer or Kevin, they much better looking and smarter than me? God, you want me to have a baby?” It might be hard to believe—if not miraculous—that a virgin can conceive a baby. That is exactly what God’s going to do. He gives Mary a sign by raising to life the dead womb of Elizabeth, her elder cousin.

Wow, what an incredibly wonderful day this is for these two ordinary women. Mary cannot contain herself any more. She bursts out in a song of praise [Luke 1:46-56; cf.1 Samuel 2, Hannah]. Look at how she worships. She lets begins by listing over 17 attributes about God. She is humble and available to trust God [1:48]. She is both innocent and obedient. She believes “what is impossible with man is possible with God.” [1:37; cf.18:27]. She has all she needs to know it is God who was at work in her. She does not care what others thought about her situation. She doesn’t fear man. She fears God. She desires to bring Him—and Him alone—joy. And this is what you were made to do—worship God, which brings Him joy.

It is clear from Mary’s words (and from the whole Bible) that God is not biased to the rich, the powerful, or the proud. How could God be partial to the things, which in our world are—more often than not—substitutes for God rather than pointers to God? Vast numbers of people have perished because they were enamored by pride, power, and wealth.

Today’s Teen Magazines and websites are filled with messages about finding favor with others:  “Get a smaller waist in 2-weeks,” “Hot summer looks,” “5 ways to get her to notice you,” ”Pick up lines she likes to hear.” What are people trying to figure out when you read this? Do any of them deliver the promises you were seeking? Sure. Why do we want others to notice or be impressed with us? It makes me feel important and secure. If the Bible were a magazine article or web advertisement what would it say? Find out how Jesus can satisfy your needs forever.

Notice how others around the incarnation of Christ responded to His coming: Elizabeth gives glory to God [Luke 1:39-56], prophets eagerly anticipate the Messiah [1:67ff], shepherds lift up praises [2:8-21], angels worship [2:14-15], even magi’s seek Him [Matthew 2:1-12]. How would you respond? How do you respond to God’s presence in your life? How have you been blessed by Jesus? How have you been overwhelmed to praise by the presence of Jesus?

God sent His Son into the world. God took on skin and a human body. He humbled Himself by become a human for humans. This little baby boy born in a barn and feed trough would grow into the most important man in human history. As Gabriel said, “He will be great…He will reign…He will be called holy—the Son of God.” [1:32-33, 35] The next 33 years would forever change the course of history. This child’s purpose was to live to die, to die for the sins of humanity, to take upon Himself the wrath of God in place of sinful man, to become the perfect sacrifice for your sin. The feeble infant would conquer sin, death, and Satan.

Mary had within her womb the Messiah, and if you know Christ, you too, have the Holy Spirit within you—Immanuel—“God with us,” is also with you. Wherever you go He is with you. Mary carried inside her the Savior of the world. You also carry the message of the Savior. A message that will resurrect dead souls to new life.

God used young Mary to accomplish His redemptive plan. And He still uses young and old who are humble and available to be characters in His great redemptive story.

Let me tell you about a teen named, Hannah. You probably don’t know her. She’s not on any teen top-5 lists. Hannah goes to church, she’s from an average family, loves soccer and Spanish. As a teen, she signed up for a few short-term mission trips with our church to Spanish speaking countries like Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Costa Rica. She was able to share the love of Christ with people in a language she learned at school. Now Hannah desires to translate the Scripture in unique languages so more people can hear about her Savior. Whether God uses her that way or not in the future is up to Him. But Hannah is humble and available and God loves using characters like that in His story.

Questions to consider whether you are young and old from the life of Mary and the birth of Christ

Are you available to do whatever God wants you to do? How do you know if it is from God? It won’t contradict the Bible or what God has done historically. Do you fear God more than man?

Are you humble enough to be a character in God’s story rather than having Him be a character in your story?

Will you write a poem or song that expresses your heart toward Jesus?

from sofa to service

I love being a spectator. Some might consider me a professional spectator. In the fall there is nothing better than being a spectator in a football stadium cheering on your favorite team. Do you spectate? Maybe you’re a spectator of a good movie or concert, playing video games or surfing the Internet. Whether it is a bleacher or sofa, spectators are good sitters. Spectators feed off others doing the work and paying good money to have a seat with the best view.

Sad, but true, the Christian life can be a spectator sport. Instead of sofas or stadiums, the church pew can be your seat of choice. It is far too easy to sit comfortably cheering or booing on the 11-people serving on Sunday. All the while never engaging yourselves in the ministry or doing your part to serve the church. Where are you at today? Are you sitting in the grandstands cheering from a distance? Are you standing on the sideline benched and bored? Are you retired from the game because you are no longer motivated to workout your salvation with fear and trembling? Or are you on the field running the race, fighting the good fight, eager for encouragement to keep pressing on?

In Acts 9, Paul miraculous comes to Christ on the road to Damascus. After he gets his sight back he immediately enrolls to serve for the sake of Christ [cf. Acts 9:18-20]. According to Paul, serving Christ was the greatest thing since sliced kosher beef. He worked his entire life to gain merit badges from God, but Christ gave him an entirely different motivation to work. As a recipient of God’s grace, he made it his mission to be a conduit of God’s grace. You might call him a missionary—a man on a mission. I think Paul always kept his car packed ready to go to the next place eager to share the good news that radically broke into his life.  In fact, if you are believer you are an immediate missionary for Jesus Christ. Here are 3 truths that will move you from the sofa into His service or from the mundane to your mission:

1. NEVER DO MINISTRY ALONE [Acts 15:36-16:5]

On Paul’s first journey, he and Barnabus were sent out from Antioch [Acts 13]. Many Gentiles bowed their knee to Christ through their ministry. On the brink of the second missionary journey, Paul had a good plan, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” [Acts 15:36ff] Barnabus was cool with the plan, but he wanted to bring along John Mark too. Paul did not like the idea, since Mark bailed on them midway through their first journey [13:13]. Barnabus—the encourager—wanted to give his friend a second shot. It started a conflict so sharp the friends to parted ways.

So who was right? Most side with Paul since he’s the apostle, however, the Bible is silent not taking sides. It is interesting that you never hear about Barnabus again. On the other hand, later Paul would ask that Mark be brought to him because he was “useful to him for ministry” [2 Timothy 4:11]. And this Mark is the same Mark that eventually wrote the gospel of Mark. Bottom line is—we don’t know—who was right, but God did use their conflict for His purposes. They are both right and both wrong. I find it encouraging that even though Paul and Barnabus had their issues they were still willing to serve. They didn’t hang up their shoes—giving up. This shows you the attractiveness of message over the messengers. The church might be messy, but it is still the beautiful Bride of Christ.

If you serve in the church you are wise to remind yourself, first, work hard to fight for unity whenever possible. Paul says in a letter to a church, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:1-3, cf. Colossians 3:12-17] Do you think your pastors, deacons, sound techs, worship leader, nursery workers, AWANA helpers, and Sunday School teachers are aware of this need for unity? People problems can come up frequently when serving the Lord together, but whenever possible strive for unity.

The number one reason why people leave a church or the mission field is because of conflict with a person or personality. As Sarah and I go to North Africa, pray for our team. Pray for an ethos of grace that seeks to resolve conflict biblically and quickly. I could not imagine doing ministry alone. That was my favorite part of ministry at BGBC, serving along side deacons, youth leaders, and teams of people who sought unity in community.

Second, serving together is far better than serving solo. Do you notice that Paul usually serves on a team? Rarely do you see him going solo, even in prison. I have heard many of reasons why people do not like to minister with others, like, “Our personalities just don’t jive,” “I’ve had too many bail and leave me with the bag,” or “I really work better by myself.” It is exceedingly selfish to serve God alone. What might be more selfish is not even engaging in ministry. Doing ministry with others might cause friction or factions, but that is no reason not to do ministry with one another. You might think you are more effective by yourself, but the Christians faith was not meant for Lone Rangers it is to be lived in community. My church has a core value that states, “We are devoted to making every member a minister.”  It takes a church to raise a Christian.

Third, serving with others closely mimics Jesus’ model of discipleship. Jesus’ idea of discipleship trains people on the job. Most people learn best by doing, which runs contrary to our culture that says you learn best by hearing. Serving with others makes ministry transitions easier. Who will take over after Sunday School or small group when you leave? Are you grooming your replacement in the food pantry or youth group? Have you asked God to give you a Timothy [or Tabitha, 9:36-43] to train [2 Timothy 2:2]? Doing ministry alone can be dangerous. It can leave a vacuum after you’re gone. It is also dangerous because it is easy to cheat and lie about your service because no eyes are watching you. Serving with others keeps you honest. Follow the model of Jesus and His disciples: never serve alone.

Need an example? Look at how Paul picks out young Timothy [vs.1-5]. Paul needs help so he grabs Tim and gets him ready to serve.[1] Paul grows to love Timothy so much that he often refers to him as his, “true child in the faith.” [1 Timothy 1:2] and, “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me.” [Philippians 2:19-23] These are the kinds of relationships that make doing ministry together worth it.

2. NEVER ARE YOU CALLED BY GOD TO DO WHAT YOU ARE NOT ALREADY DOING [Acts 16:6-10]

The time has now arrived for Paul’s second ministry road trip. With the car packed and ready to go Paul and Timothy ventured out towards Asia [Turkey], but the Holy Spirit did not permit them to go. In fact, God says “NO!” to four cities in Asia, but He does say, “YES!” giving them permission to go to Troas [Troy], which ultimately leads them to Philippi [Macedonia; Europe]. Paul’s plan was to go where he had already preached before [15:36], but God had plans to send him to preach to the unreached people West of Jerusalem.

While in Troas, God gives Paul a vision. In the vision, a man urges him to come to Macedonia to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the passage of Scripture we dub, ‘The Macedonian Call.’ It is a well-known passage that missionaries often use to validate the country they believe God has called them to evangelize. You must be very careful to label a calling to a place or a project. You will hear people say, “I’m called to the poor. I’m call to Pakistan. I’m not called to kids! I am certainly not called to be an evangelist.” Nobody would dare to argue with the calling of God on your life. But there are two problems with this. First, it ignores the fact that missions is the primary purpose of the church; and if you’re called to be a part of the church, then you’re also called to missions. You can’t be an employee of Taco Bell without selling tacos, and you can’t be a part of the church without doing missions. It’s that simple.

Second, it often misunderstands the idea of God’s calling upon one’s life. The Bible describes vocational calling to ministry as a function of the local church, not as the autonomous decision of the individual. If you are serving a place or project before you are serving a Person you got to ask yourself, who’s mission are you on? Paul is sent out from his local church to preach the gospel of Christ as an ambassador of His church. Paul’s call is fairly general. Paul’s calling to go to Macedonia never interferes with his original and overarching calling, which was Paul was to serve Christ and suffer for His namesake [cf. Acts 9:15-16]. Paul is not so much called to a place as he is called to preach the gospel in that place. Macedonia is a really big place. So the first place they decide to go is the strategic port city, Philippi.

Paul isn’t called to something new, He is called to do what he’s been doing all along—preach the gospel. Now God is simply directing his servant to do just that in a new place. Like Paul, your primary calling is to serve Christ, which will also be followed by suffering. Suffering always precedes glory. And suffering paves the way for Christ and His church.[2]

There are thousands of unreached people groups around the world and there are thousands of spiritually profitable projects needing willing servants. If you are unsure what to do or where to go: Research an unreached people group [JoshuaProject.net]. Adopt one [globalroar.org]. Give or go. Pray for people of peace around you [Matthew 10; Luke 10]. If there are none, continue on to the next place. Some soils are not ready to receive the Word of God. The point is: the kingdom of God is near, so get off your sofa callused rear!

3. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE RADICAL REWARDS OF SACRIFICIAL SERVICE [Acts 16:11-15]

Again, Paul and Timothy [and Luke] hop into the station wagon and head over to Philippi. It must have been a long trip—too much pork rinds and licorice. Once they reached their destination they decide to rest a few days. I imagine they scoped the place out before going gangbusters on the good news. They could not find a local synagogue [usually the first place to meet God-fearers], which means there were less than 10 Jewish men [minimum needed to start a synagogue].  In non-Jewish places Jews would gather in obscure places because Macedonians saw them as a cult. So they went outside the gate to find worshipers. They found a women’s prayer gathering on the Sabbath Day down by the river. There they met Lydia.

Lydia, owned an upper-class clothing shop in an upper-class kind of town. Like Martha Stewart or Oprah, Lydia’s an ancient independent and businesswoman women. She sold of purple fabric, which is the color most royals would wear. Lydia reminds me of a woman I met while in South Africa. Gerda, a middle-aged single woman, sold tie-dyed fabric. I met her while buying a gift for my mother. She knew I was from out of town and asked, “Where are you from?” I said, “The United States.” With curiosity she asked, “What are you doing here?” “I am hear to share Christ with your community, see His church grow and find people interested in knowing more about Him and His Word.” To my surprise she opened her home and the next week I started a small group Bible study that later became the seed to a new church.

Lydia becomes the first European convert and opens her home the church for the first church in Philippi. She is an immediate missionary. And she is a single gal with a clothing shop. God uses single females [i.e. Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon, Elizabeth Elliott, Rachel Saint]. Today 20-25% of the missionaries are single women, and this does not count the 40% that are mom’s or wives. Women married to Jesus and His mission are so needed. You never know when you might meet the next Lydia. You might be the next Lydia!

In the church, we value male spiritual leadership because the Bible empowers men to this position. This does not mean women do not have a purpose in the church and global ministry. The church and Bible have a favorable view of women.[3] In fact, true Christianity has the most favorable view of women among all the religions of the world [cf. Proverbs 31]. God clearly gives distinct roles to men and women, but they are equal in value because both men and women are created in His image [Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28]. Both sexes are marked by their Makers image.

What God is interested in most is what kind of woman you are—a woman of Christlike character. Young or old, God is looking for godly gals. Some of the greatest servants I know are older women who barely venture from their home, but pray earnestly and encourage rigorously the church.

Let’s look for a moment at her turning point. First, she comes to Christ because someone told her the gospel. Faith comes by hearing. Someone must speak the gospel. The point of speaking the gospel is to give something to see. Paul was not some irresistible orator, but his God is a relentless heart pursuer. Second, the Lord is the key actor in the story, not us. You have a significant role in speaking the gospel, but it is the Lord who does the decisive work. He “opens the heart” of Lydia. This is a beautiful picture of God’s salvation. This means He takes out the hard heart of stone, and puts in the heart of flesh [Ezekiel 36:26]; He says with sovereign authority, “Let there be light,” and “shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6]. Third, she pays attention to the truth. The effect of the Lord’s opening her heart is a true hearing of the gospel. She was “granted repentance” [2 Timothy 2:25] and faith [Philippians 1:29].

Without question or complaint Paul and Timothy follow Christ’s course direction to Philippi. God leads them to a businesswoman praying to God and He opens her heart. They continue to minister and meet another girl, but she’s quiet messed up. She’s a demonized slave girl who was being exploited for her fortune-telling skills [16:16-24]. Jesus shines light into her darkness. And now there was no hiding the fact that God is at work in Philippi. Her owners get ticked because their hope of making money left with her evil spirit. So they had Paul and Timothy beaten and thrown in jail. They took a dull or dreary situation chained up in the damp dark cell and had a worship service [25-33]. What follows next is as Jerry Lee Lewis sang, there was a “whole lotta shaking going on!” God orchestrates an earthquake and all the prisoners are set free. The jailor, now out of a job, comes to Christ amidst the rubble. Ironically, the jailor is freed from the bondage of his sin.

All this, in Acts 16, is here to show you that God rewards those who sacrificially serve for His namesake. The reward is the salvation of lost souls and the planting of the first church in Europe. In its inaugural membership: a businesswoman and her household; a messed up slave-girl; and a suicidal city employee—a jailer and his household. That’s the church in Philippi that God built. And He is still building churches today and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. In Christ, you are the beautiful Bride of Christ!

With that I encourage you to never do ministry alone, know you are never called by God to do what you are not already doing, and never underestimate the rewards of sacrificial service. Know that your ministry matters in eternity. Those kids in AWANA or Sunday School, the men and women in your Bible Study or small group, those neighbors in your neighborhood, those students in your class or bus, and those you work with at the office are looking to you to show them through your words and deeds the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the reward of sacrificial service. The motivation of Paul’s service was not guilt, but the grace of God he was given on the Damascus road [cf. 1 Timothy 1:12ff]. The only lasting motivation you will have to get off the sofa and into the service of Christ is meditating on the glorious grace in Jesus Christ.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:12-14]


[1] He encourages Timothy to get circumcised, not because he would be a more fit to serve. The Jerusalem Council settles this debate [cf. Acts 15:1-35].Timothy’s mother was Jewish and he would be ministering to Jews. He was giving up his rights to reach the Jews [1 Corinthians 9:19-23].

[2] Cf. Romans 12:1-13; 2 Corinthians 4; Philippians 3:7-11; Hebrews 12:1-13

[3] Luke shares the stories of many women in the Book of Acts. Women like Lydia were particularly prominent in Paul’s missionary efforts in this portion of Acts—the women of Thessalonica (17:4) and of Berea (17:12), Damaris in Athens (17:34), and Priscilla in Corinth (18:2). Priscilla and Lydia took an active role in the ministry of their churches. For an excellent treatment of Lydia, see R. Ryan, “Lydia, a Dealer in Purple Goods,” TBT 22 (1984): 285–89.

a bride for Isaac

Genesis 24:67 “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

Genesis now begins to focus not just on the God of Abraham, but also the God of Isaac and Jacob as Jesus taught in Matthew 22:32. Genesis 24 tells us that Abraham was old and had been blessed by God in every way as God had promised. And to ensure that his son Isaac would marry a woman who would worship his God by faith Abraham sent his servant back to his home to find a wife for his son. Abraham did this trusting that the God who had blessed him would be faithful to now provide for Isaac by sending an angel ahead to arrange the details.

Abraham’s faithful servant did as he was told and went to the region of Abraham’s brother Nahor. Stopping at a spring the servant prayed for God to provide. Before he had finished his prayer God had already answered it, sending the lovely virgin Rebekah to the spring. Rebekah drew water for Nahor and his animals. When the servant inquired of her family she said her father was Nahor and that he was welcome to stay at their home. The servant was so overjoyed at God’s perfect provision that he bowed down and worshiped the Lord for answering his prayer.

Rebekah agreed to go with Abraham’s servant to be Isaac’s wife. Upon arriving at Abraham’s household Rebekah was brought into the former tent of Isaac’s mother Sarah and married her. Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage ends with the beautiful words that “he loved her” and she was such a fitting bride that he was comforted by her love after the death of his mother.

We learn a great deal about God from the Genesis 24 narrative. God does not speak, but is silent in the narrative. However, God’s unseen hand of providence moves the story along showing Himself to be faithful to Abraham and Isaac. God also answers prayer and can be trusted to provide even when he has not spoken but has been spoken to in prayer.

There are some great applications from the story of Genesis 24 that are truths to take home. I will praise God for his faithfulness and steadfast love [24:12, 27]. I will remember my future is in God’s hands. I will encourage young men to pray and wait for a godly brides and encourage them to listen to their parents wisdom. I will pray to God with sincerity believing He does provide and keep His promises. I will trust God even when life does not make sense. I will serve God and others with expedience and efficiency.

I remember when I was a single man praying for God to provide a godly wife. What a joy it is to wait for His timing and to pursue His will. The wait was long and hard, but it was well worth the wait!

Keys to Genesis 24: bless [1, 27, 31, 35, 48, 60], prosper the way [12, 21, 27, 42, 56]

the role of the sent one

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HUTTS: Before coming to BGBC, I spent a year in South Africa doing a church planting apprenticeship. There I gained a vision for the church, church planting, global mission, and a heart for Africa. Coming to BGBC I sought a church that loved church planting and global missions. It has been a joy the last 8 years to watch this church with a long history of missions-mindedness send out missionaries to the foreign field. Sarah and I will be the next ones sent out from this church.

BRIEF HISTORY OF SENT ONES IN THE NT: We see 4 examples of churches in the New Testament that sent people out for Christ’s mission. First, Jerusalem was hub of the first church where gospel preaching, fellowship, and suffering together led to remarkable growth and expansion of the church. Second, Antioch a hub of missions to the north and west because the church was well-mixed ethnically and well-led spiritually. Third, Philippi was a church that financially supported and encouraged Paul. His letter to them is more of a thank you letter for their support. Paul brings up an important principle in the mission of the church: the mission is a partnership in the gospel. Finally, we see a community [near Ephesus] tucked away at the end of the Bible in 3 John.

BRIEF HISTORY OF JOHN AND THE SENT ONES: The church to which the apostle John wrote seems to have problems and divisions [what church doesn’t?]. John sent messengers of the gospel to the church and they were met with a mixed reception. Gaius welcomed and supported them [vs.1-5], while Diotrephes [a self-appointed leader; false teacher] thwarted and evicted them [vs.9-11]. 3 John could be a case between two types of missionaries. I will place most of my emphasis on Gaius. What John says to Gaius is informative and is a biblical model for what [TO ME] is the mission of sending out.

1) SENT ONES ARE SENT OUT THROUGH THE CHURCH [3 John 6]

The church is the hub of Jesus’ missions. Missions and sent ones must be doing ministry through the church, for the church, by the church, in the church, because of the church, for the sake of Christ’s glory who is the Head of the church. If sent ones are doing anything other than planting the church, they are parachurch [i.e. alongside the church; orphanage, bookstores, seminaries, etc]. Sent ones are faithful to the mission of the church.

3 WAYS FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS ARE SENT OUT:

By the Holy Spirit. According to Acts 13:1-3, the Holy Spirit of God sends out qualified servant-leaders from local churches to plant new churches in new lands. God’s Spirit gives witness of this calling both to the sent one and the sending church. In recognizing how God wants to use the sent one, the church then “releases” them.

Through the call of Christ. In John 20:21, Jesus says to all his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Jesus was sent into the world to become the Savior. You are sent into the world to proclaim what Christ has done and call people to faith in Him. Therefore, every Christian should evangelize locally and, if possible, support the work of bringing the gospel globally.

Through local churches. The local church, again, is the vehicle God uses to send out people to preach the gospel with the goal of establishing new local churches wherever they go [Acts 13:4-5; Acts 14:21-23]. This means that local churches are responsible to raise up, send out, and support missionaries whose goal is not merely to see individuals come to Christ, but to see local churches established in regions where there are none.

The church “does well to sends them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.” What does that mean? It could mean cutting them checks, it could mean having a beautiful commissioning service, or waving good-bye at the airport. However, I would hold that it means more than that! To send one in a manner worthy of God is to support them in such a way that God would approve: Arrange all hospitality with lodging and meals while home [Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:6-11; 2 Corinthians 1:16], offer transportation and accompaniment [Acts 20:38; 21:5], and freely give resources and encouragement [Titus 3:13; Acts 15:3]. Servants of Christ should be treated like we were sending Jesus on His journey. When a missionary calls your church asking for support do you hear their story, encourage them, and pray with them even if you know you cannot support them financially? You do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.

2) SENT ONES GO OUT FOR THE SAKE OF THE NAME [3 John 7]

Most missionaries tend to be Type-A kind of people. When sending out people from your church aim to cultivate character over mere skills. The person you are considering might be gung-ho, super-skilled, have a sweet resume, look like leadership-material, wears Christian T-shirts and is quite evangelistic, but he or she could be corrupt in their core. Spend time with them in the testing fields, before you unleash them to the mission field. Sent ones spent a long time with their sending church serving [Acts 18:22-28].

ESSENTIAL EXPECTATIONS [AS ONE BEING SENT] CONCERNING HOW MY CHURCH PREPARES ME:

Surrendered.  Look for one overwhelmed by their own salvation, committed to Christ, consumed by the message of His gospel, and championing the One Name [Philippians 2:9; Romans 1:5; Acts 5:40-41]. Period. [Galatians 2:20; 6:14; Colossians 1:24-27]. The power, authority, and glory for the mission is in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Servanthood. Do they choose the towel over the robe? Giving one a robe is a special honor [Luke 15:22]. When one was given an important task or office they received a robe. The disciples often aspired for the robe, but Jesus sought the towel [Matthew 20:20-28]. The greatest missionary is a one who takes the position of the least [Luke 22:24; Matthew 20:26]. Sent ones are servants of Christ first and foremost.

Humility. This is the posture of a servant. They “accept nothing from the Gentiles.” This was not arrogant humility or false humility; rather they only accepted support from Christians and churches that understand the mission. Humble servants understand the results in ministry come from God, not from the human instrument. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” [1 Corinthians 3:6-7].

Full of Integrity. God expresses far more interest in what we are than in what we do or where we go. Here are some good questions to pry into the life of new or old missionary: Are they financially responsible? Are they pure of heart and mind? Do they have a pattern of good relationships? Do they deal with conflict biblically? Are they faithful to their family? Ministry should not destroy the family and the family should not destroy ministry. Integrity is important at home, work and the ministry. Since, distance makes it easier to hide, as one sent, I am responsible to be proactively communicating with my sending church with openness and honesty.

Faithfully Bearing Fruit. [vs. 3-4, faithful to the church & others] If someone wants to evangelize in China, are they already evangelizing Chinese people? If someone wants to be a Bible translator, are they already studying the biblical languages? Sending someone out to minister on behalf of a church is a serious matter. “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” [1 Corinthians 4:1-2]. In Acts 13:1-3, the church sends out only those who have proven themselves in godly character and ministry effectiveness, who are sound doctrinally and equipped for ministry, who show the fruit of the Spirit, and who have remained steadfast under trial. Consequently true success in missions is measured by faithfulness to the task, not by immediate, visible results.

Biblically Minded. A missionary will face all kinds of new challenges and unorthodox beliefs/worldviews. He or she will need to be able to confront these unexpected challenges biblically. Sometimes they return from the field tired, discouraged and depressed, and a biblical framework would be helpful. Also, on the field, exegetical skills are important for training church leaders, counseling, planning, team working, evangelizing, discipling, spiritual warfare, and so much more.

Love for the church. According to the Scripture there is no such this as a rogue missionary, Lone Ranger Servants, Christians Tourists or Commercial Travelers/Charlatan. The missionary represents the church and its mission. A sent one should willingly submit to the elders of the local church that sends him [1 Peter 5:1-5; Hebrews 13:17], and more importantly they submit to Christ who is over the church [Ephesians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 11:3]. Remember, missionaries are sinners too. They need accountability and counsel. It is important the missionary be a member of the church. Not just a member, but also an active member, a fruitful member, and a theologically and methodologically minded member. Your sent one is part of the mission of your church, planting like-minded churches through your church.

3) SENT ONES HAVE THE SUPPORT OF THEIR SENDING CHURCH [3 John 8]

“We ought” is rather weak. It would be better translated, “we are obligated to support people like this.” The church and the ones they send are partners [i.e. fellow workers] in the gospel of Jesus Christ [i.e. truth]. Therefore, together we must do all we can to support one another in the growth of the church and the continuance of the gospel message. It is not about what the church does for the missionary, but what it does through the missionary. Likewise, It is not about what the missionary does for the church, but what he does through the church.

In conclusion, as one who is being sent from the church I recognize first of all that it is the church that sends me out. Second, I must go out for the sake of the name and no other. My character as an ambassador of Christ and representative of His church seriously matters. Third, I must encourage the support [receive] and be willing to support [give] the church sending me out. Together, the sent one and the senders lift high Christ and His church.

This is how we do missions as a church. John helped start all these churches, and then, he sends people and money to go to those churches to get more people and more money to go start yet more churches. When they are up at that church, who greets them? Gaius, Gaius is the guy that John will send a letter ahead and say, “I’ve got Missionary Mike and I’ve got Servant Sally and I’m sending them down, and they’re going out from Fellowship Bible Church, and they’re going go plant New Bible Church, and here they come, and Gaius, you know they’re coming.”

So then, Gaius waits, and here comes Mike and his wife, and they show up, and Gaius says, “Hey, good to have you. Come stay at my house. Have some soup. You guys need money? Let me get my checkbook. How can we be praying for you? My Bible study gets together every week, and if you could let us know what to pray for, we’ll pray for it.” That’s Gaius. Gaius gets behind their work, and is really happy to be involved, and John says why, “So that we may work together for the truth.”

Don’t be a Diotrephes.

Let’s go Gaius!

why Sunday Sermons are necessary but not sufficient

The statement is not: why the Word of God is necessary but not sufficient nor why Jesus Christ is necessary but not sufficient? That would be heretical and not in-line with the biblical text.  The Bible is clear; Jesus and the Bible are sufficient in themselves. Jesus is the sufficient Savior.[1] And the Bible is the sufficient revelation for knowledge of God’s saving plan for humanity and spiritual truth for living.[2]

The statement is: why Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient. This still might sound heretical or hazardously mischievous to some. It is not that Sunday sermons are not valuable or important. The preaching of the Word of God is extremely important. Jesus preached,[3] His followers preached,[4] and you are called to preach the gospel too.[5] God places a priority on preaching in His church. However, Sunday sermons standing alone are not sufficient for spiritual growth in the church.

Why are Sunday sermons necessary?

First, God commands the Word to be preached. How will anyone hear the Word of God unless it is preached? [Romans 10:14-16] Second, the faith of God’s people comes in conjunction with the preaching of His Word. [Romans 10:17] Third, hearing the Word encourages doing the Word [James 1:19-25]. An hour-long Sunday sermon that does not affect the other 167 hours in your week is wasted stewardship of the Word.

Why are Sunday sermons are not sufficient?

First, hearing the Word does not mean there is an application or reproduction of the Word [cf. Matthew 23:3]. Second, preaching the Word must be followed up with intensive and active discipleship. Third, the role of the sermon giver is also trainer and discipler, which involve more than preaching, but exemplifying the message and mentoring the hearers to live the message too. A pastor who simply preaches or teacher who just teaches is missing a key component with their message: multiplication of messengers and ultimately Christ worshipers [note: 3 types of pastors and churches].[6]

Pastor as Clergyman Pastor as CEO Pastor as Trainer
Pastor is… Preacher and service-provider Preacher and manager Preacher and trainer
Sunday is… Service of worship Attractional meeting Gathering of worshiping disciples with their Lord
Outside of Sunday… Occasional services Range of events and programs Disciples reaching out to make disciples
Pastoral care through… Counseling and visitation Small groups People ministering to people
Church is like… A small corner store with one employee A department store with numerous staff A team with an active captain-coach
Tends to result in… Consumers in maintenance mode Consumers in growth mode Disciples in mission mode

How can you maximize the Sunday sermons Monday through Saturday?

First, seek to apply the big idea of the sermon to your marriage, parenting, work, school or daily living. Prayerfully, practically and purposely apply the sermon. Second, gather together with your churches small group to discuss the sermon and minister to one another by applying the Sunday sermon [cf. Acts 2:42-47].  Stir up and serve one another through the preached Word.[7] Third, share what you learn from the sermon with someone who does not go to your church. When it comes to Sunday sermons: Listen up. Soak it up. Live it up. Step it up. Love the Word. Speak the Word. Live the Word. Spread the Word.


[1] Cf. Hebrews 1-10; Colossians 1:15-22; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-13; Philippians 2:6-11; 2 Timothy 1:8-10

[2] The New Testament writers constantly appealed to the scriptures as their base of authority in declaring what was and was not true biblical teaching:  Matthew 21:42; John 2:22; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2:2; 2 Peter 1:17-19, cf. Acts 17:11, Matthew 4 where Jesus uses the Scripture to defend the temptations from the devil.

[3] Cf. Matthew 4:17, 11:5; Mark 2:2; Ephesians 2:17

[4] Cf. Acts 5:42, 14:7; Romans 1:15, 15:20; 1 Corinthians 1:23, 9:16-17, 15:11-14; 2 Corinthians 10:16; Galatians 1:11-17; Ephesians 3:7-13; Philippians 1:15-18; Titus 1:3

[5] Cf. Romans 10:14-15; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 1:11-14,  4:2

[6] Chart is adapted from The Trellis and the Vine, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, Mathias Media, Kingsford, Australia, 2009. pg.101.

[7] Cf. Hebrews 10:23-25; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12

raising Cain: the call for repentance

Raising Cain is an expression given to someone who causes havoc. We get the phrase from the Genesis 4, where we get a glimpse into the first family and the children they raised. The children of Adam and Eve were far from perfect. This is a tale of two brothers. Woven into this story are incredible lessons for parents, children, and everyday followers of God.

What’s in a name? [Genesis 4:1-2]

Biblical names have meanings. The biblical meanings of names are significant and often shape the life of the one who bears the names. Let’s meet our two brothers: The first brother is Cain. His name means ‘acquire, get, possess’. The second brother is Abel. His name means ‘vapor or breath’.  As we will see in the story their names have a predetermining affect on their futures.

What is the purpose of your work? [4:3-5]

In Genesis 1-2, during the days of created God set an example for man to live by—6-days a week man works the land God creates and the seventh day man worships the God who created the land which they work [1:26-28]. Both the brothers are hard workers. Cain works the land and Abel ranches the animals. They are generous workers. From an early age both brothers learn the value of giving God a portion of their labors for praise and worship. Work is a means of worship because work involves sacrifice. This is a great lesson for all laborers.

Your mission while working is to give God your best in time, effort, aspirations, career, and money. Come to God with something in your hands to worship God from rewards of your reaping. Both brothers recognize their work and rewards of their work come from God. Both brothers bring gifts of their labors to God. Cain brings the first fruits of his land and Abel brings the firstborn of his flock. Both brothers come with something in their hand, but also something in their heart.

God questions what you bring for worship [4:6-7a]

In Genesis 3:9-13, God questions Cain’s parents over their actions in the Garden; He does the same here with Cain. God loves to ask questions. Man seeks to avoid questions. Man’s motto is, “Don’t ask; don’t tell.” God asks, “Why are you angry? It’s all over your face. I see your heart. Will you do what is right and repent?”

Cain comes to God with full hands but a jealous heart of unbelief [cf. 1 John 3:12; Hebrew 11:4]. He looks at his bowl of Cheerios and then at his brother’s box of Omaha Steaks and thinks, “Wow, my offering is pretty lame,” and jealous grew in his heart over Abel. Was it that Abel’s offering was better? No. The mass of the offering in your hands does not matter a bit, but the manner of your heart before God does matter.

Do you compare your worship with others? When in church are you looking around at what others bring? Are you jealous because someone else has your is growing in their relationship with God more than you, better life [job, girl or guy] than you, appears more success than you? Are you obsessed with other people around you, rather than the only One whose opinion matters? Abel comes to God with a love for God in his heart. His offering is regarded because his heart is to please God. Cain’s offering looked religious, but his heart is not dependent upon God. Some Christians are a lot like Cain, even worse because they come to God with nothing in their hands. He at least comes with something in his hand, even though what he had in his heart was wicked and twisted.

What are the consequences of keeping a jealous heart? [4:7b-9]

If Cain does not get a handle on his jealousy it will handle him. God warns Cain, “Your sin will drive you insane.” Sin is powerful enough to drive one to insanity and death. Cain must have learned the desire for power and prestige from his mommy [cf. desire; Genesis 3:16b]. Do you notice the pride in Eve’s statement, “I have made a man” [4:1]? She didn’t make man, God did. Eve is trying to rule over her roost and her redemption, but Cain is not the promised Redeemer Seed [cf. 3:15].

The consequences of keeping jealousy in your heart will cause it to grow and spiral out of control. First, if you internalize jealousy you will be depressed. Second, if you externalize jealousy you will get violent [i.e. Cain]. Third, if you deal with jealousy through repent you will rule over it with self-control. If you are convicted of a jealous heart, repent, before it gets worse. And worse it did get for Cain. Cain invites his brother to the farm, kills him in broad daylight, and buries his bloody body under the ground. This is a premeditated murder. Jealousy led to insanity. Insanity led to Abel’s mortality.

God as Counselor and Judge [4:9-12]

Echoing God’s question in the Garden [3:9], God asks Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” [v.9]. And like his parents, He covers with a lie, “I don’t know! Am I Abel’s babysitter?” This should have been an opportunity for immediate repentance and restoration. Instead, God has to step in as the law enforcer, CSI agent, prosecutor, and Judge. Therefore, since Cain alienates himself from God, God alienates him from good farmland. Cain dishonors the dirt, and the dirt dishonors Cain [cf. 3:17].

What happens when you repent? [4:13-26]

I believe, Cain responds to God’s curse with a repentant heart, “My sin is greater than I can bear” [v.13]. The curse cracks the hard shell of Cain’s heart. He realizes and wakes up to the consequences of his sin. He knows he will have to move away [East of Nod = “wandering” alienation from God], be a fugitive, believes someone will track him down and kill him too.

It is not a popular opinion, but I believe Cain repents because God blesses him through protection [15-16, tattoo], gives him a family [17a], gives him a refuge city [17b], gives him another brother [25a], promises a Redeemer Seed [25b-26a], and brings a revival [26]. God is a good God—a gracious God. God gives Cain good gifts despite his sin.

In Genesis 4, you see Cain’s worst day. Lame Lamech gives you a look into where Cain’s sin could lead without repentance [vs.19-24]. I am glad that the Bible is an honest book describing the gruesome details of people’s lives. I could not image God putting my worst days in the Bible as an example for others to read and remember. God gives these examples to learn about His grace, so that in your worst day you can also have your best because God’s restoration follows repentance.

The story of Cain and Abel does not make sense until you put yourself into the shoes of Cain. You are Cain. You have killed your brother, Jesus. You come to God with empty worship and an unrepentant jealous heart. Jesus’ death offers you life and hope. Jesus’ death and blood cries out so that you would believe in your brother and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ [Hebrews 12:24].

Questions for Reflections and Application:

What are some of the lessons in this story for parents? Children? Or everyday followers of God?

What is the overall effect of sin’s mastery as this story is played out?

What do you think Genesis 4 is meant to instill in you? How does it impact you?

understanding your calling FAQ

I have heard many Christians say, “My work is not fulfilling,” “I feel lost in the meaningless of the mundane,” “I feel like I’ve have failed God because I’m not doing enough for Him,” “I feel called to _____, but I feel like I’ve have missed my calling.” If this is you, you may be suffering from confusion and over-complication of the Christian calling. What does the Bible say about your calling? Let’s look at Jesus’ idea of calling as seen in His closest companion John.

WHAT IS A CALLING? [John 1:35-51]

In order for there to be a calling there must be a Caller. If there is no Caller, there are no callings—only work. When Jesus commands His disciples to follow Him, He is the Caller calling followers to a lifetime of worship and service. He is calling them to be a worshiper of One [primary call], and be a servant of all [secondary call] spreading the fame of Christ. Your calling is to follow Christ so decisively that everything you are, everything you do, and everywhere you go, and with everything you have worship God and serve His church spreading the name of Christ. Calling is the foundation of Christian existence itself. Calling in the Bible is a metaphor for living as a follower, worshiper, and server.

Whether you are a teacher with the TSC, a plumber in Pittsburgh, a mother on Monroe Street, a businessman, secretary, missionary, or pastor; your call is the same—worship God and serve the name of Christ through His church. Calling is not just for those in full-time Christian service, and everyone else is part-time or not even clocked in yet. The clergy-laity distinction was created by Roman Catholic Church, and a bad hangover for the modern evangelical church.

Martin Luther said, “God and the angels smile when a man changes a diaper.” William Tyndale wrote, “if your desire is to please God, pouring water, washing dishes, cobbling shoes, and preaching the Word is all one.” Bishop Thomas Becon wrote, “Our Saviour Christ was a carpenter. His apostles fishermen. St. Paul was a tentmaker.” Everyday ordinary work without a calling is simply work. Everyday ordinary work with a deep and devoted sense of calling is an extraordinary opportunity to live as a worshiper God and servant of the cause of Christ!

Christ gives your work meaning, not that you are working for Him [secondary], but that you are satisfied in Him [primary]. You are not called because God needs your help [Acts 17:24-25], or you need to payback God [2 Corinthians 9:8], or you need to do something for God [John 12:25-26]. You are not primarily called to something or to go somewhere, but are called to Someone.

WHO IS CALLED? [John 3:16-36; 5:19-35]

Every genuine follower of God has been called from Adam and Eve to Moses to David to John the Baptist to Paul the Apostle to Fred the follower living in a flat in Philadelphia. To Noah God said, “make yourself an ark of cypress wood…” (Genesis 6-7, and he had not even seen rain before). To Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12, and he had no clue where God was calling him to go). To Esther (via Mordecai), “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4). To Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1, and he was on a short-term mission).

The list could go on and on of people who were called by God. The New Testaments most frequent one-word description of a Christian is that he is called [2 Thessalonians 2:13-17]. These folks in the Bible are people just like you and me—ordinary people, wanting to trust the extraordinary God of the Universe, but not always under the most comfortable and clear circumstance. However, a common thread runs through each calling: proclaim the salvation of God through worship and service to the ends of the earth.

HOW DO I KNOW THIS IS MY CALLING? [John 13:1-17]

Jesus said so, and Jesus did so. Jesus’ calling was to worship God and service His name [i.e. wash feet]. He lived as the example towards that calling, even to the enemy who would eventually betray Him [i.e. Judas].

IS MY CALL SPECIFIC? [John 21:15-19]

The biblical call is specifically general: be a follower of Christ devoted to worship God and serve the name of Christ. It’s easy to swallow the fact that God has a macro-specific call, but you can quickly complicate and confuse the call by forcing a micro-specific call. God’s macro-specific and micro-specific plan for your life is to stay close to Jesus, worship Him [“if you love Me”], and serve Him [“if you love Me, feed His sheep”].

What about God’s calling Paul to go specifically to Macedonia [Acts 16:8]? Notice this “course correction” was given in the context of Paul’s active service in God’s mission. Then Holy Spirit tells the church at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a church planting mission [Acts 13:1-3], but both men were already active in preaching and serving.

HOW DO I DECIPHER MY DECISIONS & WORK WITHIN MY CALLING? [Acts 13:1-5]

1) Seek wisdom in God’s Word. [Psalm 1:1-3; 119:105; Luke 24:32] You first learn how to hear from God by following His written word. If you can’t follow what He’s written in His word, chances are, you are ignoring the Holy Spirit.

2) Seek wisdom through prayer. Matthew 9:38 says, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to throw out laborers into His harvest.” The point is to pray. “If anyone of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously without reproach, and it will be given him.” [James 1:5]

3) Seek wisdom in your church (4-fold ministry). Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors/teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” When you sit in a service like this, you’re hearing wisdom from God. He speaks through your pastors and spiritual leaders. Seeking wisdom and guidance from spiritual authorities is wise.

4) Live out loud the gospel. Most people find their world is a small zip code on this grand planet where a particular people group live who needs the gospel. Surrender all you are and have to the gospel of Christ [Luke 14:26-27, 33]. Don Alban Sr. [my ol’ missions prof],says, “Every follower of Christ is an immediate missionary for Christ.”

5) Use your spiritual gifts in conjunction with your church [1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; 1 Peter 4:11-12]. Work through the organism that God uses in this world today. Worship and service is funneled through Christ’s church. If you are worshiping and serving God through your church you can reproduce the same anywhere.

WHAT ABOUT THE HUTTS CALL TO GO TO UNREACHED OF NORTH AFRICA?

Sarah and I have believe we would be honoring Christ either by remaining on staff at BGBC just as much as we would spreading Christ’s fame among the unreached peoples of Arab North Africa [or any other nation]. We also believe we can be an extension of the ministry of our church in a land where there is no gospel influence. There are literally hundreds of unreached people groups around the world.

So why would we be burdened for a small region in North Africa among a small unnamed and unreached people group? Simply, God has called us to worship Him and spread His fame among those who are not. Our calling is about lifting Christ high, being Christ-like, and through His church serving the name of Christ to the ends of the earth.

hypocrisy

 

 

 

In the early days of acting a hypocrite was considered a good term. It described an actor who could put on many different faces or masks. Actors in the Greek theatre wore masks depicting an emotion. The masks were large, often twice the size of an actor’s face, so they could be easily seen. The Jews used the word hypocrite to describe a liar, deceiver, two-faced, or one who hid his true nature behind a mask.

How would you define the word hypocrite? To be a hypocrite is to believe one thing and behave contrary to your beliefs. If someone called you a hypocrite, how would that make you feel? Christians often get labeled as hypocrites. Christians are hypocrites, but so are non-Christians. Non-Christians believe people should behave a certain way based on various values, and Christians believe you should behave in a way that mimics Christ.

In the Gospels, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of hypocrisy because they used brassy actions that attracted attention, but covered their true heart intentions. They would pretend to do what was really important to God, but Jesus since He was God had x-ray vision into they hearts.

The religious are often the most hypocritical. The Pharisees were outwardly very religious people. The Pharisees controlled the synagogues, its teachings, and were regarded as the chief interpreters of Jewish legalism. They not only believed the Law, they expanded it to include 400-plus rules, and insisted everyone else follow too. Jesus used hypocrite to describe the Pharisees and pronounced seven woes on them for their hypocrisy.

What are the various faces of a hypocrite? And do you wear masks that fit?

First, hypocrites add to the message of the gospel [Matthew 23:13]. The message of the gospel is a simple message: you are rebellious sinner separated from God, but Jesus came to redeem sinful man through the cross, and only those who respond through faith and repentance will be redeemed forever. Though it is a simple message it is not easy. To make the application of the gospel message more than “repent and believe” by adding church attendance, tithing, baptism or any other work as prerequisites for salvation is duplicitous to the work of Christ.

Second, hypocrites use God to manipulate other people [14-15]. Hypocrites commonly devour people for selfish reasons. Hypocrites will injure people with their words and cover with a pious action. Some in the name of God have used and abused their listeners. That is blasphemous. Hypocrites are good at winning debates and proselytizing people to their own opinions. Jesus says the missionary efforts of hypocrites pave the way to hell. Instead of converting people to Christ, hypocrite’s covert people to their system that do not leave room for a Messiah.

Third, hypocrites seek to squeeze out of commitments [16-22]. Hypocrites are skilled liars. They know the loopholes or lingo to get out of commitments. They will make religious oaths with religious loopholes. Jesus says that all oaths are related to God and therefore binding [cf. Matthew 5:33-37]. Evasive oaths are not oath, but lies.

Some Christians say that they are committed to God because they read their Bibles everyday, pray before their meals, go to church faithfully, and give to good causes, but one glance at their life and you would see a huge disconnect. You can commit to all good things making yourself look godly [i.e. reading the Word, prayer, and serving the church], but if your commitments are not rooted in Christ they are self-centered facades.

Fourth, hypocrites are masters at making little things big and big things little [23-24]. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for not understanding God’s Law. The Law required that everything produced should be tithed to the Temple. The silly act that Jesus describes of counting every kernel of spice to make sure that it amounted to exactly 10 percent, no more and no less. Jesus was not criticizing tithing, but was pointing out that true righteousness results in godly behavior—not just an appearance of godliness.

How is it easier to focus on doing the little things—those less personal—than the big ones? Doing small duties are easy, but delving your heart, soul and mind into following Christ takes discipline, time and sacrifice. What did Jesus emphasize in His example of straining at gnats but swallowing a camel? There is great danger in focusing on the things that don’t matter, while ignoring the things that do. For example, some come to church on Sundays to worship God, but Monday through Saturday you are living separate from God. Sunday for them is a show, rather than serious occasion to worship God with His people that transform the rest of their workweek.

Fifth, hypocrites are concerned more about the outside than the inside [23:25-32]. Jesus casts two disturbing pictures of the Pharisees emphasize the outer man over the inner man. The first example is of keeping the outside of a vessel clean without taking the time to clean the inside [25-26]. Would you eat off a plate that was not fully clean, but caked with yesterday’s casserole? Or would you drink from a cup with three-day old milk marks inside? Of course not, that is just gross. That is exactly Jesus’ point. You are clean on the outside, but inside you are unclean.

The second example is decorating the outside of tombs. You can spend all your time on beautifying things that really don’t matter. People spend big bucks on making our faces look better, teeth whiter, clothes brighter, hair shinier, and body thinner. This might make you look good for a time, but in light of eternity it does not matter A beautiful tombstone does not change the condition of the decaying body within. Neither does a mask of Christian righteousness make a person who is dead to Christ inside into a true Christian [cf. Matthew 6:1-3; 15:1-11; 22:18-22]. What you do if you knew no one would see reveals who you really are and whom you really live for!

How do hypocrites stop playing with masks and start being authentic in Christ?

First, realize hell has hypocrites [33]. Hypocrisy reveals your hearts intents. The difficult truth is, the more hypocrisy you have in your heart the harder it is to change. Followers of Christ hate hypocrisy in their hearts and are committed to change in Christ. If a hypocrite continues in hypocrisy there is a good chance he is not a follower of Christ. If there is no change hell is on your horizon.

Second, repent and open yourself to God [34-36]. The response of the Pharisee should have been, “You are the Messiah, forgive us our sins.” However, they would not respond and repent, rather they recoiled to their hardheartedness. Jesus, the Messenger of the gospel, prophesies about other messengers He will send [i.e. apostles, disciples and followers] who will confront the religious system with their wholehearted commitment to their Lord Christ Jesus. Yet just as they rejected and killed Jesus, they will reject and kill His messengers. 1 Peter 2:22-25 says,

“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Third, restore intimacy with your Savior [37-39]. God is a restorer of His people. This is a great promise. When repentance is authentic, restoration of intimacy with God follows. As 1 Peter 2:1-3 says,

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Fourth, remember servanthood is your calling [23:11-12]. Not serving yourself, but serving your Master, Christ. To preface Jesus’ woeful concerns towards hypocrisy He says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

In conclusion, do not criticize the Pharisee for his hypocrisy for Jesus shares this message not only to them, but also to you. You could be a Pharisee too. Remove your masks. Repent; allow God to restore, and remember your position under God is a humble servant. Pharisees have infected the Christian community. Subtly. But Jesus thinks the heart condition of hypocrites is a serious matter to consider.