To Grow Wide, We Must Grow Deep

crowd

Church growth.  The topic is a healthy topic that all church leaders discuss, pray over and evaluate regularly.  There are two major ways to evaluate it, and churches tend to fall into one of two errors:  (1) evaluating church growth by numbers or (2) evaluating church growth by maturity of the members.  These are two sides of the same coin which a healthy, Biblical church must exemplify.  Mature believers will be reaching out to the lost and bringing in new believers, and in order for a church to reach out to a lost world the believers must be mature and capable of witness.  Finding the balance is extremely difficult, however, and without intentional prayer and planning, one or both of these __ will be overlooked and neglected.

Growth by Maturity.

Jesus came to the Earth and spent three intentional years with eleven guys who would spearhead the entire movement we now know as Christianity.  He taught them truths, He shaped their worldviews, He exemplified love, servanthood, righteousness, and every fruit of the Spirit.  He taught them, He prayed for them, and He bore with them when they just didn’t get it.  He invested Himself and loved them, teaching them the deep things of God and helping them learn how to walk obediently.  In short, He made disciples out of them.  He made “Christians” or mini-Christs.  He replicated Himself in them.  His final words as He was leaving the world and commissioning them were,

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 – Matt 28.18-20

Jesus sent the eleven (plus Paul) out to do exactly what He had done for the past three years:  make disciples.  He told them to go to every single people group, to baptize new believers, and to teach those new believers everything that He Himself had taught them.  How were they supposed to do that?  They were supposed to go about it just like He had.  Live life together, teach them, preach boldly, allow the Holy Spirit to preform signs, instruct, rebuke, discipline, pray over them.  Jesus showed them how to do what to do by doing it Himself.

It took Jesus about three years to make disciples who were trained, well versed in the Scriptures and capable to go out in the power of the Holy Spirit and to make their own disciples.  He utilized those three years to send them out practicing and utilized their successes and failures as teaching points, such that they were fully equipped and prepared to do the work of the ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit and without the physical presence of Jesus.

They were mature.  They were trained.  They were prepared.  They knew what to do.

Growth by Numbers.

We would be remiss to neglect the fact that after Jesus returned to Heaven, we are regularly given account of the actual numbers by which the young church was growing.

“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”

 – Acts 2.41

“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”

 – Acts 4.4

Should we measure our success by numbers?  Yes and no.  There is no target range; there is no magic number by which we should be growing.  It is healthy and wise, however, to keep track of our members and what is happening in our congregations.  Are people coming and leaving after a short while?  Are people stagnant?  Are we bringing in believers who are just transferring from other churches?  Or are we actually reaching the lost, seeing them baptized and discipled?

We are commanded to preach the Gospel.  To plant seeds.  To sow broadly.  To tell everyone.  Beyond that, it is God’s responsibility to cause the growth.  We should be ready, willing and excited to jump in and be a part of the disciple-making process whenever possible, but it is God alone who changes hearts and we cannot force someone to submit to, know and love God.  Only He can do that.  We plant, God causes the growth.

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.7

We see from example and from the teaching of Jesus, however, that it is God’s plan to make disciples of all nations and when we share the Gospel, He will cause growth in some.  Yes, some of the Gospel seed will fall on bad soil and produce nothing or false growth, but there will always be some who respond.  God has already prepared the hearts of many.  He has promised us that the harvest is plentiful and ready, all we need to do is get out there and join Him in the reaping.

And [Jesus] was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

 – Luke 10.2

In short, if we are not reaping a harvest it is because we are not sharing.

Now, we might begin to protest:  Our culture is post-Christian, people don’t want to hear it, I don’t know how to share, I don’t know where to meet people, blah blah blah…

Here’s the deal folks.  The New Testament Church was a hated, discriminated and murdered group of people.  The Jews were against them.  The Romans were against them.  The pagans were against them.  And not just in the, “I don’t want what you are selling” type of way, but in the “I’m going to throw you in jail, rape your wife, murder you” kind of way.  It was so bad, in fact, that much of the New Testament was written to people who were chased out of their towns simply because of what they believe.  Much of the New testament was written from jail.  Much of the New Testament was written to encourage people who were in jail or taking care of other believers who were in jail.  These believers read the promises of the New Testament about persecution as literal, not just the possibility that someone might mock or laugh at them or hurt their feelings.

They had thick skin, they had experienced real persecution, and yet they continued to share the Gospel and their numbers continued to grow.  By the multitudes.  Why?  Because Jesus had truly transformed their lives and they could not help but talk about Him.  We know the reality:  when something amazing happens, we can’t help but talk about it.  Did you meet the girl of your dreams?  You let everyone know.  Did you get into your favorite college or find a job after months of searching?  You post it on facebook, instagram and call your mom.  Did you get in a car accident and yet were miraculously saved?  You take pictures of the mangled wreck and show it to strangers.  We talk about the things that rock us, shape us, and the things that we know.  If Jesus has rocked your world, you will talk about Him.  If church is just something you do, then it may or may not come up in conversation.  Like that TV show you watch when nothing else is on, or that chore your mom asked you to do.

The disciples’ world had been rocked, their lives transformed, and even though it cost 11 of the twelve their very lives, they kept on talking about it.  The New Testament Church was scattered across the known world, running for their lives, but they kept talking about Jesus because He transformed their lives and they loved Him and could not help but talk about Him.  This is maturity, folks.  Not being able to recite the entire Bible.  It is knowing, abiding in and loving Jesus.  Yes, people will be impressed if you can recite huge chunks of Scripture and they will value your knowledge if you can explain intricate doctrines and history, but the whole game changes when the focus is Jesus and what He has done in your life and on the cross.

Numerical growth must be all about Jesus.  We can draw a crowd for a while with entertaining speaking, good music, community events and lots of singles for others singles to meet, but those things will fade.  If Jesus does not come in and transform these lives, then we have done them no service.  In fact, we have probably done them a great disservice and will bring judgment upon ourselves for placating a sinful world and helping them to believe that they are eternally secure when in fact they are not.  Yes, we should engage the world, and yes at times facilitating events like sports or family outings will enable us to have those real conversations.  But let us always be purposeful to have those real conversations.  Lives are only transformed by the Gospel.

Has Jesus transformed your life?  Is He working in your life today?  Are you telling people about it?  Are you sharing the Gospel with the lost and helping younger believers grow in knowledge and obedience?  Are you growing in depth and in numbers?  We must go deep before we can go wide.  If we go deep we will naturally go wide.  If we go wide without going deep we will dry up.  If we go deep without going wide, we are disobedient and have not truly gone deep, because going wide is a natural byproduct of going deep.  Let us therefore get busy about going deep and let it pour out into our daily lives so that we naturally go wide.

When you don’t know what to say.

public speaking

How do you feel about public speaking?  My full time job is managing up to 100 volunteers at a time, I have spoken and taught in front of thousands, and for some reason getting up in front of people is no big deal to me.  My husband, however, feels the exact opposite.  He is the outgoing, social butterfly of the two of us, but anytime there are more than eight or so people gathered, he gets uncomfortable.  If I were going to share the Gospel, I would prefer a crowd.  He would prefer one-on-one.  God truly makes unique individuals!

Interestingly enough, we both have comfort zones – specifically in sharing our personal faith – and we both feel uncomfortable when out of them.  I get so nervous anytime I get the opportunity to share the Gospel one-on-one, but share it twice a day with fifty people at a time.  He would rather do anything else than speak to a large group, but he is quite possibly the most bold person I know in small settings.

What is your comfort zone?  And what is your go-to excuse when trying to stay in it?  Do you remember Moses?  His mother spared his life when the Egyptians were forcing all male babies to be murdered (an his brother’s as well), but when she could not hide him anymore, she put him in a basket and Pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as her own.  He knew he was a Hebrew, he killed an Egyptian for abusing Hebrews and then fled for his life when the matter became known.  While he was in hiding, 40 years later, God came and called him to be His mouthpiece and point person in dealing with Pharaoh.  God had a plan:  He wanted to exemplify His power through plagues and signs, and after killing Pharaoh’s eldest son, the Hebrew people would be released from Egypt.

God told Moses all of this before he ever stepped foot on Egyptian land.  Even so, after seeing the burning bush, after witnessing the first three miracles, and after speaking to God face to face, Moses objected:

Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

– Ex 4.10

Three times Moses objected.  God’s response is beautiful:

The Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth?  Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”

– Ex 4.11-12

God began with an assertion of His power and sovereignty.  He Himself created man’s mouth.  We each only have mouths and tools for communication because God gave them to us.  He also is sovereign over the ability to speak and the ability to see.  He enables us to utilize our mouths and eyes.  Therefore, since He is the one who created mouths, since He is the one who is sovereign over mankind’s ability to speak, Moses should submit to Him.  And not only that, but He promised to give Moses the very words.  He should also trust God.  Obedience and Faith, in perfect harmony.

Moses, however, still refused:

But he said, “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.”

– Ex 4.13

Do you know what the result was?  God became angry at Moses.

“Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know thathe speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.  You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.  Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him.'”

– Ex 4.14-16

God was angry at Moses, and gave Moses what he wanted – but Moses was the one who suffered for it.  God still chose to use him, and he is still known as a great patriarch, but Aaron got half of the role.  He was the point person to Pharaoh and the Hebrew people.  His staff is the one that was forever saved in the Ark of the Covenant.

Moses considered himself slow and not eloquent of speech.  He did not want to get up in front of Pharaoh or in front of a crowd, even though God promised to give him the very words he would speak, and He gave him the power to work miracles.  Do you think you would be willing to get out of your comfort zone if you could turn your cane into a snake?  Or turn water into blood?  I would think that power would enforce a sense of authority, but I don’t mind public speaking.

This might sound like an interesting story, but what is the application for us?  Thankfully, Jesus gives the same promise to the disciples, church and us when we are in our moment of persecution and need:

“But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.  For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

– Matt 10.17-20

Not only does Jesus promise to tell us that we will have the words, He promises that the Holy Spirit will speak through us in those moments.  He will bring thoughts and verses to mind that we never expected.  He will give us the wisdom in those moments.

The other application is terrifying.  God set Moses apart for a wonderful task, and he rejected it, in part.  God got angry at him, and went about His plan without Moses in that role.  The take home is simple:  God’s plan will not be thwarted.  We can go deeper into the intricacies of God’s sovereign knowledge of our refusal and the fact that He already knew Aaron would be the mouthpiece, but Moses’ refusal still resulted in his missing out.

God is going to take His Gospel to every people group in the world.  He has commanded us all to go, and be a part of it.  If we refuse to go, He will accomplish His goal without us, but we will miss out on the blessing, and not only that but when we stand before Him we will have to give an account for our disobedience.  Are you prepared to give your excuse?

God will ask us to do things that are outside of our comfort zone.  He will ask me to share the Gospel with people in one-on-one settings.  He will ask my husband to speak up in a big group setting.  He will take us across the street, across the city, maybe even across the world.  But He will always go with us, He will never forsake us, and He will give us the words to say through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

So let’s trust Him today.  When you find yourself in a conversation or situation that is outside of your comfort zone, say a prayer.  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak through you.  And trust God to get you through that uncomfortable situation.  You may never adapt to like or enjoy those types of situations.  You may still get nervous every. single. time.  But thankfully, we can rely on the promise that God will do the work through us, and He will bring about the fruit.  All we have to do is obey and have faith!

Election and Wisdom

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What is the primary reason that you do not talk about Jesus with people – specifically non Christians?  Most would answer some variety of fear:  Fear of rejection, fear of not knowing what to say, fear of the topic, etc.  Are you afraid that people will not believe if you tell them about Jesus?  We try to pump ourselves up in a variety of ways when we consider evangelism or just making Jesus known, but the reality is that Jesus and the Gospel, to those who are not chosen, is foolishness.

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

– 1 Cor 1.22-24

To the Jews, who had the history of the Old Testament Law, Jesus was (and is) a stumbling block.  They understood in part that they were looking for a Savior, but when He came they did not recognize Him because they did not exactly for whom they were looking.  Jesus is a stumbling block for them to come to salvation, as they still are waiting for a savior.  The Gentiles, everybody else, hear the story of redemption and consider it – naturally – foolishness.  So, in short, everyone who is either a Jew or not a Jew will hear the story of Jesus and in and of themselves will hear it as foolishness.  They will reject it.

Does that give you hope?

It gives me hope.  Because the conclusion of the verse is that to all who are called, Jews or everyone else, Christ is the “power of God and the wisdom of God”.

It can sound a bit cliche these days to remind ourselves that when we talk about Jesus and people mock us or do not want to hear about it, that they are rejecting Jesus and not us.  It is true, and it should give us comfort to remember that Jesus was hated and He promises that those who hate Him will (and should) hate us.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.18-20

Therefore, we should begin to develop thicker skin.  Jesus promises that the world will hate His servants, and people who look like Jesus.  If no one is hating you, then you might check yourself to see if you are standing for truth and telling people about Jesus.  Now, I am not saying that we should be obnoxious, and make ourselves hate-able, rather I am saying that the Gospel is so offensive to people, that when we live how Jesus lived, when we speak how Jesus spoke, and when we share the good news of the Gospel, it is offensive in and of itself.  No one wants to hear that they are wicked and that they deserve to go to Hell for their sins.  But that is what the Bible says, and if we do not know our current state apart from Jesus, then we do not know from what we need saving.

But what I find particularly glorious about this passage in 1 Corinthians is that the contrast is painted between wisdom and folly.  People can understand and articulate the outlines of the Gospel without knowing it as wisdom.  It makes logical sense, and some can portray it as mythology or as a “great story”, but only those who have been chosen find it as wisdom and power.  Clearly, by this teaching, we see that not everyone is called.  It is a supernatural ability to love and believe the Gospel as truth, wisdom and power.

So why does this give me hope in evangelism?  Simply this:  I do not have to get someone from one camp to the other.  I do not have to take the one who finds Jesus as a stumbling block or foolishness and convince him that Jesus crucified is the power and wisdom of God.  Now, there are some who will not hear and believe immediately, and there are some who will know the truth of the Gospel and believe year and decades later.  This does not mean that they went from the unchosen camp to the chosen camp, it means that God had a plan and timing for their conversion.

In short, it is our responsibility to share, and it is God’s responsibility to call, save, and bring about growth.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6-7

We know that God has chosen people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  There are people who will believe in every corner of the Earth.  And until there are believers in every people group, Jesus will not return to bring about the end of the age.  But, He has already set these people aside.  It is only our job to go out there and tell them!  That is why Jesus said,

And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

– Luke 10.2

The Spirit has already prepared hearts to hear the Truth!  The harvest is plentiful.  The fields are white.  When we get out and start talking about Jesus, there will be many who say it is foolishness and stumble over Jesus, but there will be those who are ready to hear it and who hear the wisdom and glory in the Gospel.  So get out there and start talking about Jesus.  He promised us that people will hate us for talking about Him and acting like Him, so let it roll off your back when people turn down your invitation to believe.  And as you continue sharing, you will find that there are some out there who are waiting to hear and who are ready to believe.  It’s our job, people.  When we get to Heaven, let’s not stand before the judge having not done the primary thing that He told us to do.

Is Church for Christians or Non-Christians?

cathedral

21st century western culture is an historical phenomenon in regards to Christianity and religious freedom.  Throughout much of world history Christians have been persecuted.  Yes, the Roman Empire made Christianity the official religion under Constantine, but even in the subsequent generations we see various forms of persecution arise as the Church became more and more corrupt.  But at this moment in history, the traditional weekly gathering of believers in the church building has, for many congregations, morphed into a mechanism of outreach.  “Seeker sensitive” meetings are engineered for people who do not know Jesus or who have no faith.

The simple fact that this conversation would be had speaks to the unique society and moment in history in which we live.  Christians who are persecuted for what they believe do not organize their weekly gatherings around trying to bring in non-believers.  Christians who are persecuted gather together to worship and praise God, and to learn as much about Him as they can, and to seek the encouragement of other believers.

Now, to be clear, Jesus never sat down with the disciples and said, “This is how you should do church“.  Jesus was very clear about how we should act, love, serve and share the Gospel, but He never gave instructions for the regular worship experience.  Our three songs, welcome, greeting time, preaching, offering and invitation are completely traditional and applicational of principles that we glean from Scripture, not direct commands.

However, our weekly gathering is the continuation of the commandment of God when He set up the covenant with Moses, the Sabbath.  One day a week was to be set aside unto the Lord.  Very strict instructions were given for that day:  you were not to cook, but to prepare food the day before, you were only allowed a certain number of steps, etc.  The point was rest, but not for the sake of rest.  The point was to remember God.  To praise Him, to consider all of the things He had done, to glorify Him.  God commanded the Hebrew people to set aside an entire day every week to focus on Him.

“…but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.”

– Ex 20.10

When Jesus came, He rocked the boat because the Sabbath had become an issue of tradition and rule rather than of Thanksgiving and worship.  He was criticized for healing on the Sabbath and allowing His disciples to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But Jesus’ response was that the Father is working, and therefore He will work on the Sabbath – because the issue is glorifying and honoring God, not tradition (John 5.17).

Most Christians now recognize Sunday as the Lord’s Day now, because Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, even though the traditional Sabbath was Saturday, the last day of the week.  But the Sabbath, the day set aside for the Lord, was ordained by God as a day for His worship and praise.

One reason that we sing is because music has always been a form of worship, from the beginning.  And we see the instruction to do so here:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

– Eph 5.18-21

We encourage one another by expressing our feelings in Psalms, we deepen our cling of doctrine with the hymns and we exemplify and testify to our hearts in Spiritual songs.  And we make a thankful melody to the Lord in our hearts.  When we gather together, we encourage one another in the faith and we praise and thank God.

When the first church was started, the Apostles were devoting themselves to prayer and to teaching the new believers.  A dispute arose because some of the widows were not being served food.  The apostle’s response was,

“It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.  Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

– Acts 6.2-4

The apostles had spent three years with Jesus learning from Him, and had been sent out to teach and preach.  They did not neglect this responsibility, but enlisted others to do the very good and necessary work of distributing food.  But those who had been called, appointed and trained were the ones given the responsibility of teaching and shepherding the flock.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

– John 21.15-17

The depths of this passage are great, but my very simple observation is that Jesus appointed Peter as an apostle and preacher to shepherd the flock.  God appoints some men as shepherds to lead the flock.  This happens through instruction and preaching of the word, through accountability and through pastoral care.

So, if God has set aside one day a week as a day for His worship and remembrance, and if He has appointed men to shepherd and teach the flock, then our weekly worship service should be set aside for the preaching of the Word to deepen the flock’s (believer’s) faith and instruct them in how to live, and to worship and praise God.  The weekly worship service is not an outreach ministry geared towards non believers.  The weekly worship service should empower the congregation to go out and witness on their own, and as people come to faith, then they are invited to join in worship because only then do they have a reason to worship.

Yes, non believers are welcome to observe our worship service.  But we cannot forgo the worship of God on the day that He set aside for Himself to focus on the lost.  We have six other days of the week to be busy about that.  And we have small groups to focus on that!  Us lay people – everyday Christians – have walked through the basics of salvation when we came to faith, and we are learning to know and love God through the accountability of our small groups and fellow believers, and we are learning the depths through the teaching and preaching of the Word on Sunday mornings.  It is our responsibility to convey those truths to our non-believing friends.  It is not our pastors’ responsibility.

Small groups are for the low-hanging fruit.  Sunday is for the harder to reach.  That’s why small groups leaders do not need to go to seminary, but pastors do.

Do you have non believing friends?  Should you invite them to church?  Yes.  You absolutely can invite them to church.  But let’s not chicken out and expect our pastors and churches to focus on the fact that our friends are lost because we are too scared to talk to them on our own.  The weekly worship service is for the worship of God and the encouragement of the believers to know God more deeply and to get out and share more.  If you invite a nonbeliever to that, he is not going to understand.  Yes, the Gospel should be clearly preached every week for the sake of those who are not believers, but it is not the main goal.

So let’s man up.  Let’s not put off our responsibility of sharing and basic discipleship on the pastor, but let’s tackle that in our daily interactions and our small groups.  And let’s honor the Lord’s Day by setting it aside as a day of worship and deepening our knowledge and love for God.

There may come a day that we resemble the rest of the church throughout history; where our meetings are persecuted and we have to meet secretly.  We are in war time, Spiritually, and we need to protect our weekly gatherings as a time to focus on and remember God.

A Contempt of Death

As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

– Acts 21.10-11

Our culture is consumed with self.  Happiness, independence and financial success are some of our highest goals and we believe that God, who is love, exists to make us happy and more successful.  We quote verses like Jeremiah 29.11:

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’.”

And we make best sellers out of a book that glorifies an obscure prayer in the Old Testament which teaches us to pray for more stuff and safety,

“Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!”

– 1 Chr 4.10

And these promises are true.  God has our eternal best in mind.  Everything will ultimately work together for our good (Rom 8.28).  On the New Earth.

But today I am struck with the prophecy of Agabus who told Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that he would be bound and imprisoned when he entered Jerusalem.  The Spirit was leading Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20.22).  Not only was the Spirit leading him there, He was letting him know that he would be bound and afflicted there (Acts 20.23).  And then the Spirit made it known not only to Paul but everyone else through this prophecy of Agabus.

If the Spirit were leading you somewhere to preach the Gospel, and the consequence of doing so would be imprisonment and death, would you go?

Mission agencies like to speak of “closed countries”.  But I have heard it said that there is no such thing as a closed country.  You can always get in!  They might just be closed on your way out if you go in and boldly proclaim Jesus Christ as the hope and salvation of the world.

The believers in Tyre were urging Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21.4), as did the disciples and believers at Caesarea after hearing Agabus’ prophecy (Acts 21.12).  Often times our friends’ and relatives’ response to the call of God on our lives is not objective.  If they understand the risk and the consequence of what God has called us to do, they might use their human logic to urge us to not follow through in obedience.

Peter did this to Jesus.

“God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!”

Imagine if Jesus had listened to Peter.  Jesus came to the Earth to die, descend to Hell and raise after three days to conquer death and offer propitiation for the sins of any who would believe.  If He had been swayed by Peter’s desire to see Him not suffer harm, there would be no salvation except through the Law (which no man can keep).

Is it then too great a sacrifice to give our own lives for the salvation of those who have never heard the good news, and who currently have no way to hear?  Would you rather be like Jesus and Paul, or like Demas who fell in love with the world and chose to live a comfortable life rather than serve God (2 Tim 4.10)?

We are promised that all who desire to live godly lives will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3.12).

Statement- The goal of persecution is to silence witness.
Question- Why is there no persecution of the American church?
Answer- We have silenced ourselves.

John Calvin says it well in His commentary on 2 Cor 5:

Observe here — what has been once stated already — that true faith begets not merely a contempt of death, but even a desire for it, and that it is, accordingly, on the other hand, a token of unbelief, when dread of death predominates in us above the joy and consolation of hope. Believers, however, desire death — not as if they would, by an importunate desire, anticipate their Lord’s day, for they willingly retain their footing in their earthly station, so long as their Lord may see good, for they would rather live to the glory of Christ than die to themselves, (Romans 14:7,) and for their own advantage; for the desire, of which Paul speaks, springs from faith. Hence it is not at all at variance with the will of God. We may, also, gather from these words of Paul, that souls, when released from the body, live in the presence of God, for if, on being absent from the body, they have God present, they assuredly live with him.

– John Calvin

We will never be fully sold out for God until we have a contempt of death.  Until we are ready to be led by the Spirit of God to Jerusalem where we will be bound and killed for the sake of preaching the Gospel to those who have never heard.  Until we can say with Paul that,

For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

 – Phil 1.21

Are you willing?

shackles

Being bullied by a 7th grader.

microphone

Everytime I am mid-conversation and the opportunity arises to share the Gospel, I get nervous.  I have been a Christian for years, I have spoken in public arenas, to audiences of 8,000+, I have talked about Jesus most of my life and now share the Gospel every day as part of my job, but for some reason when it comes telling Jesus’ story and offer of salvation I still get nervous.

Christians often ponder what it is exactly that makes us nervous to share the Gospel and and typically the answer is the fear of offending someone (because no one wants to tell someone else or be told that they are sinful and deserve damnation because of it), or the fear of being rejected.

I work for a Christian non-profit, and my job is to manage volunteers.  I get up to 100 volunteers a day and as part of daily orientation I get to share the Gospel with them.  Well more than half of my volunteers are not from church groups, and I have been opposed many times – both in private and publicly.  I tend to find that my level of nerves ebbs and flows with my audience.  For some reason I am comfortable to speak to the elderly and to the younger, but when my peers who are professionals walk in, I get nervous.  Weird.

Yesterday I had a group of twenty five eleven to thirteen year olds with chaperons.  My nerves were not bothered.  I got halfway into the story of Jesus and a young man interrupted me to ask about something from earlier in the orientation.  I thought nothing of it, responded and went back to Jesus’ story.  At the end, some of the girls were quite vocal that they were uncomfortable that I was talking about Jesus because they are Jewish.  I found it strange that they were attempting to play 7th grade peer pressure and intimidation on me.  As I contemplated their endeavor a young man walked up to me and said, “You handled yourself very well, I respect that” and walked away.

Knowing my legal rights and my company’s identity, I have lost the fear of being politically incorrect to speak about Jesus, and speaking to a group of young people simply did not cause me reservation.  But this young man noticed their social games.  He struck me as a very mature middle school kid, in his verbiage and observation of what was happening.

Why then do I have timidity when it comes to my peers?  Why would those social games of intimidation work on me if I were looking someone eye to eye?  Or would they?

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

– John 15.18-19

We are not of this world and the world is not going to understand us.  In fact, if we are living like Christ did, they are going to hate us.  We are aliens in this world:  we do not and should not fit in (1 Peter 2.11).  We should not be comfortable because we know our Savior and home is awaiting us.   We are looking forward to another world. Therefore we should not be affected by what people think or say.  We should be so confident that if someone attempts social “bullying” we do not even realize it because it does not impact us.  

We should, however, be driven by the fact that they do not yet know.  Our love for God should lead us to true and genuine compassion for the lost soul headed to Hell.  Let’s approach the judgment throne smelling like smoke for trying to pull people back from Hell’s gates.  Jesus died for us, we can make an effort for others.

But most of us are impacted because are still dying to our flesh.  So when you open your mouth to speak, ask the Lord to give you the words – He promises that He will:

“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.  For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

– Matt 10.19-20

And trust Him that only He changes hearts.  Try and see if you don’t feel a wonderful sense of joy in your obedience after sharing, regardless of the response!  Just let Jesus shine through you, because He does – after all – live in you!

Pearls and Pigs

pigs and pearls

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

– Matt 7.6

This verse was comical to me as a child.  I took it literally, wondering why someone would give their pearls to pigs and imagined a pig rolling around in its sty with pearls around its neck.  Or, occasionally, I imagined a strand of pearls hanging out of its mouth as it ate from its trough.

One day I was taught the meaning of this passage.  It was explained to me that our pearls are the Gospel, the truths and wisdom that we receive from God – just like the series of teachings into which this little gem of a verse is tucked known as the Sermon on the Mount – and the swine are those who are unwilling to receive and hear it.  That made sense.

As I got older, however, growing up in an evangelical, gospel-minded church, I struggled with the application of this verse.  If we are supposed to be “in the world and not of the world”, if we are commanded to “make disciples of every nation”, how do we keep from throwing our pearls – the Gospel and God’s truths – before swine?  How can Jesus, in the same sermon say, “You are the light of the world,” “the salt of the Earth” and “A city on a hill” established to flavor the entire world if we are to keep our truths and wisdom to ourselves?

As scientific research, theory and understanding developed and set itself squarely against the church, Christians, in general, chose to ignore the conversation.  Instead of studying and proving God, speaking intelligently to issues, the Church remained silent and occasionally chose to lash out without any training or understanding of the subject on which she was speaking.  These tides are slowly changing with Christian academics engaging the world on their level, via popular research methods, and the debate – primarily of creation – will doubtfully be solved until we stand face to face with the creator, as both stances require faith and are scientifically unprovable.

But how do we make disciples of all nations while maintaining respect for the Gospel and Truth of God such that we do not dishonor it by giving it to pigs and dogs: those who will not accept it?

I think that the answer can be found in the context of the passage.  Immediately preceding this verse is one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, “Judge not lest you be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt 7.1-2).  This is where Jesus teaches on accountability – that we must take the log out of our own eye before helping our brother with his speck.  We cannot judge against a sin in which we are bound.  We must first discipline ourselves before helping our brother conquer his sin.

The following verse is also well known, “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find…” (Matt 7.7ff).  Everyone who comes to God and asks for salvation through the work of Jesus Christ will be saved.  And the whole passage is finalized with the Golden Rule (Matt 7.12).

People cannot choose to receive or reject the Gospel without hearing it.  Therefore, sharing the Gospel – the message of the hope of salvation through the death and life of Jesus Christ – is not casting pearls before swine.  However, once someone has made his decision to reject Christ and oppose the Church, it is at this point that we do not build relationship deeply.  We love such a one, pray for his soul and share the Gospel whenever we get the chance, but we do not cast our pearls before him – lest he turn and trample us under food.  This clearly is speaking to one who would be hostile to the Truth.

Christians must walk a fine line of building community and accountability within the body and loving and winning the lost world around them.  How do we balance our time?  Paul tells us that our first responsibility is to the Church and our brothers:  “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6.10).  And our reputation of love for one another should be attractive to the dying world around us.  Thus our efforts towards the outside world should be primarily aimed at their Spiritual darkness and deadness, calling them to repentance.

I once knew a man who lived his life with the conviction, “I’ll tell the Gospel to everyone and those who want believe will be my friends”.  This, dear Christian, is the right mindset.  We ought to share the Gospel boldly and without discrimination, to whomever will listen.  And those who believe are those in whom we invest, to whom we cast our pearls.  Our pearls are our long-term investment of life and energy.  We offer hope to the lost!  But when one has chosen a lifestyle of sin and opposition to the Truth of God, we do not push beyond the salvific message.  Everything else is lost and trampled under food, and we must beware else we be torn to pieces by such a one.

This is why Jesus healed those who had faith.  He honored God and the Truth while He remembered the spiritual state of those around Him.

But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well.

– Matt 9.22