Tag Archives: evangelism

“Our Unrelenting God”

Some of you, a couple of weeks ago, awoke at 4:30 a.m. to watch the royal wedding. Along with the beauty and the pageantry associated with the event, you may have been curious about the outfits that the rich and famous would wear to such an occasion. Or you were curious about who came, and thus who was invited. And you noticed the vacant chair on the second row.

Our passage today is stated as an invitation to something much more important and more elaborate than any ball or wedding; yet there is no discrimination involved. Everyone receives an invitation. This is all the result of the death and resurrection of God’s servant mentioned in chapter 53- the one we know as Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We might ask as we approach our text, what does God invite us to? And how may we respond? We first see that…

GOD’S GRACIOUSLY INVITES US TO SPIRITUAL SATISFACTION.

Isaiah 55:1 says:

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

The term which begins our passage is unique. The Hebrew means ah! alas! ha! It is meant to grab attention to something special. And this invitation was something unique.

And this invitation had spiritual relevancy. Living in Israel during this time, thirst would be a common occurrence. It was an arid part of the world. People could relate to being thirsty. Incidentally, water for consumption was sold in the days of Isaiah. The seller would call out to would-be buyers to come and purchase from his stand. The mention of wine and milk represents happiness and nourishment. What’s more is that unlike the necessity to buy these items in real life, they are indeed free to the one who responds to God’s gracious invitation. God uses these symbols to offer what is free to the needy heart, that only He can supply! They cost nothing to the person who responds.

Speaking of these other items, it should come as no surprise that
what we call communion, the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, consists of bread and drink. Let us remember what we did on Pentecost Sunday, as a reminder that Jesus is the soul’s true food and true drink. It is only through His great sacrifice that we can commune with God. And when we observe the Lord’s Supper, it is a time of rededication of faith and repentance from sin, realizing that our soul’s hunger and thirst is satisfied in Christ!

Notice how Jesus uses water and rest to illustrate the He can give us our souls deepest longings. Many times Jesus used water to illustrate His ability to satisfy spiritual thirst. Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:13:

“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

And in John 7:37, Jesus spoke openly to all who would hear: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Jesus satisfies spiritual thirst.

Jesus also grants spiritual rest. He gives soul rest to everyone who follows Him. He said in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Such an invitation says something about God. Notice that in these requests, the Lord is not hiding Himself. He is not stand-offish or reserved. Rather He calls us to follow Him and promises us what we so desperately need: Himself! God establishes His covenant and invites us to enter in. The God of the universe lowered Himself to us. He came to our level and invites us to follow Him. Jesus came to lead us to God. Secondly…

WE MUST BE CAREFUL TO RESPOND TO GOD’S INVITATION APPROPRIATELY.

Notice what verse two states:

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live….”

These verses imply that some wanted to spend their spiritual currency on other things. They had bought into other religious fads and ideas that did not benefit the way in which God blessed the one who turns to Him.

Some of you here are looking for God and spiritual fulfillment in places other than Jesus Christ. But we come by this honestly. Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, puts it this way. He states that we all have a problem.

“We are homo-idolater, the creature who would fashion our own god. This the true perennial heresy. …We are natural-born idolaters, and it is good that we admit this up front. …The reason is simple- we must worship, we will worship. Even as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. The human soul will find an object of worship, either on the shelf, on the altar, in the mirror, or in heaven. We are born idolaters (Mohler, Words from the Fire).”

God invites you to reorient your compass to Christ; to reject the object, the activity, the person or the self and worship Him alone! He offers you the Grand Invitation, a summons to come to the living God and give Him our lives. Every day there is an invitation to follow Him.

But such an invitation must invoke a specific action. Verse 6 states:
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”

The people of Judah needed to turn back to God. They had drifted far away from Him. And now He was calling them back; calling them out of their idolatry, their fornication, their lack of integrity. God accepts us as we are, but He asks us to change with His help. Some of you have drifted from God. You need to come back to Him, today! And there’s no better time than the present.

Such a gracious invitation is not what we would construct. We would undoubtedly make it more difficult. But God asks of us to turn. Jesus preached again and again: “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Repentance means to change. It is implied in the act of confession, when a person comes before the Lord in prayer, and asks for forgiveness and turns from their wrongful deeds.

The other act is faith- which goes beyond believing that there is a God. But means embracing God, following Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”

With these actions, they can be summed up in a drawing; a seeking. “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” preaches Isaiah. Jeremiah 29:13: “You will search for Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” James 4 tells us: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

All of this is not based on human knowledge or invention, but on God’s infinite wisdom. Thankfully, God did not consult us. He said in verse eight: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

And He uses the preaching of His word to bring about His desired outcome! That is why Christians are people of the book. We hold a very high view of Scripture, believing it to be the very word of God. It came from Him. Jesus said: “Thy word is truth.” And He was referring to Scripture! God’s word is sometimes compared to a seed. Jesus told the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. There, the condition of the ground was key to each portion of seed scattered, and its production.

God will never allow the preaching of His word to be truly ineffective. There are ineffective preachers. And there are ineffective listeners. But there is no ineffective word. Set your spiritual hunger and your spiritual thirst upon God!

The story is told of a young student who went to his spiritual teacher and asked the question, “Master, how can I truly find God?” The teacher asked the student to accompany him to the river which ran by the village and invited him to go into the water. When they got to the middle of the stream, the teacher said, “Please immerse yourself in the water.” The student did as he was instructed, whereupon the teacher put his hands on the young man’s head and held him under the water. Presently the student began to struggle. The master held him under still. A moment passed and the student was thrashing and beating the water and air with his arms. Still, the master held him under the water. Finally, the student was released and shot up from the water, lungs aching and gasping for air. The teacher waited for a few moments and then said, “When you desire God as truly as you desired to breathe the air you just breathed — then you shall find God.”

Why Mission is Critical to a Local Church

The fourth century church father Augustine of Hippo said: “Whoever…thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.”[1]

There are two types of love. One is the love that appeals to our spiritual needs which is satisfied in God alone. This is called our need-love. It is the type of love that responds to Jesus’ invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Then there is benevolent love, that affection that we show others because God is good and we are blessed. We do the latter, not expecting anything in return. We do it because God has so wonderfully enhanced our lives; so we want to bless others.

It is with that benevolent love in mind that we give of our time and abilities in this special Global Aid Missions Sunday. This benevolent love is spoken of in Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. The topic that Jesus is addressing is the Day of Judgment. At this event, all from human history will be gathered to appear before the throne of God to give an account of our lives.

Jesus speaks of the reward given to those who practiced benevolent love in the name of Christ. Verse 37 states: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Who are the least of these? They are Christ’s disciples or those that God will make His disciples. One commentator states that: “Christ identifies with His people. Their suffering is His suffering. Compassion shown to them is compassion shown to Him.”[2]

It is with this passage in mind that we address the importance of missions and the local church.  Missions is a critical part of the church’s operation for several reasons.

ONE REASON CHRISTIANS PARTICIPATE IN MISSIONS AND OUTREACH IS IN ANTICIPATION OF THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.

All of Matthew 24 and 25 is Jesus answer to the disciples’ question found in Matthew 24:3 and following: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” Jesus’ answer was an overview of certain events and circumstances that lead up to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are wise to take notice of them. They are…

  • The presence of deceivers and false prophets; the rise of cults and the proliferation of false teaching, many of which is assumed to be legitimate Christian doctrine.
  • Wars and rumors of wars; (There have been nearly 20 that have started since 2011).
  • Famines, pestilence and earthquakes (natural disasters); These kinds of events seem to be happening all the time. Most recently, Cyclone Pam which hit the South Pacific island of Vanuatu with 168 mph winds, devastating that part of the world. Nearly 5,000 people in Tanna do not have drinking water.
  • The widespread persecution of Christians; Places like Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic state is crucifying and beheading Christians. Christians living in the Middle East are routinely jailed, beaten, have their property confiscated, have family’s homes firebombed and are unwelcomed in most instances. Religious minorities are continually persecuted.
  • And the wide scale preaching of the gospel where people are converted all over the world; People like Daniel Kamaraj who recently wrote Dr. Drake: “A total of 500 Bibles have been distributed to pastors for new believers in the field. There are 150 baptisms ready and I shall be widely travelling in our area to baptize and conduct one day foundational teaching in all our branch churches. Please pray and thank you for helping in this regard.  We are need of more Bibles in 5 more languages.”

We see many of these signs happening all around us. All of this will culminate in the Second coming of Christ. These signs serve as a reality check upon of our faith. Participation in missions is a matter of faithfulness. Christ is looking for faithful servants. Jesus used two illustrations. One is the parable of the Talents in 25:14-30. It was the slave who caused his gift to multiply that received the commendation: “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”

In the next passage, Jesus talks about the final judgment where He will separate the sheep from the goats, those faithful slaves from the unfaithful. Sheep, here, are symbolic of Christians, people who have followed the Lord; those who lived to serve others. Goats, are the unbelieving; the sinners; those who have lived for themselves.

Some have tried to diminish the role of faith in the Lord Jesus, saying that this passage teaches nothing of faith and repentance in Christ, but stresses the role of good deeds. Good deeds, if they truly are good, are done out of the obedience that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5, 16:26)! Motive is everything!

But what makes a sheep? Who is a sheep? According to this passage…

  • Those who gave food to the hungry; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who gave drink to the thirsty; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who took in the stranger; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who clothed the naked; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who visited the ill and the imprisoned; in the name of Christ!

These will inherit eternal life. These will hear the words: “…you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

In contrast, there are those who are labeled goats. They avoided the actions listed in the previous verses. Why? There are probably many reasons:

  • Indifference,
  • lacking sympathy (care for others) and empathy (experiencing the pain of others);
  • being stingy with resources;
  • those preoccupied with living for themselves;

These will be cursed, judged, sent away into everlasting judgment with the devil and his angels. This is the place we know as hell. It is where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. It is the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is real. Jesus spoke of it often. We participate in missions and outreach in anticipation of Jesus’ return. We participate in missions and outreach is in anticipation of Jesus’ return. Another reason why we are doing this today is…

BECAUSE IT IS THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY TO OBEY THE SECOND GREATEST COMMANDMENT, TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.

Benevolent love is found repeatedly throughout the pages of Scripture. The second greatest commandment, as many of you know, is what Jesus stated in Mark 12:31: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In a long list of ethical mandates, how God’s people were to be truthful, trustworthy, looking out for others, giving to the poor and underprivileged, Leviticus 19: 18 states: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Notice that the Lord is the basis we act with a certain ethical standard.

By practicing benevolent love, the church is a light in a dark place. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. …let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

It was the 19th century New England Baptist preacher A.J. Gordon who said: “The church who does not participate in missions will soon become a mission field.” Consider the many material blessings that you and I enjoy whether it is food, clothing, drinking water, etc. There are many parts of the world that do not have these basic necessities.

I was speaking with Rev. Ebenezer Browne, who is a church planter in Monrovia, Liberia. God has used Ebenezer to plant 22 churches in that city. I asked him what the biggest needs in his community were. He said without hesitation: Clean drinking water, food, medical personnel and supplies to deal with the Ebola crisis. It occurred to me that we are so fortunate to live in a part of the world in which we have plenty of those things. We are a privileged nation and an advantaged people. Doesn’t it make sense that you operate as your brother’s keeper and help those who do not have what you have?

There is widespread poverty and violence in our world today, causing thousands of children to travel into the U.S. from Central America. San Pedro Sula, Honduras is the world’s murder capital. A Pew Research article stated that some do it because they have nothing; others do it because their home is no longer safe from the violence of the drug cartels. The report stated:

According to the (Homeland Security) agency, the number of children caught at the border has nearly doubled in less than a year, a situation that President Obama has called “an urgent humanitarian situation.”[3]

Church, God has called us to do something. The GAIN project (Global Aid Network) is our way of helping people in these areas. The meals that we will package today will go to local churches and Christian groups who will then distribute them to those suffering from violence, extreme poverty, refugee camps and religious persecution.

I leave you with a quote from English cricketer and missionary C.T. Studd, who served the Lord in China, India and Africa. Before his death in 1931, he said: “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of Hell.”

Joe and Tanna Collins were a couple that felt called to be missionaries to China. So they packed up their belongings and moved there, along with their five children. They had served there at least five years when, on a flight, their plane crashed in Tibet in 1994. The entire family perished. The following note comes from a page in Mrs. Collins’ Bible that was found at the scene of the crash. She wrote:

“Lord, here in your precious Word I give myself, my husband, my children, and all that I have or ever shall possess, all to you. I will follow your will, even to China. Lord, open doors, and I will go and tell the Chinese of your great love. In time of need, supply for us; in time of sorrow, give us peace; in times of joy, send someone to share. Help me to never murmur nor complain. I love you Lord Jesus.”

[1] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine.

[2] New Geneva Study Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1548.

[3] See article at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/01/dhs-violence-poverty-is-driving-children-to-flee-central-america-to-u-s/.

Empowerment for Purpose

The following message is based on Acts 1:1-11 and addresses the source of the Christian’s power as witnesses for Christ in the world, which is the Holy Spirit. It was shared on November 17, 2013

Recently, I read of a most strange religious movement sweeping the country, or so the article led you to believe. The Associated Press article read: “It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke. On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago. “There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

Success is not measured by popularity, but by God’s approval. Now there are several things critically wrong with this picture. What are those critical things that are missing? One of those things is the gospel, the good news of Jesus. If there is not message of Christ, there is no Christianity and God is not in it. Without the gospel, a group of people is just a club; an organization. It is not a church. The second critical thing missing is the Holy Spirit. Without God’s Spirit, there is no life. There may be activity, but there is no life. Today, I would like to talk about the place of the Holy Spirit in witness and mission. Jesus said before His ascension in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

The Holy Spirit is the most mysterious person of the Trinity. We often forget about him. But without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). It was to our benefit that Jesus ascended into heaven, to reside at the Father’s right hand to pray for us (Romans 8:34). Jesus also spoke of sending “The Helper” in John 16:7: “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” The Holy Spirit is the presence of Christ on earth today. His presence and work is essential for the church to for mission and service. So how should this play out? What does the Holy Spirit do in equipping us for ministry?

First, the Holy Spirit shines the light of the gospel in a spiritually darkened world.

As the world grows darker in sin, the light of the gospel shines brighter. As we await Jesus’ return, the gospel is being preached. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus said: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” So now is a time that the gospel is going out and many believe; it is not time for the bookend of history to come about, when God says concerning time for the present earth; “That’s enough.” So the Holy Spirit goes before the spread of the good newes and prepares hearts and minds to receive it. Jesus’ words also remind us that…

The “preaching” of the gospel is not just for preachers.

I would include every Christian. Your words, your lifestyle, your relationships, are all meant to be tools, helps, and displays of the Holy Spirit in sharing the gospel with others. As opposed to the thinking that witnessing is just another task we have to do on an already huge list of things, and probably, arguably the least favorite, we need to change our mindset as a church and as individuals.

Starting on January 12, we are going to be looking at a culture change within our church. Many of you will receive a copy of Thom Rainer’s, “I Am a Church Member.” In the weeks to come, you’re going to be hearing more about this church wide revolution. I want to encourage you to get involved. For many, it will challenge you in your thinking about how we do church. For others, it could be life changing for you.

The following are some helpful items of direction for understanding Christian witness. One thing we have to recognize is that none of us convinces anyone else. Now this is not to excuse the value of a good argument or advancing the truth. Rather, we must realize that it is the Holy Spirit that brings about belief. The Spirit of Christ is He who draws us into fellowship with Jesus. He convicts; ushers, illuminates our hearts to trust and follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 6:37 that no many can come to the Father, unless he is drawn.

If there is any change in our lives, it is because the Spirit is working.

At the point of becoming a Christian, the Holy Spirit brings renewal and life to our dead and darkened souls. Titus 3:5 tells us: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit….” Conversion, from a divine, spiritual perspective is much like a reflex. Jonathan Edwards, the Father of the American Church described regeneration and conversions as the Holy Spirit tapping the knee. We, then react out of reflex. The Holy Spirit affects the mind, will and emotions.

And it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us for witness and service.

Jesus said: “But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” What are we here for? We are here to point others to Christ. It gave me great joy to hear that on Monday night, the Adult Life Bible study prepared and shared the meal with our family staying at Central during November. Many of you have stayed overnight, provided transportation and laundry to help a family turn the corner in their lives. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is using us for God’s glory.

But it is not just the doing, but the speaking is necessary, too.

We need to be looking for opportunities in conversation where Jesus is the topic. We need to share from God’s word and our experiences. Have you ever put your testimony into words? Maybe that would be a healthy exercise, to write down your journey of coming to faith in Christ. How have you found forgiveness? How have you been transformed? Changed? Everyone who is a Christian is a disciple. Look for ways in which you can interact with others in order to introduce them to Jesus. I say this because…

The Holy Spirit is also active when we speak to others about Christ.

Christianity is not just information designed to convince others to join up. Or change by their own will. Rather, the Holy Spirit changes us and transforms our lives for His glory. We also need to trust God with the outcome. You are not responsible for convincing them, as much as you are responsible for being faithful. But there is a message that you must know. It can be confined to these short statements/words:

• God loves: John 3:16
• Sin separates: Romans 3:10
• Jesus died and arose again: 1 John 4:10
• Will you trust and turn? Romans 10:9-10

You might say, “what about the questions?” Mark Dever states: “Actually, having a few questions of your own shouldn’t prevent you from sharing the gospel with others. You can explain to them that while you still have a few unresolved questions yourself, you don’t have enough faith to not believe. There is simply so much reason to believe the good news of Jesus Christ in history, in Scripture, as well as in our own experience that it would take a leap of faith not to believe in the gospel. And an honest conversation like that can be very helpful to a non-Christian.”

Stop and take a moment to do something very important. I want you to take a blank piece of paper and write down the names of 5-7 people that don’t know the Lord, but do know you. Then, over the next month or so, start praying daily for opportunities to share the gospel with them. Start thinking about how you can make legitimate opportunities to share Christ with them. As you pray and witness, remember Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” I leave you with the words of Bill Bright, the late founder of CRU, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Speaking of Christ, Bright said: “Here on earth, He has no lips but ours, no feet but ours, and no hands but ours. God has chosen to use men, not angels, to reach the world for Christ and, if we are obedient, He will use us. We can count on it.”

I was recently faced with the opportunity to share with someone. I was cautious at first, but presented the message as best as I knew how. The meeting ended abruptly and I’m not sure what God did, if anything. But I must trust Him with the outcome. He is the one who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). I’m only there to plant a seed or water it.