Tag Archives: Ministry

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/.

Are You a Praying Church Member?

Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” This was a statement to equip the disciples for the work that they had ahead of them. It was to prepare them for what was ahead as they ministered in a world and culture that was not friendly to Christ. And our culture and world are returning to the same environment that characterized the first century. What is it like to lead the church of Jesus Christ in such an era?

Many ministers are failing, becoming discouraged. Listen to the following blog post: “I woke up this morning thinking that I might not have many more days left as pastor of my church. I am burned out and my wife is burned out. We are so weary of the critics. We have tried to be loving and kind to them, but it just gets worse. You can only take so much. My four kids have really been hurt through the years too. Even the “good guys” in my church expect more of me than I can handle. Our church has less than 175 in attendance, but I am expected to be in so many places at so many times every week. I am really tired. I feel both guilty and relieved writing these comments this morning. I feel guilty because I know I will be abandoning my call. I feel relieved because I finally have someone to talk to even though I am anonymous.”

What is the best thing you can do for your church leader? There are many things listed in Paul’s words found in 1 Thessalonians 5:12: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” Notice the commands given concerning church leaders. We are to respect them, hold them in high regard and live in peace with one another. The qualifiers addressed to church leaders do not speak toward value or importance, but rather to responsibilities. As a pastor, I feel responsible for the faith and spirituality of my church’s members. I rejoice when they are thriving and concerned when they are not. I’m blessed when I see Christ in their lives and I’m burdened when it appears they have gotten off track. Why? Because pastors take their jobs seriously.

And because it is tough to lead God’s church. The devil knows our blind spots. He knows our temptations. He knows what our needs are and will do anything to deceive us to going after counterfeits and not relying on God.

I had a pianist at my former church in East Central Kansas. Her name is Annette Reed. My kids call her Grammy ‘Nette. She was Linda’s mentor for Women’s Bible studies. She and Tom were leaders at the First Christian Church of Pleasanton, KS. Annette prayed for me often. I was on her weekly prayer list. Because of her prayers, my preaching ministry prospered in Pleasanton. People grew in their love for God’s word. And we had a productive ministry there.

Today, I have a team of prayer warriors. They pray for me each week. I let them know how I want to be prayed for. They pray for many things concerning my family, my ministry, my parenting, my kids, my spiritual health, my sermons, etc.

What does prayer do? This is kind of a philosophy of prayer for our church and its leaders. Consider the following verses:

Prayer moves the hand of God: James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” Prayer is used by God to show us His power and love.

Do you wonder what happens when God’s people pray? Listen to the words of Daniel 9, the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the prophet Daniel. Verse 20: “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill– 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” Did you get that? While Daniel was praying, the Lord commissioned Gabriel to go and speak to Daniel! I wonder what happens in the heavenlies when we pray!?

That’s not to say that God waits on us, nor can we manipulate Him in any way. But when His children by faith, ask in faith, He lovingly moves and acts on their behalf. And He willingly does so! Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him. Consider the following as a short philosophy of prayer, as you pray for your church leaders:

Prayer holds back Satan and fights against our spiritual enemies: Job 1:10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.” Satan could not touch Job, without the consent of our sovereign God! The devil lays many traps. Our struggles are not with other human beings, but with the “Accuser of the Brethren.” All of this because, as Ephesians 6:12 tells us: “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Prayer advances God’s kingdom: 2 Thessalonians 3:1: “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you….” In the same way, pray that my sermons may be everything that they are supposed to be. Pray that hearts and minds would be open to the gospel. Ask God to open doors for us as we minister to others. It is an incredible task that I love to do, but I also struggle with it from time to time. In Colossians 4:3, Paul asks that these Christians would pray, “…that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned.” Paul was imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so he asks them to pray that God would open a door and give him more boldness.

Prayer encourages those for whom it is given. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5: 25: “Brethren, pray for us.” And Hebrews 13:18 Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.

There are around 400,000 pastors in America today. Take notice of the following statistics available from a number of various and reliable sources, compiled by the Schaeffer Institute:

• Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or
contention in their churches.

• Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.

• Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.

• Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no
other way of making a living.

• Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry
within the first five years.

• Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

• Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

• Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

Ministry is tough work. Rainer’s fourth pledge would be the best way you could bless me, Pastor Bill, Pastor Julian, Vern and Don. I repeat it here: “I will pray for my church leader every day. I understand that the church leader’s work is never ending. Their days are filled with numerous demands that bring emotional highs and lows. They must deal with critics. They must be good parents and spouses. Because my church leaders cannot do all things in their own power, I will pray for their strength and wisdom daily.”

How could you pray for us? Our spiritual lives; our holiness; our joy, our families; our wisdom and discernment.

And yet there are many times I’m greatly encouraged in the work of the gospel. Take for instance, the following email sent from one of our mothers: “I just wanted to tell you how thankful I am for you and Linda. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me and your sermon on Doing Good for Others further encouraged me to take the steps necessary to [help this family]. Thank you so much for all your sermons! [We] both enjoy them and find deep meaning and encouragement from them. I loved your sermon last week about children. What perspective on the importance of children and teaching them God’s Holy Word.” This made my day! May God bless those who support their leaders in ministry.

Ministry that is Messy

The following message is taken from 1 Kings 16:25-33 and introduces the life and ministry setting of one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, Elijah. It was given on September 8, 2013.

I trust that you have had a good summer. I certainly did. Many of you knew that I was on sabbatical, a wonderful opportunity afforded to me by the Board of Ministries. While away, I worked on my D.Min. dissertation, which pertains to Christian Education. I also took the opportunity to visit some of our neighboring churches in the area, particularly those that are contemporary in their worship style. I discovered some new things. Some things I liked; other things I did not. It was a great learning experience.

I also spent significant time with my immediate family. I am pleased to report, we all still love each other. No other living arrangements at the time. Today, I want to touch on the aspect of family and the role of its leadership. I’m a firm believer that men are called to be the pastor of their homes, caring for the spiritual needs of their wives and children. I recently read of an incident reputed to have taken place in the late 19th Century that underscores the vital importance of both honesty and consistency in the home.

It seems that a father had two sons who had become attached to a stray dog that wandered onto their farm. They saw an advertisement in the local paper about a lost dog that fit the description to a tee. The dog was coal black except for a few white hairs at the end of his tail. Not wishing to disappoint his sons, the father carefully separated the white hairs on its tail and pulled them out. When the rightful owner heard about the dog, he went to the farm to take him home. It was quickly obvious that the dog recognized the man as its master. But when the man wanted to leave with the dog, the father said, “Didn’t your ad say that your dog had white hairs on his tail?” Finding none, the man was forced to leave without his dog. Some years later, the father wrote of the event saying, “I kept the dog, but lost my boys.” Those boys became notorious outlaws – Frank and Jesse James. Never underestimate the power of influence, especially in the home. We can learn the same lesson in the last few verses of 1 Kings 16, as we consider the line of Israel’s kings. From this we learn that…

OUR WORLD HAS ALWAYS BEEN SPIRITUALLY MESSY.

Jeroboam ruled Israel from 931-910 B.C. and was Israel’s first king after the split. He did evil by setting up high places, alternative sites for worship instead of urging the people to go to the temple in Jerusalem. M.S. Seale tells us that Jeroboam: “…also set up two golden calves, as symbols of fertility, which were part and parcel of Canaanite Baal worship.” He was the first among a long line of evil kings.

About 25 years later followed Omri, who was worse. We do not know much about Omri, except that he had a poor reputation. He was a man lacking integrity. 1 Kings 16:25 tells us: “And Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel with their idols.” If this was not enough, he did not know how to be a good father. We are not told how many children he had, but one stands out from the rest. You have heard of him- his name was Ahab.

As bad of a leader that Omri was, Ahab was even worse. That is something noteworthy of sin, is that it is very difficult, even impossible for it to remain stagnate. Sin, if left unrepentant, will grow more extensive and worse as time goes on. Verse 30 says: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” The word for provoke is the Hebrew s[;K’ (kaas) which means to be vexed or angry. Something of special notice is that Ahab made the Asherah pole, a wooden symbol of a female deity, a sign of further entrenchment of the religion of the Canaanites.

Ahab’s reign lasted for 22 years, from 874 to 853 B.C. 1Kings 16:31 tells us that the marriage of Omri’s son to Ethbaal’s daughter may have been arranged by Omri for diplomatic reasons. Jezebel’s presence gave official support in Israel to the worship of Baal. This moral and spiritual decline eventually led to their captivities. The northern kingdom was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C.; the southern was taken into slavery by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. We are told that the acts of Omri and Ahab provoked God. Notice that the Scripture does not read that God looked the other way; that God understood; that Omri and Ahab were just dysfunctional. No, their actions provoked God. Why so? Because that is what the sin of idolatry does- it provokes God. It has been said that idolatry is the displacing of God; we are guilty of idolatry any time we take something and put it in the place of God. If God be the greatest good, if He holds the place of our Creator and Father, then it is only appropriate that He occupy the place of preeminence in our lives. He is greater than all and we are to love Him with our whole heart, mind and strength.

Today, there are many examples of idols, depending on the person. For some, it is money. For others it could be their career. And then there are activities or a hobby. It could be things that we think we could not live without, like the Internet, or a relationship. For others, it may be a substance, like alcohol. For the Old Testament Jew, as well as the Christian, nothing was to take the place of God. Our lives respond to God’s grace in worship. Anything short of that worship is idolatry.

Why does idolatry provoke God to anger? Because it is taking the glory that is due Him and giving it to another, to a material thing or a foreign god. Notice what God said after He had delivered them from slavery and the rule of the most powerful nation in the world. Exodus 20:2: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This time of year, many spend hours watching football. You should know that I love football. I played and both of my boys are playing this fall. I like to watch a good football game just as much as the next guy. Nevertheless, I realize that football cannot occupy the place in my life that is reserved for God alone. I ran across an interesting quote from Chris Norman, the former standout Linebacker for Michigan State, who recently gave up a career in the NFL to pursue God’s true calling in his life. He told John Piper: “Football is a game that is filled with passion, intensity, and effort. Football is a safe haven that can propel character development in the lives of young men. And football is a gift from God that has been graciously given for millions upon millions of people to enjoy. But while football is very good, it can never become a god.” God will never occupy second place.

What are the idols in your life? Is there anything that you could be paying too much attention to? Is there something more important than your relationship with God? Do not run the course of Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab. Rather, be the exception, rather than the rule.

DESPITE THE MESSINESS, GOD CALLS US TO GLORIFY HIM.

It is in this environment of waywardness and idolatry that God called a man by the name of Elijah. Elijah was an interesting figure of the Old Testament. He was from the town of Thishbe, in the area of Gilead. (Show map) Significance is that Israel was divided into two kingdoms: The north (which kept the name Israel) and the south, commonly known as Judah.

Elijah ministered in a time when the people of God were moving away from their Creator King. It is sometime after David and Solomon, who ministered around the time of 1,000 years before Christ. The life of Elijah spans from 1 Kings chapter 17 to 2 Kings 2, a span of four chapters. Elijah was a prophet, a spokesperson of God during the time of Ahab’s reign in Israel. He spoke the word of the Lord to a godless culture.
Elijah’s name means: “Yahweh is God.” Yahweh is God’s covenant making name, taken from the burning bush incident with Moses in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” And so we are reminded that Elijah’s name means: Yahweh is God and there is no other. This name was particularly unique given the idolatry present in Israel at the time and the worship of Baal by its leadership. The moral and spiritual state of Israel during the 8th century B.C. is not altogether different than our country today.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of His own exclusivity in telling the disciples of His departure. Philip asked: “How do we know the way?” Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” After the resurrection, in the early days of the church, the apostles became convinced that Jesus was the unique Messiah, come from God, who is our Savior. Acts 4:12 states: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Yet, we live in this pluralistic world and America becomes more and more the merging of different cultures. While living in Lansdale, we had Muslim neighbors from Bangladesh, with whom I was on friendly terms. My nephew recently decided to pursue Buddhism. You and I live in a land where you are free to worship anything in any way you want, as long as you do not hurt another in the process. Nevertheless, that does not make these religious systems synonymous with truth. All roads do not lead to the same place. The cross was God’s way of reaching out to us. Whereas Abraham’s son Isaac was spared, Paul tells us of a great contrast in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” What do you say of Jesus’ sacrifice? Is He optional? How can we respond to Christ’s love with indifference? All of the Old Testament points to Jesus and His great sacrifice for us. This is why He said in Luke 24, as He appeared to His followers on the road to Emmaus: “’How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

How do we react to other religions? Well, we love our neighbor as ourselves. We understand that one’s religion is a sacred aspect of their lives. We don’t demean it, yet we do not affirm it either. We love the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Muslim, but we do not agree with their theology. Rather, the most loving thing to do is to point them to the One who has died so that forgiveness could be a reality.

Stuart Murray notes that we are approaching, if not already arrived in a culture that is post-Christendom, where the Christian faith and those who adhere to it go from the center to the margins, from the majority to the minority, from settlers to sojourners. In this scenario, Christians are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home (Murray, Post Christendom, 20).

God is looking for more Elijah’s today. By that I mean that He is on the lookout for those who are loyal; those who are willing to go against the grain of our culture, and be sold out to Him. Are you that person? Will you be willing to destroy the idols in your life to follow Christ? Until we realize that we are helpless without Him, only then can He do a work in us and use us. We are a lot like the foolish sheep. In the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains was sweet, and the sheep would jump down ten or twelve feet to nibble on it — and then they couldn’t jump back up again. They might be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. Then the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress.

The shepherd waited until each animal was so faint it couldn’t not stand. Then he would rope it up and pull it out of the jaws of death. Why didn’t the shepherd rescue the sheep when it first was trapped? Because they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed! Such is the way of humanity too! We often don’t go to God till we have no friends and have lost everything. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”