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Discuss the tough questions relating to the Christian Faith. Present the Scripture in an interdenominational fashion demonstrating those things we hold in common and provoking thought whenever possible. Hopefully you will find things here that will encourage you to study more deeply that all of Scripture will be at home in your heart.


Sharing Jesus Part 1 – Starting a Conversation

This is the first of several short articles about sharing Jesus in a normal and natural manner that is not dependent on a specific ‘method’. As believers, many of us want to share Jesus with others, but hesitate out of nervousness and even fear. On the other hand, some of us aren’t nervous or fearful, so we charge right in using a particular method we found somewhere or were taught by someone. My friends, it doesn’t have to be so hard. How hard is it for us to talk about other exciting things in our lives? Sharing Jesus can and should be as natural as talking about a new house, car, smartphone, or even having just been married to the man/woman of your dreams. Having said all that, let’s begin.

Sharing Jesus Part 1 – Starting a Conversation

Here’s the scenario.

God has placed in your heart a desire to share Jesus and the message of the gospel with a relative, friend, co-worker, or even someone you just met (it happens). You know it’s a real because 1) God has given you a burden to reach the lost around you and 2) you asked God to point you in the right direction. And although you’ve studied various ‘methods’ of personal evangelism, you don’t know which one to use, or how to start. You are afraid of using the wrong method. How do you proceed with this important task?

Well, like the title of this blog post suggests, start a conversation, after having asked God to open a heart to hear a hard message!

Now what that conversation might sound has a lot of possibilities, depending on the specific situation, your relationship with this person, and what you know about his/her level of spiritually. Never mind all that for now, just start the conversation with a few things in mind as you press toward the final goal of the discussion – the point at which it’s time for your conversation partner to consider responding to the message of the gospel you are about to share.

First of all, you need to identify and understand the root problem before you offer a solution. Jesus didn’t come to earth and die on a cross for ‘your best life now’, or any variation of that theme. He came to die for the sins of God’s people (See Matthew 1:21).  Our ultimate goal is to share the Christ who died for our sins, I don’t know anyone who wants to hear they have a sin problem.

Does that sound tough, or what? Yes it does, but remember that you have already prayed that God open a heart to hear.  The problem of sin IS the main issue the message of the gospel addresses. We have all sinned, Christ died for those sins, and that ultimately deserves a response. Never fear, you don’t have to quote Romans 3:23 at the start of the conversation, but you do need to somehow take the topic of the conversation to the main issue..  

Actually, you don’t even need to use the dreaded “S” word, not yet anyway. You can start this most important conversation just like you might start any other conversation. Just choose a hot topic from the news. If you don’t listen to, watch, or read the news it’s time to start. Think of something ‘bad’ that was reported. There’s plenty out there. It could be local crime, dirty politics, another mass shooting or terrorist attack anywhere in the world. Pick one.

You might ask, “Did you hear about what happened at/in ________________?” “Why do you think that guy did that?” Just ask about something specific everyone probably knows about and ask a “Why do you think…..” question. You’re sending the message that you are interested in a thoughtful response, the other person’s opinion.

The answer most likely will be on the lines of “He was nuts…….just plain mean……he hates, etc., a specific possible reason. Take the reason given and ask another “why do you think” question. “Why do you think he’s nuts, mean, hateful, etc. That’s a different level question that goes to the motive for the ‘act’. You might get an answer or you might not.

What you would like to hear is something like “Well, I don’t know for sure, but maybe there’s something inside that caused him to …….” If you get that response, you can take the conversation to a still deeper level by asking another question along the lines of “What do you think that ‘inner’ problem might be?” Or, if you didn’t hear something about an inherent human problem, suggest the possibility of an ‘inner’ issue. The entire goal of the conversation is to agree that there’s an ‘inner’ problem with all of us humans.

At this point it’s time to identify and name the problem. People attribute bad acts to psychological problems, growing up in a bad home, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and even genetics.  The Bible calls our problem ‘sin. This is a the moment in the conversation to bring that up. The conversation has officially begun!

The discussion might continue, or be left for thoughtful consideration. The problem has been identified; the next part of the conversation will be to understand the problem. We’ll address that in the next article.

Do you see where this is going? Some have called this the “Colombo” technique (Think Peter Falk and all his question asking). All you are doing is having a friendly conversation with the goal of taking the conversation to the main problem we all have - sin. You don’t really have to open a Bible until you get to the part where you suggest that “The Bible calls our problem sin.” That’s the time to read directly from its pages (Romans 3:23 for example). Reading text from the pages of scripture leaves little or no room for receiving a “that’s your opinion” response.

So that’s how you start a conversation with an unbeliever. It might only take a single conversation to get to the main issue, or it might take longer.  You asked God to open a heart before you began the conversation and you continued to pray during the conversation. Now pray that God, through the Holy Spirit, would water the seeds you planted.

At the right time, you might hear “Remember what you were telling me about. . .” (The door has just been blown wide open.), or you can ask about the last BIG conversation. Just move at a perfectly natural pace. Remember that the goal of personal evangelism is, as Alistair Begg defines it:

“…to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”

May God add his blessing to your sharing Jesus with a lost world!

P.S. It’s quite possible that you might be sharing Jesus with one person, and someone else will stop you one day and share that he/she  overheard you talking and met the Savior because of it. It happens. I know this one. J 


No Other Gospel

“6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV)

In the above passage, the Apostle Paul is speaking to four local churches he had planted during his first missionary Journey in the Galatian cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Not long after he had planted those churches, false teachers arose in Galatia asserting that in order to really be a Christian, one had to also follow Mosiac Law. Paul was astonished that believers in Galatia had departed from the gospel of faith alone that he had preached to them and had turned to ‘another’ gospel that was really not the gospel. In fact, Paul accused those believers of turning away from Christ himself, not just the message of justification by faith.

Paul also had some very harsh words for those who would preach ‘another’ gospel. He first says in verse 8 that if he (Paul) or his companions preached a different gospel that they should be ‘accursed’. In verse 9 he broadens the group of those that should be ‘accursed’ to include anyone who would preach a different or false gospel.

The word ‘accursed’ literally means ‘devoted to destruction’. The term was used in the Old testament in connection with the fall of Jericho. It was a term used for the city of Jericho itself and for one Achan, who had stolen an ingot of gold, a quantity of silver, and a costly garment during Jericho’s demise. When Paul states that those who preach a ‘different’ gospel should be ‘accursed’ he is pronouncing that they are deserving of condemnation. 

Since preachers of false gospels deserve condemnation, we need to be able to spot a ‘different’ gospel and avoid it, along with its purveyors, like the plague. First, let us define the true gospel according to Jesus and Paul.

Jesus, at the beginning of his earthly ministry said:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

The Apostle defined the gospel message quite clearly:

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-4)

 So what are the marks of a false gospel?

Well, the list could be quite long, and would become even longer if we named some of today’s false teachers, many of whom appear regularly on ‘Christian’ TV. Rather than get into the weeds however, allow me to suggest three questions that can be asked of any teaching that you might come across.

1. What is the teaching’s SOURCE of truth?

2. What about the SAVIOR?

3. What are the requirements for SALVATION?

If you can remember three key words, SOURCE, SAVIOR, & SALVATION and what they mean, you will be well on your way to being able to spot (discern) just about any ‘different’ gospel on the street

What is the teaching’s SOURCE of truth?

Is the ultimate source of truth for the teaching you are listening to the Bible or something else, such as the teachings of Ellen G. White for Seventh Day Adventists, the Book of Mormon, or a human institution outside of the Bible. If the Bible is not the ultimate source of truth there’s a problem.

What about the SAVIOR?

Another way to ask this question is “Who is Jesus according to this teaching/teacher?” Is the Jesus of this teaching the Jesus of the Bible? Is he the eternal Son of God and equal member of the trinity, or is he just a good man, great teacher, a man who somehow attained ‘godhood’? Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was ‘a god’, not God. Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the creator and savior of mankind, but that he is one of many gods, a created being and elder brother of Lucifer.

What are the requirements for SALVATION?

This question gets to the heart of Paul’s argument in the book of Galatians. If anything is added to Christ’s death for OUR sins (substitutionary sacrifice), there is a ‘different’ (false) gospel. In the case of the Galatians, it was adding the keeping of the Mosaic law. For Mormonss and JW’s salvation is based on believing the ‘right’ things according to their respective doctrinal statements and having achieved a certain level the ‘right’ works.

Sinners are in fact justified (declared righteous) before a holy God by works, just not human works, but the perfect work of Christ on our behalf.

If you are reading this, by now you are probably thinking about other religions or even Christian denominations that might be categorized as teaching a ‘different’ gospel. If you are, I encourage you to apply the three “S” questions. If you still have honest questions, leave a comment and perhaps we can shed more light or point you in the right direction for a satisfactory answer.

He will save his people from their sins.

The above words were spoken by an angel of the Lord to Joseph concerning Mary, his betrothed. Here is the full context:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

 

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

 

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

 

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:18 - 21 (ESV) (Emphasis mine)

 

Those 7 emphasized words,he will save his people from their sins” perfectly describe the reason Christ came to this earth. If you are reading this, you might be asking yourself (and me) “What else is new?” After all, we who profess Christ know that Jesus died so that we who believe might have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus was crucified to make our salvation possible.

But is that all there is to this short passage? Is there a deeper meaning to these few words? Let’s break it down and see.

He will save. . .

This is the Christ child’s great business in this world. It is He who will save and He alone. This is an emphatic statement. He WILL save, not just make salvation possible. He will save perfectly and completely. Those whom Jesus grants eternal life will never perish (John 10:28). Jesus is God and God cannot fail in any of his purposes.

He will save his people. . .

Who are his people? In the first instance they are lost sheep of Israel. In the second instance, they are sheep not of the house of Israel that Jesus claimed were his. (John 10:16).

What are some characteristics of his sheep?

1. They are the ‘believing ones’ of John 3:16 - all those who believe Christ suffered the just punishment and wrath of God for their sins.

2. They were those chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, chosen from the beginning for salvation and appointed unto salvation. (Eph 1; 2 Thess 2:13; Acts 13:48)

3. They are those given as a precious love gift to the Son and who will come to the Son when the Son calls them, never to be cast out (John 6:37, 38).

4. They are those who are unable to come to Christ on their own, but are drawn by the Father to the Son and whom the Son will raise up on the last day (John 6:44, 66).

             5. They are those in whom God has begun a work and will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6; Rom 8:29, 30).

He will save his people from their sins.

This refers not only to the sins fallen men commit, but also the taint of what is called ‘original’ sin, the sin we are born with as a result of the of the sin of Adam, in whom we all sinned (Romans 5:12), and that makes us ‘by nature’ children of wrath (Eph 2)

This my friends, is why Christ came to this earth – to save his people from their sins. All the rest of what we do during the Christmas season pales in comparison


Personal Evangelism 101

By John MacArthur

Jesus would have failed personal evangelism class in almost every Bible college and seminary I know. Matthew 19:16-22 describes a young man who looked like the hottest evangelistic prospect the Lord had encountered so far. He was ripe. He was eager. There was no way he would get away without receiving eternal life.

But he did. Instead of getting him to make a decision, in a sense Jesus chased him off. He failed to draw the net. He failed to sign the young man up. Should we allow our ideas of evangelism to indict Jesus? I think we need to allow His example to critique contemporary evangelism. Christ's confrontation of this young man gives us much-needed insight into reaching the lost.

Turmoil of the Heart

Though rich and a ruler while still a young man, he was undoubtedly in turmoil. All his religion and wealth had not given him confidence, peace, joy, or settled hope. There was a restlessness in his soul–an absence of assurance in his heart. He was coming on the basis of a deeply felt need. He knew what was missing: eternal life. His motivation in coming to Christ was faultless.

His attitude was right as well. He wasn't haughty or presumptuous; he seemed to feel his need deeply. There are many people who know they don't have eternal life but don't feel any need for it. Not this young man. He was desperate. There's a sense of urgency in his question, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life?" He did not have a prologue; he didn't warm up; he just blurted it out. He even allowed such an outburst in public and risked losing face with all the people who thought he was a spiritual giant already.

A lot of people, in seeking to understand this passage, have taken the young man to task for the question he asked. They say his mistake was in asking "What good thing shall I do?" But he asked a fair question. It wasn't a calculated bid to trap Jesus into condoning self righteousness. It was a simple, honest question asked by one in search of truth: "What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?"

The Issue of Sin

But here's where the story takes an extraordinary turn. Jesus' answer to the young man seems preposterous: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (v. 17). Strictly speaking, Jesus' answer was correct. If a person kept the law all his life and never violated a single part of it, he would have eternal life. But no one can. Since he had come with the right motive to the right source, asking the right question, why didn't Jesus simply tell him the way of salvation?

Because the young man was missing an important quality. He was utterly lacking a sense of his own sinfulness. His desire for salvation was based on a felt need. He had anxiety and frustration. He wanted joy, love, peace, and hope. But that is an incomplete reason for committing oneself to Christ.

Our Lord didn't offer relief for the rich young ruler's felt need. Instead, he gave an answer devised to confront him with his sin and his need of forgiveness. It was imperative that he perceive his sinfulness. People cannot come to Jesus Christ for salvation merely on the basis of psychological needs, anxieties, lack of peace, a sense of hopelessness, an absence of joy, or a yearning for happiness. Salvation is for people who hate their sin and want to turn away from it. It is for individuals who understand that they have lived in rebellion against a holy God and who want to live for His glory.

Jesus' answer took the focus off the young man's felt need and put it back on God: "There is only One who is good." Then He held him against the divine standard so he would see how far short he fell: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." But the young man ignored and rejected the point. He was utterly unwilling to confess his own sinfulness.

Evangelism must take the sinner and measure him against the perfect law of God so he can see his deficiency. A gospel that deals only with human needs, feelings, and problems is superficial and powerless to save since it focuses only on the symptoms rather than sin, the real issue. That's why churches are filled with people whose lives are essentially no different after professing faith in Christ. Many of those people, I'm sad to say, are unregenerate and grievously misled.

A Call for Repentance

The rich young ruler asked Jesus which commandments he should keep. The Lord responded by giving him the easy half of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother." Then He adds, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (vv. 18 19).

Scripture says, "The young man said to Him, 'All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?'" (v. 20). That demonstrates his shallow perception of the law. It's possible that on the surface he did all those things, but God looks for an internal application. There was no way he could honestly say he had always kept that law. He could not have been telling the truth–he was either lying or totally self-deluded.

And so there was no way the rich young ruler could be saved. Salvation is not for people who simply want to avoid hell and gain heaven instead; it is sinners who recognize how unfit they are for heaven and come to God for forgiveness. If you are not ashamed of your sin, you cannot receive salvation.

At this point, Mark 10:21 says, "And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him." That statement paints a pathetic picture. The young man was sincere. His spiritual quest was genuine. He was an honestly religious person. And Jesus loved him. However, the Lord Jesus does not take sinners on their own terms. As much as He loved the young man, He nevertheless did not grant him eternal life merely because he requested it.

Submission to Christ

Jesus lovingly tried to help the young man see another essential element of salvation: "Jesus said to Him, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me' (v. 21). Challenging him, Jesus was basically saying, "You say you love your neighbor as yourself. OK, give him everything you've got. If you really love him as much as you love yourself, that should be no problem."

Jesus was simply testing whether he was willing to submit himself to Christ. Scripture never records that He demanded anyone else sell everything and give it away. The Lord was exposing the man's true weakness–the sin of covetousness, indulgence, and materialism. He was indifferent to the poor. He loved his possessions. So the Lord challenged that.

Verse 22 says, "When the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property." He wouldn't come to Jesus if it meant giving up his possessions. It's interesting that he went away grieved. He really did want eternal life; he just wasn't willing to pay the price of repenting of sin and submitting to Christ.

The story has a tragic, heartbreaking ending. The rich young ruler came for eternal life, but left without it. He thought he was rich, but walked away from Jesus with nothing. Although salvation is a blessed gift from God, Christ will not give it to a man whose hands are filled with other things. A person who is not willing to turn from his sin, his possessions, his false religion, or his selfishness will find he cannot turn in faith to Christ.

By John MacArthur. © by Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission


Connection Failure

How many times have you seen this error message when trying to get your computer or smartphone to connect to a network. The world of technology can be a source of anxiety at times.

We can experience the same anxiety in God’s economy because we fail to connect. There are certain protocols that must be observed or our connection to the economy will fail.

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psa 1:1-6 NLT)

Psalm 1 is an example of life lived by faith and is an expression of God’s economy! The many examples in the New Testament of Christ’s magnification of a little into an abundance are everywhere. But looking at Psalm 1 the first question we must answer is, “what is the source of the water in the river?”

California is enduring a lengthy season of draught. America is experiencing a lengthy season of spiritual draught. If you ask the average citizen of either dimension they might answer that their water comes from the river. But where does the river get its water? From the mountain snowpack. Where does the snowpack get its water? From the sky. Where does the sky get its water? From the ocean. Where does the ocean get its water? From the river.

In the Gospels we find Jesus taking a child’s lunch and turning it into a feast. In 1 Corinthians 9 we find Paul reminding us that ministry is to be supported “in the same way” as the Old Testament system of tithes and offerings. In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul amplifies this by reminding us that our giving ought to be NOT from compulsion BUT purposeful, proportional to how He has blessed us and with hilarity. This is so that Christ may magnify our little into an abundance.

It is the same with our prayer life. From where does the water in Psalm 1 come? It comes from our prayers. The water that emanates from the threshold of the temple is our prayers (Ezekiel 47). It flows by the right-hand of the alter (where Stephen tells us that Christ is standing at the right-hand of the Father). Then it flows out the eastern gate until it becomes a river of healing. Christ takes our little prayers and turns them into a mighty river! From where do our prayers come? From the Word of God where we meditate day and night! The consequence of being planted by the river is leaves that do not wither (an evergreen) and the work of our hands prosper. The prosper part is often misunderstood because of the difference in definition between the English word and the Hebrew word.

The English word definition, according to Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary is:

PROS'PER, v.t. [L. prospero, from prosperous, from the Gr. to carry to or toward; to bear.] To favor; to render successful. All things concur to prosper our design. PROS'PER, v.i. To be successful; to succeed. The Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. Gen 39. “He that covereth his sins, shall not prosper” (Prov 28).
1. To grow or increase; to thrive; to make gain; as, to prosper in business. Our agriculture, commerce and manufactures now prosper.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary gives us a greater understanding of the original:

6743. צָלַח ṣālaḥ, צָלֵחַ ṣālēaḥ:

I. A verb meaning to rush, to break forth, to come mightily. It describes the Holy Spirit’s affect on persons, making them powerful (Judg. 14:6, 9; 15:14; 1 Sam. 16:13); or causing persons to prophesy (1 Sam. 10:6, 10; 11:6). It indicates the effect of an evil spirit as well (1 Sam. 18:10). It has the sense of persons breaking out, rushing forward in battle (2 Sam. 19:17[18]); and of God breaking out in acts of judgment (Amos 5:6).

II. A verb meaning to prosper, to succeed, to be victorious. It is used of causing something to turn out successfully (Gen. 24:21, 40); of prospering a person (2 Chr. 26:5). It indicates a successful person (Gen. 39:2; Jer. 12:1). Some actions are not able to succeed, especially those breaking the commandments of the Lord (Num. 14:41; Deut. 28:29). It has the sense of succeeding in an endeavor (1 Kgs. 22:12, 15). It describes the success of a powerful weapon in warfare (Isa. 54:17), its successful use. What the righteous person does will eventually prosper (Ps. 1:3); but the seeming prosperousness of the wicked will fail (Ps. 37:7). Concealed sins keep one from prospering (Prov. 28:13). The will of the Lord will prosper in the hand of His Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:10).

Why is this important? Because the context is those who forsake the satanic world system and instead meditate day and night on the Word!

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” (1Ti 4:8 NLT)

The tree is not one that springs up spontaneously but rather one that has been planted in a favorable place and then cultivated with care. The word riverbank (rivers or streams of water in other translations) does not express adequately the sense of the original (6388 פֶּלֶג peleg̱). The allusion is to the Oriental method of irrigating their lands by making artificial rivulets to convey the water from a larger stream. The whole of ancient Egypt was irrigated in this manner and was the method that achieved its extraordinary fertility! Once again the idea of something little becoming abundant in the Lord’s hands!

I was watching the television news the other night. It was the usual fare: wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, pestilence, human tragedy, murder, drugs, rape, violence, perversion of justice. The kind of thing we are used to hearing in the modern world. Then I heard a voice saying, “have I got good news for you!” It was the commercial.

In the days of John the Baptist, the headlines spoke of only bad news. Roman tyranny was oppressing the people. Herod the puppet king divorced from his wife was now involved in an incestuous marriage. Taxes were high and unfair. Heavy burdens were on the poor and the system favored the rich. Religion was sterile and hypocritical. Corruption, compromise, and sin were everywhere. And into this atmosphere came a man clothed in rather rude garb crying out to the people “have I got good news for you!” It was a message of hope and joy. It was the message that Jesus is coming.

The message of Jesus Christ and his disciples was the same. Except for the fact that they were now saying Jesus has come. He is here. God become man and dwelling among us.

The message the Apostles was a similar message. Jesus has come. He died for you sins according to the scripture. He was buried and rose the third day according to the scripture. It is today, good news!

When you joined CMF you became part of one of the rivulets that feeds the river! Are you connected? Is your ministry positive or negative? Are you helping the body to fill the river or are you part of the draught? Step out in faith! Become a local leader! Start a local ministry!


The Root or Fruit?
A

ccording to A. W. Tozer, in The Root of Righteousness, there is a marked difference between the faith of our fathers and that of present-day descendants.  While the earnest endeavor of those who landed upon the shore of this “one nation under God” focused on the root (of Jesse) our present age seems to seek only the fruit! How does this differ from Simon the sorcerer, portrayed in Acts, who sought to buy the power made manifest by the Holy Spirit?

A tree that is planted by a river (Psalm 1) must certainly have deep roots if it is to partake of the nourishment that comes from even a nearby river!  Deep roots indicate a maturity in the growth of the tree that should give it the steadfastness necessary to hold firm in the most tumultuous of storms.  But even then this would depend upon the firmness of the soil wherein it is planted.  If we are planted in Christ then the soil is prepared by His sacrifice and is nurtured by His Grace.  Fruit is but a byproduct of being connected to the Root!

Maturity (or perhaps better said, experience) does not occur in a vacuum!  Believers of today would be aptly described as 8 miles wide and a quarter of an inch deep.  Perhaps this is partly due to the modern information-centric lifestyle.  But the stunted spiritual progress of the many gives birth to a lament because being genuinely saved they see the absence of real depth.  If they were not truly converted they wouldn’t care.  I would not try to simplify this complexity.  However, there is one universal deficit!  A failure to give our time to the Lord!  Since He created time and is the Lord of time how could we pretend that growth could occur in anyway except spending time cultivating knowledge of Him Who sits upon the throne of the universe?  Whether we are strong or weak is directly proportional to our relational knowledge of the Holy One. Said another way, intimacy!

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Php 3:8-14 NIV)

Whatever progress we may enjoy in our walk of faith is reflection of our growing in knowledge of Christ in our personal experience!  This requires us to surrender our whole life and devote our time to Him.  In this modern world of instantaneous communication we are distracted at every turn.  We must therefore relinquish our time to Him Who owns time.   That He may “order our steps” in a way that allows us to utilize time in a manner that will allow Him to accomplish His work in us!

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Php 2:12-13 NIV)

In the America of late I fear that our conception of the Holy comes not from the Word but from the image we have conjured up from the depths of our reprobate minds! Sadly, the church of our day lies impotent in a pool of blood from self-inflicted wounds unable to extricate herself. (Jonathan Edwards, paraphrase mine).

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us!” (A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy)

Perhaps it is because we have been inoculated with a slight case of Christianity that is preventing us from experiencing the real thing.  Perhaps it is because we wish to create God in our image so as not to interfere with the life we love so much.

“I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please—not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.  I don’t want enough of him to make me love a foreigner or pick beets with a migrant worker.   I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of a womb, not a new birth.  I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I’d like to buy $3 worth of God, please.” (Pastor Wilbur Rees)

What we really want is to be accepted the way we are not to experience repentance for who we are truly—depraved sinners in need of a savior.  We wish to remain comfortably nestled in the womb exempt from the responsibilities of an obedient faith.  Never mind taking up our cross and following Christ.

We seem to remember well John 3:16 but forever forget 1 John 3:16 or Revelation 3:16!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Joh 3:16 NIV)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1Jn 3:16 NIV)

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Rev 3:16 NIV)

One thing is for sure: $3 dollars worth of God won’t buy you spirit-to-Spirit intimacy with the Creator of the Universe!  If we want to be one with Christ, we have to abandon the idea that being merely acquainted with Him is enough and that we have all we need in and of ourselves.   We wince at any observation of our lives that reflect that we are self-centered, self-indulgent, and self-serving.   However, when we think of self-sufficiency, we roll our eyes in pious apathy!

Jesus reproved the Laodiceans with regard to their self-sufficiency and didn’t mince words.  He said, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”   You see, the Laodiceans were three-dollar Christians.   They were blinded by their self-sufficiency to their great need for Jesus!   They, like we Americans, did not have many material needs. To the contrary, they were very affluent. And like America, they thought they no longer needed God!  Have we not like the Laodiceans left Christ standing outside the door of our hearts?  We want just enough Jesus to get into heaven.

Jesus didn’t give up on the Laodiceans.   I pray that He doesn’t give up on you and me.

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The Gospel Mandate

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."” – Mark 1:14-15 (Emphasis mine)

According to any good dictionary the word ‘mandate’ is defined as an official order or commission to do something. We are told in the Gospel of Mark that after Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and after John was arrested, Jesus entered Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. We are even given the words of Jesus’ initial proclamation:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Here we have Jesus saying at the beginning of his earthly ministry “repent and believe in the gospel”. Since Jesus said it, let’s agree that it’s ‘official’. Since Jesus is telling listeners to ‘do’ something, let’s agree that what we have is an ‘order.  Therefore, the gospel mandate is simply to repent and believe it. That’s it.

Interestingly, and perhaps sadly, most of today’s evangelism no longer follows Jesus’ simple mandate, but we have substituted all sorts of other ‘methods’. We have hand raisings (with all eyes closed of course) an altar calls. Have you ever wondered why everyone is asked to close their eyes but everyone is watching and applauding folks heading toward the altar?

To spark their interest in Jesus we tell people that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for them. Cool! Well, I love me to and have a wonderful plan too! God and I are on the same page!

Since God has such wonderful plans for folks, we ask them if they wouldn’t like to ‘ask Jesus into their heart’ or we ask them to just ‘give their heart to Jesus’. Those two seem to get great results at any Christian kids’ camp or VBS.  For older types who might be more thoughtful about the whole thing, we tell them that Jesus is ‘knocking at the door of their heart”, pleading to get in and the only doorknob is on their side, Never mind that the passage in question has Jesus knocking on the door of the church.

We might even pull out our little cards or Bibles and walk them through the Romans Road, ask for a simple ‘decision’ (and perhaps a signature in the little Bible), and pronounce them ‘saved’ when a decision is made and a dated signature properly inserted.

No matter what method we use, and we use them all, we hardly ever use the simple ‘mandate’ that Jesus used. We never begin where Jesus began. Why do you think that is? Is it because the word ‘repent’ is outdated and politically incorrect? After all, it might make someone feel bad. Are we hesitant about telling people to ‘believe the gospel’ because we are uncomfortable explaining it, or because we ourselves don’t know or aren’t sure what it is?  ,

Whatever the reason(s), we needn’t be afraid of just proclaiming what Jesus proclaimed. After all aren’t we fond of the expression “What would Jesus do?” Although I can think of occasions when WWJD becomes rather cliché, this isn’t one of them. At the same time, we need only remember that God saves his sheep and we can’t/don’t ‘help’ God save anyone. Remember Jonah and what he proclaimed after having been tossed into the sea, after being swallowed by a great fish and being barfed onto the beach?

“…with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!"  - Jonah 2:9 (Emphasis mine)

Our mission isn’t to obtain ‘decisions for Jesus’, it’s to be faithful in prayerfully presenting the gospel. Our prayer is that God will open hearts to hear and the gospel is that Christ died for our sins. There is great encouragement in knowing that all I have to do is be able to discuss what it means to repent and believe. And if I have faced my own sin head on and believed in the One who took my place on Calvary, it’s not a hard thing to do.

A wise man once said:

“Long ago I ceased to count heads. Truth is usually in the minority in this evil world. I have faith in the Lord Jesus for myself, a faith burned into me as a hot iron. I thank God, what I believe I shall believe, even if I believe it alone.” C.H Spurgeon, October 16, 1887


Bar the Gates!

John Bunyan, one of history’s greatest Christian authors, wrote the story of a fierce battle to take control of a city from its rightful ruler. This famous allegory, Bunyan’s second most popular work, is entitled The Holy War. His depiction of the human soul is a city, Mansoul, with five gates: Ear Gate, Eye Gate, Nose Gate, Feel Gate, and Mouth Gate.

The enemy of the city is Sin, who comes on a daily basis to attack at one of its five gates. Sin speaks to the Ear Gate; he presents vivid, alluring pictures to the Eye Gate; he tempts the other “Gates” as well.

The interesting thing about this battle is that Mansoulcould never be defeated by outside attacks, and Sin could never win in his assaults against the five gates...except in one way: someone on the inside had to open one of the gates and let Sin in.

In reality, these five gates are not Bunyan’s allegorical creations at all — they are for real! Bunyan had grasped what both Paul and Peter understood: that the soul of man is destroyed from the inside, not the outside.

This is why Paul urged the believers to stop presenting their members to sin. The word presenting in this verse is a military term, used in the transferring of weaponry or arms. Paul was actually saying, “Don’t let the enemy use your body as his weapon. Don’t let the enemy have your rifle or your sword so he can use it against you! Don’t leave yourself unarmed...don’t open the gates!”

Unquestionably, you cannot be a holy child of God while allowing your eyes to feast on unholy scenes. Most of today’s new film releases contain scenes of adultery or fornication. It is a fact, according to recent statistics, that over ninety percent of all sexual content in the average film is between unmarried people or people who are married to someone else.

If you choose to watch sin on the big screen, whether in a theater or your family room, you have just opened the Eye Gate and invited Sin to come in.

If Sin can’t get through one gate, he will try another. So, what are the lyrics to your favorite songs, and the lifestyle of your favorite artists? Most secular music today is filled with the same perversion that you see on the screen; merely listening to it may be as deadly as watching it...keep the Ear Gate closed!

You are in a Holy War, Christian, just as John Bunyan said. And you may be your own worst enemy! Sin is pounding at each Gate, but he can only come in if you allow him entrance. Sin can’t win the battle from the outside.

Don’t betray your Mansoul! By all means, reinforce the boundaries...fortify the walls...bar the Gates!


Dire Straights - NOT the Band
 

ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT THE UNCONVERTED

If we desire to share Christ effectively with the unbelieving world around us, we need to know what the Bible tells us about the ‘natural’ man. We don’t need any touch feely platitudes about the state of unbelievers, we need to know what God has to say about them. Forget for a moment what you might have heard about unbelievers wanting and seeking God and let the Bible speak:

1.  They are dead in trespasses and sins.

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins . . . and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (Ephesians 2:1-3)

2. They are living under current condemnation.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18)

3.  Their unbelieving, fleshly minds are blinded by Satan, hostile to God, and they can do nothing to please Him.

"In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  (2 Cor. 4:4)

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. . (Rom 8:7-8)

4.  They are lost.

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:10)

5. They slaves are of sin.         

"Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin." (John 8:34)

6. In all this, they KNOW God exists.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20)

7. Although the unbeliever knows God exists, he still doesn’t seek Him:

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 1no one understands; no one seeks for God.”” (Rom 3:10-11)

Not exactly what we hear most often about the state of the unbeliever, is it? Given the really dire state of the unbeliever, what are we to do? We remember that it is God who saves and who has given us the great privilege of sharing Christ with those who, by nature, hate Him and don’t want him. Remember Lydia in the book of Acts, Chapter 16. She was with a group of women by a river one day when the Apostle Paul showed up. We are told that God opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to what Paul had to say (Acts 16:11-15) and she was saved that day. It takes a supernatural act of God to open the hard open heart to hear and receive the message of the gospel. We are to be faithful in the telling of the good news! Continue to pray that God would open hearts and keep planting the seeds of the gospel.

What ABOUT Jesus Christ?

If we say ‘evangelism’ is “…to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him”, what about Jesus Christ we are to share?  After all, there is much to share, is there not?

I’m glad you asked – it’s a great question!   Given everything we are told in the Bible about Jesus, from Old Testament prophecy to New Testament fulfillment, from Jesus’ birth to his ascension, from the stories of his life, from his parables and teachings, from miracles he performed, what’s the most important fact about Jesus we need to share with others? In terms of evangelism, is there something more important than everything else we know about Jesus that we need to proclaim?  I believe there is, and we are given a clue even before Jesus was born!

There’s a short passage in the 1st Chapter in Matthew in which we are told that Jesus’ earthly father Joseph was pondering the fact that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant with a child not his and the cultural/social implications thereof:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:18-21)

Our ‘evangelistic’ hint is this: She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Emphasis mine). Those few words, spoken by an ‘angel of the lord’ to a troubled Joseph, defined Jesus’ mission before he was born. So given that salvation from sin was Jesus’ mission for coming to Earth; shouldn’t the issue of ‘sin’ be central to our evangelism?

I hope that’s somewhat of a rhetorical question to you. It should be. If you are not yet convinced, let me tell you what the Apostle Paul said was of utmost importance in evangelism – how Paul defined the gospel.

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Cor 15:1-4 (Emphasis mine)

So What?

By now you might be asking that question. Maybe you are familiar with methods for sharing Christ that seem to be more about what Jesus offers in terms of abundant living, special purposes, or wonderful plans for your life. Perhaps you have never even sin talked about much from the pulpit in the church you attend. Well, regardless of what you might not have heard in your own Christian circle, the fact remains that Christ came to die for our sins. While there are great and wonderful promises for the child of God, they are all secondary to dealing with the issues of sin, repentance, and belief in Christ as our substitute on Calvary.

The purpose of this post is NOT to tell you to beat anyone over the head with a 25 pound Schofield reference Bible and scream “Repent or perish!” While “repent or perish” is an accurate statement, the purpose of this post is to remind us that in our ‘evangelistic’ encounters we need to take the ‘discussion’ to the issue of our sin. How that happens is up for grabs and subject to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we share Christ!

We just need to remember that we need to take the conversation to the “bad news” of sin that the “good news” of the gospel addresses.

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