*This was an outdoor service so the audio is a little off.
Leaving it to the Professionals
You probably know the name Billy Graham, right? His evangelistic crusades are known around the world. He has preached to millions of people in more than 185 countries, started a radio program, magazine, and multiple mission organizations was a spiritual adviser to three presidents and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to help with racial integration in the US church. Even though he retired in 2005 he’s still renown as being the most famous evangelist of the past century – and perhaps in history.
Now, a name you may not know as well as Leighton Ford, though in some circles he’s almost as famous. Leighton is a Canadian man who married Billy Graham’s sister and worked closely with him for many years before founding his own ministry in 1986. He’s been a leader of multiple global missions organizations, has authored many books, and has won many awards for his Christian leadership and influence around the world.
In one of his books, he tells a funny story about what happened when Leighton wasn’t so famous. The story goes that both he and Billy Graham were invited to speak in an open air crusade in Halifax. Leighton Ford was to speak the first night and Billy Graham the next. Billy had come a day early and decided to come incognito and listen to Leighton speak. So he donned a hat and some dark glasses and sat on the grass at the back of the crowd so no one would recognize him.
Directly in front of Billy sat an elderly man who seemed to be listening pretty intently to Leighton’s sharing of the gospel. When he invited people to come forward as an open sign of their commitment to accept Jesus as their Saviour, Billy decided to do a little evangelism too. He tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, “Would you like to accept Christ? I’ll be glad to walk down with you if you want to.” The old man looked him up and down, thought it over for a moment, and then said, “Nah, I think I’ll just wait until the big gun comes tomorrow night!” (Good News is for Sharing, Leighton Ford, 1977, David C. Cook Publishing Co., p. 67)
I like that story because it makes an important point, in that, in the minds of a lot of people, talking about Jesus, sharing the gospel, or evangelism, is the job of the “big guns”, not just anyone. Some think that it’s all well and good to live as a Christian, but when it comes to actually explaining their faith, explaining the story of Jesus from a biblical perspective, they’d better leave that to the “professionals”. They feel they might get it wrong or panic or not tell the whole story or something, so when the moment comes they say something like, “Well, come to church with me and listen to a sermon.” Or “Why don’t I get you in touch with my pastor and he’ll explain it to you.” Or they’ll apologetically give them a book or a pamphlet in the hopes that it will explain everything. Have you ever had that experience?
When the Moment Comes
We’ve spent the past month or so talking about some of the most important things to remember when we share our faith with others in the hopes of alleviating some of that fear.
If you recall, the first thing we talked about was that for the most part evangelism isn’t meant to be done on street corners or in large events by the “big guns”, but meant to be done as a natural part of an already existing relationship. Step one was to show the person you want to share the gospel with love and care. Meet with them, serve them, talk to them, eat with them, be their friend, before you get to the sharing part.
The second was that we need to pray before we share, not only to invite God to take over the situation but so that our hearts are in the right place. The third was to make sure that we are telling our story, right? Not something you memorized from a pamphlet, but sharing what God has done for you and is doing in your life today. And the fourth thing was to remember to be patient and keep praying and loving them as God works in their hearts.
We’ve talked about a lot of ways to make sure we get our hearts in the right spot before we ever share with them.
But what happens when the moment comes that we do need to explain what Christianity is all about? So, picture this scenario: You’ve befriended someone – or they are your child or spouse or parent or coworker or whatever – and you’ve done all the other things we’ve talked about. You’ve got your heart in the right place. You’ve shown them love, had them over to your house, and they know you care for them. You’ve prayed for them. You’ve told them your story and have been open about your Christian faith. And you’ve been patient – and now they’ve said, “Ok, so I get that you take this stuff seriously and I’ve seen some things in your life that look pretty interesting. But what do you believe anyway? What do Christians believe that is so different from anyone else? Tell me what you believe.”
This is a big moment, right? So what are you going to say? It’s too vague to simply say, “I believe the Bible.”. And saying, “Well, I believe in Jesus” doesn’t really help either. You don’t want to shut down the conversation and grab a bible and make them start reading from Romans 1. And you’re not likely to pop on RightNow media or a YouTube clip to have some “big gun” professional do it for you.
So this is where a simple tool comes in handy. You’ve already told your story and how God affects your daily life, but now they want something more universal, more theological, more explanatory of what your group, your tribe, your faith, your religion, your church, believes.
And so today what I want to share with you is a simple method that only takes a few minutes to draw, and can be discussed for 5 minutes or hours if you like. It’s something you can sketch out on a napkin off the top of your head and only requires one verse to memorize. And once you’ve got that verse memorized you’ll have enough tools to explain the basics of the Christian faith. And this works for people of all ages and backgrounds because it’s pretty universal language.
This isn’t a presentation that you have to get right either or do in a certain order. It’s simply something you can put in front of you as a discussion point so you can explain the basics – and it’s something they can take with them.
And since you won’t get notes for this moment, I won’t use my notes either…. But please follow along and draw with me.
(Sorry, Readers, you’ll have to listen to it on the podcast!)
It’s been a troubling week again this week as we read about the race riots and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia and the 17 people killed in Barcelona, Spain just this week. It is strange how these things come in waves. Before now I hadn’t really considered how vehicles could be used in a terrorist attack, but now it doesn’t even come as a surprise to hear that someone has rammed people a crowd with a car and killed people. It turns out that suicide bombings are hard to do and more preventable than a vehicle attack, and so we are going to read about this more and more.
What do we do with all this? For a while, up here in our small town in Canada, it was easy to start to think that we were over all this hatred, but in a very short time we witness hatred off all kinds – nationalism, racism, religious – leading to violent outbreaks all over the world – even in our own back yard. Type in “Canada” and “Racism” into Google News and there’s plenty to read.
Fear and prejudice are dividing people more every day. Facebook, YouTube, and our favourite news channels don’t simply tell us what is happening, but turn into echo chambers of what we want to hear so that we’ll keep clicking and watching – which fuels tribalism and separation as we hear less and less diversity of opinion and more and more of ourselves reflected back at us. It’s easy to slip into an “us and them” mentality where I and the people like me are the good guys and everyone else is stupid, evil, and unworthy of our attention or love. And I know for a fact that we are not immune to this here because I’ve heard it and seen this type of thinking from my own friends and fellow believers as they publically denounce other nations, people groups, celebrities, news organizations, movements, religions – even other believers, churches, and pastors. We become more known for what we are against than for what we are about, which not only fuels separation and tribalism, but a prideful, elitist mentality that makes us think that we are better, smarter, and holier than everyone else.
Think about it for a moment. If I asked you to list all the groups you are against, it would be much easier than to list the ones that you identify with and have compassion for, right? I’m not going to list them here because it’s the only thing you would hear and remember from this sermon, but consider for a moment the groups and people you have seen, or have personally vilified over the past weeks, months and years. The people you believe you are better than, smarter than, holier than– and who should just shut up or go away. That’s not love, that pride. That’s not humility, that’s fear. That’s not a Christlike heart, that’s closed-minded prejudice.
Our Role in Salvation
We talked about this over the last few weeks, and even over the past months in our study of 1 Corinthians: Christians are not better than others. We are simply a group of those God has chosen to show the truth to. Yes, that is a bold claim these days – the claim to an exclusive truth – but that’s what we have. We believe that the claims of Jesus Christ being the way, truth and the life, and that no one can come to God except through Him are true – and that every other way is false.
But that shouldn’t lead us to pride, but humility! Remember the verse from Ephesians 2:8-9 last week? We emphasized how much our salvation is not our doing! “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
What do Christians believe about our role in salvation? That we are saved “by grace”, “not our own doing”, “not a result of [our] works” meaning that what Jesus did for us on the cross by taking our sins upon Himself and dying in our places is completely undeserved. It was an act of grace. This is the most distinctive feature, the most special thing, about Christianity, which comes right out of the Bible. There is no other system of thought, no other religion, either past or present that teaches that the path to life, peace, heaven, and God, is an act of divine, completely undeserved favour.
Most other religions (like Bahai, Buddhism, Hinduism) believe that hard work and good deeds will lead to their life’s fulfilment and is their path to God, or freedom, or becoming a god, or whatever their version of heaven is – and that if you don’t do enough you get punished in some way. Islam believes that when you die your deeds will be weighed by Allah and if the good deeds (like prayer, pilgrimages, and generosity) outweigh the bad then you can get into heaven. The only way to really guarantee that you will go to heaven is to be martyred, or die in service to Allah, which really tips the scales. Other religions like Jehovah Witnesses or Mormonism have used some Christian language to give their religion credence, but rewrite or add to the Bible to include a whole bunch of extra works and financial giving that needs to be done or you will be rejected by God. Some who call themselves Christians, like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have drifted from the doctrines of grace and teach that not only do you need to believe in Jesus, but you need to check off a series of good-deed and religion boxes or you can’t get into heaven. They also teach that even if you believe in Jesus you can lose your salvation by doing bad things – and have a list of ones that are so bad that you can never be forgiven for them. That’s not what the Bible says either.
Last week we talked about the Doctrine of Total Depravity, the belief that everyone, by their very sinful nature, is bent away from God and would never choose to obey Him – and that even our supposed good deeds are still unacceptable to God because they are still tainted with our own selfishness, greed, false motives, and lack of insight.
In this world, it is only Christians that teach that humans cannot do anything good, or achieve any benefit in the afterlife, by our own works. We believe we are utterly and totally dependent on the grace of God.
Believing in the Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity has some serious implications for how we think of ourselves and others, doesn’t it? In one sense they can bring us to despair. We love to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and have the ability to impress others, even God, with our good deeds – and finding out that we can’t, can be a blow to our ego. On the other hand, this can also lead to a deflating depression where every time we start to feel good about ourselves we are reminded that we are utterly weak and wretchedly sinful. Wrongly applied, it can lead to a sort of depression that makes us feel worthless.
And so most people ignore it. It’s hard to tell people there is nothing they can do to save themselves because they are totally depraved sinners who are dead in their transgressions. And so the gospel gets repackaged to emphasize the more positive side, telling people that Jesus loves them, that they are special, chosen, children of light, separate from the dark and messed up world – which is all true, but not the whole story!
The Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity don’t merely end in a depression funk where nothing matters – that’s only where it starts because that is where it must start. It’s meant to drive us to the bottom so we must look upward in worship and thanksgiving. Multiple times in the Bible it says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 29:23; Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) And scripture gives us many different stories that emphasize the point.
Naaman had leprosy and was sent to be cured by the prophet Elisha, but didn’t like that the solution would be as simple as washing in the Jordan river seven times. He wanted something grand and dramatic and instant, not something so humbling that took so much time and obedience, so he got mad and was about to go home. It was only when he humbled himself that he was clean.
Jesus opposed the prideful Pharisees who thought their way was better than God’s. The rich young ruler came to Jesus, pridefully believing he had earned heaven, and Jesus sent him away grieving after being shown that his faith was in his riches, not God. Peter pridefully claimed that he would never deny Jesus, and Jesus told him that he wouldn’t just do it once, but three times.
The young, arrogant, powerful Pharisee named Saul, who hated Jesus and helped to imprison and kill Christians, was stopped dead in his tracks and struck blind by the Lord Himself so he could understand who he was really opposing. And later, while suffering on the mission field as an Apostle of Jesus, he says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
This is what the Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity do for us, they humble us and make us look up to God as our helper and strength. They make us realize that we are not wise, but God our Father is and He will share that wisdom with us. We are not good, but Jesus is, and He will share that goodness with us. We are not helpful, but the Holy Spirit is, and He will make it so that we can be.
Therefore, when we look at these terrible situations in Charlottesville and Barcelona – and many other atrocities committed in the name of racism, prejudice, hate, and fear, throughout the world and here at home – we can utterly condemn them as sinful and wrong – but never use them as a way for us to feel superior to others. Instead, they become a reminder of the sinfulness that still dwells in our own hearts and how far we have come because of what Jesus has done in us.
Both Christians and non-Christians I know look at those events and feel the same swells of fear, pride, and hatred. Fear of people different than them and therefore worse. Pride that they and those like them are the ones who are right and good and correct. And then feelings of hatred swell and the desire for revenge takes hold. Now, maybe they aren’t the ones who are going to drive a car through a crowd, or bomb a building, or bring clubs to beat down people that disagree with them – but when someone does, they are secretly glad, saying they “got what’s coming to them”, which Jesus says in Matthew 5 and John in 1 John 3:15 is no different than murder because they have murdered them in their heart (Matthew 5:21-22).
A right thinking sees these events and it brings them sorrow. Sorrow for the sin in this world, for the evil perpetrated, for those who died not knowing the Lord, for the judgement on those who committed the crime, and then – sorrow for all the sins in their own heart that are no different than those they just watched. It drives a right thinking Christian to God in prayer, to their knees in repentance, to righteous anger at the sin, and to a desire to help.
Racism is Unbiblical and Unchristian
We look at the prejudice and racism and we condemn it as ungodly and unbiblical. We know the church has dealt with this from the very beginning as the Bible shows us that sectarianism and nationalism even started to infect the church even as it was forming. But it was wrong then and is wrong now.
- All human beings of all races are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27).
- God shows no partiality based on external difference. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
- Jesus told us to love our neighbour and then told the parable of the good Samaritan highlighting the sins of racism and nationalism (Luke 10:25–37).
- In Ephesians 2:14 we read that Jesus “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between peoples. Jesus smashed all those walls between us where we think we are better than anyone because of something external to us.
- Galatians 3:28 we read that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Racism and prejudice are wrong and sinful. Jesus died for those sins, and Christians should obey Him by loving all people, regardless of their race. But these events don’t just remind us that something is wrong outside us but remind us of where our own heart is darkened in this area.
It should cause us to reflect on how we have disobeyed God by thinking our enemies are other people and not sin and Satan. Ephesians 6:12 says,
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
We should ask ourselves where our own racism and prejudice lies. Who do you hate because of their skin colour or nationality? Who are you prejudice against because of your upbringing? Who are you painting with the same hateful brush, lumping them in with all the others, because it’s easier than seeing them as individuals? Whose souls and eternities do you not care about? Who do you prefer because they are more like you? Who have you deemed unworthy of your attention or time? Are you sitting in an echo chamber that only feeds you what you want to or are you seeking through and turning all those thoughts over to God, judging them by the standards of God’s word?
A Hinderance to Evangelism
I know these stories are troubling, and I know that they can cause a “visceral” reaction within us – visceral means that we create by deep inward feelings rather than intellect – but I beg you not to let them. We are not immune to this and are going to see this more and more in our country and our area. We, in our church, are not immune to racism and prejudice, and we cannot allow them to take hold of our hearts.
We have been talking a lot lately about sharing our faith and this is directly connected. I said that we need to show people love before we share our faith, right? Well, if we hate these people because of our prejudices then we certainly won’t become friends with them, nor show them love, and therefore we will never be able to share with them. What group of people have you decided are not worthy of your love or the gospel?
I said that we need to pray before we share our faith. Are you praying for the salvation of the people you hate because of the colour of their skin or the nation they come from or the history you have with them? Probably not.
I said you need to tell them your story, right? Does your story include segregation, fear of certain people groups, and hatred against certain kinds of people? Or does your testimony share how you obey Jesus by loving the whole world, just as He does.
And I said you need to be patient with the people you are sharing with, right? Are you patient with those you hate? Jesus has given you much patience. He knows your thoughts and has watched as you claim to be one of His people but continue to sin, dismiss His Word, and reject His Spirit – but He still died for you, didn’t he? He traded Himself for you. He keeps forgiving you, loving you, helping you, equipping you, and listening to your prayers, doesn’t He? Why is he so patient? Because of His Amazing Grace and love for you. Are you showing the same to others? These events should cause us to reflect on and reject our own sin.
Gollum and Frodo
I know it’s not quite right to have an illustration at the end of the sermon, but this one, I think, will close us out well. All of this reminds me of a scene from Lord of the Rings.
For those who don’t know the Lord of the Rings, the ring as a sort of sentience, It’s alive and evil and corrupts all who wear it. There was one person who wore it for far too long. Smeagol found the ring one day while fishing and it immediately corrupted his heart. As he wore it he became more and more evil, more and more corrupted, until he was driven from his home town to live in a cave in the mountains of an enemy land. The ring gave Gollum unnatural life for hundreds of years, corrupting him inside and out until he was almost utterly consumed.
After hundreds of years, one day, when the hero of the Hobbit, Bilbo was wandering through the cave, the ring abandoned Gollum in order to find a new owner to corrupt in hopes of being taken out of the mountain. Gollum attacks Bilbo to get it back, but the ring turns Bilbo invisible and allows him to escape. But right before he is about to escape the mountain Gollum blocks his way and Bilbo is presented with a choice – kill Gollum or try to rush past him. He pulls his sword to put this vile creature to death, but instead of allowing his hate and fear to control him his heart fills with pity and Bilbo chooses to jump past instead.
In Lord of the Rings, the ring has passed from Bilbo to Frodo who has been given the task of destroying it – and we can see throughout the books that it’s slowly corrupting Frodo too. But Gollum has not gone away but is always following, always hoping to kill Frodo and get the ring back.
Then this happens:
JRR Tolkien used the Ring as a symbol of sin and Gollum as the creature who has been totally corrupted by it. He is a hateful creature breathing lies, curses, and threats at all times. Frodo feels it would be best if Gollum would have just died. The world would be better off without him. Gollum is hateful and deserves to be hated and dispensed with. He’s in the way, stopping the good people from doing good. But Gandolf, a sort of Christ figure or at least Biblical prophet type in the book, does not hate him – he pities him.
And then he speaks these words: “It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
This reminds me of the Parable of the Weeds that Jesus told in Matthew 13:24-43.
“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’’”
Just as Frodo wanted to kill Gollum, the servants want to go out and pick out all the weeds in the garden, but the farmer says no, stating that his servants are not wise enough or careful enough to be able to do the job without messing up the whole field. They are not reapers and though they think they know what they are doing, they would be pulling out good plants with the bad and would do damage to the crop. He says, “When the time is right I’ll let the reapers do it because they’ll do it right.” And in the next verses we learn that the reapers are angels sent by God – not humans.
What’s the point? We are too much like Frodo and the servants, wanting to hastily jump in with our poor judgement, prejudice, racism, and ill motives, and try to do God’s job for Him. That’s not our job. What does God want? For us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. Our job, according to Jesus, is to love God, love our neighbour, and love our enemies – not dole out our own poorly conceived, ungodly, prejudice plans. We must repent and ask forgiveness for such thoughts….
 Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Grace”.
This is the last sermon of our mini-series-within-a-series where we’re answering the question “What is a Good Church?”. This series is inside of the “Burning Questions” series which came about after I asked you all to submit some questions that you’ve had that I could answer. I hope that this series has been helpful to you, because it’s been enjoyable for me to write and deliver.
We’ve already talked about the danger of Christian Consumerism where we decide what a “good church” is by human standards and moved into discussion what God defines as a “good church” from the Bible. A lot of this discussion has come from Acts 2:42-47 which is the story of the birth of the first church. In that passage we read about the four important things that God expects from His church, that being: Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship and Evangelism. We’ve already covered the first three, and we’re coming into the last one today.
The Four Categories Everywhere
I hope, as you’ve been your Bible at home, that you’ve noticed these four categories blossomed out beyond Acts into the rest of the scriptures, because you see them everywhere. These four areas are very important for us to be able to identify the wins and losses of the people in the Bible. When we read of something going right, or something going wrong – and I hope I’m not overgeneralizing here – that I’m pretty sure it will be in one of those areas.
When there is a breakdown in one of those areas, it invariable leads to the loss of relationship with God, loss of blessing, and destruction of the people. And it’s not just in the New Testament church, this has been true throughout the history of God’s people.
Right from the beginning, even Adam and Eve had all four categories. They heard the voice of God telling them what to do and not do – that’s discipleship: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over it… eat the food from the plans, but don’t eat of that one tree.” To me, that’s discipleship.
There was Fellowship in the Garden too as God looked and saw that “it was not good for man to be alone” and created a mate suitable for him.
There was, no doubt, Worship in the Garden, as we see God walking and talking with His people. Evangelism is a little more difficult to find, since there are only two people, but we can certainly imagine these two talking with one another about God, caring for each other, tending to the Garden and the animals… and subduing the earth in His Name.
And then it goes sideways, right? Where’s the breakdown? Genesis 3 at the Fall of Man. There is a Discipleship breakdown as the serpent starts to challenge Eve’s knowledge of God’s word and says “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”
We see a breakdown in Fellowship and Evangelism (the sharing of God’s word) as Adam standing right there as Eve is about to fall – and says NOTHING, refusing to protect Eve and keep her accountable to God’s word. No warning of the coming wrath, no reminder of the good news of God’s presence. Nothing. Adam stood next to her totally silent. And then later we see a total breakdown as everyone blames everyone else for it all going wrong.
We see a breakdown in Worship as Eve chooses to place herself over God, wants to be as wise as God, and does the thing God forbid her to do. Then worship further breaks down as the man and woman now feel shame and try to flee from God, hiding in the bushes, not wanting to talk to God anymore.
That pattern, I believe, can be found throughout scripture. These four words are the model for our relationship with God personally – as in one-on-one with Him – corporately as a church, and, I would argue, the proper design for all human interaction. If we can get these four areas right – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism, then we’re doing pretty good, and I believe God will be pleased.
The Great Commission
As I said, today we’re talking about the final of the four: Spirit-Led Evangelism. Please open up to Matthew 28:18-20, a section of scripture usually called “The Great Commission”. Here we see Jesus passing on the torch to his disciples before He ascends to Heaven to start the next phase of His ministry.
Some context here first:
Jesus has already been crucified and has risen from the dead. He has been seen by hundreds of people and the Roman Guards that were guarding His tomb have already been paid off to say that Jesus body was stolen as they slept.
Jesus has already met with some disciples on the Road to Emmaus and explained the meaning of His life and death to them, according to the scriptures. He has already appeared to the disciples, who were locked away in a room, bewildered at the death of their rabbi and friend, and terrified of the Jewish authorities. And He has looked into the eyes and spoken to Thomas who said, “Unless I see the imprint of the nails in His hands and press my finger into the mark of the nails and my hand into His side, I refuse to believe.” (John 20:25) Moments later that same man would see Jesus and call Him, “My Lord and My God!”.
Jesus has already held the first men’s breakfast, cooking for his disciples, and restoring Peter to the rest of the disciples, forgiving Him his betrayal, and telling Him to “Feed his sheep”. (John 21:1-24)
All of this was happening over a few weeks. Near the end of those weeks, Jesus told his remaining eleven disciples (minus Judas who killed himself instead of seeking God’s forgiveness) to go to a mountaintop in Galilee where He would meet them later. It is very likely that there were more than just the eleven with Jesus that day, and that perhaps even as many as 500 people were there, which is why it says “some doubted.” . (1 Cor 15:6)
Let’s read it together:
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
The Four Categories in The Great Commission
Notice again, that we see all four of our categories in this passage. Jesus says to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe His commandments. That’s obviously discipleship.
We also see worship in there as it says that they “worshipped him”, but also implicitly as Jesus reminds them that “All authority in heaving and on earth” is HIS. Those words are meant to bring comfort, but also to remind them that He’s not just their friend, He’s their LORD.
We certainly see Fellowship there as Jesus has asked them all to come to that mountain together (He doesn’t meet with them one-on-one). He tells them to go make disciples of all nations, at least implying that this is mean to be done together, and with multiple people-groups in mind. And He reminds them “I am with you always.” They will also have fellowship with Jesus.
And, of course, we see evangelism as they are told to “go”, and “make”, and “baptize”, and “teach”, disciples throughout the world. All four are in there, all four are necessary, and all four are expected. And without the first three – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship – we have no hope of having Spirit-Led Evangelism that causes us to share God’s love with others and for the Lord to add to our number those who are being saved.
Three Makes Four
Let me explain what I mean by turning back to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47. Let’s read it again and I want you to notice something important on the way through – look how the evangelism, outreach, faith-sharing, happens.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
What you don’t see in this description is any sort of evangelistic endeavours. There is no missionary sending, no tent-meetings, no four spiritual laws, no wordless book, no formal evangelistic endeavours.
Does that mean that no one did missionary work? Of course not! Paul was the primary missionary to the Gentiles and Peter was the primary missionary to the Jews. And all of the disciples took their turns going out into the world, spreading the message of Jesus Christ to new places that had never heard of Him. All Christians and Christian churches must participate in local and global missions.
But my message today isn’t about the world’s need for more missionaries – which it has. It’s not about personal evangelism – which is important. Our question today is “What is a Good Church?”
This is where my descriptor of Spirit-Led Evangelism comes from. When we obey the commands of Jesus Christ in the areas of Discipleship, Fellowship and Worship, then Evangelism will occur. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit because we are filling our lives with His Word, His People and His Presence, then the natural outflow will be that we will grow His Kingdom. If we are being disciple by our church and are able to have an answer for the hope that is within us, are in loving fellowship with the people in our church; caring for one another’s needs and holding each other accountable to the word of God, and are inspired to Worship God every day, all day, in all things, in Spirit and in Truth — then how can we not “have favour” with people, and see “the Lord add daily those who are being saved.”
Being a “good church”, when it comes to Evangelism, doesn’t mean we have fun events and make excuses for people to come through our doors. What it means is that when we get the other three areas right –the message of the Gospel, our love for the lost, the words that come from the Holy Spirit, the changing of hearts, the miraculous timing – starts to happen. That’s where revival comes from.
How Does Revival Happen?
We can’t make revival happen in our community or in our church. I can’t preach us into a spiritual revival. Revival comes when the people in the church revaluate their spiritual conditions and start to get serious about Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, and Inspired Worship.
As long as we are avoiding discipleship by neglecting to read our bibles, avoiding prayer, not participating in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, avoiding personal and corporate study, and making church attendance optional depending on how we feel, we will never see revival in our own hearts, or in our church or community.
As long as we are avoiding fellowship by ignoring people in our midst, not forgiving people in our church, allowing bitterness to fester in our hearts, refusing to meet each other’s needs – or even find out one another’s needs, and leaving care and visitation ministry to only a few people, gossiping behind people’s backs, accusing people of false things, and sowing division among the brothers in the church, we will never see revival. For as long as our hearts, our family’s hearts, our church’s hearts are full of anything other than love for God, His people, widows, orphans and strangers, we cannot see revival.
As long as we are avoiding Worship by refusing to sing, refusing to pray, refusing to kneel before God, refusing to acknowledge God as King, refusing to obey Him by giving of our time and talents, refusing to give sacrificially, refusing to call Him Lord, refusing to put down the sins that have entangled us, we will not see revival. As long as we are making our own paths, and telling God to get lost until Sunday, treating Him as a Santa Clause in the sky who only exists to bring you comfort and ease, we cannot see revival in this church.
I was very convicted by Psalm 50 this week as I examined my own heart.
The whole first part of the Psalm reminds us that God doesn’t need our worship. He desires it, but He doesn’t need it. He is almighty and perfect without requiring any help from us. In verse 12 He says,
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”
And then in verse 14 God turns to His people and says what He desires:
“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
He doesn’t want our religious obedience. He says earlier, “I have no need…” of anything we can bring. What He wants from us is to acknowledge our dependence on Him by thanking Him in worship, living by our commitment to Him, and calling out to Him in prayer.
Now read in verse 16:
“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?”
That hit me hard this week. What right do I have to read His Bible, recite His word, or tell anyone of the promises of Salvation? What right do I have to ask for revival? What right do I have to stand up here and tell you anything?
I have no right, because I am wicked and fall utterly short in all these areas. You’ll see the four again here Discipleship, Worship, Fellowship and Evangelism. All are there, and I fall desperately short, which very well could be a big reason we aren’t seeing revival here in this community. I invite you to examine yourself using this scripture. Have you been wicked? Do you expect to have God’s blessing? What right do you have?
“For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.”
How many times has God said the same thing to you over and over and over? How many times have you heard the Spirit of God convicting you of that sin, or prompting you to do something – but you cast His words behind you like they mean nothing.
Do you appreciate God’s discipline and thank Him for making you more like His Son, or do you hate His discipline and get angry when hard times come because you think you are owed an easy life? How often have you cast God’s word behind you, walked away, didn’t read it, left His Word sitting on the shelf for days and days and days, never giving it a second thought?
What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if, when we do, we dismiss whatever He has to say?
Next He says,
“If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.”
Do you admire those who steal, sneak and bend the rules, even in little ways? What have you stolen? Are you living completely within the boundaries of Canadian Law and God’s moral law? Have you used the words “everyone else is doing it” to justify yourself as a thief?
Keeping company with adulterers doesn’t require actually committing adultery – or being married for that matter. How is your thought life? Do you keep company with adulterers as you dwell on your own lustful thoughts? What do your browser history look like? What about your texts? Any posters on the walls, pictures on your phone, or on your hard drive of people you’re not married to? Do you get a sexual thrill from the books you read, or the movies and tv shows you watch? Any emotional connections to people you’re not married to? All of these things are examples of keeping company with adulterers.
What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if we continuously crush our own spirits, ignore our consciences and eat the garbage this world offers and call it good?
Next he says,
“You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.”
What is your relationship like with others? Your own family? Your brothers and sisters in Christ? I know there are people sitting here today who have given their mouth free rein for evil this week, have framed deceit and lied about others, and spoke slander against their brother. And I know that there are those who have listened to that gossip and slander and ate it up like sugar-cubes.
What right do you have to ask God to fill this church with people, to use you as an agent of the Gospel, when you turn around and stab people in the back, show hatred for your own family and people within your own church? Why would He do that?
Look what God says next in verse 21:
“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!”
Maybe for you there hasn’t been a sign from God telling you to repent and get right with Him. There has been no thunder and lighting, no writing on the wall, no curses of sickness and death that has forced you to re-evaluate your life, so you’re go along thinking that this is all ok. We haven’t been struck down, the church closed, and the building wiped out, so we think that it’s all ok. God’s just like us! He doesn’t care about these sins. God doesn’t care about what we say, what we do! We ought not think that God is like us.
If you have not repented of your sins, today is the day. Time is short. For us as a body of believers, I believe that if we are to have a time of revival here in this church, then we need to listen to the charges of God against the individuals in this church – starting with me and including every individual here. Let us not forget who God is and His hatred of sin.
We have been warned.
Hope in Repentance
But, thank God, the Psalm doesn’t end there. It ends like this:
“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
This is a call to repentance. This is a call to get our priorities straight. This has very little to do with growing our church in numbers, and everything to do with deepening our church spiritually. If we want to see revival in our hearts, our homes, our church and our community, then we must repent of our sins, and fall on the sacrifice that has been given for us? And who is that? Jesus Christ.
We are the sinners, but Jesus is the sacrifice! I’ve been saying, “What gives you the right?” to come before God? Nothing. Nothing except the name Jesus Christ.
- Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6)
- 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins” which means He’s the one who took God’s wrath.”
- 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”
The only thing that gives us the right to come before God is if we are willing to place all of our sin on Jesus shoulders and accept that He died for them on our behalf. Then, and only then, do we have the right to come before Him.
That’s what John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” When we receive forgiveness in His Name, and believe in Him, then we become children of God. The Bible tells us that in Christ we are adopted as sons and daughters, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8). That’s what gives us the right to come before Him.
Yes, we are wicked and sinful, but we have been given the opportunity to walk away from the Spirit of this World and Sin and live by the Spirit of God instead. This doesn’t just happen once and then we’re done – we must do this every day. We must continuously fall down before God in thanksgiving for our salvation, killing the sin within us, and living as His people.
Allow me to conclude with this: It is my deep desire to see this church grow – but not merely in number. I want us to be a good church by God’s standards. I want us to grow deeply as we make Biblical Disciples, have Loving Fellowship and Inspired Worship, and then see God add to our numbers as we Evangelize our community and this world.
But this isn’t a job for only me. Every single person who is listening to me right now has a responsibility to listen to the Spirit of God within them and repent of their sin. Let’s not be like all the other nominal, weak, powerless, fruitless, cowardly, sick, worldly, churches that surround us. Let us turn and follow God, and let us live together as a good, Godly, Christ honouring church. That starts with you and me – in our homes, by ourselves, on our knees before God – praying, repenting, reading and meditating on His word. That’s where we start.
We’ve already talked about how Mark is introducing Jesus as the one answer to all the important questions in the world. If you recall, we said that the audience he is writing to are a group of persecuted, Roman Christians who aren’t looking for deep theology, long dissertations or genealogies, or a lot of teaching sections – they want proof that Jesus is who He says He is, has the Power they need Him to, and is the One and Only way to be saved.
They were in a pantheistic culture, surrounded by stories of gods of every sort and kind, so there was no need for another fable or religion to go alongside the rest. The claims of the missionaries that had gone through Rome was that Jesus wasn’t one of many gods, but was the Son of the One, True God, same in worth and power as God. They taught the Trinity – that Jesus was begotten from the Father and had sent the Holy Spirit to empower them to righteous living. They taught that Jesus said there was only one choice. He made an exclusive claim to be the only Saviour and the only One who should be worshiped. This would mean abandoning their other gods and religious activities and meetings, and joining a small group of people who were being persecuted because of their radical beliefs.
And so Mark writes to them binocularly – with two lenses, two themes – one focused on the claims and power of Jesus Christ as He demonstrates His authority through teaching and miracles. The other lens is the reaction of the people around him, especially the religious experts, political power players and the wealthy elite — and they all hated Jesus.
Mark 2 gives us two great reasons why these people hated him so much – First, because He claimed to BE GOD, and second because of His relationships with “unclean”, despised outsiders. Read the rest of this entry »
Own Your “Why?”
Some time ago I came up with a phrase that I try to live by and give away as much as possible — “Own your ‘Why?'” What it means is that when you do something (anything), make sure that you own up to your motives and reasons for doing it. Don’t try to fool yourself or anyone around you, but move forward with a defense for why it’s okay with God. Think through the consequences. “Own your ‘why?”
There are a lot of questions that we don’t ask ourselves. Too often we do things without thinking through why we are even doing them. And when challenged on these actions most can come up with any reason deeper than “It’s fun”, “I’ve always done this”, or “Everybody does it”. It’s not here yet, but it’s time to start thinking about a Christian response to Halloween. So, to process Halloween, let me give you some questions to ask so you can “Own your ‘Why?”‘:
Why do I do what I do for Halloween?
— In what ways can we redeem something a day used to celebrate gluttony and our society’s disturbing fascination with gore, death and evil?
— Are you going to “trick or treat”? Is it a fun way to get to know your neighbors, or just going door-to-door begging strangers for candy?
— Will you dress up? What is an appropriate, God-honouring costume? What are the limits you must set?
— Can you carve a pumpkin to show that “just like Jesus put a smile on our face and His light inside us, so we have done this to the pumpkin…”, or do we use it as a time to talk about the pagan foolhardiness of trying to ward off evil spirits with a carved up gourd?
— Is celebrating Halloween okay if everyone does the same thing but in a church? What if we dress up, eats lots of candy, carve pumpkins, and watch a G-rated Halloween movie… but we call it a “Harvest Party”?
— What place does the gospel have in Halloween? How can you use this day to teach people more about salvation through Jesus Christ?
— Is it right to pass out food that’s both unhealthy and addictive in a country that is facing a childhood obesity problem?
— Is it right to avoid participating altogether, turn off your lights and hide in the basement until it’s over? Is that a good “witness to your community”?
— If you give out healthy food or gospel tracts and your house gets egged, is that considered “suffering for the Lord”?
If one takes the side of being able to “Redeem Halloween”, then one might appreciate these links and ideas:
- Have a “Fear Not Party” for the kids.
- If you really want to talk about people that were dead but are now alive (no, not zombies) then instead of Halloween, read about Reformation Day (also on Oct 31).
- Instead of ghost stories, how about real stories from Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Hearts on Fire, or Jesus Freaks. They are not only scary, but also amazing and true!
Here’s a couple resources to help you make your decisions:
- The History of Halloween (blog)
While writing this article I was reminded about this song by Casting Crowns called “Does Anybody Hear Her” which seems to hit the nail on the head.
Do Churches Still Help?
I had a conversation recently where we were discussing the place of “para-church ministries” within the realm of global and local missions and it dawned on me that North American churches (and many para-church ministries) are lagging way behind the secular world when it comes to having the reputation of being helpful people.
Back in “the day”… [you know “the day” when your granddad had to walk back and forth from school, up-hill both ways, in 6 feet of snow (and he was only 4 feet tall), in only his socks, dragging a 300 pound bag of books, and only ate dirt for lunch… and LIKED IT!]… it used to be that the church was the premier place to come for help, protection, comfort, healing and peace. We were the first call for education, healthcare, protection from tyrants, help for the poor, the lonely, the bereaved, the lost, etc.
But now, honestly ask yourself: Why would anyone call the average North American Church for help? Or for that matter, the average North American Christian? If they are sick, they go to the hospital. If they’re poor, call the government. Hurt, lonely or afraid? Call a 1-800 help line. If they’re addicted to drugs, they can get into a secular program. Protection from tyrants? Go to the police. If they feel bad or need to make a life change, call a psychologist. If they are unhappy, call a psychiatrist. It seems that the church has lost (or given up) almost everything it once did to help people.
Individual Christians have a hard time with this too. We have lots of excuses why we don’t stop to help someone in need. “I have to protect my family.” “I could get hurt.” “I don’t know anything about medicine or cars.” “I’m too busy.” Lots of excuses… most of which stink.
The Speed Dial Principle
So, here’s a challenge for all Christians to get back to their roots of being people full of grace and mercy. I’m going to call it the “Speed Dial Principle”.
Here’s how it goes:
I propose that we do everything we can to be the first call on everyone’s speed-dial. It is my hope that those around us, without a shadow of a doubt, know that we can be counted on to help NO MATTER WHAT is going on in their life!!!
- How many phones do you have with speed-dial?
- Who are the top 3 people and why are they there?
- Are you on the top of anyone’s speed-dial list?
- Using your position on other people’s speed-dial as your reference, how good is your reputation as a helper? [First call, second call, last choice, not even thought of]?
I propose we try to live our lives as someone trying to make themselves the number one person on everyone’s speed-dial. We want to be their #1 button because they know we are a great friend will never let them down, we have resources to help, and will be there full of joy and without condemnation. Whether it’s helping carry in the groceries, driving someone to another province, helping a kid with homework, cleaning someone else’ house, making a meal or picking up your drunk friend after too much partying… what can you do to be the first person they call.
What about you? What do you think of the “Speed-Dial Principle”? Is it realistic? How can we help our local churches reclaim their ministries of grace and mercy?
I was invited for an “Ask The Pastor” night last week and brought along this handout I’d been working on. I sat in front of the white board and asked myself “If I am going to help the people in this church grow as Christians, then what does a fully functional disciple of Jesus look like?” And I started to write. And write. And write. And came up with something so complicated it almost made me cry. No wonder many ministers are tearing their hair out trying to simplify their church’s discipleship process.
I’d love some feedback on this:
A Fully Functional Disciple of Jesus…
Help with Family Issues
A Place to “Be Real”
Excellent, Uplifting, Moving Spiritual Experiences
Friends, Confidants, Brothers and Sisters
A Place to Serve with their gifts Meaningfully
A Places to Escape Pain
To be Challenged
Accountability to an “Equal”
Accountability to Someone in Authority
Freedom to Make Mistakes
To Know their Purpose and Worth
To Experience God’s Touch
Soteriology: Study of Salvation
Apologetics: Defending the Faith
Hermeneutics: How to Study the Bible
Systematic Theology: Truths about God
Homiletics: How to Apply the Bible to Life
Sacraments: Communion and Baptism
Eschatology: End Times, Heaven, Hell
Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit, Spiritual Gifts
Christology: The Life of Christ
World Religions: Cults and Other Faiths
Evangelism: How to Share Your Faith
Creationism: How Everything Came to Be
Ecclesiology: How the Church Functions
Church Discipline: Confrontational and Corrective Measures in the Church
Spiritual Disciplines: Methods to Grow Deeper
Missiology: God’s Work in the World
Mercy: Acts of Kindness
Forgiveness: Asking and Giving
Peacemaking: In Life, For Others
Giving: Tithing and Generosity
Service: God, Church, World
Encourages: Mentoring, Discipline
Submits: God, Authority, Others
Studies: See “Knows”
Prays: Private and Corporate
Suffers Well: Rejoicing Always
Worships: Lifestyle of Worship
Attends: Shows up to Learn, Work
Grows: Pursues Christlikeness
What do you think? Did I miss any? Why is this so complicated? Or is it?
I’ve seen some wonderful miracles throughout my life, and this past year has been even more amazing. Sometimes I get miracle and coincidence confused, but not this year — it’s been pretty obvious. I’ve been unemployed or underemployed for almost a whole year now, and even though it’s been financially tough, we have seen God show up and miraculously provide for us time and again.
He has been teaching me the paradox of being dependent on Him, while at the same time practicing wisdom and diligence. He’s been teaching me how important it is for me to back off and let Him act, provide, defend, etc. instead of stressing out, panicking, and doing something because I’m afraid and want to take control.
I’ve learned to sit back and say, “I wonder how God is going to solve this problem, because I’ll just make a mess of it if I try to fix it.” In other words, I’ve learned to trust in God’s Common and Special Grace.
Sometimes, with all the bad news floating around us, it’s hard to remember that His grace and provision is truly abundant. Theologians (who love to embrangle simple ideas in complicated language) talk about the good things that happen to humanity in two categories: Common Grace and Special Grace.
Common Grace (click here for a very embrangled definition) encapsulates all the good things that happen to everyone. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:45, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Or, as John Murry of Westminster Seminary defines it: “Every favor of whatever kind or degree, failing short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” It is the Common Grace that allows us to be alive, even experience joy and love, while in a condemned state (2 Peter 3:9). It is his Common Grace that provides for all humanity, even when we are completely undeserving.
Special Grace (click here for more embranglement) is that wonderful, amazing gift where God changes our hearts so that we may see our sin, turn from it, and accept Jesus as our Saviour. Without His Special Grace we would never see our sin for what it is, never hate our sin, and would therefore never turn from it. It is His Special Grace by which we are saved.
Take some time today to thank God for His Common and Special Graces. First, for the salvation of our souls in Jesus, but also for rain, sun, food, teachers, medicine, books, plants, cold water, smiles, loved ones, cotton… and any other good thing.
What about you? What did it miss? What Common Graces are you thankful for?
Did you know you can use salt to put out a fire? In fact, if you have a kitchen grease fire (and don’t have a fire-extinguisher) you shouldn’t use water, but instead cover it with salt.
Why bring this up? Because there are some people out there reading this who need to use their salt (Col 4:5-6) to put out some fires.
Have you ever heard of the internet term “Flaming“? Wikipedia defines it this way,
“Flaming is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users… usually the result of the discussion of heated real-world issues…”
When it really gets out of hand it’s called a “Flame War“. Wikipedia wisely remarks,
“Flame wars often draw in many users (including those trying to diffuse the flame war) and can overshadow regular forum discussion if left unchecked.”
Email is a wonderful way to send information to people in a hurry, but it is also terrible at conveying emotion and meaning. And because of this a lot of churches today are now embroiled in e-mail “flame wars”.
One one side there are people using this God-given technology to incite arguments, slander and spread lies. On the other are well-intentioned people are trying to help by responding to the emails. And as these messages get more frequent and made more public as others get CC’d (and some even printed out to share), more people are pulled into the fray. This is extremely damaging to every part of the church – fellowship, outreach, worship, and discipleship ministries.
My simple message is this: In the name of God it has to STOP!
If you get one of those e-mails, don’t respond to it electronically. If your heart is burning because of what you just read, bring the war to God (Rom 12:19), and don’t add fuel to the fire. The water you are spraying to put out the fire may only be spreading the grease and making it worse! After you have prayed, if so led, get on the phone, or better, go see the sender face to face. E-mail is too easy to send (and later regret) and too easy to misunderstand.
I entreat you with the words of scripture and beg you to read them prayerfully:
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:5-12 ESV)
What about you? Have you ever gotten one of these e-mails? How did you respond? Ever been part of a “Flame War”?
I recently spoke at the 165th anniversary celebration for Beckwith Baptist, a church in the Ottawa area. I got a lot of comments and requests for the text, so I thought I’d post it here this week. It’s based on Acts 2:42-47.
A Good Church
If you ask the question, “What is a church?” a lot of people will give you some pretty sterile answers that usually involve describing the building.
“What is a church?” Well, a church is a big building with a cross on it, full of pews and a stage for someone to stand on and talk for a while. Some have stained glass, or statues, or even beautiful organs. A really good church will have beautiful architecture, a lovely garden, beautiful woodwork and stonework, and have a powerful effect on you when you see it. Christians do this too sometimes when they walk into a large, impressive church building. They think “Wow, this must be a really good church!”
Hopefully you know that a church is not made up of brick and mortar, wood and nails, but a good Church, the kind of church the Bible describes, that we all want to be a part of, the one that Jesus died for, is made up of people. “Church” in the bible is the Greek word EKKLESIA and it basically means “a group of people who have left their homes to come to a public place”. It has come to mean “gathering of believers in Jesus”, but originally it was just a “gathering”.
When we say “church” here, we’re talking about the “Christian Church” or what we like to call “The Body of Christ” which we get from verses like Romans 12:5. A gathering of people who come for the purpose of being Christians, proclaiming Christ, and doing Christian things.
When a church is as established as Beckwith Baptist we sometimes forget that the church isn’t the building. We begin to associate Beckwith Baptist with the walls that surround us, the place that sits on the corner of 7th line and Tennyson Road. People ask us where we go to church? We say Beckwith Baptist. I wish we would learn to say, “Where does your church gather?” or “Where do you go to be a part of the church? It is so much more biblically accurate to say, “I am a part of a church, and our building is at 277 Tennyson Rd.”
I hope, no matter where you have come from today, whether this is where you meet, or somewhere else, that you are part of a strong group of believers that love Jesus and love you. That is my prayer.
When this church was first planted, that was the dream. They wanted to gather together people who would love Jesus, love one another, and spread that love to the community around them. No matter what church you are a part of, that’s the goal. And people need that so badly. All people need to be a part of a good church.
Let’s try something. It might be a little difficult, but for a moment, clear from your mind all of your preconceptions about church. Imagine that you’ve never been part of a church. You’ve never set your foot in the doors of any church building in the world, and you’ve never heard anything about them. You don’t know what they look like, what goes on in there, or anything about what it means to be a Christian. Somehow you’ve grown up in a place and a family where the word “church” never came up, and you weren’t around any believers. So you have no preconceived notions of what a “Christian Church” is.
And then, one day, as a plane flies overhead it hits some turbulence and a bible falls out of the luggage area and lands right in front of you. All the pages start to blow away all over the place, but what lands in front of you is the page that contains Acts chapter 2. Fortunately it’s in your native language and you start reading.
You’ve just read Peter’s first sermon preached at Pentecost and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah come to make possible the forgiveness of sins. You’ve read that after that sermon was preached a multitude of people turned their lives over to Jesus, repented of their sins, were baptized in His name, and began to meet together regularly.
You continue on to read about the change that this message brings to the life of these people. You know that these same people were the ones who crucified Jesus, who rejected Him, and where His enemies. They were once people who were destined to be destroyed, but were now people who were called “saved”… saved by Jesus! And this gospel message so changed their hearts that they began to meet together all the time. They wanted to talk about, celebrate, and learn more about who Jesus is, and the amazing things that Jesus had done for them. And so you begin running around gathering as many pages as you can, and you sort them together until you have most of the New Testament. You read it, and believe it, and give your life to Jesus. You are now one of the “saved!”
And then around the corner, in that same moment, your boss comes to you and says that you are going to be immediately transferred to another branch office. You’re still reeling from what you’ve been reading and he says, “I’m sending you to Ottawa,Canada’s capital city. Actually, you’ll be just outside of it in Carleton Place. You’re going to be working there for a while so we’ve bought you a house on the South-West Side, in a neighbourhood called Beckwith. You leave tomorrow.”You pack your things, move them to your new home, and on your first day you notice a brick building on the corner of the road you now live on. At first you think it might be a store, or a school, but as you round the corner you see a sign, and the sign says “Beckwith Baptist Church”. You have no idea what a Baptist is, but you’re heart begins to race as you pull your makeshift bible out of your pocket and it dawns on you that this building houses a group of Christians. They’ve bought a building and they meet together!
The excitement is almost palpable. You run up to the door, trying to get in, but the door is locked. Temporarily saddened, you turn to see that the gathering is on Sunday morning at 10:30am. You can’t wait! The week is a blur! All you can think about is being there so you can see all that you’ve been reading about in the scriptures come to life. This group of people who know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, hear from Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living within them. This group of people who doesn’t conduct itself the way the world does, but call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.
And as you stand out on the lawn you thank God for this place, and pull out your favourite page. The first one that landed at your feet. And you read Acts 2:42-47,
“ And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
You can’t wait to meet this group, this church, this body of believers and be one of those who have been added to their number.
This was the vision of those who planted this church. This is what they desired it to become. I would also imagine that this is the deepest desire of the heart of every person who comes through these doors. They want to be a part of a group like that – a good church. It’s what we look for our whole lives. Amen?
Acts 2 is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say. I love these verses. Not because it is a prescription of “what to do”, but because it is a description of what happenswhen we allow God to take over our lives and let the Holy Spirit reign in our hearts.
Sometimes people read these verses as a prescription. If we do these things, then we’ll be a church. If we check all these boxes: “Apostles teaching”, “Break bread”, “Pray”, “Generously Share”, “Meet together”… check… then God will add to our number and we’ll be a group of good Christians and a good church. But this verse isn’t prescriptive, it’s descriptive.
It’s not telling us what to do… it’s showing us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people. This is the clearest picture the bible gives us of what God desires from a Christian church. What’s on His heart, on His mind, and what it look like when He’s fully in charge.
Some churches and church leaders believe that if they institute enough rules and ministries they can achieve this. They say “if we do these things we will be a good church”. People have tried that for literally centuries.
- “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t play cards or go to movies, or play loud music, and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Have a really nice building, with shiny floors and a big cross, and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Get involved in politics and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Be multi-ethnic and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Have really good children’s programs and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Get a dynamic preacher, a popular music leader and some nice visuals and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Support global missions and send out lots of missionaries and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Support local missions and volunteer at lots of places in town and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Be open to everyone, get rid of any negative words like ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ or ‘discipline’ and remove the biblical qualifications for leadership… let anyone preach, teach, or lead and you’ll be a good, popular church”
Books and books and books have been written with tricks on how to increase attendance, giving, outreach, evangelism, commitment, prayer… and everything else. And many people put them into practice and they get that area going pretty good. More people come, more people read their bible, more people serve… but being God’s church doesn’t mean we get one or two areas of ministry right, it means we get our hearts right with God, open our ears to His voice, and walk wherever He wants to lead us.
If you’ve been around the North American church for a while then you’ve heard of Bill Hybels and Willow Creek church. It has been the trendsetter for many churches over the past 30 years. They basically invented the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-drive” movement and have generated a huge amount of the ministries, content, songs and directions for churches all over the world. Over 22,000 people will be attending Willow Creek Church today. Most pastors and churches would give their left arm to have even half of that attendance.
Well, a couple years ago they came out with a book called “Reveal” where they made a confession that rocked the Christian world. I want to read you part of an article where Bill Hybels talks about what they learned:
“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life. Hybels confesses:
‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage. (Source)”
This HUGE church is learning this lesson, and so are many others: God doesn’t need help to be living, active, creative, dynamic, powerful and relevant in our lives. It’s not about how amazing the building and facilities are. It’s about incarnating the gospel, and growing closer to God through a relationship with Jesus. That will always be true! The Gospel is not bound to any time, people or culture. The choices God has given us for how we organize how we do church is multifaceted! Therefore, as time moves on, people and culture changes, and so does the way we communicate our message, but the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ, and the fundamentals of the faith will absolutely stay the same.
Now, even though the foundations of our faith will remain rock solid, no church can simply keep doing what it’s been doing and hope it works forever. The people who planted Beckwith Baptist in the very beginning knew that. They were starting something new! They wanted a place that would meet their community’s needs and would spoke in a way that would honour God and where His message could be understood. Something different than was already present.
This is true now more than ever because things are changing so quickly. We need to know where the bedrock of our faith lies, and be able to meet people’s most basic spiritual needs, but the way we do it is going to constantly change.
Culture today is totally different than it was when I was a teenager – and that was only about 15 years ago! I used to consider myself pretty informed about what’s going on around me, but now I just can’t keep up! I’ve been surpassed in technology, music styles, clothing, magazines, and even language. I find myself having to look up a lot of slang terms on Google just so I can understand what people are saying. And in similar fashion, the ministries we have, the music we play, and way we communicate needs to change as well.
The Church may look different, sound different, and be conducted differently from place to place, and from generation to generation, but the fundamental, bedrock motivation for the ministry – the gospel of Jesus Christ, the core message of a “good church” — will NEVER CHANGE. Beckwith has proven that fact over and over in its history. And this church, this group of people, can and will experience the same thing the Acts 2 church experienced, if we allow God the freedom to do as He pleases with us.
Beckwith Baptist, even today, is working through some deep issues. We are praying and studying and seeking God, ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be the church of Jesus Christin our own cultural context, in this place, at this time? How can we effectively share the love of Jesus with, and minister to, as many people as possible by providing for their most basic spiritual needs? What will that look like as we look into the future of this church?” We are too small to provide every need of every type of person, but we cancreate ministries that will supply what all people desire most, and what God desires most for them.
We all want to be a part of a good church. A church that inspires us to worship God throughout our week, in every part of our life. A church that strongly tied together in the bonds of fellowship, caring for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging and holding each other accountable. A disciple making church where we are all challenged to grow closer to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ, and live out that faith in practical ways. And part of a church that is reaching out into our local community and beyond, changing lives by the power of God and seeing more and more people saved by His grace.
That’s the journey that Beckwith has been on for a while now, and one that they continue to pursue. The next year is going to be amazing, and I look forward to seeing everyone here come together and work on this as a family. My hope is that everyone can get excited to see what God has done, and will be doing as each of us work together towards clarifying the direction, improving the ministries, strengthening ourselves spiritually, and more effectively reaching out to our community.
I’m excited about this process, and about what God can continue to do with this church. We’ve seen Him work already in many ways over the years, and many have been blessed by the ministries and people here. The people of this church have gone through a lot together, and I believe, are on the cusp of something very exciting and life-changing.
I ask for your prayers. Pray for God’s blessing on this family of believers. On those who have chosen to leave over the past while, and the new people who have come.
Pray for the leadership who is taking on this challenge of renewing and listening for God’s heart for Beckwith Baptist. Pray that God sends workers to be with them so that they won’t be overburdened. Pray for the community around us, that God might send the healing rains to soften the soil of their souls, so that when we cast out His word it would find fertile ground.
And above all pray for God’s blessing and protection. That He would bless us with open ears, wise actions, a fearlessness to do what is right, the courage to act, and the conviction to flee from sin. Pray that each of us would have a soft heart for the needs of others, and a long-suffering patience for those who are going to make this difficult. Pray that the attacks of Satan would be repelled by the faith of the people here, and that God would grow us in ways that we can’t even conceive of right now.
So far so good this week, so let’s continue our experiment and see if we can connect Coffee and Outreach.
Outreach, in its most basic form, is simply sharing the love we have experienced through Jesus Christ with others through our words and deeds. We are grace, therefore we are gracious. We have been forgiven, therefore we forgive. We are to God, so we are peacemakers. Our Father gives us good gifts and we share them. We have been given the message of the Gospel, the only way by which we are saved from the consequences of our sin, and so we share that story with others.
Touching People’s Hearts With Coffee
I believe it is possible to use all of God’s good gifts (James 1:17) to share His love with others — and that includes Coffee. Here’s a great video from The Skit Guys connecting coffee and love:
Now was it the coffee that touched this father’s heart? No, it was the love of his children. In the same way, we can use something as simple as a cup of coffee to show people that we love them, will listen to them, acknowledge their hurts, and want to be used by God to bring them peace (even if only for the time it takes to drink a coffee).
1. Take a depressed friend out for coffee. Part of the struggle of depression is that it drives people into isolation. Depressed people begin to believe that no one cares about them, and then reinforce this belief by avoiding contact with people. They wait for someone to call, and when no one does, their perception is confirmed. Be active and call them, take them outside their environment, encourage them to sit on the patio in the sun (or even the rain!) and let them know in no uncertain terms that you love them, God loves them, and both of you will continue to care for them.
2. Use your Coffee With Your Father time (see Coffee & Worship) to specifically focus on praying for people’s salvation.
3. Here’s a way to use your next coffee time to present the gospel! Here’s a great video from Billy Kangas connecting Coffee to the Gospel of Jesus:
Today is Outreach Thursday, and this question comes up a lot, so let’s tackle it first. Should a Christian give money to panhandlers?
This is a complex issue. On the one hand we have the divine compulsion and inward desire to help those who need our assistance (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 6:27-36), while on the other we worry that our generosity will be misspent on things that are more harmful than good (like drugs or alcohol).
So what should we do? After some reading and talking to experts, I’ve concluded that giving cash to people on the street is not a good way to help them. The best way is to support local programs (InnerCity, Food Bank, etc.) which are designed to serve their needs, and have the expertise to deal with those who seek to abuse the system. I talked to one inner city program leader who said he wishes people would give less money to panhandlers so they would be forced to participate in the programs set up to help them best.
That said, I remember a time when a young, pregnant woman stopped me in the parking lot of the Home Depot and asked me for some money so she could buy a burger at the McDonalds. Did I send her away to find an official program? No, I gave her enough to buy a combo. Did I follow her to make sure she got the burger? No. Do I regret giving her the money? No. Would I do it again? Yes.
I believe that we must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) in these matters, and that means educating ourselves about local poverty issues, encouraging our churches to support local programs, and praying for wisdom so we don’t fall prey to those who would abuse Christian charity. However, when faced with an ‘extreme situation’ like the young woman at Home Depot, we must trust the Holy Spirit within us and err on the side of generosity.
What do you think? Have you thought about this before? How have you helped panhandlers and homeless people in the past?