Ours is not the God of Luck

I was looking for a meme to use in a blog post when I found this one, and it provoked an entirely different post. It was perfect for this blog because of my recent posts about what the Bible says and why we should do it. These silly, “post if you love Jesus” posts we have all seen now remind me that Jesus actually said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” If the same people who post the chain-letter-style posts that infer that you don’t really love Jesus if you don’t repost or share this foolishness actually obeyed Jesus’ commands, I think another Great Awakening would break out.

So, please dear friend, before you post those ridiculous things, consider what else you could be doing. If the Holy Spirit was posting through you, what might He say?

Thank you.

The Death of Discipleship

So many believers, yet so few disciples. Does the Bible make a distinction? It is interesting that doing a search for the word “believer” in the King James Bible, you get zero results, and only 2 results for “believers.” In the English Standard Version, you get 13 hits for believer and 30 for believers. But in either version, “disciple” and “disciples” leave them in the dust with over 280 combined results.

In the original Greek, in which the New Testament was written, believer and disciple mean two totally different things, as they do in English. To believe means to have faith, and to be a disciple is to be a pupil, a learner, or a devotee. Can they be the same?

We have already seen, in a previous post, that simply believing can and should make a change in your life. Yet, it is plain to see in every day life that not all who believe continue in their devotion. Does the Bible talk about this? Of course it does, although we are seldom taught about it.

In Luke 14:33, Jesus plainly states, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” When is the last time anyone told you that it would cost you  something to follow Jesus? For the most part, we are told that Jesus paid it all and that there is nothing we can do to attain or remain in God’s grace. Yet, there are many sober warnings in the Bible that would indicate that we are still capable of choosing to veer off the path. Paul was addressing the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 when he told them, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” The elders were not just old. They were men who had met Paul’s qualifications for leadership. (Read Titus 1:6-9 for the details.)

I am not raising this subject to stir up some doctrinal hornet’s nest. I bring this up because I know from my own experience that there is very little accountability in the church at large. We are all very self-affirming, but we do not provoke one another to good works. I was very fortunate in my early Christian walk that I was part of a congregation that was zealous to know God’s word and do it. We wanted to know God’s promises so we could attain them and know God’s commands so we could obey them. Over time, however, we were slowly seduced into church busy work. It all happened in the church, and our lives outside the church became a separate thing. I got caught up in the American Dream hamster wheel, pursuing material things and going deeper in debt.

Over time I became more angry at the world I lived in and stopped being an ambassador of Christ and became a social critic. I was more interested in addressing the symptoms of our sin-cursed world with political solutions that I was lifting up the Savior of all mankind. It was after 2011, when I had lost my last local election (yes, I was that committed) and I knew I had to get back to doing things God’s way, that I realized I was like the Ephesian church in Revelation 2: I had lost my first love and needed to go back and do the first works.

After a season of seeking the Lord and paring down our material possessions and selling our house to get out of debt, Cindi and I were lead to become a part of Child Evangelism Fellowship. We did not realize that we were not only entering evangelistic ministry but we  were also going to be discipled and held accountable in ways we had not been in over 30 years. It has been this relationship that has allowed us to also work with Christians from several other denominations who have also chosen to make the main thing the main thing: sharing the Gospel with the next generation, and staying focused on that which makes us one.

Have you departed from your first love? Has your light gone out under that bushel basket? You can be reignited and refreshed, and it’s not optional. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. It’s time to own your identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The Consequences of Faith

This subject is very important because it deals with the reality of salvation. Does something supernatural and observable happen to the person who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ? In  other words, can you tell by looking? Does the Bible say something about that? I believe it does.

  1. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17. (Behold is that old timey way to say, “look and see!”)
  2. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21. (Just saying so doesn’t make it so.)
  3. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46. (There was tangible evidence against those who called Him “lord,” but still were separated from God.)

There are many, many other places in the Bible to discover that those who authentically have received the gift of salvation are markedly different from those who have not. It is not simply a matter of, “God only knows.” A 5th grade girl in Good News Club came down for prayer one day and I asked if she had come to receive Jesus. She said, “no,” and when I asked her why not, she said, “Cuz I’m not ready to stop sinnin’ yet.” Even a child knows that God is expecting changed behavior.

Who does not think God expects changed behavior? I have met some highly educated grown-ups who can prove that they possess salvation according to the Scriptures. They cling to the legal opinion they have derived from the Bible that they will inherit eternal life. They remind me of the Jews who persecuted Jesus even after he healed the sick before their eyes. Jesus told them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:39-40.

I am not trying to make this difficult. The Bible explicitly shows us that receiving salvation is as simple as believing. Jesus told grown-ups, in Matthew 18, that they must become as little children to enter the kingdom of Heaven. He never told children to come back when they had an education.

In my last post I talked about Philip the evangelist. There is a great story there about how God told Philip to go out into the desert, and then to run up and meet a chariot where a man was reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah (chapter 53, to be exact). Philip asked the man if he understood it. He told Philip that he needed someone to explain it to him. How fortuitous! Isaiah 53 contains the prophecy about the Messiah suffering for our sins!

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:35-39 KJV.

“If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” Boom. It was as simple as that. Then the Lord whisked Philip away. God miraculously brought Philip to a place where a man was reading a messianic scripture, brought him to faith, and then miraculously took Philip out of the picture.

In Acts chapter 10, Peter is shown a vision and then told in the vision to go with the men who are knocking at his host’s door. He goes to the home of Cornelius, a Roman officer who believes in the God of the Jews. Peter preaches Christ to Cornelius and his Gentile household and this is what happens: ” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. Acts 10:44. And how do they know that? For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Acts 10:46-47. As they heard Peter preaching, they heard and believed and they had an observable event.

My point in using these examples is not to say that people must speak in tongues when they are saved. The point is that salvation is a real change. Something supernatural happens. It can be very disruptive. When Saul came to faith in Christ, it does not say he spoke in tongues, but it does say he was changed from the persecutor of the faith to the greatest champion of it, and changed his name to Paul.

In colonial America, during the 1740s, there was an event called The Great Awakening. It was not a movement begun by a group of theologians, or professional clergyman. It was a move of the Holy Spirit among nominal Christians after some young people had genuine conversion experiences. Their lives were so changed, that the townspeople realized they did not have the same experience and began to seek it. It was the nominal Christians, the people who possessed good standing in the church, who realized that God did not possess them. People wept before altars begging for the same experience those young people had. It spread like wildfire from town to town. The same thing was happening in England, and a man named George Whitefield came to America and found a ready audience. Life-changing experiences broke out throughout New England. There was much opposition from the professional clergy, but they could not stop it.

Are we ready for that today?


Evangelism: What it is and isn’t

Not long ago I spoke at a church about Good News Clubs® and how the congregation could get involved. Before I spoke, there was an announcement made about a prayer walk through the neighborhood. The people were encouraged to walk and pray, and even engage the neighbors as ask if they wanted them to pray for them. The pastor was giving the announcement, and quickly interjected: “I’m not saying you have to do evangelism.”

I don’t believe the pastor, a godly woman who is well respected in the community, is against evangelism. But the disclaimer probably has more to do with assuaging the fears of people who don’t want to do what they think is evangelism: being argumentative, confrontational, judgmental and rude. I think we are all well acquainted with the media images of men with megaphones and sandwich signs that make gratuitous use of the word, “Hell.” But is this the Biblical model of evangelism? Is there a Biblical model of evangelism?

The only explicit example of an evangelist is a man named Philip who appears in Acts chapters 6, 8, and 21. I  am not going to quote it at length because the point of this series is to get you to read it in the Bible for yourself. But we first read of Philip’s evangelistic activity in Acts 8:5, when he is part of the believers in Jesus who was scattered by the persecutions in Jerusalem.

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.
And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.
For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
So there was much joy in that city.  Acts 8:5-8 ESV

Philip was proclaiming Christ to the Samaritans, a group that was shunned by the Jews, and he was also doing miraculous signs and even exorcisms. And there was joy because of this! The Gospel was exactly what its dictionary definition calls it: good news.

Philip was not the only person who was expected to do this. After all, Jesus had commanded all His disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. But Philip is the only person in the New Testament who is identified as an evangelist. (In fact, way more people are identified as prophets in the New Testament, but that is another blog post.) Still, there are other examples of people proclaiming the good news about Jesus. The Book of Acts give examples in the ministries of both Peter and Paul.

On the Day of Pentecost, less than 2 months after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem. This message came on the heels of a miraculous sign, as the Holy Spirit was poured out on 120 disciples who then spoke in tongues that were understood by all the religious pilgrims who had come from around the known world. This message explained what had happened to Jesus and why, according to the Old Testament prophets, and included an invitation to believe and be baptized. It also had baked into it, “this Jesus whom you crucified.” These were the very crowds that had yelled “Crucify him!” when Pontius Pilate asked the crowd what to do with Jesus.

I draw this out because the Gospel, in its purest form, is an invitation, not an accusation. You find this charge against the Jews of Jesus’ time in other places, like Acts 4 and 7, but this is not done in Samaria, where Philip was preaching to outsiders, or at the home in Cornelius in Acts 10, when Peter is preaching to non-Jews. Likewise, Paul’s outreach to the Gentiles in his ministry is not accompanied with threats of Hell and damnation. His evangelistic work, like that of Philip and Peter, is accompanied by signs and wonders.

But, what about Paul’s writing to the Corinthians, the Galatians, or the Romans, where he is quite explicit about sin and its punishment? It is important to note that these were messages to those who already believed, but were clearly not forsaking their sin. After all, Pal explicitly states, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.'” 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.

Yes, it is someone’s job to deal with sin among God’s people. But that is not the work of evangelism. Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, but it takes a prayerful reading of the scriptures to find out what that is. I believe Paul explains this when he says we are called to be God’s ambassadors:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

By paying the price for the world’s sin with the blood of Christ, God had cleared the books, that is, reconciled them. That reconciliation belongs to all who believe. That is why we implore people to be reconciled to God. It is NOT AUTOMATIC. Salvation is by grace (the reconciliation by God’s gift), through faith. (Ephesians 2:10).

So, what are the elements of the Gospel that we preach? They can be found in a restating of John 3:16. God loves us so much that He gave His son to take our punishment, and now we trust in Him for our eternal life. Is it that simple? Yes. So why is this so hard to do? It is partly because of the ramifications of what we are asking people to believe. And that will be the subject of the next post.