Tag Archives: Great Commission

Profile in Courage

Few have done more to further the gospel and build the church than the apostle Paul. He authored most of the New Testament, traveled throughout Europe and Asia to share the good news, and invested his entire post-conversion life to nurturing believers, persuading unbelievers, and teaching the truth. He suffered stonings, beatings, and floggings; endured hunger, weariness, and nakedness; escaped violent mobs, sailed turbulent seas, traveled foreign lands, and withstood false brethren. He preached, encouraged, rebuked, refreshed, and debated.

His legacy of faith, however, does not exist without the remarkable courage of a man named Ananias. Before he encountered Jesus, Paul ruthlessly persecuted the church and did everything in his power to destroy the fledgling faith. His desire to annihilate the church before his conversion, was as passionate as his effort to cultivate the church post conversion. It is that cruel man, known then as Saul, who Christ confronts outside Damascus, afflicts with blindness, and then sends into the city for further instructions.

Three days later the Lord appears to Ananias in a dream and tells him where to locate Paul, so he can restore his sight and baptize him in the Holy Spirit. Ananias resists. He informs God of Paul’s brutality against the church and argues that it’s not safe to meet with him, let alone baptize him. Jesus understands Ananias’ anxiety; so He explains that He has chosen Paul and has a plan for him.

Despite the overwhelming risk to life and limb, Ananias obeys. He ignores those voices that tell him that Paul is beyond redemption; that men so hostile to the gospel, so hateful to Christ, and so harmful to the church cannot be salvaged; that they are doomed to darkness. Instead he locates Paul, introduces himself as a brother in Christ, heals his blindness, and baptizes him.

The rest is history. Paul becomes the most influential individual in church history. Without Ananias, however, Paul the church pillar remains Saul the church killer.

How many of us avoid sharing the gospel with people antagonistic to Christianity; who denigrate the Lord or mock His people? How many of us calculate an individual’s likelihood of conversion before we discuss Jesus’ sacrifice? How many potential Pauls never hear the gospel because we assume their inflammatory rhetoric and brash hostility towards Christianity disqualify them from joining our ranks?

Take time this week to identify someone in your life unlikely to embrace Christ – someone who defiantly shakes his or her fist at God, condemns the church, and views Christians with contempt. Ask God to soften the person’s heart and provide you with an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. Who knows, perhaps that person who appeared so opposed to God becomes an effective advocate for Him.

Proudly Proclaiming Christ.

Have you ever been embarrassed to divulge a friendship, share your family heritage, or admit your affiliation with a group? If you’re like the majority of people, you probably haven’t. Most of us speak favorably of our lineage and those we associate with, and are unwilling to allow anyone to diminish that pride. We tend to be intensely loyal to those who share our bloodlines, our memories, and our confidences.

You might think Jesus enjoyed such fidelity from His followers; that they spoke of Him in glowing terms. But surprisingly some expressed shame towards Him, unwilling to admit publically their relationship. In his gospel narrative the apostle John recounts this dichotomy. “Among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43, NKJV).

A few verses earlier John notes that although Jesus performed many signs the crowds did not believe in Him. In contrast, many in the ruling class believed Him but refused to express that belief openly for fear of the Pharisees. They didn’t want to sully their status or ruin their reputation because they cherished others’ approval more than Christ’s. So they concealed their faith in Jesus.

This may not seem like a big deal but Jesus addresses such inconsistency using stark and troubling language. “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38, NKJV). It is not enough to simply ‘believe’ in Jesus. He expects us to proudly proclaim Him and align ourselves with Him without compunction.

On a separate occasion Jesus declares, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33, NKJV).

With those powerful words as a backdrop, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you ashamed to confess Christ within your circle of friends?
  • Do you withhold your faith from those at work for fear it will cost you a promotion, compromise your career, or yield ridicule from colleagues?
  • Do you speak up for godliness and biblical standards when discussing cultural trends and pop culture with non-believers, or do you hold your tongue to avoid being labeled a religious radical?
  • Do you share your faith with those around you even when they indicate hostility toward the name of Jesus?

If your answers reveal an embarrassment for Christ or your faith, ask yourself why. What’s keeping you from openly and enthusiastically sharing the good news of Jesus with the people God has brought into your life?

  • Is it fear? Then take to heart this truth: “God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity but of power and boldness.”
  • Is it a feeling of inadequacy? Then embrace this advice from Christ: “Do not worry what you will say in that day. The Spirit will guide you and give you the words to speak.”
  • Is it because other priorities demand your silence? Then listen to this warning from Christ. “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

There are billions of people in the world today in desperate need of the Savior. But how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (See Romans 10:15). They cannot unless we obey Jesus and fulfill the Great Commission by boldly teaching the message of Christ and unashamedly making disciples of others.

So let’s remember Jesus’ prescient message regarding the overwhelming spiritual needs that exist in the world today. “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray that the Lord of the harvest sends out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38, NKJV).

As you go into this weekend ask the Lord for an opportunity to share your faith with someone: family, friend, or stranger. Then be alert for opportunities to appear. As you capitalize on them you’ll develop the habit of proudly proclaiming your faith to people around you and join the ranks of those laboring in the fields for the Lord. What an awesome honor.

Refugee Response Reveals Selfish Spirit.

Throughout history the Church has aligned itself too often with monarchs, regimes, governments, and political parties that institute policies, practices, and philosophies that contravene Scripture and challenge Jesus’ teachings. In almost all of these instances the Church has sided with the powerful, wealthy, and influential at the expense of the weak, poor, and ostracized.

While such alliances have yielded power, prosperity, and prominence for the Church it has come at great cost, undermining and often severing its relationship with God. For those who view Christianity as nothing more than a means to achieve selfish and worldly goals, that consequence seems immaterial. But for believers who yearn to obey and glorify God, that effect is disastrous and troublesome.

Sadly, another example of this trend has emerged recently in this country. A growing number of voices within the Christian community (especially among Evangelicals and self-professed conservatives) have resisted plans to allow refugees from North Africa and the Middle East (particularly Syria) to enter the United States. They claim their motivation lies in protecting the nation’s safety and security, and insist that the possibility of terrorists hiding among refugees, however remote, combined with the government’s inability to identify and remove those terrorists before they cross our borders, requires a hardline stance against any program involving refugees from countries with a strong terrorist network. Some also argue we cannot afford to admit immigrants because the cost is too high.

Those positions, however, reveal a spirit of selfishness and a passion for maintaining the status quo. Worse, they demonstrate a remarkably ill-informed understanding of Scripture and a lack of faith in God. When did Jesus ever advise His followers to only do the right thing when it is safe, convenient, or inexpensive? Never. His message focused on helping and loving others no matter the cost. In fact, He went to great lengths to explain that His example of love, mercy, kindness, and generosity would impose considerable cost on His followers. We need look no further than the parable of the Good Samaritan to grasp this truth.

In that parable a man is attacked, robbed, and left for dead by thieves. Two self-righteous religious leaders (a priest and a Levite) come across the man on separate occasions and both move to the opposite side of the road to pass. They express no concern for his well-being or survival, and fail to offer love and kindness. Their faith is useless. Both men ignored the opportunity to demonstrate faith in substance by helping the stranger. Instead, both viewed him with contempt, treating him as a potential threat, an inconvenience, and a roadblock to more important things.

In contrast, the compassionate Samaritan saw the humanity of the injured man and exercised love, compassion, and mercy toward him even though it cost him time and money, and jeopardized his safety. His selfless sacrifice exhibited a notable contrast to the selfish pride of the two religious zealots. Jesus’ message could not have been clearer: Genuine faith always manifests itself in action, not in self-righteousness or outward appearances.

What does it say about God and our faith in Him, then, when we ignore His teachings in order to stay safe, remain comfortable, and enjoy the good life? In adamantly opposing the relocation of battered, marginalized, and oppressed refugees to the United States, our actions and language reveal a great deal about our beliefs. We are essentially telling God:

  • “We do not believe you are powerful enough to protect us if we do the right thing and embrace your call to love others, especially our downtrodden neighbors in the Middle East.”
  • “We do not believe you are omniscient and therefore cannot trust you to help our law enforcement community to identify and remove terrorists who might try to sneak in with beleaguered refugees.”
  • “We do not believe you care about the safety, welfare, and survival of those escaping the brutalities of the Middle East and North Africa as much as you care about us maintaining our lifestyles of comfort, pleasure, and leisure.”

What a sad testament to the condition of our Christianity when we categorically ignore and reject what God’s word says about our responsibility to refugees and ‘the least of these’ and instead embrace a false gospel that declares our wealth, safety, and lifestyle of greater importance to God.

I wonder if, perhaps, God is using the tumultuous events in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere to accomplish the Great Commission, which remains unfulfilled in part because we fail to prioritize it in our churches and our lives. While we have made some progress, we have not made nearly enough – especially in light of the overwhelming resources God has provided us. In a country where the average Christian gives about 2% of his income to the Church, and the Church spends more than 90% of its funds on programs, priorities, and capital projects that benefit its own congregants, it is safe to say we have been negligent in prioritizing God’s call to reach the world with His good news and His love.

So in His wisdom He might now be bringing the world to us; not just Syrians, Iraqis, and Somalians, but also Latin Americans and Asians. He is giving us a second chance to reach all tribes and nations of the world. And what is our response? Is it joyful celebration that God is providing us another opportunity to join Him in His work? No. It is vocal opposition to their admittance and advocacy for stronger laws that keep foreigners out.

With that response we risk failing God a second time. Moreover, what message does that response send the world? They might rightfully ask, ‘Where is your love, compassion, generosity, and mercy?’, and might reasonably conclude that any God whose people are so selfish and inwardly focused is no God worth pursuing. What a sad testimony to leave our non-believing friends, family, and neighbors. Let’s instead leave a legacy of God’s love in action and capitalize on the second chance He is offering us to make Him known to all peoples.

If instead we continue (as a nation and as Christians) to turn our backs on the oppressed, the hurting, the marginalized, and the condemned, it should not surprise us when God turns His back on us.

 

What can persecuted Christians teach us?

A widespread view in this country, especially among Evangelicals, is that we are a Christian nation. Polls appear to support this supposition, regularly finding a majority of the country declaring itself Christian. Consequently, believers suffer little, if any, real persecution here. On the contrary, we enjoy unparalleled religious freedom, constitutional protection to worship and evangelize, and face limited governmental interference in practicing our faith.

In contrast, believers in most countries across Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East endure various forms of persecution, often face hostile governments determined to limit the practice of Christianity, and have no (substantive) legal protection to worship as they please. Radical terrorists, with designs to eradicate Christianity from places it has survived for two millennia, target Christians with increasing brutality, intimidation and death. The escalation in violence has, in some regions, reached epidemic proportions and often flourishes because local and national governments refuse to intervene.

So how do believers in these countries remain faithful despite the risk to life, limb, and liberty? How does the difficult environment in which they live produce Christians with faith so vibrant and mature? How does the fiery crucible of tyranny and torment yield faith so closely resembling the early church? Perhaps most importantly, what lessons can we learn from those living in a region engulfed by persecution and where basic religious freedoms do not exist? Here are four lessons from the persecuted church which we would do well to model in our own lives.

Faith comes at a cost. Believers in nations hostile to Christianity understand and embrace this critical truth. It is not an ivory-tower belief or an intellectual assent. Instead, it is a practiced truth forged by daily experiences – where intimidation, threats, and physical pain often are an integral part of daily life. Embracing Jesus in these countries has severe consequences that can include rejection by family, job loss, arrest, assault, loss of housing, imprisonment, or even death. That daunting reality attracts only serious disciples to Christ and serves as a natural barrier to lukewarm adherents. Said another way, no one feigns faith in Jesus when the penalties are so high.

Curiously, many in this country reject the idea that Christianity has a cost. We often look with incredulity at anyone who teaches otherwise, as if the person had three heads. We assert that since salvation is free, faith cannot impose a cost. But that popular view is unbiblical. Not only did Jesus teach that following Him would have a cost, He emphasized it. Even a casual study of Jesus’ ministry reveals the significance He placed in grounding His disciples in this truth. It is the essence of His message in Luke 14 when He advises potential disciples to “count the cost” and understand that whoever “does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (vs. 33, NKJV). That comprehensive truth is readily understood and embraced by believers overseas, because they experience it daily.

In contrast, a faith that ignores the cost of discipleship, also ignores the call of Christ. What results is a church flourishing with casual Christians – those whose faith exists to the extent their lives undergo no disruption or pain. Whenever the first sign of difficulty arrives or they must sacrifice something for Jesus or it is no longer expedient to profess Him as Lord, they walk away and embrace whatever religion, philosophy, or ideology advances their agenda and validates their lifestyle. What those faux followers of Christ fail to understand is that God uses the cauldron of persecution, suffering, and difficulty to strengthen our faith, draw us close to Him, and prepare us for eternity in heaven. As strange as it sounds, those circumstances we often associate with curses are in fact blessings, and, similarly, those circumstances we often associate with blessings are often curses.

Eliminate distractions. As I visit with believers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America I discover something interesting. Those with few possessions and impoverished lifestyles often display the strongest faith, most hope, and an unbridled joy seldom seen in this country. The passion they demonstrate for Jesus, their boldness in sharing Him with a adversarial community, and the significant time they dedicate to growing their faith is rarely matched in this country. How can that be?

To understand this we must take off the temporal lens through which we often view the world and put on a spiritual lens instead. Without the treasures of this world to distract them, these believers have plenty of time to nurture their relationship with Jesus. For example, worship services in third-world countries often last hours with no one in the congregation checking the time or leaving early. The opportunity to fellowship with other believers is God’s blessing and they want to maximize that blessing each week. They focus more clearly and easily on Jesus because the things of this world do not demand their attention.

We can apply this insight by removing from our lives whatever worldly treasures distract us from the Lord and compete with Him for our time and devotion. The apostle Paul referred to this as “counting all things as loss” for the excellence of knowing Jesus more. (See Philippians 3:7-11).

Pain refines faith. The suffering, persecution, and threats endured by overseas believers produces deep trust in God. With nowhere else to turn, they petition God for relief, seeking solace and comfort from Him alone. Since the courts, government, and society refuse to address their fears, troubles and needs, they know that their survival rests entirely in God’s hands, as does their freedom, health, safety, and basic needs.

In contrast, experience often teaches us to trust our employment, family, government, retirement plans, and investment accounts to provide for and protect us. We thank God on the surface but do we trust Him when the circumstances change? If not, our faith rests on an untenable foundation. Let’s learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters and place our trust in Him and not the circumstances or the things of this world.

How do we demonstrate that? By better stewarding the resources He has provided, by refusing to remain in our comfort zones, and by living a more sacrificial life. Let’s give more generously, invest our lives more sacrificially, and respond in obedience when He calls us to action that is uncomfortable.

Cultivate urgency. A final lesson from persecuted believers involves our need to cultivate greater urgency and focus on fulfilling the Great Commission and reaching the world with Jesus’ love. Those priorities dominate the worldview and decisions of Christians surrounded by darkness and confronting daily hostility to Christianity. They seem to understand the critical role they play in serving God by serving others. We should adopt the same mindset. Let’s set aside those activities and plans that entertain us and satisfy our worldly desires and replace them with actions that satisfy God’s desires and fulfill His will. In doing so we not only draw others closer to Him, we become more like Him ourselves.

Faith Lessons from the NFL.

With the NFL Conference Championships now concluded and the Super Bowl only a week away, what an appropriate time to explore what Christians can learn from the NFL, in particular the Seattle Seahawks historical comeback against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. While any comparison between sport and faith is tenuous, the dramatic outcome of that game represents an ideal metaphor for understanding several truths from Scripture. Here are three important spiritual lessons gleaned from that memorable game.

1] For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required. Jesus spoke these words about faithful stewards in a parable to His disciples (see Luke 12:48). In football, those players in whom the team invests the most resources (largest contract) ought to have the biggest impact on the game. In Sunday’s match-up Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback with the biggest team contract, was expected to be the playmaker who delivered a victory for his team. Instead, his lackluster performance contributed more to the team’s loss than any Packers player, evidenced by the abysmal six points off of five defensive turnovers.

Similarly, those believers whom God has given the most are expected to faithfully steward those resources for His Kingdom. Sadly, this truth has been lost on many of us – corporately as a church and individually as believers. Blessed with incredible wealth the church regularly chooses to direct a vast majority of God’s resources on beautiful buildings and programs that often have a tangential relationship to the gospel, all the while neglecting the biggest need of all: taking the gospel to the entire world. Most churches spend less than ten percent on global ministries and bringing the Good News to people who have never heard of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy.

Not surprisingly, many churchgoers adopt this model in their own lives and with their own resources, refusing to tithe or giving very little as a percentage of their income. Like the church, they direct nearly all their income on themselves, acquiring more and nicer stuff, and pampering themselves with luxury and comfort. That mindset has infected the church so severely it is destroying it from within and is representative of the unwise and unfaithful steward. We would do well to reevaluate how we employ God’s resources and make sure we use them to proclaim His message of hope, love, and forgiveness locally and abroad.

2] Everyone plays a role, so be ready. The play that turned everything around for the Seahawks was a fake field goal in the fourth quarter. The placeholder scrambled to his left and floated a wobbly pass twenty yards downfield to a wide-open third-string tight end who had not caught a pass all year. The two players perhaps least likely to connect on a passing touchdown had a tremendous impact on the game. Without them executing that play the comeback never begins.

Similarly, God has a plan for each of us no matter how insignificant we seem. He wants us involved in His game plan not sitting on the sidelines offering excuses for why we are not impacting the world. Are you sitting on the bench with regards to your faith? Do you remain silent about your faith when talking with friends, family, and work colleagues? Are you disengaged from sharing God’s love with the marginalized, destitute, and haters in your community? It’s time to get in the game and make a difference. Paul tells us to be prepared at all times to share the gospel with others (2 Tim 4:2). Are you prepared? Do you act on that preparation? You need not be a pastor, eloquent speaker, admired author, or engaging extrovert to have a substantive impact for Christ and His Kingdom. You need only have a servant’s heart, a willing spirit, and an authentic love for the Lord. Ask Him to reveal opportunities to serve, love, and teach others in His name. He’ll answer your prayer and soon you’ll be making a real contribution.

3] Don’t presume the outcome. This is, perhaps, the most critical lesson of all. With less than three minutes to play in the game nearly every Packers fan believed their team was headed to the Super Bowl. They led by twelve points, which meant the Seahawks needed to score two touchdowns in a game in which it had only managed one touchdown over the first fifty-seven minutes. Fans were probably already booking flights and making hotel reservations so they could see the Super Bowl in person two weeks later. After all, what could go wrong? Well, as Packers fans soon learned, just about everything could, and did, go wrong. The Seahawks pulled off arguably the most impressive last-minute comeback in NFL playoff history and defeated the Packers in overtime. Green Bay fans were devastated. How could something so certain end in such misery? Fortunately, their emotional turmoil will subside as life goes on.

Jesus informed His followers of a similar scenario playing out on the day of His second coming. He explained that many who claim they are Christians and profess Him as Lord will not join Him in heaven (see Matthew 7:21-23). This will come as an unbelievable shock to them. They will protest vigorously and insist He reconsider, reminding Him of all they have done to deserve heaven. However, the absence of a personal, robust, and healthy relationship with Him prevents them from enjoying eternity in heaven. Like Packers fans from last weekend, these men and women are devastated. They, too, were certain of the outcome – that they would spend eternity in heaven. Like Packers fans, they were wrong. Unlike Packers fans, their turmoil does not subside and life does not go on.

Are you a Christian? Do you consider Jesus, Lord? If so, take time to study the Bible regularly and understand His expectations for those who follow Him. Learn who He was, and is, and live according to the pattern He established. Most of all, cultivate a love for Him. Consistently carve out time in your schedule to worship, praise, and serve Him. In the process you will learn what it means to make Him Lord and develop a relationship that precludes you from getting shocked when He returns.