In this century, the Christian faith seems confrontational at its core. The issues we stubbornly choose to tackle and emphasize--whether creationism, theism, eschatology or any culture war on the political scene--indicate that we feel threatened and may be missing the point.
Conservative Christian culture is producing increasingly overweight, capitalist, isolated men and women with little care for migrants, the marginalized, the environment, and transformative health and spirituality. How is this not a reactionary and short-lived response to the twenty-first century? If all we have to offer is a “No” to every question people care about, how will churches keep from imploding like the Soviet Union?
The world continues to spin and others explore and live out these essential matters. I am not a fatalist, and will not give up my Christian faith (and the church) that easily. Though our future is unknown, I am hopeful that the community started by Jesus of Nazareth will come to fruition and His Kingdom will triumph. To be on the same page with Him, Ekklesia the church must be able to identify with two relentless sister-realities. Their names? Consciousness and Suffering.
What is consciousness? Is there purpose at work in the universe? How does one tap into it? These soul-searching questions—and the paths that lead to them—lead to tomorrow’s spirituality. Science and secularism have yet to come up with convincing answers to these questions.
Jesus said: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). This verse confronts our world which has much bread and little Word. Christians should be at the forefront in providing prayer centers and spiritual retreats, and practicing the presence of God to anyone who is seeking transformation.
What is suffering? Why does it exist? What is our responsibility in alleviating it? For whom and for what? As we become less self-centered, we are realizing the importance of caring for our planet and the fullness therein, from the “least of our brothers” to animal and plant welfare. Let’s not react to this, as it can be used for good in the Kingdom of God.
What we do with suffering will impact how we care for the poor among us and for God’s creation. What if we would teach and live out Philippians 2--self-emptying, servant stewardship instead of criticizing people and ridiculing them for taking care of their surroundings?
In the twenty-first century, how can we get involved in God's great work? By caring for and fostering life in all its dimensions; by demonstrating mature spirituality and prayer; by worshipping God and obeying the commandments of Jesus Christ without reacting to our neighbors through passive-aggressive isolation; and by giving full attention and care to Muslim refugees in particular.
Jesus of Nazareth has much to say about consciousness and suffering. Our response will be the deciding factor in whether the church contributes to this age, or dies and makes way for others to take on this great work. After all, God can use stones to accomplish His purposes (Matthew 3:9).
“Salt is good but if it loses its flavor, what is it good for?” (Matthew 5:13). This is the great work: “Building up the Temple of the Lord. Brother, won’t you help me? Sister, won’t you help me?”
Written by: Y.L.
As a boy growing up I remember a phrase that was often repeated when my family and the members of my community came into contact with unbelievers. The phrase was, “Let your light shine.” The idea that was contained within that short phrase was that all we needed to do was live righteous lives in front of unbelievers. If they were serious minded they would be drawn to the Gospel and then hopefully become Christians. I look back at my growing up years and realize that was the predominate idea that was engrained in my mind about evangelism.
Ideas and beliefs have the power to change us and cause us to act certain ways. What we believe about the way the Gospel goes forth and transforms people is what shapes the way we live and act in real life. Belief is never passive; it always results in actions.
I found out years later that the Scriptures actually taught that “faith comes by hearing.” In fact, the spoken word is the primary way that God chooses to activate faith in an individual (there are, of course, exceptions such as sign language for the deaf). As we reflect on our own journey of faith, we will realize that somewhere on that journey of faith we where exposed to the Word of God through its proclamation. It was the continued exposure to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that eventually caused us to commit our lives to Christ.
It is the spoken word that has the power to bring to faith the very ones we love and hold dear in our hearts, the people that God has called us to reach. God’s desire is to work in and through us by the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:12-13). It is the Word spoken by the believer that gives faith to the unbeliever.
If God has reduced the salvation of others to having them hear His Word, then it certainly has implications on us believers. With apostolic boldness, passion, and confidence we should speak the word everywhere, at anytime, to whomever God brings across our path. We should speak the word in cafes, gas stations, among our friends, in church and on the streets. We should speak the Word in any situation. There are hardly any situations where it is not appropriate to speak God’s Word, whether indirectly or directly. We should share it with whoever we happen to encounter.
I wonder what would happen around us if we lived this way. I wonder how many people would come to living faith in Christ. I can hardly remember a situation or encounter in life where I walked away and wished I hadn't shared God’s Word. Most times it has been the opposite.
Within the phrase “faith comes by hearing” is a promise. The promise is that faith will come! It will come when someone speaks the Word and another hears. This is an amazing promise! We can proclaim the Word faithfully knowing there will be a harvest. Although we don't know when or who will bring it in, the harvest is coming.
Romans 10:14-15, NKJV
"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!'"
Written by: E.K.
Picture Jesus with His twelve disciples. They had left the comfort of Galilee, the comfort of family and friends, of the like-minded (Jewish) and friendly, to trek twenty-five miles north. They walked away from Capernaum, the hub of Jesus’ ministry, bound for the city of Caesarea Philippi on the border of the Gentile world. Philippi was a city that Phillip built for one of the Caesars. It sat at the base of Mount Hermon and claimed one of the largest springs that fed the river Jordan.
The abundant water and fertile land attracted many religious sects who built temples in the area. In fact, the spring emerged from a cave which became the center of pagan worship. It was in this place that Jesus asked two very important questions. The first question is found in Matthew 16:13:
"Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" On the surface this seems like a benign question. I can imagine them just outside the pagan temples, possibly surrounded by many pagan worshippers. Perhaps some of them were even listening in on the conversation?
And so His disciples started answering, "Some say you are John the Baptist. We remember King Herod propagating that myth! Others say you are Elijah, the great prophet! Others say that you are Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets." The twelve did not just imagine this. In Luke 9 we see that Herod had also heard all these things and was questioning them.
Brothers and sisters, fellow laborers for the King, in our world today if we ask this same question about Jesus, we will get just as many varied answers as Jesus got! My question is, how do we respond?
I love what Jesus did. He did not leave them “hanging.” He did not let their answers go unanswered. He asked them the most important question we can ask people. "But who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15) Jesus wasn’t satisfied with them quoting others' opinions; He went to the heart. He made it personal!
More and more I am seeing that when I deal with people and issues, it is very helpful to have them verbalize the issue at hand. Once they do, it seems to internalize and settle whatever is going on inside. And I believe that is what Jesus is doing here. He wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they understood who He was!
And Peter did not disappoint. "Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (Matt. 16:16). The Christ, Anointed One; the Messiah! Not a prophet; not Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist, but the Messiah! A very clear, concise answer!
I wonder how many people will miss Heaven because I did not “close the sale.” Maybe it was fear that kept me from pressing in; maybe ignorance, feelings of doubt or insufficiencies. Whatever the case, I left them hanging and can only trust in the grace of the Father.
Fellow laborers, let’s not faint in the task that we have been called to. Let us be as bold as Jesus and as confident as Peter! Let us not fear man, but keep pressing in until the harvest is complete!
Imagine that overnight all Christians became expert evangelists. The next day, all of us went forth boldly proclaiming Jesus to all of our friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. Surely, it wouldn’t be long until every person on the face of the earth had heard the gospel, right?
Unfortunately, no. Although it might be hard for us to imagine, there are some people so removed from the Gospel and isolated by barriers of language and culture that they still wouldn’t hear the Good News even if every Christian actively shared Jesus with everyone they know.
These people are Unreached People Groups (UPGs). Although other, more technical, definitions exist for UPGs, I like this one because it helps us see people and places rather than just numbers and statistics. The majority of UPGs live in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. However, surprising numbers of these people have moved west to North America.
If it’s hard for us to imagine a village in the mountains of Nepal having no contact with Christians, it is much more difficult to imagine that, behind the drawn curtains of the apartment building beside Walmart, lives a woman who is just as unreached as her relatives in the Himalayans.
THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR
When immigrants or refugees move to the United States and Canada, they inevitably come with high hopes for a new life. They want something better for their children, and they are determined to do what they can to make their dreams a reality. Some of them press on courageously for years – overcoming tremendous hurdles. Others gradually lose hope that their own lives will ever be rich and meaningful. They abandon language study and throw themselves into working hard to provide for and protect their children. They spend years in jobs that most of us would barely endure for a season, going only from home to the workplace and back again.
Still others seek out friends from their homeland and sequester themselves in communities where they can shop at an Indian grocery store, eat at an Indian restaurant, and work at an Indian-owned hotel. These people enjoy their lives and surround themselves with friends, but like the others, they remain unreached unless someone reaches across the barriers of language and culture to bring them the Gospel.
COMING TO US - GOING TO THEM
These unreached peoples in North America do have one advantage over their friends in the homeland. They could decide to go to church if they wanted to. However, even if I can imagine myself a refugee in Egypt, I cannot imagine myself walking into a mosque with an open, seeking heart, much less finding anything in the Arabic words and unfamiliar rituals that would draw me back again. No matter how sincerely I went, without understanding, I would never embrace Islam. Plus, I wouldn’t go to a mosque if I were spiritually seeking, anyway. Even if I had wandered from my Christian upbringing, in a foreign land and already uprooted from everything familiar, I would go back to my roots. I would search out a church. I would try to fill my hunger in the ways familiar to me.
How can we expect anything different from the refugees in our towns? Their lives have been shaken, and though they seek peace and truth, they will tend to look for it in the places they have been taught to look. Does this mean their ears are deaf to the Gospel? Not at all! Even while they turn back to the religion of their childhood, they may realize that this religion has disappointed them. But where else can they go with their questions?
They can go to a Christian friend who has extended generous love and hospitality. They can go to a church that speaks their mother tongue. They can seek for answers in a Bible translated into their own language. They can find truth in a Christian home.
But they will not have these opportunities unless the Christian friend extends love and hospitality, opening their home to someone different from themselves. They cannot go to a church that worships in Arabic unless Arabic-speaking Christians haven’t been isolated as single converts in English-speaking churches. They can’t pick up an Arabic Bible unless it’s there on the shelf beside the English one.
It’s clear, then, that our responsibility as English-speaking Christians in North America is great. We have been passive for too long, hoping they will come to us. They have come – to our neighborhoods – but it is up to us to invite them into the Kingdom of God. We must actively seek ways to befriend and help the foreigners among us. This isn’t as hard to do as it sounds. We must open our doors, move out of Christian enclaves into cities, study a new language, and order Bibles in Hindi and Turkish and Arabic and Cantonese.
If we wait for the day we all wake up feeling unusually evangelistic, we’ll be waiting a long time. And even that won’t be enough. The Great Commission has always required action, intentionality and sacrifice. Go. Preach. Disciple. Do it in the uttermost parts of the earth. And do it here – in Ephrata and Mechanicsburg, Sarasota and Warsaw.
--H.L. (from a recent Near and Far issue)
Teachers sometimes use the technique of "show and tell" with their students to enhance the learning process. In training His disciples Jesus used the "tell and do" technique as He prepared them to go out two by two in ministry.
"These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: '...go...to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons..." (Mat. 10:5-8 NKJV).
Go...tell...do. All three are vital components of advancing His Kingdom. Any one without the others is deficient.
"Go"...We need to make contact, rub shoulders, observe, listen, ask questions, communicate, visit people in their homes, eat their food. This isn't "rocket science" and doesn't require a voice from heaven. "Go make disciples of all the nations" (Mat. 28:19). "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). As someone once asked, "What part of 'go' do we not understand?" It should be obvious that the gospel cannot "come" to people unless Christian witnesses "go" to people. One foot in front of the other. One person at a time. One gospel presentation at a time. One invitation at a time. The first word in "gospel" is, after all, "go"!
"Tell"...Making contact and friendships with people is essential, yet if we never open our mouths to share the gospel, people will not be saved. We are not good enough that people will get saved by watching us. Jesus was...and even then people did not get saved merely by watching Him. He was compelled to announce the gospel. Why? "Now faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God..."
But..."how shall they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:17,14) Let's ask the Lord of the harvest to empower us to follow His example of abundant, courageous, creative, persistent sharing the gospel everywhere we go. Let's ask Him to give us a clearer grasp of the wonder of the gospel so we, like Paul, will be eager, ready and unashamed to share the gospel (Rom. 1:11,15,16).
"Do"...Telling the gospel without "doing the gospel" will not cut it. Words need to be reinforced by deeds. People want more than words. Caring for people is confirmed by caring about real needs. As we care for people and their needs, we can pray, we can instruct, we confront demons, we can share the gospel, we can invite them to follow the Compassionate One. Deeds of kindness demonstrate genuine love. We become the hands and feet of Jesus. Through us He touches them and expresses His care for them. Kind deeds done in Jesus' Name confirms the words we share. Both words and deeds need each other in order to communicate God's truth and love.
"And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons...they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover...And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs." (Mark 16:17,18,20)
This year let's renew our commitment to go, tell and do. And may the Lord be pleased to confirm His Word and bring forth fruit.
Recently, Radi-Call published a challenging article titled "Reflecting Christ in the Workplace." It didn't take long for this article to spark discussion. One reader comments, "Can you think of some Scripture where the apostles exhort the churches to be active in sharing their faith? Are there texts you can point to that encourage personal evangelistic effort? Did Paul call upon the Corinthians or Galatians or Philippians to do the work of evangelism? Where do we find in any of the epistles an apostolic call for congregational evangelism?"
As a fellow blog writer, I jumped at the opportunity to reply to this reader's comments. This devotional is a modified version of my answer.
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First of all, let us consider the Great Commission Jesus gave to His disciples right before ascending into heaven (Matt. 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:47).
If we obey the other commands of Jesus, we cannot overlook this clear commission. Just look at how His followers responded to His clear command: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs. Amen” (Mark 16:20). May we follow suit.
As new creations in Christ, we are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Some might say ambassadors are a select few. However, this passage is clearly talking about anyone who is in Christ (vs. 17).
1. We are a new creation; the old has passed away (vs. 17).
2. We are reconciled to God; therefore we have the ministry of reconciliation (vs. 18).
3. What does that ministry look like? We are ambassadors (advocates) for Christ, pleading–imploring–that people be reconciled to God.
4. Why do we do this ministry? Because we have become the righteousness of God through Christ! (vs. 21) This is WONDERFUL NEWS! And what do we do with amazing news? We tell others about it! This Good News, the Gospel, is not reserved for a select few. It abounds in the life of every true believer.
A shining light
This Good News must shine forth from every Christian, as stated in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14).
One might argue that the light is not proclamation, but simply our good works shining forth. However, when paired with Romans 10:14, we know this is not the case. Our works are not enough for the Gospel to shine into people’s lives. Listen: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14) Notice that one cannot believe in the Gospel without hearing. Good works without the Good News will only cause people to think we are good people. And that is not going to change their lives.
The life of Jesus only confirms this. No Christian can out-live Jesus in holiness and good works. Yet His works were not "good enough" to transform those around Him. He needed to proclaim the Good News in order to explain the Good Works. And so must we.
The early church
How did the early church carry out evangelism? The book of Acts reveals lay people–not just the ordained–proclaiming the Gospel as a lifestyle. Steven was appointed to serve the widows, not as an evangelist. Yet he was martyred for proclaiming the Gospel! (Acts 6-7)
Saul was vehemently persecuting the church, which resulted in the scattering of the church. And what happened? “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Apollos, an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures, was proclaiming the word all across Asia (Acts 18:24-28).
Let us now turn to the early Anabaptists. They were bold proclaimers of the Word and their doctrine spread like cancer all throughout Europe. How did it spread? Through the faithful witness of every believer.
Quoting the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia:
“The Anabaptists were originally intensely evangelistic. Their only hope of expansion was by this method. Since they controlled no political units as the Reformers did, they had to win others. However, the main reason for their strong evangelistic program, as Franklin H. Littell has clearly shown, was their acceptance of the Great Commission of Christ as their action program. Kenneth S. Latourette has pointed out that the Anabaptists were the only group in the Reformation period to carry out the Great Commission, and that the Free Churches have always been in the forefront of missionary and evangelistic action. The Reformers were not evangelistic (in the strict sense), partly because they adopted the principle of the territorial state church, and the principle that the ruler determines the religion of his people. Thus they were immobilized by political boundaries and the state church concept, whereas the Anabaptists had full mobility.”
Read the rest of the GAMEO article here.
Why is it so hard?
Let’s be real. If you’re like me, you sometimes struggle with sharing the Gospel. Why is evangelism so hard, if it’s so exciting?
Evangelism is proclaiming Christ as King, which automatically proclaims Satan as dethroned. And Satan does not like that. He will make every attempt to stop this message from going out. He will implant every doubt he can in your mind so that you will keep this Good News a personal secret. He will offer you every excuse that He can to keep this message from being proclaimed in every corner on the earth.
It isn’t popular these days to talk about sin and a need of a Savior. Who likes to be told they are lost? Who likes to be told they must submit to Jesus as Lord? Yet this must be shared in order to get to the Good News–that they can be forgiven and set free!
However, we must remember that the Great Commission is not a burdensome command. It is an amazing invitation from Jesus to join in His mission of reconciling men to Himself. We are His voices, His ambassadors, pleading the cause for which we live and die (2 Cor. 5:17-21). And that cause is to see our Commander-in-Chief receive what is rightfully His–the souls of men from every ethnicity, which He bought on the cross!
Applying it to your life
Are you wondering how this command should affect your life?
1. First, it starts right where you are. Get to know your neighbors. Build friendships with unsaved people. The Gospel carries most impact when backed by true, loving friendship.
2. Next, it goes way beyond your current location. For those of you who live in North America: did you know that 81% of the US population lives in an urban setting? It is about the same for Canada as well. Maybe God will call you to give up the countryside for a city–because that’s where the people are. It is incredible how God is using immigration and the current refugee crisis to bring the world’s unreached people groups to our doorstep!
3. It goes way beyond North America. Most of the world’s unreached people groups live in the 10/40 window. And those who have never heard the Gospel are usually unreached for a reason…they are hard to reach. Maybe God is calling you to go–across the ocean, far, far away from everything that is familiar to you.
But it starts, right where you are...
-- Written by: I.M.