Monday, October 28, 2013

The Power of Evangelism is The Gospel 2 Corinthians 2:16-17 Message #16

Scientists tell us that the oceans of the world contain more than 340 quintillion gallons of water—The Bible tells us in Isaiah 40:12 that God holds them "in the hollow of his hand".  They also tell us that the earth weighs 6 sextillion metric tons—The Bible tells us in Isaiah 40:15 that to God, “it is but "dust on the scales".  In addition to this scientists inform us that the known universe stretches more than 30 billion light years (200 sextillion miles)—The Bible tells us in Isaiah 40:12 that God measures it by the width of his hand.
Finally, scientists claim there are at least 100 billion galaxies and each galaxy is made up of about 100 billion stars. To such mind-boggling math the Bible tells us in Isaiah 40:26 that God calls each star "by name".  

The Universe undeniably displays the power of God.  But did you know that outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ as expressed in God’s Word?  Note I did not say that the gospel reveals the power of God—I said the gospel is the power of God. That’s right—that is what the Scriptures teach in 1 Corinthians 1:18 and Romans 1:16.  Nothing else in the Bible is ever described as the power of God—except for Jesus Christ Himself in 1 Corinthians 1:24. Thus, when we read that the gospel is the power of God, what we should understand that to mean is that whereas God’s power is seen in miracles, miraculous sign gifts, and in every other work God does—it resides in the GospelSo whereas, the size of our universe and the infinite number of stars in the universe evidences God’s power (Romans 1:20) it is not in the creation that God’s power resides—rather it is in the Gospel.

Now consider for just a moment that it would take you, flying in a jet airliner at 500 mph a little longer than 900 years to get to the dwarf planet Pluto at the edge of our solar system and you get some sense of the immensity of just our own planetary system. Now consider that if you wanted to take a trip to visit the nearest star to earth you would be booking a trip aboard that 500 mph jet that would take you six million years to get there. Now let’s really get into hyper drive and plan a trip outside our own galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy, which is right next door to our own Milky Way Galaxy.  To make this trip in our jet traveling at 500 mph it would take us 4.2 trillion years. But that’s not even very far compared to the fat that if we were to try and travel to the most distant galaxy in the universe or at least the most known distant galaxy in the universe known as z8_GND_5296 which was  photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope we would have to travel 13.1 billion light years just to get there. At 500 mph it would take us 20 quadrillion years. But as great as all this is—the universe, as big as it is, is but a manifestation  of God’s power whereas the gospel is the power of God.

And this was the reason why Paul felt so obligated to preach the gospel rather than do anything else. This is why he was so eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome than anything else. And this is why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel according to Romans 1:16He knew that the omnipotence of God was best seen in the gospel than anywhere else. And since the gospel is imbedded in and communicated through the Word of God—we can say that the power of God is in the Word of God.

Now go back to Romans 1:16 and we see that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes no matter who they are. And it is important to understand that in 2 Corinthians 4:6 likens the power necessary to save a sinner from his or her sins to the divine power it took to create the universe.

Now, it is difficult for us to imagine that the salvation of a person requires the same kind of divine power than it took to create the universe, but that is simply because we don’t have a high enough view of God’s holy character and a correct understanding of our own sinfulness. You see, when we begin to attempt to fathom the absolute unimaginable and incomprehensible holiness of God and how unbelievably great is our crime against God—then and only then might we be able to get just a glimpse or just a sliver of understanding into how much it took to turn God’s wrath and anger and eternal punishment for our sins away from us. The reason we don’t see the gospel as being as powerful as it is—is because we really don’t understand how incredibly, dreadfully, and contemptibly wicked and evil just one of our sins is in the sight of God—let alone a lifetime of sins.

It is only when we begin to grasp our sinfulness and just how hideously offensive our wickedness is to God and how utterly powerless we are to do anything about it in light of His infinite holiness that must punish any and every evil inclination, thought, motivation, desire, and deed that we are able to even begin to see the power of the gospel to keep us out of hell for even one split second let alone for all of eternity.

It is only as we contemplate the “blistering holiness of our God, Who is described in the Scriptures as a consuming fire that we will ever be able to comprehend the infinite power of the gospel of this God—Who, as His Son, Jesus, was dying on Calvary, turned His face away in rejection from Him as He bore our sin—so that He could turn His face toward us, forgive us, and accept us for all of eternity.

Listen, the power to save sinners and keep sinners saved is the greatest exercised power in existence simply because this power satisfied and continues to satisfy the holiness and the righteous demands of infinitely Holy God against us and our sins for all of eternity.

And it is, according to Romans 1:16, a power that knows no limits or conditions other than what God places upon it. The only limit and condition God places upon His Gospel is that of believing in Jesus Christ—trusting Him to save you from the due penalty of your sins—embracing Him and Him alone as your Lord and Savior! In other words, the Gospel is effective to save anyone and everyone who believes.

There is absolutely no one who is so bad, so down and out, so decrepid, so horrible, or so indecent that the power of God cannot save them if they will only believe. There is no one who has lived such a wicked life or committed such horrific sins that God’s power cannot save if they will only believe. The power of God to save sinners who will believe in Christ is greater than the power God utilized to create the universe and it is greater than the power God is utilizing right now to sustain the universe—it is the greatest power on earth and thus, is certainly greater than all our sin and shame. There is absolutely no one whose sin cannot be forgiven and whose life cannot be changed by God if only they will believe.

But, let me also say this the power of the gospel saves sinners who know and admit they are sinners without hope unless God has mercy upon them. In other words, there is no power to save when the sinner thinks he is either not as bad as the Bible says or God is not as Holy. But for those who do not diminish their sin—the gospel has the power to save.

And thus, the reason why Paul states so emphatically that he is not ashamed of the gospel. I mean how can you be ashamed of the gospel when the gospel is the power of God. None of us are ashamed of God’s creation—yet all the creation does is reveal the power of God—the gospel is the power of God.

But, furthermore, knowing the power of God resides in the Gospel as communicated in the Word of God—why do we try to evangelize and share the Gospel with others without using the Word of God?

And this is Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 2:16-17 where he makes the point that whereas not a single one of us is adequate to be used by God to bring people to salvation—His Word is—when it is communicated for what it really is—the authoritative, powerful, sufficient, Holy Spirit-inspired and Holy Spirit-empowered Word of God.

So in verse 16—Paul asks a rhetorical question having to do with all of us who as Christians have the responsibility and the privilege of living out and sharing the Gospel with others who do not yet know Christ. He asks—“Who is sufficient for these things?” In other words, Who is up to the task of being God’s instrument in confronting people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ so as to see them turn to Christ for salvation from their sins? Who has the innate ability to do this?  Who has the necessary giftedness to be used in this way?  Who is a natural at this? And the answer is—“no one”. NO ONE among us has the ability to turn the heart of an unsaved person to Christ. There are no natural evangelists among us who have an innate talent to convert sinners to Christ. That is simply not how salvation works. None of us are adequate for the task!  None of us are more adequate than the other.

That’s the point Paul is making here in verse 16—the adequacy to see unbelievers turn from their sins to Christ for salvation is not in us—it is outside of us—It is in the Word of God. But more specifically, it is in the correct, sincere, and God-dependent sharing of the Gospel as found in and articulated in the Word of God—the Bible- that our adequacy to be used as God’s instruments in bringing people to Himself comes.

That is what Paul is saying when he asks this rhetorical question as the end of verse 16 and then answers it in verse 17. And in verse 17, Paul gives us the criteria or the requirements, if you will, regarding what it takes to be used by God as a powerful instrument in sharing His Gospel so as to mightily impact people so that they have to make a choice either for or against Christ.

Here they are:

1)   You have to use God’s Word.  The assumption in verse 17 is that you are using the Word of God to share the Gospel with others.

In other words, you need to be getting your information from the Bible.
Better yet, you need to be using the Bible and either reading people the verses having to do with salvation or quoting these verses to them.

The power of God unto salvation is in the Gospel as recorded for us in the Word of God.  That’s what Romans 1:16 means.

The gift of faith which is necessary if any person is to believe on Christ comes through the Word of God.  That is what Romans 10:17 says“And Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.”

Learn the Gospel.  Grow in your Scriptural understanding of it.  Know the Bible verses that apply to it.  Memorize them and then share them. 
They have the power that you do not have to convict people of their sin and bring them to Christ!

2)  Believe the Bible and trust it to do its work in a person’s life without compromising it. 

God promises that His Word will not return void.”  In other words, it will not fail to do the job God has planned for it to accomplish whether that is salvation or confirmation in damnation.

We need to get over the compulsion that we often have to soften the Gospel to make it more palatable to unbelievers.

That is what Paul means when he says—we are not peddlers of the Word of God.

The peddlers of the Word of God are those who feel that they need to make it more attractive to unbelievers if they are to accept it.

They are the false teachers—who either add to or subtract from the requirements of the Gospel.

They are the “health, wealth, and prosperity preachers” who twist the Gospel in order to relieve ignorant believers of their wealth and prosperity.

They are us—when we choose not to say anything about Christ or quickly change the subject for fear of what others will think of us if they find out we believe in Him.

And it is us—when we soft pedal any part of the Gospel because we think unbelievers won’t be able to accept it.   

Keep in mind that no one—absolutely no one—comes to Christ because Christ is easy to swallow.

They come to Christ because God, using the power of the Gospel, opens their eyes to see Christ, desire Christ, and come to Christ for salvation.

Again as Romans 10:17 puts it: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ”—the Gospel.

Just believe the Word, live it, and share it—that’s all God asks you to do—He’ll do the saving!

3)    Speak with simple sincerity.   Don’t complicate the Gospel—don’t over simplify it either.  Be real.  Mean what you say?  And do not promise what God does not promise—such as if you come to Christ you will not have any more problems.

4)   Speak as from God.  That is, take not only your commission from God, but your words and your authority from God as well.

Speak his words and not your own.  Speak in his authority and not your own. Draw your strength and guidance from his power and wisdom, not your own?

5)   Speak as one who is in Christ.  That is, realize that because you are in Christ and thus completely accepted by God—it does not matter what people think about you.  It should not matter whether they accept you.  Your identity and your assurance and your confidence and your hope and your courage from your union with Christ?

6)   Speak as in the presence of God.  That is, reckon him to be your judge and no man.  Care more about his assessment of your words than who you are talking to or want to talk to.  And do not be deterred by human criticism.  Remember the fear of man is a snare.  If you fear God you need not fear anyone else!

And remember there are no perfect Gospel presentations or evangelists in God’s service. There are only imperfect Believers sharing their own imperfect stories using the perfect Word of God whom God uses.


And as we seek to be His people—people who are actively sharing our faith—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—we need to realize that God overcomes our inadequacy when we will believe, trust, and correctly and sincerely use His Word in sharing the Gospel with others.

Friday, October 25, 2013

THE GREAT DIVIDE

There is a huge chasm existing in the lives and families of many today who claim the title Christian, those being, people who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and are trusting in Him and His work on the cross to save them from their sins.  This canyon is found between their profession and their practice.  It is flanked by what the Bible teaches and understandingly applying what the Bible teaches to every area of their lives and families in every arena they venture into which obviously will include work, education, recreation, consumption (as in eating, drinking, buying, the using of resources), apparel or decoration, if you will, and of course church life.
 
For many in the church today their understanding of how their faith in Christ is to relate to each and every area of their lives is terribly deficient and in many cases non-existent.  They see their faith as being merely another category of life rather than life itself.  They see Jesus as being relevant to Bible study, behavior, and prayer but not to mathematics, sports, what they wear (or don’t wear), how they eat, making a buck, retirement, and Craig’s List.  It is as though they cannot see how their faith in Christ connects to the totality of their lives.  They, like small immature children told to connect the dots so as to find the picture in a coloring book, struggle because they are so intently focused on the individual dots—they can’t see how they connect and obviously miss the big picture.

The fact is, our faith in Christ affects every one of the dots in our lives so as to not only connect them to each other but to connect them to Christ so as to create the Big Picture also known as a Biblical world view or philosophy of life that is indeed Christian or Christ-centered and therefore spiritually functional.  The apostle Paul makes it very clear that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3).  This essentially means that any kind of learning process, regardless of where that education is supposedly taking place, apart from Christ is at best incomplete, disjointed, full of gaps, inferior and at worst—demonic.  It is demonic in the sense that Satan’s intent from Genesis 3 has always been to separate man from the relevance of God to his life so as to distort and eventually destroy the Big Picture of Life.
 
This means that living a life apart from seeing and applying the relevance of your Christianity to every area of your life will result in an inferior and spiritually dysfunctional life.  Family life lived and practiced apart from seeing the relevance of Christ to every aspect of family life all the way from the T.V. to soccer practice to what the purpose of the family meal is all about to living separate lives within the same household will all result in a spiritually dysfunctional family which produces spiritually dysfunctional children who become adults who, while perhaps claiming the title Christian, see no or very little relevance between it and the lives they are living and desire to live.

Until Bible-believing Christians start becoming Bible-applying Christians who see the relevance of their faith to and in every area of life and thus, cease compartmentalizing their lives between the secular and the spiritual any positive and spiritually constructive Christian relevance we might have in this world and in our own families is fairly trivial.  We must do away with the “Great Divide” between what we know and how we live, between the church and ball field, between manna and math, and between making a living and making a life.  We must sack this unbiblical thinking that sees faith in Christ as just another aspect of life when it is clear from Scripture that Christ is our life—which is all-inclusive of every fragment of our lives (Colossians 3:4; Galatians 2:20). 


Until our faith in Christ oozes through and out of the church into where we live out the vast majority of every hour of every day, the Christian and the Church alike have no essential beneficial bearing or positive influence for Christ anywhere.  Faith without works is indeed dead because an unapplied faith in any area of the believer’s life is a dead faith in that arena of life.  And the influence of a dead faith is much the same as a dead body left to decay—it stinks! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

If You Want To make Disciples--You Need To Open Your Mouth" 2 Corinthians 2:14b-16 Message #15

Have you ever wanted to be like Jesus?

I sure hope so because becoming like Jesus is God’s goal for all of us who we are believers.

The Apostle Peter wanted to be like Jesus—so much so that one day when he and the other disciples were out on a fishing boat in the middle of the Sea of Galillee they saw Jesus walking toward them on top of the water.  At first, all of the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and were terrified but Jesus identified Himself and told them to not be afraid.  Then all of a sudden, Peter gets this brilliant idea that if the Lord is walking on the water—maybe he could be like Jesus and walk on the water too and so he calls out to Jesus to see.  And what was Jesus’ reply?  “Come”  So Peter got out of the boat and lo and behold walked on the water just like Jesus.

Oh, he didn’t stay up long because seeing the storm, he panicked, took his eyes off the Lord and began to sink requiring the Lord to save him.  But, for a few seconds—who knows—maybe even a minute or so--he did walk on the water just like Jesus and experienced and enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime.  And the fact is, I think it thrilled Jesus as much as Peter because God is always excited when we want to be like Him.

But in order for Peter to have that soul thrilling experience in his life of walking on the water, experiencing the miraculous, seeing Himself doing what Jesus was doing—He had to forsake the safety and the security of the boat—take a risk—and get out of the boat.  He had to leave what was comfty, safe, secure, stable, conventional, and actually take a risk  if he was to experience the exhileration of trusting Jesus for the impossible.  If he wanted to walk on water—he had to get out of the boat.  It is no different for us today.

Do you want to be like Jesus?  Sure you do!

Do you want to make a difference in this world like Jesus did?  Of course you do!

Do you have a desire to see God do something really big in your life?  I hope so.

Do you want to experience the power of God in your life?  Absolutely!

Well—you’re going to have to get out of your boat.

You’re going to have to be willing to take some risks, lose the safety net, go out on a limb, sacrifice some of your comforts, give up some of your conveniences, and quit settling for the status quo.  In other words—you’re going to have to break out of the prison all these things have created to keep your soul from truly following and experiencing Jesus to the exhilarating adrenaline-charged degree that you could.  You’re going to have to get out of the boat if you want that for your life.

And the fact is, our church is going to have to get out of the boat too!  More than that—our church—we the members and attenders of this church—we who have made some kind of commitment to this church are in dire need of getting out of the boat and risking everything to be like Jesus so we can walk on the water and experience Him in a way we never will otherwise.

For our joy we need to get out the boat.

For the sake of our children who are wondering if there is anything out there to live for that is more exciting than cars, houses, new clothes, sports, being liked—we need to get out of the boat.

For the eternal joy of unbelievers in Vermont who do not yet know Christ because they have not yet been personally confronted with the Gospel—we need to get out of the Boat.

And for God’s glory we need to get out of the boat.

Sir Frances Drake, the great English Naval explorer who circumvented the globe from 1577 to 1580 must have known something about this to be to write this prayer:

"Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim. Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars."

In other words, Lord, get us out of our boat!

But this requires vision!  For Peter, it was the vision to be doing what Jesus was doing—to be like His Savior—His Hero—if you will.  It was that kind of vision that motivated him to get out of the boat and try the impossible.  And it is the same for you and I.  Unless we have a vision that is stronger than our creature comforts, more desirable than our convenience, more exhilarating than our hobbies, our sports, our homes, our comforts, and our small earthly ambitions—we will never experience the Lord in any kind of extraordinary, soul-expanding, mind-blowing, and life-transforming way.  Because if we don’t have a vision of Christ and His supremacy, His glory, His majesty, His splendor, His magnificence, His grandeur, His Absolute Incontestable Sovereign Power, and His Willingness to provide salvation from hellish existence on this life and hell itself in the afterlife—we will never get out of the boat!

As Andrew Murray, a great missionary of the past, wrote concerning the apparent lack of enthusiasm for ministry, evangelism, and missions in many churches:

“As we seek to find out why, with such millions of Christians, the real army of God that is fighting the hosts of darkness is so small, the only answer is—lack of heart.  The enthusiasm of the kingdom is missing.  And that is because there is so little enthusiasm for the King.”

You see, Jesus just isn't our hero.  He just can't compete with our sports, our big screens, our comforts, our crispy creams, our pursuit of the American Dream because He isn't our hero.  And that's why our churches and our western brand of Christianity is so weak, so anemic, so cowardly, so unwilling to risk, so enamored with the world, and so utterly irrelevant.  

John Stott, the great English preacher of the last century made the point this way:

“The highest of motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission . . . nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing . . . but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ. . . . Only one imperialism is Christian . . . and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ, and for the glory of His empire.” 

That is the only vision that counts—the only kind of vision that will take half-hearted, cowardly, weak-kneed Christians and turn them into burning, passionate, bold, risk-taking, Gospel-sharing followers of Jesus Christ. 

And in the end, when this age is over, and with all of the countless millions of the redeemed, we see Christ in the midst of inapproachable brilliant and glorious light seated on His Throne and we fall on our faces before Him Who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords—we will be full of incomprehensible joy and full of glory and there will not be a risk taken or a sacrifice made that will not have been worth it all a thousand times over.

So what is it that God wants to embolden us to do with this kind of vision of His Son or to put it another way—what is it that He wants to reward us for?

In a nutshell—God wants to manifest to everyone with whom we have contact wherever we are what it is like to know, experience, live life with, and enjoy Jesus Christ so as to give us the opportunity to share with them the Gospel.

That’s it—in a nut shell.

And you’ll find it in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17Let’s read it!

According to Paul, wherever we are, no matter how we got there is where God wants to use us.  In other words, the most important place you and I can be in terms of our usefulness to God in terms of manifesting the essence and the character of Christ to unbelievers is where we are right now regardless of how we got here.  And Paul is not necessarily just referring to our location as in the physical place where we are right now.  He also has in mind our situation, our circumstances, our family, our kids, our friends, our job, our school, our church, our football team, our neighborhood, our doctor’s office, our grocery store, our favorite coffee shop or restaurant—basically wherever we are living life.

Wherever you are is the place and the situation God is wanting to manifest His Son so that those you are intentionally and unintentionally building relationships can experience the Person, Character, and Essence of Christ through you.  Listen, if you are a believer and you live in this community then God wants to use you to make His Son known to those you rub shoulders with everyday of your lives.

That is what Paul means when he says that God is always leading us in triumph in Christ so that we are manifesting the aroma of Christ—the essence of Christ, the fragrance of Christ in every place we find ourselves in.  And the fact is, Paul also wants us to understand that we need to be intentionally establishing relationships with the people we are rubbing shoulders with in every place we find ourselves for the purpose of intentionally living Christ out before them so that God can manifest the beauty, the majesty, the power, the love, the joy, and the hope of Christ’s character to them so that we can intentionally share the Gospel with them so that God can be glorified in either saving or not saving them.  That is what Paul is saying in verses 15-16.

Our lives as believers should have an impact on people wherever we are!
People should not ever be left wondering after we have spent some time with them who we are and Who we belong to as Christians. There should not be any doubt in their minds.  Furthermore, they should not simply be left with the impression that you are a nice person but rather that you are a nice person because of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s concern is not that we just be viewed by the world as really great, loving, generous, kind, neighbors and co-workers.  No—his concern is that everyone that we rub shoulders with experiences Christ in our actions and hears about Him in our words so that they either see Him as their Savior and live or find Him repugnant and are damned.

That’s what verses 15 and 16 are saying!

And if we aren’t doing this—if we aren’t intentionally living out our Faith in Christ so as to intentionally share Christ with the people God has already brought into our lives—God is not amused.  Listen to what He directs Paul to say in 1 Corinthians 15:34  “. . . for some have no knowledge of God—I speak this to your shame.”  

This is why I hang out for several hours a week in places like MacDonalds, Mrs. Murphy’s, Bagel Works, the Spiral CafĂ©, and Bob’s Diner.  That’s why I intentionally met and now have coffee with one of the guys who attend AA here.  I want to intentionally hang out where people are so as to intentionally build relationships so as to have God manifest the character of Christ to them so that I can intentionally share the Gospel with them.

Now, I don’t just go into these places to manifest a quiet testimony and to build friendships where I can share the love of Christ by simply being nice to them and hoping one day they will ask me about Jesus.  No, I intentionally go into these places to intentionally make friends so that God will intentionally manifest Christ to them so that I can intentionally tell them about Jesus.  In other words, evangelism is not about just making friends—it is about making friends so that I can share Christ with them because that is what real friends who know Jesus do.

It is not a question of using a friendship as an evangelistic tool to proseletize someone—NO—It is using friendship as a means or a tool of being the best friend I can possibly be by sharing with my friend the greatest news they could ever hear—which is Who Jesus is and What He did for them to make it possible for them to have a relationship with God and live a truly significant and fulfilling life now in this world and in the next.

Real friends don’t let friends slip into eternity without telling them about Jesus!  And that is the problem we struggle with—we build these friendships with our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, our fellow-coaches, our family members, etc. and we live out the Christian Life before them but never ever tell them about Jesus.  Oh we may invite them to church—but that is not sharing the Gospel—that isn’t fulfilling the Great Commission!

Listen, unbelievers are not typically saved by coming to church—they are saved when the church, in the form of individual Christians, goes to them and shares Christ with them.  But that requires—INTENTIONALITY on our part!  It requires that we intentionally—just like Peter—get out of the boat!  Listen, through this passage of inspired Scripture God is calling you and I to take what many believers in the US and especially here in Vermont feel is the scariest step of all—that step out of your boat to share Jesus Christ with someone else.

But if you're going to make disciples--you have to open your mouth!

So you ask—how do I start?  Where do I begin?  What’s it look like?

Has God ever helped you?  Has prayer ever made life more bearable?  Have you ever found comfort in Christ?  Haven’t you experienced the forgiveness of sins and the lifting of guilt off your shoulders?  Well that’s the same thing people all around you need to experience too!

You will talk to people this week who may learn they’ve lost a job, will realize their marriage is breaking up, may recognize the early signs of Alzheimer’s in themselves or a loved one, may find out they or a loved one has cancer, have struggles with their children, struggle with guilt, aren’t finding fulfillment in life, hate their job, or just know there’s something more to live for than what they have.  And you and I have the answer and the answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And it’s not all that difficult to share—

Listen, God will give you the words to say to someone if you will only get out of the boat.  So—when God opens the door for you to share the Gospel—Just Do It—Just get out of the boat and do it!  And do it with simplicity, sincerely, and without unnecessary delay.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is always tomorrow.  God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners but that does not mean there is not an urgency, or a concern, or a passion or an intensity involved on our part.  

In his autobiography entitled, Just as I Am, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election:

On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect had his driver stop the car and turned to me.

"Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?" he asked.

"I most certainly do."

I then explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. “Only then”, I said, “are we going to have permanent world peace.”

"Very interesting," he said, looking away. "We'll have to talk more about that someday." And he drove on.

Several years later, we met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast. I had the flu, Graham remembers. After I gave my short talk, and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb, he turned to me.

"Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I'd like to see you for a minute."

"Mr. President, I've got a fever," I protested. "Not only am I weak, but I don't want to give you this thing. Couldn't we wait and talk some other time?"
It was a cold, snowy day, and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat.

"Of course," he said graciously.  

But we would never meet again.  Later that year, the President was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas by an assaisin’s bullets.

His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind?  Should I have gone with him?  It was an irrecoverable moment.

Well, Billy Graham didn’t wallow in that regret but he certainly learned a lesson from it.

If you are a believer in Christ—where you are on any given day—where you live, where you work, where you go to school, where you buy your groceries, where you bank, where you get your gas, where you walk, where you are living life is the most important place you can be regardless of how you got there.
And the people you run into on any given day are the most important people you could ever meet because all of them have been brought across your path by divine appointment.

And as C.S. Lewis writes, you and I have never met a mere mortal--every single person we talk to is an immortal soul that will spend eternity with Christ in Heaven or without Christ in hell separated from Him forever.

And it is in these places and to these people that God is manifesting His Son the Lord Jesus through you so that you will have an opportunity to share the Gospel with them—the Good News that God is willing to forgive any single one of them who will come to Him through Jesus Christ.

Take the opportunity—Get Out of The Boat—and Just Do It!
  
To make disciples is the calling of this church and of every church that bears the name of Jesus Christ.  But to do that we as a church have to get out of the boat.  And that will take courage—to actually talk about Jesus to people who don’t give a rip about Jesus.

It will take courage to get past the status quo and look at our church through the lens of Scripture to see if we really are the church to this community or are just playing church.

It will require courage to risk putting our money where our mouth is and get out of the boat financially to make some significant financial investments in our community for the sake of the Gospel.

It will take courage to act upon the truth that the church should exist the same way a fire does—by consuming its resources for the light and heat of those outside of it.

It will also take some courage to step out of our personal comfort zones to join hands and start working together as a church family to see our community impacted for the Gospel by people who are the church rather than people who just attend church.
  
And Christ can and will give us that kind of courage but only if we’re willing to get out of the boat and open our mouths!



Monday, October 21, 2013

"For Those Whose Past Decisions & Failures Haunt Them" 2 Corinthians 2:12-14A Message 14

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in less than 4 minutes.  Within 2 months, John Landy eclipsed the record by 1.4 seconds.  On August 7, 1954, the two met together for a historic race. As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead. It looked as if he would win, but as he neared the finish he was haunted by the question, “Where is Bannister?”  As he turned to look back and see where his competitor was, Bannister slid by him and took the lead.  Landy later told a Time magazine reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!”

One of the most descriptive pictures of the Christian life in the Bible is of an athlete competing in a race. First Corinthians 9:24-27 tells us that discipline is the key to winning. In Hebrews 12:1-2, we are encouraged to lay aside anything that might hinder our spiritual advancement and to stay focused on Christ. And in Philippians 3:12-13, the apostle Paul said, “I press on,…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.”  And today we will look at another essential piece of divine wisdom for those of us who while running our race have made decisions—course deviations—if you will and in looking back over our shoulder are wondering if we may have lost our place in the center of God’s will.

I doubt there is anyone in this room who does not every once in a while look back on decisions that were made in the past and wonder “what if”?

What if I had finished school?

What if I had stayed with the company?

What if I had not quit?

What if I had gotten some better advice?
What if we had not sold the house?

What if I hadn’t made that decision?

What if we had been more attentive parents?

What if I had been closer to the Lord?

I could literally go on and on with “what if’s” for hours and still not exhaust all the possibilities.  The fact is, we all have some “what if’s” don’t we?  Some of our “what if’s” cause us to think and live as second class citizens in God’s Kingdom because we think we missed God’s will for our lives and are now simply taking up space waiting for heaven.  For others, the “what if” may not have had anything to do with sin at all—but rather a decision made in the past resulting from a change of mind that truly redirected your life path and now you’re wondering if that decision was God’s will for your life.

Maybe it was changing your mind about going to college, where to go to college, or about what to major in.

Maybe it was a change of direction regarding your career, being married, having kids, or leaving a certain church or even resigning a ministry position.

It could have even been changing your mind about going to the doctor sooner, getting more tests, or not going at all.

Again, life is filled with “what-if’s” that come as a result of us making all kinds of decisions and all kinds of course adjustments and even course deviations in our lives.  And many times, people find themselves getting wrapped around the axle—worried, concerned, and troubled about whether that decision or change of course has ruined their ability to be of any use to God in any kind of positive way.  Well, if this is you—God has some great news for you and it simply this:

“If you are living out your identity in Christ—where you are right now is the most important place you can be because God is manifesting Christ in that place through you no matter how you got there.”

Let me restate it this way: 

“Regardless of how we get where we are—where we are is the place God will use us if we are living out our identity in Christ.”

And if you’re still not getting it, let’s try it this way:

“If, as believers, we truly see ourselves as God sees us as those who are completely forgiven, totally accepted, wholeheartedly loved, and absolutely secure in Christ and then live joyfully contagious, guilt free, genuinely real, and spiritually confident, Christ-centered lives the people around us will notice and be either positively or negatively impacted by the Gospel regardless of where we are or how we got there.”

This is Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 2:12-14 so let’s turn there and read it.  

12 Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of theknowledge of Him in every place.


Essentially, Paul is recounting for us his decision to change his mind and not pursue an open door of opportunity God had provided for him in terms of ministry.  Paul had made the decision to go to Troas to start a church and upon his arrival he was well-received and obviously had God’s hand of blessing upon him and his endeavors.  He makes the point that the Lord had opened a door of ministry for him.  And then to many people’s surprise Paul changes his mind about Troas because he is experiencing a lack of peace about the situation in Corinth and Titus who he had sent there and has yet to catch up with.

He changes his mind and leaves.  He leaves the place where he was experiencing an effective ministry and had a wide open door for more ministry simply because he was concerned over Titus and the church situation in Corinth.  And the interesting thing I see in this passage is that Paul doesn’t tell us if in the long run his decision was a good one, a bad one and/or one he regretted.  In fact, he doesn’t talk about any regrets.  He doesn’t seem worried or concerned that maybe he missed God’s will for his life in leaving this place where God had opened a door of ministry for him.  And apparently he is not wondering if God is displeased with him and is not going to use him any longer because he changed his mind and walked away from a ministry opportunity God had opened for him.  None of these things appear to be a concern for Paul.

The reason why Paul is not concerned is because he realizes that God is in control and that God always leads His people into effective ministry no matter where they are or how they got there if they are living out their identities in Christ.  And in these three verses, Paul raises a vital truth for those believers who are wondering if their past decisions, course changes, and yes, even their sins have rendered them not useful and even unusable to God.  And here it is:

When it comes to usefulness for Christ, where we are and how we got there is not as important as who we are in Christ. (12-14a)

Paul is not concerned with where he is.  His concern is not that he be in Troas or Macedonia.  His concern is that he is in Christ.  And he knows that if he is in Christ—that is—he is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and he is living out his faith in Christ and enjoying his relationship with Christ—he knows God will use him anywhere!

Paul understands that life is too full of change to be so concerned with where you are or what you are doing that you can’t focus on the more important question of “who you are”.  He realizes that if you are in Christ and living like it and enjoying your relationship with Christ that where you happen to be and how you got there really isn’t all that important—not in the Big Picture.  And so after explaining his situation and acknowledging his change of course—he instead of apologizing for it simply thanks God “WHO always leads us in triumph ‘in Christ’”.  In other words, regardless of where we are or how we got there—if we are in Christ then God is leading us to spiritual triumph for His glory, our joy, and the spiritual benefit of others and He is using our present situation, location and circumstances to do so.

So, if you made one of those course deviation decisions in your past which has perhaps landed you somewhere in life you never imagined causing you to wonder if you missed God’s best for your life and have to settle for “left-overs”—don’t even go there!

What Paul is saying is if you are a child of God—even though you have made some imperfect decisions and even though some of those decisions may have  changed the landscape of your life—God not only isn’t finished with you—He is actually right now leading you in triumph so that you can live above those imperfect and perhaps even sinful choices and their consequences.

In other words our “mess” is going to become God’s message as He leads us through the mistakes, the failures, and yes, even the sin of our lives to become exactly the people He wants us to be.  And note that the Bible says—“God ALWAYS leads us in triumph in Christ.”  It doesn’t say that God leads us in triumph only when we have it all together or are living lives of pristine obedience or always reading our Bibles and being in church or always making good decisions and choices.  No, The Bible makes the point that if you are in Christ—God is leading you right now in triumph and to triumph even as He uses yours and my imperfect and often biblically uninformed decisions to do it.

So, how does that work when we are living in disobedience to the Lord?
How does God lead us in triumph as believers when we have made sinful choices?  How does He work to take the “mess” we may have made or may be making of our lives and turn it into His Message of the Grace?

Let me give you one way from the Scriptures that shows how God does this.

In Matthew 26:31-35 Jesus told His disciples that they all would desert Him when He went to the cross.  But Peter exclaims with a certain amount of pride that even if all of the other disciples deserted and denied Christ—He would never deny Him and would even die with Him if necessary.  Then in Luke 22:31-34 Jesus tells Peter that on the night He is betrayed, Peter will deny three times that he even knows Jesus.  And before Peter can respond, Jesus tells him—“But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and you, once you have repented, strengthen your brothers.”

In other words, Peter’s mess was going to become God’s message to strengthen believers everywhere who having failed the Lord in some way, shape, or form, need to know that God is not through with them and can use them and in fact will use them and their mess to help others for His glory and their joy.  Now, how did God take Peter’s mess and turn it into His message of grace and restoration?

How did He lead Peter in triumph in the midst of Peter’s really great and incredibly cruel and heinous sin of denying the Lord in His time of deepest need?  Well, for starters God had to crush Peter’s pride before He could use him in any kind of significant way.  And oftentimes the way God crushes our pride is by allowing us to fail and fail greatly.

Much of our sin and especially the sin in our lives that exposes who we are and who we aren’t is used by God to humble us and show us that without Him and apart from His enabling grace we are nothing and can do nothing for Him.
And this is what needs to happen and is happening in Peter’s life when Jesus tells him he is going to deny the Lord three times and as Peter actually does indeed deny his Lord on the night before His crucifiction.  Peter needs to have his sinful pride crushed.

Well, we know the rest of the story—Peter after denying the Lord three times in a short span of time—is crushed once he realizes what he has done and he breaks down with weeping and great remorse as the Lord looks at him after the last denial.  God’s work of using Peter’s sin to crush his pride has begun and is being accomplished in Peter and in this sense God is leading Peter in Triumph even as he is sinning against Jesus.

In essence, Jesus began leading Peter to triumph by allowing him to fail and fail miserably.  And again, while that failure crushed Peter’s ugly arrogant pride, the complete work of leading him to triumph is not yet done until we get to John 21.

Turn there with me.

Even though Peter has seen the resurrected Christ twice after Jesus rose from the dead—Peter is still not yet fully restored to the Lord or fully healed from his sin.  He has indeed repented but is in need of being restored to intimacy with Christ and service for Christ.  He, just like us when we sin, needed to be led in triumph through his sin to repentance to restoration to Christ’s fellowship, and ultimately to effective ministry for Christ.

And look at how Jesus does this in John 21:9-17.

As I said earlier Jesus leads Peter to triumph first of all by allowing him to fail.  Then, in verses 9-17, Jesus begins the process of restoring Peter and thus leading him in triumph after his dismal failure by:

1.    Leading him back to face his failure so he could truly repent and move forward.

When Jesus meets with Jesus this third time it is important to note that it is around a charcoal fire.  Remember that it was at a charcoal fire that Peter denied Jesus three times.  Thus, Jesus is bringing Peter back to the charcoal fire--to the scene of the crime if you will to face his past head-on.  YOu can't keep running from your past looking over your shoulder wondering when it will catch up with you.  That is what Peter was doing and it wasn't working.  So Jesus out of great compassion for Peter makes him face his failure so as to be able to deal with it.

Note to the penetrating question Jesus asks Peter:  "Do you love me more than these?"  The "these" is a reference to his brothers--his fellow disciples and their love for Jesus.  Remember that Jesus had warned all of his disciples that they would all desert him but that Peter had protested saying that even if all the rest of these guys denied Jesus--he, Peter, never would.  In essence, he said that he loved Jesus more than these guys did.  So Jesus asks this question making Peter face his pride head on.  Pride was Peter's problem--remember?!  And it was his pride that God crushed through his failure.

Then Jesus followed this question up with two more questions making it a total of three questions around a charcoal fire to match the three denials around a charcoal fire the night in which Peter denied Jesus.

2.    Leading him to see that his failure accomplished God’s purpose in crushing his pride.

In asking Peter three times if he loved Jesus, the Lord is showing Peter through his responses that he indeed has had his pride crushed and is now fit to serve.

In the first two questions, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with an "agapao" type of love.  This is what we more commonly refer to as "agape" love which is the highest form of love--the greatest degree of love that one can have for another.  

But Peter responds that his love for Jesus is not agapao love but rather "phileo" love.  This is more of a fondness or a friend's love.  The point is that when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with this great agape love Peter says--Lord I love you but it is with an inferior love.  Do you see a different Peter here?  You should.  The old Peter would have said, Lord you know I love you perfectly.  This new Peter doesn't go there.  He says, Lord I love you and I wish I loved you perfectly but I don't.

Then in the third question, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with a phileo love and Peter says yes that is how I love you.  But Peter is also deeply grieved that the Lord has asked him this three times.  You see, the cleansing of our hearts from sin hurts especially as we are forced to see who we really are.  But it is this cleansing that finally sets us free from our sin and our past.  It is also what helps us to see that God's work is being accomplished in us.

3.   Leading him to use his failure as a strength and an asset in future ministry.

After each of Peter's response Jesus commissions him to care for his people in some way.  The first commission is to tend his lambs.  These lambs Jesus has in mind were sacrificial lambs--future martyrs--if you will.  Remember Jesus' words to Peter when telling him he would fail--when you repent strengthen your brothers.  These were the sacrificial lambs who were soon to be tested and martyred for their faith in Jesus.

Then Jesus tell Peter to shepherd and feed his sheep.  I think it is so powerful that Jesus commissions Peter to his service not because he succeeded but rather because he failed and learned the lessons of his failure.  In other words, that which qualified Peter for ministry was the fact that he had failed and repented--not that he had never blown it.

And how did Peter do in strengthening his brothers—?

 Andrew, his brother, was crucified but did not deny Christ.

Bartholomew was beaten and then crucified but did not deny Christ.

James the older brother of John was beheaded but did not deny Christ.

James the half-brother of Jesus was beaten, thrown off the Temple wall, stoned, and then clubbed to death in Jerusalem but did not deny Christ.

Jude, brother of James,        was crucified but did not deny Christ.

Judas (not Iscariot) was clubbed to death.

Mark was dragged to death in Alexandria.

Matthew was stabbed to death.

Nathaniel was reported to have been flayed and then crucified.

Matthias was stoned and then beheaded in Jerusalem.

Philip was crucified.

Thomas was speared to death.

And finally, Peter himself was given another opportunity to stand for Christ or deny Him several years after the account of John 21.  He stood and was crucified upside down in Rome.

I would say that God did indeed use Peter’s mess—his sinful decision to deny Christ—to make him into the man of God he became and the man of God who ultimately strengthened his fellow disciples and the early church and the persecuted church today to stand firm under persecution so as to not deny Christ.

God led Peter in triumph through his sin and through his recovery by using his failure to develop within him a life message which became his life ministry which if we were to sum it up today would be—

God will turn our mess of sin into His message of grace as He always leads us in triumph no matter how badly we have failed when we repent and turn back to Him.


So, regardless of where you are or how you got there—God’s grace is so powerful that He will always lead you in triumph as you respond humbly to His correction and restoration. 

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13