Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Should We Stay, or Should We Go?

It is often assumed that Christ’s last command to the world was “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

This is very near to the last command given by Christ on earth, but it is not quite the last. This command was spoken in Galilee (Matthew 28:16), Christ ascended into Heaven from the Mount of Olives in Judea a few days later. (Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:12) Did he say anything important or profound in those days? Undoubtedly he said many important and profound things in those days, as it is impossible for Christ to speak idle words. Many of his sayings have been recorded in scripture, but if all of them were, there could not be found a library large enough to hold all of the volumes that would be written. Every word in the Bible is hand picked by Jesus Christ to reveal himself to humanity; he chose his words carefully so that only his people could understand. (Matthew 13:10-13)

Therefore we should expect that Christ’s last command to be there on purpose. Was his last command to go and preach the Gospel? Quite the contrary.

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:46-49)

Luke words it a bit differently in his introduction to Acts.

While staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5)

Christ’s last command to his disciples was to stay in Jerusalem, to wait for the Holy Spirit. They obeyed him and the outcome was an incredible evangelistic outpouring that touched every nation and corner of the Roman Empire, extending from Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria, and extending to the ends of the earth.

Our command is “Go”, but is there a caveat? Indeed there is, the go is modified by the expectation that our going would be led, fueled, and tempered by the Holy Spirit. It is easy to stand on a street corner and scream at people, it is easy to shove a Gospel tract into someone’s hand, it is easy to corner someone and preach Gospel truths to them, it is easy to buy someone lunch at tell them "God bless you", it is easy to mow someone's lawn and invite them to church, and certainly the Holy Spirit can use all of these things, but Christ isn’t a numbers kind of God, he says Heaven rejoices over a single sinner who repents. If Christ were in the numbers game, he could rearrange the stars to quote Acts 4:12 and the whole world would be saved tomorrow, but he’s not, he’s in it for the glory, of proving that his grace is sufficient and his strength is made perfect in human weakness.

So, beloved, before you “Go”, why don’t you stay? Make sure your motives are right, that you’re seeking the glory of the Son, that you are working in tandem to the Holy Spirit, the Paraklete (literally, he who walks alongside), and not fighting him and his efforts.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love…the former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerity… (Philippians 1:15-17)

Many have taken the command to “Go” seriously, and they’ve gone, but they’ve gone without the Holy Spirit. This is sweet to the tongue, but bitter in the belly, for I rejoice that the truth is proclaimed, but I worry about their souls. Many will knock on Heaven’s gates and when denied access will ask, “Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name?” and the answer will be that God never knew them; they refused to stay and wait for his Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth, instead trusting in their own ability to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ.

What is your end goal? Evangelism or a right preaching of the name of God? Multitudes proclaim a made-up free-will god, others proclaim a god who has given America over to her homosexual tendencies and refuses to save anymore, some preach a 19th century pronunciation of an Old Testament tetragram; they have gone without the Holy Spirit, instead of preaching truth they preach lies.

Do your efforts sound more like Second Timothy 2:24-25, The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

Or First Corinthians 3:1-3, I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

Perhaps your efforts to be a minister of the Gospel of Grace are well under way, but you never stayed and waited for the Holy Spirit, you've never humbled yourself under the exceeding goodness and kindness of the Lord of Glory, you’ve never knelt at the foot of a blood stained cross acknowledging that your ways can only end in death, that apart from Christ’s resurrection there is no life, and apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, your efforts in evangelism are in vain.

You are but a laborer in the harvests of God, you may plant, or you may water, but unless God grows the seed of faith, your efforts are in vain. Therefore, once you are clothed with power, baptized in the promise of the Father, that is, the Holy Spirit, then lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that is set before you, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Loving God and Loving Others

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
These are two of my favorite verses in the Bible. They sum up the earthly pay-off of the Christian life; our love is people, not things. Things will be destroyed by moth and rust, but a soul quickened in the love of Christ will persevere forever.

Charles Spurgeon put it this way,
A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.
The girl that cut my hair today was not interested in spiritual things at all, she said, “I’m happy, and that’s all that matters.” It reminded me of a movement that has swept evangelicalism, that might be called the Ephesizing of America. (Revelation 2:1-7) Our love has turned inwards, the command is, “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor…” and yet from pulpits nationwide on Sunday morning we hear that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life.

It has become me-centered Christianity; love is lost. We’re not really certain of what the word Ephesus means in Greek, it means one of two things, either desire, or remission, depending on which root you follow. The church at Ephesus had forgotten her first love, they were in remission from loving God and their neighbors, and they had replaced that love with something else which the Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly, but it doesn’t take much of an imagination to suspect that they had reverted to loving themselves.

Inward focused Christianity, as sold by the Osteens, the Warrens, the Hybels, the Ortbergs, the Fosters, and so many more, doesn’t fulfill any of the biblical mandates to love one another, and its pay-offs are so piddly that one wonders if these are the threat that Jesus Christ gave to Ephesus, that if they didn’t repent, he would take their lampstand away. Christ was actively warring against Pergamum, but he let Ephesus suffocate themselves in their self-centered anti-love atmosphere.

Paul was a great lover of his churches. He loved Christ first, but he loved the body of Christ just as much. In his boasting fit of 2 Corinthians 11 he tacks onto his physical suffering, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” After the church at Lystra went apostate following after works-righteous antichrists, Paul would write to them, “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” (Galatians 4:19-20)

Paul loved his churches, which is why he could call them his “glory and joy,” and later, “For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 3:8) In this outward love, Paul was rewarded infinitely more than if he had sought to love himself into such a state of euphoria. Near the end of his ministry, he recorded the words of Jesus Christ, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Our love should NEVER be inward. Love yourself? Anathema! Beloved, Christ summed up a 613 statute Law in two commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Our love should be outward, loving in deed and truth, not just in word and talk.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen new and old Christians step out of their own worlds to give to others, expecting to receive nothing in return.

I’ve seen students preach Christ and him crucified to their classmates, caring more for the eternal security of their friends than if the friendship would be ruined because of the offense of the cross.

Others have given up weeks and weekends to organize and participate in outreaches to the homeless, the elderly, the afflicted, and the perishing.

I’ve seen teenagers step outside of their comfort zones to work with toddlers and dance with seniors, expecting nothing more than that in their obedience their Saviour would be glorified.

Students have asked how they can help their deceived friends see that Mary and science cannot save them, but that only Immanuel who willingly drank the Father's cup of wrath and defeated death can revive and reconcile their soul.

This is a mere taste of the love in action of a church motivated by a Saviour who loved them first; a Saviour who instituted a new command, “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Paul was in love with his church at Thessalonica, he couldn’t stop boasting about them, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)

I understand his sentimentality perfectly; I have not mentioned any names in this post, as I would hate to leave anyone out, but my beloved coworkers in Christ, what is my hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are my glory and joy.

If you have been seeking the peace beyond all understanding by trying to bribe God through prayer, reading his word, attending Sunday School, beloved, you are doing as Hosea said, you are feeding on the wind, (Hosea 12:1) and you should expect nothing for your efforts. (cf. Acts 8:20-23) You have abandoned love; repent, and do the works you did at first. Loving others will, by promise of the Living Christ, be a bigger blessing to you than anything you could receive.

Paul writes to his friend in Colossae, “I pray that in the sharing of your faith you become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 6) Christ was really onto something when he commanded his followers to love one another.

So, where is your ministry? Are you loving God by loving others? God doesn’t need anything, and even if he did, he wouldn’t tell you. Therefore, in order to love God, you love him by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, befriending the stranger, and visiting the imprisoned, both in the spiritual and natural sense, for when you do something for the least of these, you do it unto Christ.

Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Compared to Other People...

I was recently speaking with someone, whom I respect, concerning the Way of the Master style of evangelism. (Click the “Hells Best Kept Secret” link to the right) It brought up an interesting question on our subjective goodness, which this treatise will address.

As we were speaking, a disagreement arose on showing people their sinful situation so fully and so quickly via the WotM method. In our conversation, there was no doubt that against God’s standards we are vile, desperately wicked, only evil continually, enemies of God who prove so by doing wicked works, but the conversation swung to us considering how bad we are in the subjective sense against other people. The statement was made, “I’m not that bad compared to other people.” I agreed, but that assertion continued to reverberate in my brain and various verses kept coming to mind.

The two verses that I was meditating on are when Paul refers to himself as the foremost of sinners and the least of saints. (1 Timothy 1:15, Ephesians 3:8) Now, the Bible is not short on hyperbole, the practice of making obvious and intentional exaggerations in order to demonstrate a point, and that’s what I thought these two were. A simple example is, “I’d kill for an In-N-Out Burger,” which obviously I would not kill for an In-N-Out burger, but I’d like one so much that I’d go a long way to get one. I have always assumed that Paul’s two statements about his chief-of-sinners and least-of-saints roles were hyperbole, demonstrating his understanding of the human condition of sin and his personal responsibility of it. But now I am not so sure; actually, I think I was flat-out wrong.

Jesus Christ is going to judge the thoughts and intents of our hearts, as well as our actions. Deeds done in the darkness will be brought to the light. He will judge haters of men to be murderers at heart (aka revilers), and those that lust extramaritally as adulterers at heart. His standards are perfect and his judgment impeccable.

As any good law requires, a minimum of two witnesses are required to indict a criminal. We are the first witness against ourselves, there is no law against self-incrimination in Heaven; the second witness is the Holy Spirit, he convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. On the outside we often see people do bad things and it is easy and right to judge them. But on motives, on the inside, it is not so easy and right to judge, because we are not privy to the inner workings of their minds.

The only two people who are privy to our inner thought lives are ourselves and the Holy Spirit. If we judge ourselves rightly, we should realize that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful beyond all things, for our spirit searches our thoughts and intents (1 Corinthians 2:11a), and we are found lacking.

Are we genuinely good in comparison to other people? God looked down on mankind and saw that the thoughts and intents of their hearts were only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-12) He didn’t say, “Everybody except you,” or “the thoughts and intents of the non-God-lovers,” he said it of all of mankind, of which you and I are imputed with a fallen condition and a bonded nature to wickedness.

We can look at Adolf Hitler and say, “I am way better than him.” But do you know his thoughts? You do know your own thoughts. He was directly or indirectly responsible for 60 Million people entering into eternity, thoroughly evil in manifestation, but Paul Washer says so astutely that without God restraining our actions, we would make Hitler look like a choir boy. How many people have you been unjustly angry towards, how many have you put yourself in a judgmental role over, how many times have your eyes indicted your soul, how many times has your mouth declared war on Heaven? You may be better than Hitler in manifestation, but in soul-condition you are on par with him, or perhaps even worse.

Beloved, I don’t know the thoughts and intents of your heart, but I do know mine, and I know that if I were the standard against which righteousness were measured, every last person on the planet would be welcomed into Heaven with open arms. I am the chief of sinners and the least of saints. In comparison to others I fall so very short that my soul can be counted as nothing other than loss. In measurement against the glory of God no hyperbole can be conceived to demonstrate the distance of my fallenness.

So it is settled, I am the chief of sinners; but beloved, don’t be so quick to judge. I am quite certain, my dear reader, that we are tied for this title; it is not a race, it is not a competition, it is a sad testament to the destroying power of sin.

Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who for us took on and defeated death, bearing the full weight, condemnation, and shame of our sin. I am the chief of sinners, but I have been made the least of saints.

Can you say the same? Christ did not come to save the righteous, but to save sinners. He will cast the self-righteous to the ground, they will have no part nor lot in his kingdom. Repent at the feet of the Lamb, cast off of any hint of your perceived goodness, of which we are deprived utterly, then receive the goodness and grace of our Goodness Gracious Sovereign.

Beloved, in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)