Have You Been Salty Lately?

salt-spillHere is a great article from The Gospel Coalition.  

Recently I had lunch with a new friend, whom I loved getting to know as a sister in the Lord. When you meet someone for the first time, you’re looking to learn all you can—by observing, by listening, by observing how she listens. . . . 

Let me tell you what offered the clearest window into this woman’s heart and mind. It wasn’t just her warm smile, or the energy with which she talked about God’s gracious direction of her path through rough and smooth places. It wasn’t even her description of the way she and her husband minister to a steady stream of people in their urban home, often keeping them for extended visits and aiming to disciple them in the way of Christ by word and example. It was her interaction with a young man who came to fill our water glasses. That’s what threw open the window and revealed her heart. He was not a terribly noticeable guy—kind of pale, slightly stocky, with reddish scruffy-thick hair and beard—and with sleeves rolled up enough to reveal tattoos on each forearm. My friend leaned over to read the arm closest to her: a short sentence, something about fighting off foxes. As she tried to decipher it out loud, our waiter haltingly explained it was inspired by a line from an Eudora Welty story—“you know,” he said, “that woman from the South who was a really good writer.” (I think I found the line in Welty’s short story “A Worn Path,” in which an elderly grandmother treks from the country to the city for medicine to save her grandson’s life and, encountering all sorts of dangers and obstacles, cries, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons, and wild animals!”)

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I’ve Been “Chick”ed

1212In running the term “chicked” means that a male runner has been passed by a female runner.  I’m comfortable enough in my running these days that a woman passing me during a race doesn’t bother me.  It’s happened in each of the half-marathons that I’ve run.  Part because sometimes I go out too fast and part because I’m just an average runner and there are women runners who are much faster than me.  However this post has nothing to do with running.

On Thursday, I had a unique situation happen to me.  It just so happened that Pam had a similar experience on Thursday. Thursday I was working at my bi-vocational job when a group came in.  They sort of straggled in, so at first I didn’t realize that they were all together, but after a few minutes you could tell they were all together.  Most of them wore t-shirts with the name of their church silk-screened on them.  I really didn’t think much about it, because we have lots of church groups and Christian schools come through our restaurant – it’s the nature of the business.  They ordered their food and sat down to eat.  I waited on several of them at the counter and the transactions were very normal.

Now if you’ve ever been to our place of business, you know the desserts are worth saving the room for.  I mean who can resist a hand-spun milkshake or a warm chocolate chunk cookie?  After this group ate their food, they came back up to order desserts.  They paid for the food and I handed one of them the change and that’s when I was “chick”ed.  Without a word, the man handed me a tract – we hadn’t had any conversation other than to complete the transaction.  I was a bit put off by what had just happened (especially as a pastor.)  I took a step back and asked myself “what just happened?” I suppose I shouldn’t question another’s evangelism method, but it struck me as strange to simply conduct a business transaction and then hand me a gospel tract without even engaging me in any conversation at all.  I almost felt like he thought “let me evangelize that pagan,” even though he knew nothing about me.

One of the things I love about my bi-vocational job is that we are encouraged to be relational.  We are encouraged to get to know our guests and create personal connections with them.  I love doing that.  That’s what struck me as strange.  This gentleman had no desire to engage me in conversation or to develop an emotional connection with me.  For one, if he would have struck up a conversation with me, he would have known that I was a pastor and that a have a deep relationship with Jesus.  It would have been a chance for mutual encouragement.  We have those conversations all the time at my job.  There are guests who love to talk about their faith and I have had some great conversations with them.  Here is the point. We’ve have taken the time to get to know each other.

I felt as though the man who handed me the tract, simply was looking to fulfill his obligation of evangelism – I felt used.  I didn’t check to see if my fellow team members experienced the same thing, but I can guess that maybe they did.

Evangelism is important.  If it wasn’t, Jesus wouldn’t have commanded us to go into every nation, making disciples and teaching them to obey all of God’s commands.  However, I believe Jesus wasn’t really into “hit-and-run” evangelism.  We need to take the time to get to know people.

Like I said at the beginning, Pam had a similar experience on Thursday.  She came out of the grocery store and found a tract on the windshield of our van.  Again there was no relationship building – only a shot-in-the-dark.  I suppose that they get some return for their investment.  But what if we take the time to really tell people about Jesus and then mentor them into a genuine relationship with Jesus that grows into something beautiful.  Just imagine what difference that would make.

Is It Time for a Barbecue?

A couple of weeks ago I was teaching our children on about the story Peter and Cornelius which can be found in Acts 10:1-33

As I was studying my lesson, the thought came to my mind that God wanted Peter to have a barbecue. Ok, I know you are thinking about a picnic. This is not what I am talking about. God knew that Peter had some beliefs that would hold him back from going to minister to Cornelius. God was ready to spread the Good News to the Gentiles. Peter had beliefs that he need to shed before he could minister to the Gentiles. The first one were the dietary laws God had given the Jewish people.  The second was that the Jews did not go in to Gentiles’ homes because they were unclean. We would call these beliefs sacred cows — those beliefs that we have that  hold us back from doing God’s work. God got Peter’s attention by giving him a vision in Acts 10: 9 the next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, 10 and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. 12 In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. 13 Then a voice said him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” God wanted Peter to have a Bar B Que. Peter had a problem with what God wants.14 “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.God helps Peter through it. 15But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” 16The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven. In the end Peter does what God want him to do.

As humans we all have though things that we believe in that make us comfortable and safe. It is not our nature to go out of our comfort zone. As Christians, we try to hold on our beliefs and sometime they can become a wall between the unsaved and God. There are many things that can become sacred cows — what version of the Bible to use, chairs or pews in your church, how to dress for church, or the style of music. Why do they become a wall?  Because we take our beliefs and make them God’s laws, rather than our preferences.  Are their things in your life that are a barrier to reaching out to the lost?  If there are, perhaps God would like you to have a barbecue.

Fishers of Men?

I heard this quote at campmeeting last week and thought it would be a great for today because God has really been dealing with me in this area lately.

We have been more interested in being the keepers of the aquarium than being fishers of men.

Dr. David Hurd

Being Intentional

For the last several days we have been at the Shenandoah District of the Wesleyan Church Annual Conference.  We arrived at home very early on Wednesday morning and I have been playing catch up. This is really the first time that I have an opportunity to write down my thoughts.  I want to do that for my own accountability and to share with you some of what God spoke to me about from Sunday to Tuesday.

This year’s district conference was a mountain top experience – both literally and spiritually.  For the last several years we have been meeting at Parkway Wesleyan Church in Roanoke.  Their new building is on the top of a hill that overlooks downtown Roanoke.  It is a gorgeous location.  So we had been residing on the top of the mountain.  But if it had been simply about business, a beautiful location is just a beautiful location.  God met with us in a very real way up on that mountain.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference quite like this year’s conference.

One of the things that made this year’s conference different is that I was invited to play with the worship team from Parkway in Roanoke.  It was funny when the introduced the band as being from Parkway, because it was true.  We had the privilege of being led in worship by Scott and Elizabeth Rhyno.  What a wonderful couple and excellent musicians.  They stretched us musically.  Not only are they great musicians, but they are worshipers.  It was amazing to see how the band and singers and the leaders worked together to create an atmosphere of worship.  I played bass for the first time in a long time and that’s all I had to worry about – playing bass and staying in the groove that was laid down by our drummer.  Cheryl made it easy to stay in the groove.  We learned quite a few new songs.  This was the first time that I had used in-ear monitors or headphones.  That took some getting use to.  I had control over most of the instrumental mix, so I only put things that I needed into the mix.  We had a great team leading in worship, but it is possible simply to make pretty noises, but that doesn’t make worship — there was a heart attitude and a spirit of worship that was completely freeing and we worshiped.  I enjoyed being part of that experience.

Even the business portion of the meeting was good and was guided by the Holy Spirit – imagine that!  The most incredible part was how God used various speakers to speak to my heart.  Pastor Mike Hilson brought three incredible messages.  Tuesday night was probably the kicker for me – I felt like I was hit upside the head by a two by four.  Throughout the conference there was a huge emphasis on missions – that was the thread that wove and pulled the conference together.  On Tuesday morning, one of our pastors spoke about the work that is happening in Charleston, WV.  Chris pastors a mission church there and spoke how God is moving among them.

Here is the message that came home to me – there are people everywhere who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They haven’t heard that Jesus came to save us and to give us life abundant and to give us eternal life.  Pastor Mike shared that only about 20% of the people in America are believers.  He had us count it out.  On the average day 8 out of every 10 people are going to hell – to a Christless eternity.  That hit me like a ton of bricks.  So many times we debate over all kinds of stuff that in the light of eternity won’t matter at all.  The thing that really matters are people’s souls.  I’m finally coming to the title of the post — we need to be intentional about reaching people with the Gospel of Christ.  What are some of the barriers that we put up to people who do not know Jesus?  How can we better reach people who don’t know Jesus?  In case you’re wondering, this has nothing at all to do with getting people to come to our church.  This has nothing at all to do about getting them to give their tithes or offerings.  This has nothing at all to do with me!  For the first time in my life, there is this sense of urgency for reaching people with the gospel – people everywhere – whether they are in Staunton, Waynesboro, Augusta County, Virginia, the United States, Canada, North America, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Western Hemisphere or the Eastern Hemisphere.  There are people everywhere that need to hear the gospel and we need to be much more intentional about reaching everyone with the gospel.

Two things God spoke to me about and I would like you to pray with me about both of these:

  1. I believe that God is leading me to lead a musical missions team to El Salvador.  When I mean lead, I would be the musical director for this team.  This is way out of my comfort zone.  So far I have never left the continent to go on a missions trip and then to be a leader on that team.  Pastor Rene has been sharing with us how much good a musical missions team would do in El Salvador.  I’m working with the District Missions Board as we work to make this trip a reality.
  2. God is speaking to me about ministering to the least of these in our community.  He has been speaking to me about a mission work here, whether that would be in Staunton or Waynesboro or somewhere else in Augusta County – I have no idea, but I want to obedient to what God is speaking.
I like what pastor Jeff Keaton said at conference on Monday morning before we started, ““If we are only willing to do what makes perfect human sense, we will never do the will of God.” These are two things that don’t make complete sense and yet I believe that God is calling me to do something in these areas.  So I write all of this to ask you to pray with me, that God would show me more clearly what He would have me to do and that I would move quickly toward what He is calling me to do.  This is part of the intentionally that I believe God is calling all of His children to do.

Following God’s Call

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It seems like this week has been a week of reflection. As most of you know, I have been blogging for almost three years. What is a blog, you ask? A blog or weblog is a website that allows a person to share thoughts, pictures, videos, or other things. Some use it as a business tool. While others use it for personal thoughts and there are blogs everywhere in-between. My writings range from personal thoughts to devotional thoughts to updates about the ministry. This week of reflection started on Sunday night as I posted my thoughts about the day – which ranged from what happened at church, to the cold weekend, to the Eagles losing to the Cardinals. On Monday morning, I post a video from a song that has been speaking to me lately. The song I posted this week was Nichole Nordeman’s “Legacy.” The lyrics speak to what life really comes down to at the end.

I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy.

This week was a huge week in the life of our country. We inaugurated a new president on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we commemorated the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. There was the annual pro-life march in Washington. These events are now history. These events are now making our history. One of the things that we need to realize is that we are always making history.

During the election, Pam was very sick. When she finally felt a little better, she watched a program on the History Channel about our presidents. Throughout the course of our country’s history we have had notable presidents and presidents who after their presidency, faded into obscurity. What will be the legacy or our current president? It really remains to be seen. I encourage you to pray for him. He has a tough job – he has many critics – he will make unpopular decisions – he is not perfect – who of us is. There are already some decisions he has made that I do not support. As I pray for him and his team, I pray that the right thing will be done, not the right thing for the party or the country, but the right thing in the sight of God. Last week in Sunday School, the key verse was, “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” That is my prayer for President Obama.

Here’s the point – only history will be able to tell the story or legacy if you will of this White House administration. Will it be a famous story or will it be an infamous story? Only history will tell.

Most of you know the story of Jonah. Here was a prophet of Israel. God came to Jonah and told him to go to the people of Nineveh and tell them that God was bringing His judgment on them. Jonah decided to go the opposite direction. Let’s just say that there was no love lost between Israel and Nineveh. Niveveh was a journey over land. Jonah decided to get into a boat and head for Tarshish, which is somewhere in present day Spain. It wasn’t long before God had a plan to change Jonah’s mind. God sent a terrific storm that threatened to sink the ship. The short story is that Jonah was thrown overboard and the storm calmed. Not too long after that, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. Jonah was in the belly of the big fish for three days, before crying out to the Lord to save him. When he did, God caused the big fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 3 tells us what happened next.

1 Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

3 This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. 4 On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” 5 The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

God was pleased that the people reacted as they reacted and changed what was about to happen – he decided to let them live. Jonah 3:10 tells us:

10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.

Now, you would think that Jonah would be please with this. God had offered Jonah a second chance at life after disobeying a command. The Ninevites were being offered the same second chance. Jonah sat outside the city awaiting the destruction and the destruction never came. He even got mad at God for being a God of compassion. The story of Jonah ends abruptly – Jonah left outside the city after getting a reprimand from God. Jonah could have had a wonderful legacy. In fact, despite the fact that Jonah originally disobeyed God, he could have still turned it around. Unfortunately, Jonah was not able to extend the grace, mercy and compassion that was given to him by God to the people of Nineveh, so he just sulked and had a pity party. This is an example of leaving a legacy that wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Can we find a better example of leaving a legacy? One place that can be found is in Mark 1:14-20:

14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.

What was the legacy of Jesus? Jesus was preaching God’s Good News. What was that? It was that the time that God had promised was here – the Kingdom of God is near – repent of your sins and believe the Good News!

Jesus was obedient to the Father through the incarnation. Jesus came to give us life when we repent of our sins and we believe the Good News that Jesus came – Jesus died for our sins– Jesus rose to give us victory over our sins – Jesus ascended – and Jesus is coming back again for those who are living the life God has called us to live. It’s interesting – Jesus is the Good News. Jesus left an enduring legacy.

So what about the rest of this passage? Jesus starts calling his disciples. In the culture of the day, each teacher (Jesus was considered a Rabbi, which means teacher) had an inner group of disciples – those who lived, ate, and breathed with their teacher. Jesus is beginning to select men that he will spend the next three years investing, rebuking, and teaching. The purpose of selecting these disciples was so that Jesus’ legacy could be continued. On this particular day, Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee. He sees Simon (whom we also know as Peter) and his brother Andrew. He calls out to them to follow. Peter and Andrew were fishermen. They were earthy men. They lived off the sea. They were uneducated men – probably learning the trade from their father. Fishermen probably weren’t high on up on the social ladder of the day – and yet Jesus picks two fishermen to be his disciples and to carry on His legacy. Not only that, but just a little bit down the shore, he picks out two more fishermen – James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Their nicknames were “The Sons of Thunder.” They were loud and boisterous men. They were prone to disagreement. These are the people in whom Jesus entrusted his legacy? The rest of his picks weren’t much better. If we were to look at the disciples one by one, we would see that they were ordinary people like you and me. Here’s the kicker – Jesus called them anyway. Here is where we can find a real contrast between Jonah’s story and his call and the call of the disciples. Jonah was a prophet – he was called by God to speak the word of the Lord. He had already been called and yet when God gave him a specific command he went in the opposite direction.

Then there are the disciples – Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These men were called by Jesus and at least as this scripture records it, they immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. Think about what that means. The only thing these four fishermen knew was fishing. But did you notice how Jesus called them. Jesus said come follow me and I will make you fishers of people. Jesus came down to their level and called them into ministry. Who knows the financial risks that the disciples took to follow Jesus and yet they did. Were the disciples perfect? No the Bible tells us they weren’t. It was only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that God worked in mighty ways through them. They weren’t even perfect then, but these men were willing to be used by God. They were so willing to be used by God that all but two of the twelve disciples died a martyr’s death. Spending time with Jesus had radically transformed them.

Before Jesus left this earth, he gave his disciples some very specific instructions about the legacy they were to live. These instructions come to us this morning.  18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The legacy that Jesus wants us to leave is that of making disciples. It is not our job to simply go out and make converts and then baptize them. That does not end our responsibility – our responsibility continues – we are to teach them to obey (and that involves discipline) all the commands that were given to us by Jesus. The reason we can do that is that Jesus is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were radically transformed at Pentecost. God desires to radically transform our lives as well. We can see that history speaks well of the disciples. Several of them wrote parts of the New Testament and the Good News was shared throughout the Roman Empire. They had a sense of urgency in sharing the Good News. We don’t always share that urgency. I wonder what it was. Paul gives us an idea in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:

29 But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. 30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.

Let me put it this way, Paul was encouraging the Corinthians church to focus as much as they could on making disciples, because the time was short. If time was short in the 1st Century, how much shorter is it today? Each believer has been commanded to follow the Great Commission. We are called to be a light to the world that is in the midst of the darkness. We are not called to curse the darkness, but to light a candle. For those of you who are called by God, how will history write your story? Will history be kind to you? Or will history forget about you?

Our challenge today is to go make disciples – go light our world.

It Is Time To Go, Now

A couple weeks ago I was teaching the young adult’s Sunday school class, the lesson was on Christ’s mission. Acts 1:8 (NLT)

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I was so excited about this lesson. At had to wait a couple of weeks because of sickness in the church. The Sunday I taught it I felt like I was teaching to the choir because the only people that were there were Dale and a woman who is one of our supporters when it comes to missions. I guess this subject should be a passion of the Compassionate Ministries Director at the local church. Dale and I have heard people in the churches say, “God had called me into ministry but he did not open the doors to what I wanted.” Wow, I have learned in the ten years since we have been ministry that God puts us where he needs us — we may never know why God puts us in that place. We just have to remember that God is perfect and knows what he is doing. Truthfully, when God called Dale and I into ministry, I told God “Do not send me to the south”. Why? I do not like hot weather, but here I am in southern Virginia. Sometimes Dale and I wonder why God has sent us here. Dale jokes if he knew he was coming to Martinsville to be a youth pastor, he would have never come. But here we are and God is doing His part. Matthew 28:18-20

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This commands us to go and tells others about Christ. So why are there so many in the pews that are not going. The number one job of the church is send people out to ministry — not to keep as many as we can in our pews.

Tell The Story

Last week we took a look at three things the church must do in 2008. They were: 1) tell the story; 2) invited others; 3) bless the world. What I want to do over the next three weeks is to take a look at each one of these individually. Today we want to take a look at what it means to tell the story. Whose story are we telling anyway? Why do we need to tell it?
One of the things that I mentioned last week is that in today’s culture the value of a story is much higher than facts. This is causing a change in how we preach and teach God’s word. Again, we are not changing the message, because the message of God’s word is timeless – the gospel is timeless, but we must make the message clear. For most of us, this actually helps us when it comes to telling the story or sharing our faith. How did God change you? You are a witness to how He changed you. This is your story and in a bigger way, your story tells God’s story. Let’s think about the words to this old gospel song:

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me;
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.

I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

What is the story that we are telling? The story is the gospel message of Jesus’ love. This love was so strong that Jesus came to earth as a human (He was God with us); that he lived among us; that he was nailed to the cross for us; that his blood was shed for us; that his body was broken for us; that he died for us; that he rose again for us; that he ascended to heaven to prepare a place for us; and that he is coming back again for us.

We have already heard the words to John’s gospel, but let’s look again at what John the Baptist tells the people:

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord and that included telling those around him about Jesus. John was wholly involved in telling the crowds that Jesus was the promised Messiah – that Jesus was the Chosen One of God. He even makes this bold statement – “Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John even went as far as to tell his disciples about Jesus and pointed out Jesus to them. One afternoon, John pointed out Jesus to Andrew – Andrew followed Jesus and began to discover what He was all about – later that day, Andrew told Simon (whom we also now know as Peter) and he said, “I have found Messiah.” Andrew simply told the story of finding the Messiah. He didn’t try to use all kinds of fancy words that nobody will understand. When it comes to telling the story of how Jesus came into our lives, we must avoid the temptation to make it complicated. It is much easier to tell what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. Another important thing is to let your life tell the story. Nothing will destroy your story faster than a life that is inconsistent with the story you tell. I’ve just seen too much in my life and it’s something that I struggle with all of the time. This telling the story in word, deed and action is not easy, because it all has to line up. People outside the four walls of our building can spot a phony a mile away. Unfortunately, over the past several decades, Christians have been our own worst enemies. We say one thing and then act completely different. Jesus had a word for that and that would be hypocrite. My prayer is for myself each day that I am not hypocritical – and yet, it is so easy to be that way.

People want to see us as real people, authentic in the way we live out our faith. It is so easy to be fake – it is so easy to act like we have all the answers. God reminded me on Tuesday that a year ago, I was bringing Pam home from the hospital. We ask ourselves why we go through things like that – I believe it’s so that we can tell the story. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we want it to – that’s when we need to rely on God’s grace. I know my FLAME friend, Joy, has commented several times to me about how real and transparent I am. That’s just part of who I am and I really believe it has allowed me to minister in ways that others don’t because they too readily have all the answers. I say all that to say that when telling our story we need to be real. Listen to the psalmist’s words again:

1 I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. 3 He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.

Out testimony – our story – needs to tell how God lifted us out of the muck and mire – out of the life of sin that we were in – and put us up on a rock. It says appropriately that the Lord lifted me out of the pit of despair – without Christ, our lives are lives of despair. The story is that Christ came to save us from a life of despair. One of the things that we need to make clear is that Christ not only came to save us from our sins as we looked at last week, but he came so that we could be co-workers in building the Kingdom. Listen to Paul’s words again:
2 I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. 6 This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. 7 Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

So we are not just saved so we can go to heaven. Too many times the church has painted salvation this way. No, Christ came to save us and to make us holy people to do the work of his Kingdom. He did that for all who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has given us a wonderful gift of grace and we need to take that gift of grace and give it to others. I like how Paul puts it – through Christ, God has enriched your church in every way. I know that sometimes we get tongue tied in telling the story. I know sometimes we get afraid of what others will think. Guess what? That is not our problem. We have been called on to tell the story. Paul tells those who are in Christ have every spiritual gift that we need to tell the story and Christ will keep us strong until the end – this is not a time for Christ’s followers to dig a hole and jump in – it is a time to join Christ in partnership, because God is faithful to do what he says. Will you be faithful to tell the story?

Love Is Always Worth the Risk – The World

Cross-Cultural Evangelism

Today we finish our series, “Love Is Always Worth the Risk.” This series is based on Jesus’ command to His disciples found in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This morning we want to look at how this witness spread. This first Christian community is found in the 2nd chapter of Acts. There was little or no structure and yet this community became a powerful force to spread the gospel throughout the world despite geographic, racial, linguistic, religious, cultural and social barriers. Let’s take a look at Acts 2 and discover what God requires of leaders and believers in relation to those of other cultures.

Acts 2:1-4 (NLT)
1 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

One of the first things that we discover in these verses is that this community was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I inclined to believe that one of the reasons the Holy Spirit came is because they had one purpose. They were in one accord. How many churches today can say that? The Holy Spirit made his presence known to those gathered. This presence could be heard, seen, and felt by all the believers that were gathered there.
We see that once the Holy Spirit fell on them they were filled with power. Was it simply for them so that it was a neat experience? No! It was so that they could be witnesses to the transforming power and they could be part of transforming lives.
We also see that the gift of languages was given. The believers gathered there began to speak in other languages. Again this was not some kind of random display, simply to show how spiritual they were. No, it was so that this small band of believers could quickly begin witnessing to the power of God and spreading the gospel. Accept that God care for all people everywhere and that He wants to express that through you.

Acts 2:5-13

5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”

While all this was happening, people who had heard the sound started gathering. Now there was a crowd. What were they to do? What do we often forget as a church about those outside our walls? We forget that they are loved by God. (By the way, more on this next week.) Those who had gathered heard the things the disciples were saying and understood they were loved by God. Second, believe it or not, they are looking for a church. They are looking for something to believe. They are looking at us. Those gathered there asked, “What can this mean?” As we will find out in just a moment, they are looking for answers just as this crowd did, because Peter was about to explain everything. Acknowledge the need to reach your neighborhood through personal and/or cross-cultural evangelism.

Acts 2:14-41
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy. 19 And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. 21 But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22 “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. 24 But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. 25 King David said this about him:
‘I see that the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 26 No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises! My body rests in hope. 27 For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave. 28 You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of your presence.’
29 “Dear brothers, think about this! You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us. 30 But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne. 31 David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection. He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave.
32 “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. 33 Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today. 34 For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said,
‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand 35 until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”’
36 “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”
37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”
41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

Is this the same Peter who denied Christ three times in the courtyard? Yes, it is. See what happens when we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and called of Christ. Each believer in this room this morning is called of Christ to be a witness, both individually and corporately (as a church.) We are called by Christ to communicate the message of the Good News. This is Peter preached in these verses. The other thing we want to make note of is that Peter preached this sermon in context. He was preaching to Jews. When we deliver the timeless message of the gospel we must deliver it in the most meaningful context for the listener. As I prepare sermons each week, I endeavor to do this. The message of the gospel has not changed, but our methods do. Our missionaries cannot present the gospel the same way we do. How I preach here is different in some ways than the way I preached in other churches. We are called to communicate the gospel and to cultivate the ministry. Allow God to burden you for others and start a relationship with a person of another culture.

Acts 2:42-47

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

We looked at this section last week in our evening Bible study. Look at the life of the church. They demonstrated what missional faith is about:

  • Connection – They worshiped together and connected to God and each other.
  • Community – We spent a long time on this last week – How do we relate to each other? What are we all about?
  • Communication – What we say and how we say it matters.
  • Compassion – We need to meet people at their points of need, inside AND outside the church, because…
  • Commission – We are to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Act in missional ways to those inside and outside of your culture and church in loving and charitable ways. Love is worth the risk to be His witnesses in the world.

Love Is Worth the Risk – Samaria

Church Multiplication

In our series this morning we move away from Jerusalem and Judea and move onto Samaria. Now, usually when we quote this scripture, we talk about how we even need to take the gospel to those we don’t like. I want us to go on a different slant this morning. Another new phrase that I’ve heard recently is church multiplication. In reality, church multiplication has always existed. Every church on the face of this earth was or is a church plant. Church planting is nothing new. Church multiplication is nothing new. Every church I’ve ever attended; every church you’ve every attended is a church plant. Pocono Lake Wesleyan Church, where I spent the early years of my church life was a church plant. Orefield Wesleyan Church was a church plant. Trinity Wesleyan Church in Allentown was a church plant. It has a great beginning too. College Wesleyan and Lakeview Wesleyan Churches were church plants. First Wesleyan Church in Flint, MI was a church plant. Fort Miller Wesleyan Church was a church plant and Preston Wesleyan Church was a church plant. Someone had the vision to plant a church in each of these locations. Have most of these churches been around a while? Yes, but at sometime they were a new church. Church planting or church multiplication is nothing new; it has always been around.

However, there is a new emphasis on church multiplication because the statistics show one of the best forms of evangelism is in planting churches. In the ten years between 1993 and 2003, 312 new Wesleyan churches were planted accounting for 2,729 salvations in 2003, 12,000 people in attendance, 6,394 members in these new churches and over $10 million in contributions. Why all this talk of planting churches. In the scripture we read this morning, Paul is making an appeal to the Corinthians to give generously to the new churches that are part of his “circuit.”

We want to take a look at how generosity and church planting go together. Let’s take a look at one more scripture from 2 Corinthians 9:10-11:

10 For God is the one who gives seed to the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will give you many opportunities to do good, and he will produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
11 Yes, you will be enriched so that you can give even more generously. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will break out in thanksgiving to God.

Generosity is the willingness to invest available resources beyond ourselves in order to increase ministry effectiveness. Generosity is foundational for any church desiring to multiply. We are going to take a look at why this is true.

First of all we want to discover that generosity flows out of our perspective of God. Let’s take a look at a familiar verse, John 3:16:

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [ii]

This is generosity in action. God is a giver. God gave his Son to that we might have life and not death. That is the ultimate sacrifice. If God gave to us so generously, shouldn’t we at least try to respond accordingly? Warren Wiersbe writes, “Generosity means that we really believe God is the great giver, and we use our material and spiritual resources accordingly.” Let’s see what else the scriptures tell us about generosity.

The psalmist writes in Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers.” So, generosity is a mark of distinction. Those who are godly should be generous.

A similar thought is shared in Psalm 112:5, “Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly.” Generosity is an investment. One of the reasons that got the children of Israel in trouble was not only their idolatry, but also their stinginess. God had blessed Israel, but they were not willing to pass their blessings along.

Generosity is a sharing of resources. Let’s look again at 2 Corinthians 8:10-12: “10 I suggest that you finish what you started a year ago, for you were the first to propose this idea, and you were the first to begin doing something about it. 11 Now you should carry this project through to completion just as enthusiastically as you began it. Give whatever you can according to what you have. 12 If you are really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you don’t have.” [iii]

The church at Corinth was encouraged to give out of what they had. It appears that at the time they were a wealthy church compared to some of the other churches. Paul encourages them to give out of that wealth. Generosity can come in many different forms as it relates to church multiplication. It can be a participation in an unexpected planting opportunity. My friend Mark Wilson had one of these unexpected opportunities. This past Christmas a church in Minong, WI celebrated its one year anniversary. Hayward Wesleyan Church was not looking for the opportunity to plant a church, but the opportunity came and the acted on it. There is now a thriving church in Minong, WI with its own pastor.

Generosity can be allowing a church planter to come into your church and challenge people to consider joining them or generosity can be finding monies to give to church planting.

The Bible has given us this perspective on generosity, but what is God centered generosity. Let’s take a look at our key verses 2 Corinthians 9:10-11. 10 For God is the one who gives seed to the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will give you many opportunities to do good, and he will produce a great harvest of generosity in you.11 Yes, you will be enriched so that you can give even more generously. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will break out in thanksgiving to God.[iv]

What are the marks of God-centered generosity

  1. God supplies the resources. “…God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat.”
  2. God increases and enlarges the resources. “In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.”
  3. God promises abundance. “…You will be enriched in every way.” Now I know that your thinking that overnight I have caught the health, wealth and prosperity bug, but I assure you that I have not. The next point is where those who are of the prosperity camp stop.
  4. God supplies so we can generously share. “…so that you can always be generous.” John Wesley lived his life with this philosophy, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
  5. God receives the credit when we live generously. “And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.” We can’t take the credit for what God has done. We can’t even take the credit for what God has given us.

So, what are some things that we can learn about generosity? First it is an attitude not an amount. God does not ask us to think about what we might have, but He is concerned with what we do with what we already have.

Second, generosity can be cultivated…we are not naturally inclined to help start new churches. New churches take additional funds and new churches can take personnel away from our church. My friend Mark didn’t see the importance of multiplication at first. He stated, our church had a lot going for it, what could a church plant offer that we couldn’t. But a year later his heart has been changed and they are looking at daughtering at least two more churches. Part of my job is to help create that giving spirit. One of the areas I would like you to pray toward is a short-term missions trip to Wisconsin and its purpose would be to assist Hayward Wesleyan Church with one of these two new plants.

Third, generosity begins where we are and with what we have. The best place to start is here and now. Generosity also involves going beyond the four walls of our church. My prayer among others is that we can be a great, giving missions (both local, national, and global) minded church. I want to be careful here, but I also want to express a concern I see in our church. My concern as your pastor is that we seem to be generous when it comes to our own church body but not as generous when we go beyond.

So how can we, Preston Wesleyan Church be involved in church planting?

  1. Public Affirmation – the leadership of our church embracing the vision to multiply our church.
  2. Prayer Emphasis – praying for church multiplication
  3. Promotion – What we are doing today, actively and intentionally promoting church planting.
  4. Permission – Visible and vocal about giving permission for church members to give and go…
  5. Provision – Investment through financial giving or “gifts in kind.” – When we give to God and his mission, we need to give our best, not our leftovers.

[i]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
[ii]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
[iii]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
[iv]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.