Tag Archives: evangelism

Today’s Scripture – November 7, 2017

Luke 10:16 (NIV) “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The disciples always had to remember that the mission that they were on was not their own mission; it was Jesus’ mission, and they were merely acting as His advance team, as emissaries of His kingdom. Therefore, they were not to take personally either their successes or their failures; either the praise from those that they were reaching out to, or their rejection.

If they were rejected by the people of a town, they needed to immediately remind themselves that the people were rejecting not them, but Jesus and, by extension, God Himself. And if the people received their message, it was Jesus that they were receiving, not them, and, by extension God Himself. Thus, if they did their job faithfully and with their whole hearts, there was no room at the end of the day for either pride or shame at the outcome.

Even today many Christians are afraid to share the good news of the kingdom with others, betraying a fear of being rejected. Others take pride in the number of people that they had led into the kingdom. But today it is still Jesus’ mission, and we as God’s people are merely acting as Jesus’ advance team, His emissaries. So now, just as then, no one who is obeying Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations should take personally either their successes or their failures; either the praises of those that they are reaching out to, or the rejection of those people.

If we, as God’s people, are faithfully doing this vital work of the kingdom with our whole hearts, there is no room at the end of the day for either pride or shame. Instead, each of us should simply say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:10 NIV)

Father, I admit that I can easily allow too much of myself into Your mission, allowing myself to take personally both the successes and the rejections when I am sharing the gospel with others. But Jesus’ point is crystal clear: it’s not about me at all, but 100% about Him. Help me to adjust my sights, to shift my worldview on this issue, so that I can simply be faithful in serving You without either pride or fear. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 31, 2017

Luke 10:5-7 (NIV) “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.”

Part of God’s provision for those sent ahead of Jesus was a place to stay in each village that they went to – a place that would not only provide shelter, but food as well. But these men would have to rely on God’s direction to select that house.

As representatives of God’s kingdom, the first thing that they were to do in each house was to pronounce God’s peace, His shalom, on the home and on all who lived there. Most of the time, their peace would be received by the owner of the house. But there always existed the possibility that the homeowner would not receive their peace, but would put them up grudgingly and complain as he provided for their needs.

Of course, it is always more pleasant to stay in a house where you are warmly welcomed and graciously hosted. But no matter what kind of reception these apostles got at the house that God chose for them, they were carefully instructed to stay there, eating and drinking whatever was set before them as the wages that He was providing for them. They were, under no circumstances short of being thrown out, to try to find a better house to stay at, or a more hospitable host.

The reason for this is that, as they went, thy were to go as emissaries of the kingdom of God, to prepare the hearts of the people that they met for Jesus, who was coming right behind them. Some of the people had desperately hard hearts that needed more preparation than others, and God often would lead them to the house of just such a person. But as those people experienced God’s grace and love operating in and through the lives of those men, their own hearts would be softened and their curiosity aroused as to why they believed and acted as they did, even in the midst of being treated inhospitably. And then, when Jesus arrived, He would find the hearts in that household softened and plowed, ready for the gospel seeds to be planted.

Father, it is so easy for us to look around to find the nicest people to focus our evangelistic efforts on. We figure that they are the “low hanging fruit,” already close to salvation because they are so nice. But I have seen that You are often working most strongly in the hearts of the inhospitable, those who are obviously, painfully lost; those that do not seem to be an intuitive selection at all. Lord, help me to not try to decide so much on my own, but to be content to follow Your lead always, to go unquestioningly to the people and the places You send me, and to work there until the work is done, or You yourself direct me to move on. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 10, 2017

Matthew 24:9-14 (NIV) “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Here Jesus expands the vista of His presentation far beyond the mere destruction of Jerusalem, but there is much in His words that pertained to the group of disciples that was standing with Him on the mountain.

First, He warns them that they will be hated and persecuted by people all around them.  This didn’t take long to begin.  It was just weeks after Jesus’ ascension that Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin and commanded to stop teaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4).  It was within just a few years that James, the brother of John, was beheaded by King Herod (Acts 12:1-2).  And before they were finished, each of the original 11 apostles that remained after Judas killed himself would undergo extreme persecution.  Nearly all of them ended up being executed.

As for the false prophets that Jesus foretold, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that they were on their way (Acts 20:29-30), and Jesus’ letter to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-3 shows that many had indeed arisen.  The rise and influence of false prophets was a problem that the early Church had to deal with, but also one that has persisted through the ages, and still exists today.  Unfortunately, too many people, even among those who name Jesus as their Lord, are too quick to listen to and believe people who claim to speak for God, and too slow and reluctant to test the words of those people by the truth of Scripture.  So this will continue to be a problem for the Church until the end.

Because of all of these distractions, because of the tendency for organization to take precedence over organism, the love of many in the Church has a tendency to cool, as traditions and ritual take the place of relationship with God.  Because of the felt need to focus on survival during times of persecution, as well as the draw to protect one’s family and resources, many Christians end up forsaking their first love (cf. Revelation 2:4-6).  Each new generation of believers must come to Jesus, forging their own relationship with Him instead of merely inheriting the forms and structures of the religion of their parents.  And each generation must respond actively to the call for renewal, revival, and the call back to their first love for God and Jesus, or their love will cool completely, and their light will go out entirely.

Jesus’ statement that the end would not come until the gospel has been preached in the whole world should have been both a strong clue that the end would not come soon, and a strong motivation to push the good new continually out to the edges of the world until everybody has heard.  The sad fact is, this goal could have been accomplished already, but the evangelistic zeal of God’s people has waxed and waned over the centuries, and far too many are willing for others to do all the work of taking the gospel to the people of the world.

God’s plan hasn’t changed, but to draw all things to a close, He wants everyone to be saved that can possibly be saved; for all who are willing to turn to be given the opportunity.  That still requires, as Jesus implied, people whose love for God and for their fellow man burns so white-hot that they are willing to face trials, hardships, persecution, and even death to push the gospel out to the farthest reaches of the world.  People who will speak God’s words clearly and truly, and who will stand firm to the end.  Then the end will come, and the harvest at the end of the age will be great.

Father, I’m afraid far too few of us realize that we actually have a vital role to play in Your plan for the salvation of the world.  We are content to go to church, and to do good things in our own small circle.  But very few of us burn with passion for the lost souls around us, and those in the other parts of the world.  Forgive us, Lord.  Inspire us and set us aflame with Your love and with the power of Your Holy Spirit, so that we can be powerful and strongly motivated witnesses of Your gospel, so that all the world can know You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 18, 2017

Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV) “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

As we read these words, it is vital to remember who is speaking them, to whom they are being spoken, and the context – what Jesus has just finished talking about.  Far too many people read and follow this process as if Jesus was giving them a series of steps for them to take to be able to receive an apology, or to be made whole in the face of a wrong done to them.

But Jesus never focused on such things.  Instead, He teaches everywhere that those who are wronged are to forgive those who wrong them (Matthew 6:12, 14-15), and to do good to those who mistreat them (Matthew 5:44).  Jesus had just finished telling His disciples about the length that God Himself is willing to go to win back those who have wandered off into sin.  This parable continues that theme, this time showing His disciples how they can help.  Looking at this paragraph though that lens changes everything.

If a brother sins (the words “against you” are missing from many of the oldest and best manuscripts and seem to be later scribal additions), then the one who knows about the sin needs to assume that that person has wandered off, and is in danger of being lost.  That disciple is being tasked by Jesus to begin the rescue effort by going to the sinning person, and helping him or her to see their fault, where they have wandered off into sin.  The goal here is not to get an apology but repentance; not to shame the other person, but to win him or her over, and bring them back into the fold.

If they refuse to repent, the situation is more desperate, because it shows an unwillingness to acknowledge the sin, and a hardening of the heart.  That is when one or two other godly brothers or sisters are to get involved, to see if additional input can reverse the dire situation and save the soul.  If not, as a last-ditch effort, the whole congregation is brought in on the issue so that they can pray for that person, and talk to them, to try to restore them.

The last sentence of this paragraph has been used to justify, and even encourage, shunning of an unrepentant sinner.  But again, the context must be seen and honored.  To understand what Jesus meant by “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector,” we have to look at how Jesus Himself treated pagans and tax collectors.  (That is where the disciples would go to figure that out.)  Jesus did not shun them or write them off as unredeemable.  (That’s actually what the Pharisees and teachers of the law did!)  Instead, Jesus considered the pagans and tax collectors as the lost sheep to whom He had been sent to show the way into the kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 15:24), and as the sick to whom He had been sent as a physician (Matthew 9:10-13).

What Jesus is telling His disciples here is that if someone, even someone who has been a brother of sister in the Church, turns away into sin (whether sin against me or sin in general), that is a sign that they have wandered away, and every effort must be made to pursue them and get them to repent and return to the fold.  If, even after all of the steps listed are done, they refuse to repent, then they must be considered as one who is lost, as lost as a pagan or a tax collector.  As such, they are no longer a candidate for restoration, but a target of wholehearted evangelistic efforts.  God Himself will see them as lost sheep in need of saving, and will be pursuing them in love to bring them to Himself.  And His people must see them that way too, and deal with them on that basis.

Father, it’s amazing the difference it makes to take the context into consideration.  In the way that Jesus is saying it, even if I am the wronged party, from a kingdom perspective, the focus is not on me, on enabling me to be made whole.  It is on the one who has so clearly demonstrated that they have wandered away from the fold and need to be found.  If it was about me, about my getting an apology or satisfaction for the wrong done against me, then I can read that, after I have exhausted all of these steps, I am justified in writing that person off.  But if it is about them, as Jesus clearly intended it to be, then their failure to repent after even the Church tries to help them to see their wrong shows that they are in need of salvation as a top priority, and urges us to pursue them on that basis.  Thank You for shifting the frame!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 17, 2017

Matthew 14:34-36 (NIV) When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.  And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country.  People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

After the successful feeding of the 5,000, there was no time to rest on laurels.  There were still many people who had not yet heard the message of the kingdom, and time was ticking away.  So Jesus had His disciples put ashore in Gennesaret, just west of Capernaum.

Jesus had been through this area many times, so was quickly recognized.  As soon as He was, the word went out that He was back in town, and the people started flooding in, bringing their sick.

Jesus didn’t really mind, and He didn’t feel put upon, even when people just wanted to touch the tassels on the edge of His robe to be healed.  He allowed what many feel would have been an intrusion on His personal space, because the healings that the people received from Him did two very important things.

First, it brought wholeness, shalom, into the lives of God’s people, not only a positive blessing in itself, but a clear sign that God’s kingdom was becoming a reality right where they were living.  Second, it opened the hearts of the people to hear the teachings about the kingdom that were never absent from Jesus’ lips.  Very few would receive a miracle from Jesus and then be closed to His words.  The power He brought into contact with their lives gave Him the right to be heard and taken seriously.

That is one of the reasons why it seems that there is so little openness to the gospel today.  The majority of people presenting it have no power.  Their lives are qualitatively no different from the lives of the people they are trying to reach.  They have no personal experience of transformation to share.  So they are perceived as mainly sharing a philosophy or a religion, and most people have had more than enough of both of those in their lives.  So they close their ears and move on.

Some might claim that people shouldn’t need signs, and miracles, and stories of powerful transformation; that the message of the gospel should stand on its own.  But Jesus Himself didn’t present the gospel that way.  His words rang with the authority of personal experience with the Father Himself, and were nearly always accompanied by actions, miracles, and signs that were designed to clearly demonstrate that the kingdom of God that He was telling them about was a here-and-now reality.

Father, so many today pooh-pooh the need for miracles in sharing the gospel, that it’s really eye opening to realize that Jesus Himself never did.  (The one possible exception being John 4:48, but even then He followed up immediately with a miracle for this father in need.)  Instead, Jesus allowed Your power to flow through Him constantly, so that the people could see that what He was telling them was real.  And He encouraged His disciples to use the same technique (cf. Matthew 10:7-8; John 14:12-14).  It doesn’t do us any good to try to design new ways to share the good news of the kingdom when those ways are powerless and ineffective.  We will never be able to design a way that is better than the way Jesus used.  Help us to BE the kingdom, just like He was, help us to allow YOUR power to flow through our lives, so that our message today is as powerful as His was then, and so that lives can be changed as they were when the Church was new.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 11, 2016

Matthew 10:21-23 (NIV) “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

Jesus is helping His disciples to understand that as they follow in His footsteps, they will inevitably find themselves swimming upstream against the philosophies of the world, and against those of the Jewish religion.  And just as Jesus Himself was a target of persecution, so will His followers be if they are true to what He was and is.  This persecution would not only come from the governmental structures and from strangers, but also, shockingly, from family members.

These apostles, staunch followers of Jesus though they were, were understandably dismayed by this forecast.  After all, who wants to have everybody, even your own family, turn against you?  That was when Jesus assured them that those who stand firm to the end, standing strong even when they are persecuted or thrown out of town, will ultimately be saved.  It will be worth it all in the end.

However, as He was sending them out, they needed to take one more hint from Jesus’ own playbook.  If persecution broke out against them, they were instructed to not stand and fight, but to simply move on.  They didn’t need to become combative and continue to invite persecution on themselves.  There was plenty of fruit out there that was ripe and ready to be harvested.  So, if resistance was encountered from one individual, or in one household or town, simply move on to the next person, the next household, the next town, and see if the fruit there is ripe enough to harvest.

And finally, the ultimate reassurance was that the entire responsibility for the harvest was not on their shoulders.  Instead, Jesus would be coming along behind them, securing the crop that had already been harvested, harvesting the crops that were planted by the apostles and which had ripened in the intervening time, and even pronouncing God’s judgment on those who still remained unresponsive.

All that those apostles were really responsible to do was to go steadfastly into the fields, reap the harvest that was ripe, and keep moving.  They would be held responsible for continuing until they had fulfilled their calling, even when persecution forced them to move on.

It is the same for disciples of Jesus today.  We are not responsible for ripening the fruit; we are simply responsible to be on the lookout everywhere we go for fruit that is ripe.  We are not responsible to make seeds grow, but to plant seeds of the gospel everywhere by showing God’s love to others, and by sharing our stories of how Jesus has transformed our lives.  And we should never become combative; we need to simply retreat if strong opposition arises, trusting God to do all that can be done to cause any seeds that we have dropped in the process to grow.

Father, we often do think that it is all up to us, and so grow intimidated and fearful of being witnesses for Your kingdom.  We tend to disregard, or at least minimize, the supernatural elements of what we have been called to do, and so struggle to do everything in our own strength.  Help us to be faithful and always active in OUR part of the process, and leave to You that part that only YOU can do.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 9, 2016

Matthew 10:16-20 (NIV) “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

The picture that Jesus is painting for His followers as He sends them out may seem unnecessarily grave, or even terrifying.  But it is merely realistic.  Just as Jesus, with His message of the immanence of God’s kingdom, ran across the grain of the current religious culture, so His followers would do when they spoke the same message.

Jesus would not be physically with them as they went to preach this message, so He warned them to be a shrewd as serpents.  This has nothing to do with their character.  Serpents never blink or close their eyes, so they serve well as a symbol of alertness and watchfulness.  Jesus’ followers are to stay ever alert, so that they are not blind-sided by those who will be out to get them.  At the same time, Jesus warned them to be as innocent as doves, the traditional symbol of purity and peace.  Thus, they were to keep themselves pure and holy, and never be combative in their presentation of the gospel message.

Even though the disciples did not get arrested or flogged on this particular mission, Jesus knew that the potential is always there for one of His followers to experience pushback, or even persecution.  Later, after Jesus’ ascension, many of these men would be arrested, persecuted, beaten, and even killed.  At those times, they would be prompted to remember these instructions from Jesus’ own lips, specifically the part about not worrying about what might happen and trying to form a defense before the fact.  Instead, their whole focus needed to stay fixed on doing the job that they had been sent to do, and trusting that God Himself would give them exactly the right words to say at the right time through the Holy Spirit that dwelled in them.  These words would not necessarily free them, but would bear powerful witness to the reality of God’s kingdom, and would be impactful in the furtherance of the gospel.

These words of Jesus are just as important for disciples of Jesus today.  All around the world we are still being sent out as sheep among wolves.  In many parts of the world today, Christians are being arrested and beaten.  Their property is being seized, and their own lives endangered because of their faithfulness to God’s command to go.  But, just as in Jesus day, the Holy Spirit will provide the words and the power that we need right when we need it – not necessarily to free us, but so that we can bear powerful witness to the reality of God’s kingdom, and be impactful in the furtherance of the gospel.

Father, so many of us shy away from sharing the good news of Your kingdom because of fear of persecution and suffering.  But, as Jesus clearly communicates here, the work is too vital to be put on hold because of that fear.  Your solution was not a promise of protection, but a promise of Your presence.  You have given us warning of what we are getting into, and then You promise us words of wisdom that will impact whoever hears them with the reality of You and Your kingdom.  And that should be enough.  Amen.

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