Spreading the Word of God

A true story…

Have you heard of Jack Murphy? He was one of the most notorious jewel thieves in the history of the united States. He was a gifted man on many levels — a musician, an actor, an artist, a surfer. He was born in Oceanside, California: then his family moved to Pittsburgh, where he played violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and also won a tennis scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.

Unknown to everyone, he was also a cat burglar. On October 29, 1964, he pulled off one of the greatest heists in American history, stealing twenty-four precious gens from J.P. Morgan’s prized collection at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The stolen gems included the Star of India, the Eagle Diamond, and the DeLong Star Ruby.

Three days later, Murphy and his accomplices were arrested. The story goes from bad to worse, and Murphy ended up sentenced to 2,244 years in prison. One day some men came to minister to the prisoners. Football stars All Glass and Roger Staubach shared the gospel with Murph the Surf, as he was known, and he was intrigued.

Later a Christian worker who faithfully visited the prison followed up with a personal message from Scripture, and Murphy gave his life to Christ. Murphy was eventually released, and in the years since he’s visited hundreds of prisons with the message of the gospel. His story was written up as part of a book called God’s Prison Gang.

The story doesn’t end there. In California, a man named Mike Larson grew up in an abusive home, which led to an unstable life. He became enslaved to raging drug abuse. He lost every job and every meaningful relationship. One day he broke into a doctor’s house looking for drugs, and he was arrested and thrown into prison.

While Mike was in solitary confinement, a prison guard handed him a book entitled God’s Prison Gang, featuring stories of prisoners who came to Christ while behind bars. As Mike read Jack Murphy’s story, he decided to leave his life of crime forever.

Upon his release, Mike decided to get a tattoo. The artist drawing the tattoo invited Mike to church with him and also urged Mike to join his motorcycle gang — but there was an unusual requirement. You had to bring along a biker vest with a notepad, a pen, and a pocket Bible.

When Mike lost his Bible, he tried to hide the fact that he didn’t have one. But it bothered him so much that one day he literally yelled out to God to give him a Bible.

Later that day Mike drove to a pizza restaurant where a man got out of his car, came over, and gave him a Bible — just like that, and then drove away. The man was a Gideon, and then and there Mike broke down in tears. He couldn’t believe God had answered his prayer, and that led to his giving his heart totally to Jesus Christ. 

Today Mike is a California pastor leading his church to invest itself in winning others to Christ.

Think of the chain reaction: from famous athletes, to a diamond thief, to a prison guard, to a tattoo artist, to a nameless Gideon — all leading to a man now preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and winning others to the Lord as well as training and releasing his church to do the same.

God is truly amazing. Truly amazing. His ways are far above and beyond our ways. Amazing. Simply amazing!

 

2021 – Time to Plant a Tree

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

And I would say that the best time to have told your friends and neighbours about Jesus was 20 years ago. The second nest time is now.

When I was first saved and born again there was a move of the Holy Spirit that was setting people and churches on fire for God. Back then (late 1970’s) you would hear things like this:

    • “Be on fire for Jesus!”
    • “Invite all your friends to Church!”
    • “Tell everyone you know about Jesus!”
    • “Change your school with the gospel!”
    • “Make Him know on and off the playing field!”
    • “Be a cry on the hill, different than others!”
    • “Be salt and light in your community!”

Fast forward a few years and you don’t hear those kinds of comments any more. The Great Commission to go into al the world and make disciples” is seldom taught on and few ever hear about it from the pulpit and church classrooms. Today you’ll be hard-pressed to find people in the pews who are sharing the gospel with their neighbours (if they even know them), who are changing their workplace for Christ, and who are using their talents to impact the city.

It seems that the older we get and the longer we have known Jesus, the safer we live. But Jesus never called us to live safe, secure, and comfortable lives. Safe faith isn’t biblical faith! It seems the longer we have known Jesus the less likely we are to tell our neighbours and friends about Him. 

Now, let’s comment on the fact that young people are leaving the Church. Those who are in the age group called the Millennials are leaving the Church in substantial numbers. Stay with me as these two different streams of thought are really one. I will link them up in a minute.

Research has found that 70 percent of young adults leave the church at or about the age of nineteen. I am often asked “why has the younger generation abandoned the Church?” My answer is that I think the older generation has abandoned the mission of reaching the lost. So, the Millennials see a Church that has no purpose and no vision or goal and thus leave it because to them that means the Church is irrelevant. 

Statistics also show that among Millennials the number of them sharing their faith on a regular basis is increasing. They no longer attend Church but they are still in love with Jesus and more determined than the Church to share Him with others.

These studies are basically saying there is a mass exodus of young people from the Church, but they are sharing their faith more than ever once they’re out. It’s as if they’re graduating from the Church but not necessarily abandoning the faith. It seems this younger generation see the need for this dark world to know Christ but does’t see the Church as a viable way to make that happen.

It seems that the young people share because they have nothing to lose. But the older we get the less we share Jesus because we have more to lose – reputation, position, income, wealth, authority, friendships. 

It’s a lot safer to just be a believer and not be a disciple maker. Then you can agree but not do. There’s less risk involved when we just agree with Jesus. We abandon the mission because it costs us too much — our time, our resources, and especially our convenience. 

Have you ever noticed that older people don’t usually have scabs? Think about it. Scabs are what you get when you’re young. You get them on the playground from running too fast, jumping too high, or playing too hard. But as you get older, you don’t attempt anything that could give you scabs. Because our bodies have more to lose if something goes wrong.

Again, it seems that the older you get the safer you live. It seems that this is true of our faith journey also. It seems we have restricted the fun and powerful glory days of our faith to our youth. 

Francis Chan once spoke about his frustration with this notion. Both of his parents passed away in their forties, so it taught him to number his days. He talked about how he never knows if this is his last day before meeting Jesus. But instead of letting this sobering reality paralyze him, he’s allowed it to ignite his faith. He said, “It just doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re close to seeing God, why are we living such a safe life? And what the heck are we saving for? We go backward in the church, where we do crazy things when you’re eighteen, and then we start to live safer and safer every year.”

So, no matter what age you are, consider this: if today truly was your last day, what would you do with it?

I can guarantee that whatever you’d do, it wouldn’t be safe. It would involve meaningful risk. Whether it was restoring a broken relationship, telling that loved one about Jesus, or fulfilling an item on your bucket list, it wouldn’t be safe.

Time to plant a tree … 

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part Two

Let’s continue with our look at living a life of integrity in 2021 as believers and followers of Jesus Christ. We saw last time:

1> Practice what you believe (Leaders: Practice what you preach)

2> Intimacy with Jesus is foundational and a serious priority

Too many leaders and followers in the church have become religious hypocrites. They go through the motions, doing only what is required of them by their local assembly – the bare essentials. They know the right words. But they have forsaken their first love (Revelation 2:4). Leaders can teach about Jesus but spend little time at His feet. And, people can call themselves believers and also spend little to no time with Him and yet claim to follow Him. We can tell others to follow Jesus while we wander away from Him.

For Christians, modelling integrity means we hunger to be in the presence of our Saviour. We long to become more like Jesus and live in ways that grow our faith. Every believer should pause and do a heart check: Am I really following Jesus and becoming more like Him – enjoying time in His presence and experiencing His peace – or am I simply doing my thing and covering a non-biblical lifestyle with a thin outer coating of “Christian”? 

If you are a church leader and on staff with a church or ministry you should also do a heart check: Have I become a church staff professional doing my job with no passion behind my ministry?

Everyone should ask themselves: Am I propelled into each day with a love for Jesus that guides and moves me?

When we love Jesus and it shows, people are drawn to Him. To live with integrity we need intimacy with the Lord on a daily basis.

3> Love the lost is essential

Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). The religious leaders in His day were upset that sinners liked Jesus and He seemed to like them. Church leaders and believers in Jesus (disciples of Jesus) who avoid nonbelievers and spend all of their time with church folks can’t fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  

Living with integrity calls us to live like Jesus, and sometimes that will mean making new friends and spending less time at church or fellowshipping with other believers. Christians understandably tend to gather with others who believe the same way that they do. However, we can then become narrow in our focus and neglect those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And, we can also end up with a “we” and “they” mentality. This is simply not healthy. We need to find a place where we can hang out with nonbelievers and frequent it often so as to stay in touch with the real world out there and build relationships with those who live without hope. A gym, the baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a weekly card game…

4> Passionate prayer unleashes power

Systems, programs, and tricks of the trade will never bring lost sheep home to the Good Shepherd. The best worship services with the finest music and the most articulate gospel presentation are powerless if the Spirit of God is not present and at work. Only when God moves will people surrender their hearts to Jesus.

This is true as well in the life of a believer. If we are not praying passionately for the lost then we will not influence or impact the lost. We can befriend them without prayer but we cannot see them come into the Kingdom if our prayer is weak and inconsistent. And, if we simply neglect praying for those we know who are lost. Working to influence and win the lost without praying for the lost from a heart for the lost sucks and seriously lacks integrity. 

True power resides in the prayers of believers and the prayers of the corporate church when we weep for the lost and seek God’s face on behalf of those who are in spiritual darkness. We need to ask God for His heart for the lost. That prayer, when answered, will transform your life and witness and help you to live a life of integrity.

Prayer and the power of God are central to living lives that bear witness to the nonbeliever. And, as we live with a heart for the lost then we will obey Jesus and live with biblical integrity. 

Cleaning Out the Clutter

We are called, as disciples, to “go into al the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). This includes going and staying. “Staying” in that “all the world” includes family, friends, and neighbours. “Going” in that there are over 6,000 people groups that have not heard the name of Jesus and are not aware of the gospel of the Kingdom.

To think about “going” and “staying” in terms of winning the lost and discipleship we need to grapple with decisions about our priorities and our focus in life in general. Even with a sincere desire to be radically obedient, it is not always easy to make decisions about what matters most. 

The Great Commission is a clear word of instruction. 

Matthew 28:18-20  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.’”

Jesus has told us frankly that obedience – and thus sharing the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission – is the result of our love for Him.

“If you love Me, you will obey Me” (John 14:15)

That God has a special concern for the lost is beyond debate. Even so, His special concern is not always our special concern, even as we are striving, in love, to be obedient!

Consider the priorities that inform our living and the decisions we make in daily life. Typically, those priorities are clearly reflected in our conversations and gatherings; our priorities are reflected by the way we use our time and money. To illustrate the struggle of determining priorities, imagine a group of believers in a regular, traditional church or even a house church. 

What occupies our attention? What are we most concerned about? What are the most frequent topics for discussion when we gather? What do churches care most about? What matters most to individual believers? What is the mission agenda of the church? Of the individuals believer? In other words, where do we place our focus?

Generally the conversation centers in and around the needs and the lives of the believers. Their current medical struggle. Their job. Their family members. Their current pressures and concerns. Their finances. Their upcoming vacations or business trips. At times, they might be concerned about issues the local church is facing. But those times are few unless you are in leadership and thus the issues are of “personal” importance to you.

Seldom will you hear believers talking about the non-believers they are building relationships with in the hope of, one day, sharing the gospel of the kingdom. Oh, they may mention the name of a person to pray for who is not saved but that is not the same as seeking prayer for your witness to that person and the relationship you are attempting to build with them. Unless led by a mission-minded leader you will seldom hear the conversation turn to those “people groups” who have yet to hear the gospel and won’t hear it unless someone is send – which means someone must go. 

So, our concerns are often not in line with the concerns of the Father nor the concerns of the Head of the Church, Jesus. 

Here is my point: We need to clear out the clutter of our own lives until the needs of the lost become and remain our primary focus. The lost need to hear, to understand, to believe the gospel, to be baptized, and then be gathered into house churches and discipled. Responding to the needs of the lost is our God-given task. As we obediently answer God’s command, nothing can be more important than the needs of the lost. So, we need to remove the “self” clutter and focus on the needs of the lost – especially the need to be born again.

The kingdom truth: The need for the lost to hear the good news always exceeds the needs of the believer and the local church. 

Christian Martyrs

I read an interesting statistic the other day. 80% of the world’s true believers are living in persecution. A true believer is a follower or disciple of Jesus. People who know who Jesus is and people for whom the Christian faith is central to life and life-shaping. These are people who have encountered the living and loving God and embraced the message that Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave destroyed the power of sin and death. People who have embraced the love of God and whose lives have been totally changed as they became new creatures in Christ.

The 80% of the world’s believers who live in persecution refers to hardship and even death that is the result of being true followers of Jesus and not for some other reason. Not all persecution ends in death. Some does, however. The word martyr describes those who have died for their faith as believers. It is claimed that over the past 20 centuries of the Christian faith, some 70 million believers have been murdered for their faith and can rightly be called martyrs. And, it is estimated that currently more than four hundred believers are killed every day for their faith. Numbers can speak loudly but we must look carefully are how those numbers are determined. 

The basic definition is that Christian martyrs are “believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility. This definition has five essential and distinct components:

1> Believers in Christ. These are people who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom and due to the conviction of the Spirit were led to repent with godly sorrow and receive forgiveness for their sins. These are people who have had a life-changing encounter with the love of God the Father and, as a result, have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are people who have truly become new creatures in Christ and are living lives focused on the Kingdom. These are people who have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and thus are able to fulfill John 14:12 and are obedient to the command to “seek and save the lost” regardless of the cost. The number of true Christians is really much smaller than the number who claim to be followers of the Christian faith. 

2> Lost their lives. The Christians numbered among the martyrs have actually been put to death. There are many levels of persecution, but martyrdom results in death.

3> Prematurely. Martyrdom is sudden, abrupt, unexpected, and unwanted. It is a death that happens before it “should” happen; it is, in that sense, premature. Had martyrdom not happened, these people would have lived longer. 

4> In situations of witness. By definition, the word martyr suggests the idea of witness. In traditional usage, a martyr is a person who bears witness to Christ in his or her own death. So, dying a martyr usually means giving some form of testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ before they die or by the way that they died. 

5> As a result of human hostility. The martyr’s death happens at the hands of a persecutor. A human being is involved in the martyrdom.

And we could add that the witness of the martyr stands the test of time. That means at least two things. First, the martyr’s way of living will not later be revealed to be untrue or inauthentic. As people look back and consider the life of the believer who has died, they will see that there was, in fact, true belief. Second, whether we can measure it or not, the death will serve as testimony. The death will encourage and even bear fruit and it will do those things over time. There will be evangelistic impact in the setting where the martyrdom takes place, within the group that sent out the believer, or in both settings. 

So, the reported annual number of Christian martyrs might be much higher than the actual number of people who died for their faith. Using these elements contained within the understanding of what constitute a martyr an accurate count is really hard to obtain and there is little gained by guessing at and then publishing the “estimate” number of martyrs annually. 

Remember Why Jesus Came

We are into the Christmas season and, as usual, we add a number of extra events to our already busy daily schedules. We shop for gifts, plan meals and get-togethers with loved one, and attend Christmas parties and Christmas concerts. This year there will be some changes to these festive events and activities due to COVID-19. However, we will still be busy and active nonetheless.

In the midst of the added events and activities let us not forget the reason for the celebration we call Christmas. You know the message: God so loved us that He wanted a personal relationship with each one of us. However, our sinful nature and our sinful actions separated us from Him. So, He became one of us – we call Him Jesus – and lived without sin. He died on the Cross of Calvary paying the penalty for our sins. Thus paying the debt we could not pay and making a way for us to have a close encounter with and relationship with God the Father. 

To enter into this relationship we must sense the conviction of the Spirit… convicting us of sin, righteousness  and judgment. We then respond with godly sorrow — sorry we offended a holy God — and you repent and ask for His forgiveness. When received you become a new creature in Christ and are given the gift of eternal life. Biblically the gift of eternal life is the supernatural ability to have a personal, intimate, love relationship with God the Father and Jesus whom He sent.

This was the focus of the first Christmas. Emmanuel — God with us! God bringing salvation and deliverance; forgiveness and freedom. This is what we are celebrating. But, it is more than that. Much more.

Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke19:10). God does not just call an individual. The Christian faith is more than you and Jesus and personal salvation. He called a people to Himself. He wants a people who will fellowship with Him. A priesthood of all believers who will minister to Him and for Him. And these people are called to fulfill the call that was upon Jesus’s life. We are to continue His purpose — to seek and save the lost. This is why Jesus commanded (and did not suggest) that we, the Church, “go into every nation and people group and share the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 28:18-19; Matthew 24:14). 

So Christmas is more than a celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. Christmas is more than God becoming man — deity taking on humanity — and living among us. Christmas is more than God loving us so much that He gave His Son to die for us. Christmas is a reminder that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because God came to “seek and save the lost.” And, that we must continue that task and tell others – all others – about the good news that “unto us a Child has been born and a Saviour given.”

And there are no shortage of opportunities and places to go. Yes, all the easy ones have been taken. But, there are still 6,5000 unreached people groups in the world. About 2 billion people in the world don’t have a Christian friend or any access to the saving knowledge of the gospel. So, we are called to live the mission and go to every place God gives us the privilege of going. And, this mission, of course, starts at home but extends much further as we “go into all the world.”

This is the fullness of the Christmas message that “a child has been born, a King has been given.” As members of the King’s kingdom we are called to “go” and expand the kingdom bringing His light into the darkness.

Will the Real Christians Please Stand Up

There seems to be multiple definitions of the word Christian. It is used in a variety of ways. So, I have found it helpful for myself to define the word and even group those who call themselves Christians into these categories.

Census Christians are people, who, if asked about their religion, would say “Christian.” This designation might not relate at all to anything that these people believe or practice. Often, this is a cultural answer. If asked about their religion in certain geographic areas, for example, many people might answer, “Of course I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody?” These people are “census Christians.” On a census, these people would check the “Christian” box. What that designation actually means is anybody’s guess. 

These people are also known as Cultural Christians as their lives are identical to their neighbours — those who are not believers.  Being a Christian has not altered their values, morals, ethics, priorities, or lifestyle. 

Member Christians claim some sort of identification with a particular Christian institution or organization. Again, this does not mean that these people necessarily participate or even that they show up at their church. These people simply have some sort of personal connection with a church and they identify themselves with that church. They might say, “I am Catholic,” or “I am Baptist,” or “I am Methodist.”

Practicing Christians actually participate in the life of a church. They typically attend worship services. In some fashion, these people are involved in the forms and rituals of the faith. Often their connection with the church is limited to weddings, baptisms, and funerals. They usually attend at Easter and Christmas. 

Believers (or Committed Believers) are people for whom the Christian faith is central, life-changing, and life-shaping. These Christians strive to live out their faith and communicate their faith to others. To use the language of the evangelical world, these people have a personal relationship with Jesus. Often they will use the language of John 3 and talk about being “born again.” They have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus (John 17:3)

Hidden Christians are people who believe secretly. Fearful of persecution, these people keep their faith to themselves. In some settings, these believers might keep their faith secret from government officials and employers. In other settings, they might keep their faith secret even from family members and friends. These believers might not ever experience specific acts of outward persecution, but the fear of persecution has caused their faith to be completely inward. For the most part, their faith, though real, is hidden. In most cases, they have not “joined” a church, through this might be an artificial measurement since, in many settings, there is no official institutional church to join.

When I use the word Christian I am referring to and speaking of people who know who Jesus is and who have had a personal encounter with Him and are thus born again. I am referring to people for who knowing Jesus has transformed their life. People who are a journey as they obey the will of the Lord. They are followers of Jesus, His disciples. So they wold fit into the last two categories — Believers (or Committed Believers) and Hidden Christians. 

For me this means I see that many who call themselves Christians are not and so are still in need of being born again. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian does not make them a Christian. Just because they go to church regularly also does not make them a Christian. Having a life-changing encounter with the love of God as found in Jesus Christ — being born again — is what determines if you are a true Christian and follower (disciple) of Jesus. So, I can honestly say that I view many who call themselves Christians as people who need to be evangelized. For truly they are religious and not righteous.

And, even in the born again church I believe well over 50% of those who are members and attending are not truly born again. They said a Sinner’s Prayer and were told that they were now born again. That’s a lie. To be born again one must experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, respond with godly sorrow, and repentance. Then pray and ask the Lord to forgive you and become Lord in your life. (See: 2 Corinthians 7:8-10) To be born again is more than having a head knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the Cross of Good Friday and then praying a Sinner’s Prayer. Head knowledge is not enough – you need to encounter the truth and have it change your heart. 

So, Christians are those who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and responded with godly sorrow and repentance are true believers. If you have only heard the gospel of salvation and not experienced conviction and godly sorrow with repentance then you know the truth but it has yet to set you free. Head knowledge is not enough. The Bible says that even the demons know who Jesus is and what He did and they are not saved and are not going to heaven (James 2:19).  

The “Gospel of Salvation” is a man-made belief. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the only true Gospel and it will set you free and through it you become a true believer, a Christian. 

Sheep and Wolves – Part Two

Continuing on from last time…

Jesus said plainly that He was sending His followers out “like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Then He told them even more. He told them that they would be handed over to the local councils, flogged in the synagogues, and brought before governors and kings as witnesses. He told them that they would be arrested, betrayed, and hated (verses 17-22). In a word, His followers would be persecuted (verse 23). Jesus made it clear that this impending persecution was not merely a possibility; for those who would obey Him, persecution is a certainty.

In response to His instructions, Jesus’ followers set out on this grand and frightening adventure, and sure enough, they experienced everything that Jesus had promised. They went out as sheep among wolves, and they experienced what sheep typically experienced in the presence of wolves. Predictably, the sheep were true to their identity. Just as predictably, the wolves wet true to theirs. And the inevitable result is precisely what Jesus has promised: persecution.

If there is any possible way to do it, we generally want to relegate passages like Matthew 10 to the distant past. We want to keep passages like Matthew 10 as far as possible from our own experience. Obedience to these ancient words, in today’s world, would potentially be seen as unbalanced — even insane. Especially within the church today, we might be encouraged to avoid taking Jesus’ instructions too seriously.

All the same, we claim that we are utterly devoted to Scripture. With great respect, we study to understand the world of these earliest followers of Jesus., We read about their suffering and we celebrate their costly obedience to Jesus’ call. Jesus clearly told His followers long ago that they wold suffer, and they did suffer. We know the story of these faithful followers is true.

As true as this story of ancient persecution is, however, we long to believe that these verses are merely “history.” We want very much to believe what happened to these earliest disciples is not what will happen to us. We want to believe Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 do not apply to believers today — at least, not to all believers!

But what if Matthew 10 is not merely “history”? What if Matthew 10 is a true word intended for Jesus’ followers of every time — a true word intended for even our time? What if Matthew 10 is about your and about me? What if “sheep among wolves” is an accurate description of both our calling and our world today? What if Jesus’ followers — His followers today — really are like sheep? And what if the world — the world today — really is filled with wolves?

Opening ourselves to the truth of God’s Word is dangerous. Popular theologies would tell us suffering can be avoided, that there is a way to be both faithful and comfortable at the same time, that there is a way to be both obedient and safe, that persecution is the destiny of believers who live only at certain times or in certain places, that God will reward obedience with success and security. Popular theologies would tell us that, even if we are sheep, it is possible to minimize our exposure to a world filled with wolves.

God’s Word — lived out in present active tense — however, tells its something very different. Jesus would have us understand that His followers — His followers long ago and His followers today — are, in fact, sheep. Jesus would have us understand that our world — our world long ago and our world today — is filled with wolves. And knowing the certain outcome of that encounter between the sheep and the wolves, Jesus would have us understand, even in this kind of a world, He fully intends to accomplish His purposes. Jesus will use these sheep to complete His great plan. 

Judging by what eventually happened to Jesus Himself, we come to understand that persecution and suffering and sacrifice are necessary parts of His ultimate strategy, even today.

Jesus’ instruction is compelling in its clarity. It is not a suggestion: it is a command. “Go!” He says. “I am sending you!”

We have the high privilege of answering Jesus’ call to go. But let’s be clear about this: we go on His terms, not ours. If we go at all, we go as sheep among wolves.

Why then, given that Jesus led His disciples every day to be with Him “to seek and to save what were lost” (Luke 19:10), did He feel it necessary to one more time command us with the Great Commission of Matthew 28?

Can it be that which Jesus lived and commanded to most is what we ignore obeying the most?

Today are we willing to follow Jesus to the tough places; anywhere and anytime He still commands?

Sheep and Wolves – Part One

At the risk of sounding a bit “preachy,” allow me a moment to restate the obvious — for what we have heard the most often might well be the very command we ignore the most. As the Gospel of Matthew comes to a crescendo, Jesus gave His followers a final word of instruction. We often refer to these words as the “Great Commission.” And, often the reality is that they are the “Great Omission.”

With stark simplicity, Jesus set out the calling and the mission of those who would follow Him. “Go,” He commands, “and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). From that day until now, Jesus’ followers have endeavoured to fulfill that assignment. Whatever else the church takes on, it is broadly understood that both “going” and “making disciples” are essential and defining tasks. The church cannot be the church unless it is going and making disciples. 

Interestingly, Jesus’ final instruction was nothing new; it is utterly consistent with His overall ministry. He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) Early on, as Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to follow Him, He explained that He would make them “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Later, Jesus designated twelve apostles. They were appointed “that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). He called them close, building an intimate relationship with each of them. Then He sent them out. Consistently, this invitation to walk closely with Jesus is linked with the command to go out with Jesus. In fact, it becomes clear that an intimate relationships with Jesus necessarily leads to a life of ministry and service and mission for all believers. God is a sending God. Repeatedly, He draws people close and then He sends them out. In the Gospels, we encounter this same pattern over and over again.

When Jesus sent His followers out, He gave explicit guidance. He also explained clearly what would happen to His followers as they obeyed Him. In Matthew 10, Jesus gave the twelve “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1). He told His followers exactly what message to proclaim (verse 7). He also gave them specific instructions about their upcoming journeys (verses 5-15).

Some of His instructions sound uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous. For these specific and short trips, Jesus told His followers to take no money as they journeyed. He told them to take no bag. He told them to take no extra clothing or shoes. Evidently, Jesus wants His followers to experience God’s sufficient provision firsthand.

As challenging as some of Jesus’ specific instructions were, however, what He had said to this point was downright encouraging compared to what He said next. “I am sending you out,” He explained, “like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

Like sheep among wolves. With that simple, startling phrase, Jesus defined the identity of His followers: they  are like sheep. At the same time, He clarified the identity of the people they would meet in the world: they were like wolves. It is not especially difficult to ascertain what will happen to sheep in the presence of wolves. Even if we have no personal experience with either sheep or wolves, we plainly see how this scenario plays out. Frankly, it is not good to be sheep in the presence of wolves. Sheep don’t normally survive in the presence of wolves! Even so, Jesus wanted His followers to understand both their true nature and the true nature of the world in which  they would journey. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand both the content of the gospel and the context in which it was to be shared. What He offered was a simple statement of fact.

And notice this: Jesus did not ask the sheep to behave like wolves, and He certainly did not suggest that the wolves would behave like sheep!

After setting this image before them, Jesus did not give His followers the opportunity to revisit their earlier commitment to Him. He did not ask them if, in the light of these new words, they still were serious about following Him. After all, they had already answered His call, and obedience to Him was the necessary next step. With some notable objections, His followers obeyed. They went.

And ever since, His followers have continued to go. At least some of them haver!

More next time.  

The Great Commission

The completion of the Great Commission will include great suffering, but eternity will prove it is worth the price. There are three significant truths in that statement.

1> The Great Commission will one day be complete. One day, disciples will have been made and churches will have been multiplied in every nation and among every people group on the planet. Thousands of these people groups remain unreached today, but one day — hopefully soon — they will be reached. In the words of Jesus, “The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). 

According to the apostle John, one day “a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand “before the throne of the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands … crying out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

These words from Jesus and John in Scripture are guarantees. By the power of His Spirit through the testimony of His Church, Christ will be proclaimed as Saviour among all the peoples of the world.

2> This task of proclaiming Christ to all people will include great suffering. Jesus assured us of this, as well. Right before His promise in Matthew 24 of the gospel proclaimed to all nations, Jesus told His disciples, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death” (Matthew 24:9). “If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you,” He told them in John 15:20. It is no surprise, then, to see the suffering of God’s people on every page of the story of the church in Acts and the history of the Church since Acts. 

Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of His Church. He brought salvation to the world through Christ, our suffering Saviour, and He now spreads salvation in the world through Christians as suffering saints. In the words of Paul, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Clearly, there is a sense in which the danger in our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.

3> Eternity will prove that such suffering was worth the price. The book of Revelation envisions the day when sin and Satan will ultimately be finally defeated, and followers of Christ who endured suffering in this world will reign with God for all eternity. How will this defeat come about? Through Christians who “have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto death” (Revelation 12:11). Men and women who wisely love the gospel and glory of God more than their own lives will enter into and experience eternal life, where God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes and dwell with them forever.

So, we need to decide that Jesus and His cause on the earth — to go to the nations and make disciples — is better than all the pleasures, possessions, and pursuits of the world put together. 

It is time for true believers to be more cognizant of the needs of the world, more confident in the Word of God, and more committed to making His Word known throughout this world, no matter what it cost you…realizing that God’s reward is far greater than anything this world could ever offer you.