A local gospel

“through Him we have obtained grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among the nations for His name among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:5-6

In our last episode we talked about the gospel being a global message.  But it is also a local message. Often I have heard people speak of traveling to distant lands to share the gospel. It is a somewhat glamorous and adventurous sounding thing to be a missionary.  But it always seemed strange to me when these same people wouldn’t share it in their own city. 

I went on one international mission trip a number of years ago.  It was a wonderful week and the people were so very responsive to the gospel.  And then I came back home and it was over.  A few years after that I became heavily burdened for my own city and for seven years I was heavily involved in local evangelism.  I was a missionary to my own city.

In Mark chapter 5 there is a very dramatic story of a demon possessed man whose life had been absolutely wrecked and humiliated by the devil.  Nobody had been able to help him.  They could only try to restrain him.  But Jesus came and set that hopeless man free.

Mark 5:18-20 And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.

Jesus turned this man into a local missionary.  He sent him among those who knew him and had seen his tormented life with a message and demonstration of freedom.

For those who may feel called to bring the gospel to foreign lands, I really do appreciate that work of God in you.  But while you are waiting to go there, go here.  Bring the gospel to your family, friends and workplace.  Go into the streets of your city and preach as boldly there as you hope to overseas.  The lost and dying are everywhere.  If you don’t care about those nearest to you then you are not ready yet for those far away.

Lord, give us your heart for the world. Even that part of the world we live in every day.

A global gospel

“through Him we have obtained grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among the nations for His name.” Romans 1:5

When Jesus was physically on the earth His ministry was almost entirely to the Jews.  They were, after all, the chosen people.  In fact, the first time Peter took the gospel to a Gentile (Cornelius the Centurion), there was a bit of contention about it.

“Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” Acts 11:1-3

So Peter explained the whole thing to them starting with the vision he had from God that he should not consider unclean what God had cleansed, the summons to Cornelius’s house, and their eager reception of the gospel and the Holy Spirit.  I love the response in verse 18:

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

Every time I read that passage I can almost imagine what it was like to be there.  A holy hush came over the room as the largeness of God’s plan was revealed.  And it was startling.

This was something new to them, but not to God.  It was always part of His plan that this great salvation should be for the Jew and the Gentile.  Jesus Christ is worthy of the whole world.

Isaiah 49:6 Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’

Jesus reiterated this in Mark 16:15 when He said  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Every people group, every ethnicity, every race are to hear the gospel of grace.  The offer is extended to all, with no distinctions made.  There have been perversions of the gospel that have excluded some people or created artificial hierarchies in the kingdom.  These are all antichrist.  We see a picture of the kingdom Jesus is building when we get a peek into heaven:

Revelation 7:9-10 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

It is a beautiful multi-colored kingdom that Jesus is building. Diverse but unified in the glory of the lamb. So preach the gospel everywhere and to all people. Let the Lord be magnified among the nations. Bring His salvation to the ends of the earth.

It’s not always practical

Revelation 2:20 “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

This was written to the church of Thyatira, a commercial city with many trade guilds (similar to a union). If you wanted to make a living in this city you had to be a member of one of these guilds. The guilds would regularly have a feast which the members were expected to attend. These gatherings would involve worship of pagan deities which included some form of sexual immorality as part of that worship. The woman who is called Jezebel was teaching the believers that it was okay to be a part of these meetings because it was necessary for them to be able to earn a living in the city. It was purely a practical thing. I’m sure that some of the things she said to the people were along the lines of “God knows that you are not there to worship any other gods, and he knows you have to provide for your family. “. And so she made allowances for the people to be involved in extreme ungodliness that would taint their testimony for Jesus and would most certainly taint their conscience.

Reading this passage reminded me of what Jeroboam said when he had the two golden calves built at Bethel and Dan:

1 Kings 12:28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!”

Sometimes being obedient to God can be very inconvenient and there will usually be voices telling you that it doesn’t take all that to serve God. We must reject those voices that counsel us in ways that are contrary to the word of God. We are called to be obedient, even when it seems impractical.

Compelling them to come

Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, “Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, “Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” Luke 14:15-24

This is no ordinary supper. This is a parable about eternal life. At the cross everything was completed….all has been made ready. So now the invitation is given —– come to the banquet the Father has prepared. And yet, many…..so very many, refuse to come. What a sad reality this is, that there are many who reject the offer of eternal life. But heaven is not hindered by man’s rejection. God is a pursuer. He started by sending His servants with an invitation. Then He sends His servants to bring them in. And finally, the servants are instructed to compel them to come. As the hour becomes later, the call to come into the kingdom becomes more urgent and intense.

Do you feel the urgency of heaven? God is not willing that any should perish. We shouldn’t be willing that they perish either. I think we are well beyond the days of invitations, and even of bringing them in. It is time to compel them to come. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, let’s be about the Father’s business that His house may be filled. It’s not a day to be fearful and timid. Eternity is at stake. Souls are in the balance.

It shouldn’t end that way

Yesterday I had jury duty. After they had given us all our instructions, we just had to sit there and wait a few hours for them to choose who would stay and who would be sent home. So while we waited, they played a movie on the 2 large screens in the room. It was called “Taking Chance.” Normally I would have gone into the quiet room to read, but for whatever reason I just stayed in my seat as the movie began. The basic storyline was as follows: The main character was a Lt. Colonel in the Marine Corps who worked an office job, but he seemed to feel some stirrings of guilt because was not a part of the very conflict that he had been trained for. He volunteered to escort the remains of a Marine who was killed in combat to the family for burial. It seemed as though on the whole trip he was having an awakening as he considered the young man who was killed in battle as he was sitting safely in a cubicle.

Any my heart was almost exploding because it was like watching a parable of the church….many safe and comfortable on the sidelines while others are risking everything on the battlefield. But there are these moments of clarity when we see…..eternal realities…..God’s purposes….and ourselves somewhere on the outside. It is a moment of truth. A valley of decision. A choice must be made.

I anticipated the ending. He would leave everything and enlist for a tour of duty in Iraq. That was the only reasonable ending. But it wasn’t the ending. He arrived home to his nice house, hugged his wife and kids and shut the door. And the movie was over.

And everything in me screamed “NO…it’s not supposed to end like that!!”

People of God…..please….don’t let that be our ending. We have been trained and equipped for battle and everyone is needed for the fight. It is a moment of truth. A valley of decision. A choice must be made.

Report for duty

No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.  2 Timothy 2:4

The soldier who is actively engaged in combat thinks only of the battle.  It is life or death, not only for himself, but for his fellow soldiers and the land he is fighting for.  There is much at stake, so his life is focused, disciplined and courageous.  There is a great loyalty that motivates him.  There is a cause greater than himself, and he has given himself fully to it.  His whole life has been so ordered that he might be most useful and available to those he is serving.

It is a good analogy for us….the picture of a soldier.  Because we too, as followers of Jesus, deal with life and death realities.  Lives are depending upon us.  God has chosen to use His church to reach the world with the gospel….there is no backup plan.  And should we fail to accommodate our lives to the progression of this heavenly kingdom on earth, many…..so very many, will neither hear, nor avail themselves of God’s great gift of grace through Jesus Christ.

It is good to go to church, but it is not enough to simply sit on a pew.  We must be the church.

It is good to pray, but it is not enough to say reverent words.  We must move heaven with our prayers.

It is good to worship, but it is not enough to sing our songs.  We must encounter the heart of God.

Otherwise we will not go and they will not hear.

Many things will present themselves as obstacles: the cares and troubles of this life….. the emotional disruptions we face due to the irritations, hurts and offenses caused by others….. our own fears, inadequacies and weaknesses..… but what do any of these have to do with the gospel?  The mission has not changed.

It is time to report for duty.  Our Commander-in-Chief has given the command.  Our weapons are unstoppable and victory is assured.  Sitting on the sidelines of the conflict has never been a place of safety, child of God.  Engage the heart of God….and then engage in the warfare.

Lives in the balance

Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant.  Luke 7:1-3

A life was in the balance.  Someone was at the point of death, someone heard about Jesus, and there was life instead of death.  This scenario plays out over and over all across the earth every day.  Multitudes are dead in their transgressions and sin, the enemy of their souls patiently waiting for their last day to claim his prize.  But then someone comes with the message of the gospel…..the good news that instead of death, you can have life through Jesus, abundant and eternal.  And to those who receive Him, the power of death is broken!

But someone must go.  Someone must tell.  Somewhere around you today, a life is in the balance.

Local Outreach – March 27, 2015

Yesterday afternoon we did our first outreach at an LSU baseball game. It’s a great opportunity to put the gospel message into the hands of many people in a short period of time, which we are always glad to do. But we are very watchful for opportunities to speak to people. Yesterday a precious young lady, a high school senior, stopped to talk to Charles for a few minutes. I could hear bits and pieces of their conversation from where I was standing and was very disturbed to hear that her family had been asked to leave their church after her mother was divorced. They hadn’t really been involved in church since then. She walked off shortly afterwards, but passed by us again later that afternoon. I stopped her to tell her how sorry I was that her family had been treated that way, that I was also divorced but had found forgiveness in Jesus and love from His people. It broke my heart to think of her and her mom feeling thrown away by God because of how they had been treated by church people. God forbid that we should be the reason people don’t find their way to Him. It matters how we treat people.

Later that night we were on Third Street and within a few minutes of getting there a college student stopped to talk when I handed him a gospel tract. He had been raised to believe in God but had strayed away from any interest in Him. At LSU he had listened to the people who came to preach at Free Speech Alley, wanting to know truth, but very turned off by the manner in which the preachers dealt with people, even when they only wanted to ask them questions. Even though he did not disagree with their message, he wanted no part of something that was presented in such a way that it seemed so angry and hateful. He and his girlfriend had been talking about spiritual things….. they are seeking and wide open to Jesus right now. And being pushed away by people who claim to represent Him. It matters how we treat people.

Born again believers…..we represent Jesus Christ on this earth. It matters how we treat people.

Third Street Outreach – January 2, 2015

Although there were several people who stopped to talk, the one who is on my heart the most is the one who didn’t. I was sharing the gospel with someone and I saw a woman on the sidewalk with her husband. She was about my age and looked like she’d had a few drinks. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that she had stopped and was watching me. When my conversation ended she was standing on the edge of the sidewalk just a few feet away from me. She avoided making eye contact with me but she kept glancing my way. So I walked over and handed a gospel tract to her. She looked at the tract, then back at me and said “this is a sign”. She didn’t want to talk to me, but as she was walking away with her husband she looked at me one more time, still holding the tract, and said again “this is a sign.” Maybe the Lord will use a little piece of paper to get this woman’s attention.

A short time later a group of three guys walked by, full of tattoos. What I found out shortly afterwards was that they were also full of the Holy Ghost! They were downtown passing out tracts and evangelizing and I was so encouraged to hear about the transformation Jesus had brought to their lives. Delivered from addiction and the occult, these young men were absolutely on fire and sold out for Jesus and believing for revival in our city! Thank You Jesus!

Choosing the Eternal

2 Corinthians 4:18 “while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Colossians 3:2 “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”

The tendency of humans to place too much importance on the things which affect their senses and feelings has been a problem from the beginning. When Eve looked at the fruit on the tree of knowledge she considered not the command of the eternal God but “that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise…” It appealed to her senses and in that moment she valued that temporal momentary gratification more than the eternal benefits of obedience. And the whole world has suffered for it.

It can be easy for us as believers to avoid those things that are clearly sinful. However, there are many things in this world that are not evil in and of themselves, but they are merely temporal. We can give time and attention to them without it necessarily being a matter of sin…except that it takes our focus from the eternal things and dulls the spiritual senses. Daily we are faced with choices….the temporal or the eternal. This material world so often casts a shadow over our life…a veil over our mind. And so we live in a fog, unable to see those things which are truly important. Meanwhile a world perishes without Jesus. The cost of temporal living is far too high.