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On Sunday, September 11, 2016, we tackled the weighty issue of religion and politics. In the morning service, I preached from 1 Peter 2:13-17, in order to help us think biblically about how Christians should relate to governing authorities and how to think about the upcoming presidential elections. If you would like to listen to that message, you can find it here: Thinking Biblically About Government and Politics (1 Peter 2:13-17).

On Sunday evening, we had the privilege of hosting a forum on God and Politics. You can find it here: High Pointe Forum on Christianity & Politics. Pastor Ben Wright’s 35 points were so helpful that I asked his permission to provide them to you in full. Here they are below. Please carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully work through each one.

9/11/16 God & Politics Forum | 35 principles Christians can agree on

Why do we need to talk about this?

  1. We have to because Jesus Christ reigns over all. As his ambassadors, our job is to live as his representatives and declare his message.

What’s government for?

  1. Government’s mission to punish evil and reward good (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

Should we be favorably inclined toward government?

  1. Almost any government is better than no government.
  1. Because we are a representative or constitutional democracy, the responsibilities delegated to government in Scripture fall ultimately to American citizens.
  1. We owe government prayer, taxes, respect, and honor.
  1. You are not in sin if you oppose elected officials or their policies. You are in sin if you do not honor them and pray for them.
  1. Christians should be engaged in politics and government.
  1. Opportunities abound at local levels to engage influentially.
  1. It is right to be grateful for how our government has fought evil and promoted good.
  1. It is easy for white middle class people to believe our government did a great job fighting evil and promoting good throughout our history.
  1. Whatever era of American history you look back to as the ideal certainly wasn’t ideal for everyone. In every era, people have suffered under injustice that was tolerated, if not propagated, by our government and our culture.
  1. It is possible to be both compassionate & treat people with the dignity of divine image-bearers, and at the same time to favor enforcing the law & supporting law enforcement.
  1. Government is neither the fundamental problem nor the fundamental solution.
  1. Politicians often identify real problems but propose terrible solutions.
  1. We should be grateful but realistic, knowing government officials are fallen humans, just as we are.

 How might we be thinking poorly about Christianity & politics?

  1. Our membership in a church and our citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom are more fundamental to our identity than our American citizenship (When we forget this, we are thinking poorly about Christianity & politics).
  1. It is possible, if not common, for Christians to prioritize political convictions over the Church’s mission.
  1. What happens in elections has zero impact on Jesus’ promise to build his Church and the Holy Spirit’s work to make that happen.
  1. Our political opponents are our neighbors, not our enemies. They are people we are sent on a mission to reach, not to war against.
  1. Religious freedom is good and desirable.
  1. God doesn’t need religious freedom in America to accomplish his plan.
  1. It is possible to possess righteous anger over government’s failure to fulfill its God-given mission.
  1. Other people may perceive real failures of government that are invisible to us, and we should learn from them.
  1. Unrighteous anger reveals how shallow is our trust in God.
  1. It is dangerous, if not common, to treasure American laws and freedom more than souls being set free from the penalty of sin and power of the devil.
  1. It is possible, if not likely, to cast a morally justifiable vote while possessing immoral motivations.
  1. People who argue there’s only one choice for Christians to make in this election year are placing a constraint on the Christian conscience that Scripture does not permit.
  1. Disagreements among Christians over how to vote often emerge less from disagreements over principles, and more from disagreements over how we weigh our principles.
  1. We need to figure out what principles we really stand on. Until then, we should guard our pronouncements.

 Conclusions

  1. It is possible, if not likely, that in this election Satan is executing a strategy designed to divide the Church & distract it from its mission.
  1. From an eternal perspective, we should be far more concerned about the disunity of the Church and distraction from our mission than the disintegration of historic American political principles.
  1. Christians need to be people who are committed to work through these issues without allowing them to divide us.
  1. The normal standing of Christians is on the margins of society. We should expect opposition and suffering.
  1. Anger, fear, and despair over the loss of a privileged standing are not marks of people who understand what it means to follow Christ. They may be marks of people who treasure American citizenship more than citizenship in the kingdom of God.
  1. If this election season drives American Christians to dislodge our hope in political parties and presidential candidates and to fix our hope on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, then this election season will be God’s grace to his Church.
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I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you,
but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 7:35, ESV)

Let’s face it; singleness is hard! Singleness in our present cultural climate is really hard! While the 1960s led to free sex, where sex outside of marriage became the norm, today there is great cultural pressure to redefine sexuality, gender, and marriage. Christian singles today must navigate this sea of cultural confusion, and they will be tested as to what they believe. In fact, the church itself will be tested as to what it believes about sexuality, gender, and marriage.

However, it does not get any easier for those singles who remain committed to what the Bible teaches regarding sexuality, gender, and marriage. No! For them, they still have to consider all the difficulties and temptations of being single in a sex-crazed, culturally-confused world. So, just what does the Bible teach about being Christian and single? Here are six truths the Bible affirms about singleness.

1. To be single is to be celibate (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Celibacy is practicing self-control in order to abstain from satisfying sexual desire. Evidently, in Corinth there were some who were married who were practicing such self-control for religious reasons. The apostle Paul argues that celibacy within marriage is contrary to God’s design for sexuality (7:1-5). In fact, marriage is the only place where sexual desire is to be satisfied. Sexual desire is good; it is a part of our humanity. But sex may only be enjoyed within a life-long covenant marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18-25).

Therefore, when the Bible speaks of Christians who are single, it does not merely refer to someone who is not married. To the world, singles are simply those who are not yet married. One of the reasons singles are putting off marriage today is because sex and marriage have been separated. Therefore, singles may enjoy the benefits of marriage, namely satisfying sexual desire (men) and companionship (women), without any of its responsibilities (commitment). But according to Scripture, since marriage is the only place where sexual desire is to be satisfied (cf. 7:5, 9), then to be single is to be celibate. Having been married now almost 25 years, I can only imagine how hard it is in today’s world for singles to remain celibate. Yet, God does not abandon us to pursue holiness in our own strength.

2. Singleness is a gift of grace from God (1 Corinthians 7:6-9). If singles are to persevere in purity and holiness, then they will need to recognize that celibacy/singleness is a gift of God’s grace. In fact, Paul uses the same word for gift (charisma) that he uses of such spiritual gifts as prophecy, miracles, and tongues. Additionally, Paul reminds us that, like all other spiritual gifts, celibacy is a gift of grace given by God.

Because celibacy/singleness is a gift of grace given by God to certain individuals, then it’s a good gift (cf. 7:38). That means that those of us who are married cannot look down on singles and feel sorry for them, as if somehow they are incomplete. It also means that singles must recognize their season of singleness as a good thing, a good gift, and give thanks to God.
If celibacy/singleness is a good gift from God, then that also means that biblical manhood and womanhood do not depend on being married. In other words, marriage does not make one a true biblical man or woman. Singles, you are to pursue biblical manhood and womanhood as men and women. The clearest picture of biblical manhood we have is that of our Lord Jesus Christ who was never married. So singles are not second class Christians; however, nor are they more spiritual for being single. After all, not everyone has this gift (7:7).

3. Singleness is also a calling that requires a fight of faith (1 Corinthians 7:17-27). Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that because singleness is a gift of God’s grace, then that means that sexual desire is removed, and it is easy to remain celibate. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, there may be (rare) individuals who may offer such a testimony, but I suspect that the common experience of every human being is the natural longing for sexual desires to be satisfied.

Celibacy/singleness is not only a gift; it is a calling. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 7:17. The “theme” of 1 Corinthians 7 is “remain as you are.” Paul urges the Corinthians to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). That includes celibacy. Yet, as we’ve already admitted, celibate singleness is NOT easy; it is hard. It is hard precisely because sexual desire is natural, and celibacy is a call to practice self-control and not satisfy those desires.

Celibacy/singleness, then, is a call to remain unmarried and pursue godliness and sexual purity while unmarried. It is a call that requires a fight of faith to believe that celibacy is a good gift, and that Christ is sufficiently satisfying for every need. It is a fight of faith to believe that sexual desire is only to be satisfied within a life-long marital covenant, and therefore, sexual desire is not to be satisfied alone (self-satisfaction) or with anyone else. And that fight does not have to be entered into alone. So singles, don’t fight alone, gather with the church-older/younger; married/single; those like you/those not like you.

But also know that it is not wrong to pursue marriage. That is much better than to burn with passion and fall into temptation and sin (7:9). Yet, don’t make marriage an idol. If a relationship or marriage becomes an idol, then you will willingly sacrifice all (your purity, convictions, etc.) at its altar. If you are dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter while you are single, you will likely be dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter while you are married.

4. Singleness has certain advantages (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). Being single has certain advantages over being married. Singles have certain freedoms with their finances. They can invest more freely; they can reduce debt more aggressively; they can give more sacrificially. Singles also have certain freedoms with their time. They don’t have to go directly home to a spouse or children; they can freely choose where to invest their time. Singles also have certain freedoms with their plans. They can be flexible about future plans, where marrieds cannot.

There is much freedom and flexibility during singleness that is not available to those who are married. So singles, consider how you are spending your time, your money. Consider the flexibility of your plans. What are you doing with those freedoms? Utilize those freedoms and flexibility to the glory of God.

5. Singleness is purposeful (1 Corinthians 7:35). The freedoms and flexibility of singleness do not exist for personal convenience and benefit, though they may be real blessings. Paul reminds us that the real reason for the advantages of singleness is to secure undivided devotion to the Lord. And if spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church (cf. 12:7), then clearly, the gift of singleness is granted by God to certain individuals for the sake of the Lord and the good of the church.

So singles, ask yourselves how you can serve Christ. Ask yourselves how you can serve the church. I am sure there are multiple opportunities to serve where you are right now. But also remember that with your flexibility, be willing to change your plans and spend some time on the mission field for a few weeks, months, or even years. Who knows but that you may meet your spouse as you pursue Christ in undivided devotion.

6. Like earthly marriage, singleness is temporary. Though Paul does not address this directly in 1 Corinthians 7, he does point us to this truth in Ephesians 5:32. There he says that the profound mystery of the first marriage (cf. Genesis 2:18-25) refers to Christ and his church. In other words, the first marriage was always meant to point to the last marriage (Revelation 19). It is no surprise, then, that the Bible both begins and ends with a marriage. The first marriage ends in death (1 Corinthians 7:39); the last marriage is eternal.

But what’s important for singles to remember is that, while earthly marriage pictures the gospel by showing Christ’s love for his church and the church’s love for Christ, singles picture the gospel by showing the church patiently awaiting her bridegroom to come for her. Jesus is the bridegroom who came to earth, and died to pay the price for the adultery of his bride. He was raised on the third day and is now exalted to the Father’s right hand where he intercedes for his awaiting bride. He is now cleaning us up and preparing us for that great wedding day when we will wear that spotless white wedding dress. And that means that all can come to him and find forgiveness and cleansing, no matter how unscrupulous their past. Jesus receives all who disregard all other lovers and give themselves to him alone.

I thank God for singles, for they remind us of our always faithful bridegroom, and they show us how to wait patiently precisely because Jesus is all-satisfying. You see, singleness is a gift from God with a purpose. Singles, what will you do with that gift?

Resource: @high_pointe sermon media
Singleness: Freedom from Anxiety for Undivided Devotion to the Lord
1 Corinthians 7:1-35

Categories : Commentary, Missions, Sermons
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May
23

Cultivating a Culture of Peace

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“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, ESV)

The gospel is a gospel of peace. It declares that since the time of Adam’s sin we have been born into this world as God’s enemy: hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21) against God (Romans 8:7). The most holy God had every right to declare the differences between Him and us irreconcilable. Yet, in His wisdom and love God chose to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). By judging our sin at the cross of Christ, Holy God is able to reconcile to Himself us who receive Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by faith.
Through Christ, we who have been reconciled to God have also been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As ministers of reconciliation, we proclaim this gospel of reconciliation to the world in order that all peoples may be reconciled to God through the death of Christ. But our ministry of reconciliation does not end there, for we must continue living in the light of the reconciling work of Christ. Consequently, we must live our lives reconciled to one another.

Even though we Christians have been reconciled to God through Christ, far too many professing Christians still live in conflict with others. Such conflict is manifested in marriages, homes, workplaces, even church relationships. Unfortunately, many of us address such conflicts according to worldly wisdom rather than heavenly wisdom. This is why Christians have as many divorces as non-Christians, why they stop talking to fellow Christians, why they leave churches over conflict, and why churches even split over conflict.

What kind of Christian testimony do we offer this world if we are reconciled to God through Christ but fail to be reconciled to one another? One of the most powerful witnesses we can provide our community is the witness of reconciled relationships that flow from being reconciled to God. If we are to live in such an atmosphere, then we must cultivate a culture of peace. According to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a culture of peace is a culture where “people are eager and able to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships in a way that clearly reflects the love and power of Jesus Christ” (291). If we are to cultivate such a culture of peace, then we must have a biblical strategy for resolving conflict. Sande offers the following counsel (the four “G’s”):

Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our entire lives must be motivated by a desire to glorify God. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). We must first look at our own hearts in order to discern our contributions to conflicts. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). The Bible gives us clear instruction in approaching those with whom we have conflict. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Once we have addressed conflict, we must be willing to restore relationships.

Let us cultivate a culture of peace in our local churches. May we be about God’s glory, and address conflict biblically by first looking at our own hearts, then approaching one another with the goal of reconciled relationships that give evidence to the fact that we are a people reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

 

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From The Transforming Community: The Practise of the Gospel in Church Discipline (85-92)
By Mark Lauterbach

The church must be a place where people can grow, can begin as immature, and come to maturity. No matter where we draw the line of “when to speak to a brother” we must do so in a context of the Gospel and knowing that we are all maturing in Christ. Every day believers need the Gospel.

The new community is not a place where people are perfect. It is a place where people are honest about their sin. It is not a place of perfection, but of humility and the cross.
Mark Lauterbach

How to wisely address concerns about sin with brothers and sisters in Christ:

1. It should be evident we are dealing with sin, not violation of church taboos or traditions [or personal preferences]. “Make sure that the sin you are seeing in the other can be addressed by reading a verse of Scripture, without commentary” (86).

2. Guard the church against an atmosphere that is always pointing out sin (Matthew 7:1-5). “The call to reprove my fellow believer for sin must be put in the context of the call to encourage them and build them up” (88).

3. Remember that the general tone of the New Testament is encouragement. “I find it helpful,” notes Lauterbach, “to assume that another believer wants to please God. Therefore, they welcome my encouragement. The attitude behind reproof is to help them grow in Christ, which they want to do” (89).

4. Remember there is sin that is the normal lapse of the believer in their state of remaining sin. “The first question to ask is simple: Is this sin I am seeing part of the ordinary stumbling of the Christian? If so, then I need not speak to it immediately. Is it hardening their hearts or are they judging it themselves? If the latter, I may forbear” (89).

5. Remember to take into account the work of the Spirit. “[The Spirit] is wisely shaping us into the likeness of Christ in his sovereign love. Rather than expose all our corruption at once, he is gentle. To see ourselves as God sees us would undo us. He points out one thing at a time. As I intend to reprove someone or speak to them of my concern for them in sin, I must be aware of this” (90).

6. Where the believer is judging his sin and admitting it, I have no reason to be harsh. “They, like me, are seeking help and encouragement to keep on fighting the holy war. It is not helpful to rub salt in a wound” (92).

7. Sometimes we must intervene quickly. “Some sins have an unusual seriousness (and danger) to them. If I see a friend flirting with someone of the opposite sex, it is not time to be patient. It is time with wise and gracious words, to intervene, see if suspicions are correct, and seek their repentance before adultery is committed” (92).

May the Lord grant us the grace to speak to one another in love about sin.

 

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Mar
24

The Cost of Following Christ

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After this He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth.  And He said to him, “Follow Me.”  And leaving everything, he rose and followed Him (Luke 5:27-28, ESV).

Have you ever wondered what Jesus would say about those who profess to be Christians on Sunday, yet live like the world the rest of the week?  When we look at Scripture, it’s clear that to be a Christian is to be a whole-hearted follower of Jesus Christ.  In Luke 5:27, Jesus noticed a tax collector named Levi and commanded him to follow Him.  When Jesus says, “Follow Me” we must follow!  And to follow Christ we must be willing to leave everything behind (Luke 5:28).  This is what Levi (Matthew) did, and this is what it means to follow Christ. 

Notice that there is a cost to following Christ.  Jesus said it is foolish to follow Him without counting the cost (Luke 14:28-30).  It seems that some today want to follow Christ, but they simply have not counted the cost.  What is the cost of following Christ?  Let me highlight only three from Luke’s gospel:

Following Christ may cost you your life (Luke 9:23-26).  Christ demands your life.  In the same way that He lived His life with a focus on His cross of death, so too we who follow Him must be willing to live our lives for His glory and His gospel, realizing it may cost us our lives.  This is the reality that Paul spoke of when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Following Christ may cost you your family and friends (Luke 12:51-53; 14:25-26).  It’s hard for some to understand that our relationship with Christ comes before all other human relationships.  Only when we realize this will we truly be able to love those around us.  I was the first one to follow Christ in our family, and it created great turmoil.  My parents were angry, but realizing the riches of  God’s grace, I had to follow Christ.  To have followed my parents’ desires would have been to reject Christ and be condemned to eternal damnation.  Nevertheless, in God’s great grace, my entire family came to faith in Christ six months later.  Thus, though following Christ cost me my family for six months, what I gained was much greater: brothers and sisters in Christ for eternity (Luke 18:29-30).

Following Christ may cost you your possessions (Luke 18:18-27).  Jesus warned His disciples about how hard it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven: not because God is opposed to wealth but because wealth tends to become people’s master.  Jesus warned, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). 

The issue of following Christ is not that it WILL cost you these things; the issue is that it MAY.  It’s not about having to give these things up when you come to Christ; it’s about being willing to forsake everything to follow Him.  Are you a follower of Christ?  If not, then what is keeping you from following Christ: fear, friends, family, wealth?  “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own life” (Luke 9:25)?

Categories : Commentary, Sermons, Theology
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Knowing that we are sent on mission in a hostile environment (Matthew 10:16), and having prepared ourselves for hostilities should they arise (Matthew 10:16-22), how are we to respond to persecution when the time comes?

Don’t be anxious over words, but trust the Holy Spirit to recall what you’ve been taught (10:19-20).
Though these instructions deal directly with the twelve whom Jesus is sending out in the Galilean mission (10:5), it is appropriate to hear this promise for a time beyond their immediate mission.  After all, the reality of being brought before Gentile rulers for the purpose of witness (10:18) does not occur until after Pentecost.  Specifically, the promise is that the Spirit of our Father will guide our words.  We too have received the promised Spirit and should find hope in the promise that in the cases when we may be dragged before officials, be they religious or civil, we can trust God’s Spirit to guide our words as well.

This promise does not mean that we are excused from studying God’s word.  This promise helps us realize that in some of the most difficult circumstances when we may be at a loss for words, God’s Spirit will guide us and help us recall the word that has taken root in our hearts: the word that we have read and studied and meditated on, in fact, all that we have been taught.  Therefore, Jesus reminds us, don’t be anxious when you face that situation; trust God’s Spirit to guide you and present the gospel without fear of man.

When someone does not receive you, trust God’s sovereign grace and providential guidance (10:23).
There are two issues that make this particular verse difficult.  First, to what does “all the towns of Israel” refer?  Secondly, to what does “before the Son of Man comes” refer?  The difficulty lies in that the most natural reading of the Son of Man coming has been the return of Christ in judgment.  As to “all the towns of Israel,” the most natural reading would be the immediate Galilean mission.  Yet, we know that Jesus has not returned in judgment.  Additionally, we know that Jesus’ mission continued beyond Galilee and that by the end of Matthew’s gospel, there is expectation of a Gentile mission (Matthew 20:19-20).

The various possible interpretations are handled well by D. A. Carson in his commentary on Matthew.  I’ll just provide one clue.  “Son of Man” does not have to refer to the second coming of Christ.  See Matthew 16:28 for a similar promise which is commonly said to refer to the transfiguration.  For us, however, the principle is clear.  When you, as a missionary or witness to Christ, are not received, trust in God, for he is sovereign and wisely guides us by his providence.  God will accomplish all his holy will, and he may even choose persecution to advance his gospel.  This is what we see in Acts:

Acts 8:1, 4, ESV: “And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that
day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered
throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were
scattered went about preaching the word.”

Acts 11:19, ESV: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose
over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no
one except Jews.”

Don’t be surprised by persecution (10:24-25).
Jesus himself was maligned and ultimately crucified.  If we are his disciples, we should expect no different treatment (10:25; cf. John 15:18-25).  As the apostle Peter reminds us:

1 Peter 4:12-15, ESV: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”

So, don’t be surprised when persecution comes; it is to be expected (2 Timothy 3:12).  Instead, be surprised we don’t face more persecution!   We should ask ourselves why it is that we don’t personally face persecution if we call ourselves followers of Christ.  Could it be that we are too comfortable in this world?  Could it be that we are too afraid of people, so we remain silent witnesses?

Don’t fear people; fear God (10:26-31)!
If we are afraid of people, we will not witness.  Knowing that fear is a natural temptation of his followers, Jesus commands us not to be afraid.  Jesus gives us three reasons why we shouldn’t fear people – that is, those who are hostile to the gospel and us and might persecute us:

1.  The truth will not be hidden (10:26).  So, freely proclaim the good news now (10:27)!  In other words, the gospel will be made known, so announce it!

2.  The worse thing anyone can do is kill you, but the worse thing God can do is cast you in hell.  Therefore, fear God & not man because the only thing they can do is kill you (10:28)!

3.  Your heavenly father knows you intimately and cares for you – providence (10:29-31).  This promise sustains us in the midst of the most dangerous situations – God loves us, cares for us and our lives are in his hands.

When we fear God, we will be set free from the fear of man which keeps us silent in the face of opposition.  Christian, what do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”?  May the Lord grant us the grace to believe his promises.

Listen to the Sermon: Fearless Sheep in the Midst of Wolves (Matthew 10:16-31)

Categories : Church, Missions, Sermons
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Yesterday I argued that we are to expect persecution because the environment we have been sent into is one of hostility (Matthew 10:16).  If we are to expect persecution, then we should prepare ourselves for it.  But how?  In a day in which some young “radical” Christians are prepared to charge the gates of hell with water pistols or be “dropped” into Al Quaeda camps with nothing but a Bible, Jesus offers some surprising instructions.

Preparing for Persecution

Be wise and full of integrity (Matthew 10:16)!  Jesus commands his followers to be “wise as serpents” and “innocent as doves.”  Snakes are crafty, cunning, even wise.  When a snake coils up and prepares to strike, it is because it senses a threat.  A snake’s “instinct is one of self-preservation” (France, Matthew, 390).  Yet, this command to be “shrewd” is tempered by the next command to be innocent like doves.  Doves were considered pure animals for a variety of reasons.  So then, like snakes we are to wisely avoid confrontation, not foolishly seeking death; but like doves, we are to be pure in our mission efforts and deal with our opponents with integrity.

John Nolland in his commentary on Matthew captures this well (pg. 423-24): “The wisdom called for from the disciples will involve anticipating danger and avoiding it whenever possible, but not in such a way as to undercut their mission priorities.  The innocence called for will involve a consistent integrity that is prepared to suffer rather than compromise and which is careful to give no grounds for legitimate legal objection to the action of the disciples.”  In other words, to be wise and full of integrity is a call to anticipate danger but avoid it whenever possible without compromising the mission.

The best example I have witnessed of such shrewdness that is full of integrity has been among our Cuban brothers.  Those brothers whom I have had the privilege to know are humble men who navigate through the territory of a government that is hostile to the gospel.  Sure, the government wants to put on a face of religious freedom to the world, but the reality is that local governing officials can make it difficult for local church leaders and churches.  Our Cuban brothers are faithful to King Jesus, while also submitting to the governing authorities as appropriate.  One example of the shrewdness that Jesus calls us to was when the government demanded that there be no new building of churches.  The brothers submitted to that government demand.  Yet, rather than complain about this circumstance, pastors continued the mission by spreading the gospel through house churches.  Thus, a wide-spread house church movement has taken place on the island nation because our Cuban brothers were as shrewed as snakes and as innocent as doves.

I have learned much from our Cuban brothers.  Whenever we travel there, they help us obtain religious visas from their government so that our visit is recorded and legal.  Additionally, we also make sure that our government knows of our visits.  We want to be above reproach, submitting to both governments as appropriate, so as to provide a faithful and consistent witness to the governing authorities there and here.  Unfortunately, I’ve run into Christian groups from the United States seeking to minister on the island while violating the laws of both the Cuban government and ours.  I don’t think that is either wise or innocent.  It provides a terrible witness and compromises the mission.

Be on the lookout for hostile people (10:17-18, 21-22)

Even when we submit to governing authorities, however, it doesn’t meant that it will always work out as we had hoped.  Jesus reminds his followers that we are continually to be on the lookout for those who would want to do us harm.  It is possible that some of us will be handed over to “religious” authorities, should such exist (10:17).  In Cuba, for example, the Communist government has a religious affairs office through which all religious visas must be approved.  Technically, they are governing authorities with oversight of religious activity.

It is possible that some of us will be brought before governing authorities (10:18).  Once, while on one of my early visits to Cuba, I was given a citation to appear before officials at the department of immigration.  Much to my surprise, it was a department run by the military.  I first appeared before an enlisted official before finally ending up in a Lieutenant Colonel’s office with our entire team.  Never once did I have to face fear of imprisonment or life.  The conversations were cordial and calm without any threats; it was merely a meeting to intimidate our team by informing us as to what we were permitted to do and not do.  However, I have to confess that I failed in that instance to take advantage of the opportunity to give testimony to our Lord.

Sadly, there may be instances when even those closest to us may turn against us and turn us over to officials for punishment (10:21).  The reality is that because we declare allegiance to King Jesus, all will hate us (10:22; cf. John 15:18-26).  Nevertheless, we have the assurance that those who endure to the end will be saved (10:22).

When we understand our mission and the hostility of the environment into which we are sent, we will not only expect persecution, we will prepare for it.  As we prepare to face hostility in this world because of our allegiance to King Jesus, may we continually walk in wisdom and integrity so that we may know how to respond when the time comes.

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As I preached through Matthew 10:16-33 this week, I was reminded of this passage from John Piper’s Future Grace (pg. 346):

In Ermelo, Holland, Brother Andrew told the story of sitting in Budapest, Hungary, with a dozen pastors of that city, teaching them from the Bible.  In walked an old friend, a pastor from Romania who had recently been released from prison.  Brother Andrew said that he stopped teaching and knew that it was time to listen.

After a long pause the Romanian pastor said, “Andrew, are there any pastors in prison in Holland?”  “No,” he replied.  “Why not?” the pastor asked.  Brother Andrew thought for a moment and said, “I think it must be  because we don’t take advantage of all the opportunities God gives us.”  Then came the most difficult question.  “Andrew, what do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12?”  Brother Andrew opened his Bible and turned to the text and read aloud, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  He closed his Bible slowly and said, “Brother, please forgive me.  We do nothing with that verse.”

I’m afraid that living in a prosperous, Christ-haunted American culture allows us to do nothing with 2 Timothy 3:12.  I was reminded of this very fact in my own life this week.  Our ice maker has been broken for a while, so we’ve had to buy ice trays and continually fill them up.  I got frustrated when I went to fill my cup with ice, only to find out that all the ice trays had been emptied, but no one had filled them up – no ice!  Then I read the story of Asia Bibi in the New York Post: the Christian woman in Pakistan who was essentially arrested because she was thirsty and drank water from a Muslim-owned well.  I got upset over lack of ice; she was arrested because she lacked water and quenched her thirst from a Muslim well.  As American Christians we need to consider 2 Timothy 3:12 and many other passages that remind us that it is not only granted to us to believe but also to suffer for the sake of Christ (Philippians 1:29).  One such passage is Matthew 10:16-33.

Expecting Persecution

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 10:16 of the environment of mission – we are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  You have to pause and consider the imagery: defenseless sheep in the midst of a hungry pack of wolves ready to devour.  To be sure, Jesus is speaking directly to the twelve about to embark on their Galilean mission, but he is also speaking of a time beyond this particular mission, a time after his resurrection as we see in the book of Acts.  Jesus’ followers are sent on mission in the midst of a hostile environment.

Why the hostility?  Because mission is a warfare declaration in which we announce the arrival of King Jesus and call people to change allegiances.  We are calling on people everywhere to renounce their loyalties to whatever kings and kingdoms they serve and to bow down to King Jesus instead (Psalm 2).  Then, we are to train these new recruits to be faithful subjects in the heavenly kingdom (Matthew 5-7) and faithful soldiers in King Jesus’ army (2 Timothy 2:3).

It’s important to note that our battle is not against people, for “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  In other words, we are making war on this cosmic evil kingdom and its king.  But, “we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raided against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Our weapon is the gospel which reminds all people everywhere that King Jesus has come and humbled himself as a servant to receive the death penalty on behalf of sinners in order deliver them from the bondage that the evil king has over them (Hebrews 2:14-18).  We announce our king and call on people to renounce theirs!

So, mission is warfare.  We are “dropped” into a war zone where the cosmic evil powers want to destroy us and will do so by blinding the minds of unbelievers and using religious and governing authorities to do so (Matthew 10:17-18).  Therefore, we should expect persecution.

Brothers, what do we do with 2 Timothy 3:12?  Let us prepare ourselves and our people to face persecution whenever it may come.

Categories : Missions, Resources, Sermons
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Aug
28

What is the Mission of the Church?

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“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.”
(Matthew 28:19-20, ESV).

            On Sunday morning, we began an important three sermon series on the mission of the church from Matthew 10.  If you missed the first message, you can listen to it here: What is the Mission of the Church? (Matthew 9:35-10:15)  In this message I argued, among other things, that while all Christians are called to witness, some are called to go to other cultures where Jesus Christ has not been named and where there is little gospel presence – those called to go and sent by the church are called missionaries.

The harvest is plentiful . . .  According to the Joshua Project, there are presently 6,909 unreached people groups in the world.  A people group is a particular group of people who share ethnicity and language (ethno-linguistic).  Unreached means that less than 2% of a people group are gospel Christians.  In our world of 7.13 billion people, 3.96 billion are part of unreached people groups.  That means that approximately 56% of the world population is within the unreached category.  Additionally, 3,010 people groups are not only unreached, they are also unengaged, meaning that there is no Christian witness among them.  The unreached, unengaged total a population of just over 195 million people; that’s roughly two thirds of the population of the United States.  Yes! The harvest is plentiful!

But the laborers are few . . .  While in 2010 the United States sent out over 127,000 missionaries, the fact is that according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “the ten countries with the most non-Christians in 2010 were home to 73% of all non-Christians globally.  Because many of them deny or restrict missionary access, however, they received only 9% of all international missionaries.”  On the flip side, would you like to know what country received the most missionaries in 2012?  According to a Christianity Today article, it was “the United States, with 32,400 sent from other nations.”  There may seem to be a lot of laborers generally speaking, but where it counts, the laborers truly are few!

Let us ask God for more laborers in strategic places . . .  Jesus asked his disciples to pray for more laborers.  We should do the same.  Let us ask our Father to send more laborers to take the message of king Jesus to places where He has not been named and where there is very little gospel presence.  And let us send and support these missionaries with prayer and finances so that they may be free to focus on the mission to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.

What do missionaries do?  To help our thinking as to what missionaries are called to do on the mission field, I want to recommend you read Kevin DeYoung’s great blog post on that subject.  You can read it here: The Goal of Missions and the Work of Missionaries.  May the Lord grant us much grace and favor as we seek to proclaim Jesus and call all peoples to repent and believe in Him and live a life worthy of this gospel in the midst of local, healthy congregations.

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Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV).

We live in a culture of instant gratification, and much of what we do is driven by our desire to enjoy things NOW! This drive for immediate satisfaction is one reason most Americans are in debt. According to statistics collected by the U. S. Census Bureau (2012 Estimate), “Americans owed a hefty $850.9 billion in credit card debt, or $6,920 per household. They owed $1.944 trillion in school, auto and furniture loans, or $15,800 per household. Combined, households owed a record $2.795 trillion in consumer debt, surpassing the total debt burden held before the recession. On average, Americans now owe $22,720 per household. This does not include mortgages.”

What these statistics actually may reveal is not so much a debt problem but a heart problem, a skewed perspective. In others words, these statistics may, in fact, betray the reality that a majority of Americans believe they can find satisfaction by stockpiling treasures here on earth. As followers of Christ, we must be willing to ask, “Are we living for the here and now or are we living with eternity in mind?” In order to answer that question, we have to consider how we handle money and material possessions.

The way we view and handle money and material possessions says much about both our personal character and our spiritual condition; the Bible makes that connection clear (see Luke 18:18-27; 19:1-9)! For wherever your treasure is that is where your heart will also be (Matthew 6:21). If you treasure the things of this world, then you will seek satisfaction in the here and now. If you treasure the things of God, then you will seek satisfaction in God and His eternal kingdom.

You don’t have to continue as a slave to debt and possessions. Jesus calls us to reorient our hearts away from this world and toward heaven – “STOP stockpiling your treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19)! On Sunday I argued that in order to fight the fight of faith against covetousness and materialism, we must first stop believing the lie that there is real and lasting value (satisfaction) in worldly wealth and possessions. Secondly, we must embrace the truth that heavenly riches are of surpassing, eternal value. Only as we grow in our understanding of the reward of heaven, namely that we get God, will we be able to hold on loosely to the things of this world.

If you want a helpful and quick read on obtaining an eternal perspective on money, possessions and eternity, I highly recommend Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle. It’s a little book, and it will be the best $10.00 investment you ever make. If you want to pursue this matter more deeply, then read Alcorn’s Money, Possessions and Eternity. It is a more comprehensive study on the dangers of materialism and what the Bible says about money and possessions. May we continue to grow as faithful stewards of all God has given us, and may God richly bless us in order that we would bless the nations (Psalm 67).

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