“always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you.” 1 Peter 3:15

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WHEN GOD…

When God wants to drill a man,

and thrill a man,

and skill a man;

When God wants to mold a man

to play the noblest part,

When he yearns with all his heart

to create so great and bold a man

that all the world shall be amazed,

watch his methods, watch his ways —

How he ruthlessly perfects

whom he royally elects.

How he hammers him and hurts him,

and with mighty blows, converts him

into trial shapes of clay

Which only God understands.

While his tortured heart is crying,

and he lifts his beseeching hands.

How he bends but never breaks

when His good he undertakes.

How He uses

whom He chooses,

and with every purpose, fuses him,

by every act, induces him

to try his splendor out.

God knows what he’s about.

Unknown author

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Evangelism Always Brings Blessings

TEXT: Acts 1:6-11 “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.  But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Certain words in the English language can produce negative feeling in most people. Words such as exercise, diet, dentist (No offense), and taxes.  There are certain words in the spiritual language that produce negative feelings as well. Perhaps at the top of the chart is the word, evangelism. There might be an attempt to hide the word by using phrases like “sharing our/the faith” or “connecting others with our Savior”, etc. Yet it becomes impossible not to use the word ‘evangelism’ when you get right down to the point. What makes us kind of cringe at the word? Could it be negative experience relayed to you by a friend or relative? Or witnessing a pushy member steam roll over someone and call it his/her duty to set them straight? Does fear come upon you at the thought that further demands of your time and comfort will be stretched beyond limits? When a preacher speaks on it, is there a feeling of guilt like I should be doing more? Or is it because it is associated with failures and having to face rejection from people who are unresponsive, even hostile?

Those in the New Testament did not fare so well when evangelism was first tried. We see from the very first proclamation (Acts 2) a hostile crowd. Just think about it – here these men were sitting on ready. They had seen the risen Lord! Is was as if they were gassed up, on the starting line with the engine running. The green flag is waved and they are off!

They open their mouths and out comes the message that had never been heard before! Yet they were met with an accusation of being drunk. In Acts 3 they were arrested. In Acts 4 they appeared before the rulers and the teachers to be mocked. In Acts 5 they spent night in jail and had to make an appearance before high priest. In Acts 7 Stephen put to death. In Acts 8 – persecutions that would destroy any other movement.

Christians were expunged from Jerusalem and lost jobs. Everything they had accumulated was gone because the dared to speak the word ‘evangelism’. In Acts 16 Paul and Silas were beaten a d put in prisons. In Acts 23 Jews take an oath, not to eat or drink until Paul is dead. As we read we wonder, what is wrong with these folks? I mean even a monkey learns after the third time. Why do they not just keep it to themselves? Don’t they realize, hey you can be quiet about this thing and you are not going to be mocked, stripped, imprisoned. If you will just keep quiet. Why don’t you just go about your life, believing in Jesus, being faithful to Jesus, but just don’t talk about Jesus. After all people can see your actions and learn about Jesus that way, can’t they? Christianity is better seen than spoken, right? No need to open your mouth, just live it out and that is all that is needed to evangelize, right?

It is what many of us have learned to do, isn’t it? What is the best way to keep your peers, friends, co-workers from giving you a hard time about being a Christian? We are lulled into the modern correctness that we need not offend or cause people to choose, but live like a Christian and keep your mouth shut.   The best way to keep your neighbors is to keep your views to yourself? But in this view, we have allowed the world to set our boundaries and not Christ. We allow our fear of friendship loss, persecution and rejection place stop signs where Christ has placed green lights.

Why didn’t these early Christians just keep it to themselves? Somehow, someway, they bought into this Biblical concept: That obedience to the commands of Christ, always results in blessings. It may not always appear that way. In the long run, it will always breed blessings. Until we become convicted that making disciples by opening our mouths means greater blessings than consequences, we are going to continue to be silent about our faith in Jesus.

Luke 24:46, 47 “And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” This meant communicating the gospel not only in deed but also in word. The gospel requires it. In Acts 1:8 the clarion call began in Jerusalem, the moved to Samaria and now covers the utter most parts of the world. If you are still reading this, most likely the question is not about the “how to”, but about “why to”. You did not become a Christian by accident. Surely you know what made you so and can point to the passages that convinces you of your Christian claim. If not I would seriously suggest that you not call yourself a Christian until you can.

Why speak? What’s the blessing? If we are faithful to the call of Jesus, what is the blessing to our lives?

1. The blessing of leaving a real mark on this world. Most of us have a longing to feel that this world is a better place because or our existence. We would humbly like to think that we will leave some mark, long after we have passed and it varies how some endeavor to fulfill this desire. Some give away a lot of money. Give away enough of it and your name will be embedded on the side of a building.  To have  university library named after you – your name will forever be   remembered. Another way someone may try to satisfy this feeling is by inventing or discovering something no person had ever seen before. Maybe it is some revolutionary thing that makes Facebook obsolete. Maybe even thinking that you have discovered some hidden bible passage that has been misinterpreted low these many ages and receive recognition for it. How my name will be forever remembered is the mind that seeks such type of blessing. How about efforts to gain unparalleled achievements? Many remarkable things have been done and names of achievers will long be remembered by the world.

But let me ask you, have they made that great of an impact? Sure, the world is more comfortable and we can boast about accomplishments. Even life on the earth has been extended due to such works. But really, what eternal impact have such things made? It’s a temporary impact. When this world passes, all these gifts pass as well. What can man do, better yet, what can you do that will far exceed them and have an eternal impact?

The Lord says, only one way possible by pointing people toward a relationship with me. When you introduce others to Jesus you change peoples’ lives in the here and now. This is only done by communicating the gospel of Christ. By giving words of Christ, the ultimate blessing of salvation occurs. By sharing the words of Christ, marriages are saved, families are healed, peace exists, and a sense of belonging a purpose replaces hopelessness and fear.

2. The blessing of having God’s Approval. Nothing as important to the ears of child as hearing parents say we’re proud of you. To gain this type of approval, what is necessary? Only thing: Obedience is at the very heart of approval. To be good at anything requires obedience to the rules that govern the particular goal. Whether it be sports, school, work, or home. God’s standard of approval is the same: obedience. In John 15:14 Jesus gives this standard: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Not, if you make a lot of money, accomplish a lot in the corporate world, if you are popular, good looking , and athletic. We have God’s approval when we share the words of Christ with others (Matthew 28:18-20). Though we may encounter rejection and loss, we know that God is watching and says, “My child, I am so proud of you.”

3. The blessing of spiritual life. You may attend worship three times a week. You may be comfortable in singing “Lead me to some soul today” and not feel the need to act upon it. You may pray “Father, use me to share Christ with others” and be fine with letting people walk by you as they make their way to hell. If this is your feeling then you are spiritually dead. No pulse, a walking corpse.

Philemon 1:6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Notice the connection between sharing your faith (evangelism) and having an understanding of the good things found in Christ. No other Christian virtue brings such depth as the one exercised when we tell others of Christ.

4. Many other blessings comes to those who voice the gospel. One of the greatest blessings that I can think of is the joy that occurs in heaven when one soul responds to the gospel we share. In facing the fear, we may lead  one soul to Christ which wipes away recent memories of past rejections. While our salvation is not dependent on the response of others, the enjoyment of heaven is greatly increase when positive results are had (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

THAT ALL MAY BE ONE

There are several hundred religious bodies, each claiming to be a denominated part of the kingdom of Christ.  These religious bodies disagree with each other in doctrine and practice in just about every way possible yet claim unity in Christ.  Question: Did Christ establish all these different bodies if not is he happy with such division?

One man may join a lodge or two.  He may then join several local social organizations and country clubs to get the benefit of all of them while being a member of each of them.  Some view different religious bodies in the same way.  A man may say, “I like what Church A teaches about so-and-so because I believe that teaching.  And I like what Church B does during worship service. But I also like Church C because of the location.”  Can this person ‘join’ these three religious bodies and still be in unity with the teachings of Christ?

If it makes no difference which group one joins, what valid reason can you give for not joining several so long as you get the benefits of them all?  Let one try to join more than one and he will find that none will have his half-hearted commitment, except, possibly, the church that receives his contribution. These religious bodies would turn him out and say “It is not right for us to accept you if you do not accept all of what we teach.”  This presents a strong case for there being only one true church.

How can one say it is wrong to join several churches if it makes no difference which one you join? Is it right for Mr. A to join a certain church and Mr. B to join another? If both are proper, then why would it not be right for Mr. A to join both of them?  No logical reason can be given against it, provided we have the right to join different churches.

By this logic, Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17:21) and Paul’s instruction for all to speak the ‘same thing’ (1 Cor. 1:10) could only be followed in one way.  Every person would have to join every church he/she can find.  By doing this everyone could speak the ‘same thing’ by each person speaking ‘everything’, even if he or she had to be contradictory at every point.

If it makes no difference which religious body you associate with, then it would not make any difference if a man did not join any church.  If one man can exclude himself from one of the many churches and be saved, then the church that he did not join is then useless.  If it makes no difference which church you join, then all churches are useless for humanity could then be saved outside of all of them.  “But this would be absurd and ridiculous.  One must be part of some religious discipline,” someone might say.  Certainly! And that is the very reason it makes a difference which church you associate! (cf 1 John 2:21)

How many churches did Christ establish?  What does the Bible say?  Did Christ and his apostles mean what they said or were they simple horsing around with the doctrine?  Christ said whatsoever the apostles bound on earth would be what has already been bound in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, John 20:23)  Paul says “there is one body.” (Eph. 4:4)  “But now are they many members yet one body.” (1 Cor. 12:20)  What is this one body?  It is the church… “And gave him to be the head over all things to the church,  which is his body.” (Eph. 1:22,23)  “For His (Christ’s) body’s sake which is the church. (Col. 1:24)  Paul says: only one body, hence there is only one church.  Notice, “For the husband is the head of the wife (not wives), even as Christ is head of the church (not churches).” (Eph. 5:23)  “Therefore, as the church is subject to Christ…” (Eph. 5:24, 25, 27, 29, 32)  Paul does not say churches, but church.  As Christ established but one church (Matt. 16:18) and is the head of only one church, it makes a difference which one you become a member of, if you wish to be united with Christ.

Approaching Christ

Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”   Matthew 16:24

Jesus did not pressure people to follow Him. Had Jesus desired, he could have forced men into submission or appealed to man’s pride or fleshly desires to bring mankind under His reign.  The design of worship could have been superficially compromised to gain the superficial worshipper and salvation could be had by a sinner’s prayer. But Jesus was God in the flesh, the express nature and image of the Godhood in physical form and therefore would not fail to deliver the truth of worship or salvation.  Jesus would not force worshippers nor tell a lie concerning salvation.

IF any man will come after me…” (Matthew 16:24).  Jesus began with an ‘if’ and simply stated the true terms of a follower’s path.  To some His words would be offensive (Matthew 13:57; 15:12) and many chose not to follow.  Some today preach a gospel of compulsion in which they change the simply offensive message in to one of more pleasing tones that tickle the ear of the self-indulgent masses.  The gospel of Jesus is not one of mere convenience rather than one of conviction.  This point is stressed by the next phrase “he denies himself and takes up his cross and follows Me.”

Jesus did not encourage superficial enthusiasm. “he MUST deny himself…” To three prospects, Jesus spoke in terms that seem harsh (Luke 9:57-62).  He stood firm in speaking truth in love though the recipients might thought Him to be severe.   He dealt directly with the Uncounted Cost, the Unburied Corpse and the Unforsaken Circle.  Jesus did not accept excuses or half-hearted attempts.  He spoke of those who hear the Word and receive it with joy but have no root or depth.  The prospective follower must bring total sincere devotion.  Anything less make him unfit for the kingdom of God.  He did not consider accepting the rich young ruler instantly as we would have done (Matthew 19:20-22).  He required much from His prospects.  There were sober ‘ifs’ and stern requirements of the Master.

Many want Christ without sacrifice. “Take up HIS CROSS…”One minister has claimed that the church of Christ can be a “both/and” type of church.  At the heart of this old lie is the cry, “Give us Christ but without the cross.”  But a crossless Christ would mean no more than a Christless cross.  The cross is the focal point of the doctrine.  To reject the cross is to reject the teaching: To accept the cross is to crucify self and receive the teaching of Christ.  It is reproach and scandal of the cross and all its doctrine and truth that the world will not accept.  “Save thyself,” they shouted, but that was exactly what He could not do if He would save others.  IF He had come down, there would be no Savior and no Gospel.  Many attempt ‘both’ – to have Christ and themselves; accept Him as the bearer of our sins and have their own way when it comes to teaching and doctrine.  Christ does not come without sacrifice nor does the sacrifice come without Christ and his teaching.  Jesus spared no truth from his prospects.

 

Our Source of Encouragement

When we usually discuss efforts to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, we tend to think more about the “weaker” brother or sister and less about those that seem to be stronger in the faith.  However, we all know that times of discouragement come to us all.  Even Jesus acknowledged discouragement.  When his disciples would respond to him evidencing a cold heart or selfish attitude, He was hurt by their disloyalty and halfhearted commitment.

Paul experienced discouragement as well.  In Acts 28:15, Luke records, “The brothers there had heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns.  When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.”  We would ask did Paul really need encouragement?  I mean, just look at what he had accomplished.  The lessons he had delivered the battles he had won, he was a giant!

He was a giant of the faith, but notice one of the places from where he drew courage.  Brother Harvey Porter wrote, “It had been a long and unbelievably hard journey.  Paul left Caesarea in late October, and it was now early spring when he landed on Roman soil.  He had suffered two weeks in a devastating storm at sea, had been shipwrecked on the shore of Malta, and finally after winter was over; they went on their way to Rome.”

Paul had always dreamt of going to Rome to meet the church of Christ there.  Now he was going but in chains and as a prisoner of the Roman Government.  He must have wondered if any of the brethren knew that he was about to arrive in Rome in this condition.  They did know!  In fact, some of them traveled forty-two miles to the Forum of Appii and thirty-three miles to the Three Inns (apparently the name of the place where they lodged).  This was an unexpected surprise for Paul because Luke stated, “At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and took courage (or was encouraged)”.  He was given new courage by their presence. He thanked God for them.  These who came to meet Paul were of the same faith, the same love for the church and the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is always strength when we are with those of the “like precious faith.”

Not only did Paul gain courage from the household of God, he never forgot where his ultimate source of encouragement was derived.  Remember   when he was in the darkness of a jail cell the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”  The Lord is our greatest source of encouragement and strength.  Paul later wrote, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  This is true for all Christians.  Jesus is always there; He knows when and how and how much help we need.  Brothers and sisters in Christ can never be a substitute for the divine strength that comes from above.  This kind of heavenly encouragement is for the soul, the mind, and the heart.

(adapted from Harvey Porter)

The Hope Within…

I have put off starting a blog thinking that there are already too many. This past week I had a change of heart.  For over two years I have not done any serious writing.  In my previous work there was the ‘publish or perish’ article that always loomed on Deadline Tuesday.   I have missed those days of of the pressure cooker that brought about soul searching ideas.  Being out of practice, this forum may be useful as begin writing again as spark for others to reflect and share reasons for the hope within.

I chose the title of my blog from 1 Peter 3:15 -“always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you.”  Whenever anyone begins to tell of Christ, there is a twinkle that comes to the eye and a marching cadence of the voice, almost in sing song fashion.  It is the hope behind the words that causes the pulse to quicken and countenance to express what his words cannot.  It is the hope within that brings joy to every receptive heart that cannot be contained.  That hope moves us to greater love and greater faith as we find ways of expressing our reason for  having it.  This hope that cannot be measured by any human standard.  It takes hold of our entire being and presses us to every expression of reason we can use to communicate and ignite the same hope in others. Expressing the hope within me and a readiness to share it with others is why I decided to start this blog.

A little about myself and current work. Always wanting to be useful to the Savior, I would do what I could where I was at any time.  I received no formal training in ministry other than the classes taken at Faulkner in the 80’s but went on to law school and had the honor of representing the people of the State of Alabama as an assistant district attorney for a number of years.  While I did not enroll in a school of ministry during my lawyer days, I was schooled in ministering by churches and good men that were gracious patiently enduring my endless questioning and ideas.

In 2003 a congregation where I had taught an evangelism training course on several occasions, took a chance at the request of their preacher and allowed me immerse myself in the area of greatest passion – sharing Christ with others.  I began to follow and learn from a dear man. During those years many souls obeyed the gospel and we were enjoying taking on the challenges and opportunities to broaden the boarders of the kingdom in spite of our short comings, the financial set backs that loomed just around the corner, and an uneasy sense of the future.  My family and I grew close to the people and when another life changing decision had been put to us, it was difficult but necessary for the sake of the gospel’s commission to part company.

The Lord in his providential care and time brought me in contact with a family of christians who were interested in laboring together and were already involved in taking the gospel to others in many wonderful ways.  My family and I have just celebrated my second year with the Madison church and have grown to love their spirit of unity and bond of peace.  And though we can never replace the friends and memories of the past, we have developed new loving ties and experiences.  I guess you could say that I am the ‘Barnabas’ minister.  I encourage brothers and sisters to seek out those whom Christ misses the most and share Him with them.

It is my desire that if only one reader finds this blog post out of the millions of others and it moves them toward a stronger hope within their heart, then it has been well worth the effort.  Thank you for your interest in the things of God.