Lessons from Jesus: Repent

Perhaps you’ve had this experience – You’re driving down a road for a few minutes, perhaps longer…when all of a sudden you have an epiphany – you’re going the wrong way! “No!”

In a moment, you turn around and get ‘on the way.’ And all is well with the world, at least as it pertains to that particular excursion in that particular moment in time.

In the spiritual realm, until that moment we trusted in Christ, we who know Him were all going the wrong way until we got on the right way – by following Jesus, Who is The Way.

This turning or changing one’s mind from rejecting Jesus to receiving Jesus in simple terms is called repentance.

Jesus’ call to repent was at the core of His preaching. It is also a core principle in the gospel message. It is impossible to place one’s faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior without first changing one’s mind about who He is and what He has done.

At the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus declared:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15

And just before Jesus ascended into heaven, these instructions were part of His marching orders to the disciples:

“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the 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 to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” – Luke 24:46-47

For our simple purposes, we’re not talking about repentance associated with sanctification. Rather, we’re speaking specifically of repentance associated with justification or salvation – entering into a relationship with the Lord.

Repentance includes a recognition of sin, a remorse over sin and receiving of Christ’s forgiveness of sin through His saving work – His death and resurrection – through faith in Him. For we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

It is crucially important that we understand repentance is not a work we do to earn salvation. No one can repent and come to God unless God draws that person to Himself (John 6:44). Acts 5:31 and 11:18 indicate that repentance is something God gives—it is only possible because of His grace. No one can repent unless God grants repentance. Salvation is a result of God drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts.

When I came to faith in December of 1987, I was literally born-again on a St. Petersburg beach. Three months earlier, a man had shared the gospel with me on an airplane and challenged me to ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob if Jesus is the Messiah. I prayed a prayer of faith that fateful September day after debarking, and God answered me in a most powerful way (Jeremiah 33:3).

You see, over those three months of seeking God, I was experiencing joy and peace with increasing intensity. But only upon that culminating moment on the beach did reality come into focus. For in a moment I realized that source of joy and peace was not coming from me, it was coming from God. Then in the next moment, I realized it was the Lord, and believed the gospel for the very first time. I thought, “It’s true, It’s all true!” – referring to the person and work of Jesus people had been sharing with me over the previous few years! Repentance! In a moment my mind changed. I was living in unbelief, yet searching for the truth. And in a moment the Lord revealed Himself to me and I believed.

It was only after I came to faith that I had to come to terms with the consequence of belief, namely that Jesus is Lord and I was commanded to follow Him whatever the cost!

The Apostle Paul was living in utter rebellion against the Lord, having persecuted the church. And he had heard the gospel, at the very least from Stephen (Acts 6:8-8:1), whose martyrdom Paul consented to!

When Paul was converted in Acts 9:1-19, his repentance is striking. For Saul, in a moment, experienced a change of mind, going from rejecting Jesus and persecuting His followers to believing the Lord and receiving His new marching orders!

How should our understanding of repentance affect our witness for Jesus?

First of all, it means we must share with people the bad news of man’s utter depravity and sinful condition in addition to sharing God’s grace found in the person and work of Christ.

For if people don’t understand God’s condemnation of and judgement upon sin, a person will not fully grasp His provision of salvation through Jesus!

We must make it clear – either we will pay the penalty for our own sin, which leads to hell – or we will trust in the work of Christ and His payment for our sins He accomplished on the cross, which leads to heaven.

The late British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge put it this way: “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

Nobody likes to be the object of criticism, but the truth remains. What should we do with this uncomfortable knowledge about our spiritual condition? Pride will attempt to reject and rationalize it away. Humility will receive it and confess it before God.

For the Bible says, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up” (James 4:10), and, “He who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans10:13). We shouldn’t harbor illusions about the nature of the message and people’s response to it. Many will cringe and reject it; some will receive it and believe.

In my witnessing experiences, I’ve met who clearly state they will never submit, serve or surrender to anyone, that anyone being Jesus!  And I’ve also met people who say, “I’m good, I don’t need saving!” God will not and cannot save the unrepentant.

Jesus noted, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:30-32) and “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

God’s desire is for everyone to be saved. He pleads with people to trust in Him. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and he is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

May we go forth, witnessing with the compassion of our Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit, pleading with people to repent. For the Kingdom of God is at hand! Amen!

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The Blessing of Rejection: part 2

“Every knock is a boost!” boasted one Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus and a giant in Jewish missions in the 20th Century. I had the privilege of knowing and learning from Moishe, as I did two missionary stints with Jews for Jesus totaling 8+ years.

That quip was a reference to the catalytic nature of opposition, persecution, hostility, and even rejection – as it relates to our identifying with the Lord. Though counter-intuitive on the surface, the principle behind this phrase – ‘every knock is a boost’ – is present in the biblical narrative.

For humanly speaking, we will tend to view rejection as something negative. But experienced through the eyes of faith, rejection is something else – something powerful and positive. For rejection can actually be a means of blessing!

In the previous blog, The Blessing of Rejection: Part 1 (to read, click title), I shared about my own experience of rejection due to my faith in Jesus. I also touched upon the Lord’s own experience with rejection – for He was ‘despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3).

The very first time Jesus spoke in public, he uttered these challenging and profound words regarding rejection:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.” (Matthew 5:10-11).

Yes, there is a cost to following Jesus – it is the cost of discipleship. And part of that cost is rejection that may come because we identify with Him! And with that cost comes a blessing. But let’s not pretend – rejection isn’t easy nor desirable from a human perspective. Yet spiritually, it can strengthen our faith in ways no other experience can – and in that sense – we find the blessing of rejection.

With this in mind, let’s touch upon three faith-strengthening principles highlighting the blessing of rejection:

Rejection Affirms the Word of God

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).

When we experience persecution and hostility because of our faith, Jesus’ words should resonate with us. It’s worth noting that we believe all of God’s word by faith. Some of God’s Word we can’t experience this side of glory, like heaven. Yet there are other truths we can and do experience in our present reality – like rejection.

For example, I mentioned in the last blog how my father rejected me due, in part, because of my faith in Jesus. The Lord speaks about His bringing about conflict in families, stating:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ (Matthew 10:34-36)

I realize some of you reading this may not resonate with this scripture personally, yet believe it because it is God’s Word. Yet, others of you have personally experienced this scripture.

In either case, persecution, opposition, hatred and even rejection affirms what the Lord said would happen to His children.

Rejection Authenticates our Witness for God

A visible and verbal witness for Jesus, even when the potential for rejection exists, authenticates our witness for Jesus.

In fact, the Lord noted the importance of confessing Him before people:

“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33)

The Apostle Paul added in 2 Timothy 1:8:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.”

In my personal journey of faith, some of the most powerful times of communion with the Lord and points of blessing occurred in the midst of complete and utter rejection due to my faith. And in my heart I experienced the whisper of God, saying, “Well done.”

Being silent and invisible in our Christian walk is not optional for the believer who truly desires to follow Jesus. But when we shine the light of Christ and proclaim His name and His truth, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so, we will be encouraged and the Lord will be pleased.

Rejection Accents our Future Hope with God

This world is not our home – we’re just passing through. In fact, rejection in the here and now will be swallowed up by reception into our heavenly home some soon tomorrow.

And as we live and witness for Jesus, our end-game should be to store up treasures in heaven. And  as we do, part of that depositing includes rejection due to our faith.

Jesus made that crystal clear in the Sermon on the Mount. For He began His earthly ministry by including teaching on heavenly reward, when He proclaimed:

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12)

Oh, the promise of our heavenly home. Yes, it will be a place where there is no more death, mourning, crying, pain [and rejection], for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

So, be encouraged, be strengthened, and be ever-mindful of our blessed hope. For there is blessing in rejection.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

© Larry Stamm 2016. Larry Stamm Ministries exists to make the Gospel of Jesus a confident topic of conversation for every Christian.

The Blessing of Rejection: part 1

In 1987 the Lord graciously saved me, delivering me out of the Kingdom of Darkness and into the Kingdom of Light. He has blessed with abundant life and eternal life. And for all He has done for me, I am eternally grateful.

Yet, among His manifold blessings bestowed upon me, there is a blessing that is challenging for me to receive – it is the blessing of rejection due to my faith in Jesus.

The very first sermon the Lord delivered – the Sermon on the Mount – included these daunting and familiar words:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matthew 5:10-11).

In my own life, both personally and in vocational ministry, I have experienced persecution and rejection.

As the first believer in my Jewish family, it took me 18 months to ‘come out’  and share my faith with them. You see, as a newborn in the faith, I was a ‘Closet Christian’ for a time due to fear – the fear of rejection.

When I finally shared my faith with my loved ones, the response was varied – from confusion to compassion to threats. The last two people I shared with were my father and paternal grandmother (his mom). He said he was fine with my faith, but ordered me to never tell her about it. A few months later, against his wishes, I did share my faith with her.

Although the recompense didn’t come immediately, eventually there was a reaction and response. As a new believer, I continued to pray for and witness to my family. And in 1992, my father disowned me, in part, due to my faith in Jesus. We didn’t speak the remainder of his life, which ended in 2012.

As a missionary to my Jewish people for 6+ years in New York City (2003-2009), while doing street outreach, on occasion I was verbally abused, kicked, spit at, and the general object of derision, persecution, and rejection.

And today, although rejection tends to be more nuanced, it still exists. You see, avoidance of my person is something I also occasionally experience among some in my sphere of influence who’ve not yet met the Savior.

All this to say, I have experienced some rejection in my life as a result of my faith in Messiah Jesus.

You see, it’s easy to identify with Christ Jesus in His exaltation. Yet to fully identify with Him, we must identify with Him also in His suffering.

At the same time, as I reflect upon the Lord, it was He who experienced persecution and rejection in His earthly life, suffering to the full. And why? Because of His great love of you and me.

The prophet Isaiah foretold the suffering of Messiah in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Here’s but a portion:

He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:3-6)

Some in Jesus’ own hometown of Nazareth rejected Him. In Luke 4:14-30, after Jesus read a messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue, He declared, ‘Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21). After the Lord continues to proclaim the reality of their unbelief, they attempt to kill Him:

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. (Luke 4:28-30)

The Jewish religious leadership in His day categorically rejected Him. Replete throughout the gospel narrative, we see this dynamic in play. For example, they plot to kill Jesus when the Lord enters Jerusalem for Passover in John 11:45-12:19.

Ultimately, He was rejected by those He came to save! For when the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world arrived, the world didn’t recognize Him and much of the Jewish community rejected Him:

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:10-11).

Yet this was all in the plan and providence of God! For the early church was exclusively Jewish (Acts 2-9), until Cornelius and his household were saved in Acts 10, becoming the first Gentile converts. Since that time, there are lots more Gentiles for Jesus than Jews for Jesus. And that’s alright, because it’s all part of God’s redemptive plan [Note: to learn more about God’s redemptive plan for Israel, study Romans 9-11].

The reality was that the Lord gave His life willingly, as a sacrifice for sin (John 10:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In fact, paradoxically, the rejection of Jesus on a human level provided the platform by which the Lord would execute His redemptive plan (Philippians 2:8-9). You see, His rejection was the catalyst for His  sacrifice, His exaltation and our ensuing salvation. For His death and resurrection are the means of atonement for and victory over sin – reconciliation with God made possible for the lost sinner:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11).

Yes, we see from His perspective the blessing of rejection – His rejection – brings forth our blessing. His pain, our gain! And to God eternal praise and thanks now and forever!

In our next entry, we will set our attention on other important benefits of persecution and rejection.

For now, may we remember that the blessing of rejection as followers of Jesus is a unique and distinct aspect of our walk with Him. On a human level, rejection is difficult, uncomfortable and at times downright painful. Yet, in the spiritual, it is a critical component in fully developing our relationship with Christ. To God be the Glory!

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).

Distraction & Intention

We live in curious times. While our present day has been called the Age of Information, it may also be called the Age of Distraction.

Life today is filled with distraction. Between our business, our gadgets, our entertainment, and the overall demands and enticements of our day, we can be overrun by it all – so much so that we forget what life is all about.

Even as I pen these words on the computer, I need to stay disciplined in order to avoid email, Facebook, and the internet – all available at a click of a button.

Distraction affects many areas of our lives, including the area of our witness. In fact, distraction may be a powerful tool in the hands of the enemy in keeping us from focusing time, prayer, and energy sharing the love of God in word and deed.

Henry David Thoreau was well-known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. In this seminal work he stated: ‘Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.’ And this…coming from a man who lived in the 19th Century!

One can only imagine Thoreau’s commentary upon our 21st Century technological surroundings if he were alive today.

Distraction – it certainly can cause us to lose sight of the main thing in life. And what is that main thing? Relationships!

For our relationship with God and others should be a top priority. Jesus reminds of us of that simple, yet profound, relational priority:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

In light of these words of our Lord, what does loving God and others practically look like in our witness? And more specifically, how do we become less distracted and more intentional as witnesses for Jesus?

May I suggest 3 points to consider in combating distraction and being more intentional in our witness:

1. Have compassion for the lost

As we seek after the heart of God, Jesus is our example of compassion:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36)

The Lord recognized both the physical and spiritual needs of people, and met their need. Notice He was ‘moved with compassion.’ When you and I see lost humanity, is our heart moved?

Contemporary Christian artist Brandon Heath articulates well a desire to see people with Godly compassion in his song ‘Give Me Your Eyes’:

Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity

Godly compassion should move us to action.

2.  Pray evangelistically

Jesus’ compassion for people beckons Him to exhort the disciples to first begin praying evangelistically:

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).

Effective evangelism starts on the knees. For without the Lord, we ‘can do nothing’ (John 15:5), and ‘unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). That’s why Jesus instructs them to pray just before He sends them out in Matthew 10. I’ve mentioned kingdompraying.com in previous posts, but I again commend it to you, as it’s a powerful resource in praying evangelistically.

Incredibly, you and I are an answer to this 2000 year-old prayer, a prayer the Church continues to pray. Because we are not only part of that harvest, we are also the laborers – as God’s Kingdom building program called the ‘Great Commission’ (Matthew 28:18-20) marches on!

Evangelistic prayer is powerful and it is essential. Yet, it must be intentional. And intentional prayer should lead us to intentional action.

3.  Actively Engage Others

Immediately following an exhortation to evangelistic prayer in Matthew 9:38, Jesus calls the disciples to Himself (Matthew 10:1) and sends them out:

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give (Matthew 10:5-8).

The operative word here is ‘go!’ Evangelism, the one thing we can’t do in heaven, requires intentionality followed by action. What does going look like for you? I don’t know. But I do know that if we have the faith to pray evangelistically with intention, the intention to go, the One we follow will guide us in the way we should go.

The question is – Will you ask Him to lead you evangelistically and then follow Him in faith?

To be intentional and available in spending time and developing relationships with those outside the faith is important, to be sure. At the same time, it means that we spend that time wisely, as the Apostle Paul notes in Colossians 4:5:

‘Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.’

As I pen these words, I’m convicted that I need to pray more in this way as I spend time with those in my sphere of influence who’ve not yet met the Savior: “Lord Jesus, please help me to walk in wisdom toward those in my life who are ‘outside,’ redeeming the time.” Perhaps you feel compelled to also pray in this way.

In reading these word, I applaud you in the Lord. For in so doing, you have momentarily set any other distractions aside and are exhibiting evangelistic intentionality!

To become less distracted and more intentional regarding our witness – this is pleasing to the Lord and a blessing to others. In sum, this is growth in loving God and others.

Therefore – SEE compassionately, PRAY evangelistically, GO faithfully! SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY!

Lord Jesus, please help be less distracted and more intentional in my witness. Help me to see people as you see people – with compassion. And may that compassion lead me to pray evangelistically and go faithfully as You lead – for Your glory and for the building of Your Kingdom. Amen.

The Gospel in Pictures

Today’s environment is highly visual—television, Web sites, video, and images dominate our lives—and visuals created with new technologies are changing the way we take in and process information. Welcome to our 21st Century context for communication.

As we think about sharing the gospel, the Master Teacher, our Lord Jesus, is our example for sharing gospel truths in a context familiar with the audience. First century Judea was primarily an agricultural society. So His context for teaching was the great outdoors, often using nature to communicate spiritual truth:

“The Redeemer of the world sought to make His lessons of instruction plain and simple, that all might comprehend them, He generally chose the open air for His discourses. No walls could inclose the multitude which followed Him; but He had special reasons for resorting to the groves and the seaside to give His les­sons of instruction. He could there have a command­ing view of the landscape, and make use of objects and scenes with which those in humble life were familiar, to illustrate the important truths He made known to them. With His lessons of instruction, He associated the works of God in nature. The birds which were car­oling forth their songs without a care, the flowers of the valley glowing in their beauty, the lily that reposed in its purity upon the bosom of the lake, the lofty trees, the cultivated land, the waving grain, the barren soil, the tree that bore no fruit, the everlasting hills, the bubbling stream, the setting sun, tinting and gild­ing the heavens,— all these He employed to impress His hearers with divine truth.”—Testimonies, vol. 2, PP. 579, 580.

In our present age, the visual medium through technology is being harnessed to powerfully communicate the gospel in pictures.

Specifically, I have been struck in recent years by the increasing number of faith based-films that are being produced. Some solidly biblical, others lacking. Yet, Christian film-makers certainly understand the power and potential impact of the gospel conveyed in living color. And when you think about it, it’s quite remarkable to be able to present Jesus to people who haven’t or wouldn’t step inside the halls of a church.

In 2004, Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ was released. I was a missionary to my Jewish people in New York City at the time. The run-up to the film’s release created quite a stir, not only in the Jewish community, but in the entire culture! “The Passion” has the distinction of igniting “a culture-war firestorm unrivaled in Hollywood history.” There were debates, radio and television interviews, along with various written articles – all surrounding the film. But most importantly – the public discourse centered around the person of Jesus. The questions the film raised included: Who was Jesus? Why did He die did such a violent death? Was that the end of the story?

My missionary associates and I wrote and printed a gospel tract we handed out on the streets of the Big Apple near movie theaters showing the film. We also had big placards that said, “If you like the movie, you have to read the book!” On occasion people would come up to me and ask, “What book?” “The bible,” I replied.

What a tremendous opportunity to discuss Jesus!

As witnesses for Jesus, today we possess access to a myriad of delivery systems in sharing the gospel visually with people through technology, including: dvd’s, broadcast/cable/computer television, youtube clips, and films.

Interacting with the gospel in these ways can provide an excellent and compelling platform for discussion with others. Ultimately we can pray the Holy Spirit would use these visual delivery systems to powerfully communicate the gospel and draw people to explore the Bible itself, for ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God’ (Romans 10:17).

As you ponder your witness and how you share the good news, understand our 21st Century visual context and seek to maximize the communication of the gospel in pictures!

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29

A Reluctant Witness

Evangelism is generally comprised of prayer, good works and good words. For most of us, praying for the lost and taking opportunity to demonstrate God’s love through serving others  is something we can do – and is typically non-threatening. It’s the talking part that becomes a stumbling block for many – it’s generally the most intimidating and riskiest component of the evangelistic endeavor.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times I’ve either been hesitant, scared, or anxious about ‘pulling the trigger’ and speaking words of life and truth. For questions arise – How will they respond? Will they reject me? Will this go bad?

As ambassadors of Christ, God calls us speak with others about the wonders of Jesus and His gospel – the truth that sets men free. And yet, as much as we know people need the Lord, we also know the challenge it is to open up our mouths and speak.

If you feel somewhat inadequate and anxious about this area of your witness, take heart. You’re not alone. In fact, as God’s Ambassador, you’ll do just fine!

Moses was God’s Ambassador, a hesitant anxious Ambassador at that!

When God first called Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out slavery after 40 years in exile, Moses didn’t exactly jump at the offer:

Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:10-11)

Is this such an inappropriate response? No doubt, Moses had some baggage associated with his previous time in Egypt. There was the Egyptian he had killed, his fellow Israelite who took issue with him, and Pharoah who wanted his life (Exodus 2:11-15) – that’s why he fled to and lived in Midian…for 40 years!

On the other hand, God had clearly communicated His agenda and the source of their deliverance:

I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8).

It’s good to remember that their are people in our midst who are experiencing a different sort of slavery – bondage to sin. And we have a compassionate God who desires to deliver people out of their spiritual ‘Egypt’ into freedom (Matthew 9:35-38).

And though we may ask or tempted to ask the same question Moses stated – Who am I? – God has placed each of us in our own unique sphere’s of influence to be the Lord’s hands and feet in ushering people our slavery into the freedom that comes from knowing Jesus!

As God continues to give Moses instructions regarding the mission in Egypt (Exodus 3:13-20), Moses continues to push back.

He wonders aloud about his witness to his own people in Exodus 4:1:

“But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’”

Do we not ponder these same thoughts when thinking about our witness to the lost? God gives Moses the signs of a staff turning into a serpent, the healing of a leprous hand, and the turning of water into blood – all in support of Moses’ witness (Exodus 4:2-9).

Even with all this, Moses continues pleading his case against God’s call to go:

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.” (Exodus 4:10-13)

Despite God’s continued reassurance, Moses tells the Lord send anybody…but him! And despite God’s anger, He doesn’t give up on Moses! In fact, the Lord makes a way for Moses by giving him Aaron as a mouthpiece and support (Exodus 4:14-17).

Finally, Moses moves forward and begins walking in the will of God as the Lord’s witness to the Israelites and to Pharaoh. And the rest… we might say is history!

Is Moses a reluctant witness. You bet. And yet, he was also Israel’s greatest prophet!

If you have ever felt – or as you’re reading this, feel – like a reluctant witness, you’re in good company.

You see, when I first became a Christian, I was a ‘closet Christian’ for 18 months – that’s how long it took me to share my faith with my entire family. I was the very first believer in my family and it was hard.

As a missionary in New York City to my Jewish people for 6+ years, there were times I was a reluctant witness, wanting the Lord to send anyone but me into a specific situation.

And you know what? I’m grateful that a compassionate, gracious God didn’t give up on me then and He won’t give up on me now. He keeps working with me, on me and through me, despite my trepidations!

And He will do the same for you. Now, I don’t know to whom God may is call you to go, or what that witnessing situation may look like. But God does. And if today you find yourself a reluctant witness, understand there is no better day than today to…

surrender.

Hungry?

As a minister of the gospel, I have enjoyed the privilege of regular public speaking since 2003. Whether serving as missionary to my Jewish people, as an outreach pastor at my local church in Johnson City, TN, or in my current capacity as director of a ministry, I derive great joy from teaching and preaching the Word of God!

To open God’s Word with God’s people is thoroughly satisfying. So much so, that after a message, talk, or seminar, I typically feel energized rather than exhausted.

Exertion bringing energy rather than exhaustion may seem counter-intuitive. But in the spiritual, we find this principle illustrated in a fascinating conversation between Jesus and the disciples. In addition, this principle has specific applications to our evangelistic efforts as followers of Jesus!

The context is John 4 – the account of Jesus ministering to Samaritan woman at the well. Initially in the narrative, Jesus leaves Judea, heading north for Galilee:

He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:3-4).

Why did He need to go through Samaria? Well, it wasn’t for social or cultural reasons, because Jews and Samaritans were kind of like the Hatfields and McCoys – they didn’t like each other and they typically didn’t mix due to historically bad blood. You see, when Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, including the capital of Samaria, 7 centuries earlier, many non-Jewish people intermingled with the Jewish population. This group of people of called ‘Samaritans’ were despised by the Jewish people in the southern Kingdom of Judah. Jewish people called Samaritans ‘half-breeds’ and enmity grew.

In fact, in the first century, Jewish people heading north into the Galilee, like Jesus, would normally go around Samaria to avoid any contact with Samaritans. But Jesus ‘needed to go through Samaria’ because He had what we might call a ‘divine appointment’ to keep.

His divine appointment included ministering to the woman at the well. In the narrative, Jesus begins the conversation by asking her for a drink of water (John 4:5-7). A discussion ensues regarding water, with Jesus telling her about the ‘living water’ he can provide (John 4:9-14).

As the interaction continues, the woman realizes she’s not talking to just a mere man. She thinks Jesus is a prophet (John 4:15-20).

At the end of the conversation, as the topic turns from the physical to the spiritual, the woman tells Jesus that when the Messiah comes, “he will declare all things to us” (John 4:21-25). Jesus responds famously with these words from John 4:26: “I who speak to you am He.”

Two things may get lost in this John 4 narrative. First, the disciples ‘had gone away into the city to buy food’ (John 4:8). Second, during this entire conversation, there’s no record of Jesus drinking water! It’s possible he did. The narrative simply doesn’t say.

When the disciples return from the city (Sychar), the woman heads for the city to give testimony about Jesus. Upon hearing her testimony, the city folk head toward the well to see Jesus (John 4:27-30). At this point, the disciples are not only amazed He’d been speaking with a Samaritan woman, they’re concerned for Jesus’ physical welfare, urging Him – “Rabbi, eat” (John 4:31).

While Jesus response is remarkable – the disciples understanding is typical:

But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” (John 4:32-33)

Jesus then provides clarity amidst their confusion with a statement that is both profound and perplexing:

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).

I have been a believer since 1987, but have only begun pondering and meditating over this verse since I began serving full-time in Christian vocational work in 2003. How is it that by being poured out, one is filled up? How is it that we’re fed spiritually by doing God’s will? I read these words of Jesus and think, ‘Ok, it’s true for Him, but is it true for me?’

When I was a new believer, I understood that I needed to be fed spiritually by the Word, and through prayer and fellowship. This filling up would prepare me to be poured out…in service to the Lord. Just as an athlete eats a pre-game meal and then uses that energy in the competition, so we get fed spiritually so as to exert our spiritual muscles in service to the Lord.

Yet, my experience over the past number of years has broadened my understanding of this verse. So today, I’ve come to a place where these words of Jesus have applied to me at various times in my journey of faith.

How about you? Perhaps this also your experience, but maybe it’s a concept you’ve pondered little. Wherever you may be on the this continuum, it is food for thought (pun intended!).

The Lord’s words from John 4:34 most likely echoed Deuteronomy 8:3, where the Torah states:

 “…man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”

Just as Jesus’ ministering to the Samaritan woman brought Him greater sustenance and satisfaction than mere physical food could provide, the same may apply to you and I in this sense – when we’re not simply hearers of the word, but doers of the Word, we are fed in a unique way.

But there’s more.

Jesus concludes this lesson for the disciples with an evangelistic thrust, utilizing a harvest analogy:

Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:35-38).

Jesus, speaking of a spiritual harvest of souls that was ever present, was referring to both the Samaritan woman and the people of Sychar. At the same time, the laborers rejoice!

Throughout my Christian life, I have experienced spiritual satisfaction and sustenance through sharing the gospel with people. And I hope that has been your experience.

As followers of Jesus, the doing of God’s will as His witnesses includes praying for the lost, serving those who’ve yet to trust in Christ, and proclaiming good news – often in the context of personal relationships.

So, in light of your witness to others, and God’s will for your life in this area of your walk with Christ – are you feeling sustained and satisfied…or are you hungry?

The Most Powerful Weapon

It was simply called ‘the bomb.’ The most powerful weapon ever devised in military history was about to be unleashed upon human beings for the first time.

Since 1942, more than 100,000 scientists of the Manhattan Project had been working on the bomb’s development. At the time, it was the largest collective scientific effort ever undertaken.

On July 16, 1945, scientists carried out the first trial of the bomb in the New Mexico desert. Following the successful test, Robert Oppenheimer, physicist and wartime head of the Manhattan Project, stated, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Oppenheimer borrowed those words from the Hindu holy book called the the Bhagavad Gita.

Only weeks later, the atomic bomb was dropped first on the Japanese City of Hiroshima on August 6. Then, three days later, a second bomb detonated over Nagasaki. Shortly following those devastating blows, Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945, ending World War 2.

While the untold physical effects of that most powerful physical weapon are well chronicled, we will do well as followers of Jesus to remember the most powerful spiritual weapon we possess. For you and I are on the front lines of another conflict in the midst of a spiritual war of cosmic proportions. What is that weapon, you wonder?

Andrei Sakharov was a Russian nuclear physicist, anti-Soviet dissident and human rights activist, put it well. He became renowned as the designer of the Soviet Union’s “Third Idea,” a codename for Soviet development of thermonuclear weapons. The USSR successfully tested their own atomic bomb in 1949. Late in his life, the man who gave the Soviet Union the bomb stated, “The most powerful weapon in the world is the truth.”

While bombs bring about physical devastation, the truth brings about spiritual deliverance:

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

The Apostle Paul, in exhorting the Corinthian church, illustrates the power of our spiritual weapons (including the truth) in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

When Paul wrote of the spiritual war in Ephesians 6:10-20, he uses a military motif. In Ephesians 6:11 he exhorts the Ephesian church to ‘put on the whole armor of God that you may stand against the wiles of the devil.’

In the evangelistic endeavor, we often think of Satan and his minions striving against our efforts to share the gospel with people. Yet, on the flip side, we need to also understand that our spiritual enemy is also waging war against those we’re seeking to reach with the gospel:

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

As we think about our witness to others, we must cultivate our ability to utilize the ‘Sword of the Spirit, which the Word of God’ (Ephesians 6:18). Why? Because, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

In our day of media abundance and technological tools, how we share can be varied: Facebook and other social media, email, books, tracts, personal notes, through audio and video recordings and links. In addition to these means of communicating God’s Word, we can also share His Word in a traditional fashion, reading the Bible person to person. There is no end to the available delivery systems. The goal is to share the Word of God and let it do what it does—accomplish His will:

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

In the midst of various methodologies and a desire to appropriately contextualize the gospel in witnessing, may we as soldiers in the army of our God always pick up and wield the ‘sword of the Spirit.’

For it is the truth that delivers people from error. It is the truth that delivers people into spiritual safety – that is knowing the Lord Jesus. And it is the truth which is…the most powerful weapon!

Noah: Our Example

Being a missionary to my Jewish people for 6+ years in New York City from 2003-2009 was a remarkable experience. It was a privilege be salt and light in a place very much in need of salt and light.

Street outreach was a normal part of my weekly routine. Standing on the streets of New York City handing out gospel tracts while donning a t-shirt that says ‘Jews for Jesus’ will evoke a variety of responses as you might imagine.

During that missionary stint I also had the privilege of doing street evangelism in other cities across America – including Phoenix, Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco.

One common thread of understanding unfolded while doing street outreach – I realized I was standing out in a crowd, or in other words, being ‘counter-culture.’

As believers, we all understand to one degree or another, that we are counter-culture, for God’s Kingdom is much different than the world’s kingdom. For we are in the world, yet not of the world (John 17:14, 1 John 2:15). In fact, this world is not our home – we are strangers in a strange land – we’re just passing through (John 15:18-19, Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11).

Noah certainly lived a ‘counter-culture’ life in his day. This reality is highlighted by the striking contrast between the culture of the day with the life of Noah (Genesis 6:5-9):

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.

As we see evil rising around our country and around the world, Noah is a great example to us of a life committed to walking with God.

Noah Fulfilled God’s Calling

When God commanded him to build an ark to save he and his family from the flood, Noah obeyed (Genesis 6:13-22).

We can only imagine how his neighbors and others around Noah responded to his faithful commitment in building the ark over that 120-year time frame. Could there have been derision pointed in his direction? I wonder if people pressured him to quit the work they may have perceived as ‘nonsense.’ Is it possible Noah could have felt lonely at times as he faithfully pressed on in obedience while the crowd around him went on their merry way?

While Noah’s faith was heroic in one sense, as he’s listed in the ‘Hall of Faith’ in Hebrews 11, it was also a witness of condemnation for those who rejected this ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:5):

By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)

Noah followed the Lord when it wasn’t PC. He walked with God when it was difficult, when it was unpopular.

As we think about our own lives and witness today, the life of Noah should instruct and inspire. In today’s morally-disintegrating culture, the Lord’s call on our lives to ‘be holy as He is holy’ remains.

The Lord’s call on our lives to His witnesses and ‘Ambassadors of Reconciliation’ also remains.

Remember, the light shines brightest in the darkest of places. The Apostle Paul knew this well as he reminded the believers in Philippi:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:12-15)

As we seek to shine the light of Christ in an ever-darkening world, may we remember the ark was both an act of faith by Noah and an act of God’s grace – Noah was saved by God’s grace through his faith, the same way we all are today.

For Jesus is the Ark of Salvation for anyone who will trust in Him. And that’s good news.

So go forth as Noah, fulfilling God’s call to shine the light and proclaim the good news amidst a culture desperately in need of light and good news found in the Ark of Salvation – Jesus!

The Faith Factor

Have you ever been accused of having blind faith? I know I have. And to be honest, it irks me a bit. You see faith is not blind, it is substantive and based upon evidence.

People demonstrate faith all the time. For example, you drive down the road and have faith the other human beings behind their own set of wheels know what their doing (most of the time!) and will stay on their side of the road. You get on an airplane and have faith the pilot is sober and has done this type of thing before – flying an aircraft. And when ordering food at a restaurant, you have faith the cuisine set before you will nourish, not poison you.

If you think about it, people demonstrate faith all the time, and most times in large measure, the faith we see demonstrated is not blind at all. Rather it is based upon evidence. You see, there are reasons we drive our car, get on an airplane, and eat the food set before us. Namely, we have evidence that it’s generally alright to do so.

People therefore demonstrate faith in these kind of things because it is both rational and reasonable. In sum, there are reasons to believe!

In light of that reality, I find it quite interesting then, that in the spiritual, many people will simply discount not only Christianity, but also religious faith in general, positing that such a position is blind, naive and sometimes worse.

As followers of Jesus, it is good to be reminded, not only for our own souls, but also for our witness, of the true nature of biblical faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Simple, yet profound!

The ‘what we believe’ and the ‘why we believe it’ are critical. For instance, one of the battles raging today is this war between Atheism and Christianity. And specifically, the question of origins is at the heart of the matter.

The atheistic position is simply this: time + chance + nothing = everything

The Christian position is: Creation has a Creator.

Regardless of one’s position on the matter, everyone should be held to the same standard: defend your position – what do you believe and why do you believe it!

I once heard Dr. Norman Geisler, one our most accomplished Christian apologists, debate an atheist. And one point he kept hammering home was this:

Something has to come from something, because something cannot come from nothing!

Not such a technical argument – if you think about it. Rather, it is sound, reasonable, and rational. [For an expanded argument supporting God’s existence, click here.]

Watchmakers make watches, auto-makers make automobiles, and we believe a Creator brought forth the creation:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

I have on occasion spoke with an atheist. My standard line of reasoning is not based upon initially defending my belief, but first asking them to explain their belief. And make no mistake, it is a belief. But based upon what? Evidence? Substance? Regarding our faith in God, He has endowed us with a brain…to use. And we were created with the capacity to reason. In fact, God has given us many reasons to believe.

So it’s ok to ask, “If I understand your position correctly, you believe time plus chance plus nothing equals everything. Is that correct?”

If they say, “yes,” you could certainly follow up by asking, “How did you come to that conclusion?”

If they say, “no,” your follow-up can be, “Well, then how do you believe we got here?”

Remember, as we seek to have God-honoring conversations with people of different beliefs, including atheists, listening helps us better understand them and will aid our effort to sow seeds of truth.

Additionally, as you engage an atheist in this line of reasoning, you’re not only defending your  position, but you may also be casting doubt in their own mind regarding their position. And as you share, pray the Holy Spirit would be moving and drawing that precious person into the ‘truth that sets men free.’

For our witness should be seasoned with gentleness and respect, along with a spirit of love.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus this weekend, may we remember and rejoice in the greatest historical event of the last two thousand years.

For our faith is not blind, it is is substantive and based upon evidence! Amen.