Do you believe?

I have a special corner of my house that I use almost exclusively for reading my Bible. There’s a comfy couch, pillows, and a blanket from Mexico. Surrounding said couch is books. Lots of books: Bibles in at least five translations and two languages, dictionaries, concordances, sermon references, and commentaries. I love reading through other’s thoughts on what I’ve read. Sometimes theses books confirm my own ideas. Sometimes they open up a new way of thinking. And sometimes, like today, they are downright disappointing and even disturbing.

I read this today in a popular commentary:

The signs authenticated the faith the early believers proclaimed, not the personal faith that any one of them exercised. In light of this and historical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that these authenticating signs were normative only for the apostolic era.

To what signs is the writer referring?

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:15-18 (NIV)

Nothing in Jesus’ commission to his disciples indicates that signs would only follow for a few decades. There is no time frame or limit in this passage. Jesus simply stated that signs will follow believers. Period.

So what happened? Why do we Westerners see so few signs, wonders, and miracles? Ask yourself this question:

Do you believe?

If a well-respected commentary can state that miracles were only for the early apostolic period, imagine what is being taught in our churches all over the world.

Allow me to break this down logically.

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news. What good news was that? That Jesus had come to save them, to offer a new covenant through his blood rather than the blood of a sacrificial animal. This new covenant would bring eternal life to the spirit of any who accepted it.

Jesus told the disciples to baptize the new believers. Why? Baptism is an outward confirmation of an inward decision. You don’t need to be baptized to be saved, but it is a physical affirmation of a spiritual awakening.

Jesus told the disciples that miraculous signs would follow them.

Observe what power the apostles should be endued with, for confirming the doctrine they were to preach. These were miracles to confirm the truth of the gospel, and means of spreading the gospel among the nations that had not heard it.

Matthew Henry

Here’s my question: If signs and wonders aren’t for today, how is our message supposed to be confirmed? Why did Jesus go around healing people and teaching his disciples how to do the same if he didn’t mean for that practice to carry on? If miracles weren’t needed, why did Jesus bother at all? If the message is supposed to be enough, why is our message getting lost?

I believe in miracles. I have seen them firsthand. I have seen broken bones mend. I have seen stunted limbs grow. I have seen life when there should have been death. And I have seen people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of those things. Miracles aren’t a sign for believers. They are a benefit to us because we believe, but they are a sign to the unbeliever that there is power in the blood that washes away our sins.

At the risk of reducing the Word to a new low, let me put it simply. You’re watching television late at night and a loud Australian appears on the screen with an incredible new product. He spends ten minutes yelling at you, touting the near-miraculous qualities of the product he’s trying to sell. You stay tuned because you’re moderately interested and oddly enthralled. Then he puts the product to use. You’re sold. You dial the 1-800 number before the five minutes runs out and, for just the added shipping and handling, you will receive a second item for free! It wasn’t his words that sold you, it was the product in action.

The Word of God draws people in. And for some, that’s all they need. But others need that extra confirmation. They need to see the product in action. They need to see what it can actually do. And if the world can’t see our “product” actually do anything, what are we really trying to sell?

God didn’t fill His Word with the miraculous only to stop once Jesus left the stage. His Word is filled with wonders because He is a God of wonders. We do Him (and ourselves) a great disservice by setting the miraculous aside when it was a miracle that brought us where we are in the first place.

So I will ask again, do you believe?

Read: Deuteronomy 29-30, Mark 16

It doesn’t matter

In a world where everyone wants something to matter, there are a few things that don’t matter at all when it comes to our Commission as believers.

1. It doesn’t matter where you are.

Matthew 14:13

Bono had it right when he penned these words:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it

We can get so caught up in our doing that we don’t notice that Jesus has gone somewhere else and we’ve failed to follow. The crowds that followed knew that Jesus had something they needed. It didn’t matter that he was in a boat and they were on land. They followed.

There are times that we may be hesitant to leave what we’re doing because we have so much time, energy, and resources invested. But is it really worth missing Jesus? We must all learn to keep our eyes on him and follow at a moments notice.

2. It doesn’t matter how you feel.

Matthew 14:14

Jesus had just received news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded in prison. He wanted to be alone. Yet the crowds followed him and, even in his grief, he had compassion, ministered to them, and healed the sick. Whether we feel like it or not, our call to minister doesn’t go away or get put on hold. Jesus didn’t say, “When you feel like it, maybe go across the street and tell someone about me.” He said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

How we feel is not included in our call. In the following verses we will see that, even in one of his darkest moments as a man, Jesus was able to perform a great miracle and reach thousands of people. Perhaps by going ahead, especially when we don’t feel like it, God is able to accomplish more through us.

3. It doesn’t matter what is (or isn’t) in your hands.

Matthew 14:19

If you’re a pastor or a leader in your church and 10,000 people show up one Sunday and want to stick around all day, what would you do? Feed them or send them off with an invitation to return and hope they’ll come back? If the disciples had their way, they’d have sent away the crowds. Their hands were empty. Jesus had been performing miracles all day and the men who were closest to him still didn’t see that just because their hands were empty, it didn’t mean they had nothing.

Whether we feel qualified or equipped to fulfill the Great Commission is irrelevant. What’s in our hands doesn’t matter. It’s probably even better if our hands are empty because then we have no other recourse than to depend on what’s in Jesus’ hands.

When Jesus handed off the bread and fish to the disciples, they then handed it off to the people. And then it came back—far more than what they’d started with. Every hand that touched the food was a part of the miracle and as more people handled it, the greater it became.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

The message of Jesus is completely counter to our culture. We cannot maintain popular ideals and still be effective in ministry.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 4:30 (NIV)

Why wait?

There are many reasons we wait in life. There’s a line. We’re not ready. We’re not prepared. We don’t have the right supplies or equipment. Maybe we’re anxious or afraid or shy. Maybe it isn’t the right time. Whatever the reason, we wait. A lot. Even when we shouldn’t.

Timothy may have be one who had a tendency to wait because Paul gave him this instruction:

Preach the word of God. Be persistent whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)

I think we’d all like to wait for a favourable time, the right time. And often, waiting for the right time becomes a grand excuse to never really accomplish anything—especially when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

Paul told Timothy to be persistent whether the time is favorable or not.

PERSIST: To continue steadily and firmly in the pursuit of any business or course commenced.

When Jesus commissioned the disciples to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, he didn’t qualify his statement with a time or place. He told them to go. He told them what they could do if they did and then he was gone.

So what are our excuses for waiting to share the Good News? Maybe we’re waiting to be alone with a certain person. Maybe we don’t think we know enough. Perhaps we wait until we’re comfortable.

If you’re not alone, go for it. Maybe someone else needs to hear what you have to say. If you’ve been saved and know Jesus, you know enough. Get your Bible out and read. If you want to be comfortable, good luck. The message of the cross is uncomfortable.

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

2 Timothy 4:5 (NLT)

As the body of Christ, we can no longer afford to wait for the favourable time—because there isn’t one. We’ve been given a message. We’ve been given a commission. We’ve been given power and authority. So what are we waiting for?

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 27-28, 2 Timothy 4

 

Love that builds

We don’t need to grow. We’re fine exactly as we are. Said no church leader ever. No good leader (of anything) is content with status quo. Growth and improvement are the goals we continually strive toward. To be satisfied with the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year is to completely disregard the entire purpose for our gathering together as Christians in the first place.

And then [Jesus] told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.”

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

Everyone. Everywhere. Those add up to big numbers. How are we supposed to reach everyone everywhere? It’s a massive undertaking. Knowing the mission is the first step. Knowing the Good News is the next. Knowledge is great. Leaders are learners—and by leaders, I mean anyone and everyone who calls his- or herself a follower of Christ. Our knowledge of God, His Word, His Church, and His will should be ever-increasing. But it can’t stop there. Knowledge alone isn’t good enough.

Knowledge is good and it is necessary, but it is not everything. If we are going to reach everyone everywhere, we need something that is not readily available to the rest of the world.

While knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

1 Corinthians 8:1b-2 (NLT)

Lennon and McCartney were on the right track when they sang that all you need is love.

We need the love that is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. We need the kind of love that is so thoroughly described in 1 Corinthians 13. Without it, what we build with our own knowledge is no different than the things the world builds. It is love—true love—that sets us apart.

And it is love that really builds up the church.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 132-135, 1 Corinthians 8

Power to the people

As a church leader, it always surprises me when I hear Christians say that they have no need of the local church. They’re good to worship God alone in the privacy of their own home. I don’t disagree with private and personal worship, but I strongly disagree with individuals distancing themselves from the group that Jesus himself ordained.

Reading through the Book of Acts, I am more and more convinced of the benefit as well as the need for Christians to be a part of a local body. In an article titled 4 Reasons Christians Need the Church, the following reasons are given:

  • We need other Christians. If you want to know what you believe, listen to what your friends say. The more time we spend around people who ridicule God, the more we allow their attitudes to affect our thoughts and attitudes. The more time we spend with God’s people and in His presence, the more like Jesus we become.

  • We need opportunities to discover our spiritual gifts, Every one of us has a skill God wants to use to help others know Him and follow Him. We will never uncover what God has equipped and called us to do if we don’t get involved.

  • We need authority. We don’t have to believe anything anyone tells us about God. He appointed men and women in the church to lead us and to teach us. God gave us the Bible and the church so we can know what’s from Him. Through the church’s authority structure, we can test and see what’s of God and what isn’t when we can’t tell on our own. When we’ve prayed, read the Bible and still aren’t sure what to do, the church is where we go for advice.

  • We never stop needing grace. Church people are not perfect people. No matter how long we’ve been following Jesus, we are going to screw up, fall short and sin. And when we do, we need a place where we can come to be healed, restored and renewed. That place is the church.

I believe there are a few other reasons why Christians need the church.

  • We need to see signs and wonders. That I can find, the Bible has no record of a single person going around performing miracles with absolutely no support system. Miracles, signs and wonders are always tied to a group of people serving God. When we see God move, our faith is stirred to see Him move in more and greater ways.
  • We need accountability. Try driving your car down road a dark night with no moon or stars, and no headlights to light your path. How long are you able to stay on the road? Our church family is there to help keep us on the road. Do we always like to be corrected? Certainly not! But it doesn’t mean we don’t need it. By walking out our faith together, we keep each other on the right path. Alone, people have the tendency to wander and get lost.

And finally:

  • There is great strength in numbers. Study revivals. Study the great evangelists of the modern era. When people gather with a common purpose, God moves in mighty ways. When God moves mightily, people will come to watch. Soon those people have been added to the Church and more people will come to see what’s happening. Yes, the church can grow by individuals discipling individuals. In fact, we need mentors. But we also need numbers. The Great Commission is not a solo project. It is a global project.

Meanwhile, the apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people… And more and more people were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came in from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Esther 1-3, Acts 5:1-16

To boldly go

… to boldly go where no man has gone before.

You’ve probably heard that phrase more than a few times. It’s the mission of the starship Enterprise.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

The Church has a similar mission—only it’s a life-long one, not just five years.

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

Did you know that this instruction from Jesus doesn’t apply only pastors? It applies to Christians. Period. But a lot of us tend to look at this as a job not an opportunity. The more we see taking the Gospel to the world as work, the less we’re apt to do it. So how did the early church manage to grow so much so quickly?

“And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After this prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they preached God’s message with boldness.

Acts 4:29-31 (NLT)

The church prayed and—amazingly enough—God answered their prayers!

They didn’t pray for their leaders to be bold, they prayed for boldness for themselves. Every member of the church received the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Good News boldly. We don’t have to share the Gospel, we get to. And we don’t have to do it on our own power. If your desire is to see more people brought into the Kingdom of God, God is not going to withhold the power of His Spirit to help you do so.

Jesus told us to bring the Gospel to the world, but he also promised the Helper.

It’s time that the Church—the whole Church, every member of the Church—pray for boldness to preach the Good News. Now is not the time to sit back and reevaluate our message so that we don’t risk offending certain groups of people. Now is the time for us to pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to fall on us all so that we boldly go forth and preach God’s message.

Daily Bible reading: Nehemiah 12-13, Acts 4:23-37

Fire insurance

Have you ever heard a Christian use the term fire insurance? If a churchy person says it, they’re not actually talking about getting a payout after a fire. They’re talking about people who accept salvation just so they don’t have to spend eternity in hell—they’ve said a prayer of salvation and they truly believe in Jesus, that he is the Son of God and that he died to save us all from our own sin, but that’s it. There’s no more to their faith than that. They’ve either made the choice to live that way or no one has taught them any different.

You’ve probably also heard the term discipleship. Discipleship is a more mature Christian leading a newer or less mature Christian in the ways of Christ. People who’ve lived and learned teaching others from the Word of God and from their own experience.

The large number of Christians just carrying fire insurance is largely due to a lack of discipleship. No one has ever taught these new believers that there is more to faith than just a single prayer. There are a great many benefits to a Christian walk and there are even some expectations.

Jesus last words to his disciples were to tell them to go out and make more disciples. We call it The Great Commission (Mark 16:15). This is our duty as Christians whether we’re in vocational ministry or not. We are all called to be disciples and we are all called to make disciples.

We have been given the same authority that Jesus had on earth and the Holy Spirit has been sent to help us along. Since the veil of the temple was torn and God’s Spirit dispersed over the whole earth, we are the new generation of priests.

And you have cause them to become God’s kingdom and his priests. And they will reign on the earth.

Revelation 5:10 (NLT)

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:9 (NLT)

Back in the day, King Hezekiah was restoring faithfulness to Judah and Jerusalem. He called out to the priests words we can still use as a reminder today:

My dear Levites, do not neglect your duties any longer! The Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to lead the people in worship and make offerings to him.

2 Chronicles 29:11 (NLT)

Sounds a lot like what we’ve been reading in the New Testament, doesn’t it?

Fire insurance is great, but it’s only a very small part of what Christianity is. We’ve been called to so much more. In the Old Testament, the priests reaped the benefits of acting upon their duties. We can do the same. What can be more rewarding than being close to God ourselves and helping others to achieve the same thing?

Let’s not neglect our duties any longer!

Daily Bible reading: 2 Chronicles 29-31, John 18:1-23