When we examine the Book of Acts and see the movements of God as the Apostles went from place to place under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we plead with God to do the same in our day. There are some doubters who say that we are not living in Paul’s day and it can’t happen today.
God is leading us to places where there is a hunger for God’s Word; NOTHING ELSE! Why is this? The Macedonian church “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:5). Notice the order; their submission first to the Lord determined how they responded to the Apostle’s teaching.
When Paul and Silas preached the gospel to the Jews in Berea, “these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Being “noble” is a “willingness to learn and evaluate something fairly.” This is an evidence that true disciples are learning.
We have found this in a recent training in Nicaragua, Central America as you can see from this note. “I deeply believe that God has led me to study this church planting manual. My heart is filled with joy as the Holy Spirit fills me through the study of this handbook that is firm in the Scriptures, the Word of God. My tears flow from my eyes as I savor an exquisite delicacy that the Holy Spirit is nourishing me to continue planting more churches.
I would enjoy spending more time with you to ask many questions and train myself better and thus be a model in my country for those who want to believe by the evidence. There is hunger for God and His Word, people are tired of religions that do not transform life or lead them into a more intimate relationship with Jesus, so I feel that burden in me to pray for them so that they may light their eyes of understanding and thus understand God's plan for The Disciple of Christ.”
Is this happening with you?
The last few blogs exposed some of the moral conditions that we face today. This evokes much sympathy and compassion in my heart for the Church around the world and the violent uprising against the principles God calls us to stand true to. Our world is anything but friendly toward those who love God, His Word, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
How then can we live for God in these conditions? How are we to remain faithful when the opposition seems bent on shutting us down, silencing our witness, and questioning our work of spreading the gospel? Are we to expect a path that is less difficult and less painful than what Jesus experienced when He was here? I want to make a genuine attempt at answering these questions which many are asking today.
We must begin to answer questions like this by going back to the original plan, or what I like to call, the original blueprint. It’s that piece of paper where the architect has specifically set out his design, measurements and limits, relationships and connections that come together to express what is in his mind.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature [soul]” (Genesis 1:26; 2:7). Nothing else on all creation was given the imprint of God’s image and likeness. Out of all the things in creation, man was chosen to be the sole representative of God for the rest of creation.
While sin marred that image and hid the glory of the Creator, God had already planned through the mystery of His will that this glory, beauty and representation would be restored so we could once against reflect His original design. Are you living by God’s original blueprint; His image in your life?
As I was writing the blog for last night, I was thinking of the broader context of Paul’s instruction to Timothy. It is Paul’s last letter where he is specific about the dangers of the last days in which Timothy lived, and frankly, those days are right with us now.
2 Timothy 3 and 4 list these dangers, particularly 3:1-9 and 4:3-4. In fact, Paul predicts that “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (3:13). The strength of deception will increase such that many who are not rooted in the Word of God will be led astray by false teacher. One of the crafty methods used is mixing enough truth with error so those who are spiritual children (immature) are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).
Peter agrees with Paul; “just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15–16).
What is the remedy? Paul follows his warnings with asserting the absolute authority of Scripture. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). These are good words to keep us safe in the last days.
It is very disturbing in our day to see well-known leaders in the church downgrading parts of the Bible to the status of being “still good for history and stories” or being “flawed and at odds with science and archeology.” For some, the Scriptures no longer have absolute authority, much less are they able to speak to cultural issues of our day.
Where did this thinking come from? In those early hours and days of creation, Satan introduced a doubt in the mind of Eve; “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). Those first four words cast doubt on the authority of God and His words to Adam. What follows is the twisting of what God said to something entirely different. The key problem is raising a question that dilutes the authority of God in His word down to something more acceptable to the sinful mind of man so he can do what he wants without any accountability to God.
Now that we have identified where this attitude came from, we might carelessly assume that the Church is immune from the same danger. Sadly, we are finding the same attitude creep into the Church through preachers and authors who are more interested in appealing to the world for numbers sake, rather than being faithful to the absolute perfection of God’s Word and its authority. Some may “practice cunning or tamper with God’s Word” (2 Corinthians 4:2), but we must not.
Just before Jesus left His disciples, He prayed; “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Agur said, “Every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5). When tested in the wilderness by the devil, Jesus answered with, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). How are you living with the authority of Scripture? It’s ALL OR NOTHING.
Yesterday we looked at the story in Acts 10 of Cornelius and the wonderful response to the gospel which led to faith in Christ and immediate baptism. That is not the only example we have in Acts.
“Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family” (Acts 16:30–33).
There is no question from both of these examples that the conviction of the gospel does more than bring about repentance for sin and forgiveness through Christ’s death in our place. As the new believer, we see ourselves identified with Jesus in His death, buried and raised, which baptism pictures. The Spirit causes the new believer to want to publicly identify with Jesus in “newness of life.” Here is the whole verse.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3–4). What a beautiful expression to others that this is the new life we are going to walk from now on. A further evidence of this new life is that we “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
Have you been baptized? Who do you identify with in all of life?
Some of the most exciting moments in this ministry are when those being taught the Word of God immediately understand by the Holy Spirit and obey the Scriptures. You might think this is common everywhere, but it is not. In places where tradition is more deeply rooted in the heart than what the Bible actually says, it is rare to see this happen.
We have just completed a conference in Oslo, Norway. God’s Plan for His Disciples and God’s Plan for His Church were both introduced to over 100 Vietnamese pastors. Tim spoke near the end of the conference on baptism, using the Scriptures from Lesson 3 in GPHD. As a result of the message, 16 were baptized. Praise the Lord!!
This reminds us of Peter’s bold proclamation of the gospel to Cornelius and those in his house. “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word…Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.” (Acts 10:44, 46–48).
This kind of immediate obedience is what establishes believers more firmly in their faith. From personal experience, immediate obedience also increases joy in the Lord (13:52). Promoting this kind of discipling is essential to seeing the expansion of the gospel into all people groups.
Have you ever experienced something in your life that you never shared with anyone else because you didn’t think they would believe you? A dear brother shared with me a vision he had not long ago that could only come from the Lord, and it has reshaped some of his thinking on missions and how to reach some who have never heard.
There was another man who had an experience that is hard to believe, but it put a permanent mark on his life and ministry for the rest of life. I’m referring to the Apostle Paul. Here is His account of what happened.
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses--” (2 Corinthians 12:2–5).
Many have dreams and experiences which I cannot doubt as to their validity, but I look to see what transformation they have made in the person or how it is going to impact the work of God for greater effectiveness. Another question I ask is; does the vision or experience just draw attention to the person or to God and His glory? Paul boasted about “a man in Christ” and not about himself.
This is a good test to put to any experience; making sure they accomplish what brings glory to God and not to man.
Many times in these blogs we refer to the value of intimacy with God and a close walk with the Lord. As I talk with some about the benefits of this kind of life-style, some think it is only reserved for a few with special spiritual status. I want to point you to an ordinary man who just allowed himself to be filled with the Holy Spirit and was full of faith. It was Stephen.
“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”” (Acts 7:55–56).
Stephen had just been chosen to handle a very ordinary task; serve widows in the daily distribution of food. You may look at your role in the Church, the Body of Christ, as very simple and of no special value. I plead with you to change your view of your service. If you approach any service, no matter how lowly it may seem to you, approach from intimacy with God and His glory will shine through your service.
Imagine what you will communicate, perhaps without words, as your time with the Lord and seeing His glory does to you and your service. For Stephen, all the opposition, all the pain that he was about to suffer became nothing in the light of the glory of God and Jesus standing at His right hand. That nearness to the Lord transforms what most consider ordinary into a glorious sight!
I have done it myself, and watched others struggle with the same problems. When facing difficulties, we try using our own knowledge (human wisdom) to solve the situation. Often it ends up failing or the result is less than we hoped. Let’s look at the counsel from James.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5–8). That is rather straight-forward instruction.
The first issue we face is admitting we lack wisdom. So often our pride gets in the way and prevents us from asking for wisdom. If we can solve a problem on our own, then we get the credit and our ego goes up. On the other hand, if we admit our deficiency and ask God for wisdom, then we will have the joy of doing things His way and seeing His glory increase.
The next challenge is asking God for wisdom “in faith, with no doubting.” I am afraid we often ask God for wisdom, but really want Him to use our way. That “is a double-minded man” and we cannot expect things to work out with God’s blessing. Through faith and humility, we can ask God for His wisdom in any situation and expect that He will give it at the right time, and the right way, and with the right result. It usually will not be our way, but we must be okay with that. Are you?
As I sit at my desk planning to speak at a mission’s conference, I am wondering how to motivate the Church to finish the task of the Great Commission. I come back to the wisdom of God. He has chosen the Church as His representative/ambassador to plead with men to be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:20). How can we grasp the heart of God for men and capture the heart of Paul for spreading the gospel? Reading the command in Matthew 28:19-20 alone will not energize every believer to take up their responsibility and spread the Good News to those still unreached.
I also struggle with the numerous programs that have been tried over decades and centuries; the billions of dollars that have been poured into missions, and the thousands of missionaries who have gone out on the field. Still the task of reaching every “ethnos” is not complete. So many in the Church look at “the signs of the times” and think the Lord’s coming is so close, but we miss the one indicator; the gospel has not reached all people groups who will populate heaven (Revelation 5:9).
Have we relied too much on the “wisdom of this age”? That wisdom comes from “the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away” (1 Corinthians 2:6). That wisdom “crucified the Lord of glory” (2:8). It did not matter where Paul was or who he was working with, he wanted to “impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God” (2:7).
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). There is no question in my heart that if the Church will repent of man’s methods and seek God’s wisdom, He will reveal through His Word how the Church can complete this one task it was called to accomplish before Jesus returns.
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