In the next four blogs, I want to introduce you to the four key elements in Paul’s strategy of church planting that is still effective today.
Paul’s evangelizing consisted of preaching a pure gospel: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Paul’s supreme subject was the Cross along with repentance and faith alone, not philosophy or psychology or some program attempting to be relevant or tolerant to the culture. There was always an air of expectation pervading his preaching (Acts 26:27). His message stood alone. If people rejected him, like Christ (Luke 9:5), he shook the dust off his feet and moved on to find more receptive hearts where God was at work (Acts 13:51). If we continue to preach the gospel where God is not at work, we degrade the glorious gospel to the level of merely educating people’s intellect.
Another aspect of Paul’s evangelizing was not to preach the gospel to every person in a particular area by himself. Today we send out individuals and teams that try to personally reach as many individuals in an area as possible by sharing the gospel. By neglecting to use Paul’s strategy of starting churches that are capable of spreading the gospel, we are severely limited in what a single person or team can do. Paul’s goal was to establish reproducing churches that displayed the life of Christ in strategic areas (Acts 11:26). Such churches exist today, but are we utilizing them in our evangelistic strategies? It was from these churches located in key centers of intellectual and commercial activity that the gospel spread in every direction (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8).
(Tim Bunn, God’s Plan for His Church, page 17)
“Make me to know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:4–5).
There are several people I have spoken with in the last few days that are finding it hard to wait on God and let Him resolve difficult issues. There were many times in David’s life where it was hard to wait for God’s timing to deal with enemies and those who opposed him. You and I have these moments. We also know that when we try to resolve problems our way, we make bad choices.
Notice that David wanted God to teach him in the waiting period; His ways, His path, His truth! As David says in Psalm 62:1; “For God alone my soul waits in silence…” There are times when we need to shut out the noise of this world and other people so we can learn and hear God speak to us, to show us His way, His path, His truth. Learning requires listening.
In order for us to do this, we must trust God to teach us how to resolve issues in a way that will give Him glory. Our comfort is not the first priority. What is most important in waiting is having the assurance that we learn the will of God and then receive grace and strength to do it.
If you are in this place of waiting, do not fret; do not become anxious, do not be in a hurry. Our God is never late for those who truly trust and depend on Him.
John 15:1-16 is perhaps one of the most studied, taught and preached portions of the New Testament. As winter comes to this part of the world, I start thinking about when will be the right time to prune our grape vines so the harvest next year will be a good one.
There is a big difference between seasons of natural plants and our spiritual lives. Jesus never mentioned a season in John 15 nor in Matthew 21:19 when he saw a fig tree that had no fruit. As He came to Israel, His own people, He was expecting they would bear fruit because they were God’s people and had been taught through the prophets what type of people they should be, and in that sense, yield fruit to God by the way they represented Him.
In the same way, Jesus walks among the “lampstands” (Revelation 1:20) which represent the churches to see what kind of fruit they are producing. His illustration in John 15 shows that we are the branches which He intends to abide (remain) in Him, the vine; drawing every resource needed to bear abundant fruit.
There is an interesting side to these verses. God is the vinedresser (husbandman) that keeps watch over the vines to see if the branches are bearing fruit and how much they bear. If they fail to bear fruit, severe action is taken – the removal of branches so that next season new growth will produce healthy branches that bear fruit.
We do not like to think that pruning is necessary in our case, but if we are honest, we realize that every branch should be pruned so new growth results in greater fruitfulness. Are you willing for God to inspect your branch?
Yesterday, we looked at the words of Jesus, the all-knowing, omniscient Head of the Church. This is especially comforting to those who go through times of suffering, persecution and mistreatment by any that oppose God’s work. Such knowledge is not only comforting, but we know that in the final chapter of time, He will judge with divine accuracy.
There is another knowledge Jesus has that is very discomforting. Please read these words from His own lips:
““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21–23).
There is a huge gap between two major concepts. One is that persons who profess to know Jesus and even call Him by name base their knowledge on how they evaluate their “works.” This is extremely dangerous. The reports that Jesus gave the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were based on His perfect evaluation of what they had done, not their own grading.
The real grading scale is based on obedience to (doing) the Father’s will. The degree of our obedience to Scripture is the degree we accept its authority over us. James says; “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22). What will Jesus declare about your score?
As we read the seven letters of Jesus to the churches in Asia Minor, there is a statement that Jesus makes which stands out. In five of the letters, Jesus says, “I know your works” (Revelation 2:2, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). To the church at Pergamum, He says, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is” (2:13). They were standing firm in the faith in spite of severe opposition.
There is another “I know” that Jesus writes to the church in Smyrna. “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich). But do not fear what you are about to suffer” (2:9-10). For a church that was suffering for being faithful to the Lord and His word, this was a great comfort. Not only did Jesus know their suffering and the difficult circumstances that related to their suffering, but He give them a fresh perspective of what they had. They may have been very poor materially, mainly due to being faithful, but as far as the Lord was concerned, they were rich.
One of the most up-lifting things any believer can do is review the riches they have in Christ. These have nothing to do with the riches of the world that will fade away to nothing at the final day. The riches in Christ are eternal and can never be taken away or diminished by suffering.
In addition to this, there is a great comfort in knowing that Jesus is familiar with our circumstances and says, “do not fear.” In fact, He knows more about what we are passing through than we do. We can trust Him to prepare us for what is yet ahead and supply His “sufficient grace” so we can endure for His glory! “Do not fear!”
“We just had another 45 graduates from GPHC in Kogon River, Nigeria! It is one of the poorest places, yet the people are rich in the Lord. They hunger for Him and His Word. It was a great day! Now I am in Abuja where I have my final training before flying out Tuesday evening. It has been a very full trip!” (Randy)
Please continue to pray for Brother “M” from Rakhine state in Myanmar. No one has heard anything from him since he left our training. The conflict that is impacting many in Myanmar relates to the IDP, which stands for "Internally Displaced People". IDP’s have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home. IDPs and villagers lack access to food because they cannot forage in nearby forests. This gives us a little understanding of the circumstances and helps us pray for these people and Brother “M” and his family.
For those of us in the West, it is very difficult for us to grasp these conditions or the pain that families go through when loved ones are impacted by conflict and persecution. At the same time, Hebrews 13:3 is a good reminder to think of ourselves “as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” We do not have our hands tied with ropes, or know the pain of mistreatment, but we can ask the Spirit to give us divine feelings of care for them.
When Peter was put in prison (Acts 12), “many gathered together and were praying” (12:12). There was nothing unusual about this prayer time except that they ignored Peter when he came to the door and knocked. Is this the way we pray for those who are suffering?
We looked yesterday at Paul’s bio and saw how he thought nothing of his past accomplishments, and actually considered them rubbish (worthless and unwanted material). As some have said, was Paul ‘out of his mind,’ irrational, or just crazy. The world today would say, ‘yes, he was.’
As we check the words of Jesus on this subject, we find something very similar. “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). The word “renounce” means to “part with one’s possessions.” Jesus had nothing that he claimed as His own! “And Jesus said to him [a scribe], “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”” (Matthew 8:20).
This question comes down to what we really value and how everything else stands in contrast to the value we place on Jesus Christ. Will we give up everything that stands between us and Christ, really having the first and only place of preeminence in our lives? Would we rather have more of Christ and be under His control that anything this world could offer?
Several weeks ago, I was asked to send a church a short biography of my life. This got me thinking about what we put into our bio’s that make us look good to others. We try to pick out the best parts of our careers and those accomplishments that make us look good to others. If we are honest, it is an ‘ego trip’ for us to tell others about our past.
That is not the way it worked for Paul. Here is one of his bio’s; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8).
This is not how to get a job today. Imagine telling a potential employer that you consider all your past accomplishments as rubbish! But Paul was not seeking employment. He was exposing his heart and inner being to the believers in churches he planted as a model for them to follow. He was very serious about this attitude and says later in this chapter, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (3:15).
Especially for those of us in leadership in the Church, we need to squarely face what goes on in our hearts and how we look at our past and present status. What model are we living before others? Paul did not take on this attitude because it was a nice thing to do. He meant every word because he desired to “know and gain Christ” above any other pursuit in life, work and ministry. He wanted the Philippians to follow his example.
We are constantly amazed how God is opening doors for training through this ministry in places and with people we never expected to work with. Some weeks ago, we shared the news of children at an orphanage in Myanmar being trained by going through God’s Plan for His Disciples. The goal is that they will eventually return to villages of their original birth and share from the Bible what they have learn.
Unexpectedly, we have the same thing happening in Nicaragua, Central America. Every Saturday morning for 3 hours, a church there went through GPHD with the children (ages 5-15). If they could not read, they would draw the principle from Scripture on the board and have the kids color in the diagrams on a piece of paper. The ones who could read and write actually filled out the questions in the book.
This is more than we can often get adults to do. This reminds us of Jesus’ words; “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). He followed this up later with this startling statement; “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (18:3).
How grateful we are to find this kind of hunger and appetite with children in other places. Our prayer is that what we discovered in Nicaragua will happen right where you live!
It is hard to imagine that the Apostle Paul was very prejudiced against Gentiles at one time. We read his letters where he clearly believes God’s grace set him apart to “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). This was a huge departure from his former life that made him proud of being “of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the laws, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Philippians 3:5).
This all changed because of “the heavenly vision”! That one encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road turned this man who was full of prejudice into a man who loved the Gentiles. I think one of the greatest expressions of this is found in his second letter to Corinth.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18–20).
There is not one speck of prejudice in that statement! Paul is appealing to each of us, based on our own reconciliation with God, which we do not deserve, that we must in turn be ambassadors for Christ across every ethnic boundary around the world. God will not leave out one tribe from His plan. Will you?
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