Editor’s Note: Guest article from David Popovici of FIRE School of Ministry: Chicago.
“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”.
After a recent ministry trip to the Middle East, I came back both encouraged and stirred with an urgent sobriety. I was encouraged by what God is doing in the region; there is a lot more happening on the ground than what your local news channel is broadcasting, you can be assured of that. As a matter of fact, God has His own “news” channel, namely the born-again, Spirit-filled believers that are both living out and propagating His gospel in the midst of an unfriendly world. I am excited by the fact that, in spite of the coming persecution and the tribulation, the world has not yet seen, nor can it even conceive what God has in store in these last days. To quote Mike Bickle “In the last days God is going to pour upon His Church both the miracles of the Exodus and the book of Acts.” Not just healings and miracles backing the message but even nature-defying acts that will distinguish us from all others, just as He did for the nation of Israel during their liberation. This definitely gives us a lot to anticipate with excitement, and at the same time a lot for which to prepare.
Yet while so many are losing their lives for their testimony of Christ, often we find in our Western circles so many deviant pursuits. Not necessarily malicious or sinful ones, but secondary. I often wonder how much of our “gospel,” the things we stress as “the epicenter” of the Kingdom, are actually relevant to our brothers and sisters all over the world. Many of these persecuted, wonder-working, Christ-like ones of which I speak, who are leading Churches, are not good readers, properly educated or even sufficiently financed. Nonetheless they are childlike and meek, filled with faith and courage and declaring the message of Christ with love and power as they invest their lives into saving the lost and building Christ’s Church. I submit that to our own detriment, it seems we in America have graduated from simplicity. I am not saying anything against theological schools; I graduated from one, nor against credentials or ordinations; I myself am ordained. Yet at the foundation of the faith, namely the one that is built upon Christ the Chief Cornerstone, lie the building blocks that God hand picked to build His church; fishermen and tax-collectors. I am in no way proposing that to be in a lower class in life, that you are more spiritual. Like Dr. Brown used to tell us in school, “you’re not more spiritual for driving an old Pinto or less for driving a new Toyota.” However, it seems as if simplicity is something that often eludes us in the more “mature” circles. The reason I put “mature” in quotations is because it is often our own estimation of maturity. Proverbs 11:30 states that those truly wise “win souls.” Paul said to the Corinthians that the highest wisdom is in fact the Cross of Christ; a message of weakness and foolishness.
We need a fresh encounter with God, and the only kind I know of are the ones marked by the Cross and that flame from Pentecost. This God who entered our world and the Holy Spirit, who infuses the life of God within like nothing else. I submit that it is time for many of our more learned brethren to come down from their ivory towers of “maturity” and become practitioners of that which they critique and interpret. I would not go to the Sahara desert to learn about gardening or vegetation, so why would I turn to a critical and dried out brother to tell me anything of Christ, His Kingdom or the Holy Ghost? And with all humility dear brothers, if that last statement offended you, you might be one.
Paul tells the Ephesians to “not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.”
That says a couple of things to me; this is a negative command and a positive command. Something to avoid and something to do. I believe we can and should stay continually filled with Him who is Divine Life. This, my dear brothers, is MORE than just a positional truth. You can say “I AM FILLED” all you want and not be, just like a man can say “I AM DRUNK” and not be until he actually drinks in excess.
The Cross-gives us the right and privilege of partaking, it doesn’t force it down our throats.
A grape needs a wine press to produce wine and a Christian needs the Cross-to show forth the Spirit Life. I believe in drinking of the presence of God in order to stay filled with His life, joy, peace, power, love, righteousness, etc. However, some of our brethren, claim to drink continually of Christ, yet by no means seem affected by the potency of what they claim to ingest. As a man who was saved from a wickedly sinful life, I know what it’s like to be physically drunk. Alcohol changes your perception, affects judgment, emotions and even gives you a reckless courage to do what you otherwise would not have done. After a life devoted to substance abuse, you are rewarded with a wrecked liver at the least. I wonder how one might drink of the Spirit and not adopt Christ’s eternal perspective, the Cross’ value system and partake of the emotions of God. Or perhaps a boldness to preach the Gospel to a world on its way to hell or to take hold of a paralytic and command him to walk in Jesus name. Or how about our insides being ruined by God, for the Kingdoms sake. If not, I question what you’re drinking or what you’re mixing it with.
Brothers, though a physician’s goal is the same for all patients, the medicine he prescribes is not always the same. To quote Dr. Brown again, “It’s never wise to major on the minors or minor on the majors.” How much of what we major on and pursue, build and fight for, will actually last in eternity? How much of it reflects the Gospel and the life of the early Church? I don’t think it’s a complex question, rather a simple one. Simple enough for even a child to understand.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Gal. 2.20
The real fruit of the Gospel in a man’s life has nothing to do with what title he bears religiously, what reputation he has maintained among colleagues, or how successful he has been ministerially speaking. A man may receive accolades from saint and sinner, he may have a great following, and he may be recognized as a great spiritual leader, but this is not the sure evidence of grace on his life.
The only proof of the validity of a man’s faith is that great foundational declaration of Paul:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me….”
Have I really been crucified with Christ? Can I say with Paul that I no longer live? Can I walk through the slopes and valleys and storms of this life with a burning consciousness that Christ lives in me?
There is an awful lot of boasting in the Church, but it is all too rare for us to find fellowship with those who “no longer live,” and in whom the Life of Christ Himself is being demonstrated. There is too much preaching that is devoid of the resonance of Christ’s life, too much ministry being carried out with mere machinery and sweat, too much religious performance by saints who know how to smile in a meeting, but who lack the kindness and purity and humility of God in the realm of day-to-day life.
Could it be that we are seeing the ill-formed fruit of too many years of un-apostolic preaching? Philip the evangelist preached Christ Himself. Paul preached Christ, and him crucified. There is no higher form of preaching than preaching Jesus Himself. True preaching calls us to lay down our own lives, and to receive the Life of the Lamb Who was slain. If we are not hearing of the glory of this Man from our preachers, our foundations are themselves faulty and dubious. Years ago, in a letter to a friend, Leonard Ravenhill wrote:
I find many evangelists are getting concerned about the lack of permanence in the so-called conversions of people they minister to in their meetings. The fact is that most preachers preach only a half gospel. All they preach is forgiveness, but a man needs more than forgiveness. He needs regeneration and his conscience purged by the blood of Christ from dead works to serve the living God. A man is not a Christian until God takes up residence in him.
A miracle must take place. We should quit asking people if they are saved. Everyone thinks somehow they are saved. Why not look them in the eye and say, “Does Christ live in you?” If Christ is not in a person, they are not born again.
(In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill, Free Grace Press; 2010, p. 356)
May the Lord raise up a host of men with the fire of God in their souls, and a revelation of Christ in their hearts, to set forth the glory of Jesus Christ, to call men back to the cross, and to preach again the everlasting Gospel as a piercing Light in the darkest places. That the Lamb Who was slain would receive the reward of His suffering ….
You know one thing about a man carrying a cross outside the city…. He’s not coming back. -A.W. Tozer
Bryan Purtle is an author that carries a jealousy for historical revival, the salvation of Israel, and the recovery of apostolic proclamation and living through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Visit his website at thoughtsuponrising.com.
Most media leaders have been euphoric over the revolutions taking place in the Middle-Eastern Arab world. Dictatorships are being swept away; power is now in the hands of the people! Or at least this is the officially perceived wisdom of the day. Many are the editorials in the conservative and moderate newspapers in Israel warning of the great dangers ahead. Few are such reports in the Western press!
Many political leaders in the West are not in touch with reality. The head of national intelligence in the U. S. declared that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a mostly secular organization. The head of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has returned to Egypt from exile, is said to be a moderate according to many Western politicians. In such a context, the word moderate is stretched beyond any reasonable definition. This particular leader is an anti-Semite, vilifies the Jewish state, and calls for a world Islamic Caliphate! It is said that he (that is the Brotherhood) is almost assured a great electoral influence because his views are considered absolutely mainstream in Egyptian society. By some estimates, two million people turned out to welcome his return. Is this not uncomfortably frightening?
The revolutions are fraught with danger for Israel and the West, but most do not want to face the danger. The word democracy seems more important than the content of the democracy. Democracy is not an automatic force for justice.
Am I defending the dictatorships of the Arab world? No. These dictators are getting their just deserts because they did not train their people in the moral and civic virtues that could have led to a true republican form of government. That training should have fostered values that have been a key in free societies. They could have moved their societies toward greater freedom, while still banning parties and individuals who professed Islamic radicalism, just as Germany continues to ban the Nazis. In their hearts, these dictators were simply not committed to the values of human rights, dignity, and political empowerment for groups affirming true human rights.
Wisdom from the Founding Fathers of the United States
The founding fathers of the United States were very clear on several crucial axioms for government. First, the vote is only one part of a republican form of government. They were careful to note that they did not believe in democracy and associated it with mob rule. They actually wanted only educated voters. After all, the 51% could vote to destroy the 49% in a pure democracy. True democracy is mob rule. This is why the idea of true democracy horrified the founders. Constitutional checks and balances, the separation of powers into three branches of government (legislative, judicial and executive), defined rights and freedoms, representative government and more were seen as crucial to a republic. In addition, they understood the character of the people as foundational. For John Adams, this character was formed by Christianity, and without that character formation, there could be no lasting free society. Adams said that the form of government he supported would only work for the kind of biblically rooted people that populated the colonies.
Alarming Tales of Democracy
So let’s look at a few cautionary tales in regard to the call for democracy: Iran, Gaza, Lebanon and Germany. Many Western leaders backed the removal of the Shah of Iran, who was slowly westernizing his country. They welcomed the return of the Ayatollah Komaini. Within a short period, he overthrew the moderates and, years later, had one of the early prime ministries, Shapuar Baktiar, a man who stood for human rights, murdered in France. In the Palestinian territories, free elections put Hamas, a terrorist group, in power. In Lebanon, democracy has given Hezbollah, another terrorist organization, enough votes to veto the rest of the Parliament and to essentially control the government. We should never forget that Hitler was elected. Why Western leaders and media deny that this is a likely but not certain scenario is amazing. It is either denial and blindness or incredible ignorance! Few reported that some of the revolutionaries chanted that they would march on Israel – all the while shouting, “Death to the Jews.”
The Danger of Our Times
We are now entering a very dangerous time in the Middle East. If Egypt falls to an Islamic controlled government, in the pattern of Turkey (it took some years) or Iran, it will be very bad for Israel. Can we be confident in a people where the majority of women are still forced to undergo genital mutilation? The backwards nature of many of the people should not give us confidence in their readiness for democratic government. People have to first be trained or discipled in human rights.
Justice, Israel and the Arabs
This leads to the issue of justice in the Middle East. Some focus on the microcosm. They get all worked up over Jewish injustices to innocent Palestinians. Sometimes the issues are valid and sometimes they are trumped up. However, if one focuses on the macrocosm, we note that there are 21 Arab nations and only one Jewish nation in the whole world. Jordan is predominantly Palestinian, and if a Palestinian state is created in the West Bank and Gaza there will be two Palestinian majority Arab states. Whatever one’s view of forming such a new state, the macrocosm justice issue is very clear in the whole light of Jewish history. The Jewish state must be supported as a foundational issue of justice.
My view echoes that of John Adams. I do not really even trust the long term prospects in the West for freedom, justice and respect for human rights because the West has drifted, and is now drifting further, from its Biblical roots. I certainly do not trust the long term prospects in countries that profess Islam. I believe that the answer is always and only in the Gospel. Only coming to Yeshua and embracing His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount can deliver Arabs from violence, hate and tyranny. We say that the Gospel is to the Jew first, but there is no greater second focus for prayer and witness than the Gospel to the Islamic world and especially the Arab world. This is why our related ministries support, in large ways, Arab Gospel witness.
I wish I could be more optimistic, but until we see a change in the hearts of peoples, we will have to support a balance of power arrangement between blocks of nations and a judicious navigation of foreign policy that is not given to fantasy. Many of Islam’s top scholars say that democracy is only a temporary expedient since Allah should rule through a council of top religious leaders who enforce Shariah law. That law is a disaster for minorities and for women. Only a balance of power arrangement can limit the potential damage of the dangerous Islamic Arab and Islamic Iranian expansionism. Containment and eventually defeat have to be the order of the day. As followers in Yeshua, we need to also face the fact that the relativistic and multi-cultural West may not have either the will or the means for a strong stand. We may not see victory until the return of Yeshua.
Let us pray for our political leaders in the U. S. and the West. Some do have open eyes and some are speaking out, but they are the minority. May we yet see these many peoples under the bondage of Islam delivered and come into the glorious liberty of being children of God in Yeshua.
In Acts chapter four we see the disciples standing on trial. They are commanded to stop preaching Jesus. Look at part of their response. They said, “we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” There seems to be the reverse effect today in the American church, because we can’t start speaking (for the most part).
The reason that there is a divide between the apostles, who couldn’t stop speaking, and the modern American church, who can’t start speaking, is because the issue of speaking lies in the issue of seeing and hearing. Jesus said, “What you have heard in the dark speak in the light.”
Many modern American Christians haven’t been hearing the voice of God and very rarely see anything in God. Their spiritual eyes are darkened and because of this, they having nothing living inside of them to speak out. Not only that, but because they don’t speak out they don’t see anything happen that would build their faith. As Bill Johnson noted, “The first step to growing in miracles is to pray for the sick.”
I believe that if we really spent quality time in His presence, consistently depending on Him for life, our ears would pop open. I believe here, in the place of hearing, our eyes would be unveiled to see. And having seen and heard from the Lord we would have a bursting spring of the love of God inside of us for a lost and dying world. We would be leaking deliverance to our surroundings.
Brother, if you have an issue getting yourself to speak, take care of the root issue and go get with Jesus. Let Him show you His heart and place it inside of you. I promise like the apostles of old, you will have a hard time passing people on the street because you are burning to tell them of His wonderful love for them.
Today I was walking around the park with a friend of mine talking about the wonderful revelation of Jesus that has been burning in the secret place of His presence. We saw a man sitting on a bench by himself. We figured that he was waiting for us. So we brought the gospel to him. Not only did he give his life to Jesus as we told him of the wonderful Savior who didn’t come to shame sinners but to save them, but he told us that he had a torn cartilage in his knee and it was in a lot of pain and as we prayed for him, all his pain left his knee. Also, a word of knowledge about his religious past broke his heart and his eyes filled with tears as the presence of God came upon him in power and love.
Let’s get alone with Jesus. He will speak and show us Himself. This is the only inflow for such an outflow!
“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” -Phil. 4.5
This is a unique verse, and it opens up a panoramic view of the apostolic heart of Paul. What is this “gentle spirit” that he is encouraging, and why does he tell us that the Lord is near in this context?
Philippians is Paul’s great call to a life of rejoicing in the midst of trial, and he was writing to a church that was facing great opposition from persecutors. He repeatedly exhorts the saints to rejoice in the midst of the suffering, and this verse provides for us a concentrated stream of thought from the apostle along these lines.
What is a “gentle spirit” then? To be sure, it is not cowardice, shyness, or any attempt at looking humble or sounding modest. A “gentle spirit” is not something that can be conjured by a self-conscious attempt at meekness. This “gentle spirit” imperative, following Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always,” must be the God-breathed result of delighting in Him in the midst of great pressure and trial.
Anyone can look gentle and meek in a contrived way when men are watching and some religious reward is at stake. But when the rubber hits the road, when the turbulence of life picks up, when the ground begins to shake beneath our feet, the depth of our foundations in God is revealed for what it actually is. It takes a certain kind of soul to demonstrate the gentleness and kindness of God Himself in an atmosphere that is inhospitable and difficult, but this is the privilege and calling of every saint. This “gentle spirit” is not something calculated and performed, but rather received and demonstrated, through the very life of Jesus Himself.
The “gentle spirit” Paul speaks of denotes a disposition that can hardly be rendered in translation by a single word. It is your quite specifically grounded benevolence, gentleness, considerateness, openness, vitality, and at the same time moderation that must be manifest to all men. Luther’s “lenity” well expresses the source of this disposition: Christians are men who have been made lenis, lenient, mellow, “beaten to pulp,” as opposed to the nonrecipients of grace, who can still be stiff and bristly.
(Epistle to the Philippians, Karl Barth; WJK Publications, 2002; p. 121)
It is not in the flighty and jolly moments of positive religious experience that this is proven out, but rather in the hum-drum, grinding, pressing moments of day-to-day life. Our “gentle spirit” is not mainly displayed from a pulpit, at a conference, or at some overt spiritual function. It is in the way we approach others from our innermost being. Have we a tinge of self-righteousness toward them? Have we a hint of superiority toward them? Have we a smidgeon of stiffness or coldness toward them?
What about our spouses or children? Have we a bit of disdain or bitterness toward them? Have we a shade of impatience or anxiety regarding them? Have we any hardness, brashness, or brazenness toward them?
Paul called the church to rejoice in the Lord always, and to allow the gentle and kind Spirit of Jesus Himself to flow through our lives and unto others in an effectual way. It will not happen in some magical and automatic way without our cooperation, for He is looking for co-laborers. We’ve got to allow the Potter to “beat to a pulp” all our anxiety, arrogance, and self-glorification, until we are wrung out souls, ready to be revivified and powered by His own resurrection life. Then shall His own gentleness and kindness flow from us, in the high places and in the low places.
He follows this call with that most striking note, “The Lord is near.”
Paul’s thought is two-fold here:
1. The Lord is near, literally at hand, and as the great coming Judge, He will not be pleased if we have walked in our own stiff-hearted dispositions. He calls us to a higher reality, namely His own gentleness, and if we have treated others unjustly or been hard-hearted toward them, it will not be well for us on the day of His return. “…. to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these…. “
2. Secondly, and most encouraging for the believer, is that the Lord, who is our great help, is not only near in the sense of His soon coming. For the soul that has been redeemed and transformed through the Gospel, He is as near as the inner-man. He is near to us in every plight and every challenge, and He is fervent and eager in His desire to walk us through the tumultuous seasons of life. We do not need to remain in a place of stiffness, arrogance, or brashness towards others. We need only to cry out to Him, and He will break up the hardened ground of our hearts, oil the dry places, and make us tender and loving and gentle towards all men. His own vibrant love and kindness will flow through us like a mighty rushing river.
So turn from your self and unto the Chief Shepherd. He is near to you, dear saint, and His gentle Spirit is ever and always our great good.
To speak the word “regain” is to state that the subject in view had previously been realized. In this case, the blind man asked to “regain” his sight. He wanted to get back that which he previously had. I believe that many modern American Christians are backslidden. Backslidden, meaning, they have lost the sight that they once possessed. They have lost their sight of their life mission, their conviction of sin and their revelation of Jesus.
They have lost their view on the life mission given to us by Christ Himself to, “speak out the great message of the cross of Christ.” They have definitely not “pledged their heads to heaven.” Nor have they laid their lives down as true disciples saying, “my life for the gospel.”
They have slipped away from their conviction of sin. They say things like, “I wasn’t as mature in God as I am now.” But as Isaiah stated, “they have lost the power to blush over their sins.”
Their sight of Jesus is so limited that they are in desperate need for God to repair their view of Him. For it is only in an accurate view of Jesus that we can have an accurate view of holiness, purity, love, power, God and His Kingdom.
Modern Christians have a greater knowledge of Hollywood than of Christ Himself. They have set up their home to revolve around a flat screen t.v., instead of setting up their lives to revolve around Jesus. They have a greater sight for themselves than Christ. As Keith Green stated, “It is so hard to see when my eyes are on me.” The only true and valuable sight is the seeing of Jesus. Backsliders need their view of Christ restored. All issues in life return to vision, namely, the vision of Jesus. Not necessarily what He would do, but what He is doing. It is knowing His heart beat. It is an issue of knowing Him, right now. Not in the past, or recent past, but today. Do you see Him today? Backslider regain your sight! All issues of seeing are summed up in a seeing of Jesus. If there is no seeing of Jesus there simply is no seeing. No matter the intellect and glory of man, men are blind till they see Jesus.
In this blind man’s state, he heard the commotion of Jesus and asked other people what was going on. The blind backslidden Christian is a person who must look to others for sight. So many Christians today are looking to a book, a minister, ministry or church to open their eyes. They look to men for guidance. They cannot see rightly, so they have no other option. Praise God these people pointed him to Jesus saying, “It is Jesus passing by.”
This blind man wanted his sight back. He had the sense to notice it is gone. I pray we would see our deficiency, for we are in a bad way if we lose sight of that. Look at the heart of this blind man after seeing his deficiency…He cries out to Jesus. A cry that comes from a revelation of our deficiency will be sincere and deep. Oh for deep cries that go out to the deep of God!
The people around him tried to silence him. Know this dear reader, if you are blind and backslidden lacking what you once had in God, the whole world is seeking to silence your cry to God. Worldly satisfactions are trying to bring you to a place of contentment with your blindness. Lots of Christian things are trying to make you content with blindness and compromise. Many complacent friends are indirectly seeking to silence your cry. But you must not listen! You must, like this blind man, push through and cry out to God for a restoration of what you know is available, the sight of a living Jesus.
After this blind man pushed through and refused to listen to the silencers, he met Jesus. He was brought into Christ’s presence and Jesus spoke to him. This is the only place of restoration, the only place of life; The experience of His presence and the hearing of His voice. He was then, and only then, healed. Nothing else will heal you. He received his sight back and he began to follow the Lord. As he was glorifying God he was made a spectacle to everyone. If we are to be a testimony to the world, it is only as we glorify God with our lives by following Jesus, because we see Him. Oh reader, do you see Him!? Do you see Him now? Or are you lost, blind and clueless as to what has happened to you? Are you wondering how you got to where you are now in life? Do you look back and say, “where did I get off?” Brother, I will tell you where you got off. You took your eyes off of Jesus and you lost your sight, for just as He is the only seeing, He is the only sustaining of sight.
Oh blind one, who cannot see, my heart breaks for you, as I know the Lord’s does…all out to Him! If you cannot see like you used to and you have taken your eyes off of Jesus…cry out to Him! If in the name of liberty you have opened the door to lesser lovers…cry out to Him! If you are not more in love with Him now than ever…cry out to Him! If you know you are distant and you know something is between you and God…call out to Him! Maybe as you read this, you contrasted your hunger now with your hunger in the past, and have come up sadly lacking…call out to Him! Do not let anything silence you. He will take you into His presence, speak to you and you will see Him again. At this point and no other can you begin to follow Him rightly.
Reader, look deep within. Are you blind today? I am not asking you if you know the bible, go to church or profess Christ. I am asking you…”have you lost your sight?”
Jacob had a get-rich-quick strategy.He made a deal with Laban, his father-in-law that rather than being paid in cash for his shepherding services he would receive as payment all of the imperfect members of the flock; all the striped, speckled and spotted cattle, sheep and goats.Laban preferred the beautiful ones anyways.He was glad to be rid of the imperfect members of the flock and agreed to Jacob’s pathetic idea of remuneration.But soon Jacob’s motley flock had exceeded Laban’s and the lowly farmhand had grown more rich and powerful than his master.
I visited a church not long ago where the pastor was very proud of the fact that his congregation was made up of some of the wealthiest, most successful and most famous people in town.Everything from the building itself to the demeanor of the staff to the kind of people that were positioned on the platform, shouted that this was a church for the good-looking, the rich and the powerful.Anyone who did not fit into that category might not feel very comfortable there, but for those that were members it was more than a church, it was a sort of elite club for classy Christians.It reminded me of Laban’s perfect flock.
Rich people need Jesus too and I’m glad that they found a place of worship where they could feel comfortable, but somehow I think that if Jesus were pastoring in that city, his church would probably look a lot different. Jesus was known as a “friend of publicans and sinners.He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18).And again, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt 9:12).And again, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).“The Son of man” He said of Himself, “is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
If Jesus pastored a church I think that it would be “on the wrong side of the tracks”.It would be filled with hookers, drug addicts and bums.It would be a church where the unlovely would feel welcomed and accepted.It would be a church for the striped the speckled and spotted members of society.
In fact, Jesus identifies with the needy to such an extent that he takes our actions towards them personally saying, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Mat 25) One of the two elements of “pure religion” according to James is to, “…visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need.” (James 1:27 AMP) The ones that, “…turn many to righteousness [shall give forth light] like the stars forever and ever.”
If any evangelist, pastor or church will follow the example of Jesus and Jacob they will soon make an amazing discovery.A church that is after the lost, the unlovely, the poor, the outcasts and the sinners will soon surpass in every way, the wealth of its country-club counterparts.An evangelist that is willing to leave the well-traveled circuit of itinerate preachers and venture into the dark, dangerous and remote areas of the world will discover rich and abundant harvests where no one would have ever expected to find them.
I am convinced that at the end of the day, the greatest reward will be for the ones who have gotten down in the dirt with Jesus and served “the least of these”.The greatest honor will belong to those who have preached the Gospel to the poor and the first prize will go to the ones who have invested in the striped, the speckled and the spotted.
The Angel in Acts 11 told Cornelius to send for Peter “Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.”There is an incredible power in words.James says that “Life and death are in the power of the tongue…” and in no context is this more explicit then in the preaching of the Gospel. On Peter’s words hung the eternal destinies of Cornelius and his entire family.What a solemn and most severe responsibility we have to communicate the Gospel with clarity and irresistible persuasion.
In Matthew 13:19, Jesus is telling the parable of the sower.He says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.This is the one on whom the seed was sown by the way side.”This is what I call, “Way-Side Evangelism”.Some preachers preach to hear themselves talk.Paul said that the time would come when people would want their ears tickled, but I think some preachers only care about tickling their own ears.These “Way-Side” preachers are infatuated with their own brilliance and charmed by their own eloquence.They love to impress people with their deep insight and advanced theological understanding.Meanwhile those listening to their message are as confused as a rabbit at an Easter egg hunt.What good is a message like that!?Preacher – save your cacophony of hermeneutical mendacity for the elephant-waxing tournament!We want to understand The Message!
Jesus said that when a person hears our message, but cannot understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.The Gospel is salvation articulated.If the world could only understand it, I am sure that they would find it utterly irresistible.But if we don’t make it plain someone listening to our message might walk right past the narrow gate to eternal life and never know that they missed it!It happens everyday…what a crime. We must not give the Devil an opportunity to snatch the seed away by preaching a Gospel that is confusing or hard to understand.When we preach with clarity, with poignancy and with precision, we stomp on the Devil’s grubby, pilfering fingers, the sown Word takes root and produces fruit that will remain in the lives of those to whom we minister.
Arriving on the Battlefield
I would be remiss, if I failed to address the other, equally significant side of this coin.It is not only the message that is important, but also the medium.For much of the world’s history the major medium for communicating thoughts and ideas was verbal transmission; anecdotes and parables passed down from one generation to another.This began to change however around time of the Protestant Reformation.Neil Postman points out that, 1“Beginning In the sixteenth century, a great epistemological shift had taken place in which knowledge of every kind was transferred to, and made manifest through the printed page.‘More than any other device,’ Lewis Mumford wrote of this shift, ‘the printed book released people from the domination of the immediate and the local;…print made a greater impression than actual events…To exist was to exist in print…’ 2” The Church was on the cutting edge of this shift with the very first printed book being the Gutenberg Bible.The following generations would see the Bible translated into more than 1,000 different languages and become the best selling book of all time.
In our generation there is another shift occurring.Today, electronic forms of communication are the dominant voice in the world.In the U.S. nearly 100% of households have a television and on average each dwelling has more than 2.More than a trillion Internet URLs are in indexed with Google alone, which performs over 2 billion searches daily.Consider that if Facebook were a nation, it would be the 8th largest in the world with over 150 million members.Everyday over 100 million videos are viewed on You Tube and the list goes on.In America we have seen a striking example of the power of electronic media in our recent presidential election.It has been said that President Obama won the election, 3“because he understood new media.”
A couple of years ago the Lord spoke to me and said, “Every generation has a battlefield.If the Church fails to arrive on that battlefield, she will loose that generation.Your generation’s battlefield is the world of media.”President Obama showed up in that battlefield and won because his opponent didn’t even know what the battlefield was. Francis Schaeffer said, “Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.”Our responsibility of making the Gospel understandable goes beyond simply saying the right words…it demands that we show up in the right forum.As a street preacher I used to look for the most populated place in town to go preach…a park or a street corner, anywhere the people were.I would have been an idiot to set my soap-box up in an deserted parking lot.
Not only must we communicate in a way that the people can understand. We must also take the Gospel to where the people are!Can I tell you where they are?They are in front of the Television and the radio and the computer. But for too long we have downplayed and even demonized these electronic communication mediums.And even those who have taken advantage of them, for the most part, have done so poorly (don’t get me started on Christian television).How can we win the battle, if we are not on the battlefield?How can we reap a harvest if we are not on the harvest field? Reinhard Bonnke says, “If you want to catch fish, don’t throw your net into the bathtub.” The seed of the Gospel is too consequential to be cast by the way side.
In the days of oral tradition, many generations faithfully communicated, with solemn commitment, the scriptures that we still cherish today.In fact it is evident that Biblical oral tradition has been among the most enduring in history. In the sixteenth century, the new world of printed literature was dominated by Christians who seized this medium for God’s glory.Now it’s our turn and I fear that we are not doing as well as our predecessors.We must trouble ourselves to communicate the Gospel with clarity to our generation where they are that we “…may by all means win some.”
1 Postman, Neil.Amusing Ourselves to Death.New York: Penguin Group 1986
2 Mumford, Lewis.Technics and Civilization.New York: Harcourt, Brace and World 1934
3 Lewin, James. http://www.podcastingnews.com/2009/04/16/
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” -1 Cor. 13.1-3
Of all the passages of Scripture that have been heavily quoted and inadequately considered, 1 Corinthians 13 must rank in the top ten. Of all the subjects that have been watered down, cheapened, and reduced to humanistic wisdom, the subject of love must be at the top of the list.
What do we know of the kind of love that Paul was calling the saints to pursue, and to what degree are we actually walking in it?
Some time ago, I read through a short biography on a man named Robert C. Chapman (1803-1902). Charles Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I ever knew,” and his life had a profound effect on many souls, not the least of which was the great pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor.
Though I have been engaged in various forms of ministry for more than a dozen years, I was “knocked off of my chair” when I saw the measure of holy love and compassion that was expressed through his life. The man was immersed in a purity and devotion that was heavenly, and the love that burned in his spirit was evident to all who came into contact with him.
Early in his life, he announced that the Lord had called him to proclaim the Gospel, and many of his friends said, “Robert will never make a preacher.” In response, he exclaimed, “There are many who preach, but not so many who live Christ. My aim shall be to live Christ.”
Chapman grew into a remarkable demonstration of the nature of God, expressing the most supernatural kind of hospitality and kindness, even to religious antagonists in his own congregation. Though many were gripped with prejudices, foul attitudes, and a lack of respect when he took up the pastorate at Ebenezer Chapel, they would be won over to humility and love by the selfless example set forth in the man, R.C. Chapman.
He would regularly house guests in his home, though he was a lifelong bachelor. Visiting missionaries, new converts, or extremely poor souls, would be graced by his Spirit-empowered hospitality. They testified that his house was simple, without excessive furniture and trinkets, but immaculately clean. He esteemed that which God had given him, and took care of it in honor of the Lord and esteem for his guests. He would rise daily at 4:00 a.m. to engage in prayer, adoration, and Scripture meditation. He would say, “It is one thing to read the Bible, choosing something that suits me, and another thing to search it that I may become acquainted with God in Christ.” The fruit of his life showed that he had become intensely “acquainted with God in Christ.”
In later years he would have breakfast ready for his house guests at 7:00 a.m., following his daily devotional time. The joy that marked his life was contagious, and more than once people testified that after spending only a day with the man, they felt as if they had encountered the Son of God Himself.
What do people encounter in me? What have I really learned of His love? Dear saints, I yearn to come into the same reality that was Chapman’s experience.
Paul said that we may speak skillfully with the tongues of men. We may be supernaturally gifted to speak with the tongues of angels. We may have the gift of prophecy, or know all mysteries and knowledge. We may have enough faith to remove mountains. We may give all of our possessions to the poor. We may even give ourselves to martyrdom for an ethical cause. But according to the apostle, we may have or engage in any of these things and still be totally devoid of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. This is both astounding and frightening.
I don’t want to be a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” friends. I want to commune with the One whose zeal burns like an unquenchable fire. I want to be touched and singed and transformed by the heat of His selfless love.
In Hosea 11.8, the Lord says to Israel, “My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled.”
O, that our hearts would be turned over, that our lovelessness would be toppled, our hard-heartedness shattered, and our coldness melted by the compassions of God Himself!
O, to love You as you are, to love righteousness, justice, and compassion, and to love human souls as You do! Give us Your own love, Lord. Catch us up in Your heart, and enable us to be an expression of Your Son in this generation, that our sons and daughters might see your majesty.
This is the final part of this particular article on the theme of ‘Apostolic ministry’. I realize that we have only scratched the surface of this theme. However, hopefully we have now begun to take a new look at the term ‘apostolic’, and may it help bring about a fresh move of the Spirit in the day in which we live. We have looked at Jesus, the sending of the 12, OT and NT theology of these ministries, but it would be a culpable omission if we did not take a brief look at Paul, who was a giant amoung apostles, and was ‘sent’ post the ascension of Jesus.
Part 4 – Paul, apostle to the Gentiles.
The great thing about Paul is that he never calls himself ‘the Apostle Paul’ but rather ‘Paul, an apostle…’ For him the name is descriptive of His ministry but never prescriptive, demanding an ecclesiastical credence.
Another, thing about him is that we not only see this apostolic function in his life and mission, but we read insights by virtue of his epistles. Due to the huge scope of His teaching, it is better for me to just state some of the key activities of his which are in keeping with the above, and also some key statements of his in relation to this ministry.
·Chosen / Sent. He was chosen by God from birth, to this ministry – Galatians 1: 11 – 24
·Recognised not promoted / Released not restricted. He was initially found by Barnabus probably with seeds of Apostolic gifting beginning to bare early on; then recognised and sent out by the local church at Antioch, then at a later time acknowledged by Jerusalem / Wider Church body. (Acts 12, 13 & Galatians 1) Therefore, he probably began manifesting this gift before full recognition came later on. Thus it is important that an apostolic ministry must be revealed to the man first with his immediate peers by the Holy Spirit. This enables him to function as part of a team in that ministry without restriction but with covering (Acts 12: 25.) As that ministry develops and widens, it is then recognised among the wider body of Christ, as with Paul at Jerusalem. NOTE: The later recognition should be recognition of what already exists in function. It is not to prescribe a promotion to higher office, which only then allows such ministry to take place. However, it is obvious that Paul’s initial freedom was borne out of an acceptance of his ministry in Antioch, and carried into the communities he planted rather than those he did not – i.e. Jerusalem. (See 1 Corinthians 9: 1 – 2) His wider recognition came later, and would have enabled other churches that had little to do with him or his ministry to accept him as such.
·Missions. The heart of his ministry was apostolic missionary (1 Timothy 2: 7), in proclamation to the Gentiles of the Good news, teaching, debating, demonstrating the power of the Kingdom of God, discipling believers, ordaining elders and church fatherly aftercare.
·Team. He worked in a team. Barnabus, Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus (Plus 20 others at least at different times) It is evident that as well as working in harmony with other 5 fold ministry gifting, he also saw and worked with other apostolic ministries beyond himself. (Romans 16: 7) No ‘apostle’ should display a ‘sanctified independence’. Whilst this distinct ministry is in its nature ‘first’ in function, it is not first in importance. (Romans 12) It is better to think of it ‘first’ in terms of its foundational nature, but rightly related to other ministry.
·He built with prophetic ministry in harmony with the apostolic ministry. His explanation of this in Ephesians 2 and 3, gives us theological understanding in light of the OT explanation in the previous installments. Also, we see His work with Silas, and Acts 16 highlighting such ministry. The prophets with the team would bring revelation of God’s purposes and strategy for mission.
·Fathers & Sons. He trained other apostolic ministries in Timothy and Titus, instructing them in Church aftercare and to ordain elders in every city.
·Builder. He worked as a wise master builder and foundation layer (1 Corinthians 3) after the pattern of His Lord and Saviour – Jesus. That which the Lord had demonstrated, Paul would have copied and put into practice through preaching and teaching.
·Suffering and authority. Due to the foundational nature of pioneering and missions for the Kingdom, great authority would have been manifest, yet for Paul death and the cross life was also a part of both Jesus and his own life.(1 Corinthians 4: 9& 2 Corinthians 10 & 11) For him, apostles were like those in the procession of death and persecution in their warfare type role. Jesus had foretold this. Kingdom authority – yes, but with Cross like sacrifice. Servant/ slave was a word Paul often used about himself. Without death to self and suffering, he would not continue to rely only on God’s grace and power in ministry. The Cross was the source of authority for him.
·Apostolic revelation. Another dynamic aspect of Paul’s ministry (which we also see in the preaching and teaching of Jesus) is that of bringing apostolic revelation. The Word says that the revelation of the mystery of Christ has ‘now been made known’ by apostles and prophets (Eph 3: 4 &5). Part of the apostolic function is to bring out by the Spirit the deep revelatory truths of God, which will in turn build the people into Christ-likeness, and prepare them for works of service (Eph 4). The apostle as ‘sent one’ is actually bringing an incarnational ministry of Jesus to the people in a small way. When this happens it puts into the people an apostolic DNA which causes body growth, or an apostolic seed which bears fruit. Paul says, ‘Imitate me, as I imitate Christ..’ The more apostolic and prophetic revelation comes to a people, the more a community looks like their King in possession and practice. This kind of revelation is not weird or flaky but it is deep, and Christocentric in substance, nature and power. This then makes a mature body, which in turn prepares men for eldership, and people for service. Then God is glorified through His Son, by the Spirit in His Body!
It goes without saying that Paul won thousands to the Lord; transformed cities or regions; planted many churches by discipleship, laying on of hands for impartation and ordination.Yet, He also was a humble man, a servant, slave and a soldier not counting his life worth anything but obeying every command from Heaven. His one goal was to bring ALL men into the fellowship of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus was Paul’s apostolic vision for the nations (Romans 1) Without claiming such a Pauline status ourselves, should we not be looking for similar hallmarks today in apostolic ministry?
In Conclusion, it is my conviction today many apostolic ministries are to be found in the unknown places on the front line on the mission field among the nations, although that is not exclusively so. Some are called to mission at home. These ministries often are breaking new ground in diverse Kingdom ways and building according to the pattern. There are those who administer with elders in building God’s people. Others having gone through the missional stage of ministry are now ‘fathers’. They have gone through the ‘giving birth to new works’ stage and now provide a fatherly role in care and counsel, as Paul to Timothy. Both ends of the apostolic ministry spectrum are different stages of the same apostolic gifting, but both equally as valid – sons and fathers. I believe there are different kinds of apostolic ministries, according to the variety that is in God’s heart. Some encouragers like Barnabus, some exhorters like Peter, some edifiers like Paul, but all apostles with the distinct features of apostolic commission, calling and fruitfulness.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the great Apostle. Let us do as the original 12, 70 and early church did – and make known the revelation of the Son of God until He comes! Amen