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Sandy Citro

Speak! Do not be silent!

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“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

That is the word of Jesus Christ to Paul in Corinth. Obviously, Paul was afraid. In his letter to Corinth, written years later, he revealed to the Corinthians that he was in fear and trembling when he was in Corinth. The repeated blows of persecution, the constant hurls of insult and ridicule that he had to endure in each city he went to, and the discouraging response from his own countrymen – all of them had taken a toll, physically and emotionally, and perhaps to some level, spiritually as well. So, you would not blame Paul if he began to pack up and thought of leaving Corinth. So, Jesus’ encouragement was very timely and was a breath of fresh air for Paul. He decided to stay on for another 18 months.

What about us now here in Melbourne? There are more than 4 million people in Melbourne. No doubt, Jesus would have said the same thing to us that He has many people in this city of Melbourne whom He wanted to save.

Jesus said this in John 10:14-16, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Will we go on speaking the gospel? Or will we be silent?

Patience in the midst of Persecution

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If you are a follower of Christ, you know, and perhaps you’ve been told many times that you need to proclaim the gospel. Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:16-17 that he is not ashamed of the gospel ‘for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’ and in it ‘the righteousness of God is revealed.’ However, if you are like the majority of Christians, chances are you don’t really share the gospel all that often. Why do you think that is? “I don’t have time?” “I don’t know what to say?” “I don’t have the gift?” “I am tired” or “Yeah, I need to get to it” (although you know that you probably won’t). With humility, I’d say that they are not really good reasons. I think they are simply excuses. Don’t get me wrong. I use those ‘excuses’ too from time to time. So, I am very much included here.

However, apart from those things, I think there are two valid reasons why we don’t make it a habit of sharing the gospel. To put it simply, we are afraid to offend someone and we are afraid of being rejected, ostracised, or persecuted. However, when I say ‘valid’, I don’t mean they should stop you from evangelising. I say ‘valid’ because those two things are true. They are exactly what the gospel does and the gospel invites. The gospel confronts society and it invites persecution. It is no wonder we are scared. The Bible does not sugarcoat these facts at all. If anything, Jesus actually promised that if we follow Christ faithfully—which means we will proclaim the gospel wholeheartedly—we will be persecuted. Denying ourselves and taking up the cross are part and parcel of our discipleship. However, what should give us confidence is this: God’s presence will be there with us in the midst of persecution, and our response to persecution might be the very thing that gives credibility to our faith and our gospel proclamation. One more thing, God may be pleased to save some through our proclamation of the gospel. So, those two reasons are valid. But get on with it anyway!

Working together to share the Good News

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Hudson Taylor was the founder of China Inland Mission which then became what is now OMF International. Starting in 1855, Taylor made 18 preaching tours in the vicinity of Shanghai, but he was poorly received by the people even though he brought with him medical supplies and skills. It was then that Taylor decided to adopt the native Chinese clothes and wear pigtail with shaven forehead. And when he did that, he was able to gain an audience without creating a disturbance. His decision to look and be more like the Chinese people drew heavy and ugly criticisms by his own countrymen and fellow missionaries. However, Taylor persisted, and he had tremendous success because the Chinese were not immediately repulsed by a message that was packaged in foreign attire.

Someone who heavily criticised Taylor in his early years, later wrote this:

“His missionary colleagues dressed and behaved like European clergymen.
They belonged, visibly, to the same world as the merchants and the
administrators and the soldiers whom the Chinese collectively classed
‘red-haired foreign devils’. The first step was obviously to get out of
devildom by looking and behaving as much like a Chinese as possible
and thus approaching one’s potential converts on their own terms.”

Similarly, when Paul circumcised Timothy in Acts 16, it was not because of the issue of salvation. It was done in order not to hinder the progress of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:12). What are you willing to sacrifice in order to pave the way for others to hear the gospel?

 

From vain things to a living thing

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Evangelism explosion. Bridge to life. Two ways to live. Christianity Explained. Many evangelism methods have been devised to help Christians share the gospel effective. All of them have been used by God to save many people. However, in the increasingly secular Melbournian context, it is possible that the traditional evangelism methods fail to resonate with people with postmodern (or post-postmodern) and pluralistic worldviews. No longer do people assume that there is one true and living God. No longer do people understand ‘sin’ as rebellion against that one God. Some even do not grow up with any understanding of the word ‘sin’ at all. Instead of being ultimately accountable to God, the world now encourages people to pursue their dreams with whatever means they can find.

In Acts 14:8-18, we read Paul’s message to the people at Lystra. His message is very different from the one he preached to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. The people at Lystra were gentiles and were not familiar with Old Testament nor the notion of the one living God. They were idol worshippers and they used their idols to pursue whatever their aspirations were. So, we can learn a thing or two from Paul’s proclamation at Lystra in the way we share the good news in 21st century Melbourne. Similar to Romans 1:18-25, Paul talked about sin not in the category of rebellions against God, but in terms of idolatry and ignoring God. Paul urged the people to turn from vain things to the living God. Perhaps, we can learn to do the same too today.

God’s grand redemption plan

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Among the many things that perhaps stop us from sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is that sometimes we just don’t know what to say. Well, thankfully, the book of Acts give us some examples to study and to learn from.

In the book of Acts, Luke recorded three lengthy sermons of Paul. I think the three sermons are three representative sermons of Paul to three different sorts of audiences:

  • In Acts 13, Paul preached to the Jews in the Synagogue.
  • In Acts 17, which we will look at toward the end of our series, Paul preached to the pagan worshippers in Athens.
  • In Acts 20, Paul preached to the Christian leaders at Miletus.

Now let’s look at Acts 13. Paul preached and contextualised the gospel to the people in Antioch in Pisidia. Paul began by affirming the cultural identity of the hearers. He then showed them how Jesus is the fulfilment of their deepest longing as a nation. At the same time, Paul also challenged their aspirations and called them to turn from their old ways and to turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.

So, if we want to be intentional in our evangelism, we shall also imitate Paul’s strategy. We must know and understand whom we share the gospel with. We must know how Jesus is the answer to their deepest longing. We must challenge their ways. Finally, we must ask them to respond to the Jesus’ invitation. This takes time and effort. But we must labour in our evangelism knowing that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Let us speak, and not be silent.

Speak! Do not be silent!

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As a comedian and atheist, Penn Jillette is pretty well-known for his foul mouth and advocacy of atheism. In one of his comedy gig, however, Jillette talks about a time that a man gave him a Bible after one of his shows. Jillette talks of how this man was kind and complimentary as he looked Jillette in the eyes and handed him a copy of the New Testament. The encounter did not change Jillette’s mind about the existence of God. However, this prompted him to make his most profound statement.

“How much do you have to HATE somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Jillette even admits, warning someone about the danger of hell is “even more important” than warning someone about being hit by a truck.

We begin a new series titled “Speak! Do not be silent!” not because Christians do not know the importance of evangelism. Chances are you know and you want to speak. But most of the time, we don’t know how to and/or we are afraid.

In this series, we trace Paul’s missionary journeys in order to learn how Paul proclaim Christ and contextualise the gospel to different groups of people. We hope that we will not just gain courage and conviction, but we will also be equipped to actually share the gospel.

We begin today by looking at Paul’s conversion. We shall learn that no one is beyond salvation and that every believer is commissioned by God to proclaim Christ.

Do You really hate gays?

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Rosaria Champaigne Butterfield was an English professor in Syracuse University, and a lesbian. As a proud and intellectual feminist, she taught women studies and spoke out against conservative and traditional sexuality and marriage. She was invited by various gay groups for speaking engagements and even gave a speech at gay pride marches. She advised the LGBT student group, wrote Syracuse University’s policy for same-sex couples, and actively lobbied for LGBT aims alongside her lesbian partner. She could never imagined herself to be a Christian…not even close. She proudly said that Christianity is not attractive whatsoever.

However, in 1997, God began to work in her life. Well, I think God had begun His work even before the foundation of the world. However, for her, God’s work started to manifest in her life then when a local pastor and his wife extended their hospitality to her and became friends with her. Two plus years later, she gave her life to Christ, left her old life, and began a total transformation of her life. Now, she is a wife, mother, and a wonderful Christian. We can say that perhaps it was because of the kindness of the pastor. Perhaps it was because of many coincidences in her life that guided her in her journey. But one thing is sure—God did not hate her, then and now.

The issue of homosexuality is not something Christians can ignore. It is before us, confronting us. We can choose to ignore. We can choose to condemn. OR, we can choose to engage, speak the truth in love, and extend our hospitality to them. Homo or hetero, God loves us all sinners.

Is Christianity Tolerant?

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The prevalent view out there is that Christianity is intolerant. It stems from the exclusive claims that our God is the only one true God and that Jesus is the only way for salvation. Therefore, the supreme virtue these days is the virtue of tolerance where everyone must embrace each other and no one is allowed to judge others as wrong.

However, this raises a few questions. Is Christianity the only worldview that is exclusive? Does having an exclusive worldview necessarily mean that one is intolerant toward others? What is tolerance anyway?

If we investigate honestly, we will find that all worldviews are actually exclusive. They are exclusive in the sense that they would deem other worldviews that are opposing to their worldview as unacceptable. Even those who claim that all religions are the same are actually exclusive, because they will claim those who disagree with them as unacceptable. However, having an exclusive worldview and being intolerant toward others are not necessarily together. It really depends on what the worldview actually teaches and it also depends on the person having the worldview himself or herself.

Furthermore, the definition of tolerance has changed in the past few decades. So, it is worth looking again at what we mean by tolerance before we answer the question whether or not Christianity, or any other worldview for that matter, is tolerant.

Glory to the Newborn King

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What is Christmas to you? To many people, Christmas is a holiday season. It is a time to spend and catch up with family. To others, it marks another shopping season. To some of you who are of Christian persuasion,
Christmas is about the birth of baby Jesus – cute, cuddly, baby Jesus, held by Mary, watched by Joseph, and with the shepherds and/or the wise men around.Unfortunately, to many people, Jesus is no more than a cute little baby that was born to bring a level of warmth and kindness into this world. Like a picture of a kitten that pops up in our screen in the middle of our busy day at work. Nice, refreshing, but that’s it, you go on with your work again.

To some Christians, Christmas is about the coming of a saviour. This is much closer to reality because that’s who Jesus is. Even his name means ‘God saves.’ However, I want to invite you to see Jesus as more than just a Saviour. He actually came as a king…the King of kings. The word ‘Christ’ is a royal term. Jesus is the Messiah King whose arrival was prophesied many years earlier. He came not just to save us. He came to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. He saves us so that we can enter His Kingdom. We must never understand Christmas as less than this.

In 1739, Charles Wesley wrote the Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and the lyrics aptly describe what Christmas is about.

Hark the herald angels sing: “Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim: “Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing: “Glory to the newborn King!”

Merry Christmas and may everyone bow down to this King of kings!

The blessing of wisdom

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Apostle John begins his gospel with this:

“In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

The ‘Word’ here is the Greek word ‘Logos’ which in Greek carries the meaning of the principle of divine reason and creative order. However, in John, Logos is not just a power or an attribute of God. Rather, Logos is actually another entity besides God the Father who incarnated in the human person of Jesus Christ. So, this is an amazing picture of the truth of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, who was there from the beginning, and who was the agent of all creation.

To the Israelites who were familiar with Old Testament writings, this might have brought to their mind the picture of the personified Wisdom in the writings of King Solomon in the book of Proverbs. In chapter 8 verses 22 to 31 especially, Solomon pictured Wisdom in a very elevated way: that God possessed her at the beginning of His work, that she was beside God as God created everything, and that she was a glad witness of God’s amazing creative work. By giving us this picture, Solomon wants us to appreciate the grandeur and the supremacy of Wisdom in such a way that we want to pursue her.

For us, though, who live in this side of history, we know that Jesus is the full embodiment of God’s wisdom. So, for us to pursue Wisdom means we pursue Jesus because He is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life. And the great news is that Jesus promises us whatever Lady Wisdom promised in Proverbs to those who listen to her, and more.