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Speak! Do not be silent!

By | From The Heart | No Comments

“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?

The Unknown God

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Recently I met someone on Swanston St and we got chatting (he was sitting on the bench opposite the church door – a good place to meet people and chat!). Easter was coming up so we got to talking about what we were going to do over the holiday period. I asked him if he knew what Easter was all about – why we had this 4-day holiday. He scratched his head and ummed and aahed, and finally said that he used to know, but couldn’t recall just now. That led to a good conversation about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and what it means for us. He knew about God (he had lived his whole life within striking distance of churches) but had never heard or understood how he could come to know God personally.

This retired man’s experience is not unique. The majority of people in Australia believe in God or some supreme being. And yet for most it’s not something that impacts their daily lives. Melbourne in the 21st century is not much different to Athens in the first century, where Paul introduced the citizens to the unknown God. The idols that people give their lives to are less conspicuous, and probably more familiar, but the ignorance of who God is and his plans and purposes for the people He created is the same. This is a great challenge for us who have come to know God through Christ. It’s a huge opportunity. If we don’t introduce them to Him, they probably will never know.

May God help and empower us to reach out and show by our lives and our words how they can really know God, whom to know is eternal (John 17:3).

Speak and do not be silent about Jesus

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The 2016 Census results are out and creating quite a stir. The percentage of people calling themselves Christian has fallen again. There are obviously many factors in this: The advertising campaign by militant atheists to encourage people to put down ‘no religion’ on the census form, following their successful pressure on the Bureau of Statistics to put the ‘no religion’ option first in the list; people who don’t have a personal faith being more honest about their lives; the damage of the horrific child abuse perpetrated in some churches, etc. Probably the major factor though is our reluctance as followers of Jesus to speak up and tell people the good news.

In spite of the unpopularity of ‘church’ and institutional religion in many minds, Jesus still rates highly in people’s estimation. According to a Bible Society survey, 54% of Australians believe him to be the most influential person in history. 83% believe that he is a real historical person.  34% believe he is the Son of God and Saviour of the world. These are encouraging statistics for us. They tell us that people are likely to be open to thinking about and talking about Jesus. If you haven’t yet broken the silence and spoken up for Jesus, why not start by asking someone “What do you think of Jesus?”, or “Do you know much about Jesus?”, or “Have you ever read the biography of Jesus?” or a similar question appropriate for your friend that might open up a conversation that points them to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Oh yes, and don’t forget to think about how you are going to respond to whatever answer they give to your question!

Give it a go and see where God takes you and them.

 

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!

Waiting for our man from Macedonia

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How does God guide us?

In our passage today the Lord gives Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia begging for help. This account has led some Christians to adopt a strategy of not going out to share the good news until they get a clear revelation of the specifics (country, people, place, etc). It points up the danger of using historical narrative to determine theology and mission practice. Whilst we must never discount the possibility that God might appear to us and give very specific instructions, He has made it pretty clear what we need to be doing with the good news he has entrusted to us. “Go therefore and disciple the nations….” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Do we need to wait for further instructions, when there are so many people groups and individuals who haven’t heard yet? Do we need to wait for our man from Macedonia (or Mongolia, Tasmania, Melbourne, next door or wherever) to appear in a vision and call for help? Someone has rightly said, “when you have a command, you don’t need a call”.

The details of the where, who and when may come to us as a matter of clear direction from God, or more likely by being realistic about our gifting, background, interests and passions, along with the advice of mature believers, all bathed in prayer and reading God’s word.

Disciple the nations is a pretty clear straightforward instruction. Why wait for your man from Macedonia (or anywhere else!) when the Man from heaven has already spoken? The nations are all around us, among us, especially here in Melbourne. What a privilege it is to point them to Jesus!