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From The Heart

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?

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!

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.

Fight or flight

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When we’re faced with danger, what causes us to either face it or to run? According to Wikipedia (that well-known medical source!) the fight or flight response is largely under the control of the autonomic nervous system, rather than conscious choice. People are often surprised by their own bravery (or lack of it!). They just ‘do what they have to do’.

How did the early messengers of the good news work out how to respond in the face of the many dangers they faced? It seems fairly clear from the accounts in the book of Acts that what drove their actions and decisions wasn’t instinct, but what was good for the gospel. Would the spread of the gospel be helped or hindered by staying or fleeing? We see this in action in the passage today (14:1-7). Their first response to opposition was to stay even longer, preaching boldly. But then when they got word of a plot to kill them, they moved on (fled is the word used). They had in mind a plan that was much bigger. Getting the gospel out even further to the ends of the earth, and that’s what they fled to. This was God’s plan too, of course.

What drives us in what we do to share the gospel? It’s worth thinking about. Passion for the glory of God and love for those who need the grace of God in the gospel have motivated his people down through the centuries. The treasure of the good news is now in our hands, to pass on. Let’s keep doing it, without fear for our ourselves!

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.

God’s power to rescue

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Generally we give our energy and time to things and people we have confidence in. Family, friends, colleagues, projects that capture our imagination or we think will succeed. For the early Christians, their confidence was in the good news of Jesus. They recognised that this message was what the world desperately needed and had the power to turn condemned sinners into saved saints. As Paul introduces his great treatise on God’s rescue mission (The Letter to the Romans), he lays bare the focus of his great confidence – the gospel. He unashamedly proclaims it to all. From Jews to Greeks, pagans to Pharisees, slaves to sovereigns, his belief was that no-one is beyond the reach of God’s powerful good news. All can come into God’s forever family through repenting of their sins and believing this message of rescue for broken and lost people. And he risked his life over and over again so that people could hear this message and have the opportunity to believe.

How are we going in getting this message out? If we’re tiring of doing it, or maybe not even started doing it yet, perhaps it’s time to do a reality check on how confident we are in the gospel. Do we really believe that Jesus is the only way for people to be made right with God? Do we really believe that God will do his work of convicting and saving people as we proclaim the message? Is it really God’s power to salvation for everyone who believes?

These are serious questions of eternal consequence. The eternal future of those who are yet to hear the good news is at stake. Let’s not let them down.