Church is Where You Find It

.... As we drive to church each Sunday, most of us pass a dozen other churches along the way. So let’s think about what that means! Different churches exist because their teachings vary, yet most of those differences are fairly small. As long as our doctrine agrees on the vital subjects of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (and thus, between them, the doctrine of the Trinity,) faith, grace, and the gospel, our differences are not nearly enough to break fellowship over. We still have more than enough unity to recognize each other as part of the body of Christ, and to remain brethren and co-pilgrims in the kingdom of God.
Now let’s bring this understanding back to our opening thought. Does ‘church’ occur inside an official building, like the ones we pass on Sunday mornings, or does it simply appear when Christians come together? In truth, church can occur just as easily in the home, in the market, in the neighborhood or even in the work place. It emerges spontaneously whenever and where ever Christians meet. Therefore, in it’s truest sense, church is where you find it:

.... "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."

(Matthew 18:20)

.... Based on this understanding, in each of my last three jobs, I’ve had a heart-to-heart talk with the other Christians who were there. We agreed to talk to each other about the Lord openly rather than privately, especially at breaks and at lunch, to openly show that we were Christians (Matthew 5:14-16). We would talk from a Christian perspective on any subject that might come up, and live out our beliefs with absolute sincerity. If others overheard us, we were always friendly, invited their comments, and tried to include them in our conversations. This cultivated a basic rapport which could lead to a gospel presentation:

.... "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

(John 13:35)

.... To the post-modern mind, this sort of community is an essential witness. Their minds have been poisoned against the faith through a perception of hypocricy, which has been amplified (often unfairly) through the bias of the popular media. So we must often build a bridge based on good fruits before we can earn a place for discussing the gospel with them.
.... Sometimes, we will just have to be patient. But remember that not everyone you meet will be in this 'wait-and-see' category, so please don’t allow this exhortation lull you into a false complacency. Others will be ready to hear the gospel at once so we must always be alert, in season and out of season’ for any opportunity that the Lord may bring our way (2 Timothy 4:2). Because at other times the opportunity to share will come in an instant, and completely unlooked for.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 16

Evangelistic Attitudes

..... In the course of evangelism, our attitude and persona can become inhibiting factors, even in ways that we may think of as being ‘good’. For example, if you have a flashy or an eloquent personality and you share the gospel that way, someone might hear you and believe – partly because of what Jesus did for them on the cross, and partly because you have so skillfully talked them into it. So is that a good thing, or a bad? Let’s consider the answer from a heavenly perspective:
In order to save us, God’s only Son was put to an open shame. The concept in His sufferings is of deepest humility. He is the senior partner in evangelism and we are the junior partners, His ambassadors, so our attitude should carefully reflect His lead (Matthew 9:38). Therefore, when our evangelism becomes mixed with personality-driven antics, it frets against God's whole purpose in presenting the cross. Put another way: when Jesus received slaps and men spit in His face, are we representing Him truly by projecting 'cooleness', dazzling with flirtatious smiles, dressing to impress, or using other forms of personal showmanship?

.... " . . . that no flesh should glory in His presence . . . that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'

(1 Corinthians 1:29-31)

.... When we present the gospel in such ways, we make ourselves way too much of a factor and God will not compete with us for the glory of our hearer's salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29-31). In fact, one of the reasons He follows up on our evangelism with miracles is to quickly skip past the evangelist, and establish a direct relationship with each person (1 Corinthians 2:5). He wants us to point to Him as best we can, without inserting ourselves in between!
Let’s use Paul as an example of this truer concept. In the natural, his bodily presence was weak and his speech was contemptible. When he spoke, some of his listeners would even mock him: ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ (2 Corinthians 10:10; Acts 17:18). Nevertheless within his mission team, Paul was the chief speaker (Acts 14:12).
.... Therefore, if anyone believed in Jesus through his word, it was because they listened to what he was saying, and believed in the One he was talking about. And since this was the Lord’s ultimate goal as well, He began working through Paul mightily:

.... "I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

(1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

.... So be a good junior partner and defer to the Lord in the first place, by remaining humble of spirit and by keeping a servant’s attitude, both to Him and toward man. If you won’t do this, it's true, He may still use your words to plant a seed, and He may try again to save this person in a future effort (see Philippians 1:18). But on the other hand if you are really unwilling to bend, you'll find God working in this area of your life to enforce a little more humility in the future -- and beyond any contradiction, you would not find this pleasant (1 Corinthians 1:29-31; Hebrews 12:11).
So remember that in Christ the Lord, we must always decrease and He must increase; and those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted in due time (John 3:30; 1 Peter 5:6).

.... "Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever."

(Daniel 12:3)

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 15

Witnesses of the Resurrection

.... After Jesus rose from the dead, He showed Himself alive to many persons by many infallible proofs (Acts 1:3). He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, then to the women who were with her, on the same morning that He arose (Mark 16:9; Matthew 28:9). After this He appeared to two of His disciples on their way to Emmaus, a city near Jerusalem, as they talked of His death three days earlier. And as they spoke He opened their eyes, to show them how the Messianic Prophecy foretold these things (Luke 24:13-32).
.... On the same day He appeared to the apostles, showing Himself first to Simon Peter, and then to the others later on the same evening. Once again, He traught them and opening their understanding of the ancient prophecies, to show how He'd fulfilled them (
Luke 24:33-45). With this information in place, and matched to their own experience in the life they shared with Him, the testimony of the prophets and the witness of the apostles could be fully compared:

.... "Search from the book of the LORD, and read: not one of these shall fail; not one shall lack her mate. For My mouth has commanded it, and His Spirit has gathered them."

(Isaiah 34:16)

.... After this, Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once; then to James, again to the apostles a number of times, and finally to Saul of Tarsus, who would later be known as the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Thus He appeared, not to all the people, but to special witnesses chosen beforehand by God, who ate and drank in His presence and handled Him with their hands after He had risen from the dead (Acts 10:41).
.... The fact that Jesus was seen after His resurrection by many witnesses is staggering in its scope. But it sometimes seems that we do not appreciate this element of the gospel as fully as we should, so please try putting yourself in the place of those witnesses in those days:
.... They had known Jesus in His lifetime and had actually seen Him die on the cross. They saw His broken body taken down and laid in the tomb, and watched as the stone was rolled in place. They knew for certain that He was dead – beyond any doubt dead, as dead as a man could possibly be, having suffered such a horrific death before their very eyes. Yet three days later, this very Person whom they had seen killed, whom they knew to be dead because they had seen the burial of His corpse, stood before them alive again – and He offered them perfect peace (Romans 1:4; Psalm 16:9-11).
.... Picture yourself among them, trembling and greatly amazed, as this man whom you knew to be dead showed you the nail prints in His hand and feet, and the place where they had pierced His side. As their fingers explored those nail prints, they touched the solid evidence that our sins were forgiven forever; and as they embraced Him and handled Him with their hands, they touched a tangible, living promise that we, too, would be raised again from the dead one day, to enjoy eternal fellowship with God through Him:

.... "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life– the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."

(I John 1:1-3)

.... When we share the gospel with others, we may not be able to say that Jesus appeared to us personally. We cannot say that we saw Him die, describe how He was laid in the tomb, or recount His ascension into heaven. But here is one thing we can say. That there were people alive at the time who actually saw these things, who left us a record that we might believe in Him. And their writings have been gathered together today in a book called The New Testament.
.... So if they want to see the testimony of those who actually knew Jesus and were witnesses to His resurrection, they may find it there. Because every writer in this book, except Luke, actually knew Jesus after He was raised from the dead, and saw Him in His glory. And Luke, the only exception, was like a reporter who gathered the eyewitness accounts of the others (
Luke 1:1-4):

.... "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

(John 20:31)

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 14

Seed Time, or Harvest?

.... In our previous posting we discussed the need for purity in a gospel presentation, because the gospel will not be able to save anyone if it is mixed with worldly wisdom such as philosophy or psychology (1 Corinthians 1:17). But someone will object to this and say, "That’s not fair to the listener! The evangelist may have known better, but how was the listener supposed to know? At least they were trying, which shows that they wanted to get saved!"

.... Neither is this point lost on the Lord, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). So how would Jesus handle a situation like this?

.... The Bible contains an example in the life of a man named Nicodemus. He came to Jesus on the basis of reason and logic, rather than a heartfelt belief in the gospel, and he came by night because he was apprehensive. Faith was obviously lacking in his appraoch and Jesus did not accept this, but neither did He abandon him. Instead, He corrected the situation and provided an example for the rest of us, including some literal applications of the spiritual truths involved:

.... "There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

(John 3:1-2)

.... Nicodemus came to Jesus (both literally and spiritually) with a confession in his mouth. He and some friends had reasoned it out: "We know that this man comes from God and here are our reasons; here are the reasons – and who can blame us?" Like Pascal, they had added things up. And in their heads, they had actually gotten it right! But their hearts were still not there, and faith requires a heartfelt response. Also, they needed a better focus on the gospel message itself (Romans 10:9).

.... To answer the whole group (of which Nicodemus was the spokesman), Jesus began by gently backing them away again. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (v 3). And then, in speaking to Nicodemus personally, He added, "Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’." (v 7). In other words Jesus was telling them, "Your type of approach will not bring you to salvation."

.... Nicodemus was confused. "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" (v 4). At this point, whatever else may be true of the same passage, he is no longer relating to Jesus through head knowledge, and Jesus even points this out to him: "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?" (v 9). He then shifts the discussion to the four points of the gospel, with an emphasis on trust and a connection from the heart:

.... "11. Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13. No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

(John 3:11-17)

.... Jesus was telling Nicodemus, ‘You cannot come to Me through mere human logic; you must back away and approach Me again, but this time come through faith in the gospel alone. Here is My heart toward you in this matter; come, let us have a meeting of the hearts." and He personally saw to it that Nicodemus had this opportunity.

.... Nicodemus did not respond at this time, but he remained quietly interested. Later he made a rather judicial stand for Jesus, though he did not seem to do very well with that either (John 7:50-52). It was not until Jesus was crucified that Nicodemus finally made a proper stand for Him, identifying himself with Jesus in His death -- and in His resurrection to come -- as an act of love and devotion to Him (John 19:38-40). So once again we see a literal application of the truth in his life.

.... In a similar way, if someone mixes the gospel with human wisdom (even if the listener is the one who introduces this information) then our senior partner in evangelism, the Lord Himself, will not abandon them. He will still try to work with them, for Jesus told us "the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out." (John 6:37). But He will probably start by backing them away again, to try again for a purer approach on another day. So if this seems to occur during your evangelism, and you have the opportunity to explain it politely, then in doing so you might find that the other day is today after all.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 13

Evangelistic Purity

..... As discussed in an earlier posting, God is the senior partner in evangelism and we are by far the junior partners, so let’s explore a further dimension of this partnership. In addition to the need for focus in our gospel presentation, there is a need for purity in the message itself. Jesus said that anyone who is not with Him is against Him, and those who are not gathering with Him are scattering abroad (Matthew 12:30). And this has a particular application in presenting the gospel message:

.... "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect."

(1 Corinthians 1:17)

.... In modern times it has become customary to mix a gospel presentation with logic, philosophy, psychology, scientific or archeological evidence, or other forms of worldly wisdom, though Paul expressly warned us not to do this. In such cases, we might expect God to honor the preaching anyway for the sake of the gospel that was included, but in fact the opposite is true. Because of the worldly wisdom we have mixed in, the preaching of the cross will be no effect instead. In other words, no one will be saved through hearing a message of this sort (Romans 1:16). It’s not that those other forms of wisdom are more powerful than the gospel; but rather, it's that the power of the gospel is in it’s purity.
.... As an example of a message that is mixed with worldly wisdom, you may have heard a mathematical approach to evangelism called ‘Pascal’s Wager’. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) examined all the possible responses to the gospel and their consequences. Basically, he stated that if God really exists and you believe in Him, you win everything; but if He didn’t exist and you believed, you lose nothing. Therefore, running the odds as a Las Vegas style bet, the safest response was to believe in Him.
.... As one may readily see, ‘hedging our bets’ is anything but a faith response to the gospel, and the gospel is the power of God to salvation for the one who believes (Romans 1:16). In this example, the gospel has been mixed with worldly wisdom so it will be ineffective for the listener’s salvation. Even if they ‘bet on God’ they will remain unsaved:

.... "Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame."'

(1 Peter 2:6)

.... Or perhaps you’ve heard similar logic through a popular catch-phrase: "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Clever sayings like these seem to offer the listener an intellectual appeal for believeing the gospel:
"You should believe the gospel because it’s the ‘wise’ thing to do. Your friends won’t laugh at you that way. They’ll think you're really smart." But an intellectual response is not a faith response either, so a person responding intellectually will remain unsaved as well (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). And arguments based on ‘scientific support’ fall into a similar category.
.... Or perhaps an evangelist may preach the gospel, but at the same time he'll introduce the listener to Christian psychological counselling in order to address their personal problems. In so doing he may explain that "Sometimes these things take a while." But this whole approach betrays his lack of confidence that the gospel itself is able to address their woes:

.... "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

(2 Corinthians 5:17)

.... Either we believe that God transforms us through receiving Jesus Christ, or we don’t; either we believe Him or we’re calling Him a liar (1 John 5:10). Has God’s arm been shortened? Has He spoken, and He is not able to bring it to pass? Why then would we not trust Him to fulfill His word? Because faith is the response He requires, and this means we must believe with all of our heart (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:9).
.... In each of those examples, an evangelist’s own doubt is being revealed. They are hedging their bets every bit as much as Paschal, but in the opposite direction. And in truth, deep inside, most of them are probably ashamed of the gospel. They are afraid that people will laugh at them for believing; they are ignorant of the true power that the gospel of Jesus Christ contains (1 Corinthians 1:18). Yet a true evangelist would answer them by saying:

.... "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."

(Romans 1:16)

We will continue this discussion in our next lesson. To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Mark 12

Focus Leads to Miracles

.... In our previous postings, we discussed how teachings and miracles go together in preaching the gospel: "the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs." (Mark 16:20). They are designed to correlate in a direct cause-and-effect relationship, so let's think about this correlation carefully:
.... If God supplies signs and wonders as a confirmation to the gospel, then our own role must include an initial, clear presentation of the gospel in order to lay the groundwork so a match-up can follow (Mark 16:15-20). If we actively set the stage in this way, then God will find the stage set to act upon. Therefore an evangelist must anticipate the Lord in all he is sharing to insure that his message stays on track:

.... "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

(1 Corinthians 2:2)

.... In this passage, Paul kept his preaching of the gospel very focused. He tried to exclude all other topics from the same discussion if possible, which kept his message pure. Thus, when God responded with miracles, it was perfectly clear what testimony He was responding to. With such a clear correlation to God's glory, the result was a flood of miracles as He confirmed the gospel of Jesus Christ through the matching signs:

.... "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

(1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

.... Through these miracles, God quickly drew the listener’s attention beyond the evangelist and directly to Himself, to establish a very personal relationship at the heart of their salvation – which is the greatest miracle of them all.
Yet sharing the gospel is not inflexible, so we don’t need to become robots about it. For example, it’s only fair to answer any questions your listener may have, especially in response to the immediate situation. Or we can discuss associated topics such as righteousness, self-control, or judgment to come (See Acts 24:25). There is a fair degree of flexibility, just try not to overdo it. Remember that if you discuss too many other things along the way, the gospel may become lost in the clutter and it may no longer be clear, in the mind of the listener, what God is responding to. So if you do have an opportunity to share the gospel and your listener starts to wander too far off subject, please do them a favor and try to gently steer the conversation back on course again.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 11

The Signs of the Gospel

.... In our previous posting we introduced the concept that miracles carry a testimony, to prove that an associated teaching is true. But let’s be more specific and discuss how God confirms the gospel itself through the accompanying signs:

.... And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

(Mark 16:15-20)

.... Signs always point to something, and the signs of the gospel point us back to the gospel to serve as an example and a testimony to it's power. For example, let's say you've presented the gospel and you've mentioned the stripes that Jesus received during His sufferings. You have also claimed, in accordance with the Scriptures, that "by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). The stage has been properly set for a 'sign' to follow this word, and point back to it.
.... If your listener responds with faith, you may lay your hands on them and pray for their healing. God will then confirm your word with a 'sign following', as a powerful, direct, miraculous healing occurs -- and when this mircale takes place, their faith will soar! For the kingdom of God is not in word only, but in power (1 Corinthians 4:20).
.... In fact, let’s discuss this testimony further. Their healing came through the stripes you just told them about. It confirms that Jesus really did receive those stripes, so it proves that your message to them was true (see Matthew 9:5-8). And not only that, it shows that Jesus cares for them individually, and that He is personally reaching out to share His life with them now. Through this, He demonstrates His desire to start a direct relationship in which He may show Himself strong on their behalf.
Or again, let’s say that you are sharing the gospel and someone cries out with a loud, guttural voice as a demon manifests itself. In the name of Jesus you command it to come out, and it quickly obeys. Great power has been shown through Jesus’ name – but another truth, in the context of the gospel message, has also been confirmed:

.... ". . . And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it."

(Colossians 2:14-15)

.... Jesus defeated the enemy through the cross, so the miracle we’ve just seen proves that He died to achieve this victory. It also proves that He lives again now to apply it – just like you preached to them! Since the same power was at work in the miracle, it proves that your message was true. (Do you see how it works?) In fact, the miracle is a natural result of the gospel being true – it’s the ‘fruit’ that grows naturally on this tree. We’ll discuss this further in the ‘comments’ section.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 10

Teachings and Miracles

.... In the course of reading the Bible, you may have noticed a correlation between teachings and miracles. Together they promote a testimony of who God is, and of what He is like. For example, Jesus fed 5,000 men (plus women and children, about 20,000 people in all), with just five loaves of bread and a few small fish. Then He followed up by teaching:

.... "I am the bread of life . . . the living bread which came down from heaven."

(John 6:48,51)

.... When He fed so many people with just five loaves, then claimed to be the Bread of Life, we had to stop and think about this seriously! A Person who can perform such a miracle certainly knows what He's talking about when it comes to bread! Maybe He is the Bread of Life! And that's an illustration of the miracle's purpose. For the kingdom of God is not in word only, but in power, and the miracle contained a testimony to verify that the word was true (1 Corinthians 4:20). It was a God-given ‘proof’ of the teaching's validity.

.... Other examples could be sited very easily. "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world," said Jesus; and suddenly a man who was born blind was able to see very clearly (John 9:5). The correlation in this case is obvious; for in addition to granting sight to the blind man, Jesus opened our own eyes in revealed a deeper truth about Himself.

.... Or again Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life" and in conjunction with His word, Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, came forth from the grave (John 11:25). Can you see the correlation, and the life that is contained in this testimony? For the teaching and the miracle complement each other again, to show us who Jesus is.

.... The LORD is known by the judgment He executes; the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Meditation. Selah.

(Psalm 9:16; see Psalm 75:1)

.... Every time God performed a miracle, something of His character was being expressed -- even if it was His sense of equity in judgment. The Hebrew word 'Selah', used above, means 'Let's think about this!' For by His miracles and His judgments we may know and understand Him better:

.... "But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the LORD. '

(Jeremiah 9:24)

.... Jesus uses miracles to confirm the words He gave (Psalm 75:1; 1 Corinthians 4:20). In each case, the underlying concept of the miracle matched the essence of the teaching, making the miracle a ‘proof’ that the teaching was true (John 14:10-11). The signs that follow the gospel are no exception for they confirm the truth of the gospel, and we will discuss them in our next posting.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 9

The Relay Runner (a parable)

.... In evangelism God works through us, and in the hearts of those who hear us, to confirm the gospel message that we are sharing (Philippians 1:28). In every way He is the senior partner and we are the junior, so we must learn to speak when we feel Him prompting us and to keep our message pure . . . and in other areas, we must even learn to stay out of His way. Evangelism is the great adventure and now it begins.
Think of God as a relay runner who has labored long and hard in the life of the person we are about to share the gospel with (Psalm 19:5). He has prepared their way and made their path straight – and now He is handing the baton to you, to assist in their effectual calling. The prize is their salvation; and on behalf of this person you must run in such a way as to obtain it:

.... "Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air."

(1 Corinthians 9:26)

.... Like our relay runner, you must compete according to the rules and try to keep your message on track (2 Timothy 2:5). You must be a team player, which we'll discuss in a moment. Furthermore your attitude in evangelism must always be humble, in deference to God Himself, so that you are never found to seek your own glory. If you’re out there running and pumping your arms, you had better not be doing it for a personal show, because God allows no flesh to glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:29).
.... In all of this, you must set your sight on the runner ahead of you and guide every step toward him with a sense of purpose, so the hand-off will be perfect. That relay runner will be God again, and a large part of the progress He makes afterward will depend on your matching stride with Him now, as you are still approaching, as on you give Him something to run with. So you must anticipate Him in this sense, and keep His next steps in mind.
When we share the gospel, the hour is quietly dramatic. The candidate’s whole purpose in life, and all that they’ve experienced with God to date, will come to it’s moment of truth. The role that we play is incredibly vital yet it is also intrinsically weak, and here is why:
.... To some extent the candidate will believe the gospel, at first, simply because they are taking your word for it. God allows this as a first step but He wants to go beyond it very quickly, to draw their faith directly to Himself and establish His own relationship with them:

.... "that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

(1 Corinthians 2:5)

.... This is the situation we must anticipate from the beginning. It brings us to the signs that will follow the gospel and their purpose in helping new Christians establish a direct relationship with God. Here is where your teamwork plays a vital role because it prepares the way for miraculous manifestations in their lives. Miracles are an awesome topic, and we will address them further in our next posting.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 8

The Effectual Calling

. .... In our previous module we discussed God’s efforts in drawing people to Himself, as He prepares their hearts to receive Jesus. To this point, He has generally worked alone in their lives; but now it will come full circle as He involves other Christians in their lives. This is where evangelism begins.
.... Evangelism is actually the most crucial stage of God's effort. It links all of His preparation to an actual conversion experience through a gospel presentation. This crucial event is sometimes referred to as our ‘effectual calling’; and for the person who is hearing the gospel it is the supreme moment of truth of their entire life. So before going further, let’s recap the four basic points of the gospel, which we will need to share with them:
1. An understanding of who Jesus is (see Romans 10:9)
2. Jesus died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.
3. Jesus was raised again on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
4. Jesus was seen, after His resurrection, by many witnesses.
.... Sharing the gospel can take place very spontaneously, perhaps during a chance encounter with a person you’ve never even met before. For this reason, Paul tells us to "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2). But not all evangelism will take place on the spur of the moment. Especially if you are trying to reach family, friends and co-workers, time will play more of a role and it will allow another dimension to grow in significance.
.... In short, words are cheap. Those who have an opportunity to observe your life over an extended period of time will be far more convinced by the fruit they see; and only then might some of them open their hearts for you to share the gospel with them. So in a whole further sense, as our very lives speak of Jesus constantly, they must see Jesus Himself written in our hearts:

.... "Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart."

(2 Corinthians 3:3)

.... During the Discipleship Introduction Module, everyone was encouraged to begin a significant Bible Study Routine of their own. There is really no replacement for this discipline, so how are you doing? Allow us to encourage you anew, that your light may shine before men and that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven; and that you may adorn the gospel of God -- which you are sharing with them -- with praise (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 7

Predestination (Phase 3)

..... God works in the life of every person in a sincere effort to bring them to Christ, for He is not willing that any should perish but that all come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth (2 Peter 3:9; Ephesians 1:11-12). He makes a sincere and, depending on the degree of need, even a very powerful effort to reveal Himself to all men, in order to offer this relationship effectively. In Scripture, this working is called ‘predestination’, which we have divided into three ‘phases’ for discussion purposes.
Predestination Phase 1 may be considered the ‘introduction’ as God reaches out to each one of us, in helping us identify with Jesus in His humility. If we respond with an initial humility of our own and glorify Him, He will 'call' us, and move us on to Phase 2. This is the transition phase, which will prepare our hearts for actually coming to Christ and move us from sinner to saint. We discussed this in our previous article. When it is fulfilled we will actually be saved, and 'Phase 3' will follow as an ongoing work of the Lord in our lives.
.... Even though we have described ‘phases’ in a strictly practical sense, the reader should not lose track of the real heart of this matter: We are talking about a budding relationship as we become acquainted with God through Jesus, and as we are drawn closer to Him over time, leading to a covenant relationship (John 6:44). And therefore, once we've actually become saved, ‘Predestination Phase 3’ is about making that relationship deeper and deeper:

.... "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren."

(Romans 8:29)

.... The crucial link between ‘Phase 2’ and ‘Phase 3’ is the gospel presentation and the individual response, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘effectual calling’. At this stage God works through someone who is already a Christian in order to reach the candidate and bring them to a place of committment. He has truly been the senior partner in this entire effort, the Lord of the Harvest, and now He is giving us a relatively small but very crucial role. And as we become His junior partners in evangelism, He wants to work very closely with us as well. We will begin this discussion in our next posting.
Once again, we know that some will consider this whole ‘background’ of election and predestination a major rabbit path from the true basics. But those who are just coming to the Lord will relate to it very strongly because it will help explain the mystical elements that they have experienced in bringing them to this point. Thus, for them, it can offer a powerful insight with a profound and very personalized effect in helping them believe, and in firmly grounding them in their new faith. So we wanted to include a basic discussion in this special module for their sakes.

You have now completed the Pre-evangelism Module. To begin the Evangelism 1 Module, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Mark 6

Predestination (Phase 2)

.... Through "Predestination Phase 1", God chooses certain people whom He will draw to Himself through Christ, but this also presents them with a formidable new challenge. Since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, they are still reluctant to face the Light of Jesus because it would also mean facing the truth about their own sinfulness:

.... "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

(John 3:20-21)

.... Yet the same passage offers them hope as God undertakes additional works for the purpose of drawing them near. This is "Predestination Phase 2". Because He prepares their hearts in this way, it will change them just enough to be able to face the light of Jesus without turning aside. In fact, when they eventually do come to Him, they'll look back on it all and see how His handiwork had helped prepared them for this hour.

.... "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth . . . He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment . . .."

(John 16:7-13 )

.... God sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment in relation to Jesus Himself. Through this Divine effort, works of truth are initiated in the life of those who are called, that ‘he who does the truth’ may soon approach the light of Christ, and be saved. This is the step between their calling and their salvation. But still, in a practical sense, what will this effort actually look like, or what form will it take?
The answer came to me one day as I was reading John 1:6-7, and one of those ‘unthinkable thoughts’ popped into my head. The passage spoke of John the Baptist:
.... 'There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.’
.... "That’s almost sounds like a Divine characteristic." I caught myself thinking, "but of course, John was not Divine." But with that stray thought my understanding was suddenly opened, and a crowd of supporting Scriptures came rushing in. .

.... In those early days, before the Holy Spirit was given, people came to Jesus because of the ministry of John the Baptist. In other words, he was a forerunner of the Holy Spirit’s own ministry, a human representation of that ministry, which is an almost indescribable honor. And for this reason Jesus would say of John:

.... "For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist."

(Luke 7:28)

.... John prepared the way of the Lord and made His paths straight by turning the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (Luke 1:17). Like the Holy Spirit Himself, he would teach them of sin, righteousness and judgment, in relation to Christ who was about to come. In a practical sense he taught the fear of God, the need for repentance, truthfulness, a willingness to share, and the need for basic honesty (Psalm 15:1-5; Luke 3:6-18).
Of course, no one was actually saved through John’s ministry. Nor was that the intention in itself. But by following the ‘works of truth’ that he preached, the listener's hearts was reshaped just enough to be able to face the Light of Christ when He came. Thus, when John saw Jesus and cried out, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" Immediately they were able to follow Him. (John 1:36-37).

..... So how might this working appear in our own time, now that the Holy Spirit has suceeded John and brought the fullness of this intention in being, and perhaps even personalized it?
.... To begin with, those who are ‘called’ (though not yet saved) will begin to see a more focused emphasis on truth in their lives. Truth and it's sister, justice, will become increasingly important concepts to them, for in learning to appreciate truth they will feel inclined to act accordingly (John 5:33; 16:13).
.... For some of us, this may be a long, subtle process, perhaps owing itself to a religious background in their lives, culture or family. For others, who grew up in a different environment, the change may be more pronounced. But as they seek to improve their behavior, their own, sincere pursuit will also demonstrate their personal limitations in achieving what is right, and thus their further need for Jesus:

.... "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find."

(Romans 7:18)

.... Righteousness and sin will become subjects they think about too, and thoughts of an eventual judgment will sometimes worry them (John 16:8-11). But this will not occur with a sense of hopelessness. They will begin, instead, to feel the need for a change, with a growing sense of urgency. Often, during this period, they may try to feel better about themselves through avenues they already understand such as dieting, fitness clubs, trying to stop smoking, new forms of studies, or generous forms of social involvement. These and many other such initiatives may be telltale signs of the discomfort they are feeling due to the underlying conviction of sin in thier lives.

.... Can you think of occasions like those in your own life, before you came to the Lord? Or have you seen these signs in your family or friends? (If so, please add some examples in the 'comments' section). All of these deep, moody impressions are designed to get us thinking, and hopefully to respond, to prepare our hearts for receiving the gospel – which we will discuss in our next posting.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 5

Results of Predestination (Phase 1)

.......Through predestination (phase 1), God begins an extensive, multi-layered outreach to each one of us in an effort to see us saved (We're assuming you’ve read the previous postings). Then He'll watch patiently to see our response. If we answered humbly and acknowledge Him, and are thankful, we will be ‘called’ us at that point, and God will begin a further work to actually bring us to Jesus (which we call 'Predestination Phase 2').
Through this ‘evaluation’ at the end of Phase 1, the truth behind God’s calling will appear. To be chosen by God never carried an actual criteria on our part – nothing at all – but rather, almost a lack of it, as we humbly trust in Him rather than ourselves. And this was His intention all along:

.... "For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption– that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord."

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

.... Thus, no one is called or refused because of their own works, will, or efforts, whether good or bad. God has mercy on them because of the humility He sees in them – and even that is the result of His own efforts in teaching them, drawing them, working through their circumstances – and yes, even humbling them. But even so, this understates what is actually happening because it omits the crucial, personal connection:
.... Remember that Jesus Himself was crucified in weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4). In every way, He emptied Himself of reputation and took the form of a servant both to God and to man, when He came into the world (Philippians 2:5-11). And in response to His humility, God has highly honored and exalted Him (Isaiah 42:1):

.... "The stone that the builders re- jected became the chief corner- stone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

(Psalm 118:22-23)

.... In like manner, those who are chosen by God have identified with Jesus in His humility, and this becomes the basis of a relationship that will allow them to draw close to Him:

.... "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones . . ."

(1 Peter 2:4-5)

.... In the ‘comments’ section below, we’ll discuss what happens for those who do not respond with humility, and in our next posting we’ll address Predestination Phase 2. But for now, please think of those occasions that God ordained in your own life in order to draw you near to Him. Isn’t it true that you responded with humility at some point and glorified Him, and afterward things began to change for you?

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 4

Predestination (Phase 1)

.... Before meeting Jesus, every person has a problem with sin. Therefore, when we are faced with the light of Jesus Christ for the first time, we will always find it difficult responding to Him. We will desire, instead, to withdraw from Him and avoid the whole issue. This reluctance is so universal in its scope and so crippling in its effect that none of us would ever approach the Lord on our own (Romans 3:10-12); yet God so passionately desires to save each person that He generously makes another, initial effort in reaching out to each one of us. This effort may be called ‘Predestination Phase 1'.
.... Predestination occurs in three phases, and this initial phase is the oddest of the three. First, it applies to everyone, whereas the latter two phases apply only to those who have responded to the phase one, who are thereafter referred to as 'called' (Acts 17:27).
.... Second, this phase of presdestination pertains, not to the people themselves, but to their outward circumstances as special occasions are predestined in their lives.
.... And third, those circumstances offer a hope that each person might seek the Lord and find Him, but they do not guarantee this result (Romans 8:24). That part will depend on the individual's own, free-will response (Revelation 22:17).
.... Let’s have a closer look at this phase in the Scriptures, going back to the original Greek to obtain a slightly more conceptualized rendering:

.... "He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has ordained their pre-appointed occasions, and the limits of their conditions, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring'. Therefore, since we are the offspring of God . . ."

(Acts 17:26-29)

.... Predestination Phase 1 nudges individuals toward seriously considering God for the first time because of the situations God brings to pass in their lives. In a fateful hour, an initial connection will be made that will cause them to stop to think about Him seriously. Perhaps there will be a narrow escape from death, a rescue unlooked for, or some other form of deliverance; or perhaps a blessing beyond all possible hope, in which they will see His hand (Psalm 68:20; Romans 2:4).
.... For others of us, in a less dramatic way, the same result may spring from a persistent religious culture or background that gradually influences our thoughts. However it may come to pass, each person will finally perceive that God knows them and cares for them personally, and that He seems to be reaching out to them (Acts 17:26-27).
.... Furthermore let's remember that God teaches us both inwardly and outwardly (as described in an earlier posting), so this, too, plays an influential role. Jesus said that we shaill ‘all be taught by God’; but in the same pasage He warns that only some of us will humble ourselves enough to hear Him and actually learn from Him (John 6:45). Through this effort our great moment of truth has arrived, and by it the Lord begins to draw all men to Himself (John 12:32; 6:44).
.... In Predestination Phase 1, God takes a lot of initiative on our behalf, but then He awaits our response to see where we’ll go from there. We'll discuss that further in our next posting. But for now, please think back on your own life before you came to the Lord. What were some of the events that shook you awake, and made you stop to think about Him? If your friends participated in those same events, maybe God was reaching out to them at the same time? Or maybe they’ve told you of some other events of a similar magnitude? Those events may very well contain the clues you need, in giving you something to talk to them about.

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Daily Bible Reading: Mark 3