Everyday Missionaries

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him earnestly that he might remain with him. Jesus did not let him but told him, “Go home to your own people and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed. – Mark 5:18-20 (CSB)

While coming into the region of the Gerasenes, Jesus encountered a man possessed by a legion of demons. After casting them out into a herd of pigs that then jumped off a cliff, the people of the land asked Jesus to leave. He did, and as he was departing, the man who had been possessed begged to go with him.

But Jesus had different plans for the man. He told him to return to his own people and tell them how much God had done for him.

Sometimes Jesus calls us on an epic journey of faith that takes us well beyond our comfort zones to proclaim the gospel far and wide. Other times, Jesus tells us to go home—but even then it is with the same task: Tell others about what Jesus has done for you.

Some of us have stories, like this man, where we were radically saved from a situation or lifestyle that brought great harm. Others of us lived generally as “good people” according to the world’s standards, but came to realize that didn’t keep us from being desperate sinners against God who chased our own heart idols instead of worshiping him.

Whatever our background, our salvation is a great act of God where he does infinitely more for us than what we deserve. Saved by grace, we each have a story to share with others. We each are called to be everyday missionaries.

Maybe that means that Jesus will lead you to get into the boat with him and go to some region far from home. Maybe that means that Jesus will tell you to stay and share with your friends, family, and neighbors. Either way, tell others the story of the great things that God has done for you.

Mark 5_19

Picture taken and modified from pixabay.com

Faith Conquers Fear

A great windstorm arose and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was a great calm. Then he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:37-40 (CSB)

People have many things to fear. Do a google search for the number of phobias and you will run into seemingly unending lists. Whatever our own individual fears might be, we find this truth in the gospel: Faith conquers fear.

One evening, Jesus wanted to cross the sea with his apostles and so they left the crowds behind and set sail in a boat. While on their way, a great windstorm arose that frightened even the seasoned fishermen. And where was Jesus? Asleep.

The disciples had been with Jesus long enough to know that he was someone special, though they hadn’t yet fully come to realize his nature as the God-Man, our Savior-King. So, they woke him and asked if he even cared that they were going to die?

Jesus responded first by rebuking the winds and second by rebuking their lack of faith. The first act reminded them that he was the Son of God, and therefore the Sovereign over the universe. Every molecule in the rushing air and crashing seas obeyed his voice. The second act reminded them that they were his followers and instead of fear they needed to trust.

Faith trusts that God is in charge and he will take care of his people. He will keep us safe on earth as he wills to keep us safe, and even when he wills that death should overtake us, he will keep us safe by bringing us home to him.

This is why, especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles learned to stare down danger and remain faithful to God’s leading on their life. In prison, knowing he was going to die at the hands of Roman officials, Paul said, “The Lord has kept me safe and he will keep me safe” (2 Timothy 4).

The world might give you many reasons to fear. Your own proclivities might lead you to fear. Your Father in heaven, however, says, “Have no fear, I will take care of you regardless of what you see happening.” So, entrust your life and your fears to him and let his word and Spirit strengthen you.

Faith conquers fear.

Mark 4_39

Image taken and modified from pixabay.com

The Seed and the Soils

Jesus said, “Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and their birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil and it grew up quickly, since the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit. Still other seed fell on good ground and it grew up, producing fruit that increased thirty, sixty, and a hundred times.” ~ Mark 4:3-8 (CSB)

In Mark 4, Jesus tells the crowds a series of parables, or illustrative stories Jesus used to make a spiritual point. The first was about a sower with seed and the different types of soils he encountered. When his apostles asked for an explanation, Jesus gave it in 4:13-20.

The seed is scripture, or God’s word. The sower is a person sharing God’s word with others. The soil is the condition of the listener’s heart. The path is where no soil exists and the seed of the word produces no fruit. The rocky soil is the person who hears and initially has great joy in the gospel but hard times cause them to walk away. The thorny and weedy soil is the person who also initially hears with joy but worries or desire for riches or other distractions draw them away. The good soil is the person who hears, responds in true faith, and has a life that is forever transformed by Jesus.

This parable tells us several things:

First, we should have no prejudice in spreading the gospel. We are tempted to think that certain people or certain types of people would surely never respond to God’s word, and we think others should hear it and believe in Jesus with no problem. The reality is, we don’t know the condition of a person’s heart-soil. We can’t see that deep. Jesus didn’t tell us to try to figure out the soils; he told us to sow the seed. Any person anywhere who will give us an ear is a person with whom we are called to share the gospel.

Second, we should be prepared when people walk away. As followers of Jesus, we often aren’t surprised by people who flat out reject the gospel. That’s the natural way of the human heart in its sin until our will is turned to Christ. We also aren’t often surprised by people who receive the gospel. That’s the whole point of evangelism, after all, to see people come to know and follow Jesus.

But we do get caught off guard by those who seem to be in love with Jesus and then they walk away. Yet, these represent half the responses in Jesus’ parable. Everybody dreams of a better life with more joy and purpose. Sometimes, the message of Jesus will pique a person’s interest due to the offer of an eternally joy-filled life. Yet, when they realize that doesn’t mean freedom from hardships now, or when the next big thing in their minds comes along, then they walk away.

They lacked a faith that truly sees heart-transformation. It should sadden us. We should pray that they would come to see the light of Christ clearly and truly follow him. But it shouldn’t surprise us. After all, Jesus told us to expect.

Third, a true Jesus-follower will experience life transformation. Good seed (which the gospel is always good seed) that falls on good soil produces fruit. Most often in the New Testament such symbolism of fruit represents a changed character—such as the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Not everyone will grow and change at the same rate—Jesus spoke of different amounts of fruit: thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. But a person who has truly committed their life to Jesus will experience spiritual growth. The good fruit of good character will become more and more evident in their lives.

Let us share the gospel with everyone who will listen. Then as that seed sprouts to growth, let us keep watering and fertilizing it with prayer, Christian fellowship, and more of God’s word to see it grow and produce more and more.

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Mark 4_8

Image taken and modified from pixabay.com

The Eternal Family

Jesus replied to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking at those sitting in a circle around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” ~ Mark 3:33-35

When we come to Jesus, we find that he redefines family. Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were looking for him and his response was to say that those who belonged to God, doing his will, were his brother, sister, and mother. Here we find several realities about family:

First, our eternal family is our spiritual family. This was Jesus’ main point—since the promise he made to Abraham in Genesis 12, God has been setting aside a people for himself. Through Jesus, God’s people come from every background and ethnicity. But God isn’t simply creating one eternal nation out of many, no he’s also creating one eternal family out of many. We pray and we hope that our physical family is among them, but it’s God’s people, other followers of Jesus, with whom we will spend eternity.

Second, God is the true Father. When Jesus listed out the family relationships, he left father off the list. This was not by mistake. Yes, Joseph served as his earthly father, the dad who raised him for a time. But, Jesus is the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father. No one else can take that place. God’s loving Fatherhood extends to us as well. Whether we had good earthly dads, bad earthly dads, or absent earthly dads, through Jesus we have the perfectly good, always present Eternal Father who loves us.

Third, Jesus wasn’t saying our earthly families aren’t important. God is the one who told us, “Honor your father and mother.” Over and over the Bible highlights the importance of an earthly family and our task to love them and care for them. As much as we are able, we should celebrate our earthly families, especially when there is mutual love present. Instead, Jesus was saying that our eternal family is even greater. We want our earthly families to be a part and to join us in celebrating Jesus. Some, however, have families who not only refuse to do this, but will even threaten and persecute a person for following Jesus. If that happens, we still have our eternal family—we still have a place to belong.

Family is important. Our spiritual family through Jesus is eternal.

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Mark 3_35

Image taken and modified from pixabay.com

The Unforgivable Sin

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” ~ Mark 3:28-30 (CSB)

Toward the end of Mark 3, we find one of the most debated sections of the gospel. Jesus, when confronted by his family and the Jewish religious leaders as he cast out demons, spoke of a sin that would not be forgiven. He warned that every sin committed had the possibility of forgiveness except for one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Many have debated and others have fretted over the meaning of Jesus’ statement.

To understand what Jesus intended, we must first remember that we can never divorce a verse or two from its context. A passage of Scripture (or any other thing written or said, for that matter) does not mean something simply because we as the reader or hearer want it to mean that thing. It has a meaning found within the intent of the author and his/her context.

In this case, though confronted by his family and leaders, Jesus did not directly rebuke his family’s statement of “He’s out of his mind,” though this also was not true. Instead, he honed in on the statement of the scribes: “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons.” (3:22)

Jesus first responded to the absurdity of the prince of demons casting out his own demons. He said, “If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished” (3:26). In other words, Satan would be dumb to work against himself. The Bible describes Satan as crafty, cunning, and deceitful as the enemy of God’s people, but not dumb.

Then Jesus made his statement in 3:28-29 in response to the scribes’ words of “He has an unclean spirit.”

In other words, the scribes were opposing Jesus by attributing the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan. Here we have the unpardonable sin: A so thorough rejection of the Spirit’s work through Jesus, and thus a thorough rejection of Jesus, so as to call the work of the Spirit evil.

But there also seems to be another element to this. The scribes weren’t men of a different religion, or even no religion, who thought Jesus’ ways were false. No, these were men well-educated in the Old Testament, who claimed to follow the One True God, were zealous for their religion, and should have realized from the prophecies that Jesus was their Messiah.

These are men who would seem to fall into the description of Hebrews 6:4-6

For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away…

They had every reason to know better, yet they ascribed the Spirit’s work through Jesus to the forces of darkness instead of to God.

So, we should know that the unforgivable sin is real, and it should challenge us to persevere in our faith, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. But we should not get bogged down in fear, worried that we have said a wrong word or thought a wrong thought and committed it.

This sin is a complete rejection of Christ and the Spirit’s work, not a temporary slip such as Peter experienced when he denied Jesus three times before being restored to repentance. And as C. E. B. Cranfield said, “We can say with absolute confidence to anyone who is overwhelmed by the fear that he has committed this sin, that the fact that he is so troubled is itself a sure proof that he has not committed it” (as quoted in William Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark).

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Focus on the Few to Reach the Many

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. ~ Mark 3:13-15 (CSB)

Jesus dealt with large crowds with love and compassion, but his main focus wasn’t on the crowds. Jesus’ aim was to grow his kingdom people, faithful to him, and he has been doing that throughout the ages as countless millions have come to follow him. But he started this endeavor by devoting the majority of his attention to twelve men (one of which would betray him, so eleven faithful men).

Now this might seem unusual. If you want to reach the crowds, wouldn’t you focus on the crowds? That might seem like the way to go, but from what we see with Jesus, the key to reaching many is to focus most intensely on a few.

Jesus worked to train up eleven who, after three years, he would release to go into the world and make more disciples of him.

In The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman wrote:

“[Jesus’] concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public…

“Jesus devoted most of his remaining life on earth to these few disciples. He literally staked his whole ministry on them.”

The principle in working with a few to reach a multitude is the principle of multiplication. If a few faithful persons spend time sharing Jesus with and training a few faithful persons who then go and spend time sharing Jesus with and training a few faithful persons, the results begin to compound.

What if one person were to invest three years in just three other people, teaching them about Jesus and his word and how to live faithful to Jesus, and then send each of these out to do the same while he/she picks up three more people to invest in?

At the start, you would have just one trained disciple-maker. At the end of year 3, you would have four. At the end of year 6, you would have sixteen; and at the end of year 9, fifty-two. These numbers don’t seem impressive, but if you keep going, after 21 years, you have 16,384; and after 27 years, 262,144; and then in 48 years that number jumps to 4.29 billion. (1)

In other words, a few devoted to reaching a few can change the world in a generation.

Paul understood this as well, which is why he told Timothy as a church leader to entrust the gospel “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Real life rarely works according to formulas, and no person can force another to be saved. Salvation through Jesus comes only by the work of the Holy Spirit through the message of the gospel. But if we set our sights on multiplication, like Jesus and Paul, to train up a few who can train up a few who can train up a few, then we may very well see the gospel spread in massive ways.

(1) Assuming I have my numbers right…

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Discipleship 01 (Coleman)

Image taken and modified from pixabay.com

The “Faith” of Demons

And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” – Mark 3:11

Large crowds often followed Jesus as a result of healings that people received. Some of these healings included the release from demonic or unclean spirits. Here in his gospel, Mark records that these spirits would cry out truths about who Jesus was.

Also, in Matthew 8:29 we also see demons crying out from within possessed men: “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

It would seem, then, that at least in some respect demons and unclean spirits have good theology and faith in Jesus, but this didn’t stave off their condemnation. James spoke to this issue in his letter. He wrote, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19). This is in James’ larger teaching on the role of faith and works.

This is what we find consistently taught through the Bible: We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. As James wrote, “Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

What set the faith of the demons apart from those who have faith in Jesus that saves is the works that the faith produces. The demons believed right things about Jesus, but their works set them against the Kingdom of God. People who have a faith that saves have good works that flow from their faith which demonstrate a growing love for Jesus and his Kingdom.

Simply put, if we say that we believe in Jesus but we’re known more for a dislike of people than love, for bitterness more than a joy, for meanness more than kindness, for conflict more than peace, for a lack of control more than self-control, for impatience more than patience, etc., then we have grounds to ask: Is our faith really better than that of the demons?

True belief in Jesus manifests itself in practical love for God and others. How is the fruit of your faith?

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.