Posts Tagged ‘witnessing’

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Deliberately Declaring a Dependent Gospel: Acts 17 and Evangelism…

May 9, 2013

I have written before about the urban witness in light of Acts 17 (read here) recently I was blessed to spend some time at a missions conference at Hunter Street Baptist church in Birmingham, AL.  I was there to discuss church planting and the motivation for witnessing to those around us.  Below is my exposition of the text of Acts 17:26-28.

Upper_East_Side_of_Manhattan_New_York

As I have spent the past two years processing a call to plant a church in New York City and as we now prepare to commence that work on site, there has been one text that has impacted my vision of more than any other.  With every visit to the city, nights spent there, days engaged there, the truth contained in the text has been confirmed over and over again.

When I first began to go to the city, I was overwhelmed by its size and complexity.  So many people, so little space.  It is easy to view this concentration as somehow incidental, some random function of economics and sociology.  Yet through the lens of Scripture and in light of our knowledge of God, the reality of the city’s purpose becomes clear.

In Acts 17, Paul is talking to the men of Athens at the Areopagus.  They have surrounded themselves with idols to every god known to man, but they have reserved one space empty for the ‘unknown god’ and it is in the name of this god that Paul begins to speak.  He begins at the beginning, a very good place to start; he explains that they are not unknown to this unknown God.  This God has in fact created them, and all the people of mankind.  He has determined the time and the place that they all live.  He has done this so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  For whether they realize it of not, it is in Him that we “live, move and have our being.”  This is no manmade golden God, it is the God of the universe that made man.  God now commands all men to repent.  And Paul explains the gospel of Christ’s resurrection.  Some received his words, some rejected it outright, some walked away in contemplation.

Deliberate

This is one of those key passages of scripture where God lifts the veil, if only for a moment, and exposes the unfathomable counsel of His will.  When we look at cities and we consider their existence and construction, and we dwell on the fact that for the first time in human history more people are living in urban areas than in any other time in human history; we can not deny the hand of God is at work.  God determines the time that each and every person exists and He draws the boundaries of their dwelling places.  This kind of deliberate action on His part should amaze us, and it should inform our lives and our mission.  We do not serve a random God.  He is deliberate.  This should spur us to be deliberate and intentional.  God has not called us to wander, He has called us to Go.  When Jesus charged His disciples, He did so with geographic intentionality.  They were not to randomly scatter across the globe, rather they were to go to Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then the utter-most parts of the earth.  In Acts, we see His overwhelming orchestration in the collection of disciples in Jerusalem, and then their dispersal to almost every city in the Mediterranean.  Paul was sent, city by city, to proclaim the gospel to the souls God had providentially gathered together in cities across the Roman empire.  We have to recognize our place in this paradigm.  God has called us and placed us with the same meticulous intent, and for the same glorious purpose.

Declaring

God has brought people together and concentrated them in cities for a purpose, so that those who do not know Him, might find Him.  How does this happen?  How do these people find God?  The irony in this text is that the Athenian men, listening to Paul, were unaware of just how close God was to them at that moment.  He was there in His omnipresence to be sure, but He was also present in the Word Paul proclaimed to them.  God was as close as the spoken word is to the ear.  As Paul, indwelled by the very Spirit of God proclaimed the Word,  the Word who was with God and was God and is God was very much present.  The lost that God has gathered together find Him when we share and proclaim His Word.  He has His sheep in every city, they hear His voice and they follow Him.  This should fill us with awe and wonder.  Not only are we the vehicles of God’s divine pursuit of the lost, but we get to bring God close to those around us when we share and proclaim His Word.  What a privilege.

Dependence

Paul proclaimed a particular message to these men.  He informed them that this ‘unknown’ God is the reason these men exist.  He made all of mankind and mankind is totally dependent upon Him for their lives and for their salvation.  Their response should not be one of ignorance, but of repentance.  The call to repentance is a call to proclaim your total dependance upon God.  God alone can provide salvation from judgement; and when we repent we acknowledge that our sins are great but we recognize that our God is greater.

Response

Cities are not accidental, they are the deliberate act of a loving God.  God has a divine intention in bringing men and women into close proximity with one another, so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  As believers, we must recognize our role in His plan.  When we love those around us, when we share His Word, when we display our dependance on Him, we are in fact bringing God within reach of those in need.  The question is not whether God is present in your city; the question is do your lost neighbors, co-workers and family members see His presence in your life?  For “how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

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Worried About Witnessing? Don’t be….

August 29, 2012

A member of your church tells you that he really wants to share his faith, but is afraid to do so. How would you respond to him?

I would first say that he should be very encouraged and thankful that he has a real desire to share his faith. A real mark of a believer, someone who has been born again by the “living” and abiding word of God is and should be a desire to proclaim the excellencies of “Him who called us out of darkness and into light.”(I Pet. 2:9) Indeed it is for this reason we have been called, to be a witness to all the nations. (Matt 28:19) I would then say that I understand the fear that comes with that calling, it is a natural foe that we all must face but one that we have been empowered to defeat to the glory of God. So we would then explore some possible causes and solutions to this fear.

As to the possible sources, it is important to examine the following: What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of not knowing enough scripture? Are you afraid of potentially doing more harm than good? Are you afraid of being rejected? Any one of these is natural and can be addressed. If ignorance of scripture is your concern then what can we do to improve your knowledge of scripture, memorization, use of a tract? It is very important that we are sure of the basics of the gospel; we need not all be expert theologians, but we can all memorize some scripture. As to the fear of doing more harm than good; it is important to remember that we can not place them in any more harm than they are in. Each and every person has “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3:23) and “the wages of those sins,” apart from God’s grace, “is death.” (Rom6:23) I believe that God will accept our honest effort in good faith since none of us are perfect, but He came that all “should have life and have it abundantly.”(John 10:10) As for rejection, we must understand that even Christ faced rejection, and each and every one of us rejected him until He gave us the gift of faith and grace unto salvation. He “came unto His own and His own received Him not.”(John 1:11)

If a particular fear can be pinpointed then we hopefully can move to some proper responses to fear. First we must remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear “but of power, love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” (I Tim 1:7-8a) If we take that verse point by point it is illustrative.

A Spirit of power. Christ Himself commanded his disciples not to far those who can do harm to the body, but “rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matt 10:28 God knows that we are imperfect and weak vessels, and yet he charges us to take his message to all those who would hear, so that they might believe. How are they to confess if they have not believed, how are they to believe if they have not heard, how are they to hear without someone preaching.(Rom 10:14) We access God’s power through, total reliance on Him through His word, prayer and the inner working of the Holy Spirit, so we must seek after these.

A spirit of love. God so loved the world he sent his son, he was willing to sacrifice part of himself to give life to all who believed. How much do we love those around us? Everyone we see who is without Christ is bound to face eternal separation from God apart from his grace. Now we can not save them, furthermore we cannot force them to believe, for it is God alone who justifies; who predestines, calls, glorifies and justifies. But we know that we abide in Him when we love one another and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:12-13) If we claim the name of Christ then how can we not share his desire that “none should perish but that all should have life.” In Mark chapter 6, Jesus came to a crowd saw them and had compassion because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” We too must have compassion for those who are in need of the Great Shepherd. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…we love because he first loved us.”(I John 4:18-19) If we truly believe this, then how can we not let love overcome our fear.

A spirit of self control. God has given you the grace of salvation, a sharp mind, and a spirit of self control. We must “prepare our minds for action,” be sober-minded and gird ourselves, setting our hope fully on the Glory which is to be revealed in Christ’s coming. (I Peter 1:13) Preparing our mind takes discipline, and we must equip ourselves with the tools God has given us. Foremost of these tools is the Spirit, who comforts and helps us, indeed he is our helper. Next is the word of God, which is the sword of the spirit by which souls are saved. Then we have the church, to aide us in equipping and bearing the burdens of ministry. Utilize these faithfully and you should be able to do all things “through Him who strengthens you!”(Phil 4:13) “All things” surely includes overcoming your fear to witness to those around you.