Here’s a sermon that I preached at First Baptist Raytown last Sunday called “Whatever it takes!” It’s based on Mark 2:1-11 and the four men who did whatever it took to get their paralytic friend to Jesus…even chopping through a roof! As a former roofer (8 years of my life) this passage takes on a special significance to me because of the danger involved in their courageous act of faith. Watch this sermon and determine, like these four friends, to do whatever it takes to get your friend to Jesus!
There have been a handful of books I have read in my life where I have inwardly cheered from beginning to end. Mission Drift was one of them. Peter Greer and Chris Horst do a masterful job of challenging Christian churches, charities and universities to keep the Gospel at their core no matter what.
Using examples from real life (like the mission drift of Harvard and Yale, both of which started as Gospel-centered schools) these two excellent authors chronicle the temptations that come from not obsessively focusing on the core distinctives of being a truly Christian organization. They speak frankly about their own temptations to compromise their message for potential donations to the ministry, Hope International, they work for personally. They also share how they overcame those temptations to stand even stronger on their ministry’s Gospel convictions.
This book is also chalk full of ideas, best practices and examples of how effective “mission true” organizations have kept true to their Christian core over years and even decades. These brands of organization are obsessively focused on the truth of the good news of Jesus. As Winston Churchill once said, “A fanatic is someone who won’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” In the same way mission true organizations are fanatics for the Gospel message and take precautions to make sure their focus will stay that way for years to come.
I would HIGHLY recommend this book for…
-Church leadership teams (because, yes, even in the church it’s easy to forsake our Gospel focus)
-Board members and executive teams of Christian based non-profit organizations that are focused on serving the physical and spiritual needs of the less fortunate (because it can be tempting to forsake or downplay our Christian distinctives for the sake of donations.)
-Board members and exec teams of Christian ministries that are all about advancing the message and mission of Jesus (because, as this book shows, even purely Gospel focused ministries can drift from their current core convictions if they don’t take safeguards for the future! In Mission Drift you can see how the YMCA became “The Y” and abandoned their deep roots in the faith.)
-Leaders, board members and faculty of Christian colleges and universities (which, sadly, can easily drift into theological liberalism if not intensely guarded.)
This is the kind of book you’ll want to buy for entire boards and leadership teams to read. It’s that important.
As Hebrews 2:1 reminds us, “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.”
If you are serious about your church, charity or university staying anchored to it’s Gospel core, getting, reading and applying the truths in Mission Drift is a must.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The last words of Jesus were a roadmap to global transformation. He gave his disciples the mission of taking the good news across the street (Jerusalem and Judea), across the tracks (Samaria) and across the world!
That same urgent mission of saturating the planet with the gospel is alive and well today. The baton of responsibility to accomplish this great cause, THE Cause, has been handed down through the ages and now resides firmly in our hands.
Just where were the disciples commanded to go with the gospel and how does it specifically apply to us? Let’s break down this 2,000 year old quest into three bite sized pieces. Here are the three places we need to go to with the Gospel…
Across the street…
“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea…”
Jerusalem and Judea were the stomping grounds of the early disciples and the early church. Jerusalem was ground zero for their spiritual activities until the action center for mission mobilization moved from Jerusalem (mostly Jewish) to Antioch (Jews and Gentiles) in Acts 12:25-13:3.)
Even the broader province of Judea was only 55 miles by about 25 miles or so. The disciples had traversed from city to city in this region toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke 10:1 says, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” Because they were in twos there were thirty six groups that saturated the region of Judea with the good news of Jesus.
Before the ascension of Jesus into heaven he commissioned his disciples to make sure everyone, starting in this very region, understood the totality of the good news of salvation by faith alone in him based on his finished work on the cross! This global mission began with a local focus, saturating their community, their city, their people and their region with the Gospel message.
What does this mean for us? I’m convinced that “Jerusalem“, for us, starts with our neighbors, co-workers, classmates and friends then cascades out to our city and state! We need to be witnesses to the people who are within our reach. We, too, need to start by reaching those within our own “stomping grounds” with the hope of Jesus Christ.
Across the tracks
“you will be my witnesses…in Samaria….”
To many of the Jews at this time Samaria was off limits. They considered the Samaritan people compromising half breeds (half Jew/half Gentile) and did their best to avoid them. That’s why the Samaritan woman was shocked when Jesus talked to her in John 4:7-9. But Jesus shattered the racial prejudices of his time with a simple question and a powerful extension of grace to this promiscuous and curious Samaritan woman.
Jesus calls his disciples to do the same by taking the good news to Samaria. But, as my friend Derwin Gray pointed out to me, it took a persecution (Acts 8:1) to get the disciples out of Jerusalem and into Samaria. It took Acts 8:1 for them to take Acts 1:8 seriously.
What’s it going to take for us? Yes, we need to reach our own communities but we also need to go “across the tracks” in some way to share the Gospel with those we aren’t like and may not normally like. Racial prejudice, economic separation, etc are roadblocks that must be obliterated in light of the cross and empty tomb. Jesus died to obliterate them (Ephesians 2:14) and calls us to walk in the new reality he died to create.
I thank God for a church in the suburbs that reached across the tracks to the tough part of the inner city to reach my family for Jesus! The members of this church had a heart for their own “Jerusalem” but were willing to reach into their version of “Samaria” (my hood) with the message of Jesus!
Are you reaching across the tracks in your city in some way? Are you building relationships, serving the broken and sharing Jesus in your version of Samaria?
Across the world
“you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”
You can do this in three ways: Pray, Give and Go! I encourage you to do all three! Pray for global missions in your family prayers! Pray for the persecuted church! Pray for the Gospel to saturate unreached people groups! Pray for missionaries!
Give financially specifically toward global missions! Make it part of your pattern and passion! This will keep missions on your radar and give you a bigger heart for God’s global plan.
As my friend Dave Gibson always says, “If you have a heart to reach America for Christ you maybe have 5% of God’s heart because his heart is for the world!”
And, finally, GO! Go on a short-term, evangelistically-focused mission trip and watch God break your heart for the lost. Some of you may even be called to go full-time into missions. This is a huge and amazing privilege and I am convinced there is no higher privilege than to take the good news to the ends of the earth. We need to re-heroize missionaries in the church, especially to the next generation.
So let’s get going. Let’s take the gospel of Jesus across the street, across the tracks and across the world!
“If sinners be damned at least let them leap to hell over our bodies.…let no one go to hell unwarned and unprayed for.” Charles Spurgeon
If Christians really believed in the reality of hell then I’d be out of a job because believers would figure out how to share their faith without the kind of evangelism training that the ministry I lead provides. The sheer urgency of the Lake of Fire would trigger Gospel conversations both solicited and unsolicited with friends, neighbors, classmates and, yes, even strangers.
Like refusing to use a bullhorn on a beach where you know a tsunami will hit in 10 minutes, far too many Christians would rather exegete a text in a Bible study than explain the gospel to a co-worker. This, in spite of the fact that something far worse than a tsunami is coming.
Don’t believe me? Check out these very graphic verses from God’s Word…
“And as they go out, they will see the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against me. For the worms that devour them will never die, and the fire that burns them will never go out. All who pass by will view them with utter horror.” Isaiah 66:24
“He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
“And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.” Revelation 14:10,11
“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 14:10,11
If those verses don’t make you cringe and cry then nothing will.
From Old Testament prophets to New Testament Apostles the reality of hell is painted in flaming ember oranges and reds. Underneath it all is the fast beating heart of urgency that should compel us to, “snatch others from the fire and save them” Jude 23.
But what about Jesus? What did our Savior, known for his love for the bad, the broken and the bullied, have to say about the whole subject of hell?
Did you know that of the 12 times the word “Gehenna” (aka “Hell”) is used in the New Testament 11 are uttered by Jesus himself? The Son of God was on a mission “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) from this horrific place of suffering.
If we don’t take hell seriously then we don’t take Jesus seriously because he talked about it more than anyone else in the New Testament.
Jesus tells one story in Luke 16:19-31 that far too often goes unpreached by many pastors today, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Here Jesus speaks clearly about the agony the rich man was suffering in these flames. At one point the rich man begs for even a droplet of water to be placed on his tongue as a welcomed relief to the relentless fires that were licking his body. His request for reprieve was denied as well as any hope for escape.
Those who die without Christ will be in agony in fire forever without end, without escape, without hope.
The tsunami is coming and we must warn them.
But too many churches have replaced evangelism with a safer quest. They have replaced evangelism with mere service projects. They have stopped rescuing people from the coming tsunami and have settled for just offering them a bottle of water on the beach while they wait for the wave to hit.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to do good. But it’s better to do great. And the greatest thing we can do is to introduce the people we are serving to Jesus and rescuing them from the coming judgment.
Is talking about hell using scare tactics? To be honest it is. But using scare tactics is not manipulation if the threat is real. And according to Jesus the threat is very real.
If my little girl is chasing a ball toward a busy intersection I’m going to use scare tactics. If my son is about to drink poison I’m going to use scare tactics. When Jesus paints such vivid pictures of eternity in hell he is using scare tactics. But he is using them out of a heart of love, out of heart that desires to rescue and save them from impending and eternal doom.
So let’s be about social justice but let’s be about eternal justice too. After all, there is no lasting justice without Jesus.
Let’s be about acts of service but let’s serve others’ deep spiritual need as well as their physical needs.
Let’s rescue others from human trafficking and let’s rescue them from the ultimate soul trafficker, Satan himself, who desires to drag them into an eternity without Christ.
Let’s take Jesus seriously by taking hell seriously.
Let’s rescue others from the fire and save them from the hell they are headed to and the one they are going through without Jesus.
If you want to take your teenagers to the next level you need to get them to Lead THE Cause. We have partnered with www.sonlife.com to make this the most impacting and exciting week of your year. And this year there are three to choose from: Chicago, Denver and Portland (Windy, Wild and Weird!)
For a decade of my life I was privileged to lead a church that was very effective at reaching the lost. Through prayer, hard work and a relentless Gospel focus we experienced strong growth primarily due to new believers being added to our church roles. During that time God taught me many hard and valuable lessons that have stuck with me to this day.
In the fifteen years since being a pastor I’ve been blessed to lead a ministry called Dare 2 Share, a ministry that focuses on equipping teenagers to share the Gospel with their peers. In this time I’ve talked to thousands of youth leaders and preached at many churches, both big and small, across the nation. And I’ve noticed a pattern in these churches…most of them are not effectively reaching the lost with the Gospel in their own communities.
Sure, many of them are effective at other things…teaching God’s Word, taking care of the poor, supporting overseas mission work, creating opportunities for believers to use their spiritual gifts, etc. But most are not truly effective at reaching the lost in their own backyards.
After countless conversations with church leaders and first hand observations of innumerable Sunday morning services I’m convinced there are 7 reasons why this is the case…
1. They’ve lost their “Gospel urgency.”
In the average church there is not a “whatever it takes” mentality when it comes to reaching the lost with the hope of Jesus Christ. There is not a sense of urgency that flows from the reality of hell for those who don’t hear and believe the message of the Gospel.
Sometimes this lack of urgency flows out of a theological construct that causes some church goers to conclude that “it’s all up to God anyway.” Sometimes it flows out of a lack of understanding of the mission and mandate Jesus left for us all in Matthew 28:19 when he commissioned his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
Whatever the reason for this lack of urgency church leaders need to help their congregations hear the call from above (the Great Commission), the whisper from within (compassion) and the scream from beneath (reality of hell) so that the Holy Spirit can re-ignite their peoples’ passion to reach the lost.
2. The leadership doesn’t model it.
As someone once said, “No tears in the eyes of the writer, no tears in the eyes of the reader.” What’s true of writing is true of evangelism in the local church. If the pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor and the rest of the church leadership don’t have broken hearts for the lost and aren’t engaging in Gospel conversations with family, friends, neighbors, baristas, etc. then neither will their congregations.
Jesus said in Luke 6:40, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Bible studying pastors have Bible studying congregations. Program driven pastors have program driven congregations. Evangelizing pastors have evangelizing congregations.
This begs the question that if someone does not lead people to Christ should they be a church leader at all? To follow Jesus, according to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 4:19 will inevitably result in “fishing for people” (aka “evangelism“). So if we are not fishing for people through evangelism are we really following Jesus? Hmmm…
3. Intercessory prayer is not a true value.
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4
The very first order of business in conducting a church service (according to Paul’s instruction to Timothy anyway) is intercessory prayer for the lost. Why? Because God desires “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Sadly, the average church spends more time in church announcements than intercessory prayer. In some churches the high task of intercessory prayer is relegated to a small group of prayer warriors. In this sense pastors delegate the duty of prayer so they can devote themselves to preaching. But when the church came together in Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” And in Acts 6:4 the apostles delegated other duties so that they could devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
Do you pray for the lost in church staff meetings, corporate meetings and small groups? If you want to increase your gospel urgency then crank up the intercession frequency on your prayer dial.
4. Evangelism training rarely happens (if at all.)
Most churches don’t have a consistent way for church members to be equipped in effectively engaging Gospel conversations. Or better yet why not do an annual sermon series on how to share your faith? Why not make it part of the fabric of growing in one’s faith just like giving, praying and Bible study? Or why not have ALL your small groups go through a series on evangelism?
Recently my family and I have been visiting churches in our community. After visiting one church a pastor I knew texted me after the service and asked me to give him an honest evaluation of the church. My text response was this, “Great! Friendly people. Good sermon. Great worship. The only thing I’d say is that if I was lost when I came in I’d still be lost when I left (gospel not clearly given).”
When you give the gospel consistently in your church meetings then the church members know that any time they bring an unreached person they will hear the gospel. As a pastor I gave the gospel at the end of every sermon and we saw people come to faith weekly. Why? Because people invited friends, family and neighbors to church because they knew that the gospel would be given clearly and consistently.
This can also happen in small groups. As a matter of fact there are specific small group strategies like Alpha and Seeker Small Groups that have resources for churches to start small groups that reach out to the lost.
6. They’ve exchanged evangelism for “outreach.”
In far too many churches outreach has been generalized to the point where the verbal articulation of the Gospel has been exchanged for collecting food for the poor, ministering to the marginalized and reaching out to the hurting. While it’s good to do good it’s better to do great. And what’s great is when churches meet the physical AND spiritual needs of their communities by sharing the Gospel with their lives AND their lips.
Government agencies can take care of physical needs. But only the church can take care of physical and spiritual needs. At the end of the day we are not fully doing anyone true justice if we withhold from them the message that can save their souls and transform their lives both now and forever.
7. Evangelistic storytelling is not a part of the culture.
In churches that are effective at evangelism stories of changed lives and saved souls are told consistently. These stories inject Gospel urgency into the congregation. And it gives church members a sense that reaching the lost with the hope of Jesus Christ can truly change their church and their community. True stories of disciple multiplication help believers move all this talk about evangelism from the “fiction” shelf of their mental library to the “non fiction” section.
Think about why we love the book of Acts. It’s the stories of changed lives! When we carry on the mission of the early church and share stories along the way then more and more believers get fired up about engaging co-workers, family and friends with the good news of Jesus. What about having a “Missions Moment” in the church service where a story of impact can be told about lives “across the street and around the world” are being changed through the Gospel?
My prayer for every church leader reading this is that he/she can glean some insights to practically apply right away. I’d strongly encourage you to start with prayer. As you pray for the lost in your community God will give you the urgency and strategy you need to make evangelism a true value in your life personally and in your ministry publicly.
It’s time for your church to reach out. It’s time for you to lead the way.
This week Alex Malarkey claimed that he did NOT go to heaven and come back. In a letter he admitted that his eyewitness testimony of what heaven is like in the book “The Boy who came back from Heaven” was a bunch of, well, malarkey.
Kudos to this young man who admitted, “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible…People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth.”
After Alex’s stunning confession Colton Burpo came out in a counterclaim this week that his trip to heaven as a four year old was for real. For those of you who have been living in Antarctica Colton’s story became both a book and a movie, Heaven is for Real.
So who are we to believe Colton or Alex?
Whoever you choose to believe I do think that we need to get our theological wits about us as believers when it comes to the afterlife. So, to help, I’ve developed a short list of three things I do when I hear someone claims to have gone to heaven and has come back with an eyewitness report from on high.
1. I’m initially suspect.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe in heaven (and hell for that matter!) I’m convinced that heaven will be more amazing than we could ever imagine. How do I know? The great apostle John gives a firsthand account in the book of Revelation of the glory, immensity, power and beauty of heaven. There are times when he has trouble putting what he’s describing into words which measure up, but it’s obvious that his vision of heaven is overwhelming to him. It’s also interesting that the apostle John did not have a “near-death” experience. He had a clear vision while he was alive and well and stuck on the Island of Patmos as a prisoner of the Romans.
So why do I tend to be suspect of firsthand accounts of those who say they died and then came back? Because the Bible makes one clear statement when it comes to this possibility:
“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).
This passage looms large in front of me like a yellow light (about to turn red) when someone claims to have died, gone to heaven and come back.
The Apostle Paul didn’t die but he did get a firsthand view of heaven. Check out his experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, “This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.”
Look at that last phrase, “I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.”
It is just plain weird to think that Paul wasn’t allowed to express what he heard in heaven but a child would be allowed to express what he had heard and seen (let alone write a bestseller!)
2. I weigh their description of heaven against the Bible’s.
When “Heaven is for Real” came out it was interesting to me how many Christians flocked to accept this preschooler’s description of heaven without thinking or blinking. Many of these same Christians, I assume, had not studied the Bible thoroughly on the subject of heaven and measured it against what the little boy said.
Far too many Christians would rather accept the testimony of a four year old boy (who I assume is a very sweet kid) over prophets like Ezekiel, apostles like John and Jesus Christ himself.
So how does the Bible describe heaven?
-Jesus described it as big. In John 14 Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you.”
-John describes the capitol city of heaven (aka “The New Jerusalem”) as big, brilliant and beautiful. According to Revelation 21:17 it is 1,400 miles long, high, wide and deep. If it landed on America it would extend from the Canadian border to the Mexican border and from Chicago to Salt Lake City. It would extend 1,300 miles into space.
-In heaven there are streets of gold (Revelation 21:21), walls of twelve precious stones (Revelation 21:19), gates made from giant pearls (Revelation 21:21) and a tree that bears twelve kinds of fruit (Revelation 22:2).
-There is no sickness, sadness, disease or death (Revelation 21:4).
-The Father dwells there in an unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16).
-Jesus is in the center of this city (Revelation 7:17), seated on a throne (Revelation 7:11-12) on what looks like a sea of glass (Revelation 4:6).
-Seraphim flutter around his throne singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3).
And on and on and on the descriptions go in Scripture. What is common to most of these descriptions is a glorious, heart-rending, mind-blowing description of Jesus being central. So, any book that comes out that doesn’t drive the same theme or has a different physical description of heaven I move to the fiction side of my library.
3. I use it as an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus.
There have been several times when I have heard somebody talking about “the amazing story in ‘Heaven is for Real.’” I didn’t challenge them theologically or tell them that it could be “a bunch of malarkey.”
No, I used this book and these types of books as conversation starters to whether or not they know for sure they are going to heaven. I’ve had great evangelistic experiences as a result.
These kinds of books, whether true or not, get read by the general public. And the general public needs Jesus.
Whether you choose to believe Burpo or Malarkey is up to you. But please measure their claims against Scripture first and then make your decision. But, in either case, use it as a conversation starter with those who don’t know Jesus.
Why? Because heaven is not a bunch of malarkey! It’s for REAL!