Archive for October, 2010

Remember Stephen? —I’m A Scared Layman!

I only joke about this but follow my thinking for minute.  Peter was a premier preacher in the New Testament.  After Pentecost, he preached and 3,000 people got saved in one service.  Now that’s preaching!  Do you remember Stephen in Acts 7?  He was a layman and when he preached, they stoned him!  “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59).  Well, that’s some of my humor.  I tell everybody that if I try to preach, I’ll get stoned!  I know the real truth—I know that God is using both laity and clergy to fulfill the Great Commission.  I know that He has given me a calling in life to join up with Him in the pursuit of winning the lost.  But I am still scared!  Why?  It’s a big world out there and when I realize that God has called me, as a layman, to preach and minister it is frightening.  Let’s talk about that call.

Who’s An Ordained Plumber?

All laity are called and this calling includes preaching.  Probably the greatest coup d’état that the devil ever pulled upon the church could be titled, “But I’m just a layman.”  When we look at the first century church we find that the laity preached.  Stephen preached in Acts 7.  Acts 8:4 says, “they [the laity] that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”  Philip (a layman) in Acts 8:35 “ … opened his mouth, and … preached unto him Jesus.”  In the early church everyone was a minister.  In just 300 years the church accomplished the most amazing results.  The whole Roman Empire was undercut and overthrown by the power of the Gospel of Christ.  In fact, the pagan Celsius wrote a book against Christians in the second century and admitted that it was the “wool-workers, cobblers, laundry workers and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels” who carried the gospel.  Who was he referring to?  The laity!  The devil would make us believe that only preachers are called.  But I would like to sink a dagger into that lie because our pulpits are everywhere—coffee tables, work tables, gas pumps, office desks.  Every Christian occupies some kind of pulpit and preaches some kind of sermon every day.  Someone asked one of our laymen if he was called and he replied, “Certainly, I’m an ordained plumber!”

We are ministers.

We are never told that Stephen ever did one thing his position as deacon demanded, but he did extremely well in what his mission demanded.  Long before Stephen had a position, he had a mission.  In fact, the word “minister” is the translation of the Greek word diakonia, which means “servant.”  Thus, a minister can be a deacon who is a servant.  Ananias (a layman) was a servant like this.  He laid hands on Saul in Acts 9 both healing and commissioning him.  Aquila and Priscilla were lay missionaries in Acts 18.  The Bible clearly indicates that the work of the church is not solely the responsibility of the pastor—it is for all believers.  Originally, the word “minister” was a function of the church.  It was a verb—something we did.  It was the assignment of all believers and each follower had his own ministry or ministries.  Slowly, through the centuries, it has moved from being a function of the church to become a station in the church.  Ministry is a function for all, not a station for a few.

We are gifted.

In Acts 6:8 we read, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.”  For many years I have pondered this scripture.  What were those “wonders and miracles” that he performed?  Here is a layman performing “wonders and miracles.”  I have asked God to help me do the same.  I believe that every Christian is called of God as a minister and gifted for ministry.  Peter says it best in 1 Peter 4:10, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  Stewards of His grace?  Have you ever thought of that?  Think it through.  We (all of God’s people) have received a gift (or gifts) and we are to minister that gift!  How do we find our gift?  Ask these simple questions:

  • What do you see?  So many people are waiting for a mystical call from God while all around them work is to be done.  If no call seems obvious, then do the obvious!  Is there a class with no teacher, a jail with no volunteers, or a nursing home with no church service?  Get busy!
  • What do you do?  Can you teach, sing, or play a musical instrument?  If you are good at it, do it!
  • What do you enjoy?  There was a time when we thought that if we enjoyed doing something, it was wrong.  What you love to do is a clue to your anointing.
  • What do you feel?  What burdens you?  What hurts you when you see it?  Help heal those hurts.
  • What you do hear?  What do others say about you?  You can expect affirmation from the body of Christ as to the reality of the gift of God within you.

God has called us to do more than pray, pay and obey.  There’s a new reformation coming.  It is a second reformation—a reforming of the priesthood of all believers.  This second reformation will take place when the ministry is in the hand of all of God’s people.  If we understand, accept, and act on the doctrine of the laity, it will bring about a reformation such as the world has not seen since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg in 1517.  My prayer is that the laity like me will realize that they too are called of God and begin to get more involved in personal evangelism.

Let’s get busy but keep an eye out for those stones!

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How Your Life Draws Others to Christ

In his book Evangelism That Works author George Barna indicates that 7% of the un-churched plan to attend church this year.  He says that another 33% of the un-churched are open to attending church and the most likely thing to attract them is the invitation of a friend.  We are told that 70% to 90% of all Christians came to know Christ as a result of the influence of a family member or a friend.  Have you ever wondered what attracted people to the church and ultimately to Christ?

People are not saved because they are in the company of Christians.  It is not possible to “catch” a good case of salvation.  To be saved, men must hear and believe the verbal testimony about Jesus Christ.  The Bible teaches that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  However, all of us can think of people who made their initial movement toward the Gospel message because they saw its transforming power in another person’s life.  It is true that the way we live before others really matters.

In II Corinthians 2:12-3:3, Paul underscores that both individual and corporate (church) holiness establishes the credibility of our verbal witness.  Jesus compared the church to a city set on a hill.  When the message comes from that city by its official spokesman (the preacher) or by its individual citizens, people are watching to see if the walk matches the talk.  The Bible teaches that we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and are capable of reflecting or displaying some of the characteristics that describe God.  For example, God is holy; and we are called to be holy.  God is love, and we are called to love.  We also reflect the image of God in our ability to communicate.  Woven into the very fabric of our humanity is the ability to communicate—to share the blessing.

Our goal is to show God’s grace.  Paul emphasizes that whatever happens to us, wherever we go, or whatever we do, we are to recommend Christ through a lifestyle that communicates to others the work of God’s grace in us.  The Apostle Paul was no stranger to setbacks and disappointments.  During the height of his ministry, he discovered an open door to preach the Gospel in Troas (2:12).  He immediately sought help from his friend, Titus, but could not find him.  Paul had to change his plans, walk away from what seemed to him a great opportunity, and continue his journey to Macedonia (2:13).  God’s mysterious providence created anguish in Paul’s soul (2:12).  How did Paul deal with this sudden change of events in his life?  He didn’t get mad or angry or upset.  He used this unusual twist of fate to teach some important principles concerning the impact and influence of our witness on the world.  He reminds the church that three things are true of us no matter what happens in our lives—we are Christ’s trophies, His fragrance, and His letters.

We are Christ’s Trophy

The first way we witness for Christ is as His trophy.  We can learn a valuable lesson from Paul.  His plans and circumstances changed, but he did not live in a state of sorrow, depression or anger.  Rather, he burst out with a message of triumphant thankfulness.  He viewed himself as a trophy being carried by Christ in a triumphal procession through the world (2:14).  The metaphor conjures up the picture of the magnificent parades given for Roman generals who won victories on foreign soil.  The general rode into Rome in a dazzling chariot; behind him, in order, followed his officers and soldiers with the spoils of battle (prisoners, beasts, weapons, and treasures).

The spiritual application is clear and succinct.  God is leading His people through this world in the wake of Christ’s triumph over sin and death.  Christ, the captain of our salvation, has come to this earth and defeated the arch enemy, Satan.

Our lives have been captured by Christ and as stated above we have counted the cost and have agreed to His Lordship in our lives.  He now displays us to the world, not just on one passing occasion, but every day and everywhere.  The truth is that in our lives every day we are “on exhibit” as a trophy of God’s grace.  The question for us is: does our life manifest that Christ has taken us captive?  We must realize that He is displaying us every day to the watching world.  Our lifestyles and relationships must mirror the joy and gratefulness of a life that has been captured by Christ!  The purpose of a trophy is to display it for all to see.  Nothing speaks for the Gospel more clearly than showing by your life that Christ has conquered you by His grace.

We are Christ’s Fragrance

The second avenue introduced by Paul is a fragrance or an aroma (2:14-16).  In the Roman culture the triumphal military procession was accompanied by the smell of sweet odors released from the burning of spices along the parade route.  To a Roman citizen, the sweet smell symbolized reinvigorated security and stability.  On the contrary, to a slave or non-citizen living in Rome, the aroma was bitter, signifying more servitude or restricted privileges.

Paul affirms that God “manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him (Christ) in every place” (v. 14b).  Additionally, he asserts that Christians are the vessels from whom God releases “the fragrance of Christ” (v. 15).

The spiritual implications are clear.  The great end of our lives is to make Christ known.  Fragrances normally dominate or influence their environment.  Christians must remember that everywhere they go they are emitting a “spiritual” odor that others can sense.  Paul asserts that life and death issues are at stake in this aspect of our nonverbal witness before others (v. 16).  The truth is that the difference we make in the lives of the unsaved people around us can really make a difference in where they spend eternity.  Is your lifestyle a sweet perfume to other Christians (v. 16)?  Does your witness encourage or impede the quest for godliness in other believers?

Thom Rainer, author of The Un-churched Next Door says, “Anyone who truly believes in and loves Christ can influence the un-churched, so we should be encouraged to have a passion for personal evangelism.”  Rainer shares, “Strategically it takes 85 church members a year to reach one person for Christ.  That breaks my heart.  That’s telling me most Christians do not evangelize in the course of a year, and many Christians do not share their faith at all, even in the course of a lifetime.  My plea is that people will understand the reality of a grace-given heaven, and the reality of a literal hell.”

We are Christ’s letter

The third avenue is the fact that we are compared to being “open epistles” or letters.  Someone is reading our mail!   (II Corinthians 3:1-3).  In the early church, a number of bogus preachers and false prophets peddled an erroneous Gospel.  These counterfeit clergymen penetrated congregations by bringing so-called “letters of commendation” on behalf of other people or churches (3:1).  Paul insisted that he had a letter of commendation that could not be disputed—the Corinthian believers themselves (3:2).  People knew that Paul was a genuine Christian because the Gospel he preached brought transformation in the lives of those who heard it.  The people converted under his preaching were living and moving monuments to the authenticity of the Gospel.  God’s law had been written in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, who in turn gave them the power and ability to be godly people (3:3).

The implications are many.  The only place where some people will see the glory of God is in the behavior of His people. We may be the only epistle, the only copy of God’s law, the only Gospel that some will ever read!  Does our life confuse people about the Good News or clarify it?  Our lives must become “windows” not walls.

Dwight L. Moody once said, “Christians are the world’s Bible.”  He didn’t mean that we as humans replace the Bible.  He was simply reminding Christians that most unbelievers never read the Bible.  Consequently, a large majority will see it truths only when they are being “fleshed out” in the lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ.  We are Christ’s letter!  The purpose of a letter is to convey the message of its author.

Let’s pray that God, will help us to take advantage of these three avenues in our lives both verbally and nonverbally and by His help and grace we can become more effective trophies, perfume and letters!  We are being watched!  We are “the world’s Bible.”

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