Four Broad Brushstrokes of Gospel Proclamation

Every summer hundreds of Christians, both young and old, from all over our

Image by Vjeran Lisjak
Image by Vjeran Lisjak

island head of on short-term mission/evangelism teams. These final few months, weeks and days before we embark on this experience can be unnerving, worrying and full of questions. But, no matter where you are going, there are some things that you can be certain off. Matthew 10 tells us what those things are; it offers us four broad brush strokes of gospel proclamation.

Matthew 10 in Context

So far in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus has been fulfilling his ministry, as documented in the previous chapters, in a quite spectacular way. He has been teaching in a unique fashion. This is seen in chapters 5-7 as he delivers the Sermon on the Mount and the people’s response is seen at the end of chapter 7:

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Vv. 28-29)

He then healed many people in chapters 8-9, to which the people say “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” (9:33)

Then at the end of chapter 9 Jesus explains that the labourers for the harvest are few, and so he calls the disciples to pray for more labourers. But little did the disciples know that in chapter 10 they would become the answer to their own prayers as Jesus sends them out. While Matthew 10 documents Jesus’ teaching for his disciples as they go out into the ‘fields’ so to speak, I think it also offers four broad brushstrokes which give us an idea of what the future holds!

GO

The first brush stroke is a very simple one – the spread of the gospel requires us to GO!

In Matthew 10 Jesus does something which is unheard off for a Rabbi, he includes his disciples in his mission. That which Jesus has been doing the disciples are now given authority to do. In verse 7 we note that the disciples are given authority to teach, and in verse 1 we see they have been given authority to heal disease and affliction.

We too as disciples are included in Jesus ministry, in his mission. Now, it does take a slightly different shape to this work in Matthew 10 – remember we come after Jesus death and resurrection. We are not confined to Israel as the disciples were on this occasion (v. 5-6), and our healing ministry is demonstrated in a different way today. Nonetheless, we are still included in Jesus mission. We are still commanded to go. After all, the message still hasn’t changed: ‘And proclaim as you go, saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand”’ (v. 7).

As we look to the summer, the teams we will be a part of and the places we will go, we can be certain that this is the ordained way of communicating the good news of Jesus Christ: God’s people travelling with God’s message to those in need of hearing it.

Difficulty

The second broad brush stroke is difficulty – involvement in the spread of the gospel inevitable contains difficulty.

Jesus describes the disciples being sent out as sheep being sent into the midst of wolves (v. 16). Jesus then warns them, in verse 17, to beware of men. Finally, Jesus says ‘you will be hated by all for my name’s sake’ (v. 22). The disciples were going to face great difficulty as they obeyed Jesus’ command to go.

This will be the same for us as we consider the summer ahead of us. There will be great difficulty! Consider your previous experience of spreading the gospel: Think of the disdain that people had for you, of the hardness of heart toward the gospel, and of the point blank refusal of people to enter into any kind of conversation. There will be difficulty in the days that lie ahead.

Help

Nevertheless, we are not without help, and that is our third brushstroke.

Jesus encourages his disciples by reminding them that they have help as the Spirit speaks. He says :

When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Vv. 19-20)

The difficulty we face is an opportunity for the Spirit to work, and he will help us through it.

Jesus proceeds to assure his disciples that even though they must beware of men (v. 17), there is no need to fear men, because they only have a certain degree of jurisdiction over us! Jesus states plainly: ‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (v. 28).

In the end our acknowledgement of Jesus will be rewarded with his acknowledgement of us before the father. Jesus promises: ‘everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.’ (Vv. 32-33).

While your work of spreading the gospel this summer may be fraught with many difficulties, Matthew 10 reminds us that God cares for us, and has promised his help as we look to the future of mission and evangelism.

Message

The final broad brushstroke to mention is the message we take with us.

All of this is necessary because of the message that we must proclaim. We need to know that Jesus sends us, there is difficulty, but that in that difficulty there is great (in fact divine) help. And we need to know all of this because the message we have to share is a message that divides. It is a message that is hard to deliver and it is a message that is costly.

Surprisingly Jesus begins a summary of his message in this way:Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ (v. 34). It is a message that divides between those who are Christ’s and those who aren’t.

The reason that the message is both difficult to deliver and divisive is due to the great cost of being a Christian – Jesus is unequivicol about the commitment he requires:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Vv. 37-39)

This is the gospel – it is a message that divides, is hard to deliver and is costly to accept. Therefore, it is of vital importance to see the broad brush strokes in this passage. This summer will consist of us going, in going we will face difficulties, but in these difficulties there will be help provided. All of this is necessary because of the message that we must proclaim.

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Too Good to be True

The news this past week has been full of reports on scams. Apparently there is a list available to all the fraudsters called the ‘suckers list’. On this list are the details of people who have previously been conned into giving money to a scam. Therefore, those wishing to make a quick buck from scamming others will purchase information of the ‘suckers list’ and target those people first. The advice from the reporter and the experts was ‘If it is too good to be true, then it probably is.’

I am no scam artist, but I have something to offer you that is too good to be true – but it is true! I can offer you life without pain, tears, suffering, death, sadness and end. And I can offer this kind of life to you at no expense to yourself. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?

A dying world

It does not take a scientist to realise that this world is significantly broken! Child abuse is rife, and it seems that only more and more historical cases are going to come to light. War is unending, no wars finish smoothly and each time one nears an end it seems a new one begins or escalates. Famine and drought persist to claim lives, despite all of the effort exerted to defend the vulnerable. Corruption is equally present, if not equally visible, on every continent regardless of their developmental status. Old age takes its toll, all the Botox in the world is not going to keep you alive.

That the world is broken, and ultimately dying, is self-evident. The reason for this is debated. However, the Bible explains that it is a result of the first sin. The Apostle Paul writes ‘sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man’ (Rom. 5:12,17).

The Victorious Answer

What brings the change then? Where is this too good to be true life found? How is a dying world resurrected? Jesus Christ is the answer to these questions.

After explaining that death came into the world through sin, and that sin came into the world through one man (Adam), Paul changes tact, ‘But the free gift is not like the trespass’ (Rom. 5:15). This free gift is not like the trespass because instead of bringing condemnation (and the associated consequences seen above) the free gift brings justification (5:16). This is when is becomes too good to be true:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:18-19)

By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous and, Paul continues, this grace will ‘reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (v21)

cross-with-shadow-1-1356536-mThe one act of obedience that Romans 5 is referring to is Jesus’ crucifixion. This one act of obedience was carried out by Jesus because it was the will of his Father (Mt. 26:36-46). Jesus who was not tainted by original sin due to his conception by the Holy Spirit, who did not join in the rebellion of man by sinning, bore the consequence of being tainted by original sin and joining the rebellion of man. On the cross Jesus endured pain, tears, suffering, death, sadness and an end. He did this so we could be offered something too good to be true; so we could be offered grace, righteousness and eternal life; so we could be offered a life without those things he endured.

Jesus final words before his death were ‘It is finished!’ (Jn. 19:30). This is why I can offer you life without pain, tears, suffering, death, sadness and end. And why I can offer this kind of life to you at no expense to yourself. Jesus has won it for you.

Grateful Christianity

As Christians we must constantly remind ourselves that we enjoy something too good to be true. We enjoy the certain hope of life without pain, tears, suffering, death, sadness and end. We know that this kind of life has come to us at no expense to ourselves.

Therefore, as you embark on this new week do so with gratefulness in your heart, knowing that no matter what lies before you Jesus has won something too good to be true on and through the cross. This victory means that whatever this week has in store for you, it is not the final word.

18th Century Wisdom for the Digital Age: Christians and Social Media by Mark McClean

As a young Christian teenager in the mid 1990s I set a personal goal to read through the unabridged version of Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible– all 2500 pages of it! A formidable endeavour for anyone. Needless to say, it was a spectacular failure. laptop-computers-1446068-m I don’t recall exactly how far I got before I stopped but something I read early on really stuck with me and is helpful for us as we consider how Christians should make use of social media.

In the opening paragraph of the Preface to the first volume of his commentary Henry shares a great piece of wisdom which I believe will serve  Christians well today whenever it comes to using social media.  His approach is one that I try to follow as a way of doing things when it comes to posting on Facebook, tweeting, or writing a blog post. Henry writes,

Though it is most my concern, that I be able to give a good account to God and my own conscience, yet perhaps, it will be expected that I give the world also some account of this bold undertaking; which I shall endeavour to do with all plainness, and as one who believes that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write.

Taking to social platforms on the internet is certainly no “bold undertaking” equal to Henry’s prestigious and illuminating piece of 18th Century literature, however, it still is an influential social sphere where millions, if not, billions of people like to “congregate”  and exchange words,  thoughts, ideas, photos, videos or find expression for their gripes, criticisms, fears, hopes etc.  In the mix of this cyber milieu there are a lot of “vain and idle lines” written by Christians, young and old. I’ve contributed my fair share of “idle writ” to this vain cause. Nevertheless, I try to uphold a Christ-honouring trend of commenting, tweeting or blogging “as one who believes that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write.

Knowing very well that one day I will have to give an account to the Righteous Judge of all, for not only the good and bad things I speak but also the good and bad things I write, keeps me grounded, sober minded and focussed on things of eternal significance as I seek to redeem my time for Christ on social platforms. I find interacting with others on the internet in view of being accountable to God serves both as a great encouragement and a cautious warning to be a responsible, God-fearing, social media user. And for those moments, which inevitably come, where I haven’t particularly honoured the Lord by what I have written or how I have interacted with others online, I remember the psalmist’s comforting words of truth:

“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4 ESV)

Talking about Pornography

Jesus’ standard for sexual purity is frighteningly lofty. In the famous Sermon on the Mount he says, ‘everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Mt. 5:28). To even look with intent is to commit adultery; a brief glance antype-865021-md the heart is tainted! Whenever we consider  Jesus’ standard for sexual purity in light of modern society and the prevalence and availability of pornography (whether moving images on the internet or saucy words in a book) we should be troubled. Not only is there ease of access to pornography for those who seek it out, but even those who attempt to avoid it can stumble across it unintentionally.

Therefore, it is highly important that, rather than react to this (apparent) eventuality, we are pro-active. Instead of dealing with the consequences of watching pornography, we prepare for when or if it is stumbled upon unintentionally. The obvious hope in this is to dissuade the intentional seeking out of pornography.

We will note seven tips for talking about pornography. These tips could be used in discussion groups, youth ministries, families, church settings, or men’s and women’s ministries. Just adapt them to your setting.

1. Pray

This should be a given, but since it should go without saying it probably needs repeating! Everything that we endeavour to do as Christians should be done with much prayerful preparation. Before we seek to talk about pornography we must pray.

We need to pray for wisdom, help, guidance, clarity and boldness (among many other things) when planning to discuss it. More than just praying about talking about pornography with others, we should be praying for ourselves and others consistently. Protection from the world of pornography should be one of our prayer requests for ourselves and those we talk to. Prayer to an almighty God promises much help, strength and hope. It should be something which pervades a Christian’s life, and for important issues like talking about pornography prayer should be the base from which to work.

2. Make it an early conversation

Sadly too many people have waited until it is too late when talking about pornography.

If we don’t teach each other about sex and pornography (from a biblical point of view), somebody else will (and most likely not from a biblical point of view). Whether it is school, friends, TV, internet, other family members, or someone else, we will eventually be educated about sex and pornography. The hope should be not to deal with the aftermath of this, but to prepare for when it happens.

For that reason it is important to ensure that we make discussion about pornography an early conversation. This will develop as those we talk to/with grow and develop, but even from the youngest days we can be educating children and young people with age appropriate language about sex and pornography. Some would argue that from as young as 3 or 4 you can talk to your children about sex (Deepak Reju, On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church, 2014). As children and young people mature then the language used and the topics addressed develops.

We must teach each other about sex and pornography from a biblical point of view before someone else does – especially if that someone else will be teaching a contrary opinion to Scripture.

3. Make it an ongoing conversation

It must be appreciated that talking about pornography cannot be a one-time thing. It needs to be repeated, again and again. We need to talk regularly about this issue. As people grow and mature, not only does what they’re exposed to change, but also how they feel and what happens to their own bodies changes. Therefore, we need to address this topic more than once.

Also, if we are to act on the above tip and speak to children and young people early we cannot expect to give enough information to last them until they are 18; nor should we expect them to remember all that we tell them at such a young age. It is important to speak to them more than once to remind them of what you have told them and to build more information into what you tell them as they grow, develop and mature.

Talking about pornography repeatedly also allows us to gauge understanding and acceptance of what is being taught, as well as providing repeated opportunities to ask questions or seek clarification on issues.

4. Pick your moments

This needs to be done on a larger scale as we have mentioned above. Parents must strategically choose the ages at which they will speak to their children about sex and pornography and what topics they will address at which age. The church must also strategically choose the points in time that they will address the issue too.

It also needs to be done on a smaller scale. It is perhaps not the wisest idea to tackle the issue of pornography with someone 30 seconds after finding them watching it online. There will be too many emotions, too close to the surface, in both parties for the conversation to actually be beneficial. It is not a good idea to tackle this subject publicly either – the dinner table with the rest of the family is not a sensible place to talk about it in a specified way (although talking about sex generally is perhaps permissible in this setting, more on this below).

We must not just wait for the right moment to arrive either. This will not happen; the ‘right’ moment will never present itself. It is necessary for us to be proactive in deciding that at certain times and places the topic will be discussed. Of course make use of natural opportunities to address the subject – but initially (and often) it will probably require an organised setting with the specific purpose of dealing with the issue of pornography.

5. Explain rules

Assuming that you are adopting biblical principles, discouraging the viewing of pornography and setting measures in place to protect one another, it is important to explain the rules. It is not appropriate to simply say that TV cannot be viewed after 10pm and that all online activity will be monitored. While you know that these measures have been put in place for the greater good and benefit – it may not seem all that obvious to others!

Therefore, it is vitally important that we take the time to explain what the rules/regulations/measures are that we have put in place, and then proceed to explain WHY they have been put in place. We must make it abundantly clear that we are doing these things for the good, and make it clear so that obedience is offered in good will. To force someone into obedience will not bring about a change of heart. It will only change their actions, and only for a time. To ensure that someone understands why we do things allows us the opportunity to win their heart.

6. Explain consequences

It has been widely reportedly, albeit often anecdotally, that pornography viewing is a common characteristic of those found guilty of physical and sexual harm caused to others. It is also a common characteristic of paedophiles.

We need to be honest with our children – there are consequences to watching pornography. Indeed, if we take Jesus’ teaching mentioned above, to watch pornography is to commit adultery if married; and fornication if not married. It is sin and sin carries consequences of God’s punishment and justice. However, there are also other consequences such as: lower view of women, unnatural expectations from sex, dulling of the ability for arousal, propensity toward violence (especially against women), and a more promiscuous and avant-garde attitude toward sex in general.

We must be warned of the dangers we put ourselves in by indulging in this kind of material.

7. Hold up sex in marriage as good

One common mistake that Christians often fall into on this front is to say sex is bad and should be left alone for a long time. The problem is that this is not necessarily biblical advice. The Bible actually paints a picture of sex which is beautiful, fulfilling, enjoyable and very good (see Song of Solomon). We must not be afraid to tell our children that sex is actually a very good thing, and something to be looked forward to. However, this must be explained.

The Bible is clear that sex is only beautiful and good in the context of a marriage relationship. In a committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationship sex is a good gift from God and we should not be frightened to teach that. We must give ourselves a biblical picture of sex which will far outweigh whatever can find on the internet.

Conclusion

It must be admitted that none of this is essay. Whether it is talking to a peer, answering the questions of a young teenager or raising the topic with your child, conversations about sex and pornography are inherently awkward. However, for the sake of our purity and the purity of others we must endure this awkwardness, pressing through it to a mutually beneficial line of communication on the issue. It is also necessary to note that much grace and compassion should be shown to those ensnared by the trap of pornography. As with all sin, this too causes great shame, regret and embarrassment. So let us strive to be firm but gentle when helping those entangled by pornography.

But, the aim in talking about pornography is to get in front of the game. We don’t want to be left chasing our tail, responding to wrong attitudes and practises toward pornography. Rather, we want to be proactive and tackling the topic before it becomes an issue – therefore preparing ourselves to face the challenge of pornography to our sexual purity.

General Election 2015

The week of the election is upon us, the campaigns have entered their final days and come the weekend we will probably have a good idea of the outcome of the election. Perhaps you are excited about the news, satirical comedy shows parliament-london-1410502-mand political dissection of the election results. Or maybe you are fed up with the whole thing and ready for it to be over. Either way, as a Christian I believe there are some things which we should be doing beforehand, on the day and afterward.

Beforehand

  1. Pray:

In all honesty praying is something we should be doing constantly with all things in our lives. Nevertheless, Scripture does explicitly call us to pray for authorities and rulers. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes, ‘First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…’ (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Therefore, after the election and throughout the intervening years we should be praying for our governments, rulers and authorities.

However, in the run up to elections I believe we should be praying very particularly. We should be praying for Christian politicians and their witness; we should be praying for honesty and integrity in election campaigns; we should be praying for wisdom and sober mindedness in those who vote; we should be praying for fair reporting and representation of all parties and candidates. We must be people praying about the significant events taking place in our country, as well as other countries.

  1. Prioritising Issues:

As we consider who to vote for something we must do is prioritise issues. What are the more important issues for you as a Christian? Is it the union? Is it our inclusion in the EU? Is it welfare? Is it the personality of candidates? I believe these are all important issues to be thought about. But for the Christian there is another set of values and issues to be thought about. Issues such as protection of religious freedom, free speech, ethical issues on abortion, same-sex marriage and the character of candidates must be considered from a Christian point of view. I admit this is a very difficult task, but it is one in which we must engage.

  1. Reading Literature:

In order to prioritise our issues and know who holds the same values we do we must give the candidates a fair chance. I am not naive enough to think all candidates are open and transparent about what exactly they believe in their election campaign literature. But it does give us an idea of what direction they face on important issues. There are also further opportunities to attending events such as husting’s events to ask questions and hear answers. We must not judge a candidate simply on the badge they wear; we must seek out the candidate who will best represent our ideals.

On the Day

  1. Vote:

We have a great privilege and responsibility living in a democracy – we elect our leaders! This is a freedom that not everyone in this world enjoys, a privilege that many are not given, and sadly a responsibility that we often squander. Now there may be some reading today who have not registered to vote, unfortunately it is too late for you. But there are many people who register to vote and then get fed up with the campaign and fail to cast their vote. This should not be the case, we have a privilege and Christian duty to care about the governing, ruling and running of our country.

Afterwards

  1. Don’t Expect too much:

I begin with a warning, especially if this is the first time you have voted. Don’t expect your vote to change the world. Indeed don’t expect your vote to cause any drastic or immediately visible changes. Graciously our government functions in such a way that there is no noticeable pendulum swing from one government to another. Therefore there will not be immediate changes. However, we must not become discouraged by this. The power of a vote is subtle and exercises its power over time.

  1. Remember God is Sovereign:

Psalm 22:28 reminds us ‘kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.’ Paul is even more explicit in Romans 13:1 ‘For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.’ If the complete opposite of what you hoped for happens do not fret, God is sovereign. No human government, no matter how impervious and powerful they appear, is beyond the control of God. No matter what the outcome of Thursday’s vote, God is still ruler over the nations and the government has been instituted by him.

  1. Submit to the Ruling Government:

Paul explains the Christian response to governments for us in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.

Beforehand, pray, prioritise your issues and read all the literature. On the day, go cast your vote. Afterward, don’t expect too much to change too quickly, don’t forget that God is sovereign in it all and submit to those in authority over you. This is how I hope to approach this week of over-excited hype about an election that will change very little, but in which I have a Christian duty to exercise. How will you approach it?