Acts and Evangelism

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The Book of Acts is an historical record of the spread of early Christianity throughout the Roman world. It’s a record of sermons and prayers, miracles and disappointments, angels and demons, arguments and love, murder and intrigue.

As Christians lived out their daily lives, God made opportunities for these believers to share their faith. Sometimes those opportunities were to hostile crowds, to a lone man headed home from a business trip, travelers in a shipwreck, or even to a judge during a court trial. None of these events were planned but came in the ordinary course of daily living.

In each of the instances of sharing the gospel of Jesus in the Book of Acts, not one person ever gave an “invitation” to be saved. No Christian ever asked, “Do you want to be saved?” In every case the person hearing the gospel asked what he needed to do to be saved. The Holy Spirit prompted the need to know within the unsaved person.

Churches are filled with un-saved converts. These are people who accept a man-made invitation apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Man-centered evangelism forces the listener to make a decision and act in some way; in Biblical evangelism, the Spirit of God prompts the sinner to ask what he must do to be saved.

Be careful not to take over the Holy Spirit’s ministry and create false believers. If someone is to be saved, the Spirit will have already been at work revealing his sin to him and he’s just waiting for the gospel solution to be proclaimed.

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The Demon and the Reformed Man

Many people become fed up with the havoc and pain in their lives and turn to religion for relief. They go to church, give up bad habits, pray with sincerity, share their new found faith with others, but after a time abandon it all.

Jesus told a parable about this kind of person in Matthew 12:43-45.

In His parable, an unclean spirit chooses to leave a man’s body. The demon isn’t cast out nor is the man born again, the demon merely leaves to look for a more suitable home. After not finding a better place, the demon decides to return to my house, showing his ownership over the man he left.

Arriving back, the demon finds the man’s life reformed, swept, and put in order. Some degree of morality and clean living are evident in the man’s life. He appears a reformed man, yet despite his religious lifestyle, the demon finds him empty of another occupant (Mt 12:44). The demon enters back into his house and invites seven other demons worse than itself as roommates.

When a sinner is born again, the Holy Spirit takes up personal and permanent residence within the convert (Jn 14:16-17). In salvation, the sin and spiritual darkness of the unconverted life is cleansed – not by the sinner or religion or self-help – but by God, and a new life is begun in the power of the Spirit of God (2 Cor 5:17).

When a person’s nature isn’t changed, morality can’t be maintained.

A Shooting Star

My grandfather warned me of shooting stars in the church. Beware of shooting stars. As quickly as they appear they burn out. 

A shooting star is a small, rapidly moving meteor. As it enters Earth’s atmosphere, friction causes it to burn, leaving a blazing trail of rock, dust, and ice behind it. When there is nothing left to burn, it vanishes.

Many pastors give special recognition to new converts. They are allowed to testify, or because of their eagerness to be involved, given a part in the work of ministry. Sometimes these new converts are elevated because they are seeking attention; sometimes it’s the pride of the pastor desiring to be recognized for leading someone one Christ. Either way, the problem created is two-fold.

First, it is impossible to know that someone has been born again until that person’s faith has been tested. Anything else is a dead confession or profession. No matter what someone professes, Faith without works is dead (James 2:20).

Jesus warned of the deceptiveness of counterfeit converts in a parable. He said, He hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Others hear the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he become unfruitful (Matthew 13:20-22). Salvation is marked by the growth and increase of Christian virtues (Mt 13:23; 2 Pet 1:3-11).

Second, being recognized so quickly creates a false assurance in that person. He believes he’s saved, after all the pastor said so. When faith proves to be counterfeit after being paraded in the church, it causes other believers to stumble.

How do you know true regeneration? Not because you repeated a prayer, joined a church, were baptized in water, or accepted Jesus in your heart. You know you are born again because the Holy Spirit is actively producing and increasing the fruits of Christ-likeness in you. That is something proven only by the dual tests of time and trials.

Don’t create shooting stars which are here today but burn up and disappear tomorrow.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).

Transfigured

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:1-2).

For 33 years, everyone only saw a man, until Jesus gave three of His disciples a small glimpse of His eternal glory.

The word transfigured comes from the Greek word metamorphosis, meaning to be changed from the inside out. Rather than a heavenly light shining upon Jesus, a bit of the glory from within Jesus and which belonged to Him from eternity was visible.

No one can free himself from himself, so we turn to outward pressures. We yearn for someone or something like a Marine Corps drill instructor to force us into a desired behavior. Weakness of spirit and character demands that someone control us by commands like: Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle (Colossians 2:21). We beg to be under the conforming thumb of a slave master with rules, regulations, pressure, fear of punishment, or promises of reward as a way to control our actions and thoughts.

God transforms from the inside; only He can change the inside of a person. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind … (Romans 12:2). The word transformed is the word metamorphosis or transfigured used in Matthew 17:2. God’s transformation of the sinner isn’t by outward pressure, but by an inward changing of the mind and heart.

The unconverted heart of man is corrupted incurably by sin; it can’t be mended or repaired, it must be made wholly new. A new heart comes only by a new birth, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23). From a new heart God transfigures us, transforming the way we think, talk, and act. From within He changes our goals, morals, and desires, fitting us for Heaven rather than this fallen world.

The Spirit of God works through the Scriptures transforming us from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), internally and not by slavery to an outside influence.

As the free children of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we don’t know all of what we’ll be like in the end, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).

Distorted Images

“Like Woman” painted by Pablo Picasso

Suppose you hired someone to paint a portrait of your mother, your wife, or your daughter and the result was this painting done by Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Such a painting hides your loved one’s true nature and character, doesn’t it?

The Second Commandment given by God to the nation of Israel forbids the making of any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:4).

God forbids the making of images or statues of Him because any image we make is a distortion of Him. Every image of Him would be according to our own imagination, marred, skewed, and disfigured by sin in the sinner.

Distorting the image of your wife is one thing, but distorting the Almighty is in a whole different category. Every picture of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit is a blasphemous distortion.

For example, think of a crucifix, which pictures Jesus hanging on a cross. The crucifix is meant to portray Jesus in His suffering and death, yet it totally ignores His eternity, His deity, His life, His resurrection, His majesty, His present ministry as Prophet, and Priest, and King. The crucifix turns His weakness into the sole focus, hiding all else about Him.

When we see a depiction of God, it perverts our thoughts about Him. Whatever the image is, it becomes our natural thought of whom He is. Then, at least in our minds and hearts, we are bowing down and worshiping an image etched in our minds. Instead of worshiping God in spirit and in truth, we worship a false idol created by sinful man.

Are You Gold?

Be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:10).

Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks wrote, Assurance is the believer’s ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions

Peter wrote the last of his letters to reveal the evil character of false teachers and show that growing Christ-like character is the proof of salvation.

Years ago I bought a used Ford Taurus that two days later had engine trouble. In the glove box I found a note from another purchaser only a week earlier reporting the same problem. Attached was a statement from the dealership’s own mechanic that the car needed a new transmission.

Since I bought the car from a dealership, Oregon’s Lemon Law allowed me to return the car for a full refund. There is little more frustrating to a consumer than buying a product only to discover that it isn’t what is claimed.

In the same way, Peter tells each of us who claims the name of Christ to eagerly prove and guarantee to ourselves that our salvation is what we claim it is. He says that the assurance of genuine faith is based on the character of Christ being formed within us.

Salvation isn’t proven through the repetition of a prayer, a feeling in the heart, the joining of a church, or having someone else affirm us. By these outward means we falsely claim converts. Assurance of salvation – like Noah sitting still and quiet in the ark – is the result of the Spirit’s internal work, proven by a tried and tested faith (Matthew 13:18-23).

Paul was persuaded or convinced by evidentiary facts that he was saved and nothing could separate him from the love of God in Jesus (Romans 8:38). His faith had been tested again and again by trials and hardships and proven genuine (Romans 8:35-39). His Christlike character proved him to be a conqueror not a victim as every circumstance in his life was working together for good (Romans 8:28).

As you are tested, genuine saving faith is proven the same way it was in Job: When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

Las Vegas: Why Didn’t God Do Something?

Every evening before we pray and go to sleep, my wife and I talk about the matters of the day soon to fall behind us. The evening after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 1, 2017,  Kim asked why God hadn’t done something to stop the massacre.

My answer was simple: “He did. He sent Jesus to die for sinners.

Sin is a deadly disease that infects every human heart. The symptoms of sin are every form of evil we can imagine, and evil we haven’t yet imagined. Into this mess, God the Father sent Jesus to die for sinners, redeem them from sin, and cleanse the heart.

After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to live inside the redeemed ones. From inside each believer, the Spirit wars against the sin nature and believers strive to live godly lives.

God also gave us His holy Word, the Bible, to teach us right from wrong, like the commandment, Thou shalt not murder (Romans 13:9). The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to make us more like Jesus, but most people chose to rebel against the Father by rejecting Jesus as the only Saviour of the sinner.

Instead of believing the Bible, we ignore and blaspheme it as narrow-minded, old-fashioned, and judgmental because it points out so clearly our wrong from God’s right, our sin from righteousness, and our desperate need for a Saviour.

The problem isn’t that God hasn’t done something; the problem is that we have rejected God’s solution.

The Door of Opportunity

God said to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).

You pray for God’s guidance for a job, a husband, or a new pair of shoes. Beware that an “open door” may not be God’s door but a door of opportunity to sin.

Temptation is the enticement to do evil, to disobey God. Every temptation comes down to a decision: Will I obey God or listen to the voice that offers what my sinful flesh wants?

As Christians, we’re promised that God leads us. If you’ve been born again, you should expect the Spirit of God to lead you (Romans 8:14). The problem is that your sinful flesh also leads you, warring against the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:23). It is only when you walk by the Spirit in submission to the Scriptures that you won’t fulfill the lustful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).

Adam’s son Cain was warned by God that sin was waiting, crouching like a lion ready to pounce. Opportunity wasn’t necessarily God’s will.

One evening King David stood on his housetop and spied Bathsheba bathing. That “open door” was a temptation to sin that caused great suffering for David, Bathsheba, and the whole Jewish nation.

A fall often occurs when we’re faced with sin of presumption or defiance against what we know God has said. Be careful to examine every door by God’s Word – even when you feel peace about it. Feelings of peace are deceptive. Feelings, like doors, open and close, come and go, but God’s Word remains.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple … Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me (Psalm 19:13).

Dangerous Beds

Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11).

I confided in my pastor that I was struggling with thoughts of sexual immorality. He chuckled and answered, We all have those thoughts. As long as you don’t act on them it’s okay. That was the end of the conversation.

By my pastor’s reasoning, a man who is a unable to move any part of his body would be sinless. That’s not the testimony of the Word of God.

The sinful mind is enmity [hateful] against God (Romans 8:7). For as he thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).

Our thoughts can be dangerous beds of sin. I would be unlikely to walk up to another person and plunge a knife into his back. I have no desire to spend my life in a prison cell or face the penalty of death, but I’d consider such a deed in my mind, an act of hateful murder so secret it is known only to myself and to God. In the hidden recesses of my heart I can ponder atrocious and abominable things yet appear to be moral and upstanding, all the while having my mind and conscience defiled (Titus 1:15).

Sin is more than an action. The act is just the final manifestation of what’s already taken place in the mind (Matthew 5:28; James 1:14).

The answer to a sinful mind in the Christian is two-fold. First, we must recognize and repent of our sinful thoughts, confessing these things to the Lord (1 John 1:9). Second, we must refuse to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). The continual renewing of the mind happens in the man of God by the Spirit of God working through the Word of God.

The Power of God at Work

The congregation a the Family of God Celebration Center, Matuu, Kenya.

Sunday morning, July 16th, I arrived in the village of Matuu, Kenya, and sat down in the front row of a tiny church building. As the time neared to begin the service, I looked at the handful of young children mingled with even fewer adults.

I opened my Bible and glanced at the notes I planned to preach from. My heart sank. The sermon based on 7 verses in Judges chapter ten would never work.

The music began, the congregation of less than a dozen stood and began singing, and I bowed my head and tearfully prayed, “Lord, I have nothing to say to these people. I have nothing for them. Unless You speak to them from Your Word, this time will be wasted.” It’s a prayer I’m left to desperately pray every time I stand before any of God’s people, but this time the need seemed even more desperate.

When I was called forward, I repeated my little prayer for the zillionth time, opened my Bible, and began my sermon about a Jewish judge named Jair, and a Saviour named Jesus who shed His blood to save sinners.

After I finished, a man sat down next to me. “Thank you for that sermon,” he tearfully said and began telling me why it was so meaningful to him. He then went on to recount my sermon from the previous year.

Later, another man recounted all four sermons I’ve preached in that church and how God has used them to change his life.

The power of God in Kenya is the same as anywhere else in the world. Neither His work nor power depends upon me. The power of the Gospel isn’t in me or any one of us, but in His Word. My inabilities are meaningless when compared to the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. The transforming power, life-changing influence, and to-the-point relevance have nothing to do with the speaker or the venue, but everything to do with God’s Word.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).