Salvation is for Today

Luke 4: 18 – 19

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Stop for a moment today and consider this passage. This is from the book of Isaiah and it is what Jesus read in the synagogue.  His speaking of this passage marked the beginning of his public ministry. If God sent Jesus only to die on a cross bearing the sin of the world, then why this scripture? If eternal life was the only thing on God’s mind, why did Yahweh anoint Jesus to do all these other things? My point is that we have narrowed our focus as to Jesus’ purpose and in so doing have missed the greater blessing.

John 3: 16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” I suppose there is no other scripture in the whole of the Bible that is more well known than this one. We make our children memorize it in Bible School, put it on bumper stickers and even billboards. It is a wonderful passage, but it is not the whole story. Jesus didn’t stand up in the synagogue and say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me so that none shall perish but instead have eternal life.” Why? Because that was not his singular purpose nor his anointing. It explains God’s love but not Jesus’ purpose. If you want to know the reason God sent Jesus you must read 1 John 3: 8, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” This scripture discloses Jesus’ purpose. Let us go further, though, to see what Jesus, himself, says about his purpose in the earth. John 10: 10 reads, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Abundant life, free from the works of the devil, is the gift Jesus came to give us. Yes, eternal life is part of that package but that is the end game, not the whole thing. God made the earth for us to live in and enjoy. He gave us this planet to be our home, not heaven. He didn’t create earth as a testing ground but rather as a home. The point is, the time we spend here is not simply a waystation. Life here isn’t just passing time until we get to heaven. We are supposed to have abundant life here and now. Look again at today’s passage. Clearly that has nothing to do with heaven. Those conditions do not exist in heaven. Adam’s job was to make earth look like heaven so that we would have a heavenly home right here. Jesus prayed, “Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven,” (Matthew 6: 10). Earth is to reflect heaven.

Jesus came to restore our original purpose to us and to return the earth to us as our heavenly home, a home made in the image of heaven. Then God will come here and live with us. We’ve got to stop waiting to get to heaven to start fulfilling our purpose. We’ve got to stop waiting until heaven to start living, especially living in the fullness of God’s intent for us.

Redemption? Yes, it’s a big deal, but it is not the end of the story. It is the means by which God put us back on track. We could not have the abundant life Jesus came to give us until we were cleansed of the sin which stained us and our existence. Furthermore, I do not think eternal life is the evangelical message; it is not the salvation message. The word salvation means, rescue or safety, deliver, health, victory, prosperity, help, and welfare, (Strong’s 3444 & 4991). It does not only mean deliverance from sin. The savior came to give deliverance, health, victory, prosperity, help and welfare. In other words, he came to give us an abundant life right here, right now. This is why I think evangelism is important, but it also points out why our evangelistic message is presently off target. We are trying to get people into heaven while Jesus is trying to save them from their current peril and give them a great life now and forever.

Eternity is now. It began a long time ago. God has plans to get us into heaven but the good news that Jesus shared is that our freedom and victory begins now. This is not the good news we have been carrying to the world, however. God wants people to know they can be free now. Jesus came to set the captives free. Amen? The good news of the gospel is that God wants to bless you now, in this life. He wants to free people from torment and hurt. He wants to mend their hurts and restore them to good life. People need God now, not just in heaven. The message of the gospel is that God loves you now. Salvation emphatically is not, buy your ticket to heaven and then suffer until you die. That is not God. If you know God at all, you know that is not His heart.

To be clear, the evangelical message, the message that all the world needs to hear is that God wants to be your savior today. He wants to move into our lives and improve them. He longs to give us perfect peace and joy in this world, right now. Yahweh is a now God. Jesus came to give us abundant life. Abundant life is that life which in intertwined with our beloved, our Father, Yahweh. He who loves us has sent His son to restore us back to health, welfare, liberty, prosperity and joy. This is the good news of the gospel. Tell that to someone. Heaven is here and now for all who live in Christ. Now is the salvation of the gospel. Now is life and love in the Son. Jesus is here now to give you a good life. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope,” (Jeremiah 29: 11). Tell someone the good news. Jesus has come, and he has life and healing in his hands. This is his salvation, and ours. Amen.

Show Me

Matthew 12: 33             Voice Translation

Good trees produce good fruits; bad trees produce bad fruits. You can always tell a tree by its fruits.

This is not a farming tip today, though I guess it is a good thing to know. Actually, Jesus spoke this verse in teaching that our words reveal our character. We can no more hide the health of our hearts than a bad tree can camouflage its bad fruit.

This goes to the heart of our evangelical message because it is hard to convince people about the good fruit of Christianity when they perceive rotten fruit on our trees. However, there is another group we should bear in mind because not all evangelism is to strangers. Let’s think about our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers as well. What are our actions and words saying to these people about Christianity?

In the United States, the state of Missouri is known as the “Show me state.” So, if we were all from Missouri we might say, “Show me your Christianity!” You see, if our words are not in keeping with our fruit they will have no weight. The fruit on our trees speaks much more loudly than our words. Our Christianity can best be measured in how we treat other people. People see how we treat each other and they judge all of Christianity by that simple measure, and perhaps rightfully so.

If Christianity is about anything, it is about loving others. This love, is an action verb. It’s not about having a feeling. It is about demonstrating and expressing kindness, gentleness and all the other character traits of our dear Father. Without the outward expression of selflessness and consideration for others, our Christian message fails.

Think about the children we are raising. They hear a lot of messages out there and we are trying to compete with our message of Christian love but are we modeling it? What does it do to an impressionable heart when you claim you are a Christian but do not produce fruit? I tell you it confuses our young people. Even more, it alienates them from the Christian message. And what is the Christian message if not love. But this is not a message which can be conveyed in words alone. It is in our actions, and, as I’ve said, most notably in the way we treat others. These children are saying very loudly to us, “Don’t tell me about your Christianity. Show me.”

I believe they have a right to expect Christianity to be demonstrated to them. They ought to see Christianity in action. Believe me, they will not follow someone who is not authentic and sincere. It is okay to make mistakes. We all do, but there is so much persuasion in admitting fault to your children, even in apologizing to them when we err.

I hope you will give this some thought and let it sink into your heart. We must produce good fruit if we want our Christian message to have any credence at all. The fruit is most noticeably demonstrated, and weighed, in how we treat others, including our children, friends, and associates. We evangelize every day with our actions. The question is, what message are we sending?

Magnified

1 John 4: 8

God is love.

Every congregation around the world has talked about this passage of scripture. We have heard time and time again that God is love but its deepest truths have yet to permeate our Christian cultures and our individual hearts.

To know God is to love. Every person who says they know God must have come to know Him as love. We must, at the very deepest levels, understand that He loves us, but further, we must grasp what it means for God’s nature to be love. Anyone who does not know love, does not know God. It is that simple.

I am listening to an audiobook, a work of fiction. The fictional world in which the characters live is populated by many different people all, who serve different Gods. The overtones of religious hypocrisy are rampant. It caused me to think of our God and our expression of who He is. The atrocities perpetuated by the characters in the book in the name of their Gods, unfortunately, mirrors the same challenges the church of Christ has endured. For me this has become a simple matter, at least theologically. Evangelism must be based in love and motivated by love. All else is both meaningless, at best, and damaging.

In driving through town one day, I saw a car painted with, what was clearly meant to be, an evangelical message. However, the words did anything but magnetize one towards Christ. In fact, I, a Christian, was repelled by the message, even offended. Presumptively, the person driving the car, the one who painted the message, was attempting to populate heaven. The message was not filled, however, with the essence of God which is love.

Sooner or later the church must decide and subsequently adopt an attitude and philosophy of love. We must first, give ourselves over to God’s love, allowing Him to love us in our deepest thoughts and feelings. As we allow ourselves to receive uncompromising love, we will be competent to tell others about the love of God. Only love draws people to God. Theology does not and hell does not. Even the promise of heaven is too vague for most people to appreciate and fathom. We needed acceptance when we were lost and flailing. We found that in our Father who accepted us as we were, even with all our scars and blemishes. We fail, however, to extend that same grace to others and I believe it is because we have yet to fully immerse ourselves in the love the Father offers us.

To my way of thinking, there is no evangelism outside of love. The world does not need us criticizing and damning them. They are not drawn to condemnation nor do they see us as more holy than they when our dialogue is full of hateful expressions instead of love. Don’t tell me you love God when you spit vitriol at His children. It is a vulgar lie. We can no longer afford the luxury of pious self-promotion while people are dying and going to hell. Others are leaving the church because they see hate and judgment. If the church is to grow and function as it was meant to, then we must make the choice to love. It is not our job to decide who goes to hell. Our job is to make hell a wasteland. Eventually, as a body and as individuals, we must embrace love and allow it to color our lives. If God is love, then our only choice is to exercise love. If we are to march in the name of our God then we cannot kill, steal or destroy in His name. This is the message of our times. The first step of this age is: embrace love. Let it fill you and let it be reflected in you. We can’t be mean-spirited and imitate Jesus. We can no longer afford to cause harm in the name of Jesus. That is not his way nor our commission. The gospel is good news and all people, when they encounter us, should have a brush with unfathomable love. Jesus told people that the Kingdom of God had come near them. People will only see the Kingdom and its power when we accomplish step one, adopt love. There is no step two until we achieve step one. Let love guide you, let it fill you. Let God be magnified by magnifying love.

Stoned Again

John 8: 59

Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.

Yesterday I shared a very similar verse with you. Jesus drove the Jews crazy. He inspired murderous intent in them. What was it about him that aggravated them so? Think of it this way. Jesus told them the truth, the absolute truth. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the truth inspired such malicious actions? Here is another point to ponder. The Jews actually thought they were doing good in their persecution of him. They were trying to protect the church and the faith. They accused Jesus of blaspheme when he told them the truth and they believed that blaspheme should be silenced because of its potential damage to the church.

Another problem with what Jesus preached was that it was new. Rather than taking into consideration what Jesus proclaimed, they rejected it out of hand. What was the source of their fear? Why does a person’s articulation and sometimes even just their existence rattle people so? The Pharisees should have known that truth wills out. It will survive no matter what you do. The false will fade and wither. They even admitted that others had come previously claiming to be the Messiah but, their testimony did not last.

Jesus was aware of their justification of their thoughts and acts. He warned us that we would face this same dynamic. “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16: 2). There is no need to be so reactionary and persecute people for their beliefs. God is bigger than any false doctrine. Moreover, there may be truth in what is said. Perhaps, though, it is the truth which frightens people most of all. And to be honest, it is not really the church which we seek to protect by our vehement rebuttal of opposing thought. We are in truth seeking to protect our thoughts and our way of life and that is the case even if our belief is wrong. We will fight to the death for a philosophy which isn’t even truth because to entertain an opposing idea challenges us. Why are we so afraid? What can another’s opinion do to us? We don’t have to force our ideology and views down other people’s throats in order for Yahweh to be seen as the glorious God He is. He is bigger than any paradigm we have yet constructed. Furthermore, Jesus has told us that he is doing a “new thing” so we need to relax and trust him and trust that he is well able to reveal truth amongst an abundance of opinion. Believe me, the prophets God is sending into the world are going to shake us up. They are going to challenge us. That’s okay. Father is well able to care for us and lead us into all truth.

It is very easy to look back at the Pharisees and the Jews and criticize them for their shortsightedness but we have become the modern day Pharisees. We serve a form of religion rather than the truth. Our opinions and doctrines sit on the throne of our faith rather than the Word of God. We listen to old, worn out theology and never even question whether it is rooted in the Bible. So much of what we defend is from Christian culture rather than the heart of God. Jesus came sharing good news. He went about doing good, (Acts 10: 38) not beating people up with the law. The commission he gave us was to continue his mission, to spread the good news of the gospel. We don’t need to try to convince people they are wrong treat, them as outcasts or slay them with our words. We only need to share the love of God and allow them to do the same. Whatever is true will prevail and we will be a unified body walking in the glory of our Lord.

No Shame

Romans 1: 16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Paul was definitely a good evangelist. He did share the good news everywhere he went. I wonder why lots of us don’t tell the good news any more than we do. I think in a sense we are ashamed. Perhaps we are not ashamed of the gospel per se but we are embarrassed or ashamed of sounding like a Jesus freak. Maybe were are afraid of rejection. Paul certainly wasn’t, though, and life could be pretty dangerous for his exhortation of the gospel.

Paul had a revelation of the power of the gospel. Maybe that is what made him so bold and me so timid. Or do we get so caught up in the busyness of our life that we don’t take a moment to be concerned over anyone else. Looming on my horizon is my next twenty to do items and the three big projects sitting on my desk. What will happen in eternity if I get none of that done? I mean, how important are they really? Are my deadlines arbitrary? Does any of it matter that much? When I think of this in light of the eternity of someone’s soul I feel a bit embarrassed. Is it really too much for me to take five minutes to ask my banker if he knows the saving power of the gospel?

You know, I heard a good story the other day about a woman who took the time to notice someone else and when she did she saw that other person suffering. She offered to pray for the woman who’s countenance was forlorn. You know what? Her bravery afforded her the opportunity to meet someone’s need. But I am too busy. Maybe I walked right by that same woman and never even looked at her.

Lord God, give us all the courage of our convictions. Give us joy bubbling up out of us that begs to be shared. Help us to be like Paul and see not the consequences to ourselves but the significance to others. Help us to share the power of the gospel with those who are in need.

Blessed Feet

Isaiah 52: 7         NIV

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Not only are the feet of those who bring the good news beautiful, they are also blessed. Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news. And of course they are because they deliver a blessing and we know that what a person sows, he also reaps.

This is the evangelistic model. We don’t have to be smart; you don’t have to know the whole Bible or be an eloquent speaker in order to help people receive their salvation. Just tell folks the good news. What has Christ’s victory meant in your life? Are you excited and happy about what he has done for you? Evangelism is as simple as telling others all of the good things in your life since you found Jesus. 

When you come carrying the good news of Christ you bring life and hope into otherwise desperate situations. No doubt that is beautiful to those who hear. You don’t have to be a preacher, just let your light shine and get your feet blessed.

One Touch

Matthew 9: 31

They went out, and spread the news about Him in all that land.

Do you want to know how to evangelize the world? Here is an evangelism revelation. There were two guys in this story who spread the word about Jesus throughout the whole land. Were these just two of the best evangelists ever or is there something else going on here? And most importantly, what can we learn from their story?

The backstory is that two blind men pursued Jesus and healing. When Jesus asked them if they believed he was able to restore their sight they answered, “Yes, Lord” (v. 28). Jesus then touched their eyes and said, “Be it done to you according to your faith,” and the men’s sight was restored (v. 29 – 30). Clearly there is a faith message there but we also see in this example of Jesus’ ministry how we can spread the good news about the Kingdom of God – heal a few people.

What? Me? Well, isn’t that the ministry Jesus has left us with? Look at Ephesians 4 with me, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ” (v. 11 – 12, emphasis added). God has established these ministry positions in order to equip the rest of us for the work of Christ. We, the body, carry out the divine commission. Jesus has also empowered us for this service. “And having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness, ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons’” (Matthew 10: 1, 8). The only question we have to answer is, “Am I a disciple of Christ” because all who are Christ’s disciples are anointed with his authority. 

God gave Jesus the power to heal and Jesus gave it to us. “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you’” (John 20: 21). As we see from the experience of the two blind men, one touch from God will change a person forever. They become the voice heard in the desert. The steps to world evangelism are first that we must allow Jesus to touch us, and I mean really touch us. It is his ministrations to our heart and receiving our own miracles that make his word like a fire brand in our mouths. We need to seek that personal touch and live in it. Then we extend his grace to others. We lay hands on the sick and they recover, not because of our faith, not because of our healing anointing but rather by the blessing of the Lord. Jesus said, “The Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 14: 10). So, we need not have performance pressure. It is Jesus within me who does the works and whoever Jesus touches will want to tell the world.