Christmas Behind Us…So What’s Next?

– THE MIRACLE BIRTH –

Christians just celebrated the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World.  Every year my wife and I re-watch the DVD of The Nativity on the night before Christmas.  There lies in a manger, a crib between Mary and Joseph as they lay the baby Jesus gently down in a bed of hay.

10810578894_f922494b07
Baby Lying In A Crib

One night a wife found her husband standing over their infant’s crib.  As she watched him looking down at their very first baby, she saw a face with mixed emotions…disbelief, doubt, delight, amazement, enchantment, skepticism.  Touched by this unusual display and the deep emotions it aroused, she slipped her loving arm around her husband.  “A penny for your thoughts,” she said.  My wife occasionally asks me the same question, “A penny for your thoughts,” even after 50 years of marriage while I stare into an empty space of a room.

Her husbands response?  “It’s amazing” he replied.  “I just can’t see a crib like that for only $46.50.”  

Now in the original Christmas Story, I’m positive that Joseph and Mary’s dialogue never considered the costs involved of a borrowed crib in the manger.  They were thankful that they had a place at all!

Here, in both stories, lay one of the greatest MIRACLES in God’s creation.  In the first story I shared, all the father saw was a CRIB.  As baby JESUS lay in His crib…Joseph and Mary saw what lay within.  Not the uncleanliness of barn animals, the town’s people reactions, the cold of the night.  They were focused on the Miracle!

Many times people FOCUS upon God’s handiwork and only see the outside manifestation…never the MIRACLE of the birth of a new baby… or, the MIRACLE BIRTH OF A NEW CHRISTIAN!

SOMETHING EXCEPTIONAL HAPPENS DURING THE SPIRITUAL REBIRTH.

Something very exceptional dies within each Christian when we obey Jesus; by repenting of our sins and being buried in Christian Baptism and a new life is born.

We receive a promise…

“Repent  (change your views and purpose to accept the will of God in your inner selves instead of rejecting it)  and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of and release from your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”  (Acts 2:38 AMP).

There are those who believe that the Holy Spirit is some kind of inanimate object – like the crib that held that baby – AND they see only the crib, NOT the miracle within.

What the Bible Tells Us that the Spirit of God Does Within Us–

~ helps us in our prayers

~ guides us

~ teaches us

~ AND empowers us

BUT perhaps the most captivating thing that the Holy Spirit was sent to do was implied in Acts 1:8:

But YOU shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and YOU shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth.

Notice the Bible verse says first, they had to receive Holy Spirit – and then they would be His witnesses.  The Holy Spirit came first – then the witnesses.

Now that might sound rather peculiar at first reading.  These people gathered here had been with JESUS from the beginning of His ministry. They had been schooled, taught by JESUS and sat at His feet.

BUT Acts 1:8 implies they should become witnesses AFTER receiving the Holy Spirit.  Why should they have to wait?  Why not just start witnessing right then and there?

WELL, they could have…but they would have been lacking the “DUNAMIS” — the POWER to effectively witness.

We get the English word “dynamite” from the Greek word “dunamis”.  

In other words, they could have begun witnessing in the surrounding communities without the Holy Spirit but it wouldn’t have the same exploding power.

My wife gave me a wonderful surprise Christmas gift this year–an Electric Hedge Trimmer!  I’ve been trimming the hedges along side of our home for years with only hand shears.  Now the shears got the job done alright, but with the POWER  TRIMMER…the task becomes less difficult.

FRUSTRATION Can Come With WITNESSING:

Have you ever felt frustrated in witnessing…inviting someone to church…talking to them about JESUS?  Trust me, it can come with FRUSTRATION and INTIMIDATION.

Understanding  Prevents Frustration–

It’s my belief that part of our frustration in our sharing JESUS (“witnessing”) can come from NOT UNDERSTANDING the pivotal role that Holy Spirit can play in helping us share our faith with others.

JESUS said:  “However, I am telling you nothing but the truth when I say it is profitable for you that I go away.  Because if I do not go away, the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you [into close fellowship with you]; but if I go away, I will send Him to you,    And when He comes, He will CONVICT and CONVINCE the world and bring demonstration to it about sin and about righteousness and about judgement”  (John 16:7, 8 AMP).

It is NOT our job to CONVICT and CONVINCE the World… 

One of the primary jobs for God’s Spirit in this world of ours is convicting people of their sin; their need for righteousness and the impending judgement.

You and I don’t have to convict people (change their hearts) regarding SALVATION.  That’s the Spirit’s job.  According to Scripture in Acts 1:8, we are to be WITNESSES.

Courtroom Testifying
Courtroom Testifying

Let me give you an Illustration:  In a courtroom, there is a judge, prosecutor, defense attorney,a defendant, AND witness.

Who gives TESTIMONY in the courtroom?  The witnesses do.

Do the witnesses prosecute the defendant?  Do the witnesses convict the defendant?  NO!  WITNESSES…witness…and they do their best to give honest and true testimony because they realize that the verdict may hinge on how well they give an account.  BUT their only job is TESTIFYING.

CONVICTING OF PEOPLE of their Sins & of the Need of Righteousness & the Closeness of Judgement…is the Spirit’s job–NOT OURS!

OUR TESTIMONY IS IMPORTANT:

In Romans 10:13-15, the apostle Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be SAVED.”  How then, can they “call” on the one they have not believed in?  How can they believe in the one of who they haven’t heard?  And how can they he”ar without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

God’s Mandate 2000 Years Ago Is Still In Effect…”Be witnesses”

GOD has given every one of us (NOT just pastors), a MANDATE.  What’s a “mandate”?  According to the On-line Dictionary:  The noun is…”an official order or commission to do something”; the Verb is “to give (someone) authority to act in a certain way.”

So when Jesus says “you shall be My witnesses”, He is given us the AUTHORITY and the COMMISSION to be His witnesses here on earth after receiving the given POWER to do so.

Now I found it interesting in Acts 1:10, 11 after JESUS was caught up, and a cloud received and carried Him away out of their sight, what the disciples were found doing:

“And while they were gazing intently into heaven as He [Jesus] went, behold, two men [dressed] in white robes suddenly stood beside them”  (verse 10).

The messengers (angels) question becomes one to be asked to all of us:  “…why do you stand gazing into heaven?”  

JESUS had already said, “you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  

The angels were encouraging the disciples (and us too!),  “Don’t just stand there and think about what’s in the ‘right now’, GO!”   Their words sunk into their hearts and in verse 12,  “Then [the disciples] went…”

Who Are the Preachers Today?

UNLESS someone preaches (witnesses), people cannot hear the Gospel Message…the Good News.

AND, if they don’t hear, they can’t believe…

AND, if they don’t believe, they don’t call…

AND, if they don’t call out, they won’t be SAVED!

This Is Our Service to God–

The SALVATION of the people we care about around us hinges on our FAITHFULNESS in our witnessing.  This is such a valuable SERVICE to God, that He regards even our feet (those who give testimony), of how they came to Jesus… as beautiful!

HOLY SPIRIT OPPORTUNITIES:

I believe that God’s Spirit gives each Christian believer opportunities to talk to others, IF…and that’s a big IF, if we just ask.  I’ve been reading of late in the Gospel of John, when I came upon 3-verses about “asking”.

John 14:12-14:

“I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, IF anyone steadfastly believes in Me, he will himself be able to do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these, because I go to the Father.    

“And I will do [I will grant] whatever you ask in My Name, so that the Father may be glorified and extolled in (through) the Son.

“[Yes]  I will grant [I myself will do for you] whatever you shall ask in My name  [as presenting all that I AM].”

Now most of the things we seem to ASK FOR, are things that will benefit us: food, clothing, roofs over our heads, a good job…  But how about asking for OPPORTUNITIES…opportunities to talk to other about Christ Jesus this coming new year.

SO, WHAT’S NEXT AFTER CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR?

We need to:

PRAY, ASK for God’s Spirit to prepare the hearts of people we want to talk to.  We don’t go out “witnessing”, we “witness” as we go after praying earnestly first.

TRUST the Holy Spirit to do His part as we go.

LISTEN for God as He guides you to people to speak with.

AND SPEAK about what God has done specifically for you and what He means personally to you.

We are truly living in the LAST DAYS.  The BAD NEWS is always hitting you in the face.  The GOOD NEWS should be always in our hearts, minds, and souls as we go.

JERUSALEM FIRST…our neighborhoods, our workplace, our communities.

JUDEA…the towns, cities, counties all around us.

SAMARIA…the bordering States, Provinces, Countries…

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH!

What’s next?  The Time Is Now!

But you shall receive POWER (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth.

Where is your JERUSALEM?

“Keepers of the Aquarium”

Keepers of the Aquarium
Keepers of the Aquarium

A “FISHING” STORY:

Fishing season for the lakes open up every April  near my home in Washington State.  This year, I purchased a fishing license and headed towards a well-stocked lake nearby.  Since this was my first experience in lake fishing after 71 years, I decided to invite a neighbor who had some expertise in catching FISH.  I definitely needed some instructions from someone who was patient enough to teach me to bait my hook and cast the line out into the water. After a few miss-casts into the tree branches, I finally managed to get the rigging where Henry (my good neighbor) thought the fish might be.  I then was told to lay the fishing pole in a homemade fork looking device that Henry had brought along and then… wait.  I waited…and I waited…watching for the tip of the pole to begin twitching.  And then, it happened!  Henry yelled out, you got a fish on your line Mel.  Reel it in!  My eyes must have been as big as saucers and with a wide grin on my face I reeled in my FIRST FISH…ever.  Actually, when we decided it was time to leave our guarded fishing hole, while reeling in my fishing line…I caught another trout.  I yelled out in glee, somewhat surprising Henry I think, “Thank You Jesus”!  This does prove a point:  You can ‘teach old dogs new things.’

ANOTHER “FISHING” STORY TO TELL IN A MUCH LARGER LAKE:

Bigger Fish, bigger lake
Bigger Fish, bigger lake

There were men pulling in their fishing nets one morning.  The water from the wet nets broke the silence as two of the men stood up to stretch in their 20 Foot wooden boat.  They were eagerly searching for results from their labors of fishing all night long.  Although my experience was but a few hours on a small lake, I too eagerly waited for positive results.

But as the last of the empty nets pile into the boat bottom, they discouragingly reach for the boat’s oars as another wasted night is realized.

“How’s the fishing?” — a mans calls out from the shoreline.

“Nothing.  Absolutely NOTHING!” —they answered back.

“Throw your nets on the other side of the boat”,  orders the man from the nearby water’s edge.

“But we fished all night.”  

Frustration must have been heard in their voices.  I know my impatience would have certainly been with the fishermen’s; if I had been at Lake Padden and the results were…ZERO FISH!  But fishing in a much larger lake, the the Sea of Galilee…all night…fighting the surrounding elements…and coming home with NO RESULTS?

BUT, In Obedience–

After a long pause and the shaking of heads, a sense of authority in the voice coming from the beach is felt and the fisherman responds,  “All right, but only once more…”

456991202_47102379fbAfter a short time, letting out their nets in the same water, shouts of excitement ring out…calls for help sound from the boat.  The nets were so full, they were beginning to break!

You know this story from the conversations given in John 21:1-12.  What a moment that must have been!

The Nets Are FULL of FISH…now what?

Peter and his brother Andrew desperately brought in the catch with the nets breaking.  They must have thought silently to themselves, how did the stranger know where the fish were?  Was it a miracle?

Suddenly Peter remembered the words of Jesus,  “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

On that Post Easter Morning…

On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, as Jesus and the disciples shared together the “fish fry”, a new wind began to blow.  As the Father had sent Jesus into the world…now Jesus was sending them into the world:

“Go then and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”  (Matthew 28:19).

THE TEST:  The Acts of the Apostles 8:1, 4-5.

[1] “…On that day a great and severe persecution broke out against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

[4]  “Now those who were scattered abroad went about [through the land from place to place] preaching the glad tidings, the Word [the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God].”

[5]  “Philip [the deacon, not the apostle] went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ (the Messiah) to them [the people].”

PAUL HARVEY once said,  “Too many Christians no longer are fishermen but keepers of the aquarium.”   

Had the church in Jerusalem become a “fish aquarium”?  Have we in the church– in our communities, become a “fish aquarium too?

I don’t know.  But what I do know is…it wasn’t God’s plan.  Jesus had been very specific when He said,  “And you shall be My witnesses in JERUSALEM and all JUDEA and SAMARIA and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth”  (Acts 1:8 AMP).

But what about Judea and Samaria?

The Martyrdom of Stephen:

Stephen’s death was an important factor in the life of the Christian community in Jerusalem.  It ignited “a great persecution” which instead of destroying the church movement, it spread the gospel beyond the walls of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).

In my study and investigation of the evidence given in Acts 8,   I noticed the 12 Apostles remained in Jerusalem.  “Why were they not scattered like everyone else?”  

The church leaders had been granted religious protection by Gamaliel:

[34] But a certain Pharisee in the council  (Sanhedrin)  named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, highly esteemed  by all the people, standing up, ordered that the apostles be taken outside for a little while.  [35] Then he addressed them [the council, saying]:  Men of Israel, take care in regard to what you propose to do concerning these men.  (Acts 5:34-35).

After having them flogged and telling them not to speak in or about the name of Jesus…allowed them to go (verse 40).

Now personally, if that had happened to me, beaten with a whip and told you better not or else…I would have probably thought seriously, “Do I really want to be place in this same dilemma again?”  Maybe it would have been ‘safer’ if I would just mind my own business.  You know, go to church every week; help serve when I can; pray for the lost, the unsaved in the world; just be “low-key” in the larger scheme of things and keep on maintaining in the back row of the church I attend.

But reading further, we see how the 12 apostles reacted to the dilemma:

“Yet [in spite of the threats] they never ceased for a single day, both in the temple area and at home, to teach and to proclaim the GOOD NEWS (Gospel) of Jesus [as] the Christ (the Messiah)”  (Acts 5:42 AMP).

“Pastor, that is easy for you to do and say but…”

The religious leaders had agreed but…ordinary believers; the everyday working man; the stay-at-home housewife and mother had no protection.

No Programs or Written Materials to Hand Out–

I also noticed the message was a simple one:  Jesus’ death and resurrection was carried on the lips of ordinary people.

The gospel message has not changed, nor has God’s plan for personal delivery.  We must depend on the Holy Spirit’s POWER–

It Takes Time to Make Disciples:

Time of paying personal attention to people’s needs around us and hours of prayer are part of what it takes.  There isn’t a Christian assembly line knocking out believers like new cars in 30 or 45 days.  No automatic robots welding spirits and souls together to be “functional participants” in the local church.  It takes patience to teach people How to Fish: How to read the Word of God; How to feed and nourish their souls and their applications to the teaching of Jesus in their behavior.

It is ALL of that and more!

I had many questions for my neighbor Henry the first time I went fishing.  After putting the bait on the fishing hook, I asked Henry, “What do I do next?”  And his short answer to the question…“Get the fishing line in the water.  You’re not going to get any fish just thinking about what might be.” 

“Becoming a Contagious Christian” and not just “Keepers of the Aquarium”:

Bill Hybels developed a mathematical formula for reaching those who are spiritually lost from Jesus:

MR + CP + CG = ND

— Meaningful relationships + Caring for people + Communicating the Gospel = New Disciples –

This is the same pattern that the Holy Spirit used with the believers who fled Jerusalem and it is still an effective plan today.

“Salt Without Savor”–

In Matthew 5:13  JESUS SAID:  “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is not good for anything any longer but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.”

SALT WITHOUT SAVOR IS:

— Ineffective…

— Worthless…

— Lost its POWER…

— Won’t create thirst…

— Won’t add much spice…

— Won’t prevent decay.

Becky Pippert wrote:  “Unless salt gets poured out of the shaker, it remains a mere table ornament.”

Knowing What To Say When Opportunities Present Themselves; or how to have “savor” in the Church!

Don’t let the idea of being “salty with savor” overwhelm you.  When opportunities present themselves, just tell your story.  It really IS that simple!

Why do you believe in JESUS?

How did you come to know God’s love in your life?

How has JESUS made a difference in your life? 

JESUS TOLD HIS DISCIPLES  “You will be My witnesses”–

In a courtroom, a witness is not expected to argue the case, prove the truth or press for a verdict.  That is the job of the attorney.  A witness just reports what happened.

The Holy Spirit is our attorney…just telling your story in sharing your testimony; it builds a relational bridge between your heart and the people you are sharing with and it lets JESUS cross over the bridge from your heart to theirs.

Here’s An Old, Old Story in Sharing Your Testimony:

I love old hymns and there is one in particular that came to my mind when telling your story or how you came to be who you are as a Christian and how they too can have the same story in their life:

Verse:  

I heard an old, old story,  how a Savior came from glory

How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me.

I heard about His groaning,  of His precious blood’s atoning,

Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.

Chorus: 

O victory in Jesus, my Savior, forever!

He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood.

He loved me ere, I knew Him, and all my love is due Him–

He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.

Being a witness for Christ is that simple.  Just sharing an old, old story about your Victory in Jesus, a hymn written by Eugene M. Bartlett years ago.

“But how do I begin the conversation?”

I’ve learned over the years, asking questions in personal conversations… is a good place to begin.

One example might be, when someone asks you this often asked question “How’s it going?”  

Rather than giving the usual pat answer…“fine”, try this:

“Well, financially, okay; family wise, pretty well; and spiritually really great.  Which one do you want to talk about?”

What’s the Point?

GOD is already at work in people’s hearts…we learn to ask questions to see the Word seeds of the gospel.  The SEED needs to be planted, watered or harvested.

So do we really want to be Fishers of Men, as Jesus instructed us…or, are we just satisfied in being dedicated “Keepers of the Aquarium”?