Confessions of a Gentle Giant

June 13, 2010 by  
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That’s the way Joel described the testimony this morning of Marshall Humphries.   Standing beside Marshall was his son Thomas….the first child the Hillions are sending to Ethiopia.  Thomas’ testimony was simple:  “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” (Proverbs 20:11)   Doings issue from Heart…they are the billboards of the heart condition.   For several decades Marshall’s doings were emergency relief services….putting out fires, rescuing flood victims, assisting in tornado catastrophes.  The adrenaline rush from this work was like a drug….he lived on it, and he had to have it.  But there was no testimony of Jesus in his life.  Although he was raised in a church, it wasn’t until about 4 years ago that he began to understand God’s plan for him.  The plan? “Share Jesus in your doings.”   

Although Marshall’s work today is not the high-adrenaline work of yesteryear, he’s still at his best when he’s helping someone in distress and sharing Jesus with them.  “You can never figure on God’s next move,” he reminded us.  His friend has just liquidated everything & moved far away to Maine to become a pastor.  Whether working in emergency relief, or working as a pastor….we must all “sell out” to the Gospel.  This means that NOTHING should be interfering with our living & proclaiming the salvation that is available in Jesus Christ.  

 We often call the Gospel the “Good News.”  But remember… it isn’t good news if it comes too late.   

Every day hundreds of thousands of people are crossing that threshold called Death, and are entering an eternity in Hell.  What does that mean??  It means an existence of being alive, with no measurement of Time…just existence…in a real place there the only thing you know is the justice & condemnation of God!  There is no possible sense of His mercy & love & warmth!   Only justice….only condemnation…without ending….without measure. 

The Joshua Project  is a study group focused on those groups of people (ethnicities) that are without access to the Gospel.  The JP estimates that 6,759 groups in the world have no access to the Gospel.  Today, for example, the JP has highlighted a group in Indonesia; there are 122,000 souls in this group….not a single one knows that he can be made perfectly right with God, that he can have absolute peace for his hurting & hungry soul, that he can be united with a holy & just God forever.  

Not even one person in this group of 122,000 knows! 

But we sit here in America….with the flick of a switch we can listen to a variety of radio stations telling the story, or turn on a TV station with the message, or enter a general store and buy a Book that tells all the details.  And in most places there is a meeting place of Christians within walking distance! 

Not so in the vast majority of the world, where people are dying every minute for lack of spiritual life! 

 ”We sit in our world and never think that there are persons in this world where they don’t know about Jesus, and they have no chance to know , unless we get off our keesters!  The church is not a place for facilitating social events!  It is not something like a Moose Lodge.  It should be centered on the Gospel!”  

Thus spake Joel as he introduced our discussion of Acts 13 this morning.  In this chapter the first folk are officially sent out to Regions Beyond with the Gospel.  Notice something:  They do not go out on their own…they are not sent by an administrative office of some organization.  They are sent by a local church fellowship that is focused, absolutely focused, even to the exclusion of normal eating, on the Lord Jesus & His Father. 

Question: are we (as individuals, as families, as Hillions) so centered, so focused, so enthralled with the Person of Jesus & His God that all else (even food) is forgotten??  Only those who are devoted to knowing Him & His will can hear the voice of instruction that is His. 

As our Family on the Hill moves into the days & years ahead, as we make some challenging decisions, as we  become involved in ministries…..let us be careful not to put the cart before the horse.   Worship, prayer, fasting ALWAYS must be the center of our attention.  And if they are, then He will direct us in the other issues.  

But if we rush ahead, making decisions & doing ministry, in our own wisdom and strength….it is only a matter of time before we fall flat on our faces.  The work of the Church of Jesus is a spiritual work; it cannot be done simply in human wisdom, negotiation, skill.  Nor can it be done by just tacking on a little prayer before & after a meeting. 

Worship, prayer, fasting must be a way of life with us.  Only then can we know the wisdom of His guidance and the power of His supply. 

So….in the midst of their worship, the Spirit spoke to those early Christians in Acts 13  & said “set aside Barnabas & Saul (Paul) for the work that I’ve called them to do.”   No details.  No application paperwork.  No committee. No fund-raising. 

Just a simple word from the Spirit about the work of the Spirit to the people of the Spirit. 

And how did the church respond?  They continued their lifestyle of worship/prayer/fasting….and they obeyed what they were told.  When the Scriptures say “laid their hands on them” it doesn’t mean they beat them up!  This is an old-fashioned way of saying “we appoint you.”  So the church essentially, obeying the Spirit, officially commissioned these two men to go out from them into a special work the Spirit had appointed them. 

Barnabas & Saul/Paul…who were these 2 men?  Well, according to the end of chapter 12, they were two men who were already actively sharing the Gospel.  There’s a lesson in that: God usually calls those who have already proven themselves faithful.  B&S had been about the Gospel work….now the Spirit was giving them a fuller work.  It’s a lot like with our children; we give the “big” jobs to those of our children who have been faithful in the “little” jobs.  So if your heart longs for some “big” work assignment by God, focus on just being faithful, diligent, reliable in the work at hand…..and maybe He’ll count you worthy of the “big” job. 

The other thing we notice about B&S is that Barnabas was a mentor of Saul.  It’s hard to think of Saul (Paul) as having a mentor.  He wrote most of the book in the New Testament!  What books did Barnabas write?  None. 

But Barnabas had the gift of encouragement.  And in Acts 9, this man stood beside Paul when the church people refused to accept his testimony.  It was because of the encouragement of Barnabas that Paul’s ministry took shape.  Between chapter 9 and chapter 13 Barnabas took Paul under his wing and showed him how to do ministry. 

So…who are you an encouragement to?  What person has a ministry because of your coming alongside them?  After Acts 13, we hear all about Paul, and almost nothing about Barnabas.  When we are encouraging others, we really don’t care about who “gets the glory”….we only care that the Gospel goes to new people and Christ’s Kingdom is being established. 

In verses 4-6 of Acts 13 we have their travel itinerary….Seleucia, Cyprus, Saiamis, Paphos.  Then is recorded their first opposition.  It came from a fellow Jew!  And by the end of the chapter a whole slew of Jews have joined forces again Barnabas  & Paul.   What happened?  How can there be such opposition to such a wonderful message of spiritual freedom? 

“Opposition follows Gospel obedience.  Sometimes when led by the Spirit your greatest opposers will be those you thought would be your greatest supporters.”  Joel explained further….you see, the whole message of the Gospel is a message of freedom through surrender.  To accept the Gospel is to surrender our wills to His in the matter of salvation & living.  And as we surrender, the Spirit changes us from the inside out.  This power in our lives becomes a threat to those around us who do not want to surrender as we have done.  They prefer to keep hold on their influences, their money, their lifestyles, their time, their recreations.  And they become uncomfortable being around those who have surrendered….it is a burr in their saddle to be reminded that there is a God and His rightful place in their lives is one of authority & salvation. 

So instead of embracing the messenger and following in surrender, they fight.  They threaten loss of job, loss of relationship, loss of reputation, loss of money/inheritance/perks. (And in some cases, they threaten beatings, dismemberment and death.) 

There are many in the Christian world who have distorted the Gospel message. They have made the message into one of exclusive blessing & reward.  They have removed the part of the message that talks about surrender.  If you & I follow the distorted Gospel, we will have no opposition…..and no salvation. 

But if we follow the true, unpolluted, non-distorted, full-bodied Gospel, it is a guarantee that we will have opposition.  In fact, it is such a certain thing that if someone claims to have believed the Gospel, but they have no opposition, it is entirely questionable if they have indeed believed the Gospel. 

To believe the Gospel is to surrender to His Life…..and to surrender is to bring the Opposition. 

But is that the whole story?  No, indeed!  In the midst of the opposition, God is doing His work and is “birthing” more children into His Kingdom.  And there is great rejoicing.  And Life is replicated.  And the Kingdom is expanded. 

Notice Paul’s response to the opposition.  In vs. 45-52, we see several things about his response. 

First, he gave the opposers freedom to oppose.  He never takes away the right of a person to reject the Gospel.  If God will not violate the free will that He gave to each person, we also cannot violate it.  It is not Christ’s way to threaten or brow-beat someone into surrendering to the Gospel.  So down thru history, whenever a group of so-called Christians have forced others into the Christ-way, they have violated the nature of God and the example of Christ….and their deeds must be removed from “Christian” history. 

Second, he submitted to the persecution while being wise about his alternatives.  He doesn’t stand up to the Opposers and say “you’re not allowed to hurt me!”   No, he gives them the freedom to do him wrong; he’s not a cry-baby.  At the same time, however, he does what is reasonable, what is good stewardship, what is logical in trying to avoid unnecessary harm to himself.  Throughout all of Paul’s ministry we see him leaving turbulent places, not from fear, but from stewardship.  Not running away, but escaping wild people.  (Jesus did the same in his life.) 

Third, once their heart was set against the Gospel, Paul respected their decision.  He allowed them to “drawn the line in the sand.”  Look at vs. 51….he shook off the dust from his feet. This expression means, he said “If that’s the way you want it, so be it.”  The opposition threw Barnabas & Paul out of their territory; they were expelled.  Paul didn’t plead with them any more; their decision had been made. 

Finally, they overflowed with joy.  What?  Read that again….they overflowed (OVERFLOWED) with joy (JOY).  That’s weird….verbal harassment, physical expulsion, denigration, threats….yet they are overflowing with joy. 

That’s the way of the resurrection power of Jesus.  I’ve seen it over & over & over amongst the Ethiopian believers.  They are brought to the edge of Death by the Opposition…but they are full of joy…not at God saving them at the last minute, but at the honor of serving Jesus.  A few months ago, Eunetu (an evangelist I know personally) was ambushed while riding his bike home from talking with some folk about Jesus.  As they beat him, he hollared “What do you want?” and they answered “We want you to stop talking about Jesus!”    The punches, the kicks, the hits culminated in a knife.  As they brought the knife to his throat, miraculously some Ethiopian soldiers appeared.  They scared the ambushers.   Eunetu’s bike was stolen; he walked the rest of the way home.  The church leaders went to visit him, “to encourage him.”  Eunetu’s response to the elders?  With a broad smile & shining eyes, he said “This is nothing compared to the joy of serving Jesus.” 

“This is nothing compared to the joy of serving Jesus.” 

Let it sink in……NOTHING compared to the JOY of SERVING JESUS! 

“We sit in our world and never think that there are persons in this world where they don’t know about Jesus, and they have no chance to know , unless we get off our keesters!  The church is not a place for facilitating social events!  It must be centered on the Gospel!”