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Love God, Grow Together, Reach the World

    Daily Devotions - Entries from January 2012

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary31st2012 Tuesday, January 31
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment



    25
    I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.

    The concept of serving comes up frequently in the New Testament. We may even have memorized some of the more famous verses speaking about the importance of having a humble attitude and seeking to serve others. Yet, when it comes right down to it, the idea that we are to function as servants is still somewhat difficult to grasp.

    Here, in the opening portion of his letter to the Colossians, Paul is at it again, speaking of himself as a servant of Christ’s body, the church. Paul’s entire life was given over to the daunting task of building, shaping, forming and teaching the early church, and he seems to have delighted in that task. This was his “commission” or appointment from God. This was the task set before him, the duty he was responsible for fulfilling.

    Certainly Paul had a unique place in the history of the Church. We are not all called to emulate his work. However, we can all emulate his attitude of complete subservience to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul reveled in the fact that God had rescued him from “dominion of darkness” (Col. 1:13). As a result, he counted it an honor to sacrifice his life completely in service to God.

    You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. (Romans 6:18-19)

    In what ways has God rescued you from slavery to sin? What are the implications of now living as a slave to righteousness?

    MonMondayJanJanuary30th2012 Monday, January 30

    I do not like pain and suffering. Sounds obvious, I know, but it has to be said. In fact, nobody enjoys suffering, not even Paul. Even when he says things like, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you” (Col. 1:24). As tough as he was, I don’t think Paul enjoyed being beaten or stoned or shipwrecked. However, what he did rejoice over was his service to God. What he lived for was the mission that God had set before him. What gave him cause to celebrate was that, like the apostles in Jerusalem before him, he “had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

    Paul (and Peter, and Jesus) were not encouraging some kind of masochistic outlook on life that embraces pain as being somehow purifying or ennobling (as some religions might claim). Rather, the focus was specifically on suffering for and in the cause of Christ. As Paul said to Timothy,

    Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:8-10, NIV)

    The same message applies to the Colossian believers. Paul rejoiced in what he was suffering “for you,” “for the sake of his body, which is the church.” The suffering therefore became a sign that Paul was doing and saying and teaching and proclaiming all that God wanted him to do and say and teach and preach. The same message went out to the Philippians as well,

    For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Phil.1:29-30, NIV).

    There are a thousand sources of suffering in this world. Sometimes we even bring it on ourselves. However, we have hope because of the person we serve, Jesus Christ. This passage is both a reminder of God’s love as well as a challenge—how will we respond to the pain and suffering we will experience in this life? With anger and bitterness, or confident hope in God? Moreover, to what lengths are we willing to go to see God’s message of hope spread throughout the world? In what ways are shrinking back from the task of making disciples because we fear that there may be repercussions that are uncomfortable?

    FriFridayJanJanuary27th2012 Friday, January 27
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

    What an incredible way to end his letter! As Paul closes his prayer he once again turns his attention, and ours, to God, the beginning and end of all things. This is not just some neat formula or empty religious activity. Praise was a profoundly important part of Paul’s life and ministry. He never viewed his calling as some cold, sterile job description. He never approached his work for God as some mindless obligation or begrudging duty. Rather, Paul reveled in the opportunity he had to play a part in seeing God’s purposes come to pass. Moreover, he was exuberant in his praise of God.

    The motivating power for Paul is not rooted in his own strengths and abilities, nor even in his own desires and wishes. Rather, it is his absolute star-struck wonder of God that drives him forward. Paul is a man blown away by the glory and majesty and mystery of God. He stands in awe of “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33). He gives praise to God as he reflects on the fact that, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Eph. 1:7-8). He marvels at “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18). Paul is a man who basks in the glory of God, who glows with a radiance that comes from a deep personal relationship with Jesus.

    Ultimately this is his “secret” for sharing the gospel—God. Paul never looked inside himself to try and find more motivation for seeing the Kingdom grow. Instead he consistently turned his gaze upwards to God. The more he reflected on who God is and what He has done for us, the more Paul was driven to share that good news with others. The deeper he drank from the well of living water himself, the more motivated he became to see the love of God similarly poured into the hearts of other people.  

    As we close this series on reaching the world and sharing the gospel, spend some time today reflecting on your relationship with God. Does His grace still amaze you? Does His love still overwhelm you? Read deeply from His Word, engage fervently in prayer and may the Holy Spirit encourage and equip you as you take the gospel out into the world today.  

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary26th2012 Thursday, January 26
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    “but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him”

    Here we come to the pinnacle of Paul’s prayer. Although, as we noted before, the mystery of God’s purposes in Christ were hidden until the time of Jesus, nevertheless Paul could assert that “the prophetic writings” attested to them. For Paul, now that the mystery had been revealed, could look back at the books we would call the Old Testament and see Christ everywhere. Again, the point here is not Paul’s personal growth in knowledge and wisdom, but the spread of the gospel to the entire world (“so that all nations might believe and obey him”).

    In fact, as Wheaton College Professor Doug Moo notes in his commentary on the Book of Romans, Paul begins and ends his letter with the same focus, namely, the universal nature of the gospel, which goes out to everyone, both Jew and Gentile. In Moo’s personal translation of Romans 1:5, the opening words of this long letter, Paul says:

    “through whom we received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among the Gentiles for the sake of his name,”

    And now, here at the very end of the letter, Moo’s translation of Romans 16:26:

    “according to the command of the eternal God for the obedience of faith for all the nations,”

    This desire to see “all the nations” come to the “obedience of faith” is the driving force behind Paul’s missionary endeavors. This is the commission he received from God and the calling he pursued throughout his Christian life. And now this is also the reason that Paul is praising God. (Remember, although we are studying the Scripture phrase by phrase, Romans 16:25-27 is a doxology, a song or prayer of praise and worship to God!)

    May we, too, be driven by this same desire to see all nations, all people, come to faith in Christ. May our hearts be transformed as we look upon God’s Word and realize that His plan has always been for the world to know that Christ is Lord and Savior. May we be encouraged as we seek to turn our own humble prayers into action and see those nearest and dearest to us come to faith in Christ.

    (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 39, 936ff.)

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary25th2012 Wednesday, January 25
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    “according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past,”

    The knowledge of God was and is no “mystery” in the sense that we usually think of that word. As Paul himself notes earlier in his letter,

    “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:19-20)

    However, in another sense, the full breadth and scope of God’s plans for humanity (and in particular, for their salvation) could not be known and was indeed hidden until Jesus.  As Paul says to the Colossians, one of his purposes in writing was “that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col. 2:2). The mystery, that which was once hidden, has now been revealed in a person.

    The impact of this mystery revealed is that now even the Gentiles will be given access to God. As Paul says elsewhere,

    I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:25-27)

    Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 3:2-6)

    This is amazing news! This is the kind of revelation that should lead to praise and worship. However, it is also a convicting reminder that God’s plan is not just for personal spiritual growth and development. God’s plan is not just for me. The scope of the work Jesus did on the cross is far greater than my own spiritual well-being. God’s plan involves the Gentiles becoming heirs together with Israel, “sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

    This is the missionary movement of the gospel. This is the reminder that we are part of something far bigger than we can even imagine. God’s plans involve changing the world. Are we going to sit on the sidelines and watch this movement pass us by, or are we ready to lay down our lives, figuratively and perhaps even literally, to serve the King as He expands His Kingdom?

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary24th2012 Tuesday, January 24
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 16:25)

    To be “established” in the gospel may not sound like much, but the sense that Paul is trying to convey here is that God is the one who can and will “strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thess. 2:17). When God “establishes” or “strengthens” us it is equivalent to Him giving us everything that we need to grow and develop and mature as followers of Christ. Paul’s song of praise proclaims that God is the one who empowers us. But how does the gospel give us this power?

    To answer that question we go all the way back to Exodus, and the song of praise that Moses and the Israelites sing to God after their dramatic Red Sea crossing.

     “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. (Ex. 15:1-5)

    We can all recognize, along with Moses, that “the Lord is my strength and my song” when he rescues us from some particular circumstance or provides for us in some dramatic way. In fact, we pray for those needs on a regular basis. But Paul’s word to the Romans points out that God’s work goes far deeper than that. Whereas Moses faced impossible odds, with his back up against the sea, and an imposing enemy facing him down, we faced even worse odds in our battle against sin. Our death was (and is) required as punishment for our sin and rebellion. There’s no way out. And yet, “when the time was right” God sent His son to die for us, that we might be rescued and sin and death itself cast down into the sea. That’s the gospel news that strengthens us. That’s the proclamation of Jesus Christ that establishes us firmly as disciples of Christ.

    We are established and strengthened in our faith because, as Moses sang to God, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling” (Ex. 15:13). Whereas for Moses and the people this meant God’s provision of actual physical land, for us it means that God will lead us by His Spirit, guiding us, convicting us and empowering us for everything that He calls us to be and do. May that gift encourage you as you serve the Lord today.

    MonMondayJanJanuary23rd2012 Monday, January 23
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Sharing our faith with other people is tough. There’s no way to get around that. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will work powerfully and give us amazing opportunities and openings, but most of the time learning how to become a “fisher of men” will require us to stick our necks out and take some risks we’re not used to taking. Certainly we can and must practice, practice, practice. There are some practical skills we can learn and implement, such as being clear on what the gospel is and learning how to share our testimony as a way to engage people in conversation. However, after that the rest is in God’s hands. He is sovereign over the entire process and He alone is the one who brings forth fruit.

    So, by way of encouragement, for this last week of the sermon series on evangelism, we’re going to look at Paul’s parting words in his letter to the Romans. This rousing doxology is a fitting way to end this series on reaching the world, for it sets our hearts and minds firmly on the power and authority of the One who sends us out to share the gospel.

    Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Rom. 16:25-27, NIV)

    Before asking anything of God today, spend some time in prayer simply trying to praise God, worshipping and adoring Him.

    FriFridayJanJanuary20th2012 Friday, January 20
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    The astute reader will realize at this point that something is missing. The story began with the wondrous peaceful perfection of God’s Creation, and although Jesus’s death and resurrection paid the penalty for our sin and allowed us entrance into the presence of God, we still live in broken bodies stumbling through a broken world. We have yet to reach our “happily ever after.”

    As we consider the grand sweep of cosmic history we have briefly traced a line from Creation through the Fall and into Redemption, but the final piece that’s yet to come is Restoration. For the story to come to a close we must return to the garden from whence we first came.

    Author and theologian C.S. Lewis describes this tension as follows:

    At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. (from his essay, The Weight of Glory)

    Although we can rejoice in the new life that we have in Jesus, and revel in the idea that God has adopted us as sons and daughters, the truth is that something is still missing. We are not home yet. However, as C.S. Lewis puts it, the New Testament is filled with “rumours” of the return of the King; a return that will usher in the ultimate renewal of all things. This is the move from Redemption to Restoration. It’s the happy ending that all other happy endings point forward to. Jesus is coming back. As the apostle John says:

    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

     He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

     He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Rev. 21:1-7)

    The gospel story ends here, as the Bible does, with the return to Eden, the final and complete restoration of everything that was lost as a result of the Fall. The grand story comes to a close with Jesus’ powerful and definitive words, “It is done.”

    Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. It’s God’s story. And it’s the “back story” that we need to share with those far from Christ in order that they might understand their need for a savior. Think about it, practice telling it, and may God bless your attempts to share this gospel story with the people you have been praying for this week.  

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary19th2012 Thursday, January 19
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    Although we often think of it happening this way, the story of redemption actually doesn’t begin with a bright star shining over a baby in a manger. The story of redemption goes all the way back to the Fall, for at the same moment that God pronounced judgment on Adam and Eve we find the first hint of the gospel announcement.

    “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)

    However oblique a reference that may seem to be, the promise is that one day Satan, the arch-enemy of God, will be crushed. In fact, references to this redemption become more and more explicit throughout the Old Testament, culminating in the amazing prophecies found in Isaiah and the other prophets. Although it is quite common to think of the Old Testament stories as being all about God’s wrath and judgment, the truth is that God’s grace is sprinkled in liberal measure throughout this long history of God’s chosen people. Over and over again God is patient with his rebellious Creation, constantly pointing forward to a time when their sins would one day be wiped clean.

    It is into this story that Jesus is born.

    But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Gal. 4:4-5, NIV)

    Later, Paul would write to the church in Corinth to remind them that,

    Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. (1 Cor. 15:1-5, NIV)

    All the divergent pieces of the grand narrative told throughout the Old Testament come together in the person and work of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior. The good Creation, the evil of the Fall—all the pieces come together in this succinct explanation of the gospel that Paul gives the Corinthians.

    Once, we were “dead in our transgressions and sins,” but now “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-5, NIV).

    This incredible, astonishing promise of new life is available now to all those who repent and put their faith in Jesus. Continue to pray for those nearest to you that they would hear this good news and respond by putting their faith in Jesus. 

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary18th2012 Wednesday, January 18
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    We don’t have to live long in this world to realize that things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Something has clearly gone wrong. What God once declared to be good has since become twisted and broken. Oceans unleash tsunamis. Earthquakes tear apart cities and towns. Cancer creeps silently through our bodies, killing indiscriminately. Malaria, AIDS, poverty, hunger and every kind of evil imaginable threaten to destroy us at any minute. Even wealth, power, fame and fortune can do little to stem the tide of destruction which oozes across the face of the world. Sooner or later everyone must die, and the majority of people will endure significant suffering in between.

    This horribly depressing picture stands in bleak contrast to the joyous wonder and glorious peace and perfection enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. So what happened?

    Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

     The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

      “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

     When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Gen. 3:1-7, NIV)

    Although we commonly refer to this event as “the Fall,” that phrase hardly seems to do justice to the magnitude of that moment.  The results of that one moment of rebellion were not just bad, or frustrating, or “less than preferable,” but calamitous, catastrophic, cataclysmic. Adam and Eve’s self-centered turn away from God had ruinous, eternal, universal implications for every part of Creation. In that one awful moment sin entered the world, ensuring our own physical and spiritual death and setting in motion a story that would play out over the entire course of human history.

    There are countless books and movies which revolve around the idea of going back in time to change a bad decision we made or otherwise alter the course of our lives. We all carry around regrets, wishing we could get a do-over. However, the Biblical storyline reminds us that the problem is far bigger than our own missteps and mistakes. Even supposing I could rent a time-machine and go back to fix many of the bigger, more egregious sins I have committed in my life, the fundamental underlying problem of sin would still remain.

    We are all enemies of God, and the punishment for such treason is death. There is no avoiding it. Every nook and cranny of God’s good and perfect Creation has been desecrated and defamed. Moreover, while we may yet catch glimpses of God’s glory all around us (as we discussed yesterday), ultimately we are utterly powerless to restore either ourselves or this world back to the perfect state in which it was initially created.

    So, as we continue to trace the gospel story we move from the awe-inducing wonder of the Creation to the desolate darkness of the Fall. But thankfully all hope is not lost, for the story does not end there, as we’re about to find out.

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary17th2012 Tuesday, January 17
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2, NIV)

    All good stories begin at the beginning. And the story of the gospel begins at the beginning as well. It begins even before the Creation itself, with God, eternal, “from everlasting to everlasting,” the one through whom and by whom and for whom all things were created. The Bible tells us that in the beginning there was nothing at all. No air, no sun, no light, just nothing. But then God spoke. And from those words came everything.

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

    And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen. 1:1-5, NIV)

    God created everything, but more than that He then passed judgment on His Creation. At the end of each day he surveyed His work and pronounced that it was “good.” Finally, on the sixth day, after creating man God declared him to be “very good.” The pinnacle of Creation, we were created to image God in every part of our lives, reflecting some part of His glory into the world He created. We were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God’s command was for us to rule over the Creation he had made.

    The heavens declare the glory of God;    

    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

    2 Day after day they pour forth speech;   

     night after night they display knowledge.

    3 There is no speech or language    

    where their voice is not heard.

    4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,   

     their words to the ends of the world.

       In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,  

    5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,   

     like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

    6 It rises at one end of the heavens    

    and makes its circuit to the other;    

    nothing is hidden from its heat.

    (Psalm 19:1-6, NIV)

    Although we live in a world marred by sin (something we will examine in more detail tomorrow), the Creation still reflects God’s greatness and God’s goodness. Sunsets, canyons, rivers, lakes, oceans, animals, colors, smells, tastes and sounds…God’s creative touch is still visible everywhere we turn. Every breath we breathe is a gift from God and we praise and give Him thanks for it daily.

    The gospel story begins with Creation because until we understand who made us and why, until we understand where we came from and what we were created for, the gospel announcement will never make sense. As you continue to pray for those you long to see come to Christ, pray for opportunities to share this part of the story with them today.

    MonMondayJanJanuary16th2012 Monday, January 16
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    We began our discussion about evangelism last week by emphasizing the importance of prayer. Sharing the gospel with other people is challenging enough as it is, but we make it even harder if we fail to engage the Holy Spirit in the process. We do this through prayer. Prayer is the vital first-step for all our attempts at reaching out to others with the life-giving message of grace found in Jesus Christ.

    As you pray today, be sure to ask God specifically for help in sharing the gospel with those closest to you. Pray for boldness. Pray for opportunities. Pray for the Holy Spirit to be going before you, preparing the way. Pray for the right words to come to mind when you engage people in conversation. Pray for your heart to be so filled with wonder and amazement at the free gift of salvation that the gospel message just spills out of you. Our prayer as pastors is that you would be so bowled over by the experience of God’s grace in your own life that it would be hard not to tell others about what God has done (and continues to do) for you.

    But as we continue in prayer this week we change gears slightly to consider the gospel message itself. In his book, Counterfeit Gospels, author Trevin Wax has helpfully noted that, while the gospel contains certain propositions about God, man and Christ that demand a response, the gospel is also a story that encompasses everything and everyone from the dawn of Creation until the final consummation. In other words, the gospel is both an announcement and a story. In fact, some might argue that the announcement really only makes sense when set within the context of the story.

    For example, although “The Four Spiritual Laws” is a great tool to help in evangelism, we would no doubt all agree that there is far more to God’s story than just a handful of propositions. After all, one of the central tenets of our faith is that God has revealed Himself not just in the person of Jesus but also in the words of the entire Bible (all 66 books).

    Quoting Trevin Wax again, “Of course, there is only one gospel. At its core, that gospel is the specific announcement about what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to bring about our salvation. The announcement of Jesus is the gospel. Yet this Jesus-centered message needs context.” (Counterfeit Gospels, 26)

    This week we’re going to look at that context, which we might summarize under the very broad terms, “Creation,” “Fall,” “Redemption,” and “Restoration.”

    FriFridayJanJanuary13th2012 Friday, January 13
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    Take time again today to pray for the people God has placed in your sphere of influence who do not yet know Christ. As you do, consider God's promise to Ezekiel regarding wayward Israel, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 11:19, NIV). Pray this for your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. 

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary12th2012 Thursday, January 12
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6, NIV)

    The bad news is that many of our friends and family members are lost in sin and rebellion against God. They may live normal, upright lives and be raising normal, upright children, but “good” is not enough when the standard is absolute holiness. We have all gone astray, all turned our own way. However, the amazingly good news is that our sins, our “iniquities” have been put on Jesus. He has borne the punishment that we deserved. As a result, there is hope now, not just for us, but for all those who are still far from God.

    The daunting part is figuring out how to connect those lost people with the living hope they might enjoy in Jesus! So, ask God. Ask God to open up opportunities for you to step out in faith and invite them to church with you. Don't let doubts or cynicism keep you from responding to God's direction.

    Evangelist Rick Richardson suggests we need to pay more attention to nudges from the Holy Spirit (read John 16:13-14). Richardson challenges us to pray when we are at work, the store, the gym, or the coffee shop, constantly seeking God's leading: "Jesus, where are you already at work? Lord, lead me to people who are receptive. Is there someone you want me to talk to, care for or pray with? Is there someone here who is hurting?"  Commit to praying along these lines today, and then acting when God answers. We have nothing to fear when the Holy Spirit, our guide, leads us into conversation with others.

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary11th2012 Wednesday, January 11
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    Author and evangelist Mark Mittelberg has said, "There's something I've dubbed 'the second law of spiritual dynamics.' It warns us that all of us in the Christian community, left to ourselves, move away from a biblical, outward focus toward spiritual self-centeredness. The evangelism value we're trying to reinforce must constantly compete with this inward gravitational pull. The term I use for this is evangelistic entropy. With frightening speed, the warmest, most outreach-oriented hearts can turn into cold, inwardly absorbed hearts." (Becoming a Contagious Church, Mark Mittelberg)

    The battle to keep our hearts and minds focused on other people is just that—a battle. There is a real war that rages between a love of self and a love for others. You may even be experiencing "evangelism entropy" yourself—the excitement you felt during Lon Allison's sermons last year was quickly tempered by the pressing needs of work and family. As you look ahead to the rest of 2012 you wonder if you really have the energy to do anything even vaguely evangelistic.

    Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38, NIV)

    Jesus was pressed in on every side by people desperate for His help. His response was compassion. Filled with love and committed to the plans of God, Jesus reached out to the people. However, He also realized there was more hands-on work to be done, and He prayed that God would send more workers for the harvest. God wants your involvement. He seeks your participation. It is both an awesome privilege and a powerful responsibility. What situations or people are "pressing" you? Review your list of names. Ask God to identify those who are ripe, ready to harvest.

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary10th2012 Tuesday, January 10
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”
    Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
    He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
    The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
    He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
    “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
    Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28, NIV)

    Prayer is the driving force behind evangelism, and as part of Lon Allison's sermon on Sunday we will once again write down the names of some people we long to see come to faith in Christ. This is an exercise we go through every January, and indeed, you may still have your prayer list from last year. Keep praying for these people. Do not give up.

    Don't get discouraged by a lack of response from the people on your list. The Canaanite woman in the passage from Matthew 15 pursued God's intervention in her life boldly and continually. The Canaanite woman knew she couldn't heal her daughter, only God could to that. A similar story appears in Luke 18:1-8. The widow knew she couldn't get justice by herself, only the judge could do that.

    Similar principles are in play with evangelism. We cannot "convert" anyone. We are powerless to directly change someone's heart. Only God can do that. As such, prayer is perhaps the most significant thing we can do. As Rick Richardson notes, "Here is Jesus' secret to powerful evangelism. He is a collaborator, a partner. He does only what he sees the Father doing...Our evangelism is often ineffective and guilt ridden because we think it all rides on us. Jesus reminds us that we can do nothing on our own. The only witness that bears fruit is collaborative witness, directed by the Holy Spirit."

    MonMondayJanJanuary9th2012 Monday, January 9
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Evangelism 0 comments Add comment

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35, NIV)

    Mark 1:35 is frequently referenced as a reminder to pray more often. If Jesus felt prayer was important enough to warrant setting aside time early in the morning, then we should do likewise. While it is certainly true that Jesus prioritized prayer and we should too, unfortunately, for many people, such commands simply increase the guilt and frustration they already feel. Exhorted by verses such as this, they feel bad for not rising earlier, not prioritizing adequately, or not focusing hard enough.

    Perhaps part of the problem is the perceived rationale for prayer. Rather than thinking of prayer as simply “one more thing” on a giant to-do list, perhaps instead we would be better off considering prayer as an ongoing conversation with God. Just as we could not imagine going a week without talking with our spouse, child or close friend, it should be equally hard to consider going a week without talking with our Father in Heaven.

    But at a deeper level prayer is an absolute requirement for all our efforts towards evangelism. Rick Richardson, Associate Professor of Evangelism at Wheaton College, says in his book, Reimagining Evangelism, "The Spirit is always and everywhere the first and primary Witness. We are partners and collaborators with the Holy Spirit. In other words, the first task of anyone who longs to reach out to others is learning to listen to God and collaborate with the Holy Spirit."

    Prayer is not simply about asking God to convert others, but about God involving us in the work His Holy Spirit is already doing. He is at work long before we ever open our mouths. Knowing when to speak up requires us to be in synch with God and His plans. This happens primarily through prayer.

    Spend some time now in prayer, placing yourself in God's hands as a willing and eager collaborator in His work. And be attentive this week to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as God answers your prayers and gives you opportunities to get involved.

    FriFridayJanJanuary6th2012 Friday, January 6


    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col. 1:21-23, NIV)

    As we end this section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians we turn to one last note about Paul. As he reminds the Colossians about the importance of persevering in their faith and remaining established and firm in the gospel, he goes on to call himself a servant of the gospel.

    Although it’s a little thing that we might skip over easily, especially if we find ourselves familiar with Colossians, it’s no small point that Paul is making here. Paul doesn’t say he is a teacher or leader but a servant. The gospel, then, is not some product he is peddling to the Colossians, nor is it a solution that he is offering to solve all their problems. Rather the gospel is something that he has made himself subservient to. It’s the gospel which is the source of our hope. It’s the gospel which is “bearing fruit and growing” all over the world. We are simply along for the ride.

    As we pursue our hopes and dreams and to-do lists and careers and marriages and jobs and families, let us also remember that the gospel is not something we add to our already full lives as if it were something extra. Rather the gospel should be at the very center of everything we do and everything we are. This year may our lives reflect Paul’s as we consider ourselves to be servants of the gospel; ministers of grace and ambassadors of reconciliation into a dark and broken world.

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary5th2012 Thursday, January 5


    The very next verse in this short section from Colossians seems to go against everything we discussed in yesterday’s devotional. Although yesterday I said that God did everything for us on our behalf, and that salvation is a free gift we cannot earn from our own efforts, Paul seems to qualify that by saying,

    …if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Col. 1:22-23a, NIV)

    So, which is it? God’s great gift or our hard work?

    The Biblical answer, however frustrating it may be, is both. On the one hand our salvation is purchased entirely by God on our behalf. There is absolutely nothing we can contribute. There is nothing we can offer. The only thing we bring to the table is more sin. The only way the debt could be paid was for Jesus to do it. God is the one who took the initiative and did the work to reconcile us to Himself.

    On the other hand, having received that salvation, there is still some element of human responsibility that is involved. Paul frequently exhorts people to persevere or stand firm or be strong. Anyone who has been a Christian for more than a few months knows first-hand that there is a battle waging in us and around us. Paul is calling attention to that battle and urging his readers (and us) to press on. Pastor and author F.F. Bruce put it this way, “If the Bible teaches the final perseverance of the saints, it also teaches that the saints are those who finally persevere—in Christ. Continuance is the test of reality.”

    However, ultimately even our perseverance is empowered by God. If we look ahead just a few verses Paul himself recognizes this when he says, “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col. 1:29, NIV). As we face into the many struggles and battles that lie ahead of us this year, may we rest firm in God’s assurance of our salvation while battling Satan and participating in God’s Kingdom “with all [God’s] energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary4th2012 Wednesday, January 4

    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Col. 1:21-22)

    A new year means a conceptual new start for many of us. It’s a time to make some resolutions and try to live life differently. Statistically speaking, however, it’s unlikely any of us will follow through on those good intentions. Whatever initial success we may have, almost all new year’s resolutions fall flat within the first month.

    This is why the good news of salvation is such incredibly good news—it has nothing to do with our own efforts or good intentions. Salvation is not something we resolve to achieve. It was achieved on our behalf. And the results are amazing—holiness, freedom from any spot or blemish, without blame or accusation!

    First and foremost, as we have already seen this week, our salvation has been purchased through Christ’s death and resurrection. His death atoned for our sins. He took our punishment so that we could be set free. Whereas once we stood condemned before God, facing the penalty of death, we have now been set free, adopted as sons and daughters of God.

    But this freedom extends into our personal lives as well. Whatever doubts, fears, concerns, worries, anxieties or guilt we may carry around with us, God announces that they have been wiped clean in and through the person of Jesus Christ. That list of sins we keep in the back of our head is not worth the paper it’s written on. Not only does God not condemn us, but we no longer have to condemn ourselves. We have not only been rescued from “the dominion of darkness” but also from the burden of guilt and shame.

    The One who created us has declared us to be “without blemish and free from accusation.” Rather than beginning 2012 under the burden of a new set of laws you set for yourself, rest in the grace-giving love of God and the freedom that He bought for you.   

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary3rd2012 Tuesday, January 3

    Yesterday we talked about the bad news—that we were all enemies of God and still would be were it not for Jesus. Today we change tack slightly to consider the good news:

    But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death (Col. 1:22, NIV)

    Yes, we were once hopelessly lost in sin and rebellion against God. Yes, at one time we were headed in completely the wrong direction. But then something happened. Something monumental that changed everything. Something real, something tangible, something actual and historical. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV). The Christmas story is not some well-crafted folk tale but a real description of actual historical events. The Gospels record the true events surrounding His actual life and horribly brutal death. And Paul explains for his audience in Colosse that it was this actual death (and subsequent resurrection of course) that permanently and totally paid the debt they owed God.

    You see, while our faith does have a supernatural element to it, and does involve many things that are unseen and untouchable, it is firmly rooted in historically reliable fact. Our salvation was not achieved by some kind of spiritual sleight-of-hand but by “Christ’s physical body through death.” Nothing could be more grounded or real than that.

    The amazing news is that although we were once headed straight towards death and destruction, God stepped into our world and intervened to save us. As Paul wrote to Titus:

    But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:4-6, NIV)

    Because of this, you can start this new year in the full knowledge that you have been reconciled with God. All debts have been paid and the slate wiped completely clean!

    MonMondayJanJanuary2nd2012 Monday, January 2


    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col. 1:21-23, NIV)

    Some days it is hard to think of myself as ever having been an enemy of God. I never systematically persecuted Christians. I never waved my fist in the air at God or bowed down to golden idols. I lived a mostly normal life, that, while perhaps not up to the moral standards I would hold today, was not certainly not criminal. Yet, when I read the Bible, the evidence against me is overwhelming. According to the Bible the separation between us and God is not a matter of degree, but is written in absolutes. We are either with God or against Him. We are either a child of God or an enemy of God. There’s no middle ground. However clean and wholesome we may look on the outside, without Christ we are all on the opposing team.

    It’s not a pretty picture and not one we like to dwell on, but if we are to ever grasp the full weight of the gospel message we have to have a deep understanding of just how far away from God we once were. As Paul says in his letter to Titus:

    At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)

    This is not about beating ourselves up! Paul would be the last person to walk around around muttering under his breath, “I am a bad person.” Rather, Paul is reminding the Colossians and Titus (and pretty much everyone else he came in contact with) that we cannot fall prey to the lie that our hope is based on relative levels of goodness, or sincerity, or earnest belief, or good works, or clean living. The verdict is in and we are all guilty of treason against God. All of us. Every single one. (Even the sweet little old lady down the street with the beautiful house.)

    However dark this may sound, and however grim a way this may be to start the new year, this truth has to sink deeply into our hearts in order for us to fully appreciate the incredible and astonishing gift that God gave us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That we were absolute enemies of God makes the incarnation truly remarkable. Christmas is mind-boggling when you consider that God was sending His own Son into enemy territory in order for Him to be rejected and killed as a sacrifice for sin that He had never committed.

    Let us start the new year, not with another list of hopeless resolutions, but with a profound sense of awe and appreciation for the boundless love and patience of God.  May we all see and experience His grace more and more each day.

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