The Fatal Distraction–Section 7
God’s Word is Important But…
In “Section 6” we looked at distractions that slowly creep in to replace love and compassion with head-knowledge and Godly motivation with that of man-centered traditions. In the final section, The Fatal Distraction-Section 7, we will look at how we can be victorious over the things that distract believers from fulfilling the “Great Commission” that Jesus as He departed to be with the Father. The command that Jesus gave us as believers is the difference between “heaven and hell” for those who have not heard the gospel. The focus for believers must be that of Holy Spirit empowered declaration in a world that is perishing as opposed to introverted pontification in religious machination as a rebellion against the world around us!
Recipe for Success
As we walk out our life in Christ Jesus we must never forget that God desires “Compassion not sacrifice”. God’s Word tells us in Hosea 6:6 “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” and in 1 Samuel 15:22 “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” The fact that God demonstrated His steadfast and merciful love for us, as we were dead in our sin but made alive through Christ Jesus, He also wants us to demonstrate that steadfast love and mercy to those who are perishing.
In order to insure that we do not become Pharisaical toward those who do not know Jesus we must always remember that we were sinners separated from God for eternity by our sin nature. It must never leave our conscience that apart from God’s gracious gift of His Son Jesus we would be hopeless, helpless, hedonists that are displeasing to God in every way. The apostle Paul said it best in Romans 7:24:25 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
When we recall our salvation experience, the time when God washed our sins away, it should remind us of the relief, release, rejuvenation and regeneration that took place in our hearts. When we transferred our trust from ourselves to Jesus for eternal salvation everything in our heart changed. The feeling was exhilarating, exciting and extricating as we realized that we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness and separation from God to the blessed hope of eternal fellowship with God through Jesus Christ His Son. Jesus commanded us in the “Great Commission” to proclaim His coming to others so that they may have the opportunity to experience the same eternal life experience as God provided for us.
The “Great Commission” – Not the “Great Suggestion”
The “Great Commission” came with several very simple but important axioms that we must never forget. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus declares “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” and then He commands in Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Then He promises in verse 20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
First – All Authority is His
Jesus began in Matthew 28:18 by declaring that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Not some authority, not part of the authority, not the portion of authority that God allowed Him to have or that Satan would give up. “ALL AUTHORITY” both in heaven and on earth. Jesus said “It’s all mine” now based on that I am giving you a command. In Luke 10:19-20 Jesus declared “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Notice in Jesus’ response that the important thing was not the authority that had been given but the gift of heaven. With this authority comes the responsibility to remember where we are and how we got here.
It tells us in Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That being the case we must always understand that we are saved because we accepted God’s free gift of salvation. No earthly works produce eternal life nor do they give any believer the right to judge. We are to proclaim truth and allow God’s Spirit to convict. 2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” What is the treasure? The free gift of eternal life! Who has the authority and power? Jesus and Jesus alone!
Second – He Gave a Three-fold Command
Jesus commanded that under the authority He had been granted by the Father that we were to do three key things:
1) Make Disciples of All Nations
The command was not to give to foreign missions, support seminaries, build church buildings or develop programs. The command was to make disciples. What does that mean? First and foremost it means that we have to tell people about Jesus. Peter, Andrew, James and John did not see how wonderful Jesus was simply because He walked by them. Jesus engaged them where they were, in a fishing boat fishing or tending nets. Jesus reached out to them with a call to which they responded.
Luke 5:1-11 “One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
One simply cannot make a disciple without first engaging them where they are in life. Discipleship does not happen by osmosis but by presentation and example. Believers cannot simply hope that people will see or feel how different they are and ask why. The fisherman did not follow Jesus because they saw something different about Him. They followed Jesus because He called them to follow Him. We must not simply expect people to miraculously, through some cosmic mind-meld, figure out that we are Christians and that they must ask us what we have that they do not. We must boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. That is the ONLY way they will hear about Christ Jesus. I have mentioned this in several different contexts during the course of this series but let me use the context of making disciples to say; “Inviting someone to church is not making disciples”! Proclamation of the gospel is how disciples are won to Christ.
2) Baptize Them
Once someone accepts the gift of salvation we are to baptize them in the name of the “Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Why is this important? It is significant because it is a conscious sign that associates them with God in Christ Jesus. There is no mention of ordination. There is no mention of seminary or any kind of formal training. The deacon Phillip did not attend seminary and was not ordained before he baptized the Ethiopian. Simply go, under the authority that belongs to Jesus, and baptize them. Not in the name of the church or Christianity but in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Not under the authority of the church, or our own authority but under the authority of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
3) Teach Them to do the Same
Now this is the hardest part of the process. It has become part of the culture of Christianity to say well, someone accepted Christ now they have to get involved in Bible study to grow. Right!
Wrong! When we lead someone to Christ we must also feel the burden of responsibility to help them grow in Christ. Bible study is once or twice a week at best but the Christian walk is 24x7x365. Jesus did not say to His disciples; “Here is a Bible lesson now we’ll see you same time next week”! He walked with the disciples and taught them as they walked, 24x7x365, for three intense years. The greatest failure in the ministry of many evangelists is the fact that the gospel is proclaimed but when people hear and respond there is no effective follow up to help them learn how to walk with God in Christ Jesus.
When we have a new baby born into our family we don’t throw a box of diapers, a bottle with some water and formula into the crib and say there ya go kid! Have at it! Right! No, we love, nurture, feed, guide, discipline, teach and help the child to grow to become responsible adults. The onus is not on the child to grow up but on the parents to help them grow up. As they grow they are able to do more for themselves until ultimately they become adults who are prepared to do the same for their children.
So, what is different about a new “baby” Christian? Not a single thing! Too many times we throw a Bible at new Christians and say “Have at it, good luck, see you Sunday!” But these babes in Christ are no different than newborn babies. They need love, nurture, feeding, guidance, teaching and discipline in order to grow into mature Christians who are able to please God and become people who can share the gospel with others and help them to grow in Christ.
Third – He Promised to Be There
Jesus promised in verse 20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” God sent the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as we perform the things that Jesus commanded. It tells us in Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” That being the case, we can go with confidence and proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that is dying in their sins knowing that the power of God is behind that message.
Jesus declared in Acts 1:8 “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He not only declared that He would be with us but that He would empower us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth for Him. Jesus promised that as we went out and shared the gospel that He would not just be with us but that He would bestow power on us to perform the task.
Study God’s Word
In 2 Timothy 2:15 it says “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” The King James says “Study to shew thyself approved…” Knowing God’s Word is a key element of our walk with the Lord. The most important thing to remember is that God wants His Word written in our hearts, not just our heads. From the time that God imparted His Law to Moses it was clear that His intent was that His laws be written on the hearts of believers; Deuteronomy 11:18 “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.”
That being the case our goal, as we study God’s Word, must be that His Word be written in out hearts. The Psalmist deliberately committed to “treasure” God’s Word in his heart: Psalm 119:11 “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” As we study God’s Word the intent should never be to gain more knowledge but to allow God’s Spirit to work in our hearts. Rote memorization of God’s Word, great, but only if it makes it’s way into our inner most being, by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus changing our hearts. Only then will our actions portray the love of God in humble obedience. Remember “Information without Formation Leads to Spiritual Devastation” from “The Fatal Distraction – Section 1”!
Take Every Thought Captive
2 Corinthians 10:5 “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”. That just about sums it up. Every single thought that materializes in the neurons ﬁring between our ears must be brought under the inﬂuence of Christ. Does that mean when we read and study God’s Word that we must submit what we have studied to the obedience of Christ? Absolutely! But this can only be done by the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in our hearts. None of us can do this in our own strength and when we ﬁnd ourselves outside that inﬂuence it is time to make like the tax collector and beg God for mercy. The good news is that He is right there as he promised and He has already forgiven us.
Service Must Not Displace Sharing
Meetings and Ministries a Member Doesn’t Make
Too often I hear someone ask; “Where is your church?” Unfortunately, that is the epidemy of deception which has become part and parcel of the modern sociological perception of institutional religion. Today’s church is associated with a building even by those who believe. Christ never spoke of His church as a building but as a bride. Why? Because the church is not brick and mortar it is people. It is all of the believers, past, present and future, who have transferred their trust to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. A building is NOT the “house of God”, we who believe are the house of God. Each of us is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are a kingdom of priests unto our God (Revelation 1:6). Nowhere in the new testament is the church spoken of as a building but always people, believers, who are the bride of Christ.
The institutional religious organizations of today have placed great emphasis on serving claiming that God’s Word commands believers to serve. While there are many opportunities to serve, sadly, most of these opportunities center around maintaining the institution rather than projecting the good news of the gospel. Institutional financial needs mean that giving must be kept up to pay for the needs of the institution. Religious programs must be maintained to produce a perception of progress. Visual impression generally far outweighs spiritual progress and outreach is thought to be giving to foreign missions. All of these things lead to a mechanical purview that results in traditions which are thought to be Godly and ultimately associated with righteousness.
While there are many opportunities to serve in today’s churchy environments but we must never forget that our primary responsibility is to “make disciples”. We are called to serve one another but I don’t believe that means serving in religious functions per se. When a brother, sister or family is in need, on Monday or Tuesday or any other day, we must be willing to serve that brother, sister or family. James 2:15-16 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” The ability to serve is not simply doing some visible institutional function that is perceived as religious service, it is recognizing needs and using what God has given us to help fulfill those needs. The Holy Spirit may not have given us the gift of serving but we all have the responsibility to serve. Serving can be fulfilling, but only if it is done under the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in our own strength. We must always realize that we simply cannot earn our way into the heaven but, because of what Jesus has done, our hearts should be filled with desire to serve Him and because Jesus is not here we must serve one another. Galatians 6:9 tells us “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” It is always desirable to operate in the power of the Holy Spirit but we do sometimes need to operate, in serving and obedience, based on what we know in our hearts as opposed to how we feel. It is impossible for any of us to operate 100% in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, when we find ourselves on the edge of carnal despair we must beg God for mercy and ask for His strength to carry out what He has called us to do knowing that our reward is not of this world nor is it in this world.
Serving in various capacities on Sunday morning, or for any other religious function, is not bad and certainly can be a blessing to others as well as glorifying God. However, it does not imply that we are fulfilling our responsibility to share the gospel. While there may be an occasional opportunity to share the gospel in that context, and those opportunities certainly should not be discounted, it does not constitute a deliberate, conscious effort to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the world around us. Serving is a desire of the heart that results from what God has done for us with an understanding that we can never repay the debt we owed. We serve because “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Share the Gospel
No matter where or how much we serve in the institutional church environment we must never lose sight of the fact that each of us has the responsibility to share the good news of the gospel with those around us. In our group of believers, “our church!?”, has a phrase that goes something like this; “Reaching those who are close to us but far from the Lord!” While that is catchy, and appropriate to some degree, it has the implication that we are only supposed to reach out to family, friends, neighbors and perhaps coworkers. When I hear that phrase I must always ask; “Is that what Jesus commanded?” Jesus commanded us to make disciples “as we go”. To do that we must share the gospel with others at every opportunity. Jesus did not simply walk by the fisherman in the power of God hoping they would notice that He was the Messiah. He engaged them right where they were, right there in the boat He proclaimed God’s Word to them and the people around them. I love that account in Luke 5:4-11 where Jesus engaged the fisherman by telling them to go deeper. They did not have to row farther out as they had been fishing all night. But Jesus challenged them to go deep and they responded to His word resulting in a catch that filled two boats to the point of sinking. It was not until they had been engaged by Jesus and responded to His challenge that Peter acknowledged his sinful state (Luke 5:8 “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”). For people to know they are sinful they must be confronted with truth. For people to be confronted with the truth we must be willing to share Jesus with them trusting in God’s authority and remembering that He is right there with us. We must be willing to go deep, all in, trusting God alone in order to have the courage to share the gospel with others! Only then will some, to whom we proclaim the gospel, recognize their sinful state and the need to do something about it! Not all will respond! Not all will accept the free gift of salvation! The rich young ruler did not accept the invitation from Jesus but went away very sad (Matthew 19:16-23). We must be willing to understand that not everyone with whom we share the gospel will respond to the call of God but we must never give up praying for their salvation. These kinds of responses should never stop us from being fishers of people as Christ called His disciples to be.
Consider Others as More Important than Ourselves
Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing from selﬁshness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; “ As we consider others as more important than ourselves in a spirit of humility we create an environment where God’s Spirit can convict others and open their hearts to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Galatians 6:10 it tells us; “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” The focus of these scriptures is outward and compassionate. This kind of posture generates a sense of Godly peace that sends ripples through the spiritual realm. Ripples that, by the Power of God’s Holy Spirit, free the minds of those in need of a Savior and opens doors to share the gospel that would be closed by a spirit of Pharisaism. We must consider others eternal status ahead of our own self-protection in order to reach people for Christ.
Prayer and Action Produces People of Passion
It tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This simple passage lays out a road-map for a successful Christian walk. Notice in verse 15 it says “always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” not just for those who hold the same tenets of faith as we do but “all people”. God cares about all people and does not wish that any should perish but all to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Peter 3:9).
There are five key things in this passage but the most important thing to remember about these five things is that “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1) Never Repay Evil for Evil
We’ve all heard the old saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right”. This old saying is rooted right here in verse 15. As we walk out our Christian walk daily we will always experience evil at every turn. The question we have to ask, and I have to ask myself this question on numerous occasions; “What is my first thought regarding that evil?” Do I feel compassion or anger? Is my desire restoration or retribution? Am I convicted of my own sin or convinced of the sin of others? God has told us that He “desires compassion not sacrifice” so we must always turn to Him in order to avoid our evil carnal tendency to respond in kind to evil.
2) Always Seek that which is Good
Right on the heels of “See that no one repays another with evil for evil” the apostle counters with “always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people”. The key here is the phrase “for all people“. Note there are no caveats. Not people we like, people with whom we agree, people we believe are good, friends, family or neighbors but “all people“. Do we pray for our enemies? Yes! Do we pray for those who mistreat us? Yes! But we must be especially careful to “seek after that which is good” for “one another” which is our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not exclusively but primarily.
3) Rejoice Always
Have you ever been around an old grouch? It just makes us grouchy. Right? But we always react with joy when we are around someone that is genuinely happy. I have found that there are very few people who do not respond to a smile with a smile. This verse tells us to “Rejoice always” . Even when things are going wrong around us? Yes! Even when we are persecuted and mistreated? Yes! When we are sick? Yes! When we are tired? Yes!
The answer to any question in the context of “Rejoice always” is “Yes”! Can we “always” do it? No! That is why we need brothers and sisters around us to “seek after that which is good” for us. We have Jesus, but we are sinners. We have hope, but we have trials. We have the Holy Spirit, but our carnal nature wars against it. We have eternal joy because we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and we can always rejoice in that fact.
4) Pray Without Ceasing
This is the very hardest thing to do for the believer. As believers we must walk as light in a world that is drenched in darkness. The key to a successful walk is prayer. When someone does something evil; Pray! When we want to seek that which is good; Pray! When we need to rejoice; Pray! When we need to be thankful; Pray! If we “pray without ceasing” our default modus operandi will be to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ“. As we pray our intonation comes more in line with the Holy Spirit and we are able to stand firm and proclaim Jesus confidently.
5) In Everything Give Thanks
In everything? When I am hurt, sick, mistreated? Everything! That is what it says. Be thankful that our names are written in the Lambs Book of Life. Be thankful when things are going badly. Be thankful when things are going well. The apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13 “…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Do you suppose that Paul was thankful when he was hungry or only when he had prosperity? He began the passage in verse 10 with “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly“. We must be able to look back with a heart of thanksgiving just as Paul, whatever the circumstances. When we are thankful it will be in our hearts to want others to have that same spirit of thankfulness as opposed to the hopeless despair of those who are perishing.
Life Giving Attraction versus Fatal Distraction
Earthy, religious, man-centered traditions make for heavy loads that God never intended anyone carry. In Matthew 23:4 says “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” Jesus was giving us a warning of the unnecessary weight produced by the traditions of man. Today’s religious activities are most often rooted in the traditions of man and do not reflect the glory of God nor the love and compassion that He has for a world that has fallen, by choice, into sin. As believers we must check our motivation and gauge our actions based on pleasing God rather than man. For the most part religious, churchy activities are a facade for the sake of demonstrating how religious one has become but rarely do these activities result in the spreading of the good news of the gospel nor do they prepare believers to share the gospel with those around them.
The gospel is good news and a life giving attraction for those who are perishing and we, believers in Christ Jesus, are the mouthpiece God ordained to proclaim that good news. The motivation of our hearts should always be focused on redemption never retribution, reconciliation never recompense, restoration never reprobation. Only then will our hearts truly be changed when we study God’s Word, serve His people and reach out to others. When our hearts are full of God’s Word, in the power of His Holy Spirit, our focus will be on the “Life Giving Attraction” of the gospel of Jesus and we will not risk allowing anyone to experience eternal separation from God because we have fallen prey to the “Fatal Distraction”.
Scripture of the Day
Romans 7:24:25 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
Prayer of the Day
Heavenly Father, today I come before your in humbleness recognizing that I am completely unworthy of You. I am thankful that you delivered me from this body of death by the blood of Your blessed Son Jesus. I understand that I have been saved through grace and there is nothing I can do earn my way into heaven other that simply trusting in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. May all that I do please you and may all that I do come from a heart of thanksgiving knowing that any good works I do are from Christ and Christ alone. May I have the same compassion for those who are lost in their sin as You and be willing to reach out to them with the good news of the gospel understanding that the power is from You and not from me. I thank You, praise You and glorify You alone in Jesus Holy and wonderful name.
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