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Discern Next Steps

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 9/1/2019

We’ve spent the past few weeks unpacking some practical ways we can impact the destiny of the 7.7 billion living on planet earth. Each one of these boxes can hold a billion grains of sand. We’re not dust to God! God sees the face, knows the name, profoundly loves, and has an eternal plan, for every human being. We’re just 3.4 degrees of separation from impacting anyone in the world.

When I contemplate these boxes, Psalm 8 comes to mind: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. . . When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Our first step of impact is to DEVELOP FRIENDSHIPS. Whatever selfishness, whatever apathy or cynicism, whatever fear or animosities we have nursed, have to be cast aside for the mission of Jesus. In Matthew 28:18 the first Christians were commanded to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” In Acts 1:8 they were told to be witnesses of Christ “in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The early church would have been happy to camp out in Jerusalem, but God used persecution, to scatter his church far and wide. Acts 8:4 says “those who had been scattered preached the word everywhere they went.”

What’s so remarkable is that God appears to now be doing just the opposite. He is bringing the world to our doorstep. We only need to walk across the street to engage most every nation on earth. Christ came near to draw us near to God. Are we willing to draw near to people that they also might know God?

Our second step of impact is to DISCOVER STORIES. We live in a time when everyone loves airing their opinions. Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” That pretty much sums up what mass media and social media has become! But what if we were to take pleasure in listening, asking questions, or discovering stories? Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” We talked about how in Luke 2:46, Mary and Joseph found Jesus (as a teenager), “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, asking them questions.”

I’m convinced that before God works through our “talking” he works through “listening.” You can check out these last few messages online. Last week we unpacked the tremendous power listening has when it comes to serving God.

Our third step of impact is to DISCERN NEXT STEPS. Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” There was a period of time in recent US History, when Christians went around hammering everyone with their Bibles. Just a generation ago, preachers-pastors-parents drilled the Scriptures into young people’s brains. Now the pendulum has swung completely the other way. Preachers, pastors and parents are afraid of pushing too hard.

This past week I came across a helpful book called “The Reluctant Witness.” Suddenly for the overwhelming majority of Christians, sharing our faith has become awkward, pesky, and extremely painful! Sadly, we feel less obligation than ever before to share our faith. Churches are less apt to train people to share their faith. We tell ourselves that living our faith is enough, no conversation necessary. We’re less apt to speak about the changes and benefits we’ve experienced in accepting Jesus. We don’t tell our own stories of how we first came to believe. We don’t quote Jesus nor any Bible passages when we do discuss spiritual matters. We’re not daily praying asking God to open doors to witness. We don’t challenge other people to defend their beliefs. We go online to signal our virtues on social media, but don’t spend much if any time with people who think/believe different than us.

An equally disturbing trend… In 1993, 86% of Christians attended a local church within either the last week or last month. Today, only 55% of Christians (barely half) attend a local church weekly or monthly. We are retreating culturally. The issue is who or what is going to occupy the vacuum we’re creating?

The phrase the Barna Research group uses to characterize Christians today is “Reluctant Conversationalists.” The early church in Acts was filled with devoted, active witnesses but we’ve become reluctant witnesses. It’s interesting in Acts the authorities repeatedly tried to silence the Apostles/Church. Yet what have we done? We’ve effectively silenced ourselves. We’re so afraid of offending people—of being that hammer—of making people feel like nails—so we don’t say/do anything!

As a pastor, I’m super sensitive. I don’t want to come across as offense, rude, or aggressive. My one hope is Colossians 4:6, that my “conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that [I] may know how to answer everyone.” Meanwhile, think of all the Big Voices there are out there… people who are unapologetically loud and offensive and rude and aggressive… entertainers, artists, Hollywood icons, talking heads, politicians, professors… they are the ones filling the vacuum of our silence… they are the one’s stealing the hearts, minds, imaginations, and souls of this generation!

The alternative to being offensive, rude, and aggressive is to (1) develop friendships, (2) discover stories, and as we come alongside people, (3) discern the next steps needed.

There are three things to discern. First, DISCERN CHRIST’S LOVE. As you come alongside people you quickly realize no two people are alike. Read the gospels. If you notice anything, notice Jesus never approached two people the same. He didn’t approach them the same conversationally. He always presented the truth in a way a person could hear/receive/understand it. He didn’t approach them the same miraculously—people needed different miracles depending on their situation. When he commanded faith, he commanded it in a way unique to the person. He asked Peter to walk on water… a Rich Young Ruler to go sell everything and give it to the poor… an adulterous woman to go and sin no more… a paralytic to get up and take his mat… a blind man to go and wash his eyes… still another to stretch out his crippled hand…

Down at the Inner City Mission Scott Payne is fond of saying, “Love is giving what is needed.” We’re at our best when evangelism is about love. We’re at our worse when evangelism is just about us. Jesus carefully discerned what each person needed. He was able to discern because he knew their exact story/situation. He got the opportunity to hear people’s stories, because he took time to develop friendships.

Remember how Isaiah the prophet characterizes the coming Messiah Jesus centuries earlier? “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; You know we don’t have to be bipolar. One moment aggressive, rude, offensive. The next moment passive, weak, ineffective. Jesus came full of grace/truth, discerning the very best thing each person needed. BTW, sometimes a person needs a kick in the pants, and Jesus wasn’t afraid at times to let loose. But many are broken/bruised and need tenderness. With the same power through which he created the Universe Jesus could demolish satanic strongholds but then turn around a delicately restore bruised reed or reignite a smoldering wick. That’s how we should be! Discerning love means discerning exactly what a person needs.

Second, DISCERN THE SPIRIT. Why do we become aggressive, rude, and offensive? I promised last week that I would talk about the role of the Holy Spirit. The Gospels are very careful to point out that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, led by the Spirit, preached / ministered / healed in the power of the Spirit. In John 16:13 Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon us and guide us—he would even give us the exact words to say. So, part of discernment is making sure that I’m speaking in the Spirit and not out of some fleshly/worldly place.

If I’m speaking from the Spirit, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” If I’m speaking from the Flesh, the fruit is “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions…” We’re at our worse when we jump ahead of Spirit!

But another aspect of discerning the Spirit is realizing that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world, in the people we encounter along the way! John 16:8-11, Jesus says, “When he [Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

Seven truths the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit’s work in the world:

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit into the world of unbelievers (John 16:7-11)

The Holy Spirit (not me or you) convicts regarding a person's sin, Christ's righteousness, and their condemnation before God

The natural man, left to himself, does not seek God (Romans 3:10-11)

Unregenerate man cannot understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Natural man is hostile to God (Romans 8:7, Colossians 1… hostile as shown by evil deeds)

No one comes to the Father unless the Father draws them (John 6:44)

A person refuses to come to God, not per lack of evidence, intellectual difficulties, or you, or me, . . . but because they ignore/reject the drawing of God's Spirit in their heart! Romans 1:20 says people are “without excuse”, and Romans 1:18-32 gives the many reasons why.

Like Jesus we should have complete/total confidence not in ourselves, but in the Spirit of the God. Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Why is Exodus 14:14 true? First, the Holy Spirit is already at work, contending with that other person’s heart, mind, body, spirit, and soul. I can’t be the Holy Spirit and do what only He can do. Second, when my words are in fact needed, the Holy Spirit will tell me the exact words/script I should speak. It’s like I have an earpiece, and God is whispering exactly what should be said. It’s not my words, He is speaking through me.

Third, DISCERN THE ARMOR OF GOD. Ephesians 6:10-20, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

What is the armor of God? The armor is Belt of truth. How well do you know the truth yourself? I have no doubt God’s Spirit could speak through an ignorant person. Isaiah says God can raise up stones, and raise up children, when needed. You might remember the OT story where God speaks through a donkey. My preaching prof in college said if God could speak through an “$%@” he can speak through you. The Spirit is Spirit of truth—how might Spirit work through men/women who love, know, recognize the truth?

On October 6, Don Paustian is going to lead a Sunday morning, 12 week class, called “The Truth Project.” It will meet at 10:30am—so if you are interested you will need to worship at 9:00 am and attend that class at 10:30.

[Most people Basic Truths--Google] [Hostile Attacks—Sam Harris]

[Philosophical Inquries—William Lane Craig]

Breastplate of Righteousness. No, we don’t have to be perfect to share Jesus. But how might our words and works be bolstered as we embody Christ’s very character?

Feet fitted with Readiness—a readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. The Barna Group recognizes that the majority of Christians today don’t have the “want to”—the don’t feel any sense of responsibility to share the gospel. God doesn’t bless disobedience. Go and make disicples implies eagerness/readiness.

The Shield of Faith. Sharing faith is always an act of faith. The water’s never going to be the perfect temperature. You don’t get to dip your toe in the water. God invites you to wade right in. He will be faithful. Put your confidence in Spirit, in Christ.

The Helmet of Salvation. God will protect your mind. There isn’t anything that someone is going to throw at you for which there isn’t a thoroughly logical, intellectually sound, philosophically true, Biblical answer.

The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. In battle, God’s words matter most. Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Prayer is the best part. Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests! Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray that whenever you/I speak, words may be given so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. Pray that you/I may declare it fearlessly, as you/I should.

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