Friday, February 06, 2009

The Emperor Has No Clothes: The Truth About the Gospel

About this time last week I was absolutely exhausted, but it a great sort of way. There is nothing more precious that being able to share the Gospel with someone and to witness how God works on their hearts, bringing them into his grace and into the family of God. There is no greater joy than to share in the joy of a new birth into Christ. There is no greater satisfaction than to welcome a new brother and sister into the family of God. Is it possible to be exhausted and energized at the same time? Last week proved that it is.

I would like to share some insights I have from the campaign. It was wonderful to see more and more younger cadre involved than in the past, especially teenagers.

You know, it has been said that human nature is a web of contradictions. This is so true. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that "The heart is more deceitful that all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" This seems to suggest that we can deceive ourselves into accepting blatant contradictions and yet feel okay about it. We have the capacity to feel secure, at peace, and all right even when it is clearly evident that everything is not all right.

Why can't you follow your heart? Why can't you trust it? The reason is that it has been corrupted by sin. According to this verse, you cannot trust your heart. It can deceive you.

Prov 3:5-8 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones."

Prov 4:23 says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life."

We need to evaluate our heart according to the word of God. We need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves. In thinking about this, I am reminded of the story of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Most of us have heard the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The arrogant Emperor wanted the finest clothes possible and hired some renowned fashion designers to work on his new clothes. But these designers were con-men. They didn't know anything about making clothes, but they knew something about getting people to part with their money.

They pretended to get to work. Time began to drag on and the emperor became impatient. He demanded to see what they had done so far. Before showing the emperor what they had so far, they assured him that only the truly noble, wise, and best of people could see and appreciate the fine clothes.

When the king looked at the material on the loom, he saw nothing. When the con-men held up the "clothes," he saw only air. But, everyone else was saying how beautiful and elegant the clothes looked. Even the king's counselors agreed they clothes were fantastic because they did not want to look unwise. The king did not want to appear unwise either, so he entered into the self-deception. This process of deceit continued until the money was in the pocket of the so-called tailors and the king was marching down the street with great pomp and nothing else.

Finally, someone blew the whistle. A little boy said, “The Emperor has no clothes!” At this moment, when the truth was spoken, everyone knew what was happening. The veil was lifted. The kingdom-wide denial and deceit was replaced with clarity and truth. The Emperor indeed was buck-naked.

This story illustrates how even a group of people can buy into deceit. In fact, there is a lie that has been sold to Christians all over the world. It has been repeated by many people who seem to know what they are talking about so that many subjects of the kingdom are afraid to say, "The Emperor has no Clothes!"

What is this message, this lie, this deceit that so many followers of Jesus hear and accept?

Here it is: “Christians are too forceful and blunt with their faith and we need to settle down, back off, and be more subtle.”

Tell me you haven't heard that message preached with passion! Over and over we hear this message from speakers, articles, teachers, and many others. According to this message, Christians are scaring people off with our bold and pushy evangelism methods. Therefore, we need to cool off, back off, and settle down. We are offending people who would otherwise accept Jesus. If we would back off, then people would start coming to Christ again.

I want to tell you that this is a lie. I don't think most of those who have bought into this lie and has passed in on has done so maliciously. I myself used to be one of those people. I used to read articles and hear speakers talk about all of the damage done by Bible-thumpers. A few years ago, I saw a Nooma video that portrayed a guy on a busy city street with a bull horn blasting a Christian message into the faces of pedestrians and driving them away. The message of this video seemed to be that there is a huge problem of Christians driving people away by blasting them with the message and scaring them away. I said to myself, "Boy, I sure don't want to be like that guy, so I'd better back off and quiet down. I don't want to offend anyone."

But you know what? That bullhorn guy is nothing more than a caricature. He is a myth. This does not characterize the typical disciple of Christ. That guy is a rare exception. The typical Christian is NOT like that guy. The typical Christian is not overzealous, loud, invasive, and offensive with the message. The typical Christian is usually just the opposite. So, the message that the typical Christian needs is not that they need to back off.

What I have found is that being overzealous and too forceful with the Gospel is not a problem in ANY congregation that I have been at. The majority of those I have met do not believe their church members are too forceful and driving people away and need to back off. In fact, most believe that they need to have more passion, boldness and commitment to evangelism, not the other way around.

So, here is what I am saying - "The Emperor has no clothes!"

The message that "Christians are too bold and need to back off because we are driving people away" is a lie! The last couple of weeks in Mesa Arizona, I once again witnessed Christians who were both bold and compassionate in taking the Gospel to those who needed to hear it.

Let me tell you some of my personal stories and observations.

The day after we arrived in Mesa, I knocked on the door of a Hispanic family. They had come on hard times and were in need of some food, which we provided. They invited us in and we got to get acquainted. I indicated that we were also concerned about their spiritual needs and asked them how they and the Lord were doing, and if they knew for sure without a doubt they would go to Heaven if the Lord were to come right then. They said they had hoped so. We were there for about another hour, showing them how they could know for sure through the scriptures. Just as we were about to get started, their son in law, Troy, walked in. He sat down in the corner, and I asked him if he would like to follow along too. He didn't seem real interested, but went ahead and took a Bible and followed along. The Father spoke very little English, and left about part way through the study. When we got to the end, the mother said she just wasn't ready yet. Troy looked over at us, his eyes were wide open and this point. He said, "I am ready." I asked, "Ready for what? To obey the Gospel?" He nodded vigorously. That was the first one to obey the Gospel after the campaign had gotten started. There had already been one before the campaign officially got started. Troy was there every time we had a meeting or a meal. He said, "This is my family, this is where I belong."

Then there was Rich. He had walked in on Wednesday evening. Us Cadre had all assumed that he was a member there. The members probably assumed he was Cadre. We were doing training that night and had split up into groups for it. We were going through the approach and the study itself. It became evident that he was not a Christian because he had not obeyed the Gospel. He had just moved to the area and had attended some other churches. He had been reading his Bible and had wanted to be baptized, but he could not find any ministers who would baptize him. He knew he needed to do it, but he did not know why. It wasn't until going through this "training" that he finally understood why. Afterward, he also obeyed the Gospel.

Then there was a young woman named Ashley whom we met the last day we were there. After knocking on her door, we learned that her hours had been cut at work and she was really hurting financially. We gave her a food box and she got excited because it had bathroom tissues in it. She said that she was just about out. She told us that we had made her day. We were not able to study with her because she was in the process of getting ready for work. She asked if we could come back on Monday. I told her that I would be leaving the following morning, but that the other two team members, one of which was a member there, would be back.

That afternoon we met a young man named Andrew. He had a very rough life. He was impressed that we took the time to bring help and to listen to him and pray for him. We were not able to get to the study because he had to go get his wife and they had errands to run. He wanted us to come back tomorrow. I told him I would be leaving, and before I could explain that the other team members could come, he was already begging us to send someone else.

I did not see anyone with a bull horn driving people away. I didn't see anyone get offended that we came to their door. More often than not, we were greeted in a positive way, even by those who were not interested in talking to us.

As I reflect on all that happened on this campaign, I realized that this one was a little different. Not as many were obeying the Gospel…at first. Several who obeyed were the results of following up with them after we had the initial study with them. Many were cautious. It wasn't until we found out a little more about the area that we understood why. That area is repeatedly bombarded by cults. We were in the heart of Mormon country. There was a temple, and the place was saturated with Mormon missionaries who were out in force constantly. This, in addition to heavy activity by Jehovah's Witnesses made people cautious. However, this did not mean that they were not open to the truth. After a week, only ten had obeyed the Gospel. Then in one day, there were four. The following day there were five. There were seventeen who had obeyed the Gospel on Friday night, the last full day of the campaign. By the time the campaign was fully over, 26 people had obeyed the Gospel. The last couple days, many of us focused on going back to those whom we had studies with, especially those who were uneasy, fidgeting, or as one lady put it, "this is sending chills all over my body." It was obvious that God was working on their hearts, so we followed up on them, and many responded after a repeat visit.

Was this bold? Of course it was! Did it drive people away? Not in the least. In fact, my Dad was involved in a study that demonstrates that sharing the Gospel with boldness and compassion does not drive people away.

A young couple came to the Revival one evening, Alex and Joni. They said that some stranger had come into the beauty supply where she worked. The lady invited them to come, so they did. One of the members invited them to come and sit with them. Everyone was friendly to this couple and several visited with them awhile after it was over. They were headed for the door, and my Dad wondered if anyone had asked them the question. So he got to them while they were still in the auditorium and asked them the question. This led to a study in the church library there. Dad grabbed a couple from the church to join them in the study. After about an hour, most of the people were gone. I was in the auditorium visiting with some other folks, when they all came in the auditorium and Dad announced that they were going to obey the Gospel. Someone went out to the RV's in the parking lot, and some of the Cadre came back into the building. Dad baptized Alex, then Alex baptized his wife. Dad told me later that it looked like no one had asked them the question, and he didn't want them to leave without having been asked the question. They might have never come back! They are now our brother and sister and are a part of the family. They were so excited, and they said that had no idea when they showed up that all these good things would happen.

Was it forward for Dad to ask them the question? Yes it was. Was it bold? Certainly. Did it drive them away? No. In fact it was because he asked the question that Dad was able to share the Gospel with them.

These stories demonstrate that what we have been hearing is a lie! I have decided no longer to believe nor promote this lie. I have decided to say, "The Emperor has no clothes!"

Let me ask you, when you hear these real life stories, doesn't that excite you? It occurs to me that it excites those in my home congregation not only because of what God is doing, but because they have participated in an indirect way. I was doing the work of an evangelist, but my financial support was coming from my home congregation. Because of this, their presence was felt in Mesa. There were several preachers in the cadre just like myself. So, there were a lot of people who had a part in this effort. Our brothers and sisters in Mesa were so grateful that so many brethren came from all over the country to help them. Not all of them came in RVs, and not all were retired. Several came from West Virginia, and one college aged girl came from Queens. There were also a group that came from California. So people came from all over. I was thrilled to see what God could do even in the heart of Mormon country.

What was the purpose of this message? To encourage you in two ways.

1. Don't be afraid to say that the emperor has no clothes. The bull horn guy is for the most part a myth. I am sure there are probably a couple out there somewhere. But for every one bull horn guy, there are probably a few thousand Christians who are way too timid with the Gospel. The next time someone says we need to back off and settle down, politely tell them that the emperor has no clothes.

Rom 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." The power is not in being good yet timid and quiet about the Gospel so that people are "attracted" to our goodness and will eventually figure out that they need to obey the Gospel. The power is not in a finely crafted worship service that will attract outsiders. In fact, if people are looking for a good show, they are not going to go to church to find it. The power is not in having a nice yard or an impressive looking church building. The power is not even in having a dynamic preacher in the pulpit every week. The power of salvation is in the Gospel. 1 Cor 15:1-4 reminds us of what this Gospel, what this "good news" is. Jesus died for our sins, he was buried, and he rose from the third day. Why is this good news? It is because sin has separated us from God. Isaiah 59:2 says that our iniquities have separated us from God and our sins have hidden his face from us so that he will not hear. Therefore we need a mediator to bring us and God together. 1 Tim 2:5 says there is one God and one mediator between men and God, the man Christ Jesus. Jesus became a mediator by becoming a man and dying for our sins. He rose from the grave and through his resurrection, we also can have life and immortality. He defeated sin at the cross and defeated death when he rose from the grave. He is coming back and will bring us into his eternal kingdom, into Heaven, and into the very presence of God himself. This is the Gospel! This is the good news! This is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.

With the Gospel comes a call to action. If this is what our Lord did, what is it that we are to do? 2 Thessalonians 1:8 indicates that we are to obey the Gospel. Remember that the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We are also to "die with him, be buried with him, and to be raised with him."

Rom 6:3-8 says, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him"

When we are baptized, we die with him we are buried with him, and we are raised with him to walk in newness of life. Our old self with all its sin is crucified with him and that body of sin is done away with. Remember that it was sin that separated us from God. We die with him, and we are freed from sin. We are raised him, therefore we will live with him. This is how we obey the Gospel. This is when Jesus washes away our sins.

2. The second reason I brought you this message is to encourage us to share the Gospel in the manner of Christ and in the manner of his Apostles. They preached it with confidence and compassion. If you don't preach it with confidence, you may wind up leaving part of it out, or watering it down to keep from possible offending people. Don't buy into the lie that says Christians needs to back off. We need to preach it with confidence, and compassion. If you don't preach it with compassion, then part of the message is missing. The Gospel is by nature a compassionate message. This is why ministries of compassion accompanied the Gospel of the kingdom in the ministry of Christ. This is why early Christians were hospitable, taking care of not only of their own poor in the household of faith, but others as well. This is why they demonstrated the love of God even to the least of these. Ministries of compassion must always be hand in hand with the preaching of the Gospel. You notice this even in the ministry of Christ. He fed their bellies with bread, then he fed their souls with the bread of life. It is God's plan that the church preaches the Gospel with confidence and compassion.

This is why compassion, benevolence, and hospitality are integral parts of kingdom activity. Not that we are trying to solve the world's problems, because only God can and will do that. Rather it is demonstrating the very character of God who is gracious and compassionate and is the very definition of love. This is why we were giving away food, clothing, and in many cases just listening to people, praying for them, and making a friend.

Matthew 9:35-38 says this, "Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.' "

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. What I have been seeing is that the harvest is still plentiful. In spite of the fact that this country has become more secular, more pagan, more antagonistic toward Christianity, more embracing of eastern religions, the harvest is STILL plentiful. People are hungry for God and are hungry for his spiritual truth, yet many of them are not sure where to look. This is where the church comes in. We are the light of the world. We are the salt of the earth. We are God's ambassadors. We are the pillar and support of truth. We are God's spiritual house sent to proclaim the excellencies of God. We are the kingdom of God placed alongside the kingdom of this world.

We have what the world needs. The world needs the Gospel. It is the power of salvation. When one obeys the Gospel, he receives the Holy Spirit, the helper that transforms him into the image of Christ. A lot of people talk about the need for things to change in this country. There can be no real and lasting change without the power of God through the Gospel.

What about you? How are you and the Lord doing? Do you know for sure and without a doubt that if the Lord were to come right now, you would go to Heaven to be with him? However you answer that question, whether it is yes, no, or I am not sure, do not rely on the feeling of your heart. 1 John 5:13 says we can know that we have eternal life through what has been written. It is not by your feelings. If your answer is "yes," and the reason is because you know in your heart, then we need to talk. If you answer is no I would not go to Heaven, then we need to talk. If you answer is "I am not sure," then we need to talk. I can show you what has been written, what God has done, and what God wants you to do.

If you have already obeyed the Gospel, then you are a Christian whose sins have been washed away. Part of your mission is to share the Gospel with confidence and compassion. If someone tells you that you are overconfident, that you need to settle down and back off, that you just need only to "attract" people to Christ and wait for them to come to you, then it is time to politely say, "The emperor has no clothes."