GOD IS LOVE

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Some themes are so great that comments seem to detract. Themes like “the ocean measureless,” “the sky without dimensions,” or “God is love” all seem to describe themselves without our embellishing them. As we think about God, we understand that His every act must be interpreted in terms of love. In this article, we want to explore exactly what is meant by the statement, “God is love” as seen in 1 John 4:8.

GOD IS LOVE – 1 JOHN 4:8 – All of God’s works involve His nature in some way or the other. It is shown in the creation of the earth as a place suitable for man that He planned to create. As we look around us, we see His love in the beauty of nature as expressed by the Psalmist in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” I am confident that no park, regardless of its beauty, can compare with the Garden before sin. It was made for man before he was created. With this in mind, we can say that love was here ahead of man with outstretched arms when he arrived and came into the richest material dowries of the earth.

HIS LOVE IS SEEN IN CREATING MAN IN HIS IMAGE – Man is the only creature bearing the image of God (Genesis 1:27). What honor! What wonderful love! At the end of creation week, God placed man in lovely Eden where He communed with him (Genesis 2:16, 17). Tragically, though, man sinned, and by doing so he kept not that high position. Because of man’s transgression, God closed the gates of Eden against him, but opened the door of repentance (Genesis 3:24). Although man was separated from the tree of life, he was promised that he would again have access to it (Genesis 3:24; Revelation 2:7). As such, God did not withdraw his love from man. With deeper love than He showed in preparing the earth for man, God then planed man’s redemption (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

CHRIST, A MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S LOVE – God’s love was expressed in superlative degree by the sending of His uniquely begotten Son (John 3:16). As we consider the sacrifice of Christ, we see the manifestation of the love of God. In many ways we might say that He is a photograph of God’s love. He lived among men doing good everywhere He went. While living among men, He suffered for man (Isaiah 53:4, 5). The great scope of the love of God is seen in that Christ died for man (John 19:30) offering the only way of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12;  1 Peter 1:18, 19).

THE CHURCH IS A MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S LOVE – In study of the New Testament, we see that the church plays a vital role in God’s plan of redemption. In it we are under cover of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7). In it we are shown to be heirs of all the promises of God (Romans 8:17). In the New Testament the church is shown to be the bride ready to meet the Lord (Revelation 21:2). As such, it must be watching for His second coming (Mark 13:35). In order to be the spotless bride that the Lord expects to see in the end, it must be kept unspotted from the world (James 1:27). It is only in the church that we can claim the fatherhood of God (Romans 8:15) since it serves as the family of God (Ephesian 3:15).

THE BIBLE IS A MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S LOVE – When we understand that the Bible is the revelation of the mind of God, we are able to see love in it! Study of the New Testament reveals the fact that the Holy Spirit gave it to man (2 Timothy 3:16). Through His loving providence God preserves it for man’s benefit (Mark 13:31). Because of this, we should read it on bended knees. It will keep us from sin (Isaiah 7:15), and nothing but sin will keep it from us.  It is God’s loving message that will lead us to Him and heaven (James 1:21, 22).

THE PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE GROWS OUT OF GOD’S LOVE – JOHN 3:16 – All material things will perish (2 Peter 3:10, 11). All animal life ceases or dies (1 Peter 1:24). However, the spirit of man will survive because of the love God has for it.

Oh, how wonderful it is to comprehend the fact that “God is love.”

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GIVING GOD OUR BEST

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In Malachi 1:6-10, the children of Israel let their worship and offering lapse into routine and obligation rather than privilege and joy. Their offering was insufficient due to their attitude as much as anything else, which resulted in the poor sacrifices that were being offered. God desires the best that we have no matter what dispensation we are living in or from what state in life we come. Many people seem to think that since we are living under a new covenant that God does not require of us our best. It is like such was for those under the old law only. In this article we want to notice some areas in which God desires our best.

 GOD DESIRES OUR BEST WITH REGARD TO OUR SALVATION FROM SIN HEBREW 5:8, 9 – God desires that we study to know the truth (John 5:39; 8:32; 17:17; 2 Timothy 2:15). He desires that we act on what we have heard, obeying Christ (Hebrews 5:9; James 1:22). We do this by:

Exhibiting genuine sorrow over our sins – 2 Corinthians 7:10

                           Possessing a desire to have those sins remitted and not held

                           to our account – Acts 2:37

                           By having a willingness to do what He has commanded to

                           do to have salvation – Mark 16:15, 16.

 GOD DESIRES OUR BEST WITH REGARD TO OUR WORSHIP OF HIM – JOHN 4:24 – First, we must understand that if one has not obeyed the gospel their worship to God is not accepted by Him. Proper worship involves several things:

                        Attitude – (Forgiveness/Anger/Hatred/Worldly Concerns/Etc.)

                        Dress – (For the occasion – best we have – 2 Corinthians 8:12)

                        Timeliness – Putting the Lord on hold! – (Those that arrive late

                        and leave early on a regular basis.

                        Songs – Everyone singing with all their heart, making melody

        in their hearts. We need to make sure that the songs we are singing

                        are scriptural.

 Prayers – Follow along with prayer leader: can you amen what

                         was said?

                         Lord’s Supper – remember that we can take it in vain as the

                         Corinthians did (1 Corinthians 11:26-29)

     Preaching – Acts 20:7, These brethren did not think it a bore and

          a duty, but a privilege. Paul continued his speech till midnight! For

       those who do not stay awake during regular services, how would

                         that kind of preaching fit your schedule

                         Invitation – Not a time for shuffling around: You are encouraging

                         someone to respond in song.

GOD DESIRES OUR BEST WITH REGARD TO OUR PERSONAL SACRIFICE – ROMANS 12:1, 2.

                        This means our lifestyle. Morally, we need to avoid the works of

the flesh (Galatians 5:19, 20). We need to practice honesty and

integrity. Lying should be avoided (Colossians 3:9). Stealing

should not be a part of our lives (Ephesians 4:28).We should be

careful in our treatment of others (Romans 12:17-21)

This means our time. How much time do we give God out of

our week? In study of His word? In prayer? In worship? In other

areas of service?

This means our efforts. How much time do we devote to the

teaching of God’s word in our part of the community? What

about benevolence toward others?  How about the

encouragement of our brethren?

This includes our financial support of the work of the Lord

                       (2 Corinthians 9:6, 7). The work of the local congregation must

come first when it comes to our contribution. This may mean

putting some things off until later. This may mean running

things tight around the house for a while. This is why it is called

a sacrifice.  Remember, “It is more blessed than to receive”

(Acts 20:35).

In our text God was not so much concerned with the amount of the sacrifice of the Israelites as often times they got that right. He was not as concerned with the type of sacrifice as; here too, they often got that right. God was concerned with the attitude of those bringing the offering, and the priests who allowed it to take place! Their attitude was one of giving to God, who had blessed them with every blessing, the leftovers and the least important sacrifices. The attitude of the priests was condemned because they should have pointed out the blessings bestowed upon them by God and emphasized to the people that they should desire to bring God the very best for all that He has done.

But, what about us? We can talk about Israel all day and get nowhere in solving our problems. Is the problem that Israel had, a problem with us? Are we giving God our best with regard to obedience to the Gospel? If not, then we need to obey today. Are we giving God our best with regard to the worship we offer? If not, then we need to repent! Are we giving to God our best with regard to your personal sacrifice? If not, then we need to repent!

EXPECTING THE IMPOSSIBLE

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The words of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 7:15-20, are a warning against deception. Appearances are deceitful, but fruit is evidence of good or bad. It is impossible for a good tree to produce evil fruit and vice versa. To go to a bad tree expecting good fruit is to expect the impossible. To expect the impossible of others is foolish. We must understand that God only expects what is possible of us. In regard to the possible and impossible, we must remember three things:

There are some things we think impossible that are in the realm of possibility

There are some things that are impossible under any circumstances.

There are some things that are impossible under certain condition.

This article will center in on this last statement, “There are some things that are impossible under certain conditions.”

THE NON-CHRISTIAN OFTEN EXPECTS THE POSSIBLE

 To expect forgiveness without faith and repentance is to expect the impossible. The Jew and the Modernist expect God’s blessings without faith, which is impossible (John 8:24). People of the world may expect God’s favor without repentance, which is impossible (Acts 17:30). God’s laws are such that we should not expect to be saved without complying with them.

To expect remission of sins without baptism is to expect the impossible. The gospel must be obeyed in order to be saved (Romans 6:17). Baptism is a part of the gospel because God put it there (Mark16:15, 16; Acts 2:38, etc.). The question often comes, “Can’t God save without baptism?” But it is not a matter of what God can or cannot do. It is a matter of what He said He will do (Matthew 19:26; Hebrews 6:18). Baptism is a condition of remission, and no exceptions are revealed in the Scriptures.

To expect security at the judgment without doing God’s will is to expect the impossible (Matthew 7:21-27). Safety and security in eternity are impossible without proper respect for and obedience to the word that has been has spoken (Matthew 7:21-23; John 12:48; Hebrews 5:9).

 THE LOCAL CHURCH OFTEN EXPECTS THE IMPOSSIBLE 

To expect growth without diligence is to expect the impossible. One may ask, “Why doesn’t a congregation grow?” The fault is not with God, the message, nor a lack of opportunity. The reason is a lack of diligence on the part of the membership as a whole. To expect growth in attendance without our coming and inviting others is to expect the impossible.

To expect conversions without contacting sinners is to expect the impossible. Progress anywhere is dependent upon diligence. We should not expect the one without the other.

To expect diligence without love is to expect the impossible. There can be no fervent zeal for the Lord’s cause without a sincere love for the lost, the brotherhood, and God (Romans 10:1; 1 Peter 2:17; Matthew 22:37).

To expect love without concern is to expect the impossible. Love, basically, is concern in action. When we are too busy and too selfish to get concerned with one another, there can be no fervent love.

To expect real love in a cold church is impossible! It is like expecting warmth without a source of heat.

THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN OFTEN EXPECTS THE IMPOSSIBLE

 To expect satisfaction without sacrifice is to expect the impossible. A spirit of sacrifice is indispensable to a sense of satisfaction (Luke 14:26-33; Matthew 16:24; Romans 12:1). Many times people will ask, “Why am I not the Christian I ought to be?” To which the answer is, they are not willing to sacrifice their time, money, and talents for the Lord.

To expect Christian character without sacrifice is to expect the crown without the cross (Luke 9:23).

To expect the love of God without chastening is to expect the impossible. God’s love does not preclude chastening (Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19). We expect the good things of God’s love (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17), but we have no appreciation for the dark things. When sorrow comes we say, “God doesn’t love me.” But how foolish that is (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 5:8).

To expect God’s love without His chastening is to expect the sun without the clouds.

To expect happiness without holiness is to expect the impossible. True happiness is dependent upon holiness (Psalms 1:1; Matthew 5:3-12). No sin brings true and lasting happiness (Hebrews 11:25). Happiness here and heaven hereafter depend upon holiness in this life (Hebrews 12:14).

Don’t expect the impossible.

Excuses

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It seems that so many of us have an excuse for almost everything that we fail to do that the Lord requires of us. In this article we want to examine some of the excuses that are given by members of the church concerning their failure to do as the Lord would have us. Some years ago I ran across an article that had originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.  It was an actual list of explanations reported to an  Insurance Company informing them why an accident had occurred.

“The pedestrian had no idea which way to go, so I ran over him.”

“I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the

wheel and had an accident.”

“I was on the way to the doctor’s with rear-end trouble when my

universal joint gave way, causing me to have an accident.”

“An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my vehicle and vanished.”

Can you imagine sane, sensible adults with such reasoning? Before you answer that question, stop and consider how that human nature has not changed that much over the years.

The Bible has within it numerous excuses that were given by people who failed to do as they were commanded. Let’s give some serious consideration to them to see if we can learn something that will help us be better Christians.

In Genesis 3:12, we have the passing of the “buck” by Adam when he stated, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”  Surely no sane, sensible adult would reason as that, but he did.  As the “buck” was passed to Eve, we note that she was not interested in keeping it expressed by the following, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:13 b).  Again, we might say, surely no sane, sensible adult would reason as that, but she did. The old “the devil made me do it” excuse is seen here.

Moses, when told by God to go to Egypt to lead Israel out of bondage had an excuse or two when he stated, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

Aaron, when confronted by Moses for making the golden calf, offered a very questionable excuse when he stated, “Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (Exodus 32:24).

Gideon, when told by the Lord that he would save Israel from capture by the Midianites offered a “lame” excuse when he said, “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15).

Elisha, when given the mantle of Elijah offered an excuse that we find difficult to believe when he said, “Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee” (1 Kings 19:20).

Jeremiah, when told by God that he had been set apart by God as a prophet unto the nations responded by saying, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child” (Jeremiah 1:6).

A disciple of Christ, when confronted with the idea of following Jesus responded questionably with the following “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father” (Matthew 8:21).

Felix, when preached unto by Paul offered an excuse that I am sure he now wishes he could take back, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25).

The majority of us, when reading these excuses, would say no sane, sensible person would dare offer such excuses concerning their obligations to God. Yet, there is no reason to doubt the sanity or sensibleness of any of those that we have just read about. The real issue at hand is, are we that much different when it comes to why we do not fulfill our obligations to the Lord? Let’s see.

When it comes to missing the services of the church do we sometimes offer the excuse that “Company hindered us from attending?” Or, “I didn’t feel well,” but if we felt the same way on Monday, we would go to work?  Have we ever said we could not attend because “The weather was bad,” when it was just as bad on Monday, but we somehow made it to work? Would that “company” get in the way of our going to work and missing a day’s salary?

When it comes to talking to someone about the Lord do we offer, “I just can’t talk to someone about Jesus,” but we are able to talk to them about something else?

Have we ever said, “I just don’t have time” to do something for the church while having time to watch television, read the paper, sew, or do some kind of leisure activity?

When it comes to properly giving as the Lord would have us, have we ever said something like, “I just don’t have the extra money?” What we have to remember is, we are not talking about “extra money.” We are talking about a commitment to the Lord. The Lord doesn’t want our “extra” or loose change (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

We could go on with page after page considering such excuses given by sane, sensible people. But instead, let us be encouraged to stop for a moment and think before we offer another excuse for failing to do as God would have you to do. There is too much at stake for us to keep on offering such excuses to God!

SOME DANGEROUS ATTITUDES

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Attitudes play an important role in our daily lives. In respect to this, we should be aware of the fact that there are dangerous attitudes that we as Christians might manifest in our lives. The reason for the danger with these attitudes is they constitute sin as they are manifested in our lives. We are aware of the physical sins that one might commit that would cause a person to be lost such as adultery, murder, stealing, etc.   We also need to be aware that we might sin by possessing an attitude which is contrary to the spirit of being a Christ-like person.

As we consider this matter we easily note that some people have dangerous attitudes toward themselves. Attitudes such as egoism which would cause the one who possesses it to be unable to repeat the words of Paul recorded in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This attitude is in direct contradiction to such passages as Romans 12:3, 4 and Galatians 6:3. Another dangerous attitude toward oneself is self-righteousness. There is nothing wrong in one recognizing he is righteous, but when that “righteousness” is thought to be brought on by self rather than by God, a problem arises. We must understand that it is through Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) that we become righteous. When we do what he tells us to do, our righteousness is found in compliance with his commands, “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” – 1 John 3:7. We also see in the lives of some the dangerous attitude of selfishness. Many have never learned the principle of it being “more blessed to give than to receive” as seen in Acts 20:35. How sad it is that so many are all about themselves. Such is so blatantly in contradiction to the scriptures such as Philippians 2:4, 21.

Going beyond this we see dangerous attitudes displayed toward our enemies by rather than loving our enemies, as commanded by Jesus in Matthew 5:44, we possess an attitude of hatred toward them. Such is dangerous since doing so causes us to fail in being a child of God – Matthew 5:45. It is not possible to be Christ-like without having the attitude as seen in Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” We, also, may show forth an attitude which indicates an unwillingness to go the “second mile” in life with those who are in need of such. It is when we develop the attitude in life that says there is no reason we should do so we contradict the will of God for his disciples – Matthew 5:41.

As sad as it really is, we quite often find brethren who harbor bad and dangerous attitudes toward some of their brethren. In the lives of some bad attitudes such as anger and malice are seen. Of course, anger is not always bad (Ephesians 4:26), but when it leads to malice or hatred of one’s brethren then the one who possesses such an attitude has crossed over the boundary. We can easily see the necessity of putting aside anger and malice – Colossians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:1. Occasionally one develops an attitude of constantly finding fault with everything others do. Let’s face it, we all have faults. But we desperately need to take care of the “beam” in our own eyes before we attempt to remove the “speck” from others – Matthew 7:3-5.

No doubt the most dangerous attitudes that people have involve God in such things as limiting him to man’s power and potentials. Consider the words of Isaiah 55:8, 9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Others continue to show forth the attitude of indifference toward God such as seen in Revelation 3:14-19.

In life, let us exercise caution to have the “mind (attitude) of Christ” – 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5.

DANGER SIGNALS OF APOSTASY

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The possibility of the child of God apostatizing from the truth is clearly taught in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:12). Webster defines apostasy as: “The desertion of one’s political party, religious faith or cause.” As Christians, we should be deeply concerned with the possibility of apostasy. The New Testament clearly indicates several, what we may call, “Danger Signals of Apostasy” that we need to heed to. These “signals” serve as warning signs indicating pending apostasy. In this article we want to examine these signs so as to be able to recognize them and therefore be warned should they creep into our lives. We should understand that it is not necessary for all of them to be present in order for one to turn from the truth. The fact is one may be in the process of turning from the truth the moment any one of these is seen evident in their life.

LOSS OF APPETITE FOR THE WORD OF GOD – The Bible is to our soul what food is to our physical bodies. It is nourishment necessary for spiritual life (1 Peter 2:2; Matthew 4:4). Many professed Christians have either a weak faith or have lost their faith altogether.  No doubt the reason for this is that the Word of God has been set aside in their lives, being replaced by something else. When Christians lose their appetite for study of the Word they quickly lose their desire to refrain from sin (Psalms 119:11).  Faith comes by the Word of God (Romans 10:17), and if the Word is absent in our lives then so will faith be absent.

 NEGLECT OF PRAYER – Prayer is an important part of the child of God’s life, and to neglect it is to show signs of apostasy. When we spend a minimal amount of time in prayer, we are neglecting an important part of our Christian life. Prayer, like Bible study, takes determination.

And to fail to display this determination is to fail in the area of which we can gain the needed power for our lives (James 5:16). All of us need communication with God through prayer in order to stay strong in spirit. Without it we no doubt will get weak spiritually and are soon to “die”.

ABSENTEEISM FROM THE ASSEMBLIES – Those that composed the early church saw the need to give priority to assembling themselves together for the purpose of      worship (Acts 2:42).  These gatherings served to create in them a sense of brotherhood and to encourage them to do the good works they needed to do (Hebrews 10:24, 25). With this in mind, what could cause us to believe that we can get by without assembling?  Every group that we belong to realizes the necessity to assemble on a regular basis.  Failure to do so may cause us to lose membership in that group.  The same is true for the church.

NONINVOLVEMENT WITH LOCAL CHURCH PROGRAMS – Every congregation needs, wants and pleads for involvement of its membership. Apostasies occur most frequently among those members with “nothing to do”.  And yet, in most cases, these are the same people who do not want to have anything to do in the church. Too often we hear the statement, “I don’t feel needed, or no one ever asks me to do anything.”  Let me ask, “Why wait to be asked?”  (Ecclesiastes 9:10).  If we really want to serve the Lord, we should seek opportunities to do so (Matthew 25:35, 36; Galatians 6:10)? Why not find something to do?  Why not find a need and fill it?

A CRITICAL SPIRIT – Jesus admonished His followers to avoid petty fault finding (Matthew 7:1-3). These words of Jesus are not a prohibition against determining right from wrong by proper judgment (John 7:24). They are simply a warning against needless tearing one another down. Many people quit the church because of what older “more mature” Christians say about them.  We need to be careful to not develop such a spirit that drives others away from the Lord.

 A LACK OF REGARD FOR THE TRUTH – Too many in the church have fallen in the steps of the world to the point of failing to regard the Bible as the inspired Word of God. They say we cannot come to an understanding of the scriptures.  Or, that it is a prideful thing for one to say that they know what the Bible has to say on a given subject (John 8:32).

ABSENCE OF CONCERN FOR OTHERS – The Christian attitude should be one of looking out for the interests of others rather than self (Philippians 2:4). When one overlooks this, he soon will no longer look to God.

Let each of us strive to live in such a way that faithfulness is seen in all that we do.

Church Growth

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When speaking or writing on the subject of evangelism, we need to understand that the truth is we can grow if…

…we want to.

…we are willing to apply certain growth principles.

…we are willing to pay the price of growth.

…if we do not have a “terminal illness”.

Extensive studies have been conducted over the years which point to the fact that any church can grow when it decides to. However, so long as a congregation is contented to remain where they are, they will do just that, and watch themselves die off one by one until they no longer exist. Only when a congregations becomes dissatisfied with their present status; start to develop a plan to move from that status; and exercise that plan, growth can be seen.

When examining church growth, most congregations experience what is called a thirty-year pattern of growth. They grow early following their beginning, then level off, and finally stop growing. When that happens, there is but one direction to go – backwards. The simple reality is, churches do not maintain a status quo. They are either growing or dying, and there is no middle ground. With this article we want to give some thought to church growth in order to see what  must be done to bring about growth of the church in any location.

GROWTH IS NATURAL – Tragically, many smaller congregations have convinced themselves that the natural way for them to be is small and ingrown. They see larger congregations as mutations, freaks, or liberal. They perceive them to be the odd ones in God’s scheme of things. When doing so, they either forget, or overlook, the fact that growth is the natural condition in God’s world. To live is to grow. Whether it applies to trees, turnips, tadpoles, children or churches, when something stops growing, it is through. The simple reality is, when growth stops, death has already set.

When it comes to the church, growing is the natural thing for it to do. A normal, healthy, loving church, set in a reasonably normal setting, grows, naturally! Loving people reach out in love to share that love. Excited people naturally share their excitement. If faith has any meaning at all, it will be shared.  To put it negatively, we know a spiritual sickness has set in when people have been entrusted with the most important news of all time and they simply sit on it and do nothing (Romans 1:16; Matthew 28:18-20).

The church is God’s vehicle for achieving His will in His world today. If people are to ever hear the true unadulterated gospel, it must come from the church. This work has not been given to some civic organization. Neither has it been given to denominational churches. Instead, it has been given to the blood-bought body of Christ. People say the church cannot grow because it preaches the true Word of God and people do not want to hear it. Yet the first-century church preached the true Word of God and it grew (Acts 2:41; 4:32). When considering the early church, we see they faced impossible odds. They faced an oppressive, unsympathetic government, nervous about this new, upsetting, subversive religion.  They were small, to begin with and soon were scattered (Acts 8:1).  For the most part, they were poor and uneducated. They faced a vast mixture of cultures and religions.  But they grew joyously, naturally, excitingly, and rapidly.  So far as we can determine, it was not the result of a series of sermons on church growth. It just came naturally.

SOME IMPORTANT ASSUMPTIONS – Faith is the most important thing that church members have to share. It is easily seen that people need many things, but nothing is more needed than salvation.  The problem the church confronts is, we have offered, peace without the Peacemaker, service without the Servant, and knowledge without the mind of Christ.

It is imperative that it be understood that evangelism is more than seeking the lost. It can easily be said that Christ is not pleased with

Fishing without catching – Luke 5:4-11

Empty banquet tables – Luke 14:15-23

Sowing without reaping – Matthew 13:3-9

A fig tree that bears no fruit – Luke 13:6-9

Lost sheep that are not brought into the fold –

Matthew 18:11-14.

A lost coin that is sought but not found – Luke 15:8-10

Harvests that are not reaped – Matthew 9:36-38

Proclamation without response – Matthew 10:14

Sons and daughters outside the Father’s house –

Luke 15:11-32.

The bottom line is, contrary to common thinking, numbers matter. A census taker in the hills of West Virginia knocked at a door and asked the woman of the house how many lived there. She replied, “Well, there’s Willie, and there’s Sarah Ann, and there’s Butch, and there’s Alfred. . .” “No, no, no,” interrupted the census taker. “Not the names, just the number.” “Mister,” said the lady, rising to her full five feet, two inches, “in this house we don’t have numbers. We all have names.” Every number has a name. It can be said that numbers matter because each number represents a child of God. I always have to laugh when people say “Numbers do not matter to God.” If this is true, why is there a book in the Bible called    “Numbers”?

SOME IMPORTANT STRATEGIES – To reach the lost, there are certain strategies that must be put into action. Christians need to go to the groups they are best suited to reach. This is basic New Testament strategy. Andrew brought his brother Peter (John 1:40, 41). The Samaritan woman brought people from her village (John 4:28-30). Matthew brought other tax collectors (Mark 2:14, 15). A sinful woman was forgiven and soon afterwards other sinful women found their way to Jesus (Luke 7:37-8:3). A study conducted a number of years ago revealed that where people went without any previous contact or social network, the conversion success rate was 0.1 percent. This averaged out to about one convert in every 1,000 visits.  On the other hand, where there had been a previous connection with members of the local congregation, the success rate increased to 50 percent.

To reach the lost we need to go to receptive people. All people are not receptive all the time as we are more receptive at times than at other times. When those periods of receptivity do occur they do not last. In study of the ministry of Jesus we see that He knew of this principle. He instructed His disciples to move on if a village did not receive them (Luke 9:4, 5).  In essence Jesus was saying, “Go where people will listen, don’t waste your precious time on those who won’t.” They were not to cast their pearls before the swine (Matthew 7:6). Those who have “ears to hear” are the ones where we need to concentrate upon (Matthew 11:15).  The Apostle Paul knew of this principle also. He wrote of doors being closed. Instead of standing banging on doors that would not open, he moved on to find those which were open to him (Acts 16:6-10; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Acts 14:27). The church needs to follow these examples!

When looking around it is possible to see examples of open doors. Visitors are probably the most receptive. This is so because in most cases they have initiated the contact with the local congregation. Numerous studies have shown that if a return visit to visitors is made within 48 hours, while their interest level remains high, the odds are greater of reaching them than if the visit is made later. People who have experienced major changes in their lives would be the second most likely group. A new home, a child, a new job, the death of a loved one, serious illness, a child entering school, etc., are all good examples of possible open doors as they show interest in those who have experienced such things. The third most likely group would be people who have needs. Someone has said the rule should be, “Find a need and fill it. Find a hurt and heal it.” A vibrant benevolence program can be one of the greatest ways of reaching people if it is correctly utilized.  Too often the church takes care of the physical needs without any attempt to deal with spiritual needs. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with examples of Jesus finding a need and filling it while finding a hurt and healing it.  Surely the church can learn from the Master Teacher!

A principle that must be kept in mind is, “Strike while the iron is hot.” Too many opportunities pass by while the church discusses what they should do (Galatians 6:10). The church needs to use the tools they have. Each member has certain capabilities that can be used for service in many other areas.  Why can’t they be used in service to the church?  I knew of an elder in a congregation many years ago who would sell light bulbs door-to-door for a Civic organization, but wouldn’t knock doors for the church.  He said “he couldn’t do it.”

What must be understood is evangelism is more than just knocking doors. It is knocking on the door of an individual’s heart instead (Revelation 3:20). The sad truth is, 95 percent of all church members never win one person to Christ during their lifetime. This is not due to there not being any to win. It is due to not seeking the lost.

Evangelism is often like driving a dump truck; we don’t dump the whole load at once. Congregations need to understand that as they work with people they are, for the most part, working with people who are ignorant of God’s Word. Those that come into the church are as newborn babes and need to be treated that way. The church cannot expect them to act like full grown Christians overnight. They must be given time to grow (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 2:2).  The question is asked, how do you eat an elephant?  The answer is simple, one bite at a time.  People continue to learn and mature. Those that the church works with must be given time to do likewise.

To reach the lost of any community, evangelism needs to be kept high. Research has shown that most churches tend to cluster around a worship attendance of 30 to 35; 70 to 85; 115 to 135; 175 to 200 and so on. The question is how does a congregation move up to the next level? First, it needs to think big. In other words, think like a church that has already reached the next level.

Congregations need to see themselves as being larger. They need to gear their activities for a larger number. Secondly, congregations need to keep their focus.  When evangelism becomes something other than the purpose for living, churches are in trouble. It is important that members understand that the church exists not to satisfy itself, but to serve as God’s vehicle for the promulgation of the gospel (Mark 16:15, 16). Everything that is done should be geared with this in mind. Thirdly, congregations should know their goal.  We begin with the question, what is the goal for the church? If no one can tell what it is, then how do we hope to meet it? What must a congregation have in order to know what their goal is?  The answer is simple, a goal.  As someone has said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” For the church to grow, it must set a goal and then stick to it.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE? – First, we note the congregation’s price. Christians must give themselves to the cause before them (2 Corinthians 8:5). So long as Christians hearts are somewhere other than upon the work set before them, it will never get done. Like Israel of old in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Christians must have a mind to work (Nehemiah 4:6). Likewise, Christians must realize their purpose for being here. Every child of God has been purchased to serve Him (1 Corinthians 6:20). Because of this, they are willing servants in the kingdom of God (Romans 12:1). We can sum it up by saying; the church has been saved to save! Secondly, Christians must give financially. It costs money to do what we are talking about. Christians need to understand their responsibility to give properly to the church (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2).  They must be careful to not get caught up in the world in trying to get ahead to the point that they rob God of what is due Him (Malachi 3:8; Matthew 6:19, 20). Too many times God ends up paying for the little “extras” that Christians feel they need. This must not be.  Thirdly, Christians must be willing to give of their time and energy. The work of the church cannot be done unless church members do it. Christians have responsibilities which must be fulfilled.

As we consider growth, we need to take note of what we may call the profile of a growing congregation. First, it is a loving congregation.  People are attracted to loving churches more so than they are any other reason. At first, to many people, doctrine is not that important.  It is the reception they receive when they first visit that will make or break most people.  We need to remember that we have been called to love one another (John 13:34, 35; 1 Peter 2:17).  Secondly, it is an open congregation to new people. New people will not fight their way into the church. They must be accepted. They must feel welcome.  Granted, some people would feel out of place no matter what we do. But they are the exception to the rule.  Thirdly, we need to be open to new ideas.  Someone has said that the seven last words of a dying congregation are, “We never did it that way before.”  Flexibility is extremely important to the growth of the church. Not doctrinal flexibility, but flexibility when it comes to practicing our mission.  Fourthly, we need to be open to old ideas.  We can add another sentence to the words of the dying congregation, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Did you ever go out and try to start your car and it wouldn’t start the first time and give up?  Usually we try again and again until it starts or we  know it never will.

Can’t we apply this same thinking to the work of the church? So what if something was tried before and it didn’t work? Maybe the time wasn’t right. Have you ever wondered about the number of inventions that we now take for granted that would not have survived had the inventor given up at his first failure?  How many times did you try to walk before you walked without falling?  The truth is, only God gets everything perfect the first time.

Before we close, let me list a couple “terminal illnesses” that kill the church. First, there is “Ethnikitis”. Sometimes we shut people out of the kingdom simply because they are of a different race than we are. We must remember that each person is precious in God’s eyes (John 3:16).  Secondly, there is “populus abandonmentosis”.  We cannot abandon the people and still expect to win them. Jesus had many disciples because He constantly was out among the people tending their needs.  Congregations shutting themselves up in their buildings will not result in reaching anyone.  The early church was successful because it taught daily from house to house with the gospel (Acts 5:42).

The lost can be reached if the church will get busy looking for ways to reach out and follow up on those ways. Not only are the souls of those outside the church being jeopardize by the lack of effort, but so are the souls of many who refuse to take seriously their responsibility in this area as children of God. The church cannot sit idly by and allow the world to be lost without paying the price in eternity.

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