The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. – John 7:14

I recently have taken up running. I’m past middle age and have been accumulating a spare tire around my waist. Something had to be done. I’m a novice runner but happy to say it didn’t take me long to see some progress in my endurance. I’ve gone from jogging just under a mile, to  over a mile, then just under two miles, then over two miles, then three and a half miles and most recently I ran four miles! I don’t know where this will end. I’m enjoying the natural endorphins this ole’ body releases during my runs. Yes, the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. And I combine spiritual edification by praying and listening to audiobooks during the run. I’m enjoying a new season in my life.

But running can get you into trouble. I’m not talking about what happens when you run with your head down and plow into a tree or oncoming traffic. I’m also not talking about allowing exercise to become an obsession to the neglect of the loved ones and eternally important things in life. No, I’m talking about trouble that comes by where you run. I was recently at our church Summer Family Retreat in Pennsylvania. I wanted to keep the regimen of my running in place. So I went for a run. There was a large open grassy field that caught my eye. So I set my phone AP that measures my distance and speed while running and took off. It was a beautiful sunny and hot day. It felt good to breath deep and sweat. It was a real blessing to run in the scenic country side. What a blessing; until I got back to my room. Then when I looked down I was covered in grass and dirt. I forgot that the day before the field had been freshly mowed. I was covered and I had tracked the dirt all the way into our room. What a mess. It didn’t go over too well with my bride either. I needed a thorough cleaning. So did the room. But it was nothing a good hot cleansing shower for me, a tumble of my dirty clothes in the washing machine on the “super clean” cycle, and some vacuuming couldn’t cure.

That’s an object lesson in life. We travel through the fields and streets of life and along the way unbeknownst to us we pick up and accumulate dirt and filth. The dirt could be sinful attitudes, off color humor, or immoral images. It could be residual sin-dirt that comes from giving into temptations like being less than honest, greedy, flirting, or more serious immoralities. It could be accumulated anger or condescending pride. The dirt we pick up from daily life is varied and easily accumulated. Before you know it we look at our heart and see all the particles of sin-stuff that need cleansing!

Regular cleansing of the heart and mind are extremely important in our spiritual lives. In the context of the gospel of John chapter seven we see an important principle about cleansing. “Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught” (John 7:14). In this verse Jesus is going up to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. You can’t understand John seven and eight without understanding this Feast and the rituals that took place during the feast. But that is for another teaching. For in this passage we see the importance of historical context. It’s so important to study God’s word in its context. It’s so important to study God’s word as a whole; Genesis to Revelation. Then we study Testaments and sections of Testaments as a whole. Then we should study books as a whole and sections of books as a whole. The Bible is connected to its various parts of the 66 books it contains. Like concentric circles of a wave created by dropping a stone into a pool, it is all related. It all speaks of Jesus (Hebrews 10:7).

The context of the Gospel shows this is the second time Jesus goes to Jerusalem in the gospel of John. The first time Jesus went to Jerusalem He cleansed the Temple (John 2:13-16). This time He taught in the temple. Here is a principle. Cleansing of heart and mind must always precede and prepare us for Jesus’ teaching. The money changers and that which polluted the temple needed to be cleared out, then Jesus could teach the Word.

We need to always prepare for the teaching of God’s word with personal cleansing. We need to approach God’s word by first prayerfully asking God to search our mind and heart for sin. Then we need to confess that sin to Him and be forgiven and cleansed of it. Only then are we ready to receive from God’s word (e.g. Psalm 139).

From what do we need to be cleansed? Through the prophet Ezekiel God spoke of the need to be cleansed from the filthiness of sin, in particular idolatry (Ezekiel 36:25). God spoke again through Ezekiel saying we need to be cleansed from all “iniquities” (Ezekiel 36:33). The word “iniquities” (Heb. Aw-vone ) refers to moral evils, perversity, depravity, faults and sin. It is a word that speaks of the stain of sin.

The Bible states Satan has blinded people to their need for salvation and an eternal relationship with God (2 Cor. 4:4). It’s as though Satan has spit in or smeared the mud of sin in the eyes of the sinner. Nothing short of a spiritual birth can help the sinner see the way they should see (John 3). It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to receive God’s revelation (1 Cor. 2:9-14). We need the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

In Hebrews while speaking of the superior effect of Jesus as compared to ritual it states, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14). A consequence of sin is a guilty conscience. Sin scars the psyche. We need to be cleansed from sin and its varied effects. Part of Satan’s spiritual blinding involves the lie that we can clean up our guilty conscience with good works. Satan deflects the sinner to focus on human efforts to be righteous. But any effort to make ourselves acceptable to God or work our way to heaven is classified as “dead works.”

Our works muddy the cleansing flow God desires to pour on us. It’s a dead endeavor to try and compensate for our sins by doing what we perceive is good compensation. God’s standard of compensation is perfection (Mat. 5:48). No one but the One Jesus can fulfill that compensation for sin. And Jesus does that for us as a gift of His grace offered in love (Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Thess. 5:9-10). All we have to do is turn from our sins and trust in Jesus as our Savior and Sanctifier. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). “For by one offering [on the cross] He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). The cleansing we need comes from Jesus. We need to go to Jesus for cleansing.

Why should we seek cleansing? Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8). It is the pure hearted person, the one cleansed from sin and guilt that is able to see God and hear from Him. Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). Sin is repulsive to God (Habakkuk 1:13).Sin is filthy. Therefore we should seek to be and live out holy lives unto God. Without holiness we won’t be able to see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).  Sin leaves us condemned and guilty before Holy God (cf. Romans 3). If you want to make a connection with God, be cleansed!

We can’t expect to hear from the Lord if we regard or allow sin in our heart (Psalm 66:18). God loves us too much to allow us to wallow in sinful muddy waters that cause us and others pain. Like dirt, sin infects. The infection of sin left unattended leads to painful abscesses. The dirty earwax of sin prevents us from hearing God. If your prayers seem to be going nowhere and you’ve lost your taste for God’s word you likely need a thorough cleansing from the Lord.

How can we be cleansed from sin? If you need to hose off the dirt, if you need scrubbing, if you need a spiritual oxy-cleaning, here’s how.  

First, understand God is the Cleanser. Jesus said to Peter, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15). God is the one who cleanses us from sin and its pollutants. If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse away sin in our life (1 John 1:9).

Second, therefore go to God for cleansing. When David’s sins of adultery and murder were discovered, he cried out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). If you have been convicted of your sin by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11), if there is sin in your heart and the scars of sin in your mind, call out to God for cleansing and renewal.

Third, understand that cleansing is something we receive “by faith.” The Bible speaks of “purifying their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9), and being “sanctified [cleansed] by faith” (Acts 26:18). God has promised to cleanse us from our sin. To be cleansed we must take Him at His word.

Fourth, understand that cleansing from sin comes through faith in Jesus. Jesus told Paul his mission to people was, “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). The word “sanctified” (Greek hagiadzo) means purified, cleansed, made clean, made holy. We aren’t cleansed from sin by faith in faith. We are cleansed from sin through faith in Jesus! Jesus alone has the living water required for our cleansing (John 7:37-39).

Fifth, understand we are cleansed from sin through faith in Jesus because it is the atoning blood of Jesus that cleanses away our sins. The apostle John was inspired to write, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). We are cleansed from all our sins by the precious redemptive sanctifying sin-cleansing blood of Jesus!

Sixth, The Holy Spirit uses His word to cleanse us from sin. The first time we come to Jesus for cleansing we are cleansed from all the sins accumulated in our life to that point. But then we need to deal with the ongoing accumulation of the filth of sin in daily life. Jesus atoning death provides cleansing for that too; for all sin past, present and future; one cleansing sacrifice.

But there is a brush in which the cleansing blood of Jesus is poured and that we use for our cleansing. That brush is the Bible. In His word God speaks of “the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). James is inspired to exhort, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Through Peter God states, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). The Holy Spirit works in the believer to make them holy. And the prime instrument the Spirit uses to cleanse from sin is the word of God. The Holy Spirit uses God’s word to scrub us clean from sin and its effects.

Seventh, it is our responsibility to seek God and surrender fully to Him for this cleansing. To the carnal self-centered Corinthians the Lord inspired Paul to write, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We need to be reverent before God who is Holy. And we need to seek Him for His cleansing from sin.  

Have you been running around in the world only to get home, look down and see you’ve accumulated grass clippings, dirt, and filth of sin in various forms? Do you need cleansing? Come on, bring His Bible-brush and apply the cleanser of Jesus’ blood. Come to Jesus and He will make you clean.



Monday, August 11, 2014

This is Hard

“This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” – John 6:60


The gospel is frequently presented in a kind of bait and switch fashion. “Come to Jesus and He’ll heal all your diseases. Come to Jesus and He’ll fix all your problems.” An altar call is answered. A commitment is made. It’s “easy.” It’s “free.” And then, as the new convert begins their walk with Jesus they begin to see some discomforting instructions by their new free and easy Master. They have swallowed the chum only to find a painful hook. Some turn away when this happens admitting this isn’t what they signed up for. Others, even though they’ve been misled, seek to go on with Jesus. They come to the realization that, “This is hard.” At that moment the genuineness of their faith is revealed. If genuine they will abide and cling to Jesus, no matter what. If falsely “converted” they will walk away.

We need to be honest in presenting Jesus to the lost. Salvation isn’t a cushy cushion for life. Salvation is a parachute that saves us from a hell bent crash. Salvation isn’t always comfortable, but it is lifesaving. A parachute can be cumbersome while maneuvering around the plane’s cabin, but it is essential when the plane goes down. Seatbelts restrict our movement and wrinkle our clothes, but they save our life.

Following Jesus isn’t easy it’s hard. Yes, that is the truth. Following Jesus is hard. But the full truth and reality is that though hard to follow Jesus it is always worth it. It’s hard to follow Jesus because it costs us. It costs us a pound of flesh and more. Surgery is rarely pleasant. But surgery cuts out cancers and that which produces death. Surgery paves the way for healing and more life. That’s what Jesus’ hard sayings do. They may be painful, but they lead to spiritual life.

What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus? In John 6 Jesus gives His deep teaching on Communion. He speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood as necessities of being a part of Him. The purpose of this teaching is not to explain the substance of the Table elements of the Lord. The purpose of this teaching is to consider some hard sayings of Jesus and be challenged about what we will do with them.

The apostle John observes that when Jesus spoke about partaking of His body and blood that,  Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (John 6:60). To eat His flesh and drink His blood was a “hard” saying of Jesus. The word “hard” (Greek skleros) means hard, tough, harsh, or severe. We get the name of the medical condition of sclerosis from this term. This was no soft saying. It was a hard saying. It restricted the flow. It didn’t allow you to easily pass by. It got your attention. There are a lot of “hard” sayings of Jesus; statements that get your attention like cold water splashed on a slumbering sleeper.

What are some hard sayings of Jesus?  Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of a religious Pharisee (Matthew 5:20). This was no easy statement given that the Pharisees were the most religious figures of the day. Jesus isn’t looking for more religion. He’s looking for something more. Jesus said His standard of righteousness was heart purity. He said a person commits adultery when they lust in their heart (Matthew 5:27-30). He equated murder with being angry (Matthew 5:21-26). Jesus taught hell is a reality and the unrighteous are in danger of going there (Matthew 5:23-24). He said we need to love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-42; Luke 6:27-36). He said we need to deal drastically with sin in our lives and illustrated it by saying we should gouge out an eye or cut of a hand that is used for sin (Matthew 5:29-30). He said blaspheming or rejecting the Holy Spirit’s salvation call was unforgiveable (Matthew 12:30-32). He said woe to wealthy people who live and lust for money (Luke 6:24-26). He said He came to bring a sword not peace (Luke 12:51-53). Jesus said it’s costly to follow Him. He spoke of denying self, (never an easy task). He said you’ll have to daily take up your cross; which speaks of regular self-sacrifice.  And then follow Him; walk as He walked; follow in His steps (Luke 9:23-24; 1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21). Jesus said He must be first in our lives. We must love Him supremely. That means more than your spouse, children, ministry, more than life itself (Matthew 10:37-39; 19:27-30; John 21:15; Matthew 10:39). These are just a few of Jesus’ “hard” sayings recorded in the inspired word of the Gospels. There are more. They deconstruct convention. They break up fallow hard ground. It takes hard sayings to break hard hearts. What should we do with those hard sayings? What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus?

There are hard sayings of Jesus that are relayed to us personally, individually, by the Holy Spirit. They are the personalized conversations with the Spirit. They are His convictions and constructive counsel in the circumstances of life. They are the completely honest revelations about scripture and how our lives so frequently contradict them. There are hard sayings the Lord speaks into our particular personal life. The up front and personal, face to face, heart to heart, rubber meets the road realities about implementing the word of God in our life. They are sayings that disrupt our comfort zone. These are the movements of the Spirit in us that challenge us to go deeper with Jesus in our walk with Him. They are calls to count the cost of following Jesus. Let’s look at some of Jesus’ personal hard sayings to us.

These personal hard sayings of Jesus relayed to us by the Spirit have a certain relativity to them. They are always relevant but they find their relevance in the particulars of our individual circumstances. That means that a hard saying for one person may not be hard for someone else. For instance, a call by the Spirit to rise early and meet in devotions with Jesus may be very hard for one person while very easy for another. Jesus meets us where we are. If you don’t struggle with gender confusion or homosexuality you may find it difficult to empathize with someone who does. Your area of struggle may be lust for the opposite sex, or greed, or overindulgences of various kinds. Those may be easy issues to deal with for others. If we miss this particular subjective nature of the hard sayings of Jesus we may grow prideful or dismissive. Whatever the hard saying is for others we need to be understanding and encourage people to follow Jesus even if it is hard. There are no “outs” on the basis of subjectivity. I’m not condoning any “Well that’s good for you but not for me” type of position. We need to all live within the parameters of God’s word. But we need to lovingly and empathetically do that through a mutually encouraging fellowship where we bear one another’s burdens while still carrying our own load (Gal. 6:1-5).

Jesus wants unity. He works to bring people together (e.g. Ephesians 2:11-22). Therefore a personal hard sayings of Jesus may involve words like forgive, reconcile, accept, or confess (e.g. Eph. 4:32). “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). It’s hard to lay aside prejudices. We are inclined to isolate from people rather than get involved with them for the glory of God. When we isolate from people and view them from afar it breeds bigotry based on ignorance. We literally live in the dark. The dark can be scary. Jesus is the light of the world. He shines light and truth into our darkness and lies. Jesus does this by weaving a mixed tapestry of races, genders, generations, economic strata, and people who are in many ways very different from one another but whom most importantly have the foundation of Jesus. That’s a hard saying of Jesus for many. But by the Spirit we can live in this “bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).

Let me ask you, can you, will you, relate to people of different races, ages, economics, and aptitudes within the body of Christ treating them as your brother or sister in Christ? Will you work wholehearted in love to reach people of different races, ethnicities, and cultures than your own?  Will you infiltrate and influence them toward Jesus? Will you honestly, in the Spirit love any and all people, even enemies?  Will you represent Christ to the lost, both haters and sleepers, and let Jesus call them, through you, to be reconciled to God? (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

Are you willing to enter into the “fellowship of His sufferings” and be “conformed to His death”? (Phil. 3:10). Be honest. Because such fellowship will mean you have to release bitterness, resentment and your lust for “justice.” You will have to release any and all decisions about “justice” to the Lord. You will have to give up your “rights.” And in the process you will come to learn that you have no “rights,” you are the Lord’s possession (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You will learn the hard selfless meaning of surrender and the justice of the cross.

Will you allow the Lord to direct you into the “patience of Christ”? (2 Thess. 3:5). Will you wait for those who walk slower than you? Will you wait for those who understand and mature in their faith, slower than you? Will you walk in grace? (1 Cor. 15:10). If you are young, will you work alongside those who are old? If you are old, will you work alongside those who are young? Will you consider and accept the blessings and resources of different groups by the grace of God? Will you sacrifice your rad, phat, awesome, coolness or your well-aged wine of wisdom and knowing better for the sake of harmony and unity in Christ? That can be hard.

Will you submit your relationships to the “hard” sayings of Jesus and His word? Will you love and romance only within the parameters of God’s word? Will you stop your flirting? Will you not entertain or enter into unequally yoked relationships with unbelievers. What will you do when Jesus says you shouldn’t date or marry unbelievers? That can be hard.

Will you present your money and personal resources to Jesus? What will you do when He tells you not to enter into that lucrative business relationship because of the sinful practices involved? What will you do when Jesus tells you to be honest even though it will cost you money? What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus? Are you willing to “suffer the loss of all things”? (Phil. 3:8). That can be hard.

Are you willing to submit to change, even when it is hard? Are you willing to forget your sentimental history and move on to Christ’s higher ground for you? (Phil. 3:13-14). Will you put away your monuments and be a part of His movements? Are you willing to leave behind a blessed past? Are you willing to follow the vision of those Jesus puts in leadership of His church? Are you willing to live in the mind of Christ and “do all things without complaining”? (Phil. 2:14; cf. also 2:5-13). Change can be hard. But change is part of all Jesus does.

How can we understand, implement and grow from the hard sayings of Jesus? “When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:61-63). Here is our answer. The word “complained” (Greek goggydzo) means to grumble, murmur under the breath, or outright complain. That’s the way some people respond to what they view as hard sayings of Jesus. They murmur and gossip and express their indignant alternative opinions to that of the sayings that require they submit or change in the Spirit. Jesus confronted the murmurers and asked “Does this offend you?” “Offend” (Greek skandalidzo) means trip up, cause to stumble, displease, entrap, entice to sin. Jesus asked if His teaching tripped them up in their worldly walk. And then He speaks of His higher origins. They were tripped up because their perspective was only horizontal. To understand Jesus you have to look up. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit who gives live; the flesh profits nothing.” The Holy Spirit shows us the way to abundant life from the hard sayings. Looking at the hard sayings in our flesh or limited self-reliant resources will prove a waste of time.

You will never understand and appreciate the hard sayings of Jesus unless the Holy Spirit “gives life” to the words. The Holy Spirit helps us understand (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-14). The Holy Spirit is the great Illuminator. The Holy Spirit shows us the holy path. He will purify our heart as we trust in Jesus and obey the hard sayings (Acts 15:8-9). Will you submit to the leading of the Spirit? Will you listen to and receive and obey what the Holy Spirit tells you to do, even if it’s hard? That is the only way to grow spiritually.

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (John 6:66). Will you walk away when Jesus calls you to something hard? Know this if you do. Jesus will never let go of the one who perseveres and clings to Him in faith. But a person can choose to walk away from Jesus. What a tragedy! We will undoubtedly encounter things in life that we don’t understand. There will be hard sayings of Jesus that disrupt and challenge us. When that happens, we have the option of walking away. That is your choice; a sad and spiritually tragic choice. If that is your decision, Jesus will let you go.

But a better decision would be to stick with Jesus no matter what. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68). Here is why you should stick it through with Jesus. Jesus has the “words of eternal life.” Peter didn’t stay because of the miraculous “signs” or material blessing. He didn’t stay because of Jesus’ popularity, fame or to be entertained. Peter was attracted and stayed with Jesus because Jesus had, “the words of eternal life.” People minimize the authority of the word of God to their peril. You can’t poo-poo God’s word just because you don’t want to obey it. The teaching of the word of God is what draws us to Jesus. There is power in the word of God (Heb. 4:12).

The second and most important reason to accept the hard sayings of Jesus and continue with Him is because of the relationship we have with Him. “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:69). Peter stayed with Jesus because he was attracted to the Person of Jesus. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promised Messiah. Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus made Himself knowable, approachable, loveable. There was no way Peter would go anywhere else even if Jesus spoke hard sayings he didn’t’ fully understand. The person who comes to Jesus and stays with Him no matter what  is the person who falls in love with Jesus (cf. John 21)

What will you do when Jesus through the Spirit directs you with some hard sayings? Will you walk away? Or will you see these hard words as words of eternal life? Will you fall deeper in love with Jesus? It is love that keeps us close to Jesus. In love we cling to Him, no matter what. What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus? Yes, “This is hard.” But it’s worth it!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Go Out!

“Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” – Luke 14:23


The land is littered with small, poorly attended, floundering churches. If you speak to the pastors and congregants of such churches and ask them whether or not they want their church filled with people they will nearly always say they do. They hold prayer meetings and implement new programs in the church. But the houses of God remain empty. The pastor and the people begin to wonder what is wrong. The enemy takes advantage of these barren circumstances to weave doubt into their thoughts. “Is God real? Why doesn’t He answer our prayers? What’s wrong? Is it really important to have a BIG church? Isn’t it carnal to want MORE people?” And so the pastor and the sheep continue in their solitary sound spiritual sleep. We need to WAKE UP!

We in the church often feel hemmed in on all sides with an enemy fast approaching. We’re paralyzed with fear about what might lay outside. Or maybe worse, perhaps we just aren’t interested in serving. “The lazy man says, ’There is a lion in the outside! I shall be slain in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13; 26:13).  What’s the remedy? Recently our church did a week of Vacation Bible School outreach. I was called upon to play the role of Moses. What a blast ministering to the children! One of the lessons dealt with Moses leading God’s people across the Red Sea. They had impassable mountains on both sides of them, an entire Red Sea in front of them and the mightiest military force of their day in hot bloodthirsty pursuit behind them. What did they do? At first they did what came natural to them; they complained. Moses calmed the people and went to the LORD. What was the word from the LORD to Moses? “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15).  I believe that is the same word from God to the church today. There’s a time to pray. And there’s a time to go. “Why do you cry to Me? . . . go forward!”

It’s not a question of having a BIG church. It’s about the churches we do have being “filled.”  Jesus, in a parable said, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23; 14:15-24). That means, “That [Jesus] house may be filled.” “THAT MY HOUSE MAY BE FILLED.” It’s Jesus’ house and He wants it filled. It’s not our house. The church is not a resort; it’s a place of revival. We shouldn’t be reclining. We should be repenting. It’s not an option. It’s a command. Jesus wants His house filled. We must obey and cooperate with Jesus in every way that His will be done.

There might be extenuating circumstances for some churches not being filled. I will leave that to pastors and their congregations to determine between them and the Lord. I don’t mean to lay a guilt trip on anyone. We do live in dark sinful times. People are running hell bent away from God. The world is addicted to pleasure and recreation. There certainly are many snares to choke off gospel seeds planted. “The prince of the power of the air” is working in the “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). But still, if Jesus wants His house filled, shouldn’t empty churches be the exception and not the rule? At the very least we must be faithful to go. “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). The growth is in His hands.

We can get comfortable in our churches. We make friends and church becomes a family. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact that is a good thing. But that good thing becomes bad when our church “family” becomes a comfortable little group closed to “outsiders.” Church was never meant to be a private little club. The Lord Jesus has never rescinded His commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). If Jesus promises to be with us when we “go,” will He stay with us if we only “stay,” or if we refuse to “go”? Is the reason why so many churches are powerless, empty, and dying because there is no going out anymore? Have we been lulled into being de-commissioned from the Great Commission?

Jesus said, “Count the cost” (Luke 14:28). Jesus never promised comfort. Jesus promised a “Comforter” or “Helper,” the Holy Spirit who would always be with us (John 14:16, 16:7). The Comforter teaches us (John 14:26), makes Jesus personally known to us (John 15:26), and empowers us to witness for Jesus (Acts 1:4-5, 8). But this empowerment is expressly designed for us to go first to our Jerusalem or our own neighborhood, next to Judea and Samaria” or our region, nation or adjourning nations, and finally “to the end of the earth” or beyond and as far as God would call us to go.

Could it be possible that the church is so comfortable that it really doesn’t need the Comforter? This is a distinct possibility. What is the remedy? The remedy is doing what is uncomfortable to so much of the church. The remedy is to “go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.” I believe the enemy instills fear in our hearts about going out. We get tight and timid with the thought of interacting with strangers. I’m right there with you in that. I admit it’s not something that comes natural to most of us; including me. And I’m not by any means claiming to have a handle on going out. But the fact remains Jesus commands us to go!

We often associate the Great Commission with missionaries serving in faraway desolate areas. But Jesus’ command to go and make disciples starts in our families, churches, neighborhood; the immediate areas of our lives. If you haven’t gone to those immediately around you, if you haven’t shared the gospel with them, if you aren’t able to share the gospel with them, what makes you think you will be able to share the gospel elsewhere? Remember, you are where you are because God put you there. It was His sovereign determination to place you in your family and area of the world to serve Him. That should be our primary focus. If God wants us to go elsewhere He will call us and make our election to that mission sure. Don’t go beyond your initial calling place unless God calls you to go elsewhere.

Sometimes we use Jesus’ commission to go as a reason to flee uncomfortable or what we see as a mundane placement. The flesh is susceptible to the allure of adventure. Jesus’ Great Commission is not a great escape! The Great Commission is not the means to fulfill a lust for travel. When Jesus calls us He puts a burden in the heart for people and sends us out on a mission. And if He is calling He will provide the means to go. Where God guides God provides. The person God calls will not have to resort to begging, extortion or manipulation. Beware of this. When Jesus calls a person to go He will often provide the means to go through a job. There’s nothing wrong with work. Jesus frequently uses a job or career skill to bring His ambassadors into contact with those He wants to be reached.

Jesus may put it on the heart of people to support one called to a distant land. But He doesn’t want those who go to become a burden to the church or those they serve. More frequently He will provide a means of work to help with the assimilation process in the distant land and to begin the process of establishing contacts to whom the gospel will be shared.  Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers who worked to support themselves in ministry (Acts 18:1-3). Paul went out of his way to never be a burden to those he served (1 Corinthians 9). If you go, be ready and willing to work and to be used however Jesus wants to use you. Part of the commission of Jesus is to set the example of service and industry. Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45). Go and be ready to work.

Fear is probably the major reason we don’t “go out” as the Lord commands us. But why are we fearful? We might also ask “why are people bigoted or prejudiced?” We can ask, “Why do people hate and paint people as sinister?” What is at the root of fear, bigotry, and hatred? Ignorance! People tend to fear uncertainty and what they do not know. It’s much easier to hate and be bigoted against those you do not know. What’s the remedy? “Go out!” and get to know people.

This works both ways. People in church fear and are prejudiced against unbelievers because they have isolated themselves from them. Unbelievers can rest in their labels and stereotypes of Christians as long as they don’t’ know them. The world looks at the isolated self-removed church and says, “Those Christians don’t care about us. They just stay to themselves in their pretty little churches. You can have them. I don’t need them.” The enemy is playing both sides against one another. He is the great deceiver. He is a liar and a murderer. He wants the fighting. He wants the murder. And as long as we stay apart he will have a field day.

Let me share an example. There is a local park in our neighborhood. We got permission to go into the park and have a Hope Festival. We set up tables to do crafts with children. We set up one of those inflatable water slides. We had some contemporary live music and had the musicians share their testimony. We barbequed and offered free food for all. We gave out tracts and introduced ourselves to those who attended. In fact everything we offered was offered free. Offering things for “free” testifies to sincere genuine care and love to those who receive it. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We went door to door distributing fliers and telling people what we were doing and invited them to come. We just made the presence of Jesus known. We represented Him to the lost world.

We literally went out into the highways and hedges and invited people to come join us. And you know what, they came! It was a great time of getting to know people in the community. Was our church filled with newcomers and seekers the next Sunday? No. But we were obedient to the Jesus’ commission to go and we believe He will honor that. You know what else? It really wasn’t that scary. It was fun! We had a really good time. Yes it was work. Yes it required effort and expense. But we presented the hope of Jesus to those who don’t go to church or know Him. I can’t help but believe Jesus will honor and use that for His glory. Praise Him!

Another example of outreach is the practice of public baptisms. Some baptisms are performed for family and friends in backyard pools or a church baptismal. But what purpose does a baptism serve? A baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality. It is a holy object lesson or illustration to the world of salvation of the one being baptized. Baptism pictures and promotes that the gospel of Jesus Christ is available to others too. Because of the witnessing purpose I encourage the practice of public baptisms at the beach or other in public setting. That guarantees that those who need to be reached with the gospel will be able to see and perhaps inquire about the baptism providing an opportunity for the gospel to be shared.

There are numerous other ways to go out into the highways and hedges to minister the gospel to people and invite them to come to the Lord’s house. Be creative. Be alert. Be courageous. Be faithful. Be persistent and persevering. Be loving and compassionate. But go out.

Who needs to “go out”? The church, all Christians are called by Jesus to go out. And as we go out we are on a mission to “go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” To compel doesn’t mean to drag against one’s will but to use every means necessary to induce people to hear and respond and to come to the Father’s house. The Father uses us to woo the lost to His heart (John 6:44).

How do we compel the lost to come? “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The “love of Christ” is the compelling force to go out. There are myriad situations to encounter when we go out. There are cross-cultural, cross-generational, and diverse situations. Don’t let that deter you. The gospel offered in love, true Spirit Authored love can reach any person in any situation. The bottom line is if the love of Christ is compelling us, we will “live no longer for” ourselves, “but for Him who died for” us. In other words, if the love of Christ compels us, we will leave our comfortable church setting and go out!

Where do we get such love? “. . . . The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5b). If we claim to have the Holy Spirit within us, then we will have God’s love in us. Love is the identifying attribute of Jesus disciples (John 13:35). Without love we aren’t really God’s people (1 John 3:13-15). And if we have God’s love in us, we will have God’s love for the lost. With the compelling love of God in us, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). The loving gospel message we as God’s ambassadors carry to the lost is “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Jesus commands us to “go.” Will you answer that call? Pray about it. If you go to the Lord and ask Him to show you how and where to go, He will show you. The Comforter will lead us. All you and I and the church have to do is to be willing to go. Take a step of faith. Go! Jesus wants His house filled.