WBF President’s Post: Aligning with God’s Heart

Aligning with God's Heart - title image

The following is the transcript from the sermon preached at the Hilltop Conference, April 24, 2017, on the campus of the Arlington Baptist University.

It is probably safe to assume that if you are here tonight, you already are committed to the cause of Christ, to the Great Commission, to world evangelism and church planting.  You have probably lost track of the number of times you have quoted, preached or taught on the Great Commission.  Am I wrong?  You can probably quote Matthew 28:19-20 in your sleep!  You know the plan.  You know the marching orders.

But what I want to challenge you with tonight is not so much about remembering the plan or getting with the program.  It goes much deeper than that.  It’s about God’s heart – and our need to constantly realign our heart with His heart.  It is something we need to do individually as followers and servants of Jesus Christ; it is something we need to do corporately as local churches in specific communities; and it is something we need to do collectively as the World Baptist Fellowship, as a partnership of local churches that are committed to the global, eternal cause of the Gospel.

Just like our vehicles can get out of alignment and begin to drift in different directions, our hearts, even as pastors, missionaries, and servants of God, can so easily get out of alignment with God’s heart.  We can begin to pursue our own priorities, agenda, goals and desires.  We don’t do this on purpose.  In fact, it usually happens unintentionally, gradually and imperceptibly.  On the surface, we are still following His plan (at least, that’s what we think, that’s how it seems).  But underneath we have drifted from God’s heart.  Brothers and sisters, tonight I want to challenge you with the need to align with God’s heart.  Listen to these words from our Lord Jesus:

John 4:34-38  Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.

 I don’t need to say much to all of you about the context of these words.  You know the story, you know the culture, you know the events.  You know about Samaritans and Jews, practically living in each other’s backyard, yet with a cultural divide that seemed impenetrable.  And one of the reasons it was impenetrable was because nobody even wanted to cross the divide.  The Samaritans and Jews were just fine leaving each other alone and ministering to their own people, culture, ways.  Crossing that cultural and ethnic divide wasn’t on anyone’s radar, agenda, or bucket list – especially the disciples.  But listen: it was on God’s heart.

I want you to notice something before we get into these verses: This took place long before the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), long before the Great Commission was given by Jesus (Mt 28; Mk 16), even long before the Cross of Calvary.  This too place long before the NT church received those famous marching orders, and was empowered by the Spirit of God to reproduce itself in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.  Long before the “plan” and the “program” was defined and delivered, we get to see the heart of Jesus, the heart of God.  You see, it’s not about God’s program; it’s about God’s heart.

Remember what had just happened here.  The Samaritan woman was not looking for Jesus, but Jesus had been intentional about going to her.  As a result of their conversation about living water, true worshippers, and the coming Messiah, this woman finally understood and responded to the Gospel.  She then returned to her town to share the news about Jesus, and now a crowd of Samaritans was headed toward Jesus and His disciples (vs 28-30).  Unlike many of the Jews, this crowd, this people group, was open to the Gospel message and ready to respond in faith (vs 39, 41).  But before all those Samaritans became followers of Jesus, the Lord was privately opening His heart with His disciples, so that they could see His heart, and align their heart with His.

The disciples had been on a grocery run, and had gone into town to buy “meat” or food.  Now that they were back, what they had on their minds was their stomach.  And they wanted Jesus to stop and eat (vs 31).  But, as Jesus often did, He turned the physical situation around to talk about spiritual things (vs 32-33).

It is here that Jesus shares His passion, His heart (vs 34).  This was His “meat” (“This is what nourishes me, sustains me, fuels me, drives me”).  What was it?  It was a commitment to the Father’s will and the Father’s work.  It was a passion to do God’s will, and to finish God’s work.  Not His own plans, agenda, goals, and dreams, but those of His Heavenly Father.  That was what fueled Jesus – being aligned with the heart of the Heavenly Father.

Let me ask you this: What fuels you?  What is it that nourishes you and drives you?  What is your passion in life and ministry?  Are you fueled by your own life goals, ministry dreams, career path, and personal ambitions?  Maybe your fuel is running a bit low, and you are frustrated in life and ministry because of unmet expectations.  Things just aren’t the way you think they should be.  Maybe you find yourself relating to those disciples, standing there with their mouths hanging open, because God is doing something in your life and ministry that you don’t understand, that you aren’t comfortable with, and that does not fit into your model and strategy.

Friend, it is here that you and I must make a choice.  Do we align with God’s heart, or do we fight for our own?  In the next few verses, Jesus allows us to see a bit of God’s heart.  We get a glimpse of God’s heart for the world and for the Kingdom.  What is God’s will that we must do as pastors and churches?  What is God’s work that we must finish as pastors and churches?  You see, long before the local church began its world missions work, we see that God’s heart has always involved two fundamental things.  These two things happen to be at the core of our mission and purpose as the World Baptist Fellowship.  First, we see that God’s heart involves:
Cross-cultural Vision (vs 35)

You and I know that Jesus was not speaking of the farmland all around them.  He was speaking about people, about the souls of men, women, boys and girls.  But He was not specifically referring to Jewish people.

As Jesus was speaking these words, dozens, if not hundreds, of people from another culture were headed their way.  These were people with different habits, traditions, politics, worship practices, preferences, and countless other differences, yet having the same desperate need of Jesus, of forgiveness, of salvation, of the Gospel.  This culture, this people group, needed the Gospel just as much as the Jews did.  And God’s heart was to reach those people too.

Jesus told the disciples to lift up their eyes and look.  “Look up and look out!”  In other words, be intentional.  Look beyond your community, ethnic group, social demographic, nationality.  There are people and people groups everywhere, and they desperately need a Savior.  Many of them are different than you, but they are lost without Jesus.  Honestly, their ways might make you uncomfortable, but allowing them to be damned in hell should make you even more uncomfortable.  You cannot be aligned with the heart of God without having a cross-cultural vision, burden and passion.

Yes, there are people groups across the oceans that need to be reached, that must be reached, and it’s on us to do so.  But there are also cultures and ethnic groups all around us and around our churches that we are supposed to see with the same heart that Jesus sees them.  Why?  Because it’s the plan?  Because it’s the program?  No, it’s so much deeper than that.

We need a cross-cultural vision because this is God’s heart!  A heart that “so loved the world.”  A heart for all cultures, ethnic groups, and nations.  A heart for true, biblical diversity.  A heart for multicultural ministry and outreach.  A heart to do whatever we must do as pastors and as churches to effectively connect with people that are not just like us.

Jesus seemed to be “ahead of His time” when He spoke these words.  Jesus was preaching to non-Jews long before the local church figured it out.  Samaritans came to Christ long before Pentecost, the early church years, the persecution and scattering of believers, and even the preaching of Philip (Acts 8).  Why?  Because it is God’s heart, and Jesus was already aligned with it.  It is God’s heart, and it needs to be ours as well.

The disciples were not initially aligned with God’s heart.  They did not have a cross-cultural, multicultural vision and burden.  But Jesus did.  And it was on them to move, to align.  It took guys like Peter a very long time, a lot of divine intervention, and some personal confrontations (like with Paul), before he was willing to truly move beyond his prejudices and personal convictions to align with God’s heart, to align with God’s will and God’s work.

The need for a cross-cultural vision and burden is just as pressing today.  The implications for world missions are obvious – with over 6,500 people groups still unreached, and with millions of souls without access to a clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ.  But it’s not just for foreign missionaries.

Pastors, preachers and ministry leaders in America need it too.  We need a cross-cultural vision for our own churches and ministries.  The World Baptist Fellowship is not exactly a beacon of cultural and ethnic diversity in America.  We have not been very effective at engaging and equipping pastors who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American (just look around).  We live in a very diverse culture, and yet our churches struggle (as does our Fellowship at times) to make the necessary changes to connect with the diverse culture that is all around us.  We are perfectly content with shaping our ministries to reach people just like us.  But that is not the heart of God.

Everything changes when we align with God’s heart, when we see people like Jesus sees people.  Jesus made it clear that we must have a sense of urgency about this (“they are white already”).  The disciples talked like they had plenty of time.  It was not a priority for them.  But Jesus knew that the time is now!  Not the next generation.  Not once we get all our ministry ducks in a row.  Not when we have figured out all the logistics.  Not when we get more people and more money.  This is God’s heart already!  And it is on us as pastors, churches, and as a Fellowship to align with God’s heart (not vice-versa).

But we can’t do this alone, nor does God intend for us to.  In fact, the only way we can truly do God’s will and truly finish God’s work, is if we are committed to working together.  God’s heart has always involved cross-cultural vision, but God’s heart also involves:

 

Diverse Partnerships (vs 36-38)

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand what would be necessary to reach the people groups of the world.  So He spoke of diverse roles partnering together, and diverse laborers partnering together.

Again, this was long before the Great Commission, and the book of Acts.  This was long before we read of the Macedonian churches doing Faith Promise giving.  God’s heart has always involved partnerships.  It involves God’s people working “together,” partnering “together,” for a cause that is much bigger than you and me, and much bigger than any one of our churches.  In God’s Kingdom, some people are planting, some people are harvesting; some generations go before, some generations come along after, but they are all rejoicing because they are partnering together to do God’s will, to finish God’s work.

1 Corinthians 3:6-9a  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.  Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.  For we are labourers together with God.

This is clearly God’s heart for you and for me, and for the World Baptist Fellowship: Christians, pastors and churches partnering together in unity to reach the world with the Gospel.

But I don’t have to tell you that partnerships aren’t always easy or convenient.  In fact, it is often easier and simpler for us just to go our separate ways, go it alone, and do things our way, the way we like them, the way we think they should be done.  But God’s work is not for Lone Rangers, and it never was supposed to be.  That is not the heart of God.

Jesus knew that diverse partnerships would be difficult and challenging, which is why we see Jesus praying and pleading with the Father for cooperation and unity among His people, as they were being sent “into the world”:

John 17:18, 20-21  As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world…  Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Unity does not come naturally.  We have to pray for it.  We have to fight for it.  We have to be intentional about it.  We have to be willing to die to ourselves, and remember what it is that unites us as followers and servants of Jesus Christ.  What unites us is our faith, our doctrine, the Gospel that we hold to as fundamental Baptists.  What unites us is the mission that God has given us to do together.  You simply cannot be aligned with the heart of God if you are not committed to diverse partnerships.

The problem arises when we don’t know how to handle our personal convictions, or the personal convictions of others.  Even as preachers, we often fail to distinguish between doctrine, personal convictions, and preferences.  Doctrine is crystal clear, it is laid out specifically in the Word of God, and is true for every generation, every culture, every nation, every period of history.  Personal convictions, however, are important, but are not doctrine (they are not specifically mentioned or commanded in Scripture).  Personal convictions are when we take doctrinal truth and biblical principles and apply them in countless different ways in our life, family, culture and ministry.  I need to develop personal convictions, based upon God’s Word, and so do you.  But mine are probably going to differ from yours, even though we both love God and God’s Word – and that’s okay.  Preferences, on the other hand, are not based upon Bible doctrine or biblical principles at all.  They are simply a matter of taste, of likes and dislikes, nothing more.

Here’s where the problem comes in (within local churches and within Fellowships of churches):  We treat our own personal convictions as if they are doctrine (therefore anyone who doesn’t hold our personal convictions is treated as compromising God’s Word).  And then we treat the personal convictions of others as if they are just preferences (with no foundation whatsoever, so we don’t value them or respect them).  That approach is caustic to the work of God, and to the partnerships that God has commanded.  We end up not doing God’s will and not finishing God’s work.

Paul tells us in Romans 14 that we can be passionate about our personal convictions, but we can still partner with those whose personal convictions are different than ours.  However, we must be careful not to resent them or judge them, and realize that they love Jesus and the Bible just as much as we do.

Romans 14:3  Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

But of all that Paul lays out in that amazing chapter, I believe it all culminates in one phrase:

Romans 14:20a  For meat destroy not the work of God.

In other words, don’t destroy the work of God by fighting for your personal convictions.  It’s not worth it.  The collateral damage is too great.  Too many souls in our communities and around the world will spend eternity in hell because we placed our personal convictions above our need to partner together with fellow servants of God.

No one should have to give up or compromise their personal convictions in order to partner with others in God’s Kingdom.  I shouldn’t have to, and I should expect you to either.  Listen:  When our personal convictions are more important to us than partnering together to reach the world, I believe we have drifted from God’s heart.  God’s heart is all always been about diverse partnerships.

The fields may be white unto harvest in many places, but if are going to reach the cultures and people groups of the world, we desperately need more Christians and churches to partner together.

Matthew 9:37-38  Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

That is why the World Baptist Fellowship and its mission is so important.  It’s not just about renewing friendships, hearing good preaching, and visiting our alma mater.  Our proposed WBF Constitution puts it this way:

The purpose of this Fellowship is to further the cause of world evangelism, through the networking and cooperation of autonomous Baptist churches, in planting indigenous Baptist churches across the United States and around the world.

This Fellowship is about aligning with God’s heart, by churches partnering together to do the will of God, and to finish the work of God.  That was what fueled the heart of Jesus.  That is what must fuel our hearts as well.

 

Jesus said: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”  When I get to the end of my life and ministry, I don’t want to join Frank Sinatra and sing, “I did it my way.”  I want to join Paul the Apostle in saying, “I have finished my course” (2 Timothy 4:7).  I want to be able to come to the end of my ministry say like Jesus did, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4).

I don’t know about you, but I want my heart to be aligned with God’s heart.  I want the World Baptist Fellowship to be aligned with God’s heart.  I want us to be fueled by a cross-cultural vision and a commitment to diverse partnerships.  I pray that God gives us a renewed passion for world missions, for church planting, for ethnic diversity, and for our churches to recommit to partnering together at a local, regional and national level.

Preacher, would you come and plead with God to realign your heart with His?  To make His will your will?  His passion your passion?  His perspective your perspective?  Are you willing to do that?

Would you ask God for a cross-cultural vision, burden and passion – even in your own community?  Would you commit to partnering with fellow servants of God, who, despite certain differences are committed to the same cause, the same message, the same truth, the same Lord?  Imagine what God could do through the World Baptist Fellowship in the coming year if we are aligned with the heart of God.

“My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”  Can you say that as well?  Is it your passion?  Is it what fuels you and sustains you?  Brothers and sisters, let’s ask God to align our hearts tonight, and to light a fire that will burn within us until our final breath, until Jesus calls us home.

The Gospel In A Multicultural World

Romans 1:16

I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful force on earth. I believe that Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 are true. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but not to any particular nationality, ethnic group or social class, but to “everyone that believeth,” whether they be Jew or Gentile, male or female, wealthy or poor, black or white, city-slicker or redneck. I believe that when the world sees this unconditional, cross-cultural Gospel at work and on display as it ought to be, it sees the glory of Almighty God shining brightly in a dark world.

You see, the world knows all about division, prejudice and discrimination. Ever since the Tower of Babel, man has been divided by languages, nationalities, cultures and genetic differences – all originated and continued by the sin of pride. Not only that, but the world’s philosophy is all about preserving and protecting your personal preferences, getting things just the way you want it and like it, because “that’s what you deserve.” You can “have it your way,” whether it’s a hamburger or a local church.

But if I understand the Gospel correctly, all those manmade and sin-caused divisions are restored through the cross of Jesus Christ. People that are divided and different from each other come together into ONE BODY, the local, New Testament church (Matthew 28:19-20). In the Great Commission, we, as soldiers of Jesus Christ, have been commanded to make disciples, not just of our own family, nation, culture, ethnic group, language group, but of every people group that has been scattered about the earth, including around our own communities. And that is when God promises His power and presence to the end of time.

That is the beauty, glory and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, the power of the Gospel of Christ in a multicultural world. God wants His saved, regenerated, redeemed people to come together as one, to worship Jesus Christ, and to take His message to a lost and dying world, near and far. When the Gospel is transforming lives as it should, the church will be a church where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The walls come down!

So why don’t we see more of this in our local churches? The tragic reality is that this is simply not the norm in most churches. As I look all around me, at church ministry all over, we rarely get to see this on display (even in my own church). When you look around, you see:

I. A Divided Christianity

It is true that many churches have no genuine burden to reach other nations through world missions (no Faith promise program, no missions support, or it is a very low priority). But even more churches have no genuine burden to reach other ethnic groups and cultures that exist all around them. It’s like these people don’t even exist! I have observed that there is often just as much racism and prejudice within the Body of Christ as there is in the world. We tend to justify this or conveniently work around this sinful perspective by saying, “Well, those groups don’t like our kind of music. They prefer to worship in a different way. They speak a different language than we do.” So what do we do? We go about starting separate churches for whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, wealthy people, poor people, traditional people, contemporary people, younger people, older people. Everybody with a church that looks like them, sings like them, dresses like them, talks like them, worships like them – and nobody has to deny themselves or sacrifice their personal preferences to reach someone for Jesus! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? No wonder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Where is that in the Bible? How can we pretend that this pleases God? How in the world does that bring glory to Jesus Christ, or display the true power of the Gospel, and send a message to a lost world that Jesus Christ forgives and unites? It’s every group for themselves.

By the way, that is not what it will be like in Heaven. In Heaven the worshipers will be singing about Jesus, saying, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). You will look across a sea of faces and see “a great multitude, which no man [can] number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, [standing] before the throne, and before the Lamb,” praising and worshipping “our God for ever and ever” (Revelation 7:9,12b). And that is how it ought to be here on earth – in the Body of Christ: local churches that reflect the world to which we minister.

But churches have always struggled with this. Despite understanding the Great Commission, God’s people, God’s soldiers, from the early days of the church, have been more about staying close to home, within our comfort zone, building ministry kingdoms and buildings, and building a name for themselves, instead of taking the Gospel to a multicultural world. We gravitate to what I call:

II. The Jerusalem Syndrome (Acts 1:4-8; 2:38-41; 5:27-28,42; 6:7)

The church at Jerusalem was the first church, by far the largest church, and the most blessed church when it came to an abundance of leaders. However, when it came to fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, it was a poor example for us to follow. The church in Jerusalem was told to make disciples of all nations and ethnic groups (once they received Holy Spirit power), commanded to be witnesses unto Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.f Yet the church in Jerusalem grew bigger and bigger and bigger (some estimate between 60-100,000), reaching their own people only. Numbers were good! The church was growing! They were being faithful to preach and teach in their local Jewish community, but were neglecting the Great Commission. The Commander had given the orders, but the soldiers weren’t fully obeying. That is, until God had to wake them up and shake them up by putting their very lives in danger and sending a persecution that literally scattered them around the world (Acts 8:1). Only then did Christians go out to spread the Gospel – yet still only to the Jews, people just like them. Their churches, for the most part, looked the same. They were Jewish churches.

Too many of our churches suffer from the Jerusalem Syndrome. We are faithful to preach and teach the Bible (even have growing numbers), but primarily to people just like us. We may even send money to reach other cultures in other places, but we are unwilling to reach other cultures in our own community. If the community around us begins to look different than us, we get so uncomfortable, we will either relocate to find a community that looks and acts like us, or we will dig in our heels to preserve our likes, culture and preferences, even if it means watching our churches wither and eventually die. I’ve seen it; you’ve seen it. Meanwhile there are real human souls that desperately need to hear of a Savior that loves them. They need to hear that in Christ we can be one. They need to see that we may have nothing else in common (humanly speaking), but if we know Jesus we are brothers and sisters, part of the family of God. We can come together to worship and serve the same Savior. They need to see people of genuine compassion, willing to do things differently if it means reaching people for Christ. The Jerusalem Syndrome can destroy the Lord’s work, and keep the glory of the Gospel from truly shining.

But I believe there is another church, that truly models and illustrates the Great Commission in action. It shows the true glory of the Gospel of Christ in a multicultural world. Instead of gravitating toward the Jerusalem Syndrome, I believe we need to be stirred and challenged by:

III. The Antioch Model (Acts 11:19-26)

Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, located about 500 miles north of Jerusalem. It was a Greek cultural center, on the Orontes River, close to a Mediterranean port (Seleucia), in the province of Syria (modern day Turkey).

It was here where we first see the glory and power of the Gospel in a multicultural world. The Jewish believers were forced to scatter and carry the Gospel to their Judea and Samaria, but they still had their cultural blinders on. They still only witnessed to Jews only (vs. 19). Some were Hellenist Jews, speaking Greek, living around the Roman Empire, but they were Jews nonetheless. Now these Christians began doing something new. They shared the Gospel of Christ to Gentiles. These “Grecians” (from what the context implies) were not Greek-speaking Jews (like in Jerusalem). They were actually Gentiles. Christians finally began to witness to other nationalities and people groups around them.

When this breakthrough in outreach and evangelism took place among God’s people we see God bless in extraordinary ways. When they stepped out of their comfort zone, stopped trying to reach only people just like them, they found that “the hand of the Lord was with them” and they experienced, not a revival, but a spiritual awakening (vs. 21). It was so incredible and amazing that word began to spread, and word reached the church back in Jerusalem. God was doing something out-of-the-box for them, something they had yet to experience, and they went to check it out. They were seeing the Romans 1:16 Gospel on full display. They were seeing the Great Commission carried out before their eyes. “The grace of God” had been poured out upon them (vs. 23).

It is no wonder that this church, with its culturally diverse ministry and leadership (including Jews, Africans, Italians), would be the church that would launch the first missionary movement (Acts 13:1-4). They had a true burden for the world, near and far. From this moment, from this church, the Gospel began to spread to the world, reaching nations, languages, people groups, and bringing together as one bodies of believers that virtually had nothing else in common; nothing, that is, but the blood of Jesus that has cleansed us from our sin, delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred to the Kingdom of God’s Son. That is the glory of the Gospel in a multicultural world. It’s a little bit of Heaven on eart!

God has given me an ever growing burden to see God build more churches like Antioch, and for God to do so in the congregation where I serve. It grieves me to see such diverse cultures all around us, by the thousands, and yet most of our churches look nothing like any of them. When we do try to reach them, we want to keep them separate, apart, so they can do things their way and we can do things our way, and never truly becoming one body in Christ.

What is it going to take for the glorious Gospel to shine in our multicultural world? Persecution? Suffering? Divine discipline? Do we need to find ways to build better ministry bridges? To reach people that are all around us, yet seem invisible to us? To reach them, and not keep them isolated, but seek to integrate them as part of the Body? Do we need to be willing to leave our comfort zone? Do we need to seek God’s forgiveness for our prejudices, stubbornness and indifference? Do we need to be more flexible in our styles and attitudes? I don’t have the answers. But I know the heart of our Savior for a lost world, and, like Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”