Aim Higher

“Get people through the door!”

“Fill seats!”

“Get ‘x’ amount of baptisms by ‘y’ date!”

“Get them started on Bible studies!”

Familiar refrains from struggling churches.

When the sights of a church are set lower than heaven, the church will fail.

The problem lies with a tunnel vision approach to the Great Commission given by Jesus:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

Baptizing isn’t a final goal; it’s a result. Obedience to Jesus isn’t a goal; it’s a result. Making disciples of Jesus isn’t a goal; it’s a result. Jesus’ mission on earth was multifaceted, but it all fell under the single umbrella goal: reveal the character of the Father. Jesus wanted to introduce the world, estranged by sin, to its Father. He wanted all people to see heaven in Himself. Only a little earlier in his book does Matthew say something similar. In fact, we might take the following verse as the method for accomplishing Jesus’ Great Commission:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

What a mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting idea! Seek heaven, seek Jesus, and seek the Father through Jesus. Build a relationship, a friendship, an intimacy with your Creator, and whatever is left will, in time, be taken care of.

Want people through your church doors?

Show them Jesus.

Want to fill pews?

Show them Jesus.

Want baptisms?

Show them Jesus.

Want people to have a genuine interest in Bible studies?

Show them Jesus.

Jesus traveled to an area called Decapolis (The Ten Cities) where he encountered a terribly violent man afflicted by demon possession. Jesus commanded the demons out of the man. The demons, with nowhere else to go, fled into a nearby herd of pigs which subsequently rushed into the water and drowned. Infuriated by this sudden loss, the local herdsmen and townspeople begged Jesus to leave despite their fellow countryman sitting there totally healed of demon possession. This same man, finally free of possession, free of sin, free of evil, begged Jesus to let him join Him. Jesus instead responded,

“Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Mark 5:19 (NIV)

This man’s Great Commission was to tell people about how Jesus had saved him from sin and Satan. It was simple. It was easy. He had an encounter with heaven, and he was asked to share the story. Two chapters later, Mark recorded that Jesus went back to Decapolis, but this time a crowd of people brought to him a man both deaf and mute whom Jesus immediately healed. The mentality of the crowd, who previously chased Jesus out, had softened. Mark says,

“People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said.”

Mark 7:37 (NIV)

The healing of the deaf and blind man is incredible, but the miracle of the dramatically altered hearts of the people of Decapolis is the more profound miracle, indeed. They experienced heaven in the healing of the formerly possessed man. These people had not seen Jesus. Nor had they heard His words. They witnessed only the change in someone first broken by sin but saved by Jesus and who longed to follow Him because of it. This man, whose mind, body, and soul had been completely crippled by the possession of thousands of demons, had introduced his countrymen to Jesus. They saw Jesus in this man’s changed life, and they found themselves wanting Him as well.

The following chapter, Mark records Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 4000 people from in and around this particular region. 4000 people in the span of three days. All Jesus did was give one man a story to tell, and that one man told it.

Jesus brought heaven to the people in the kindness of His words and the compassion in His actions. Jesus’ earthly ministerial method was infinitely easier than what many churches today attempt: He loved people. All people. At all times. He healed one guy, and 4000 people came to Jesus wanting more of what He had to share.

Do you want to get people through your church doors?

SHOW them Jesus.

Do you want to absolutely pack the seats in your church?

SHOW them Jesus.

Do you want to see people give their lives to Jesus through the symbolic act of baptism?

SHOW them Jesus.

Do you want people to know the truth of Scripture?

SHOW them Jesus.

Jesus’ goal was to introduce people to the Father. The church pews will fill themselves. The baptisms will take care of themselves. The knowledge and understanding of Scripture will come in time. The desire to trust and obey will come in time. A church’s goal should not be results. A church’s goal ought to be simple: introduce people to Jesus. He’ll take care of the rest.

That Great Commission,

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”,

Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

can only happen if there is a preexisting relationship. Becoming disciples, being baptized, and learning obedience are the results of only one thing: a personal encounter with our Maker, Jesus.

Aim Higher.

War Within

John, while in exile on the Greek island of Patmos, was given what is arguably the longest and most impressive series of visions regarding human history from theoretically pre-Adam to a thousand years post-Second-Coming. A brief component of this vision describes the origin of sin:

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.”

Revelation 12:7-8

Further along John explains what or who this dragon is:

“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan…”

Revelations 20:2

Much earlier in scripture (about 8-9 centuries earlier, actually) Isaiah is shown the exact same event in Heavenly history, but with the added detail of what sparked the war in the first place that John would later build on. The dragon, Satan, had grand ambitions before he ever tempted Adam and Eve:

“I will climb up to the sky. Above the stars of El I will set up my throne. I will rule on the mountain of assembly on the remote slopes of Zaphon. I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!”

Isaiah 14:14-15

Essentially, Satan wanted to stage a coup. 

A few centuries after Isaiah, Ezekiel had a similar vision from God who used the King of Tyre as a metaphor for Satan. The details provided in Ezekiel’s vision, however, reveal just how wonderful and cherished Satan was prior to his sin, his heart-wrenching fall, and his banishment from Heaven:

“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes [his voice] was prepared for you on the day you were created. You were the anointed cherub who covers; 
I established you; You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; Therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground.”

Ezekiel 28 12-17

(It would seem the bigger they are, the harder they fall.)

Thus unable to wrench Heaven from God, Satan resorted to establishing a kingdom here. (And he did so with embarrassingly minimal effort). His method: corrupt the image of God in the minds of men. First, he cast doubt in the mind of Eve by implying God is a liar:

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.””

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.

Genesis 3:2-4

Secondly, he convinced Eve that God was holding out on her, that something was being withheld from her–perhaps God didn’t trust her:

“God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it.”

Genesis 3:5

Finally he convinced Eve that God was afraid she would become like Him–perhaps a threat to Him:

“You will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

Genesis 5:5

The sad reality is that God never lied to her: Eve died spiritually that day, her body died another day, and many souls will permanently die because of the sin her and Adam allowed into this world. Secondly, God gave Adam and Eve absolute dominion of the entire planet: trust was not the issue. Finally, knowing evil is not knowing a thing: knowing evil is only knowing the absence of a thing, namely the absence of God.

Thus duped, humanity has continued to struggle with two starkly contrasting personality types initially made manifest during the war in Heaven: one of absolute selflessness, and the other of absolute selfishness. Self-sacrifice and self-aggrandizement.

John later explains in a short letter that,

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

1 John 3:8

The work of misrepresenting the character of God. Jesus did this work through total submission and self-abandonment. That is, Jesus,

“who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:6-8

And now you and I are presented with two personality types and their supreme Incarnations and Representatives: that of Satan,

“The father of lies;”

John 8:44

and that of Christ,

[He] who knew no sin [who became] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

It is an internal struggle: a lifelong battle for our souls, for our hearts, for our minds. But we have nothing to fear, for Paul states that,

“neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:28-29

The War Within is won.

Through Jeremiah, God tells us,

“I know the thoughts I think toward you…thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Through John, nearing the end of his spectacular visions, God promises that after the destruction of sin and death,

“the tabernacle [living quarters] of God [will be] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelations 21:3-4

There is only good news for the heart leaning on the everlasting arms of God!