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All Christian History Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word

The Sign Language of John

Author: Rachel Kidd

Objective: To introduce the Gospel of John and understand its major themes and purposes.

The Gospel of John is the favorite gospel of millions of people because of how God has used it to bring them to faith in Jesus and to show them who He really is. It is unique in many ways; its purposes, its literary style, and its content are different from those in the other gospels.

Literary Style and Codes

The Apostle John wrote in a specific style, a beautiful and inspired Hebrew language of signs. Breathed by the spirit, John wrote a message to the people of God in a sort of code in both the Gospel of John and in the book of Revelation. In order to understand that message, you need the key in order to break the code.

1. Uniqueness

The Gospel of John is unique in that it was written approximately 60 years after the first three Gospels. The book is also made up of 90% original content, diverging from the content covered in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

2. Purpose

There is an idea that comes from Paul’s words in 2 Timothy, that scripture is addressed to the believer. That its purpose is to perfect and mold Christians to become more Christ-like.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17 

God wants us to be prepared, to be equipped to be good servants. The book of John contains quite a bit of these teachings that would prepare good and faithful servants of Christ.

However, the Gospel of John also serves another purpose; to present the Gospel, the Good News to the unbeliever. John records signs, miraculous evidence that proves that Jesus was and is the Messiah, the savior of the world.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. –John 20:30-31

John presents a compelling record of Jesus’ ministry that proves to all readers that Jesus was and is who He says He is; the Son of God, the Messiah.

3. Sign Language, a Deeper Meaning

The Gospel of John is written on two different levels, one which a child just learning to read can understand, and another more complex and symbolic.

On the surface, the language reads simple and is easy to understand. He uses more one-syllable words than any other Gospel writer.

While it appears to be simple, John uses complex allegory to delve into the complexities of faith.

4. A Systematic Argument

Unlike the other Gospels that simply recount the life of Jesus, John presents a cohesive and systematic argument. He is proving that Jesus is the Son of God with a very clear through line that you can trace from start to finish.

Now that you have the code, how should we approach the book of John? As you read, ask yourself these questions to help you understand the deeper meaning of John’s rich language.

1.      Who is Jesus?

2.    What is faith?

3.    What is life? (What is eternal life?)

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a revelation as you read the Gospel of John, to help you see Jesus for who He is.

The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. –John 1:1-2

John tells us that Jesus is the word of God. A word is a vehicle of thought, a way to communicate. As John says in the first verses, Jesus was the expression of God’s thoughts, the manifestation of His thoughts to humanity. 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14 

God wanted us to experience Jesus, to see him and know him in the flesh. So He sent Jesus to earth, becoming flesh and bone, to show great love in the most tangible of ways. 

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. —John 1:12 

John also tells us that while His own people, the Jews, rejected Jesus, He offers eternal life to those who believe. He calls them children of God, who have been born of God, or of Spirit. Those who believe and follow Jesus are born again and given the birth right of children of God.

John the Baptist

John presents the case of John the Baptist and his relationship with Jesus as further evidence of His identity as the Messiah. Most importantly, we see the baptism of Jesus and how John the Baptist continually pointed to Christ.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” –John 1:19-20

John tells us that when John the Baptist was questioned by the Jewish council, he adamantly denied being the Messiah himself, like many of his followers believed he was. Instead, he continually redirected them to Jesus.

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. –John 26-27 

John’s unique style presents a compelling case for Jesus, written in a deceptively simple style that is layered with deeper meaning. In this Gospel, we see illustrations of who Jesus is, the light of the world, the Son of God, and a beautiful story of faith and eternal life found in Him.

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All Christian History Church Development

The Power of a Story

Author: Charles Hegwood

There is power in a story. Stories can slip past our defenses and engage our hearts. In some ways, God designed us to engage with stories. It is no wonder that the gospel is presented as a grand story woven throughout all sixty-six books of the Bible. Jesus also loved to tell stories called parables. He used parables for a variety of reasons. Some of the parables were relatable to the culture. Others were only meant for His disciples to understand. And others were shock-factor parables, meant to expose sin in the listener’s hearts. Today let us look at one such parable. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. We see that God is merciful to those who come to Him in humility.

The Shock Factor

 In our modern culture, we lose much of the sting of this parable in Luke 18:9-14. If you grew up in the church setting you instinctively view the Pharisee as the ‘bad guy’ in every story. Even in the culture outside the church, the word Pharisee carries a negative connotation from years of Christian cultural impact. However, to Jesus’ audience, Pharisees were seen as the spiritual role models and the standard for whom God approves. In some ways, they were the highly esteemed spiritual rockstars of their day. Jesus, however, was not impressed. And that shocked the crowd. When Jesus then told a parable about a Pharisee and then contrasted him with a tax collector, it was jarring. They would have naturally picked the Pharisee to be justified. We must ask, why.

Shocking Characters

You see after the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they began to study the scriptures. The leaders realized that the reason they were exiled in the first place was because they disobeyed God’s commands. So, call it a slight overcorrection, but a group formed called Pharisees, who were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. They built fences of commands around God’s commands. And while their method missed the point of God’s Word, their hearts initially were in the right spot. However, over time the added rules became more important than God’s law. Their laws became a burden that God never asked His people to carry. By the time of Jesus, many Pharisees, though not all, had become arrogant and proud of their perceived ‘spirituality’.

By contrast, tax collectors were some of the lowest in the social order. The tax collectors were often placed below ‘sinners and prostitutes.’ They were seen as traitors for giving their countrymen’s money to Rome. They were also thought of as cheats, taking more than their fair share of tax money. So they were social outcasts. How could a tax collector even pray? And if he did, how would God listen? And yet we have this parable where the tax collector is justified over the Pharisee. They asked the same question we should be asking, “why would God listen to the prayer of the tax collector over the prayer of the Pharisee?”

The Heart of a Worshiper

Jesus was addressing a crowd, who as Luke stated trusted in themselves for righteousness. This context clue is key to understanding the ‘why’ of the parable. Jesus is telling the people and us what kind of heart a true worshiper of God must have. And we quickly see that job and behavior have nothing to do with it. I find this intriguing as a story. Back in the first century people were doing the same thing we still do today. We find ourselves trusting in our job status and morality. You may call it human nature, but Jesus called it sin. If you are trusting in your righteousness you are not worshiping God. The shock in this story sneaks past our defenses and self-righteousness and confronts us with the brutal truth.

We can dress well, say the right things, and show up to church every time the doors are opened, but none of these things will save us. If you trust in those things, you will find that the sin of arrogance and pride are quick to follow. The Pharisee is doing all the right things in life. He is somewhat generous, he is moral from an outside standpoint, he fasted twice a week, and gave the tithe. He was dedicated to His religious life. You would see him and think he is good and that God is with him. However, Jesus’ story has the Pharisees praying a prideful prayer. He trusted in all of those things to justify himself before God. While actions are important Jesus is saying that our ‘good works’ must come from a humble heart. We are justified through Christ’s blood as we seek God with humility.

Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector does not even go into the temple. He would not even lift his eyes to God. He knew that he was a sinner and felt the weight of that sin. He felt the weight of shame that sin brings. And yet he was undeterred. He called out to God. It was not a flattering prayer, but it was a heartfelt and passionate prayer. He knew he could do nothing to redeem his state. So he called for the mercy of God. According to Jesus, and the shock of the crowd, God justifies the humble prayer of the tax collector because his heart humbly sought after God.

Bridge it

Now, this story has slipped by our defenses. We are face to face with a raw mirror image of our spiritual state. Maybe we see the Pharisee looking back at us. We know we must respond by crying for God’s mercy. When I see the Pharisee looking back at me, I become the tax collector calling for God’s mercy and forgiveness. If you see the tax collector staring back, what do you do? You do just what the tax collector did. Call to God for mercy. God seeks the heart that is humble before Him. Trusting in Him alone for grace, mercy, and hope. Stare into the mirror of scripture through this story today and have a humble heart. God seeks such people.

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Christian History Church Development

Fulfillment of Jesus’ manifesto

Author: Rachel Kidd

Just like Matthew tells us, Luke emphasizes that Jesus was a man on a mission. Jesus came to bring a message of good news to spiritually poor people, the blind, bound, broken-hearted and bruised people. He says that His message will make the blind see, set the bound free, and heal the broken.

Luke is purposeful in the way in which he presents the message of Christ, making a clear argument for the gospel. Jesus proclaims this message in Luke chapter 4, proves it in chapter 5, and practices it throughout the rest of the book of Luke.

Jesus continually extends an invitation to us to become a part of His manifesto, a participant in His mission. In a broken world, we are always interacting with the spiritually blind and bound.

Today, the same Christ that walked the earth is within us. As the body of Christ, the church has the responsibility to fulfill Jesus’ mission on earth.

We are called to walk with the broken and sick, to share with them the Good News of the Gospel, or to fulfill Jesus’ manifesto.

Building Bonds

Throughout Luke, we see Jesus reaching out to the spiritually broken over and over again. We witness the bonds He builds with fishermen, sinners, and tax collectors.

Simon Peter was an ordinary fisherman from Nazareth, a working class man a bit rough around the edges. But Jesus called him. He gave him a nick-name Petra or Rocky, meaning stability. Peter was nothing but stable, but Jesus called out this quality in him.

Jesus developed His relationship with Peter, calling him the ‘rock’ and encouraging him for three years. By the book of Acts, Peter became the rock, a cornerstone of the early church.

Jesus exemplified what it means to encourage our friends, calling out good qualities in them and helping them become the best versions of themselves.

When I feel encouraged, I am motivated to improve. Words of affirmation from friends, family, or especially from a person of authority, make me feel valued.

Whatever you call people, they have a tendency of living up to it. It’s what it means to be a good friend, a good leader, and the living embodiment of the body of Christ.

The Miracle of Fish

Early one morning, Jesus is preaching to a crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Despite the crowds, Jesus’ attention is on a fisherman.

This man is discouraged, he spent all night fishing and didn’t catch a single fish. Jesus knows that one day, this man will be a great church leader and preach to thousands, inciting revival on the day of Pentecost.

But on this day, this man can’t even catch fish. How can someone who can’t catch fish become a fisher of men? Jesus saw Peter and who he could become.

With the crowds growing around Him, Jesus has been pushed to the water’s edge and running out of room on dry land. He asks Peter to borrow his boat to use as a pulpit, giving Him more space to preach to the crowds from the water.

Peter, probably reluctantly, agrees to share his boat. Peter continues to wash his fishing nets while Jesus finishes teaching from the boat. Afterwards, Jesus asks Peter to go out fishing with Him once more.

Now Peter had been fishing all night and was already discouraged, having caught nothing. But, he goes with Jesus anyway. Reluctantly casting his nets once again, he says “Teacher, we’ve fished all night and caught nothing.”

Jesus tells Peter to pull the nets in and check again. This time, the nets were overflowing with fish, requiring all hands on deck to pull them in. Both Peter’s and his brother’s boat were full of freshly caught fish, nearly sinking them both.

Peter falls to Jesus’ feet and says “depart from me oh Lord, I’m a sinful man.” Why would Peter respond this way to the miracle Jesus just performed?

Jesus is trying to recruit Peter to join Him on his mission, His manifesto. He is calling Peter to be a partner as they give sight to the blind, healing to the broken, and freedom to the spiritually bound.

He is asking Peter to leave behind his simple fisherman’s life and pursue instead a life dedicated to fishing for men. Peter seems to feel unqualified for this role by Jesus’ side, an uneducated, impulsive sinner with a temper and a foul mouth.

But, Jesus sees something more in Peter. He knows that this man who can’t even catch fish today, can become a great partner in the mission of the Gospel. He also knows that to get there, He must teach Peter a few things.

Fishing Lessons

Jesus teaches Peter and future readers of scripture, a few things about fishing for men as partners in His manifesto.

1. You are not the fisherman, Jesus is. You are not the deliverer, Jesus is.

Without Him in the boat with us, we will return with empty nets.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” –Matthew 19:26

When you try to go fishing for men, or lead someone to Christ, it is an impossible task without the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the evangelist and Jesus is the fisherman.

You cannot catch men alone, but with Jesus, anything is possible.

2. Jesus has control over the boat.

When Jesus gets on Peter’s fishing boat, Peter is no longer in charge. Jesus tells Peter when to cast the nets, when to pull them up, and when to return to shore.

When we accept the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are surrendering control to Jesus. We are giving Him authority over our lives, trusting in His wisdom.

3. Forsake everything to follow Jesus.

Peter was a career fisherman. He had spent his life learning his trade and earning a living. But, when Jesus calls him to leave it to follow Him, he does.

Peter doesn’t bring his hard-earned boat with him, he doesn’t continue to hold on to his former life. He leaves it all behind to become a follower of Jesus, a full-time fisher of men.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”-Matthew 16:24-26

Like Peter, we are called to be partner’s in the fulfillment of Jesus’ manifesto. We are called to follow Him, pursue His word, and lead others to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Church Development Spiritual Development

Where is Your Brother? The Story of Cain & Abel

Author: Jon Slenker

As God’s image bearers, we are called to be perfect and holy as God is. He has the highest of standards for his creation and children. This is why hearing from God, “Where is your brother?” could be argued as the most terrifying statement of Genesis chapter 4. Along with the obvious verse 10, “What have you done…your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground…”. Genesis 4 is not the feel-good comeback from Genesis 3 one might have hoped for. But just as the darkness is overshadowed by the ray of light in chapter 3, there is hope in the bleak story of these two brothers.

The Sacrifice v.3-5

Cain is the first born of Adam and Eve, and brother to Abel. He is a worker of the ground, a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd. Adam and Eve were fulfilling their creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and Cain and Abel were fulfilling theirs as worshippers and stewards of God’s creation. God gave them purpose through their identity, authority and responsibility. In addition, they had a relationship with God. A relationship where they sacrificed portions of their harvest and flock as an offering.

The Bible does not say what Cain did wrong, it simply indicates that Abel’s offering was from a heart that wanted to give back the finest of what he had been given. Verse five details Abel’s offering was from the first born of his flock, including fat portions, and he was regarded by God. In contrast, verse four simply says Cain gave, “an offering” and that God had no regard for Cain and his offering. Where the Bible is clear, we should be clear. Where it is vague, we should remain vague. We are not completely sure why God had no regard for Cain. Was it his attitude? A lack of sufficient sacrifice? Was it not done with the right heart or intent? We are not told of a command that he disobeyed. Did he bring a lazy or rotten gift? God knows, and perhaps the rest of Cain’s actions and reactions in the rest of the chapter will clue us in.

“So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.”
1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Sacrifices are to the Old Covenant as taking the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are to the New Covenant. Sacrifice and the sacraments are all signs pointing to the One True God and reminding the participant of the hope that comes from Him, who is the ultimate sacrifice. Be one who’s heart, not just actions, is worthy of God’s regard.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23

The Grace and Truth v.5-7

Cain was angry that God had no regard for him, or his offering and he had every right to be angry, at himself, not God or his brother. Anger is a signal, an alarm going off in our bodies that screams, “somethings not right!” We are to be stewards of ourselves first and foremost, something Cain was struggling to do regarding his emotions. It is in the midst of Cain’s confusion and anger where we see God’s perfect balance of grace and truth, or support and challenge, to Cain. He isn’t babying Cain, nor is he manipulating or dominating him. God engages Cain with questions like “why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:6-7). There is no favoritism. This is grace filled with hope. We are not received or judged by comparison to others. We are judged by our own hearts and actions.

Not only is God gracious to speak life and hope into Cain, he gives him a warning of truth. A healthy challenge, that sin is crouching at the door if he does not turn his heart toward God. It is as if James wrote his New Testament letter with Cain in mind. Or perhaps the local churches he was writing to were just dealing with the same natural born tendencies that Cain struggled with so many generations ago. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The Harsh Reality v.8-14

The harsh reality is difficult to face up to at times, especially when it is difficult to make sense of all the emotions swirling around. Cain goes to speak to his brother, and when they were in the field, he rose up and killed him. James offers a look into how sin crouches at the door and how to respond to anger, jealousy, selfishness, pride, quarrels, boasting, lying and calls their practice earthly, unspiritual and demonic (James 1:19-21; 3:13-19).

Cain is mad and jealous of Abel and possibly even God when he should be frustrated with himself. Instead of doing the tough personal work of looking in the mirror and self-correcting, Cain allows his anger to lead him, not the Spirit. This is what happens when we are accidental, not intentional, and shirk responsibility. We cease to lead ourselves, instead we follow our childlike emotions.

“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
James 1:19-21

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
 James 3:13-18

The Hope v.15-26

There are very real consequences that Cain must live with. Ones that changed the trajectory of not only his life, but his family and generations to come that would bear forth the promised, perfect sacrifice. Cain became a fugitive of the Garden and God’s presence and wandered the earth. He was crushed and thought it unbearable to go on fearing for his life. Yet again, God ‘parents’ Cain perfectly and gives him his word and a mark to protect him. God is the hope of mankind immediately following the fall, and he is the hope for Cain immediately after his grievous sin. The very lineage of the Spotless Lamb passes through Cain as well as every other imperfect human, arriving at the perfect God-man.

“My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”
James 5:19-20

Who do you know that is struggling with anger, jealousy, selfishness, bitterness? Pray for them, care for them. Reflect on how God went to Cain and offered a great balance of grace and truth. Pursue your brother and sister or child in love and all humility. Pray for wisdom and God will give it to you.

 

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Church Development Spiritual Development

Strategic Harvesting

Author: Charles Hegwood

Did you know that Jesus had a plan and strategy for Kingdom ministry? We may know this to be true, but we rarely think about our Savior having a mapped out plan. The gospels record Jesus’ method, strategy, and words. Matthew in particular captures a snapshot of Jesus’ strategy in Matthew 9:35-38. This snapshot is not simply to inform us that Jesus ministered but to model ministry for us and call us to join Him. Matthew invites us to walk the same ministry path that Jesus walked. In this passage let us look at the strategy that Jesus used as He taught in strategic places, preached the gospel, and cared deeply about people by meeting their needs. Jesus then challenges us to pray for and join this Kingdom harvest. 

Strategic Places  

There is nothing wrong with spontaneously sharing the gospel. As a disciple of Jesus you will find that seemingly random conversations happen. While these conversations can be God ordained, as a strategy, spontaneity is not sufficient to be a complete model for evangelism and discipleship. With intentionality, let us follow the way of our Master. Jesus went to the synagogues to teach. Synagogues were a place where teaching and learning took place. So Jesus taught in places where people gathered to learn about God. This was a strategic location. Jesus went where the people were. And when He found a gathered crowd, and He taught them. This was His routine and method. Paul follows this example if you look in the Book of Acts.  

As we go about sharing the gospel we would be wise to learn from the example of Jesus here. Find a strategic place to meet with people. This will depend largely on where you are and the context in which you find yourself. You may go to a coffee shop to meet a friend and share the gospel, you may go to a mall, or any place where people may meet to have conversations. Be strategic in where you meet people to share the gospel. Sometimes the best gospel conversations happen because the place of meeting is comfortable for the friend that you are sharing with.  

Strategic Message  

The message that Jesus shared was also strategic. He did not do TED talks and hoped that people would ask about the Kingdom of God. He went to the people at a strategic time and place and proclaimed the gospel. Jesus knew before He entered the synagogues what He wanted to say. He did not wing the gospel conversations. He knew His message and how to share it. He was clear in His teaching. Jesus’ message had purpose.  

When we share the gospel or meet to disciple people, we need to know the gospel and how to share it. I have talked with believers who are eager to share their faith. That is exciting to me, but as I talked with them about the message of the gospel, it became clear that these passionate believers did not know how to organize the message of the gospel coherently. Jesus preached the gospel and knew how to share it with people so that they would understand and respond. We need to know the gospel well and know how to share it in a clear, concise way. A strategic way. How do we do this? Practice sharing the gospel. I have found that the best way is the simplest way. Be clear and concise, and most importantly, know your message.  

Strategic Action  

I think it is amazing that Jesus had compassion on the crowds. We see that Jesus had a compassionate heart. I hope as you grow deeper in your relationship with God you would grow more compassionate to the spiritual and physical needs of people around you. However, all of the compassion in the world, not aimed in the right direction will have minimal impact. Jesus strategically met people’s needs. He healed and cast out demons. He also taught. He met people’s physical needs and spiritual needs well.  

We need to be strategic in how we help those around us. Some ministries can help organize your efforts. Whatever you do to help those around you make sure to meet people’s needs in sustainable ways. And note that Jesus’ aid was connected with His preaching and teaching. We should help people with their physical needs but we must meet their spiritual needs. We need to see people who are not following Jesus as Jesus saw them, sheep without a shepherd. We know a Good Shepherd. Your aid and message should strategically lead people to the gospel.  

Strategic Prayer  

Jesus then called His disciples to pray for the spiritual harvest. This was a very targeted and specific prayer. Jesus had them pray that the “Lord of the Harvest” would prepare and send out laborers. Many of the disciples praying that prayer would be those laborers. They were not yet ready, so Jesus had them pray that God would prepare them. Specific and purposeful prayer is strategic prayer. 

How do we pray strategically? First, pray for the spiritual harvest already happening all around the world. Pray that God mobilizes the church to go and share the gospel with their communities. Pray that missionaries be sent out. Pray that local churches in every nation would be ready to go out into the harvest. Second, pray that you would be ready to be sent out into the fields as well. Maybe as a missionary, but for sure as a disciple in a local church. We too often think that the harvest in Matthew 9 is for ministers and missionaries to reap. However, we must see that Jesus is calling each of us to engage in this harvest. Pray that you would be ready to go out into the harvest as a laborer. No one can stay on the sidelines. So pray strategically that God would raise a generation of workers ready to proclaim the gospel.  

Conclusion  

As we conclude, I want to encourage you to consider yourself a laborer in this great harvest. As we go to strategic places with a strategic message, and meet people’s needs, we go with an attitude of strategic prayer. Pray before you share the gospel. Pray as you share the gospel. Pray as you meet people’s needs and introduce them to Jesus. Pray that you will be ready. Follow the words of Jesus and go reap the harvest for the Kingdom of Heaven.   

Categories
Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

The Teaching Ministry of Jesus

Author: Charles Hegwood

If you were to put all of Jesus’ teachings into one sentence what would it be? The writers of the gospels’ answer to that question may surprise you. If you listen today to many modern sermons you may think that Jesus was a teacher of ethics. Or you may be tempted to think that Jesus was a teacher of love. Perhaps you may think of Jesus as a fiery preacher condemning sinners and preaching repentance. While Jesus taught on all of these topics and more, individually they do not define His teaching ministry. The gospel writers boiled all of Jesus’ teaching down to a summary statement that goes something like this, “The Kingdom of God is coming therefore we must repent.” We see this summary statement primarily in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So let us consider these two questions: Are we teaching as Jesus taught, and are we living in a way that reflects Jesus’ teaching? Jesus certainly taught on all the above mentioned topics. The coming Kingdom acts as a lens or filter for us to understand Jesus’ teaching on morality, love, and repentance toward God.  

Teaching Summation  

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each contain a summary statement of what Jesus taught. Jesus taught good news about the Kingdom and that as sinners, we need to repent, or turn away from our sins and run to God. Much of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and other teachings like it are about how we are to repent and live as citizens of God’s Kingdom. This summation statement also gives us an urgency to respond and herald Jesus’ message. “The Kingdom is at hand,” means that the time is short. Even as Jesus taught on earth, He was preparing His followers for the day He would return and bring the Kingdom with great finality.  

The gospel writers were saying that Jesus was teaching the “good news” of the Kingdom. God’s coming Kingdom is good news because He was making a way for His people to dwell with God forever. Repentance is our response to this good news. Jesus taught to prepare people for life in the Kingdom. Next, let us look at some of the more specific parts of Jesus’ message.  

Moral Teaching 

Jesus taught a lot of lessons with a theme of morality. However His teaching on morality was not for morality’s sake. That may strike us as odd, but remember Jesus’ teachings had a purpose. He was preparing people for Kingdom life . Consider the Sermon on the Mount, there is a lot of what you could call moral teaching. But the purpose of Jesus’ words was to call His followers to live lives that reflect life in the Kingdom. Matthew was telling the young church how they should live. Jesus taught people how to live a life that brings glory and worship to God. Implicit within Jesus’ moral teaching was the call to repent because we do not live up to His perfect standard. The good news is that where we fail, Jesus has succeeded. We can live according to Jesus’ Words knowing that when we fail we are forgiven and that the Holy Spirit is working in us to help us grow in maturity and godliness in Christ. So what does the way you live say about your love of God?  

Teaching on Love 

Jesus taught a lot about love. He taught people to love God above all else. If we love God above all else, we will also love people as well. However, Jesus did not teach about love for love’s sake alone. He had a purpose for His teaching. He was teaching people how to love God and each other in light of the Kingdom. If you take all of the messages Jesus taught on love and put them together you could say Jesus was saying, “You love God by how you love people.” A repentant follower of Jesus cannot love God and be hateful toward others. We are to love our neighbor and our enemy as well. This is a counter-cultural teaching on love. Jesus wants us to love with a godly love. This is a love that overcomes sin and our failures. Jesus wanted us to love others because this is what love looks like in the Kingdom. What does the way you love people say about your love for God?  

Teaching on Repentance 

One of the central themes of Jesus’ message was repentance. You cannot get around this word. All parts of Jesus’ teaching must be taken together as a whole. Numerous times in the gospels, we see Jesus preaching a message of repentance. “Repent because the Kingdom of God is near.” We repent because there is a purpose to repentance. The Kingdom of God is coming. We cannot live our lives of sin any longer. We live repentant lives and teach repentance in our churches. This message has fallen out of favor with modern audiences. I hope that as we consider Jesus’ teaching for our lives, let us not shy away from the call to repent.  

So you could say that Jesus was a fiery preacher with a message of repentance. But unlike many of the examples filling your head right now, Jesus backed up His message with a moral and loving life. While we must teach repentance and call on sinners to repent, we must model this life to the world. Our life and message should be a reflection of Jesus. How is the way you repent and teach repentance reflecting a love for God?  

Conclusion  

This is only the tip of the iceberg on the topic of Jesus’ teaching ministry. There have been books written about the subject. My purpose here was to illuminate three parts of Jesus’ teaching that we should take into consideration with how we live and teach. Let us live moral and loving lives full of repentance. Let what we teach be a reflection on how we live out our lives. Let your teaching ministry be a reflection of the teaching of Jesus. Do not just teach the comfortable parts. Teach other believers how to live life in light of God’s coming Kingdom. So what does your life and teaching say about your love for God and His Kingdom?  

 

Categories
Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

The Least of These 

Author: Rachel Kidd

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

Matthew 25:31–46 

At the gates of heaven, the King takes stock of His people. He separates them, sheep from goats, right from left. The blessed are those who gave freely to others, who fed the hungry, tended to the sick, and welcomed the stranger. They took care of people without expectation of reward. Yet, Jesus rewards them for their kindness, likening serving the least of these to serving Him. 

I’ve watched my mom work in community based, family counseling my whole life. She has dedicated nearly 35 years to serving people who need it the most- low-income families, single moms, foster children, gang members, addicts, and people with an array of mental illnesses.  

They are people like those you might see on street corners with signs asking for change, who live in week-to-week motel rooms, who carefully count their purchases before checking-out at the grocery store so they won’t max out their EBT card.  

Essentially, my mom works with these clients on their life skills, relationships, and mental health, assisting them in becoming functional members of society. But, her job is so much more than that. She becomes another member of their family, as she works with them multiple days a week in their home, oftentimes for many years. She answers late night emergency calls, takes foster children to safe places, or moves families between hotel rooms so often, I’ve lost count. She goes above and beyond for her families and it has been an honor of my life to watch her in action and even help when possible.  

 Last week, my mom was sick and unable to help another family as she had promised. It was the first cold night of the season and this family with four young children had just moved into a new apartment; no furniture, heat, or coats at all. My mom had gathered supplies for them, but was unable to deliver them. I stepped in and drove to meet the family with an extra air mattress and new coats for everyone. The mom and daughter met me outside and I was able to give them the necessities. They were clearly so fond of my mom, they wanted to make sure she was okay and willed her to get better soon. They even invited her to be in their family picture session, if she was well enough of course.  

To see how well my mom loves her clients, people so often deemed social outcasts, those on the margins of society, I see the way Jesus loved. I see the way the least of these are treated by the world, neglected and abused. But my mom loves, supports, and values them. She treats the least of these with respect and care that they don’t often receive from others. She loves the least of these in a way that I so admire, with consistent humility. It’s often a thankless job, often compared to being in the trenches, yet she shows up everyday for people on the margins.  

The Sheep and the Goats 

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.  

Matthew 25:-46 NIV 

 Jesus rebukes His people that did not take care of the strangers in their land, the sick, poor, and destitute. Not only do they not receive the reward of the kind, they are cursed to eternal fire and punishment. These people that ignored those in need, like many of us so often do, are forever separated from God. How many of us get caught up in our own lives and problems that we are blind to the great needs of others? I know I often fall into that trap, spending so long grappling for a foothold that I fail to see the people below me. It makes me wonder, how many people have I passed by that have fallen through the cracks?  

When I taught 2nd grade in a low-income school, I worked hard to make sure those kids felt loved and cared for when they walked into my classroom. Maybe I wasn’t the strongest in classroom management or academic rigor, but I loved those kids. Kids that were ignored and neglected at home, were welcomed and listened to in the classroom. In a sense, I felt that I was walking in my mom’s footsteps. I wanted to share that same love and support with my students that she does with her clients. I can only hope that I left a lasting impact on those kids, knowing that someone cared.  

At His Feet 

‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’  

Luke 7:44-48 NIV 

The woman is so grateful for the way Jesus loved and forgave her, despite her many sins, she publicly displays her love in return. She washes His feet with her tears, pours out expensive perfume, and wipes it away with her own locks of hair. I can’t imagine the scene, a room full of men who believe themselves to be more important to the Savior, watching as this woman enters and pours out her heart at His feet. And instead of judgment, she is met with grace and tenderness.  

Jesus rewards her outpouring of gratitude and rebukes the men around Him, asking why they did not welcome Him with the same hospitality. The men did not give Jesus water for His feet, nor greet Him with one kiss, much less bathe him in perfume and tears. He connects great love with great care, great forgiveness of a multitude of sins. He says that whoever has been forgiven little, has little love to give in return.  

I see it in the stories of my mom’s clients, the overwhelming gratitude for care they don’t often receive. I saw it in my students, who made the sweetest gifts and cards for me all year long. And in the woman at Jesus’ feet, who showed her thanks in her tears. To love and care for the least of these, the marginalized, is to care for Jesus.  

Categories
Church Development Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

God and Money 

Author: Rachel Kidd

As someone who likes the finer things in life, I often consider the implications of money. What does it mean to have money and acquire wealth as a Christian? It is a sticky morality question, one with so many burrs and thorns that it seems easier to just not touch it at all.  

Money is a necessary evil in the modern world. We work hard for it, live off of it, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how the world would function without it. But, the question I ask is who do you serve? Are you a slave to your money or is it merely a tool for survival? 

 Jesus was not wealthy on earth and neither were His disciples. They were regular, peasant folks who worked physically demanding jobs. During Jesus’ ministry, they were nomadic, traveling often by foot from city to city across Israel. They were often dirty, hungry, and slept under the stars. Today, they might be van lifers that traverse the globe in beat-up vans, bathing in streams, and hiking trails. Their goal was not to acquire the most wealth, but to dwell in relationship with others and spread the gospel.  

Verses on Money  

Many of the verses on money in the gospels are found in Matthew, who was a former tax collector himself. Tax collectors at this time were notoriously corrupt, stealing from the poor and lining their own pockets. Once a hoarder of wealth, Matthew left it all behind to follow Jesus and embraced a life of pious poverty.  

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. 

Matthew 19:24 

When talking to Jesus, a rich man asks how he can be good. Jesus tells him first to follow the commandments. The man agrees and says he keeps the commandments. Jesus then says he could sell his belongings and give the proceeds to the poor, so he can follow Him. The man then leaves discouraged, because he can’t bring himself to sell his many belongings.  

He is so attached to his belongings, wealth, and status, that he chooses these over Jesus. He can’t see past his tangible, earthly things, that he turns down eternal glory in heaven. And that is what Jesus warns the disciples about, telling them that it is hard for the rich to enter in the kingdom of heaven. The poor on earth have little to lose and much to gain, striving for a reward they can’t have on earth. Yet, the wealthy are secure in their money and life on earth and find it difficult to give it up just for the promise of an intangible reward.  

The disciples all gave up their livelihoods fishing to follow Jesus. While not insignificant, their wages were likely meager. But, Jesus promises that they will be rewarded in heaven for their faithfulness with twelve thrones, where the last will be first and the first will be last.  

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 

Matthew 6:24 

Much like the rich man could not part from his wealth in order to follow Jesus, this verse tells us that we cannot be followers of more than one master. We can’t love money so much that it clouds our faith. When you serve money, your life doesn’t have room for anything else.  

Living for wealth obscures your vision, making it difficult to see where you may be hurting others, particularly the exploitation of people in industry. When the goal is simply to make as much money as possible without consideration for the human and environmental consequences, so much can be destroyed.  

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  

Luke 6:21 

Those that understand what it means to be hungry can better appreciate feeling full and satisfied. Those who understand poverty, housing insecurity, can better appreciate being safe and comfortable. God sees people that don’t have much and promises them more in heaven. He sees their pain on earth and promises an eternal solution, one that can be more fully understood and appreciated by those who have lacked.  

The wealthy cannot truly appreciate the promise of heaven in this sense, because they are already safe and secure. While they may enjoy the richness of eternal life, they simply cannot be grateful in the same way the poor can. The ones who have struggled and suffered are going to be the most grateful recipients of this abounding grace.  

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 

Matthew 6:19-21 

Of course, money makes the world go ‘round, as they say. But, I believe that Jesus uplifted the most vulnerable and poor of us, understanding their deeper appreciation for the promise of heaven. He asks us to live in such a way that we are looking towards eternity, seeking out rewards in heaven instead of how many houses we can own or purses can line our closets. These riches can easily be lost to time, thieves, or deterioration. Our heavenly rewards for faithfulness and compassion however, are eternal and everlasting.  

As much as I enjoy nice things, I hope my focus is less on the material and more on my relationships with God and the people around me. I don’t believe that Jesus is calling us all to be nomads for Him, but rather to turn our focus outward and make sure we are serving Christ, not money first.  

Categories
Church Development Spiritual Development

The Importance of Dwelling in Unity

Author: Rachel Kidd

What is unity?  

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. 

To live in unity is to be devoted, like Acts 2:42 tells us, devoted to the act of communing with others and breaking bread together. This gives us a picture of what dwelling in unity looks like, a mutual devotion to the uplift of the community, sharing meals, and praying together.  

Ephesians 4:1–3. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

Unity is a bond of peace that joins us together in a spirit of gentleness and patience. It is a calling of humble love, not of social climbing or competition. The unity we strive for can only be found through Christ, as the verse reminds us, in “the unity of the Spirit.” 

Koinonia  

A farmer by the name of Clarence Jordan who worked for a non profit organization called Habitat for Humanity, also worked with the United States President Jimmy Carter. Jordan was also a biblical Greek scholar, theologian, and minister. He saw a divided world around him, one blistered by racial division and hated, lost in meaningless social dribble, and squandered in poverty. The solution, he believed, was found in the New Testament, in the good news of both Jesus and of fellowship. Clarence Jordan was adamant in his belief that biblical fellowship does not describe “pleasant social contracts.1” Rather, he believed that holy fellowship was something far greater and deeper, where God’s people took care of and worked alongside each other, never wanting for anything.  

Per his vision, Jordan ultimately created a thriving integrated community, deep in the segregated south of the 1940’s, where members of all races could work the land alongside one another. He believed living in community was the answer, rather than protests or violence. They called it Koinonia Farms, nestled in the southwest corner of Georgia in Americus County.  

Koinonia (κοινωνία) is a Greek word that means communion or fellowship, to commune together. Koinonia is used in Acts 2:42 to describe the earliest Christian community, how they lived in deep relationship with each other. Luke uses Koinonia several times throughout Acts 2 to describe the early church, emphasizing its importance to Christian identity.  

And much like the early church, Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia was a cultural anomaly amidst a rigid social structure and rampant poverty. In both the early church and at Koinonia Farm, everyone had what they needed, lacked for nothing, and shared everything.  

“There wasn’t a needy person among them, for whoever had fields or houses sold them and brought the proceeds and turned them into the apostles. And it was distributed to each according to his need” (Acts 4:34–35). 

Why is it important?  

Psalm 133 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is 

For brothers to dwell together in unity! 

It is like the precious oil upon the head, 

Coming down upon the beard, 

Even Aaron’s beard, 

Coming down upon the edge of his robes. 

It is like the dew of Hermon 

Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; 

For there the Lord commanded the blessing — life forever.  

Like the sweetest and richest things of life, this Psalm reminds us of the joy that dwelling in unity brings. Being at peace and harmony with our brother brings not only joy to our own lives, but also to God. He favors those who live in peace and blesses those who dwell in the spirit of unity.  

However, God does not promise that dwelling in unity will always be easy. Often, living this way can be at odds with the larger culture we live in. Koinonia Farms was targeted and brutalized by a terrorist organization called the KKK because it was racially integrated and accused of ties to communism. They faced horrific acts of terrorism from bombings to lynchings, simply because they chose to live differently in the way they felt called by the Lord.  

The early church was also targeted and persecuted by the Roman Empire, suffering first with the crucifixion of Christ on the cross and the execution or imprisonment of many early apostles. Chrstianity was new at the time and didn’t yet have the foundation of ancient ritual to support its existence. For simple existing and building their God-ordained community, the early church was met with hostility from the world around them. 

Yet, God still calls us to dwell in unity. The risks are great, even today as the church around the world continues to face brutal persecution, but the eternal reward is far greater.  

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”  

2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV 

 

Categories
All Church Development Spiritual Development

Make Disciples of All People 

Author: Charles Hegwood

Why are there so many resources on discipleship? I think the reason is because God has placed within the very DNA of believers the drive to make more disciples. One of the ways we worship God is to bring as many people as we can to Jesus. Discipleship is one of my greatest passions. I hope it is yours too. I want to look at Acts chapter 10 and peek into how Peter leads Cornelius to Christ and disciples him. We will see that through the blood of Christ, all that come to Jesus will be made clean. They will be made whole. As disciples, we are to be faithful to go and tell people the great news of the Gospel. 

Setting the Scene 

Let’s set the scene, we are introduced to Cornelius, a Roman soldier and God-fearer. He is charitable and always praying. This is a man who is seeking to know God. Let us learn from Cornelius that God answers those who seek Him. After all, here was a man, a Roman, and by that distinction alone would disqualify him from the love of God especially if you were Jewish. You would have hated this man. He was an enemy and a leader in an oppressive regime. Yet he sought God and God answered.  

God called Peter to share the gospel with this Roman soldier. For Peter this was uncomfortable. Decades of cultural education taught him that going to the house of a Gentile, moreover, a Roman soldier, would make him unclean. Even after walking with Jesus for three years, he heard the cultural echoes of “unclean”, “unworthy”. There were some Gentile believers, but at this time the burgeoning church did not know exactly how to incorporate them. Would the blood of Christ extend to these ‘unclean’ people? These would have been the thoughts rattling around the head and heart of Peter during this story. God however, has another message for Peter, for the growing church, and for us today.  

Preparing the moment: Prayer 

Prayer is essential for discipleship. We see that Peter had a habit of praying in Acts 10:9. He went up to the roof but soon became hungry. God uses Peter’s hunger during his prayer time to teach him an invaluable lesson about making disciples. If we have no prayer life, we will struggle to make disciples. We must have a habit of prayer built into our lives. 

We must pray for opportunities to make disciples as well. We must approach prayer as a time to meet with God. The result of spending quality time with God in prayer is that we will be ready to make disciples in our daily lives. Making a habit of meeting with God in prayer is the first step in biblical discipleship. 

 Tilling the Field: Having the Right Heart 

Verses 9-15 capture a very strange vision Peter had during his prayer. He saw a sheet with all kinds of unclean animals on it. We may be tempted to read this and assume we should never pray on an empty stomach. All kidding aside, many times we read this story and miss the point. We may be tempted to conclude that God is telling Peter that all foods are clean. However, the context does not support this interpretation. There are other verses to argue all foods being clean. The context of this story is a story about Cornelius, an ‘unclean’ gentile, becoming a follower of Jesus. It is about crossing cultural and ritual boundaries for the gospel.  

The theological emphasis is not on the food but on the words ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. The food here merely serves as an object lesson for Peter’s heart. The issue was not what Peter thought about eating certain foods, but instead what he thought about talking to certain people that were “unclean”. Acts 10:15 is the key verse to understanding this story and what God is trying to tell us today. “What God has made clean, do not call impure.” Soon Peter understood in full what God was trying to tell him. We see Peter demonstrate verse 15 as he talks to Cornelius and leads him and his family to Christ. The point here is that we too need to make our hearts right.  

Before we go and talk to people, let us first pray and make our hearts right before the Lord. This is what Peter needed  so that he could go to Cornelius. As we look at Peter putting the proverbial rubber to the road, let us see the need for a prepared heart in our discipleship ventures. 

Reaping the Harvest: Go and Tell  

Back to our story, Cornelius sent men to Peter. In God’s providence they arrived as Peter was praying and perplexed by what he saw. He went with these men to the house of Cornelius. We see that while Cornelius had been waiting to hear from Peter he had also been gathering more people to hear Peter’s words. Verse 28 undoubtedly shows that Peter now understands the vision. Here is Cornelius and friends; gentiles, unclean, and forbidden. Peter saw that the vision had prepared him to not see people as clean or unclean, worthy or unworthy. Instead, God wanted Peter to tell this Roman soldier about Jesus and disciple him as someone who was clean. God may be wanting you to go to someone you think of as ‘unclean’. Hear this message loud and clear. No one is unclean that God has made clean. Cornelius believes and so do those who were with him. The visible presence of the Holy Spirit only further confirms that this was the will of God. So go and tell. Make disciples!  

Disciple who? Everyone God puts in your path. What about mean people, people who don’t think the same as me, poor people, rich people, or uncool people and so on? Go and tell. Read your context. Who is it that you perceive as impure and unworthy of your time or the gospel? Understand that through the blood of Jesus what was unclean has become clean. His blood washes away our impurity and our sin. This is good news! So as you go and engage in discipleship; pray, prepare your heart, and go and tell everyone as God leads you to them. The Biblical model for discipleship has no place for favoritism. Discipleship has no place for thinking of anyone as unworthy of the gospel. Go with this in mind, “What God has called pure do not call impure,” no matter who it is or where they are from. Now, go and make disciples of all nations.