All Eyes are On Jesus
“All Eyes are On Jesus” Matthew 2:1-11
The way Matthew tells the story of Jesus birth reminds me of a scene out of family favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone 2. Little Kevin is singing with his big brother, Buzz, in the school Christmas presentation. During a part of a song where Kevin has a solo part, Buzz plays a prank on him, taking the battery powered candles and holding them behind his ears. Kevin discovers it, turns around and pushes Buzz, who falls backward off the riser, causing a chain reaction where all 50 kids fall off the risers. This causes large Christmas tree sets on stage to fall forward, knocking the matronly piano player backward completely off the stage, and the only one left standing is little Kevin. It’s hilarious. It’s the worst children’s musical mishap ever. You’re thinking, “this child caused all that commotion?” Some in the audience are laughing, some are horrified, and his parents are getting ready to have THAT conversation.
And that’s true of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. There’s lots happening! To set the scene, Jesus has been born and placed in a manger. The shepherds have come, seen the child and gone back to the fields rejoicing with the good news and the anticipation of a changed world. Now, months have passed and magi from the East, come to look for the child, but are intercepted by Herod the Great, ruler of Jerusalem, before they get there.
All eyes are on WHERE the child is, and WHO the child is.
While Jesus (and Christmas) draws the attention of many people from many backgrounds, it is their response while they are searching that distinguishes people from one another.
Jesus (and Christmas) bring us together, but to differing responses.
Some are thrilled, some concerned, and some are just watching to see what happens. No account illustrates this more than Matthew 2.
Some are disturbed by Jesus. “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” v. 3 Let me introduce you to Herod, the Great. Reigning from 37 BC – 4 AD, he was an interesting and frightening ruler. Half-Jew because his father was an Edomite who’d converted to Judaism and half Idumean, he rose to power due to his father’s good friendship with Julius Ceasar. He was actually appointed to his position by Mark Antony.
This guy has what A-list celebrities have – connections. There’s history here.
He rebuilt Solomon’s Temple after it’s destruction in order to appease the Jewish population, but he was a wicked ruler who struggled with depression and paranoia.
The historian Josephus said when he was on his deathbed that Herod ordered a large group distinguished men of Jerusalem to brought to Jericho and executed at the moment of his own death so that someone would actually mourn when he died. And we think OUR political opposites are messed up people. He’s one insane dude.
Magi arrive looking for Jesus, and this comes to Herod’s attention. Think through this - there must have been quite a few in this entourage from the East for it to get the attention and cause a stir in this city of more than 500,000 people. He’s troubled, and you know enough about Herod by now to know that if Herod ain’t happy, nobody is happy. So, HE’S disturbed by Jesus’ birth, and everyone else is terrified about what he’s going to do. Surely most of us aren’t much like Herod but there are some things common to all humans.
We like to control our own future. Herod had his own plans for the future, and the phrase, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” bothered him badly. I can see him thinking out loud, “This is my city, my territory. I’m the king.” I hear people saying that all the time. “I like Jesus, but nobody is the boss of me.” They are like the little kid who says, “My mom is a nice lady, but she’s not the boss of me – right now.” Jesus was born to be KING. And, yes, He’ll sit on the throne and rule your life – one way or another.
Some of the Jews had this same issue – they weren’t sure about this child just yet. His birth (of a virgin) his placement (in a manger) didn’t look promising to them yet.
By the way, the reason most people who know about Jesus do not want to follow Him is because of this – they want to live their own lives and do not want another to reign over them.
We like to eliminate what we can’t control. King Herod was so insecure, so disturbed, that he hatched not just ONE plan to eliminate Jesus, but TWO.
“…report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” v. 8b
Nobody was buying that. Certainly not the wise men. Herod wanted to eliminate Jesus. We know this because of His second attempt a short time later. Called the “slaughter of the innocents,” Herod ordered soldiers to kill all the male Hebrew babies in the region (v. 16), but the angel warned Joseph “Get up! Take the Child and his mother and flee to Egypt…for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” v. 13 Jesus and his family remained there until Herod died. Herod is doing what human nature does – he is trying to keep Jesus as far away from him as possible.
In the end, of course, He meets God face to face, as we all will. He doesn’t bend the knee to worship Jesus just then, but he’ll bend the knee to acknowledge Him as Lord in the days ahead. We will all do that.
There’s another group in this story – though not as dominant to the text.
Some are waiting for Jesus. This is evident in v. 4-6, when scribes and scholars of the Old Testament are asked about the birth of the Messiah. These are Jewish people who lived in this area. They have been waiting for years for the Messiah to come. The chief priests and the scribes are simply repeating what the prophets have said in answering Herod’s pointed question. The prophecies have given hope for them and some are desperately waiting for the Messiah to be born. The answer to Herod’s question was a prophetic answer, and powerfully accurate.
The prophecy in verse 6 is a paraphrase of Micah 5:2 and pinpoints the birth of the Messiah to Bethlehem of Judea – just five miles away. Matthew is validating this fact. It is also a fact that Bethelem, which means “house of bread” was also the birthplace of King David, and it is entirely logical that the Messiah, having descended from David’s line should come from the same city, Bethlehem. It’s such a small place today – a largely Arab city with 200 households. But in that day, this prophecy provoked HOPE in those who were waiting.
One of my favorite messages I’ve ever preached was out of 1 Peter 1:10-11. “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”
Peter’s reminder of how prophecy impacted people is powerful. People were looking and waiting for a Messiah to come and they were searching diligently. Micah 5:2 is just ONE prophecy among hundreds pointing to Jesus. I know there are doubters out there who cannot fathom how all this works together. They have not met Jesus personally, and they’ve not done the research or read the record. Some are waiting for something but it’s random waiting, not the kind of waiting that keeps you watching.
But the prophecies point the way and show us where to look for this Messiah.
Let’s remember a few of them.
Prophecies concerning His Birth
Given: Isaiah 7:14 - “The Lord…will give you a sign; Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a Son…”
Fulfilled: Matthew 1:18, 24, 25 “…she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit…Joseph…kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son.”
Prophecies concerning His lineage
Given: Isaiah 11:1 – “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse…”.
Fulfilled: Luke 3:23, 32 “Jesus…the son of Joseph…the son of Jesse…”
Prophecies concerning His Birthplace:
Given: Micah 5:2 “But as for you, Bethlehem...from you One will go forth for Me to be a ruler in Israel…from the days of eternity.”
Fulfilled: Matt. 2:1 “…Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…”
Prophecies concerning the Timing:
Given: Daniel 9:24-26 “…from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah…there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (of years)…”
Fulfilled: Mt. 2:1 “…Jesus was born…in the days of Herod the king…”
Prophecies concerning His Sufferings
Given: Psalm 22:16-18 “…they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me. They divide my garments…”
Fulfilled: Luke 23:34-35 “…And they cast lots, diving up His garments…and the people stood by, looking on.”
This is not all. There are Old Testament Prophecies concerning His gifts, nature, miracles, names, zeal, ministry, parables, entry into temple, riding the donkey, betrayal, responses, piercings, crucifixion, his bones, prayers, rejection, clothing, cry, darkness over land, burial, resurrection, ascension – and they were ALL fulfilled in Christ.
Peter Stoner, in a mathematically and scientifically accredited book, describes the probability for the fulfillment of just EIGHT prophecies. “The chances for any man might have lived and fulfilled just 8 prophecies would be 1 in 10 to 17th power. That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.” If we take that many silver dollars and lay them face down, they’d cover the state of Texas 2 feet deep. Have you ever driven across Texas? If you marked one of those silver dollars, stirred them up, and blindfolded a man to turn him loose, planted him in any spot in Texas – and told him to pick up the marked silver dollar – he’d face the same odds in finding that coin as the prophesies presented for one man to fulfill them. (Lee Strobel – Case for Christ)
Every single prophecy of the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus.
If you’re waiting for a Messiah wait no longer!
He’s not an imposter who wormed his way into prophecy.
He’s not a fable created to get a following.
He’s not a random stranger who rose to greatness.
He’s not a figment of religious imagination.
Jesus was placed by God the Father in the perfect place at the perfect time in the perfect way through the perfect lineage to live a perfect life and die a perfect death so that we might have eternal life.
If you’re waiting – wait no longer – your MESSIAH is here!
Some are searching for Jesus. After being questioned by Herod and given orders to return to report back if they find him, they actually see Jesus. v. 9-11
This is what they’ve been searching for! This is why they’ve come! The magi are a big part of this story. They are a priestly caste of Medes and Persians from the East – they are dream interpreters, astrologists and astronomists – they are students of the stars, looking for wisdom.
Have you ever stared into the starry night – have you ever put your eye to powerful telescope to see the details of the planets. Have you ever seen the alignment of the big and little dipper, Orion, and the others? Can you look into that gorgeous sky and NOT think about its creation – and its CREATOR!
Some will say, “What did those guys know? They were ancients!” These ancient magi were wiser than those today who think the planets and the solar system started by themselves and by chance. And they were searching for the Creator.
They have come from a long distance to worship. v. 1 Estimates as to how far they traveled are varied, but it seems prudent to say they at least traveled for WEEKS to get to Jesus. One historian said they traveled for 2 years. Whatever the distance, they were diligent, determined seekers of the truth. They desperately wanted to know the Creator of the Universe.
Are you diligent? Determined? Are you desperate to know God? I’m sometimes stunned by how little we prioritize what they placed first.
They’ve been given direction from God along the way. This was not a chance trip, but one they’d been looking to make for some time.
“…we saw His star in the east…”. v. 2 The star indicated to them that something was about to happen. This wasn’t an ordinary star. It was unique in many ways, but first it was shining in such a way these men knew it was time to make the trip. They could have been studying OT prophesies as the scrolls were available. They would have known the general times were ripe. Knowing the prophesies meant they would have looked for the star mentioned in the book of Numbers. “A star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel…” Numbers 24:17 As this star begin to rise in the night as they were searching the heavens, they were convinced it was time to make the trip.
This wasn’t just any star. “…and the star…went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the child was.” v. 9 It was brighter than all the rest. It traveled and moved ahead of them. It rested over the area where Jesus was. It manifested itself to them. It’s NOTICABLE, it’s MOVABLE, it’s CONTROLLABLE. I’ve concluded over the years that this star was as brilliant and as focused as the shekinah glory that came down over the Holy of Holies and God often demonstrated His direction by fire and by brilliant light. How else can we conclude the movement, the focus, the attention that drew the wise men, but no others to the scene?
This star reminds us that God reveals Himself to those who are seeking Him! He will reveal Himself to YOU! God can speak to you in almost any way if you’re searching. Many years ago, one of my friends in grad school, Johnson Lee, told me the story of his conversion to Christ. He’d come to America from Korea and was struggling with purpose and meaning in life. As a non-believer, he knew about Jesus but had never had an encounter with Him. One day, while driving down the highway, He did what others have done – he asked God for a sign. As he drove, the very next sign on the highway was the exit sign for “Johnson Road.” Taking the exit, he found nothing but a crossroad, a stop sign and empty fields, but he sense God telling him, “Johnson, this is your exit, your crossroads and your stop sign. It’s time to trust Me.” That day, Johnson said, “I came to Christ, and I’ve never looked back.
From a distance that story sounds strange, but not any stranger and more unusual than a baby born of a virgin prophesied hundred and thousands of years beforehand, wise men who’ve come hundreds of miles because they were led by a moving star only they could see coming to rest over a baby Messiah.
Listen, God will do what He needs to do to bring you to faith. Search for him desperately, look for Him to show up and communicate. He’s there!
They have come ready to worship. “…opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” v. 11 Literally, they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. Look at that posture. Look at that surrender! These dignified Magi from the East left it all on the floor of that place! Gold was fit for royalty, frankincense was suitable for a priest and myrhh was the symbol of suffering and death. ALL significant gifts for what was ahead for Jesus. Even their gifts were prophetic messages to us today.
These men started on a fact-finding mission and ended in worship.
This OFTEN happens. Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel are two notable authors who started out to disprove the biblical view of Jesus, but soon became convinced followers of Christ.
Some are oblivious to Jesus. “…the magi left for their own country by another way.” v. 12 We don’t know what happened next. We simply know that they went back to their country and as they did, they passed village after village filled with oblivious people who were not waiting, not watching or searching and not even disturbed. They didn’t know. And that’s still true today. Do you know whose job that is? That’s OUR job today – WE are the ones called to tell others about the Jesus we’ve seen and known.
What does Jesus bring out of you? Are you troubled? Waiting? Searching?
Thousand-year-old prophecies coming to fulfillment. Moving stars that only a few can see. Mysterious wise men coming from a distance with gifts fit for a king. A murderous tyrant who can’t find a baby to put him to death. God warning people through dreams. Religious leaders who are stunned when Scripture comes to pass. All eyes are on Jesus.
How Do We Hear the “Voice” of God?
Along a highway, some time ago, I saw a billboard that raised my eyebrows. It said:
“Do you have the slightest idea where you are going?” – God
While that billboard may serve to cause unbelievers to think twice, it should also stir the heart of those who follow Christ, too. Do we really know the will of God? Do we really have the ability to know what we are doing is what GOD wants us to do, and not just some vague notion that we hope works out…and that we desperately pray God might bless? What better time to consider how to hear the voice of God than now?
In Acts 16, we see a powerful example of how the Apostle Paul eventually heard God’s clear directions to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel, and how hearing those directions made a dramatic impact in the kingdom of God on earth. In the first thirteen verses of Acts 16, three extremely important questions are given answers…
When is it time to hear the voice of God?
How do we hear the voice of God?
How should we respond to the voice of God?
“When is it time to hear the voice of God?” It is ALWAYS time to hear God’s voice!
Acts is a book filled with examples of God’s people hearing the voice of His Spirit and following that direction. While we are certainly not referring primarily to an audible voice, the spiritual promptings of God in the hearts of His servants make the entire book of Acts alive with the acts of God through His people! We often yearn for God to work like He did in those marvelous days, but we must be willing to listen! Often we simply don’t tune into what the Spirit of God is saying. We may be distracted by entertainment. We may be spiritually lazy. It may be that have gotten so out of touch with His leading that we don’t even listen for His voice anymore. Sadly, many don’t hear the voice of God because of spiritual pride. They already know all the answers. Yet, all of us must yearn for His fresh, daily leadership in our lives. Rest assured, God speaks to those who are listening! In the days of great spiritual barrenness in Israel, God spoke to a child named Samuel. Eli, the priest, who had ceased to hear God’s voice, gave a great word of advice that should all heed. He told Samuel to say to the Lord,“Speak, Lord, for Thy servant is listening.”(1 Sam. 3:9) We should be so inviting! God yearns to lead His people.
In the life of Paul as recorded in Acts 16, we see several indicators that God was about to speak, and that Paul needed to listen! They serve as principles for us today.
It is time to hear God’s voice when we come to a place of completion. Paul had just completed his previous ministry. He sensed his work was done and things were going well. Verse five sums up by saying, “So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.” A good time to rest? Maybe. But also a good time to realize that God had more for Paul – and He did! As Paul moved on, he discovered something else.
It is time to hear God’s voice when find a closed door, and need new direction. Verses six through eight show us that God was closing doors so that Paul might not enter certain cities. Paul was getting no clear direction, but was launching off into every door possible. Whether that was simply Paul’s persistence or whether it was His religious “flesh” at work, the outcome is the same…closed doors mean that God has yet to direct us clearly. If we wait, we’ll soon hear Him.
In verse 9 we read about a vision Paul had in the night. “A certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul immediately conferred with his companions to discern whether this indeed was God’s direction.
It is time to hear God’s voice when we sense God is beginning something new. Certainly, not every vision one sees is from God! But God has a way of placing a burden on our hearts that help us conclude it is Him. When we sense and see God working in new ways to do new things, building on previous foundations He has laid, as He did in Paul’s life, we can be confident He is speaking.
“How do we hear the voice of God?”
God speaks through closed doors. Paul was clearly being told by God NOT to go to either Asia, Mysia or Bithynia. Literally, verse 7 says, “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” Aren’t you so thrilled that we have the indwelling Spirit of God in our lives to show us what His will is? The wording suggests that there was simply no freedom for Paul to move in those directions. Since God is sovereign, His closed doors mean He is up to something. In our lives, as in Paul’s, God closes doors for several reasons: *To protect us. It may be God is saving us much grief or trouble by closing doors. *To open a greater door. God has a perfect sense of timing and knows the big picture. Often what we think is best is paltry compared to His best. *To position us to hear Him more clearly. Since closed doors disappoint us, we often run to God. When God closes doors, He wants us running back to Him saying, “Where are you, God?” *To delay us until the right time. Ron Dunn was fond of saying, “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” Closed doors can mean God is making preparation for the right time. By the way, Paul DID eventually go to all those places He found closed doors to in Acts 16. The result? Well, read the seven letters to the churches in Revelation and see for yourself! Those churches were established by Paul going at a later date! God IS sovereign.
God speaks through open doors. Verses 11-13 of Acts 16 can be summed up in two words: Smooth sailing. They rapidly and smoothly made their way to the cities of Macedonia. How? God was opening those doors, and nothing was hindering them from going. When God opens a door that stands out among closed doors, He is clearly speaking to us. Not every opened door is God’s opened door, but when a door is opened that fits with all that God has done and spoke in our lives, we can have confidence! The provision for smooth sailing in those days was clear provision for Paul to follow God’s voice.
God speaks through needs and burdens. Though a need or burden is not ALL we must have to insure God is speaking, it IS a call to prayer about how God would have us respond. Paul’s vision was one man calling to another with a burden. After praying and seeking counsel, he concluded God was speaking. When your prayer for a burden turns into a conviction that you are to do something – do it! Certainly, as we see needs around us, we should conclude God is calling us to pray and desire to hear Him concerning our involvement with that need. HE will guide us, even as He did Paul.
God speaks through the counsel of others. In verse 10, we have a word that speaks powerfully to how we can hear God’s voice together. It is the word “concluding.” “…concluding that God had called us..” It is a word that means to “commonly conclude” or to “arrive at the same exact conclusion.” As we ask others to pray about what we sense God is doing, they can help us discern His will. Many times, my wife and I have prayed about a matter and have “commonly concluded” what God is telling us. I have heard many testimonies of those who have given particular sums of money that God had given they and their spouses a “common conclusion” for what the offering amount was to be. Paul wasted no time after this verse. He knew by then, God had spoken!
God speaks through spiritual promptings. We don’t have to go far in Acts to find Peter hearing God, as well. In Acts 11:12, he reports, “And the Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings..” Beth Moore tells a memorable story of being prompted to brush an old man’s hair in an airport. Her response of faith enabled her to share Christ’s love with many. Often promptings seem strange, just as this one must have to Peter, but God has control of the big picture, and knows best. Many believers have learned over the years that there is a distinction between mere ideas, and spiritual promptings. Ideas are temorary and often are forgotten quickly, but spiritual promptings linger on, kept there by the Spirit of God until we act on them or reject them outright. God speaks by prompting and moving our hearts. In Exodus 35, the Scripture says the people had been stirred and moved in their hearts to give. Obviously, God had prompted them to give in a certain way, and they were able to give willingly.
God speaks through a sense of peace that we are in the will of God. In Acts 15:29, we find the phrase, “..it seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit…” This may be one of the simplest aspects of hearing God’s voice. When our thoughts are fitting to Scripture, to principles and truths we’ve walked in, to faith, and to the testimony of Christ Himself, we can be assured that what “seems” good to us is in the general counsel of God’s will. Even when what God has called us to do seems impossible, we can have the “peace that passes understanding…” when we know it is His will.
God speaks through Scriptures that come to us time and time again. Surely God uses His perfect and revealed Word above all else. This is mentioned last because it is an aspect of hearing God’s voice we have that neither Paul, nor Peter had in such completion as we have! When we are listening for the voice of God, He will speak through commands, principles, examples, and situations we find within the pages of the Bible. It is a limitless resource! When we are praying about hearing from God for specific issues that pertain to giving, relationships, vocations and general questions that may not be address directly, we may be sure that they are addressed in principle. John 16:13 tells us that the Spirit will “…guide you into all the truth..”
Finally, “How should we respond to the voice of God?”
One word is adequate to describe Paul’s response. Immediately. Paul and his companions “ran a straight course..” They wasted no time, because they were convinced God had spoken. When God’s people hear God’s voice, they waste no time in following, because we are merely joining God in what He is doing. Which brings us back to what we are doing in the first place.
We are listening to the voice of God because we simply want to join Him in what He is doing. As we pray, as we seek His will, as we evaluate His leadership for how we are to be involved financially and prayerfully in the life of His church, we must let nothing distract us from…Hearing God…Trusting God..Obeying God…
Are YOU a Neighbor?
Love God. Love Others. Pretty much sums up the Great Commandment found in Matthew 22 and Luke 10. So, what does that look like? Part of the Real Life of a believer is that they engage with those who are their “neighbors.” Read the following real life story of how it’s lived out in one young family’s life.
“John 13:34 and Luke 10:27 show us that loving our neighbors and each other points people to Jesus. It doesn’t have to be fancy… instead, we have prayed that God would put people in our path who need to know the love of Jesus. That he would open our eyes to their needs. And that he would help us to love them well. Then, we have intentionally created margin in our schedules so that we have time to drop everything and “do big things” for people.
For us, it means listening for people who are hurting, and looking for a way to surprise them with love. It may mean leaving a pie on someone’s porch, or throwing an impromptu graduation party for a neighbor who moved across the country to care for his dad who has cancer. He was 1,000 miles away from his friends and classmates, so we got our neighbors together and surprised him with a party. We try to get our girls involved – when our child overhears us talking about someone who is sick or hurting, her first response is now, “I’ll draw them a picture so we can mail it to them to help them feel better.”
In 2016 we decided that we wanted to love BIG by setting a goal to host 200 people in our home in one year. We ended up hosting 258. It was a blast, and there is no better place to show someone Jesus’ love than to invite them to sit at your table with you. We don’t keep count anymore, but we probably still host 150-200 people a year, because it’s just what we prioritize as a family. It’s never fancy – often we’ll just order pizza. Folks don’t come to our house for the cooking – hospitality isn’t about impressing people. It’s about listening to and honoring people and making them feel like they’re part of the family. People let their guards down and share their hearts around your table.
We have a huge heart for the neighbors God has placed on our street, and we prioritize spending time with them. Almost none of them know Jesus… although they’re all getting to know Him, one cookout at a time.
Again, we build lots of margin in our schedules so that we can invite folks over for an impromptu pool party in the driveway after work (with our fancy $14 Walmart plastic pool). What’s really cool is that our neighbors have caught on, and now they look for opportunities to host each other as well. We had about 50 of our neighbors over for Easter this year… just a simple cookout in the driveway with a borrowed bounce house in the front yard. Another neighbor hosted all of us for a Mother’s Day weekend cookout, and another neighbor is planning a 4th of July cookout on our street – complete with a “parade” for the kids. We probably hang out with our neighbors 2-3 times a week… it’s never formal, rarely inside. We just set up our lawn chairs in the driveway and wait for folks to come over. They always do.
Loving your neighbor is contagious, and it’s something our whole family can do together. It’s also really fun. I should also add, when loving your neighbor, you have to remember that people aren’t projects. People know if they’re projects. We try to simply love people well AND look for opportunities to share Jesus in our everyday conversations. When you’re being intentional, you’d be amazed at how many opportunities you have to share.
If you look around and all your friends are believers… keep looking.”
My Dad was the Man
He died April 29, 2017, at the age of 87. He lived for Christ, for kingdom and for family.
He was a man.
Dad pastored for 67 years, so I was raised a preacher’s kid, but I didn’t have anything to complain about. He wasn’t one of those famous preachers – he was a small church pastor in small towns all over Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona. A champion. A huge influence on entire communities. He served because it mattered, because he was called, not for fame or ambition. It was as pure as it gets.
He and my mom did an amazing job with my brother, Matt and me. It was an amazing upbringing. The memories – wow! I remember Matt and I hanging onto his back as he dove into the deep end of the Motel 6 pools on vacations showing us how to “go deep” in the water. We played sports, fixed cars (and rebuilt a few), and drove all over the nation in those legendary 1960’s vacation trips.
He put Matt and I in an inner-tube (google it) and pulled us around in the rare Oklahoma snow behind his Ford. I still think he kicked a football as high as anyone I’ve ever seen. He had a wicked right cross (he boxed in the Navy) and once nearly knocked me out accidentally. I was 10 years old and he was sparring with me on his knees, showing how it was done. When I regained composure and asked, “what happened?” he replied, “you dropped your guard. Don’t do that.” Very effective lesson.
Some of you may be horrified to hear that – others will nod knowingly. It’s dad stuff, done in love. It seemed to work pretty well. We turned out fine.
When we weren’t doing stuff like that, I simply watched him. I watched him carve out a hour each morning to slip away to a side porch in our house to pray and read the Bible. I watched him cry for us and sometimes because of us. I watched him restrain his words and his temper when I would test his limits as a teenager. I watched him love my mom, and make her feel like she was the most special woman in the world. I watched him talk people “off the ledge” of doing disastrous things, and I watched him lead people to Jesus. I watched him deal with angry people without losing his own temper. He was a man.
As I grew older, Dad become more of a mentor. He taught me things no one else would take the time to do it. He was the biggest backer of both my brother and I, and I think deep down, we knew it. He BELIEVED in us. When we were separated by distance we got the regular phone calls. “How’s the job? How’s the weather? How’s the car running?” It was dad/kid conversation – it was staying in touch.
I could write a book. Maybe I should. I know that not everyone has had a great dad experience, and I know some who had the worst – but they are determined to change that by being incredible dads themselves. It’s worth it guys. Be a man like you want to be known to have been.
When dad died, we all knew what we’d lost. There were the great times we wished we’d had some more of, and words we all wished we’d said, but death doesn’t wait around like we think it will. He’s gone on to his considerable heavenly reward. We have great memories.
And an enormous example.
My dad was a man. He was THE man. Happy Father’s Day, dad.
A long time ago, as a young boy, I took my first motorcycle ride on my own. I had no instruction, no warning, and certainly no idea of the power that was in that little engine. While I understood the general idea of the throttle activated by the handgrip, I was not well versed on how the brakes worked – nor did I have experience steering the thing.
Sure enough, I gave it gas (a lot of gas), let out the clutch and away I went – straight into a barbed wire fence. I just remember hanging on for dear life. Embarrassed, cut up and with a scratched (and borrowed) motorcycle, I lived to learn the lesson of underestimating the machine and the chain of events that would happen when I gave it gas.
In these past few weeks, I’ve watched something painfully similar unfold in social media circles regarding events far and wide. We’ve lost control of the machine. We’ve allowed emotion, assumptions, and self-righteousness to drive us into the fence. I’ve seen anger in the posts of somewhere I’ve never seen it before. Who are you and how did you become this way? I think I know: you’ve watched the world and how this game is played there.
It’s a game of paper prophets, committees of one, and communication that has no question marks – just exclamation marks. Why can’t we have a conversation? One where questions are asked and the exchange of information takes place before the railing begins?
This is not our game. This is not our way. We don’t communicate like this. Not in the kingdom. Not in God’s family or denomination.
With care and restraint, we must remember:
*Speech is to be seasoned with grace – so it brings grace to the hearer (in this case the whole world)
*Facts are to be verified by two or three witnesses before judgment is brought
*We’re to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
*We really, really need to stay on mission.
Social media engines are powerful. They make an audience out of everyone. That can also make a target out of anyone. Even you. Remember you have brakes – the restraint of wisdom and patience. We have handlebars – to steer clear of a damaging testimony and harsh judgment before facts are clear. We should ALWAYS stand for what’s right—and do so with great passion. However, when we resort to arguing, fighting, and attempting to destroy each other, we only hurt ourselves and the mission to which He’s called us.
And, at the very least, we can act like we believe that God is in control and will show us how to deal with all we’re facing when we gather face to face. He’s managed to do that well—long before the internet became a thing.
CHRISTIANITY TODAY ARTICLE: CAN WE TALK? THE STORY OF ONE TEXAS CHURCH’S ROAD TO EVANGELISM
A gospel-centered church is where the people share the gospel.
We often find that God does his greatest work out of times of difficulty. For me as a pastor, 2013 was a difficult year. Our community was facing rapid demographic changes that were bringing transition to our own church membership. Large numbers of first-generation immigrants were moving to our area, and increasing lostness was apparent. Just a few miles away was a Muslim Prayer Center, where reportedly more than 3,000 worshipers of Allah gathered weekly.
During this time, I felt a strange sense of emptiness in my own role as senior pastor of this historic and strong congregation and a nagging sense of deficiency in how we mobilized our congregation with the gospel. We weren’t actively sharing the gospel and reaching those who might never attend our church. And if we didn’t do it, who would?
That summer, I received an invitation to preach the upcoming Convention Message of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore. The timing was ironic. As I prayed, I felt the Lord saying to me that he would show me what to preach, but that it wouldn’t simply be another message; rather, it would be a life-altering shift as he said, “You will live this.” I had no idea what this meant.
What happened that year changed my world. God brought great definition and clarity to my role as a leader of our congregation with the central focus of sharing Christ. He moved me to form a plan to equip our people to have gospel conversations. Our congregation responded, and in one year alone we saw over 300 people trained to share the gospel. We did this through a very simple way of sharing Christ called, “Can We Talk?”
We’ve now taken more than 700 people through our six-week equipping. This has resulted in thousands of gospel conversations outside our church walls and many decisions for Christ.
Seven Convictions that Changed Our Evangelism MinistryLet me share seven key convictions and actions that changed my ministry—and our church culture—when it came to evangelism.
1. God convicted me that the senior pastor was the key. Specifically, he convicted me that I was the problem. If I did not personally lead from my role in the area of evangelism, our church would never embrace it whole-heartedly.
The conviction came from 2 Timothy 4:5, where the Apostle Paul admonishes young Timothy, who is pastoring the church at Ephesus: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” When I realized I was disobedient to doing the “work of an evangelist,” I turned away from my apathy and embraced this definition of pastoral leadership. As a pastor, I faced a crossroads where I had to stop talking about equipping people to share the gospel and start doing it.
2. I came to grips with a theological and practical truth regarding the gospel.Here’s the truth: The gospel has enough power to change the world. How deeply we believe this is revealed by what we do with the gospel. To believe it and not make every effort to mobilize the gospel is to betray either one’s lack of belief or our lack of compassion for the lost. We began to embrace this as a theological and practical truth.
3. We realized our church had to own the deficiency of the gospel in our local culture. If my community didn’t know the gospel, it would be because I didn’t lead well and our church didn’t mobilize the gospel. We’re placed where we are by the sovereignty of God, and by that same sovereignty people from all over the world are coming to our community.
4. We redefined gospel-centeredness. Christians in America have been in a decade of relying on books, preaching, and conferences focused on the gospel, and yet we have seen little real movement in gospel-conversations outside the walls. We say we’re gospel-centered, but are we? Our own definition of gospel-centeredness must address how we share the good news. A gospel-centered church is not one where the preacher preaches the gospel, but where the people share the gospel. This is our end game.
5. We settled on a plan for training our people to share Christ. Having a repeatable plan that is doctrinally robust and conversationally simple is a huge part of mobilizing people. If you want something to multiply, make it reproducible. “Can We Talk?” gave us that plan and our people are easily able to learn and share conversationally with a hands-on training approach. Without a strong plan, a church will never multiply witnesses.
6. We began to see our community as our primary mission field. Somewhere along the way, missions became ‘cool’ and evangelism ‘not so cool.’ But the world came to our doorstep—as it is coming to yours. How much time do you spend thinking of how to reach those who may never attend your services? How often do you pray about the lostness around you, and have you come to grips with the fact that if you don’t tell them about Christ, no one will? We must see everyday people as our mission field and focus.
7. We dedicated ourselves to training our staff and lay leadership. If the leaders don’t lead, will the rest of the congregation ever share Christ? We know the answer. For us, knowing and sharing the gospel has become the bottom rung of leadership. If we’re unable do that, can we really be trusted to make key decisions, to teach the Word, to lead our flock?
In 2014, our church allowed us to begin a non-profit organization called One Conversation, Inc., which trains pastors and leaders to equip their people to share Christ through one-day conferences hosted around the nation. Increasing numbers of churches in more than a dozen states now use “Can We Talk?”; our prayer continues to be that God would kindle gospel movements here and around the world.
It all begins with a pastor who has a passionate desire to see the gospel move from the hearts of his people to the lives of those around them. At the end of life, we’ll stand before him to give an account of our stewardship of the gospel. I want to fulfill the ministry of the gospel in such a way that thousands are enabled to share such incredible news with a desperate and dying world. We can reach our communities for Christ, but it will take all of us to do it, and it will take all we have. But isn’t that what the gospel is all about?
John Meador has served as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Euless since 2006. He is passionate about the Word of God and committed to teaching it creatively because he loves to watch it transform lives. Under his leadership, First Euless has become an intergenerational, multi-ethnic, and mission-focused church. His heart and vision have shaped it to become a place that reaches into the community and into the world. He believes those armed with the Gospel leave a lasting mark, and challenges everyone he leads to be a culture-changer as they carry the good news into the world around them.
It’s an incredible story, just now unfolding. A family of nine swimming together in Panama City, in trouble due to strong currents just off the beach, are about to drown. One has given up and told the others to save themselves. No lifeguards are near and most of the people on the beach seem oblivious.
BUT, one couple on the beach heard the cries for help, and determined that these people would not drown that day. What resolve! While the wife headed out on a “boogie” board to the people, the husband helped form a human chain, stretching from beach to the people – some 100 yards from shore. More than 80 people linked arm to arm (some were swimmers, some were not) to reach the distance, and miraculously, each member of the stranded family were rescued safe and sound.
Someone had a plan. They mobilized others. Together, they all reached out to those who were perishing. This human chain reversed what could have been a horrific tragedy. Lives could have been easily lost. Thankfully, they are all alive and recuperating. Read about it yourself at www.nwfdailynews.com.
Just before this story caught my eye, I was reading the latest information about churches in America and why we are no longer reaching people with the Gospel. The sad and undebatable truth is this: Churches have no plan. By a vast majority – some say 90% – local churches have no intentional plan to reach out to people who we know will perish without the Gospel message.
A bunch of strangers on the beach can improvise a plan to reach the perishing, but the local church cannot. Wow. That’s a problem. It’s a problem of no faith – or no compassion.
I’m thankful that I’m pastor of a church with an intentional plan to equip people, to share the Gospel with friends and strangers alike, and to get the Gospel message to those who have never heard. We have human chains forming all over our church and community with a life-changing message. They are visible, they are loving, they are verbal and they are prayerful. We’ve equipped every person we can in the “Can We Talk?” method of sharing the Gospel, and we’re intent on doing our part to change the world. (www.oneconversation.org)
What about your church? What about you, pastor? What about you, Christian? What’s the plan?
There are people all around you who are drowning spiritually. What’s the plan?
It’s Time to Lead
The election is past, and we’ve got a new chapter ahead in our nation. It’s time to lead.
It’s time for the church to lead the way – because no governmental institution can do what the church can do. No one has a leader like we do – King Jesus. No one has the power of the Gospel and forgiveness like we do. We have to lead.
It’s time for us to lead the way to kindness and compassion in the wake of a divisive election. We can celebrate without being crass. We can weep without bitterness and anger. We can consider others first – because He did that for us.
It’s time for us to lead out in racial reconciliation and build bridges to each other instead of walls between each other. We are a nation and we are communities of many colors. What impacts our neighbors impacts us. And our King tells us the eternal home is made up of every nation and tongue.
It’s time for us to lead the way to pray. It should be obvious that the new president needs our prayers – just like the last president did, and the ones before him. Who will do that if we don’t?
It’s time for us to lead the way to truth. We hardly recognize truth anymore, but as believers we have the truth, know the Truth and are called to this – let’s stand for it. Let’s call for it prophetically. Unapologetically. To everyone. Because we know what it looks like when truth is ignored. Because we lose our individual and collective conscience when truth is not longer recognizable.
It’s time for us to shape the direction of a nation. Can the church help mold the next steps we take? Can we call for these things, for compassion instead of ruthlessness? For reconciliation instead of division? For justice instead of injustice? For accountability instead of tyranny?
We (the church) were born into a ruthless, unjust and compassionless culture. And we turned it upside down with the Gospel. Not with a political party and a national leader, but with a leader who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” A leader who sacrificed Himself for us. He’s our hope.
It’s time to lead that way again.
Prayer for America
On Sunday, November 6, as our church prayed for our nation, Dr. Jimmy Draper shared what God has led him to pray about our nation – based on Daniel 9. Please read, pray and share in these next few hours and days.
Dear Lord God, creator of our world and its people. Your grace and Your mercy are incomparable and Your power is undiminished and unlimited. Oh, God, there is none like You, none who can even be compared to You. Your covenant with us through Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice for our sins on the cross provides forgiveness of our sins and places us in your eternal family as accepted and beloved children of God.
In spite of all the many undeniable evidences of your love, grace and mercy, we as a nation have rejected your love and grace and have acted with unquestioned evil, immoral, unethical, violent and wicked ways. We have disregarded your Word and have refused to hear the calls for repentance from the messengers you have sent to us and from your Holy Word. You have spoken to our president, to congress and state legislatures, to city and county governments, to fathers and mothers and to all of us as individuals, yet we would not listen and return to you. Dear God, all of us are guilty. We have denied you and rebelled against your grace.
Even though You are a God of compassion, mercy, grace and forgiveness, we have not obeyed Your voice. All of our nation has defied Your commands and have violated Your precepts. We have deliberately abandoned You.
This is a day of public disgrace and shame. And it rests squarely on our shoulders. Every leader and every individual in America stands condemned for our rebellion against You! We have arrogantly refused to acknowledge You and our evil is like an unrelenting beast destroying our nation from within.
Our refusal to repent has brought Your judgment upon our nation. In spite of all You have done to bless America, we have now declared that You are no longer welcome in our land. You are not welcomed in our government, in our schools, in businesses or any part of our culture – especially in our individual lives. We have become a proud and arrogant people who feel no need for You. We continue to slide unrestrained toward our own destruction.
We have murdered our pre-born children in their mothers’ wombs. We have destroyed the sanctity of the home where life should be protected and guidance passed on to the next generation as they move into adulthood. We have adopted sinful lifestyles and extolled our open-mindedness. And now most of our children will grow up in broken or dysfunctional homes and not in a loving environment that honors You and teaches respect and discipline to them.
Our churches have become selfish places where we want our desires satisfied and fulfilled. We have made worship about us, and not an act of praise and adoration for our eternal, incomparable, merciful and compassionate God. Our concerns are all about us.
God, you established this nation upon the sound principles of Biblical truth, where every individual has great value, where life is cherished and protected and the opportunity to live with unlimited potential. Yet, we have made our land a jungle of selfishness, greed and violence where life itself has no inherent worth.
Our courts and legal system which once were based on the principles of right and wrong, and on standards of justice that were clearly understood, now have devolved into places where truth is determined by precedent and not by principle. Each individual in each situation now determines right and wrong for themselves. There are no absolutes that are always true everywhere and all the time.
Violence and abuse is the norm in America today. In spite of the clear expectations in our founding, we have now turned away from You and have made a society based on human reasoning, making our own conclusions without any consideration of Your clear guidelines.
God, you established this nation upon the sound principles of Biblical truth, where every individual has great value, where life is cherished and protected and the opportunity to live with unlimited potential. Yet, we have made our land a jungle of selfishness, greed and violence where life itself has no inherent worth.
Dear God, hear our cry. Look out at our desolate and desecrated land and heal our land. We do not appeal to You based upon our righteousness. Surely there is none righteous but You! We plead our cause based upon Your character and compassion as a powerful but redemptive God. Lord, hear us! Forgive us! Please listen and act for Your sake, and don’t delay, but act quickly in our nation and in our world.
Lord, we do love You, but not nearly enough. And we do praise You, though often with hypocrisy and half-heartedness. Lord please forgive us and draw us to Yourself. Raise up godly leaders who will adhere to Your truth and will lead us effectively through Your power.
Almighty God, we come before You as Your children. We are not strangers, nor are we beggars. According to Your Word, we come boldly before Your throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace which is desperately needed.
Lord we implore you to hear our prayer and heal our land, in the name of Your son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
A Lot of Mess In Between
God is a great God who can turn our mess into mercy in a moment.
That’s the thought I get when I read Psalm 105 and the narrative of Joseph. You know, the Hebrew guy with the many-colored coat, whose jealous older brothers faked his death, and sold him to into slavery to Egyptian traders. What a life. What a mess.
Psalm 105 sums it up well: “He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave…afflicted his feet with fetters…was laid in irons; Until the time that His word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him. The king sent and released him…set him free…made him lord of his house and ruler over all his possessions. And He cause His people to be very fruitful…” Psalm 105:16-24
From Joseph the rejected to Joseph the rescuer – with a lot of mess in between.
If this was the only story in the Bible of this sort, it’d be an exception. However, instead of being a “one-off”, this is the norm. What life doesn’t have mess? Who among us has a smooth life? No one I know.
Instead, part of God’s redemptive action in our lives takes us through the mess and places us in His supernatural and unimaginable narrative that is being woven before our eyes. If we’ll see it.
If you’re in a mess, wait in faith. One day, you’ll look back and see yourself in a similar storyline to Joseph’s. Not now, but one day.
There’s always a lot of mess in between. And there’s also an incredible God who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above what we can ask or think! That’s the bigger story here – Amazing God.
Thoughts from John Meador and insights from God's Word.