" April 2014 "

He Is Risen!

1 Cor. 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead.

One Saturday afternoon just before Easter Sunday, I walked through an old cemetery to prepare my heart for preaching on the resurrection. The stone slabs were etched with names and dates as if to make one final attempt to lengthen the significance, memory, and influence of lives ended by death. That afternoon as the gentle, Spring breeze blew off the quiet lake nearby, the stark reality of the curse and the harsh finality of death scoffed at my faith and the sermon I had prepared for the next day.

In the midst of that desolate, deserted cemetery, there was one tombstone that stood out from the others and arrested my attention. Like the others, the front of that white, marble monument gave the name and the dates of a man’s life; but the back expressed a powerful three-word phrase that brought light and hope to my heart and a joyful “Hallelujah” tumbling from my lips in the face of the devil’s scoffing sneer. The line?

“He Is Risen.”

He is risen! That’s it; but that’s all that’s needed. He is risen! That’s the one brilliant light that dispels the darkness of death, the despair of the grave, and the doom of the curse. He is risen! What a game changer. He is risen!

If He’s not risen, then He’s as helpless as the founders of other religions whose bodies lie decaying in hopeless tombs. If He is not risen, then we believe in vain, we’re yet in our sins, and we’re of all men most miserable.

“But now is Christ risen!” Since He is risen, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and no man can get to God apart from Him. Since He is risen, though we sorrow at the loss of loved ones, we sorrow not as others who have no hope. Since He is risen, we shall rise again even as He promised.

Hallelujah! What a Savior! He is risen!

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

We are all familiar with the expression about putting the cart before the horse. I think we do that sometimes in our thinking about the relationship between discipleship and church planting. At the risk of being naively simple, let me state my understanding of the relationship. Jesus gave his followers one primary task before returning to heaven. He told them to make disciples (μαθητεύω) in Matthew 28:19. This is precisely what they did as revealed in the book of Acts. After Jesus called Paul to be one of His Apostles, we find that Paul did the same (Acts 14:21). The KJV wording of Acts 14:21 reads “taught many,” but the Greek word there is μαθητεύω (make disciples), the same word that Jesus used in the Great Commission. The work of Paul was the same work as the original eleven Apostles, to proclaim the Gospel with a view toward developing people as faithful followers of Christ.

During his ministry on earth Jesus made various promises about the future. Regarding the advance of His kingdom, His central promise is found in Matthew 16:18. He said unequivocally that He would build His church. He did not associate that statement with conditions. He did not say, “if this happens then I will build My church.” Rather, it was statement of fact, not possibility.  We know that this is precisely what He has done. He has built, and is building His church throughout history and around the world. Hell itself cannot hinder what He is accomplishing regarding His bride, the church.

Is it too simplistic to say that we have our responsibility and He has His? We are to make disciples. He is to build His church. Throughout the centuries and around the world today, in those places where His followers are passionately seeking to make disciples, He is rapidly building His church. There are some phenomenal church planting movements in parts of the world where there is little ecclesiastical refinement, but contagious passion about making disciples. Could it be that we focus far too much on building the church and far too little on making disciples? When the Apostle Paul looked in the mirror, did he see a church planter or a disciple maker? May I suggest that, although Paul was fully aware of the fact that Jesus was building His church through the Apostle’s efforts, Paul understood his day to day activity to be defined by Jesus’ commission to go and make disciples? I think that Paul had genuine confidence in Jesus’ promise to build His church. He had faith to obey what Christ had commanded him to do and believed that Jesus absolutely would accomplish what He had said He would accomplish. Is this perhaps part of the reason why Paul’s writings say so little about how to plant a church and so much about how to make disciples? Do our programs for church planting domestically and internationally focus primarily on the nuts and bolts of growing a congregation or on the travail of developing Christ-like followers? In my many years of involvement with all aspects of missions, I have encountered many new church planters and new missionaries who have taken courses and read books about church planting. They are educated and primed to serve. But I can count on my fingers the number of people who when asked the question, “can you tell me about your experience in leading someone to Christ and successfully developing him as a growing disciple of Christ” gave me a satisfactory response. Are we sending people into ministry with inadequate preparation for the one thing that Jesus said was to be our primary activity until He returns? Could it be that we are putting the cart before the horse?