The Spiritual Season of Spring

      * The Spring. This is the season of harvest. It’s the season of rebirth, offspring, and bearing fruit. The spring is analogous to the season of outreach. New converts are brought into the church at this time.

      If you study the book of Acts carefully, you’ll discover that the early church had seasons of outreach. It also had seasons of inreach.

      Surgeon General’s Warning: I shall be skating on some very thin ice in the next few paragraphs. Please brace yourself.

      I believe that evangelism needs to be reengineered in our day. Instead of seeking to give people “the plan of salvation” or taking them down “the Roman’s road,” people in our postmodern society are much more receptive to hear one’s personal story about their journey with God.

      In addition, people are more receptive when the gospel is enacted before their eyes by action rather than proclaimed by words. This is especially true in the West where the common person has been incredibly desensitized to the Christian message. People are far more impressed with what you do rather than what you say.

      In my late teens and early 20s, I experimented with all forms of evangelism. This included door-to-door witnessing, passing out tracts, “friendship evangelism,” street preaching, survey-evangelism, on-campus witnessing, and the like.

      I made one telling discovery in all of it: They were all highly ineffective.

      The most effective forms of outreach involve demonstrating the gospel in concrete ways. Such as caring for the poor, standing for the oppressed, comforting the afflicted, and engaging in various forms of social concern.

      If you examine the life of Jesus while He was on earth, you’ll quickly discover that He was deeply concerned with caring for the sick and championing the causes of the poor and those who suffered injustice. The life of Christ that indwells the church still moves in that direction, for He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8.

      For that reason, the church acting as the Body of Christ in a local community by visible acts of love, compassion, and concern for others is the most effective way to show Jesus Christ to the lost. When the church moves outside the four walls of a building and a home, she becomes the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen.

      Another important lesson I learned is that if you’re crawling as a new born church, that’s not the time to begin evangelizing. A bundle of new converts with all of their personal problems intact will add 3,000 lbs. to a newly born organic church. I think the church in Jerusalem can help us here. The apostles built a rock solid foundation for the church over a number of years before the members engaged in outreach and evangelism. See The Untold Story of the New Testament Church.

      I’ve seen a number of non-traditional churches run out of gas because their main purpose for existing was evangelism. They didn’t have the spiritual maturity nor the resources to handle the new converts, so the church eventually went belly up.

      Evangelism can be a horrible mistress. She has the potential to tax and drain a church of its spiritual and physical energy. For that reason, evangelism and outreach ought to be done “in season” rather than as an ongoing program of the church.

      I realize that the above cuts against the grain of modern evangelical thinking. But in my observation, those churches that exist for evangelism tend to be spiritually shallow. Outreach and numerical building are important; but so are inreach and spiritual building. And there’s a season for both.

      Recognizing that there are seasons for evangelism (outreach) and seasons for spiritual building (inreach) rescues us from fruitless either/or debates over whether the church should focus herself on evangelism or for spiritual building. Understanding the seasonal nature of the church resolves this problem because it’s a fresh approach to the question. The question no longer becomes either/or. It rather shifts to when and how.

by Frank Viola

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Is Your Christ Too Small?

Here’s a prayer to pray. When you see the Lord in a way that absolutely bowls you over, that’s the time to turn to Him and say, “Lord, let me understand who I am and not lose touch. Keep my feet on the ground and cause me to always remember that I am no better than any other Christian.”

      For it is in times of great revelation that we need the humility of Christ the most. Recall Paul’s thorn in the flesh. God put the thorn into his life to keep his feet on the ground in the face of extraordinary spiritual revelation. En 2 Corinthians 12:7.

      I have often reflected on the church in Ephesus. Paul lived in Ephesus for three years raising up a church. By his own testimony, he proclaimed “the whole council of God” to the saints. En. Acts 20:27. Paul unveiled to the Ephesian believers the vision of God’s eternal purpose for three years. He uncorked the mystery of the living God to them.

      He held meetings every day for five hours a day in a facility called the school of Tyrannus where he declared Christ and trained young workers. En. See my book, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. Timothy, Titus, and six other men were present as his apprentices. I’m sure those young apprentices ministered to the Ephesian church as well.

      After Paul was in prison, Timothy moved to Ephesus and ministered to the church there for a number of years. Some years later, the beloved disciple John ended up in Ephesus. Apollos, who was “mighty in the Scriptures,” was also from Ephesus. So perhaps the church benefited from his ministry also.

      Point: The church in Ephesus received the deepest and highest revelation of Christ through choice servants of God—Paul, John, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, etc. And yet, as the New Testament closes, we discover that the church in Ephesus is corrected by the Lord for leaving its first love. En. Revelation 2:1-4.

      What happened? If my experience has taught me anything, I would speculate that they simply stopped pursuing Him. They got stuck. They clung to the Christ that they had been given by the greatest servants of God, and they stopped there.

      To put it another way, their Christ was still too small.

Recipe for a Church Split

In the early years of my church life experience, some of the brothers in the church held to a teaching that made “exercising faith” the central emphasis of the gospel. Their zeal for “living by faith” was not hidden by any means. It was proclaimed quite loudly. These brothers sought to persuade everyone else in the church to embrace their emphasis. And they were unhappy with any other insight or emphasis that didn’t directly relate to theirs.

These men had made their particular insight into faith the whole ball of wax. And they wanted everyone else to conform to it. It was during those days that I learned that zealously emphasizing any particular truth, not matter how valid, and trying to persuade everyone else to embrace it was a money-back guarantee for a church split.

Written by Frank Viola Author

The Danger of Revelation

There is a great danger in receiving a greater revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . one that moves from shallow waters into the depths. It’s the peril of allowing our first seeing of Christ to shape the way we recognize Him for the rest of our lives.

(Please read that sentence again.)

I’m going to make this shockingly pointed: The Lord Jesus Christ always ends up coming to us in ways that make it easy for us to reject Him.

If we are pressing on to know the Lord, He will eventually come to us in a way that makes it easy for us to ignore Him, dismiss Him, and even reject Him. I’ve watched it repeatedly among Christian groups that felt they had a solid handle on knowing the Lord.

Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever. Do you recall the way that He came into this earth?

Consider the situation. For centuries, Israel had waited for a political Messiah. They expected Him to break the yoke of Roman bondage and liberate God’s people from Roman oppression.

But how did the Messiah make His entrance into the world? He came in a way that made it easy for His own people to reject Him. He entered this planet as a frail baby, born in a feeding house for animals. The King of the universe was born as a weak human being in the ill-starred town of Bethlehem, in the midst of the stain and stench of animal manure, to a needy Jewish couple.

I would say that’s quite an easy way to reject the promised Messiah who was expected to overthrow the mighty Roman empire and set Israel free from Gentile oppression.

Interestingly, none of the Bible scholars who had the Old Testament memorized and knew the prophecies about the Messiah’s coming were present at Christ’s birth. The only people who were present were those who were led to the stable by revelation. Ironically, all of them happened to be shepherds and pagan astrologers, not Bible scholars.

When He grew up, He ate and drank in their presence, and He taught in their streets. Luke 13:26. He was unassumingly modest . . . of humble origin. A mere carpenter. The son of a carpenter. Growing up in the despised city of Nazareth, fraternizing with the despised and oppressed. But more startling, He befriended sinners. Luke 7:34. As such, the people of God didn’t recognize Him. Why? Because He came in a way that made it easy for them to reject Him.

And what about the disciples? Read the story again. Jesus continued to break out of their expectations. He couldn’t be pinned down, figured out, or boxed in. The Twelve were constantly confounded by Him. His teachings were offensive. His actions scandalous. His reactions baffling.

The greatest offense of all was the cross. It offended everyone—both Jew and Gentile. The only crown the promised Messiah would accept was a crown of thorns. A suffering Messiah . . . a defeated King . . . boy, it’s easy to reject Him.

This finds us all of out, doesn’t it?

Written by Frank Viola, author

A Word About Leaders

      Let me insert a word about leaders in relation to all of this. If you are a Christian leader, you need peers. I’m defining a peer as someone who is in your life in some way, who is completely free to speak his or her heart to you without consequence, and you will give it weight.

      Throughout the years, I have watched very gifted leaders refuse to have peers. The excuse typically given was that there wasn’t anyone who measured up to their ever-so high standards. Ironically, in every case where this excuse was given, these same leaders consistently violated their own ever-so high standards. At bottom, they were lone rangers at heart, not feeling the need to be limited, restrained, or corrected by anyone else.

      That, my friend, is a recipe for disaster.

      Such people do not have peers because they do not allow themselves to have peers. Pure and simple. And because they don’t have the tempering of the Body of Christ, their views gets distorted. (Some of them become out-right dangerous.)

      If a Christian worker doesn’t have peers, then experience has taught me this one thing: Run from such people. En. The people who a worker is discipling or mentoring are not his peers. They will end up hurting you. And you may not realize how deeply until a number of years have passed.

      We all need the experience of the Body of Christ. And we all need peers. That holds especially true for Christian leaders and those who will put their hand to the plow of God’s work.

      On that score, let me make one important observation about gifted Christians. Powerful gifts, in and of themselves, aren’t worth a cherry lollipop. The human soul can corrupt the function of spiritual gifts. The human heart can defile them and turn them into instruments of destruction.

      Transformation of character, therefore, is far more critical than a person’s gifting. Character doesn’t mean perfection or the inability to make mistakes. It rather refers to what a person is like most of the time and in most situations. Unfortunately, people tend to follow a person’s giftings rather than their character. And this is one reason why the Body of Christ is in the mess it’s in right now.

The Body of Christ is Bigger

The Body of Christ is a lot larger than a single church, a circle of churches, or a movement. If we will know Christ in all of His fullness, we must open our hearts to those Christians who are outside our little camp. To our minds, they may be flawed. Their teachings may be erroneous. And their vocabulary may be different from ours. Yet . . . if Jesus Christ dwells in them, they have something to teach us. Or to put it more accurately, the Lord has something to teach us through them.

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Spiritual Thirst

If you met me during my late teens, you would find a desperate man, hungry for His Lord. I was driven to know Him and to know everything about Him. So much so that I would almost chew through concrete to find someone who could teach me something new about Jesus.

Do you remember the story of the Samaritan woman? The Lord spoke to her while she was drawing water out of Jacob’s well. He said, “If you drink the water that comes out of this earthly well, you are going to thirst again.”

There’s a marvelous message in that story. If we drink the waters of this world, whatever they may be . . . fame, entertainment, material wealth. . . they will leave us thirsty for more.

Yet the Lord went on to say to her, “But if you drink the water that I shall give, you will never thirst again.”

In my early Christian life, I could relate to the first part of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman. That is, once I tasted life in Christ, all temporary pursuits lost their spice. They suddenly became wooden and bland. I found a new well from which to drink, and it dramatically changed the direction of my life.

However, meeting the Lord didn’t quench my thirst entirely. It actually produced a greater thirst and a greater hunger within. But it was a thirst and a hunger for more of Him. And that thirst and that hunger has never left me.

In this connection, I’ve come to a conclusion: If you get a glimpse of the peerless glories of Jesus Christ, something is going to happen to you. You will be wrecked. On the one hand, you are not going to thirst for the things of this world. But there’s going to be another hunger and another thirst that will be born within you. And you will thirst again. But that thirst is going to be for more of Christ.

To put it in a sentence, He will remove your thirst, not be taking away your need for water, but by showing you a new well which will never run dry.

I say that looking back over my shoulder 25 years down the pike. I live in constant tension. On the one hand, I’m satisfied. Jesus Christ has quenched my thirst. On the other hand, I live with a constant thirst for more . . . a constant hunger for more. It’s particularly evident whenever I get around a Christian who has a walk with the Lord that exceeds my own. At that moment, I become a student . . . a sponge ready to soak up more of God.

I don’t know this from experience, but I’m told that once a person is materially wealthy, they desire more wealth. Once they taste the fruit of great material riches, they keep wanting more of it. The Lord Jesus Christ is a lot like that. Once you discover Him in a real way, you want more of Him. Perhaps the reason for this is because Jesus Christ is the incarnation of true wealth and riches. Colossians 2:2-3; Ephesians 3:8.

There’s a point here, and it is this: Hunger is a sign. It’s a sign of life. If you’re not hungry, one of two things is going on. Either you’re dead, or you need to be admitted to the IC unit because you’re in a coma.

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