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Of Frights & Delights
The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
(“shall be exalted.” in NASB). Proverbs 29:25
Why do we fear what others might think of us? We want their approval. Many foolish & regretful things are done to gain the approval of others. Proverbs 29:25 says the only defense against this danger is to maintain a reverence for God. Such a spiritual posture is always beneficial. Paradoxically, the person who fears God does not need to fear anything or anyone else. This truth was illustrated over and over again during our July & August ministries in Brazil.
One can not obey God and surrender to the fear of what others might think. Jesus sent the New Testament’s first short term missionaries out with the challenge, “Go, I send you out as lambs going to wolves" (Luke 10:3). Evangelists must choose to either fear man or God. I believe Jesus intentionally made that decision black and white. There is no middle ground.
Our first week of ministry in Brazil was with pastor Agnaldo Machado and the Igreja Biblical Manancial Church in Sao Jose Dos Campos. This church confessed they wanted to be active in evangelism but were traumatized by it. I challenged them to obey God to overcome their fears. A young woman expressed her deep desire for the salvation of her sister. However, she was very concerned that she would be offended by the visit. The appointment day arrived and Talitha was nervous. She asked us to stop and pray; she called others in the church to pray. The tension on her face was evident as we approached her sister’s apartment. When I met her sister Taise I understood her apprehension. She looked and dressed like a model, spoke perfect English and taught in a prestigious English immersion school. Everything about her was confidence and glamor. Yet as we shared the Gospel it became clear God had prepared her heart. After professing faith in Christ Taise said, "I have always envied my sister's strength in God but I did not know how to ask her about it!"
Edilson, (orange T-shirt) left a family birthday party early to attend church on our last day in SJDC. When I asked those who had confessed faith in Christ during the week to step forward and publicly declare their decision, Edilson jumped to his feet, closely followed by Taise. Later, he gave me a 'gift to remember him' assuring me that he would never forget our visit and what I had shared with him. Taise said, "I will be here (church) every week to learn more about Jesus". What a tragedy if our fears had been greater than our faith.
Our experience in Porto Alegre followed a similar pattern. Typically during a CPE ministry week, it takes a few days for the local Christians to gather up their confidence and contact their friends for evangelism calls. So I requested we begin visits immediately after our Sunday morning training. The only visit they could arrange was with the family of assistant pastor Ricardo. Resistant to the Gospel they would not attend church.
Once again it was a large group. The entire CPE team and many local church members went to this home. In typical Brazilian style our hosts put on a lavish Brazilian churrascaria (barbecue). It was difficult to find a location where I could address all the host family directly but it turned out to be a Cornelius style event (Acts 10).
I scheduled a follow up visit within two days. All had completed the first discipleship lesson independently and then met as a group to discuss it prior to my arrival. They sat on the edge of their seats eager to hear the truth we reviewed together from God's Word. My last visit of the week was late Saturday evening where we went through another lesson in similar fashion. I learned that previous to our first visit, this family had considerable tension between them. The healing process was very evident. This feuding family filled an entire row at church Sunday evening. In unison they stood to their feet and came forward to publicly declare their faith at the end of the service. Ricardo wept tears of joy.
Joan, our octogenarian team member, and I went with a young woman to visit her brother and wife. When we arrived at the address I began to think everything was wrong with this visit. The house was 3 stories above the street with a steep winding path of uneven steps, some 16" high. We pulled and pushed Joan up that hill. The young couple were clearly just starting out in life. Their home was small and cold with only 3 chairs. Two other families from the church came to observe the Gospel presentation. It was standing room only. As we began to get acquainted, the young husband arrived home from work to see his house full of strange people. It was an understatement to say he was shy - he blushed when you looked at him. Everything within me said this call was not going to be productive. But as we progressed through the Gospel it became evident God was greater than our fears. What a joy to lead Jaire, Gisele and Axanne to Christ. Saul, one of the men observing, worked with Jaire and was eager to complete the follow up lessons with them.
Porto Alegre Open Bible Church, Pastor Fernando and I sat down to discuss their strategy to follow up on the 40+ new believers. It was an emotional time. Fernando shared how the church had been going through some personality struggles. At one point he wondered if they should postpone our ministry. He said, "I was perspiring and tense when you arrived to began the training. But as the week progressed I wept to see God bringing a revival to our church.” The congregation has turned their focus to those outside the church. They have understood the Jesus model in Luke 10 and believe God is greater than their fears. They want to keep going into their community with the gospel. We reviewed Peter’s words, "God has given the Holy Spirit to those that obey Him" (Acts 5:30). Fernando commented, it is one thing to read this but a greater step of faith to experience it. God wants His church to be fishers of men (Matt. 4:19). When fishermen don't fish, they fight.
I often seek to encourage new believers by having them read a promise of Jesus. I then ask, "Does Jesus lie?" They all say, "no, never." I then encourage them to discover more of His promises and learn to obey what He says. God reminds me of that dialogue when I need to practice what I preach. "The hardest lessons to learn are often the ones we thought we already knew." Following Jesus is always a journey of Frights & Delights.
PS We are looking at the possibility of three CPE ministries in Brazil in 2015 during the March - July window. If you are interested in more information about this please respond to this email.
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