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Fill the Okanagan with this Teaching

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These are the slightly edited and updated  notes from the devotional given at Redeemer Baptist Church's Annual General Meeting on February 10th, 2024.

There are many markers of success for a church. You can have healthy Christian families, generous giving, growing numbers, growth in sanctification, heartfelt and joyful worship, solid Biblical knowledge, deepening theology, fervent prayer. All of these things are wonderful – and we want to grow in them all. But there's another metric I want us to consider. And that is how thoroughly we impact our community with the gospel. If you were to remove our church from Kelowna – would it make a difference? If you were to remove all faithful churches from Kelowna – would it make a difference? I think it would. As small as we are, we are not insignificant in what God is doing in the world. And yet, as we reflect on this it should be our desire to have as large an impact in our community as we can.

We read in Acts 5 about some hostilities between the Jewish leaders and the Christians. The council of the Jewish leaders forbid the Apostles from preaching and teaching the gospel. They actually put them in prison to get them to stop. But an angelic jailbreak foiled that plan of containment, and the Apostles kept on preaching. But nonetheless they grab hold of the Apostles a second time. And here we will take up and read:

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while.35 And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Clearly there is much that can be said about these verses. And maybe someday I will get to say some more of those things. But for here and now let us look back on those first verses and the charge with which the Apostles were charged:

"We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching"

Despite opposition, fears, pressure, threats, jail-time, possible martyrdom, despite all of that, these early Christians kept filling Jerusalem with their teaching of Christ and the gospel. They were determined to spread the message far and wide and everywhere. And so, this is my question for us. Could it be said of us that we have filled the Okanagan with our teaching? That we have filled Kelowna with gospel? That we have filled even East Kelowna with a witness for Christ?

And at this point I must say, no, I don't think we've made that kind of an impact yet. Our church in particular hasn't done this, nor has the church more broadly speaking here in the Okanagan. We live in an era where the memory of a more robust and thorough Christian culture still haunts our streets. There are many church buildings, historical plaques, crosses and memories, all telling the story of a time when the gospel advanced more widely and pervasively here. But today, it is much less.

And we must add to this that the Christian witness that we have here now is so mixed with error and compromise that we can't count every churches effort as part of that same teaching that we are talking about here in Acts 5. Many are attempting to fill the city with another gospel entirely. There are the liberal churches of yesteryear with their rainbow flags and placid message devoid of any gospel truth, the Catholics and Orthodox with their hardened anti-gospel message, and then the various cults and heretical sects. And then we must add there are the many modern evangelical churches that may have some true gospel left, but they have lost their saltiness, and are in danger of going the way of the woke. They are pulling all their punches and in their lust for cultural relevance are becoming utterly irrelevant. Even some of the churches that are good on paper don't always stand when and where they should – and can at times appear disengaged from true Great Commission work.

So, we have a long way to go to fill the Okanagan with our teaching. And there are only a few of us here that are committed to this same kind of work. So, what do we do?

We do what the small band of Apostles did. We don't stop labouring for the mission. We don't stop teaching. We don't stop preaching. We find more ways to get out there. We find more opportunities for bold proclamation. After getting a beatdown from the rulers, and being charged to stop their teaching, what did they do? They rejoiced and redoubled their efforts. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

This ought to be our character as Christian people. We are bold, we are courageous, we are relentless, we keep getting after it even when it's tough, and we are steady like the rising tide. Every day, from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Christ. I long for Redeemer and more and more churches in the Okanagan to be like this. That we would be busy about our Master's business (Luke 2:49), that we would be always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58), that we would be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).

May it be said of us – "That Redeemer church, they have filled Kelowna with their teaching. Those Christians, they are taking over the Okanagan."

Can this happen? Yes, it most certainly can. I mean, it happened before. It happened in Jerusalem. It has happened throughout the Western World. It happened in the Great Awakening of the 18th Century. It is happening around the world in certain places even this very moment.

How can this happen? It can only happen by the power of God. Gamaliel understood this:

I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

If God is on our side, who can prevail against us? No one. And so we labour to fill the Okanagan with our teaching of Christ and His gospel. To fill it to the brim. To make such an impact that the things of Christ are the talk of the town.

Can it happen? Yes. How can this happen? By the power of God through us.

But let me ask one last question – should we labour to make this happen? Should this even be our goal? And the answer is an unqualified "Yes!".

This is what Jesus has commissioned us to do (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). This is the mission of the church here on earth. While we have life and breath and live down here – we are to seek first His kingdom. We are to pray thy Kingdom come, we are to proclaim the gospel and advance the Kingdom of Christ. This is why we are still here. And it will take a lot of work. We have lots of practical application to make here. This heart to fill the world with the gospel should be reflected in things like our church budget, our ministry schedule, with things like outreach events and regular street evangelism. It should be seen in our individual relationships throughout the week, our boldness with neighbours and co-workers, our discipleship efforts in the family and in the church, in our prayers, our plans, our dreams, in a word – it should be obvious that this truly is our goal. 

So let us take up the charge. Shine the light, be the salt, preach the Word, disciple the nations, and fill the Okanagan with this teaching.

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Wednesday, 24 April 2024