Matthew 13:31                     1 January 2016

IT’S NOT ALL BAD NEWS

There is an organisation in Melbourne called Future Crunch and their aim is to monitor and report the progress of technology, education, science and human development throughout the world. They major on the positive, good and encouraging things that are happening in our world today. They have said that whenever they have something positive and encouraging to report, the media is not that interested.

The Media would rather report sensational, scandalous, outrageous news because people are more interested in that. And the main concern of the media is not to report the truth but to stay in business by telling people what they want to hear. So that is why the majority of the secular media news is not good news, on the whole its bad news.

Here are some of the positive and encouraging things that have taken place in our world over the last year that the media has given little or no attention to.

Wars in our world are actually decreasing. One of those wars has been going on for the last 50 years is the war in Columbia which has claimed the lives of 220,000 people. But in September 2016 it came to an end. In fact outside of the Middle East war is fast declining.

Boko Haram, the militant Muslim group that kidnapped more than 400 young women in Northern Nigeria has been conducting a war of terrorism for almost 14 years. In the last few weeks the Nigerian army has made significant progress in bringing this reign of terror to an end. Many of the terrorists have renounced their allegiance to Boko Haram and surrendered.

Over the last year we have seen the greatest outpouring of humanitarian aid to those in need. Europe has taken in around 1.5 million refugees and over 40 billion dollars has been donated.

Over the last year extreme poverty dropped to below 10%, the lowest rate ever. 91% of the world’s population now have access to improved drinking water. In every country child mortality rates have dropped to their lowest point. Deaths from Malaria are at an all-time low. Polio is about to be eradicated forever

90% of the children in our world are now receiving some form of Education. In the 1970s only 50% of the world’s children were receiving some form of schooling.

So why at the beginning of 2017 would I talk about the positive things that are happening in our world?

3 reasons:

  1. Because those positive things are the direct and indirect result of Jesus influence upon this world.

This morning we will partake of the Lord’s Supper when we remember that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But Jesus did not only come to die for our sins. He came to teach us by word and example how to live a life that honours God and blesses others. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about – carrying out the will of the King and living a life that demonstrates the power, the love, the values of the King.

The teaching and example of Jesus has had a greater impact on this world than we could ever imagine. Christianity has reshaped the western world and it is built right into the foundations of our culture. And that influence has spread wherever Europeans have gone.

Every institution and every law that has been passed for the good of mankind was brought about by Christian people or people who have been influenced by Christian values and ethics.

It was devout followers of Jesus who reformed the prisons, established hospitals, schools and orphanages, introduced nursing, trade unions and employment reforms, abolished slavery, worked for the rights of women and the protection of children and civil liberties, founded world aid organisations, including the Red Cross, care for the elderly, blind institutions, these are only a fraction of what has been done in the name of Christ.

It may interest you to know that the church is the largest single health care provider in the world.

  1. Because too many Christians focus on the negative things that are happening in our world

and fail see the good things that God is doing through those who have been influenced by the teaching and example of Christ.

I mentioned on Christmas day that the unbelieving world seems to have hi-jacked Christmas and pushed Jesus out and replaced Him with Santa Claus, commercialism, partying and decorations.

But in spite of all that, heaps of people, both Christian and non-Christian have shown a lot of goodwill, kindness and generosity over the last few days. Although people have tried to push Jesus out of Christmas, they can’t get the influence of Jesus out of them. They can’t get away from the true spirit of Christmas which was expressed in the words the angels said when announcing Jesus birth,  “Peace on earth, Good will toward men.”

  1. Because Satan wants us to focus on what he

is doing and not on what God is doing. Too many Christians are focussing on the negative, sinful, godless things that are going on in the world today and Satan wants us to do this, because when we do this, we become distracted from the good things that God is doing and cease to do the positive things that Christ has commanded us to do.

I know there are a lot of negative and bad things going on in our world, but God is still in control and in spite of the evil we see around us, He is still working His good and great purposes out and we need to focus more on what God is doing and less on what Satan and his forces are doing.

Yes, Satan is at work in our world but so is God and God is far, far greater and more powerful than Satan will ever be.

Satan also knows that what we focus on shapes our outlook and our character. When we focus on negative, bad things we will become negative, critical people.

But Paul says we shouldn’t do that. He says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

What we focus on, what we fill our minds with affects our behaviour, moulds our character and determines what we become and that is why I love that scripture in 2 Cor 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled faces gaze upon, focus on, contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As we focus, as we fix out minds on the glory of God we are transformed by the Spirit.

Hebrews 12 tells us to run the race, not looking at the problems and evil, scary things going on around us, but looking to Jesus.

  1. We can develop a fortress mentality.

Philip Bliss was a hymn writer in the 1800s. He wrote hymns like, “Man of sorrows” and “Jesus loves even me”. But he also wrote a hymn called

“Hold the fort”. Let me read some of the words:

  1. “Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still, Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”

Ho! my comrades, see the signal,  Waving in the sky!  Reinforcements now appearing, Victory is nigh! 

       2 See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;

 Mighty men around us falling, Courage almost gone.

Jesus never told us to hold the fort till He returns. He told us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. But when we focus on what Satan is doing in the world we can easily retreat into our little forts and become pre-occupied with survival.

Yes, Satan is at work in the world, but so is God and He is far, far more powerful than Satan and God’s mighty purposes are being carried out. And His victory is assured. He needs us to get out of our little protective forts, and trenches and work with Him.

Another hymn was written by Arthur Aigner living at the same time as Philip Bliss and it expresses what our attitude should be.

God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year:

God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near;

Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be,

When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

March we forth in the strength of God, with the banner of Christ unfurled,

That the light of the glorious gospel of truth may shine throughout the world:

Fight we the fight with sorrow and sin to set their captives free,

That the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

In Matthew 13 Jesus spoke about the good influence of the Kingdom of God.

Mustard seed 31-32

In this parable Jesus told how the Kingdom of God is like a tiny little mustard seed that was planted in the ground and yet grew into a tree big enough to provide shade and roosting places for the birds.

The mustard seed Jesus was most like talking about was not the seed of the mustard plant we know but the seed of the mustard tree or Salvadora which is quite a big tree with mustard tasting leaves.

The emphasis Jesus was making here was that the Kingdom of God in its present form would start from small beginnings but grow into something huge and many would benefit from it.

When you think about it, the Kingdom of God as we know it, began with a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He gathered around Himself a handful of followers and taught them by word and example how to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He leads the greatest movement in all history and more and more people are joining the ranks of His followers every day.

Today almost 2 billion people identify themselves with Jesus Christ. Every day 166,000 people hear the Good News about Jesus for the first time. Every year 27 million people become followers of Jesus and it is estimated that in the next 18 years there will be 600 million more believers.

Within 70 years after Jesus death there were 360 non Christians to every Christian in the world, today there are less than 7 non Christians to every person who identifies with Jesus.

One of the most amazing things that has taken place over the last 40 odd years has been the huge growth of the church in Asia, China, South Korea, Africa, India and South America. Every day around 20,000 Africans come to Christ, In Asia around 50,000. The Jesus video has been translated into 1000 languages and over 200 million people have committed their lives to Christ through watching it.

Today there are an estimated 75 million Bible believing Christians in the western nations and 325 million in the developing nations.

In the next 15 years it is forecast that there will be 1 billion Christians in Africa, 135 million in China and 125 million in India.

Korea has 10,646 Christian missionaries serving overseas, Brazil has sent out 1,080 missionaries in the last 10 years. Today the developing nations in Africa, South America and Asia are sending church planters into Europe. In 2006 the largest Jesus march was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil involving 3 million believers participating.

Iran has a terrible record for persecuting Christians, and yet it has one of the fastest growing churches in the world. And in Europe there is an exciting work of God going on among Muslim immigrants with a result that in Holland, new Iranian Xs are training to return to Iran and plant churches there.

Ill. Kevin Greeson, an American Baptist missionary went to a Muslim country 20 years ago, can’t be named. A country where there were almost no Xs. Kevin set up a manufacturing company employing Muslim women. He sought to share the Gospel with these women but they weren’t interested. In 1996 Kevin met Abdul, a Muslim who had become a X and had suffered for his faith, even attempted murder. In 1990 Abdul started a movement of house churches in that country that saw 20,000 Muslims come to Christ and be baptised over the next 6 years.  Kevin asked Abdul to let him meet the believers and Abdul said, “No, we don’t want Western Christians coming in and spoiling what God is doing.” Muslims believe that everyone in the West are Christians and from what they see on TV and videos they are all drunken womanisers. Kevin kept badgering Abdul for 2 years to let him meet the new believers and finally Abdul took him around the villages where the believers were. By then 1998 the number of believers had grown to 50,000.  Kevin asked Abdul how they brought them to faith in Jesus and Abdul told Kevin that they simply followed Jesus teaching in the Gospels. “We sent the believers out 2 by 2 to preach and pray for the sick. They don’t call themselves Christians but “Isahe” – followers of Jesus. Muslims see Christians as Westerners. These Isahe Worship on Friday using Muslim prayer forms and their house church leaders were called Imams.

Kevin returned to his women employees and invited them to bring their husbands to a meeting and began teaching them from the Koran about Jesus [Isa] – The Koran teaches that Jesus is holy, that he healed people, has power over death, He knows the way to heaven and is now in heaven with Allah.  

Whereas Mohammed wasn’t even sure he would go to heaven. These Muslims were excited because they didn’t realise the Koran taught this and were angry with their Mullahs for not teaching them about Isa. Kevin then showed them the Jesus film and taught them from the NT for the next 4 days. At the end of the 4 days all of them became followers of Jesus.

Starting with 50 he formed 6 house churches and a movement was begun – They got Islamic friendly versions of the Bible. They sent out believers distributing the Bibles and sharing with those who were open. Within 6 months they were baptising 5 people a week and within 2 years the movement started by Kevin had seen 4500 Muslims converted and baptised and over 300 house churches started.

By 2003 they had baptised 15000 Muslims and started 800 house churches. Meanwhile Abdul’s movement had baptised over 250,000 Muslims by the end of 2003 in a country that had hardly seen a X convert in 1000 years.

Jesus said, “I will build my church and the powers of hell will not be able to conquer it.” Communism, Islam, Buddhism, Secular humanism have all tried to destroy the Christian faith but they never will.

Just as the birds benefit from the shelter of the Salvadora mustard tree so the people of this world have benefitted from the Kingdom of God on earth.

As I said at the beginning, every positive, compassionate and benevolent change for the betterment of mankind in our culture has been mostly brought about by Christian people who were citizens of God’s Kingdom. And the people of our culture have benefitted so much from these positive changes.

Schools, Universities, hospitals, prison reforms, nursing, Red Cross, Trade Unions, Anti-slavery, women’s rights, human rights, Religious freedom, Care for Elderly, Orphans, Widows and poor, Social welfare, our justice system, the police force, to name a few.

We should be so grateful that we were born into a culture that has been powerfully influenced by the teaching and example of Jesus. You only have to live in a country that doesn’t have this Christian heritage to appreciate what we have.

Ill. I am reminded of Ian McCormack when he had been fatally bitten by a poisonous jelly fish in an Asian country and was desperate to get to hospital. He hailed down a taxi and managed to crawl into the back seat begging the driver to take him to the hospital. When the driver discovered Ian had no money on him he dragged out of the taxi and dumped him in the side of the road leaving him to die. I cannot imagine that happening in NZ.

THE PARABLE OF THE YEAST v33-35

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

What Jesus was saying here is that, like the yeast, the kingdom of God would be implanted into the world and work away impacting and transforming people’s lives and society from within.

The people in our culture think they can get rid of Christianity, but like the yeast, Christian values and Christian thinking are too deeply embedded in our culture to wipe it out.

The message of the Kingdom of God and the example of its King has strongly influenced our culture. So much so that even non-Christians don’t realise it when they show kindness, compassion and good will to others.

That one solitary figure who entered history 2000 years ago, has, like yeast in a lump of dough influenced and impacted our world far, far more than we realise.

Like the yeast God’s Kingdom is spreading its influence throughout the world today. It is growing, expanding, bringing transformation, change, and influencing people’s lives and communities all over the world.

Ill. Recently, an English missionary and his wife visited Brazil. “Ruth and I were overwhelmed with what God is doing there, and by the love that characterizes the church. The commitment of the Christians is staggering. They are not only sharing the gospel with the people but putting into practice the teaching of Jesus in the most practical ways. In one area we visited, the believers run Schools for the children of the poor, they feed them 2 cooked meals a day, look after pre-schoolers, providing them with basic hygiene, doing Bible studies with them, playing sport and teaching them craft skills. We asked, “How many of your church members are involved in your community ministry?”  “All of them”, came the immediate reply! They hold prayer meetings 3 times a day – EVERY DAY! 10 years ago the believers in Brazil organized themselves to pray for their nation. After 3 years revival broke out. One prayer movement has 13,000 parents praying that their children will become missionaries to take the Good News of Jesus to the world.  

It has been projected that within the next 15 years 50% of Brazil’s 200 million people will be Bible believing Christians.

When Lois and I were in Singapore 9 years ago and we were so encouraged to see the vitality, commitment and  growth of the church even there. Some of the churches there have congregations of 10,000 or more. 

When the NZ Baptists were forced out of Northern Indian state of Tripura in the 1970s they left a small group  believers wondering how they would manage. Since then the church has never looked back. The growth has been exciting. They don’t have enough pastors to handle the churches that are springing up.  In 2008 a friend of mine was invited to attend a Christian youth leader’s conference there. He addressed a crowd of 1500 youth leaders.   

As I have read the accounts of the growth and influence God’s Kingdom is having in the developing world I have asked myself, “Why are we not seeing this in our country?”

One of the reasons is that we have developed a fortress mentality and have lost sight of our mission. We are preoccupied looking at what the enemy is doing and see ourselves as holding the fort until Jesus comes. We have to stop being concerned with defence and get off the fence and get on the offence and start being more pro-active in showing the love of Christ and sharing our faith with others.

Remember, “Greater is His who is in you, than He who is in the world. The outcome of the battle has already been settled at the cross. The Victory absolutely is assured.”

Let’s not focus on the negative, bad stuff that is going on. Let’s not become pre-occupied with what Satan is doing in the world. Let’s open our eyes and see the good, positive things that God is doing and get on board with Him.

Numbers 14:21 God said to Moses, But as truly as I live, all he earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.

Habakkuk 2:14 prophesied that the day was coming when all the earth will be filled with the awareness of God’s glory as the waters cover the sea.

God is working His purpose out.