Jesus tells a parable about a man sowing seeds. Some seeds land on the path, where they are eaten by birds. Other seeds land on rocky soil, where they wither under the sun. Other seeds land on thorny soil, where they are choked. Still other seeds land on good soil, where they produce a crop (Matthew 13:1-23).
This parable illustrates the different ways people receive the gospel. It also helps us understand why some churches are more effective in ministry. Looked at another way, it could even explain why the same church is more effective at different times in its history.
Sometimes a church’s heart is hardened by disputes among the leadership or turnover in staff. Sometimes a church’s efforts are undermined by arguments and bickering among its members. Sometimes a church sabotages itself by adopting a business model, making sure all its “customers” are satisfied (as is often the case in America).
These realities can be discouraging. In fact, they can make us give up on church altogether! The author of Hebrews knew this. That’s why he tells us to “encourage one another daily” (3:13). He exhorts us to “not give up meeting together” but to “encourage one another” (10:25).
His congregation needed encouragement! They faced “a great contest full of suffering,” “insult and persecution,” “the confiscation of their property,” and a “struggle against sin” (10:32-34; 12:4). So how does he encourage them? How should we encourage our own churches?
First, he adjusts their focus. He bookends his letter, “Fix your thoughts on Jesus…Fix your eyes on Jesus” (3:1; 12:2). He sets their focus squarely on Jesus. Second, he inspires them. He surrounds them with a “cloud of witnesses” (12:1). Looking back over 2,000 years of Jewish history, he holds up examples of great faithfulness.
Our churches need such encouragement today. First, we must constantly remind them we exist to please Jesus, not to please people. Second, we must inspire them by surrounding them with a “cloud of witnesses.” Our congregations need to hear stories of Christians who stay faithful to Jesus no matter what.
Voice of the Martyrs has instituted two “holidays” to help us remember persecuted Christians. Observing them as a congregation is an annual way to inspire your church’s faith.
The apostle Paul was martyred on June 29. This day is an opportunity to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for the gospel. Every year, VOM inducts a new martyr(s) onto their Martyrs’ Memorial. They stream the induction ceremony live and make it available for download after, and provide resources to be used during a worship service. Consider it a Christian version of Memorial Day.
The first Sunday of November is an opportunity to remember those who are suffering for Jesus’ sake. VOM provides a 5-minute video to be shown during a worship service, as well as resources that equip your church to support and pray for the persecuted on a regular basis. Consider it a Christian version of Veterans’ Day.
Incidentally, this Sunday (11/3) is IDOP 2019. Here are resources to help your church observe this “holiday”!
VOM recently published Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs, an updated version of John Foxe’s 16th-century classic Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. This book recounts stories of Christian martyrdom from the early church to the present day. The stories are brief enough to be shared during a Bible study, small group, or worship service.
Click here for resources to help your church observe IDOP this Sunday (11/3)!
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