Message 4
Nigel Tomes
February 16, 2008
Goshen, Indiana

[00:00] We still have a little bit of time. We’re going to finish in about 30 minutes, so we hope you all could stick with us. I think it’s a good word. If we could come back to the simplicity which is in Christ. I think it’s very good. We may say, we may feel it’s impossible. History moves forward. You may say, “I’ve been here 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. How can we get back to where we were before?” It seems like impossible. With man it is impossible. With God, all things are possible, and we’re with God. So in Revelation, the Lord says, “Remember.” He doesn’t say remember, and He doesn’t want to frustrate us, torture us, does He? He’s not saying remember so you can feel worse because it’s impossible. No, He says, “Remember where you’re fallen.” Remember. Why? Because it is possible to come back.

[01:16] We’ve been through many things, and in the process we have picked up things that are not that helpful. We’ve picked up concepts, teachings. On one hand, we’ve picked up a lot of good things, Biblical things, spiritual things. Through those experiences we are changed. Hallelujah! So brothers and sisters, whatever you have gone through is not in vain. We need to appreciate. You may say, “OK, I wasted my life.” No, you didn’t waste your life. If you were with Jesus, touching Jesus, following Jesus, it was not in vain.

[01:58] Now, you may not be where you expected. You may have a concept, this stuff is easy. First I get regenerated, then I am sanctified, I’m transformed, I’m conformed, and I’m glorified. One year sanctified, one year transformed, conformed, by year four I should be already glorified. Well, in teaching it’s easy, but in practice it doesn’t work that way. Individually and also together we have passed through something. Yes, we’re not where you expected to be. And in some sense, you were sold, as John said, this deluxe package.

[02:46] When I lived in Chicago, I think maybe 1974 or maybe prior to that point, we went to a conference—I think it was in Toronto. We were going to take the earth. This is a five-year plan. Really simple. At that time there were not many churches on the East coast, so year one, that’s probably 1975-76, we take the East coast of the U. S. The next year, ’76-’77, we’re going to Europe, western Europe, the year after, we’re going to eastern Europe, the year after that we’re in Jerusalem and Jesus comes back. That was the main point of the conference. Well, along the way, it didn’t quite happen, I don’t think. I don’t think Jesus came back.

[03:44] So we may not be where we expected to be, but that does not mean that what you went through was in vain. No, the Lord led us through things. I believe one day we will thank the Lord. There’s a hymn, a good hymn in the hymnbook. It says, “Not now, but in the coming years we’ll know the reason.” Something like that. You should look at it. You thought there would be always sunny days, but there was rain. Stuff didn’t work out the way you thought. It says one day we’ll catch the golden thread again. One day we’ll know. OK, brothers and sisters, we don’t. We don’t see the whole thing clearly.

[04:48] There’s a brother here, I don’t see him quite now, his mother wrote something. She said this: It is like embroidery. For those sisters—I know all the sisters embroider, right? You know what I’m talking about. Think about your Mom. Your Grandma—remember what she used to do? The sister said it’s like embroidery. You look at the front, the pattern, you see all this flowers, trees, all that stuff, you see the picture. She said, OK, now you look at the backside. It looks like a mess. There’s all these loose ends, there’s these knots, there’s the mistakes, there’s all kinds of stuff. It looks ugly. She said this, that is like our life. Many times when we’re going through things individually, corporately, which side we’re looking at? You’re looking at the backside. You see the backside. You don’t see the other side. We need the Lord to help us to see. One day, brothers and sisters, you’ll see in your own life and you’ll see together, you’ll see…Wow! Praise God! Why it was this way and that hard, right now we don’t see it. But one day we will. So we need to appreciate the Lord. That doesn’t mean there weren’t mistakes. That doesn’t mean we didn’t, in a sense, get off track, we didn’t pick up…yes, those kinds of things happened. But still, the Lord was there.

[06:41] So there’s two sides to this. There’s a baby and there’s bath water—analogies that some people like to use. Please, hold onto the baby! And the bath water should go where bath water goes. That’s where we are. So brothers, don’t throw everything out. That’s one extreme. Another extreme is we want to keep everything. Well, that may not be that wise to do that. And we need discernment. Brothers and sisters, the Bible asks us to discern. First Thessalonians chapter 5:21 says, “Discern all things. Hold fast what is good.” That’s an exercise on every believer. We need to exercise. So as you consider what you’ve gone through, your understanding on different things on different levels, then please, we need to begin. We have been short. Because of that, we need to run make up. Exercise discernment to realize what are the precious things we received, and on the other hand. Hold fast to what is good. On the other hand, that means some things you need to let go. What will help us? We need to have an attitude, “Lord, I come back to You. On this thing, I need to be with You. Help me. Help us discern as we go forward.”

[08:27] We don’t want to be a kind of frozen time capsule. You know what they do sometimes: OK, this is the year 2008. Let’s open a time capsule. Let’s put in everything that represented 2008, and we lock it away, and 50 years later, 100 years later, they’re going to open it. We’re not here to freeze the church life, are we? We don’t want to preserve so people can back and say, “Oh! A piece of living history! Take it out of the freezer!” God is moving, isn’t He? We have a living, moving God! So we’re not here just to perpetuate the things we did before. Rather, we need to realize the Lord is moving forward; we need to move with Him. The Spirit is moving, and we need to move with the Spirit. We can’t just preserve a set of teachings, practices, and ways to do things. No, we keep the crucial things, and we go forward.

[09:47] There’s a core of matters we need to keep. Of course, they’re the essential matters of the faith, the truth, we keep. On the other hand, many other things can change, especially our ways, our practices. Actually, if we don’t change we’ll find out we’re not effective. You lose effectiveness. The Lord’s not able to do what He wants to do. So that’s why we have a living Lord, and we need a living relationship with Him. So what is the core? The core is Christ, Jesus Christ, who He is, what He’s done. The core is a matter of our God and what He wants. If you want to say His economy, His plan, His purpose, that’s fine. Those are the core things.

[10:49] Now brothers and sisters, beyond that core, we need to be able to follow the Spirit to be able to apply. I’d like just to illustrate that a little bit from Acts, because Acts is good, and Acts is important. (Whatever you do is important.) The most important book in the Bible right now is Acts. I’m joking. I think we need to be flexible. The Lord in the beginning of Acts charged His disciples, “Be My witnesses. Yes, you’ll receive power. The Spirit will come upon you, and what to do? Be My witnesses from Jerusalem to Samaria to the end of the earth.” That’s what He said. Now how to work that out? He did not give them a manual: Do this in this situation, do this in that one. No. That’s the charge. Is it large? It’s very large. Will it take a long time to work out? It does. On the other hand, how to do that is the matter of a living relationship between the believers and the Lord.

[12:14] Sometimes we make it simple. We like to have one way. One size fits all. So Christians like to boil down the gospel: “God so loved the world.” Yes, God so loved the world. That is one way to convey the gospel. That’s not the only way. If you have John 3:16, you have one bullet in your gun. Sometimes you’re there, you meet something, it’s still coming toward you. You need a few more bullets. I think it’s interesting. You say the gospel. What is the gospel? It’s Christ. It’s His work. It’s His salvation. But how to convey the gospel?

[13:17] Then in Acts there’s a story of…we can see how they learned to convey that, and to different people and in different ways. So there’s a verse, let me just read it to you, a general description. This is about the early part of the church life, the end of chapter 5 says, “And every day in the temple and from house to house they did not cease teaching and announcing the gospel of Jesus as the Christ.” Now the last part—what were they doing in Jerusalem every day from house to house? They did not cease teaching and announcing the gospel of Jesus as the Christ. So that’s the summary. What was the gospel? Jesus is the Christ. He’s the Christ. He’s the promised one. He’s the one who’s going to come. He’s the one God sent. Jesus is the Christ. That’s the gospel in a nutshell.

[14:17] Now, that gospel conveys Christ to a certain group of people. That’s very good. The message matched the people. They were in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a matter of Jews, and the gospel to the Jews is Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and people responded to that gospel. When they went out from Jerusalem, Judea, eventually the message changed. You say, “The gospel changed?” No, the gospel didn’t change, the message changed. The center is still Jesus. So later—I think this is interesting—when they went up to…this was the Spirit’s initiation, when the gospel went up to Antioch. This is later on in chapter 11:19: “Those who were scattered by the tribulation that was related to Stephen passed through as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews only, but there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and spoke even to Greeks, announcing the Lord Jesus as the gospel.” Why is that important? It’s very good. The Lord moved or wanted to move. We know the Lord wanted to spread. Eventually there was some brothers who the Lord had a way. Who they were, we don’t know. They weren’t big names; they weren’t big shots; they were regular saints. They went up to Antioch. What did they do? They responded to the Lord, and they began to speak the gospel not just to Jews, not just to Gentiles who were linked to Judaism—that’s proselytes, God-fearing Gentiles. No, they began to preach the gospel to Greeks. That means what? Heathen Greeks, street Greeks. That was the big step. Before, they preached the gospel to Jews, then there were the Greek-speaking Jews, and then there were the Gentiles related to the Jewish religion, that’s like Cornelius. Cornelius was a Gentile, but he was God-fearing, so he honored the God of the Hebrews. But then they went to Antioch, they went beyond that. They went to the Greeks, the pure, unadulterated heathen. That was a big step, and that was actually a step beyond Peter’s. Yes, Peter opened the door to the Gentiles, but he went to Cornelius. He was not that far off. He was right on the edge of the synagogue. But they went to the Greeks.

[17:25] But the interesting thing is, when they went to the Greeks, they had to find a way to present the message, and “Jesus is the Christ” doesn’t work. With Greeks, “Jesus is the Christ” doesn’t work. Why? Christ means Messiah, and you tell me Jesus is the Messiah, that means He’s not for me. Messiah is for the Jews. He’s for the Jews. You tell me Jesus is the Messiah, thank you very much. Good for them; bad for me. See? Doesn’t work. But here’s some brothers and sisters who had the Lord, had the Spirit, who were willing to translate their message to the people in a new way. What is their message? It is Jesus is Lord. “Jesus is Lord” means something. To Greeks, Jesus is Lord means something. Messiah—I don’t know who that is; Lord—I know, at least I have an idea what the Lord means. We don’t have time to get into it, but it shows us the process the Lord is trying to go through. You know, the great thing about Jesus, about God, about the Jesus we believe, the faith we have, it is for all men, and it is translatable. The Word became flesh. It’s translatable. God comes to you where you are, as you are, to meet you. That is truly Jesus Christ. That is true in the message of the gospel. So what are we doing today? We like to translate the message of Christ to people—how to present Christ in 2008 North America? Then we need to find a way. Of course, that’s a big topic.

[19:45] This is an aside. What is the major difference between Islam and Christianity? Of course, there’s a lot of differences. One major difference is that Islam says, number one, God never became a man. God is God; you are you. God is great; you’re not. God’s up there; you’re down here. Islam: God never became a man. Yes, He has prophets, but God never became man. Secondly, the Koran can never be translated. The Muslims will tell you, no, if you translate the Koran into English, whatever, you lost it. It is untranslatable. That’s their teaching. That’s their doctrine. You cannot translate the Koran. You want the Koran? You need to learn Arabic. That’s them.

[20:42] What is the Christian faith? No, it’s totally different. God became a man. The Word became flesh. That is translation of God into humanity. Number two, the Bible can be and should be translated. Otherwise you’re all here trying to learn Greek. Sorry, I don’t know Greek. How about you? No, the Bible is in English, every language. The Bible is in Korean, Chinese, Punjabi, whatever—because God comes to you. God reaches you where you are. That’s why the New Testament is in 2000 languages. You don’t know 2000 languages. You probably can’t name 2000 languages. But it’s true, because God comes to man where they are. The way it’s presented is different, and that means today. Many things can change. That’s why we get into that. The core is the same—God, Jesus Christ, His salvation, God’s purpose—yes, the core is the same. The truth is the same, but the message, and the way it’s presented, is translatable. What does that mean for us? Many, many things can change, and many, many things should change. Many practices can change, but the core is still there.

[22:32] I think it’s an important distinction to say, if you realize that, we should distinguish between what is truth and what are practices. And many times we put them together and we end up insisting on practices. No, practices are practices. They may be led by the Lord, led by the Spirit, they may be helpful for a long time, for a short time, but they’re still practices.

[23:16] Think about the early church life. They had salvation. Out of their salvation, the believers were led to practice certain things. Day by day they were in the temple. And from house to house they’re gathering, they’re breaking bread, they’re praying, and whatever, and they had all things common. That’s very good. Who told them to do that? I don’t know, do you? Who told them to practice Communism? Was it Karl Marx? I don’t think so. Spontaneously there was a certain practice came out. How did it happen? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but it happened. They felt to have all things common. Some people had land, sold land, sold houses. That’s just what they did. The Spirit led that. That was a practice. How long did that last? At least it lasted for a little. You read the first few chapters, up to chapter 6. In chapter 6 there’s a little difficulty. But you realize in the New Testament, that practice didn’t continue that long. That should show us the Lord can lead, bring us into certain practices, certain ways of doing things, then after a while, you may find out, it’s not quite the same. “Try harder, brother. Try harder.” Well, you can, but we’re not here for a set of practices; we’re here for Christ. We’re here for a living Christ, for the Lord to lead us. Practices may come and go.

[25:14] When I first came into the church life, there was a lot of pray-reading in the meetings. The brothers would say, “Let’s pray-read a verse.” Different saints would stand up and say, “For God. Amen. For God. Amen. For God so. Loved.” Actually, I enjoyed something, you want to call it declaring, pray-reading in the meetings. I don’t know anybody who said, “Now brothers and sisters, from now on we’re not going to do that.” I don’t remember that, but somehow after a while we weren’t doing that. Should we be doing that? “Just tell me the answer!” That depends! Is the Lord doing that? The answer may not be the same. Maybe some places, even today, the saints really feel they touch something. Some other places feel, no, that’s not that helpful. It may confuse people.

[26:47] We are not here for a set of practices. We’re here for Christ. We’re here for what the Lord is doing. The practices may change. Jesus does not change; salvation doesn’t change; the Spirit doesn’t change; God’s purpose doesn’t change. (singing) “All may change, but Jesus never. Glory to His name.” Don’t we sing that? Do we believe it? Even the kind of singing…you may say, “Nigel, that’s an old-fashioned song.” Sometimes we may sing old-fashioned, we may sing contemporary. Brothers and sisters, all these things can change. What is the Lord doing? The main thing is, God wants to reach man. If He can reach man through singing traditionally, let Him reach man. If He can reach man through singing contemporaneously, let Him reach man through that means. We’re not here for a set of practices. We’re here for the Lord. We’re here to follow the Lord.

[28:41] So brothers and sisters, can we have this understanding: We’re here for Christ; these are the essentials; this is the core; many things can change. Can we be open so the Lord can lead us today? Then if outward things get changed, you don’t have to be that worried. Christ does not change. The Spirit is not changed; God is not changed. But the Lord may be doing new things today. (singing) “Hallelujah, the Spirit breaks through.”