Sermons

This is a collection of Michael White’s sermons, from CityLIght Church in New York City.

The Point of Prayer

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘The Point of Prayer’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 2/3/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click

      HERE

Week Four: Getting to the Point of Prayer

We’ve covered good ground so far. In Week One,[1] we digested our responsibility to share the Gospel with other people. In Week Two,[2] we saw that God will give us a specific group of people with whom He wants us to share the Gospel. In Week Three,[3] we discussed one of the most important principles of evangelism: Talk to People! Now, in Week Four, I want to give you another key to effective evangelism: getting to the Point of Prayer (PoP).

Pray It, Don’t Say It

My wife and I founded the Healing Rooms at CityLight Church in 2012. Twice per month, we open our sanctuary on a Saturday and invite people who need physical healing to come in for prayer. We have teams of volunteers who are trained to pray for physical healing who stand on the word of God, and believe that whomever they pray for will be healed in the name of Jesus.

After we opened, our motto in the Healing Rooms quickly became, “Pray it, don’t say it.” We realized right away that telling someone what the word of God said is mildly effective; but praying the word of God over someone causes genuine breakthrough to take place. Talking about God’s will to heal might result in an occasional healing, but praying God’s will to heal over a broken body quickly causes healing to happen!

Whenever you set out to tell someone about Jesus, the end goal of your interaction should be prayer. Get to a “Point of Prayer,” and invite the power of God into the room. Ask God to move on the person’s heart, and to show him or her how much He loves them.

Our Flawed Model

How do you typically approach evangelism? If you’re like me, you were taught that evangelism is all about telling. You have to tell people about Jesus! You have to tell someone through a well-thought-out conversation (an intellectual “argument” or presentation) why they need Jesus. You want them to realize their need for a Savior, and make a decision invite Jesus into their life.

But here is the problem with that approach: it assumes your primary responsibility is to convince someone to believe in Jesus. I want to show you that the purpose of evangelism is not to convince someone they need Jesus. In fact, contrary to the model we typically employ, the purpose of evangelism is not to convince anyone of anything!

The Apostle Paul is one of the greatest evangelists to ever walk the earth. He wrote 13 out of 27 books in the New Testament, so he certainly knows what he’s talking about. We typically attribute his evangelistic effectiveness to his education and argumentative skills: Acts 22:3 tells us Paul was, “…indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of [Jewish law].” Paul was the best student of one of the most respected teachers of Jewish law in all of Israel! He knew Scripture like the back of his hand.[4] Surely his intellectual ability was what made him more effective at sharing the Gospel, right?

Wrong. Notice how Paul describes his evangelism process:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Cor 2:1-5

Paul’s goal was not to convince people to believe in Jesus with “excellence of speech” or “wisdom.” As smart as he was, he didn’t rely on an intellectual proof to lead people to Christ! He knew that “persuasive words of human wisdom” wouldn’t get the job done. Instead, he relied on, “…demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”

Paul was on to something. He knew words would get him only so far. At some point, if he wanted to be effective at introducing people to God, he had to do something more.

Jesus knew the same thing. Yes, He was an anointed Teacher. We see Him teaching in the synagogues everywhere He went. But we also know there was something different about the way He taught:

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. – Matt 7:28-29

Jesus didn’t teach with words only; He taught with authority. “Authority” is the Greek exousia,[5] which means the power required to establish rule and reign. Jesus knew what we should know: “No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent [Jesus] draws him” (Jn 6:44). Jesus’ goal was not to convince anyone to believe in Him with words; it was to allow them to experience the presence of God and His authority here on earth.

So here is my question for you: If Paul was one of the best in history at theological debates, yet even he didn’t try to convince people to believe in Jesus, then why do we? If Jesus was the Son of God, yet even He didn’t teach “as the scribes” (i.e. with fancy words and well-thought-out arguments), then why do we? Do we think we’re smarter than Paul? More effective than Jesus? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to say exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time, and convince people to believe in Jesus?

We’re not that smart. That’s not meant to be insulting; it’s meant to be empowering. Thank God He doesn’t rely on our intellectual abilities to win people to Jesus. Thank God we don’t have to convince people to believe something they don’t want to believe! That takes all the pressure off us, and puts it back on Jesus.

The Point of Prayer

I’m inviting you to change your paradigm for effective evangelism. Your job is not to win anyone with words; it is to pray and watch God move.

Here’s how it works. You start by talking to people (TTP![6]). Ask people about their lives. Meet them where they are! Instead of telling them what you want them to hear; ask them how they want to pray. As they’re telling you about their life, pick a real prayer need, and start to pray. Invite the presence of God’s Holy Spirit into your prayer. Pray it, don’t say it! By the end of your prayer, your goal is to ask God to fundamentally change that person’s life by His miracle-working power. Your goal is to allow that person to experience His presence. Your goal is to have them so changed by prayer that you won’t have to “give them” Jesus; they will be chomping at the bit to receive Him.

Do you see the difference? It’s not about you; and it’s all about Him! God doesn’t need your well-thought-out arguments or your clever introductions. He just needs you to reach a Point of Prayer, so He can make people hungry for Jesus through you!

You might ask, well when do I tell people about Jesus? My response: pray it, don’t say it! If you get to a genuine point of prayer, God is going to show up.

Last Monday, my prayer on the subway during my morning commute to work was, “Lord, give me one person I can share the Gospel with today.” I came off the train excited! Nothing gets your pulse going like being ready to tell people about Jesus!

I squeezed off the train and headed up the stairs from the subway platform to the street. I walked through a tiny park with some picnic tables where people had stopped to suck down a morning coffee. On the other side of the park, a woman who looked to be in her mid-30’s was swaying back and forth, asking for help. “Do you have anything to eat?” she asked. I didn’t have anything to eat; but I knew I had something better.

I walked up to her and dropped my bags and held out my hand. “My name’s Mike.” She took my hand and gave me a limp, dispirited handshake. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Kelly.” “How long have you been living on the street?” I continued. Since she was eighteen. Kelly was 35 now. “So you’ve been living on the street for seventeen years?” I asked? Kelly nodded.

I told Kelly about the Bowery Mission: a great organization that cares for people experiencing homeless in New York City. Kelly replied that, after seventeen years, she knows how to find food and shelter on the streets. She wasn’t interested in housing or clinical care. I knew my role wasn’t to convince her otherwise; it was to empower her by listening to her desires and respecting her decisions as an adult.

Kelly went on to tell me her story. She has a son who is two years old. She couldn’t care for him on the street, so he was taken into foster care. She misses him every day. She longs for the day when she will have her own home and be able to care for him the way she wants. I saw the entry point I had been waiting for: “Kelly, can we pray together?”

I prayed for reconciliation in Kelly’s family. I prayed God would give her a permanent roof over her head so she could raise her son in their own home. I prayed Kelly would be reconciled with her parents and God would bring healing into her family. I prayed God would make His power real to her. I prayed He would make His presence known to her. I prayed everything in the name of Jesus.

Tears started to stream down Kelly’s face as we prayed. Her body was responding to God’s presence. I could feel His presence too! I thanked her for spending a few moments of her day with me. I gave her an evangelism card from our church, with a Gospel message printed on the front, and a directory of NYC homeless resources on the back. I gave her money for breakfast, and invited her to reach out to me any time. If she wanted to hear more about Jesus, I wanted to tell her. She looked into my eyes and said, “God bless you.” That is a look I will never forget.

Could I have had an effective encounter with Kelly if I had stopped and told her about Jesus? Probably! God will use whatever we give Him. But I believe I had an even more effective encounter with Kelly because we were able to pray. She left our conversation not only knowing about God, but also having experienced His presence. I didn’t tell her something I thought she needed to hear; I met her at her point of need and brought her to a Point of Prayer.

Peter and John

Peter and John knew that praying with people was the most effective form of evangelism available:

Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. – Acts 3:1-5

Peter and John encountered a man in need. He was in need of money (“asked for alms”). He was in need of healing (“lame from his mother’s womb”). But more than anything, he needed Jesus!

Peter and John didn’t stop and ask Him if he wanted to hear about Jesus. They didn’t try to convince him of his need for a Savior through an intellectual debate! They got him to a Point of Prayer.

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. Acts 3:6-7

Peter issued a powerful, decisive, commanding prayer. Notice he told the man about Jesus in that prayer. How do I know this? Look at the man’s response:

So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. – Acts 3:8

The man came into the temple to praise God. He knew Who was responsible for this miracle! He wasn’t getting dragged into the temple by Peter and John, not sure if he was going to like church service! He was “walking” and “leaping:” excited to praise the God who had just met his most urgent need!

The effect was contagious:

And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. – Acts 3:9-10

What if every single one of our church services was filled with people, “…walking, leaping, and praising God?” What if we didn’t have to settle for convincing friends and family members to reluctantly accept an invitation to church? What if their lives were so transformed at a Point of Prayer that they wanted to come and praise God for all He had done?

Your Family

Do you know how you’re going to win your family to Jesus? It won’t be through an intellectual debate. It will be by getting everyone in your family to a Point of Prayer.

For years, I tried to tell my parents about Jesus. My parents have always gone to church; but for years I wondered if they had ever really received Jesus. They go to a church based on Christian tradition, but void of any discussion of what it really means to know God.

My Dad was always the toughest nut to crack. Growing up, my Dad was my biggest mentor. He coached every sports team I was ever on. He taught me how to ski and ride a bike. So it was a bit awkward for both of us when I turned around – forty years his junior – and started asking him if he had a relationship with Jesus. Did he know for sure he was going to heaven? Who was I – just a kid – to question his beliefs? He had a whole lifetime of experience that I didn’t have!

Finally, after years of conversations that felt more like arguments, I just gave up. Instead of trying to convince him of his need for Jesus, I just decided to pray. I would take the next opportunity he gave me, and make it my goal to pray with him. I wanted him to experience the power of God. I wanted him to feel God’s presence!

The next time my wife and I visited home, I was sitting and talking with my Dad. He told me his back was hurting. I jumped up. “Can I pray for your back?” My Dad looked a little startled; but he said yes. I prayed, and I released the power of God over his body. I prayed that Jesus would invade his life like never before. By the end of the prayer, my whole body was tingling. I asked my Dad how he felt: “Better,” he smiled.

Did I lead my Dad into a radical moment where he dropped everything he was doing and said, “What must I do to be saved?” Nope. Did I so wow him with my extensive knowledge of Scripture that he was convinced of his need to know God? I don’t think so! But I did jump at the opportunity to get him to a Point of Prayer.

Several weeks later, my Mom gave me some news. My Dad now reads his Bible every day. Every day! And I can’t wait to see what God is going to do in his life next. God is moving; and it all started with a Point of Prayer.

Get to the Point of Prayer; and watch God do the rest.

© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] http://bit.ly/2CTq6ya

[2] http://bit.ly/2ScO15q

[3] http://bit.ly/2Gg7xZk

[4] Pharisees were required to memorize large sections of Jewish Law.

[5] Strong’s G1489; https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/exousia.html

[6] http://bit.ly/2Gg7xZk

Talk to People!

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Talk to People!’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 1/27/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click

      HERE
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We know from Week One[1] that we have a responsibility to share the Gospel with other people. We know from Week Two[2] that God will give you a specific group of people He wants you to reach with the message. Now, for Week Three in our Evangelism Series, I want to give you what I believe is the single most important principle for winning people to Jesus. Are you ready?!

T.T.P.

Talk to people. You might laugh out loud at the apparent simplicity. But even though it’s simple, how often do we forget it? If you want to win people to the Lord, you have to start by talking to them first! It’s impossible to tell people about Jesus if you don’t talk to them!

I remember hearing about an Executive Pastor at a large church (20,000+ members) in South Africa. Whenever he hired new staff, he told them there was only one thing they had to do: only one thing that mattered for their job performance. Talk to people. TTP! The health of the church, he said, would depend on it. Whenever the church staff seemed to be forgetting that most important principle, he would threaten to come into the office and write “TTP” in giant letters all over the walls. The staff’s job was not to forget to talk to people; and as evangelists, that is our job too!

Talk to people is an important principle in the business world, too. If you want to be successful, you have to talk to people. Dale Carnegie wrote the first edition of his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in 1936. Warren Buffet, one of the richest people on the planet, credits that book with fundamentally changing his life.[3] Carnegie took simple principles and explained their importance for everyday interactions, focusing specifically on lessons that would translate to the business world. Here is one of the most memorable quotes from his book:

“Winning friends begins with friendliness.”

It’s deep, isn’t it? But he included it because so many of us forget it so often! Carnegie wrote from a secular perspective: for him, “winning friends” means enlarging your social circle. But we can read it from an evangelistic perspective: winning friends [for Jesus] begins with friendliness.

Do you like talking to people? When you meet someone you’ve never met before, are you friendly? If the answer to one (or both!) of those questions is no, is it any wonder why you aren’t leading more people to Jesus?

If you want to be successful, you have to talk to people! Every job I’ve ever had has been the result of talking to people: I usually knew someone who could get my foot in the door, and then I secured the job by having an interview (i.e. a formal “talk” with people). When I met my beautiful wife Rachael, do you know how our relationship started? By talking to people. I had to open my mouth and say hello; and over time, our trust deepened and our relationship grew because we talked to each other! Do you know how my relationship with Jesus has blossomed? By talking to Him in prayer! Everything I have ever received that is worth celebrating has come about because I talked to people: TTP!

If you don’t like talking to people, you are missing out. David Burkus wrote the book, Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career. He notes that small talk (i.e. “friendliness” or “talking to people”) is more than just polite. He says it is, “…crucial for your success in different spheres of life. And if you hate small talk and do your best to avoid it, you are just cutting yourself off from lots of meaningful social interactions.” [4]

If you want to win friends, you have to talk to people. If you want to win friends to Jesus, you should want to talk to people even more!

Becoming an Everyday Evangelist

Evangelism is not just a one-time special event. Contemporary church culture might suggest that evangelism is something we do once per year, with a bunch of other people, just to invite people to church. But evangelism is not just an event; it is a lifestyle. Are you “doing evangelism;” or are you becoming a supernaturally normal evangelist?

Can I tell you a dirty little secret? I am not a natural evangelist. The summer before we launched our Brooklyn church location, we did servant evangelism (our church’s term for street outreach) almost every single Saturday for two months straight. I remember standing on the corner of Manhattan and Montrose Ave’s in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, handing out granola bars and church invitations. And can I be honest with you? I hated it.

I hated the feeling of putting myself out there and inviting random strangers to church, because many of them said no. I hated watching people laugh and snicker right in my face as I tried to tell them about Jesus. I hated the fact that, because we were in a trendy up-and-coming neighborhood, the most common question I would get was not, “Can you tell me more about Jesus?” It was, “Are the granola bars vegan?” Are you kidding me?!

But several weeks in, I had an epiphany. Why would anyone want to come to a church, if the person who was inviting them was absolutely miserable? If I looked like I was grimacing in pain as I tried to hand someone a granola bar and a church invite, why on earth would they say yes to my invitation: so they could come to church and look just like me?

I realized something that summer. If I was going to be successful at evangelism, I needed to develop a deep, supernatural love for people. I needed to be able to smile and start a conversation with a stranger without looking like I was in physical pain, or letting their response dictate my emotional state. I knew it was time to get good at talking to people.

If we want to get good at reaching people for Jesus, we can’t be afraid of simple conversation. We have to love talking to people!

Conversation-Starters

Tasteful, effective evangelism is not about telling people something they don’t want to hear. It’s not about convincing them Jesus is Lord with a rational, intellectual argument. It’s about meeting them where they are, and inviting the Holy Spirit to move.[5]

Again, I am not naturally good at this. It’s taken years of prayer to get me comfortable talking to people. It’s taken a daily request every morning for God to put me in conversations with at least one person whom I can tell about Jesus.

Do you know what I love about our team at CityLight Church? Our pastors and our staff are all different. We learn from each other in the areas where we’re similar as iron sharpens iron; but we learn even more from each other in the areas in which we’re different.

Pastor Mohamed is our Community Pastor. I count him one of my best friends in the world. And even though I’m not a natural talker, Pastor Mohamed is.

Pastor Mo is a big dude. Years ago, when we took all the men at the church bowling, I was sitting at the back of the bowling alley with Pastor Mo. We were in the middle of a conversation, and someone came up to us and asked him, “Do you know where the bathroom is?” “No,” he answered politely. Five minutes later, someone else approached: “Hey man, what time do you guys close?” Now I realized what was going on, and I started hysterically laughing. Everyone thought Pastor Mo was the bouncer! They assumed he worked at the bowling alley as security, so they were asking him all sorts of questions about hours of operations and where the bathrooms were located!

So now you know just how big Pastor Mo is. But do you know what? Pastor Mo loves talking to people. If you ever ride the New York City subway with Pastor Mo, you will see exactly what I mean. He will lock eyes with random people, just to give them a smile. Why? Because he knows something we should know: a smile can soften someone’s heart. A smile can open the door to a conversation about Jesus. A smile can result in someone giving his or her life to Jesus because of the conversation that follows. Dale Carnegie put it this way: “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.”[6]

One of the reasons I love hanging out with Pastor Mo is he makes me better. I do not lock eyes with people on the subway. In fact, I hate it when people lock eyes with me. Growing up, I hated that one kid in class who would always sit at the front of the room, but periodically turn around to scan the rest of the room and lock eyes with people. I don’t like the people in church who turn around and look at other people during the sermon. I’m just not built that way! But Pastor Mo is making me better.

And now it’s your turn! Are you a natural lover of people? When you meet someone new, are you naturally curious about their life? Could you care more? Or could you care less?

Along with being a pastor, I’m a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. One of the things I love about going to the gym is talking to people. I’ve never walked into the gym with the intention of preaching the Gospel; but I arrive in every day with a mission to talk to people and an invitation for God to move as I start a conversation.

Several months ago, I was talking with a friend on the mat after practice. He told me his older sister had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. I had a meeting scheduled right after practice, but I made a decision: right now, the most important thing I can do is sit here and listen.

He started to tell me how unfair this whole situation was. It didn’t make any sense. His sister was young. She was healthy! She ate well, and exercised often. She was a loving, devoted mother to her two kids. So how could it be, all of a sudden, that she was diagnosed with lymphoma?

I sat and talked with him for 15 minutes. He was blown away that I actually cared what was going on in his life. I told him I would be praying for his sister, but I didn’t stop and pray with him right then and there. I left the conversation beating myself up a little bit. Should I have been bolder? Should I have told him about Jesus? Should I have insisted that we pray – right then and there, on the spot?

Know this: God will use whatever you give Him. I left the conversation wondering if I could have done more. What I didn’t know, however, was this: about a dozen other people were listening to us as we had our conversation on the mat. When I got to the locker room, another guy came up to me. “I heard you talking up there,” he said. “What did you think?” I smiled.

As we talked, this guy started telling me his religious history. He grew up going to church; but at a certain age, he left. Why? Because he didn’t feel like anyone really cared about him. He had attended a big church, and he felt lost in the crowd. Leadership wanted him to get on board with their agenda; yet no one seemed to care if he even had personal hopes and desires. We talked for about fifteen minutes, and he promised to come give our church a try. He told me about a desire to get plugged into a men’s ministry, so we made a bro-date to go find one!

What happened there? I wasn’t trying to shove the Gospel down people’s throats. I simply made a decision to demonstrate compassion by talking to people, and listening to what they had to say. And in our culture, that is so different and abnormal that people took notice.

When you make a decision to love people through conversation, God will do the rest. Even if you feel like you missed it in one conversation, God will still use it all for good! Don’t worry about saying the perfect thing at the perfect time! If you just talk to people, God will use it all for His good!

The Woman at the Well

Do you know who loves talking to people more than anyone else in the whole world? Jesus!

In John 4, Jesus is in the middle of a missionary journey. He’s traveling with His disciples; and do you know what His main goal is? To talk to people! To tell them just how good God is!

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. – Jn 4:5-6

Jesus is in the middle of a long day. It’s 12 noon, and He is tired. So he sits by a well and takes a rest. And watch what happens:

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. – Jn 4:7-9

Jesus was exhausted! But even the King of Kings was never too tired to talk to people.

What’s also important here is that Jesus was crossing racial and cultural divides by engaging this Samaritan woman in conversation. Look how surprised she is (v 9)! At that time, Jews and Samaritans didn’t talk! They didn’t respect each other, and they didn’t want anything to do with each other! Yet here is Jesus making a decision to overcome the racism and classism at play by having a simple conversation. Remember that Jesus’ primary mission was to save, “…the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). But He was willing to put that mission on pause to introduce someone to His Father.

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” – Jn 4:10-12

So far, Jesus and this woman were engaged in small talk. Jesus was hinting at something deeper; but this Samaritan woman thought He was talking about a physical well! But all of a sudden, the conversation took a sharp turn. As soon as Jesus had the opportunity to give her the Gospel, He took it:

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” – Jn 4:13-15

Wow. Just look at the way Jesus handled that conversation. Our typical Christian approach is to try and tell people what we think they need to hear. We come along with our Christian fire hose and start blasting people in the face with our opinion on everything from abortion to homosexual marriage. The consequence is that, instead of people knowing what Christians stand for, they only know what we stand against.

But Jesus didn’t do that! He didn’t force the woman to choke down something she didn’t want to swallow! He made her thirsty. You see, we (the church) come along with our fire hose; but Jesus reminds us that our job is simply to make people thirsty enough to want a drink. What would our conversations with non-Christians look like if, instead of trying to get them to see our point of view, we met them where they are and just made them thirsty for the things of God?!

Jesus had the invitation He needed. He told her He was the Messiah (v 26). He told her about salvation, and lovingly challenged her to live a life worthy of repentance. And do you know how she responded? She wanted to go and tell everyone about Him! In one conversation, Jesus made this unrepentant, unsaved woman into an evangelist!

And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him. – Jn 4:27-30

All of a sudden, the entire city wanted to meet Jesus. They knew this woman! They knew her story! And now they also knew that after one prophetic encounter with Jesus, she was completely changed!

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. – Jn 4:39-41

Your job is not to convince people to believe in Jesus with an intellectual argument or a theological debate. Your job is simply to talk to them, and invite the Holy Spirit to make them hunger and thirst for Jesus.

My Friend in the Park

Several months ago, I started going out and telling people about Jesus every week in Tompkins Square Park. Our church is in New York City’s East Village. It’s a neighborhood that has rapidly gentrified over the past two decades. Drug use and homelessness are epidemics. One morning in prayer, God showed me a vision of me, walking around Tompkins Square Park, and handing out invitations to church. He showed me a picture of myself, stopping and talking to people in the park, and asking to hear their stories.

Several weeks ago, I was out in the park. I was walking around, smiling, speaking in tongues, and asking God whom He wanted me to talk to. I turned a corner in the park and saw Joe from about 40 years away. Joe was sprawled out across a bench, drinking a beer and smoking a joint. I wasn’t sure Joe would want to hear what I had to say, but I knew the Holy Spirit was pushing me in his direction. I excitedly walked toward him. We locked eyes, and I swear I saw him roll his eyes at me from 40 yards away. But that didn’t bother me. I was ready to hear Joe’s story.

Joe asked me what I had in my hand. “Invitations to church,” I said. “I’m not interested,” Joe quipped. “That’s fine,” I replied. So I asked Joe how his day had been. How long had he been living in the neighborhood? I told him I was a pastor at a local church, and asked if there was any way I could pray for him. I didn’t try to sell him the church; I just tried to love him like Jesus.

Joe was brutally honest. “I hate the church,” he confessed, “But I kinda like you.” That was the only invitation I needed. I sat down on the bench next to Joe, and we talked for the next 25 minutes. He told me he had grown up in church, but had left because he felt like no one really cared about him (just like my friend from the gym)! Joe had been the victim of emotional abuse in the church, and sexual abuse in his home. All of this came out on a forest green bench in Tompkins Square Park, on one of the coldest days in January.

Eventually I noticed that Joe was losing interest in our conversation. I slowly rose to my feet, and placed an invitation to church on the bench next to him. “If you ever want to come to church,” I said, “We can go grab lunch after.” Joe’s response? “Not going to happen.” I smiled, and went on my way.

I left that conversation beating myself up again. Had I said the right things? Did I try to pray too soon? Should I have left the invitation on the bench for him, or was it too much?

I haven’t seen Joe since; but one week after our conversation, I got a surprise. We were having 21 days of prayer and fasting at our church, meeting every night for prayer at 7pm. The Monday after I met Joe, there was a knock on the door. A man I had never seen walked in. “I saw the light on. Are you having service tonight?” I explained to him that, while we weren’t having service, we would spend about an hour praying together. He smiled: “That’s exactly what I need.”

I asked him how he had heard about our church. He dug into his pocket and showed me a blue card. “I found this invitation on one of the green benches in Tompkins Square Park.”

God will use whatever you give Him. You don’t have to have the words for a perfect conversation. Just talk to people, and God will do the rest.

© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] http://bit.ly/2CTq6ya

[2] http://bit.ly/2ScO15q

[3] https://read.bi/2B9F3vW

[4] http://bit.ly/2HGAfUo

[5] For more on this, listen to Week Four (next week) where we talk all about getting to the “Point of Prayer.”

[6] Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Whom Should I Tell?

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Whom Should I Tell?’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 1/20/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click

      HERE
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Whom Should I Tell?

Maybe the last chapter left you in a bad place. We’ve established that we have an amazing gift in the Gospel. We have eternal life! We have access to the things of Heaven here on earth!

But we also have a responsibility to share. Ezekiel 3:16-21 taught us that if God asks us to share the Gospel, and we don’t do it, we will be accountable. That doesn’t mean our salvation will be in question; but it does mean we will have to answer in some form of Heavenly accountability for what was done or not done!

But we also noted that Ezekiel’s responsibility was not to share God’s word with everyone; it was to speak to a specific group of people to whom God called him:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel…” – Ezek 3:17

Ezekiel was to be a watchman for the “house of Israel.” He didn’t have to travel the world, and spend every waking moment stopping people on the street to let them know that Hell is a real place. He simply had to go where God called Him to go, and say what God called him to say, to whom God called him to reach.

Your Assignment

Your job is not to save the world. Jesus already did that! However, God has given you a specific assignment. He has given you access to a group of people – friends, family, and co-workers, in particular – whom no one else can reach! And I would like to suggest that it is your job to 1) find out who those people are, and 2) tell them about the love of God.

God sends specific people to specific places to preach a specific message. We’ve already established that we have to share the Gospel with someone. In this chapter we’re going to work on identifying your “target audience:” defining that group of people God created you to reach with the Gospel message. In the following chapters, we’ll develop specific strategies for reaching those people in ways that are both 1) tasteful and 2) effective.

Jesus Had A Primary Mission

Did you know that God gave even Jesus a specific audience? There were people who came to Jesus in Scripture who were not part of the group He was sent to reach. I know it doesn’t sound nice or fair; but Jesus actually prioritized His ministry around reaching the people God called Him to reach first. Yes, everyone needs help! But God has given you a specific grace to help certain people.

Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. – Matt 15:21-23a

Why would Jesus completely ignore this woman! She was desperate and needed help! Finally, frustrated with Jesus’ lack of response, the disciples’ emotions got the best of them:

And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” – Matt 15:23b-24

Wow. Even Jesus had a primary mission! He knew the primary calling on His life was to minister to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He would not allow Himself to be distracted by a seemingly endless river of dire need flowing towards Him (which is often what full-time ministry becomes, and why full-time ministers so often burn out). He knew His calling; and He refused to be distracted from it.

As we keep reading, we notice that Jesus does end up helping this woman:

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. – Matt 15:25-28

Jesus helped her because she was hungry. We’ll talk about this in the next chapter. The implication is two-fold:

1) We need to be aware of our primary mission. When “ministry opportunities” arise that do not align with our primary mission, we have be very wary about accepting them.

2) We also need to stay available. God responds to hunger. He will send us people who aren’t part of the primary people group He wants us to reach, but show us just how darn hungry they are. He will ask us to put our primary mission on pause to reward their hunger with a touch from Heaven!

Do you see the balance here? Jesus was focused, but He was also available. He knew His primary purpose and He constructed appropriate boundaries to get it done; but he also stayed available so that when someone who was hungry came to seek Him, He was ready and waiting.

So, the question Jesus’ ministry poses for you and me is: who is your primary mission?[1]

Paul Had A Primary Mission

Paul was a machine. After Jesus appeared to him on the Road to Damascus,[2] he quickly and fully embraced his calling to share the Gospel with much of the known world at the time. He willingly went wherever God called him, whenever God called him!

Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. – Acts 16:1-5

But did you know that even Paul had a primary mission? Watch this:

Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. – Acts 16:6

Why would the Holy Spirit ever forbid someone to preach? Isn’t it God’s will that no man should perish (2 Pet 3:9)? Isn’t preaching a good thing? So why, when Paul and Timothy tried to go into new places and preach the Gospel, would God ever tell them no?

This didn’t happen just once by the way:

After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. – Acts 16:7

What is going on here? Paul and Timothy had plans to preach the Gospel in multiple places, but the Holy Spirit 1) forbade them (v 6), and 2) did not permit them (v 7). What’s the lesson for us?

Just as important as knowing where you are called, is knowing where you are not called. Paul and Timothy had the right heart! They wanted to do the right thing! But God didn’t want them where they were trying to go.

I know so many people in ministry who have the right heart to do the right thing, but try to do it in the wrong place at the wrong time. If we don’t have an active relationship with God where we are listening to His Holy Spirit, we can waste years trying to do good work in the wrong place at the wrong time. Paul and Timothy had a calling to preach the Gospel on their lives! But they still had to listen to God. They still had to ask, Lord, where do you want us to go?

Finally, God showed Paul and Timothy why He had been keeping their schedules open.

So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” – Acts 16:8-9

Now this is starting to make sense. Paul and Timothy wanted to stay east and preach in what is now modern-day Turkey; but God wanted them to head west to what we know as Greece. God told Paul and Timothy not to go into certain places so they would be available for their primary mission when God gave them more details!

What would have happened if Paul and Timothy had gone into Asia or Bithynia? Maybe they would have preached, but their preaching wouldn’t have been fruitful. Maybe they would have preached, but they would have been in danger. Maybe they would have been stepping on someone else’s toes! What if there were people in Asia and Bithynia whom God wanted to raise up to preach; and by going into those places – even with the good heart and the right intentions – Paul and Timothy would have been stifling someone else’s growth?

What an exciting adventure it is to walk with God! Paul and Timothy were gradually feeling out what God wanted them to do. They didn’t put on blinders and plow forward into something that seemed good, even though God hadn’t blessed them to do it! They knocked on doors to see if God wanted them to go! When He didn’t want them to go to a certain place, the Holy Spirit said no; but when God was ready to tell them their mission, He swung doors wide open and made their destination abundantly clear.

Do you see why it’s so important to know your primary mission? Don’t waste your time trying to do the right thing in the wrong place. God created you to do something unique: something special that no one else in the world can do as well as you! But if you want to walk that out, you have to listen to God and find out what it is.

Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. – Acts 16:10

Peter Had A Primary Mission

Peter was a busy man. In Acts 2, he gives the first sermon after the early church gets baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. In Acts 3, he heals a man lame from birth. In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested by religious leaders for preaching the Gospel; but instead of becoming afraid, they asked God to give them even more boldness to share the Good News (Acts 4:29)!

Peter was a man who was sent by God: he was willing to go wherever God sent him, whenever God sent him. But did you know that even Peter had a primary mission?

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. – Acts 10:9-16

Peter was sent to the Jewish people. Up until Acts 10, he hadn’t played a role in getting any Gentiles saved. His primary mission was to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24): just like Jesus! But God was about to change all that. God was telling Peter not to call the Gentiles “common” (v 15). He was getting Peter ready to have his primary mission changed!

Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” – Acts 10:17-20

Here is that balance again. Peter already had his primary mission! But at a moment’s notice, God asked Peter to change his focus. He asked Peter if he would be willing to minister to Gentiles. Peter, because he was hearing from the Holy Spirit, was prepared. He knew what to say! So when an opportunity to share the Gospel arose, he was ready.

The Healthy Balance

What does all this have to do with sharing the Gospel? This chapter is devoted to asking God to help you define your “target audience:” Lord, whom do You want me to tell? You have to tell someone! But you don’t have to tell everyone.

You have a primary mission: just like Jesus, Paul, and Peter. God will send you to 1) specific people and 2) specific groups of people so you can tell them about Jesus. It’s not your responsibility to save the world (Jesus already did that)! But it is your responsibility to identify whom God is asking you to reach. Then, ask Him for a strategy to talk to them, and set out to engage.

Our Christian mission is not to sit on our hands and close our mouths, keeping salvation all to ourselves for fear of being tainted by the world. But our mission is also not to beat people over the head with something they don’t want to hear! Our mission is to go where God calls us to go, and tell the people He asks us to tell.

Situational Grace

Here is why all this is so important: once God defines whom He wants you to tell, He will anoint you to reach those people! Remember that it is wasted effort to try and do something God hasn’t anointed you to do, even if it’s a “good thing” and you do it with a good heart!

I believe in situational grace. That means God will anoint you to do His work: in a certain place, at a certain time. Situational grace is an empowerment from Heaven to persevere, no matter how difficult things get: as long as you stay where God has called you do be.

Here is how God explained this concept to the people of Israel:

And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. – Deut 11:13-14

God wanted to bless His people! But they had to correctly position themselves to receive His blessing. They had to love God, and love His word. They had to do what He asked them to do (i.e. they had to be obedient). His promise was to give them rain for their land in its season: in the right place (“your land”), and the right time (“in its season”)! God wants to bless you! But you have to be in the right place, at the right time.

When I graduated college, I went to work as a Risk Arbitrage trader at one of the biggest banks on Wall Street. For almost five years, I was incredibly happy. I was working long hours, but I loved the work. I was making lots of money, and I loved the people with whom I was working! But one day, all that changed. For years, the hand of God had been on my life to work in that industry. I had God’s situational grace! But one summer, I felt less and less satisfied. I was sick of the early mornings and late nights. I wasn’t excited about my work any more.

Out of nowhere, I started having existential moments at work. I would stand up in the middle of the trading floor, watching other traders interact and make trades. But all I could think was, What is the point of all this? Am I really making a difference?

One Saturday, I was looking out the window of our living room (my wife and I had been married almost 2 years at that time). Our apartment had a perfect view of my work building (not the healthiest setup in hindsight!). I started to pray, and God gave me a vision of my work building shaking violently, and splitting in two. I asked Him what it meant. Get ready for a moving and a shaking, I heard Him reply.

Several months later, I was let go. The bank didn’t want to be heavily invested in Risk Arb anymore, and I would pay the price. Part of me was shocked and hurt; but part of me completely knew it was coming. God had warned me that His situational grace was lifting! It would soon be time to move on and do something else.

I was blessed with a 6-month severance package, so I had plenty of time to stop and consider next steps. I interviewed for several roles in finance that were very similar to what I had been doing; but none of them felt right. I would get to the final round interview, and everything would go better than expected; but for whatever reason, it wouldn’t work out. Then one day, the Lead Pastor at my church approached me about a role on staff. Our church needed an Executive Pastor: someone who could do the church finance and administration during the week, and then preach on Sundays. Was I interested? One month later, I started in full-time ministry; and since that day, I have never looked back.

Are You Satisfied?

Are you happy with where you currently are? Do you feel the hand of God on your life? Are you doing what He created you to do?

If not, I believe it’s because of one of three reasons:

1) Maybe you’re not in “your land.” Maybe you’re in the wrong job, the wrong city, or the wrong relationship. If you’re sharing the Gospel with people but it seems like nobody’s listening, ask God: Lord, is this my land? Is this where you’ve called me to be?

2) Perhaps it’s not your “season.” Maybe God is getting ready to bless you, but He has to build a foundation in you first. When I first became a pastor, I thought I was going to take the Christian world by storm! I wrote a book by age 28, because I knew God had given me something to say. But I had to wait for the right season to see the hand of God on what I was doing. The difficult truth is some people just have a hard time hearing from a young pastor! But the older I get, the better it gets.

3) The third possibility has nothing to do with you, or with God. Maybe the enemy is trying to frustrate your plans. When I preached this message in church, I stopped and ministered to a young woman who was an actress in the middle of service. She knew she was called to New York City; and she knew she was born to be an actress! But she kept hearing this nagging voice: Give up. Move on! That is not the voice of God’s Holy Spirit! That is the voice of the enemy. When God speaks, you will be encouraged; but when the enemy speaks, you will be overcome with insecurity and doubt.

So how do you know the difference? Talk to God. Lean on His Holy Spirit. Ask Him if you are where you are supposed to be. Ask Him if you are doing what He called you to do! Ask Him if you’re sharing the Gospel with the people you’re supposed to reach. As you ask Him, He will tell you.

Activation Exercise

Make a list of five people God wants you to talk to. Ask Him: God, where do You want me to go? Whom do You want me to tell? I believe that as you ask God, He will tell you.

Keep that list of five people in a prominent place in your home: your fridge, your desk, or even taped to the door as you leave your apartment. Ask God to fill you with a passion to reach those people, and plant a seed so they can fall in love with Jesus. In the coming chapters, we’ll talk about formulating strategies that are both 1) tasteful and 2) effective so you can share the Good News and see them give their lives to Jesus.

© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] For another example of Jesus’ moving on to His mission despite an obvious need from people who were looking for Him, see Mark 1:32-39.

[2] Acts 9:1-8

Duty to Warn

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Duty to Warn’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 1/6/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click 

      HERE

Evangelism: Week One

The State of Evangelism

I recently attended a meeting for pastors in Manhattan. The keynote speaker was a very well-known pastor with a large church, who is incredibly well-respected, both in pastors’ circles and secular media.

His subject matter was unrelated to evangelism and outreach; but at a certain point in his conversation, evangelism came up. He recalled having a youth leader who was a natural evangelist: the type of person who would take a trip on a plane, and by the end of the flight would have everyone in Coach giving their lives to Jesus.

He remembers that same youth leader encouraging him to take steps out in faith and boldly share the Gospel. His response? “I didn’t feel gifted in that area.” He went on to say he didn’t think the poking and prodding to share the Gospel was fair, because some people are gifted in that area, and others are not. From that day forward, he always wished he were more gifted as a natural evangelist, but never took steps to more actively share his faith with people he didn’t know.

This, to me, is where most of the church currently is when it comes to evangelism. We have an understanding that we are called to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15), but we have different ideas as to what that “looks like.” We’re vaguely aware of an abstract need to share our faith in certain situations; but we’re 1) terrified at the concept of ruining existing relationships by introducing the Gospel, and 2) completely turned off by the idea of engaging a total stranger to talk about Jesus Christ

I left that pastors’ meeting discouraged. Was it really justifiable to say we’re not “gifted” in evangelism, and keep living our lives the same way? Is it justifiable to agree that the church is the greatest vehicle for local evangelism, but restrict our efforts to reach new people to having service on Sunday? I agree church service is – and should be – powerful; but at some point, don’t we have to get outside the walls of the church and start reaching people who haven’t ever even been to church? At some point don’t we have to let the Gospel spill over into our everyday life if we want to reach the people who have really never heard the Good News? 

When it comes to evangelism, I do not believe the concession that “I’m not gifted in that area” is good enough. Do you know why? 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! – Matt 7:7-11

Sharing the Gospel is a good thing (v 11). So why wouldn’t God make us better and more effective at it when we ask Him?

Why We Need to Share the Gospel 

Scripture teaches that Heaven and Hell are real. We do not live for this life on earth; we live for an eternity that is coming when we leave this life. If we are serious about taking God at His word, the consequence is that there is a Heaven to gain, and a Hell to shun! 

The Bible addresses Heaven and Hell in many places,[1] but the Book of Revelation contains one of the most stark contrasts between each place:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. – Rev 21:1-7

There is a Heaven to gain by believing in Jesus! And oh how awesome it appears. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes! There will be no more death! Sorrow and crying will be things of the past: things that we remember from our time on earth, but no longer feel. Pain will be no more, because the old things have passed away. Jesus has made all things new: and when we get to Heaven, we will enjoy the fruit of that newness!

But there is an alternative for people who do not receive Jesus as Lord over their lives:

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” – Rev 21:8

Do you really believe Hell is real? If you do, there will be a new sense of urgency in your work. There will be a healthy desire to let people know that they have a choice to make in this life that will echo for all eternity!

I remember sitting at a pastors’ lunch recently in the East Village, close to our church. One of the men there – whom I consider a mentor – looked up and said, “If we really believed the Gospel, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now.” We asked him what he meant, and were floored by his response. “If we really believed in Heaven and Hell, there would be such an urgency to let people know that we wouldn’t be able to sit here.”

Do you really believe what the Bible teaches? I do! And if we do, shouldn’t that change the way we live our lives?

Scripture tells us how to get into Heaven, and thereby avoid Hell:

…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – Rom 10:9-13

Believe in Jesus! Declare that He is Lord over your life! Believe it in your heart, and make a confession with your mouth (v 9). Call on Him; and whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (v 13)!

It’s so easy, isn’t it? We are righteous by faith, not by works (Eph 2:8-9). But here is the truth: many people you know in your life – family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances – won’t get into Heaven.

Let that truth settle in. It hurts; but if we believe Scripture, it is true. Jesus took time to explain this to His disciples:

And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”

And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” – Lk 13:22-30

Much of the world will not get into Heaven because they never give spiritual concerns a second thought. They will live their lives, unconcerned with God, and simply roll the dice as to their eternal dwelling place.

But even more terrifying is the reality that some people who think they are getting into Heaven, won’t! You and I both know people whose response to the Gospel is something like this: “I don’t know about Jesus and church, but I’m just going to live my life and be a good person, and hope that God will see it in the end.”

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking. When you die and God evaluates your life,[2] He is not going to compare you to an axe murderer or a serial rapist. You are going to be compared to Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God. If you have any sin in you, you will be completely sinful.[3] The only way you can stack up to Jesus is if you are hidden in Him:[4] completely covered by His blood!

Salvation Is A Blessing!

Salvation is a blessing! We were far from God, but now we have been reconciled to Him. We were lost, but now we are found. We were condemned; but now we have been set free to live lives of purpose, and to spend eternity with God in Heaven!

Recently as we were sitting at dinner, my 4-year-old son found out that the streets in Heaven are made of gold.[5] His jaw dropped to the table and he almost fell out of his chair. “Gold?!” He couldn’t believe it; and he had a smile plastered on his face for the next two hours as we talked about the reality of Heaven and what it means to be saved.

When you believe in Jesus, you have an amazing eternal future ahead of you. But it doesn’t stop there! Because you are saved, you get to experience the goodness of God here and now, in the land of the living (Ps 27:3). You don’t have to wait to get to Heaven to experience the blessings of God! He will cause His goodness and mercy to follow you: here and now, in this life (Ps 23:6)!

You see: salvation has benefits. Scripture reminds us to never forget them: 

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. – Ps 103:1-5

When we give our lives to Jesus, there is healing. There is complete forgiveness of all sin. There is redemption from the warpath of destruction we were on before we met God. There is mercy to cover our past mistakes, and grace to pave the way for our future![6] God will satisfy us – inside and out – and keep us young and alive!

But not everyone knows it. Most of the world is not even aware that Jesus died for their sin! And that means we have a responsibility to tell them.

Being A Good Neighbor

First, let’s tackle this from a logical standpoint. If your neighbor’s house were on fire, would you tell him? If your neighbor were fast asleep with his family upstairs, but flames completely engulfed his living room, wouldn’t you do everything you could to keep them from dying? Wouldn’t you run to your phone and dial 9-1-1 so they could be rescued? Wouldn’t you yell for everyone to wake up? Wouldn’t you call them, and scream and shout, until they got the message so they could run to safety?

The answer is obvious: of course. You would do everything you possibly could to make sure they got the message. You wouldn’t care what your other neighbors thought! But here is the issue: if you would drop everything and potentially even risk your life to save someone from physical death, how much more should you urgently and persistently try and help save the people around you from spiritual death? After all, physical death only ends a lifetime; but spiritual death lasts for eternity! In the end, isn’t one more important than the other?

How selfish would it be if we – as saved, Heaven-bound believers – just sat here with this amazing and blessed gift God has given us called salvation, and didn’t let anybody know? How crazy would it be if we knew salvation was free and available to everyone (!!) but we didn’t tell anyone?

Duty to Warn

Now, let’s look at this from a Scriptural standpoint. Scripturally speaking, when God gives you a message to deliver, you have a responsibility to get it done:

Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.” – Ezek 3:16-21

I don’t know about you, but that passage scares me silly. This means we have a duty to warn people that spiritual death is coming if they don’t receive Jesus. This means that if God tells us to give them the message about Jesus, but we deliberately ignore His voice, we will share in the responsibility of their being cast into Hell for all eternity.

How are you going to respond to that? I don’t know about you, but even thinking about the weight of that makes me want to jump out of my skin! Even grappling with the enormity of that responsibility makes me want to go and preach on the subway, and tell everyone I can that Jesus is Lord, and Heaven and Hell are real!

Now here is where we – the church – typically go crazy. We read the passage above, and we assume it is our mandate to tell everyone – right away. But look at God’s instructions to Ezekiel. He didn’t have to tell everyone. God made him the “watchman for the house of Israel” (v 17). In other words, there was a specific group of people (or “people group”) God was asking Ezekiel to reach with the message God had given him.

Your job is not to save the world. Jesus already did that! Your job is, however, to share the Gospel – the message God has given you to share – with the people He tells you to reach. That means God will give you 1) a specific audience, and 2) a specific strategy to engage that audience in ways that are both tasteful and effective. And we’ll talk about all of that – finding out whom your audience is, and formulating strategies to talk to them – in the coming chapters.

Wrestling With It

I understand I’ve built up a lot of pressure here. Maybe I just took you from 0 to 100 miles per hour in one chapter. Maybe I just messed you up: here you were living your comfortable Christian life and enjoying the blessings of God, and now I’m telling you to get off your butt and go and tell the people around you about Jesus!

Remember what we’ve already covered. God is pleased with you. Because you believe in Jesus, God is pleased with you! You are getting in to Heaven by faith: whether you share the Gospel with zero people, or one million people!

But that doesn’t excuse you from the duty to warn. Can we get comfortable with that balance as the church? Yes, Jesus loves us infinitely! But yes, He also asks us to tell the rest of the world His infinite love is available to them too.

There are people in your life who won’t know about the love of God unless you tell them. I get it: your natural inclination is to keep it to yourself! I’ve been there too! God will ask me to speak with someone on the subway, but in an effort to avoid rocking the boat I stuff that responsibility deep down and decide – against my better judgment – to say nothing. Somebody else will do it.

But let’s be bold. Let’s make a decision to refuse to resist our calling to open our mouths and share the Gospel any longer.

God’s will is that none should perish:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.– 2 Peter 3:9

And you were born to keep them alive. God wants to save people through you. Are you willing to go out and tell them?

© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


[1] Matt 25:46, Psalm 9:17, 2 Thess 1:9, Matt 13:50, Acts 2:27, Mark 9:43, Jude 1:7, Prov 15:24, Prov 23:14, Matt 13:42, Matt 25:41, Rev 19:20, Prov 15:11, Matt 16:19, 2 Pet 2:4, Rev 20:13-14, Matt 10:28, Ezek 18:20

[2] “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” – Rev 20:12

[3] “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” – James 2:10

[4] “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” – Col 3:3-4

[5] “And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” – Rev 21:21

[6] Mercy means we don’t get the bad things we do deserve from our past. Grace means we do get good things we don’t deserve in our future.

Presence Leads to Purpose

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Presence Leads to Purpose’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 12/30/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click

      HERE
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Year In Review

We’ve had an amazing year in 2018 here at CityLight Church. On Sunday, September 2nd, 2018, we hosted our first service at our new venue in Astoria. We spent the summer raising $75,000 to move from our existing sanctuary into our new home. The move required countless hours of effort for our staff and volunteers, but it was well worth it! We now have space for more than 250 guests each service. We also have an entire floor for our growing CityKids ministry (children’s church), which used to be confined to a single room  at our prior venue.

In Manhattan, we studied prayer for 10 weeks this summer. I’m currently refining the content from that series in to a book on prayer that will be released in mid-2019. We believe more than ever that prayer is the highest calling: the most powerful pursuit in which we can engage, and the absolute most productive use of our time available.

Looking ahead, we are going to have an awesome 2019. We are starting 21 days of prayer and fasting on January 1, 2019. We will meet every day for corporate prayer at 7pm at one of our church locations (full schedule here). We’re also inviting each of our members and attenders to seek the Lord as to how He would have them fast during (all or part of) those 21 days.

We’re getting ready for another in-depth study – this time on evangelism – to start the new year. I’m so excited to hear the Lord speak to us about engaging people who don’t know Jesus with this life-changing, eternity-saving truth that Jesus is Lord! The contents from this next series will be refined and released in book form in early 2020.

Everything Worth Doing

Here is how I would like to close 2018, and start 2019: with a reminder that everything worth doing starts in the presence of God.

I use the phrase “worth doing” very intentionally. You see, you can do stuff outside the presence of God. You can accomplish things without prayer! But if we are to live fruitful lives for Jesus, we must draw a line in the sand between things that are worth doing, and those that are not.

Scripture denotes that distinction as follows:

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. – 1 Cor 3:9-10

You are building something, whether you like it or not. You are establishing a legacy, whether it’s worthwhile or not. So shouldn’t we take the time to stop and consider: is what I’m building really worthwhile? Will your legacy be something that is going to stand the test of time? Will what you leave here on this earth be something you want other people to see? Is what you’re offering to Jesus on a daily basis something He would want to receive?

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. – 1 Cor 3:11-15

We should only spend our time doing things that are worth doing: things done in service to God, that will stand the test of time. We need this reminder from time to time if we are going to live lives of purpose.

So what if you’re reading this, but you’re not sure if what you’re doing is worth it? What if you want to have a divine purpose, but you’re just not sure what God put you here on this earth to do?

Everything worth doing starts in God’s presence. It is in that place, that you will receive the vision required to live the life of your dreams!

Moses on the Mountain with God

Before Moses could lead the people of Israel, He had to spend time in God’s presence. God first calls Moses up Mount Sinai to meet with Him in Exodus 19. From that point forward, Moses ascends and descends the mountain to meet with God multiple times (up to eight, depending on how you read the text). On each occasion, God communicates something new to Moses. What we see is that, without these tremendous encounters with God, Moses would never have had the 1) strength and 2) vision to lead God’s people into their destiny. He never would have had the strength and vision to do what God created him to do!

God communicated purpose to Moses in His presence. God communicated instruction in painstaking explicit detail to Moses in His presence. God reminded Moses that he had a calling on His life, and a destiny that could not be canceled, in His presence.

And here’s the best part. Not only did God call Moses – the leader of His people – into His presence; He called all the people in as well. God wanted to show His people the power they could experience in their lives when they experienced His presence! But the people backed away:

Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. – Ex 20:18-21

The people were afraid of God; so they left it to Moses to hear from God on their behalf. God’s original intention was always to speak directly to His people! But our sin nature recoils at the seemingly impossible suggestion that the God of the universe wants to spend time with us.

The presence of God is not a private place for leaders only. The throne room of God is not reserved for full-time ministers only! God designed His presence for you.

When Moses spent time in God’s presence, he changed:

Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. – Ex 34:29-32

I love that even though Moses was changing, he didn’t even know it at first. The “skin of his face shone” (v 29) while he talked with God! But Moses didn’t feel any different. It took Aaron and “all the children of Israel” (v 30) to tell Moses that he was different before Moses fully recognized what God was doing.

When you spend time in God’s presence, you might not feel much different at first. But you have to know that God is changing you! He is refining you! He is doing something new in you, and filling you with purpose! His presence is changing you from the inside out!

Moses had powerful encounters with God that led to powerful leadership. If Moses hadn’t spent time in God’s presence, we wouldn’t be talking about him today. Are you making time in God’s presence a priority in your life?

Jesus: Our Perfect Example

Jesus did all things perfectly; so when He makes a habit of doing certain things in His life, we should pay attention!

This is how Jesus handled success:

However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed. – Lk 5:15-16

His ministry was exploding! People came to Him from all over the known world to be healed of their infirmities and set free from bondage. But look at Jesus’ response! He didn’t set up a 501c3 and expand His staff to meet growing demand! He didn’t buy a huge building! He spent even more time with God.

Here is the key to Jesus’ ministry: He spent time with His Father. He was a Lover of God’s presence! If you want to move the way Jesus moved, speak the way Jesus spoke, and serve the way Jesus served, it all starts with time spent in the presence of God!

Now, look at how Jesus responded to adversity and criticism:

Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” – Jn 5:18-21

Whether things were going well and everyone loved Him, or things were going terribly and everyone loathed Him, Jesus’ ministry formula was simple. 1) Talk to the Father, and 2) do what God shows you!

Think about this with me for a moment: if even Jesus, the very Son of God, refused to make His own agenda, how much more should you and I stick to the daily script God gives us?! Why do we step out of bounds and try to do things of our own invention, if even Jesus refused to do that?

Presence leads to purpose. Even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had to spend time with His Father to get the vision He needed to walk out God’s call on His life. How much more do we!

The Disciples

Jesus taught His disciples the importance of spending time in God’s presence first-hand:

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons… – Mk 3:13-15

Two things stand out to me. First, they disciples had to come when Jesus called (v 13, “And they came to Him”). Jesus called; but they had to answer! Some of us are missing out on our purpose because we don’t come when God calls us into His presence.

Second, Jesus prioritized the disciples’ tasks: “He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out…” (v 14). Priority one was to be with Him: to simply enjoy the presence of Jesus! Then, from a place of His presence, the next action item was to be“sent out:” to go out and do what Jesus was calling them to do!

How often do we get that backwards? We launch into the work without spending any time in the presence of God first! Jesus’ message to the disciples was always, God first, work second. If you try and do what God has called you to do without first spending time in His presence, you will fail! But if you make His presence a priority, the work will get done.

Several chapters later, we see the fruit of the disciples’ decision to spend time in God’s presence:

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts—but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.

So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them. – Mk 6:7-9, 12-13

The disciples were able to do what God called them to do, because they spent time with Jesus first. Jesus taught them, and He showed them what He would ask them to do (He led by example). And from that place of intimate fellowship and firsthand learning with Jesus, the disciples lived out their destiny.

Power comes from the presence of God! If you try to walk in power without the presence, you will fall flat on your face; but if you enjoy the presence first, God’s power will lead you straight into your purpose. It was the disciples’ time with Jesus that gave them the power to walk their purpose out.

What Will Your Life Look Like?

What will the next year of your life look like? The next five years? Twenty years?

I’m sure God has some excellent plans for you. He’s made some amazing promises that He plans to keep! But will you try and walk out your purpose without first spending time in His presence?

God’s presence leads to purpose. When you spend time in His presence first, everything else will fall into place.           

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Seeing What God Sees

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Seeing What God Sees’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 12/9/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click 

      HERE

Your God-Given Destiny 

You have a destiny. Scripture says you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14)! You have a purpose. God formed the days for you when as yet there were none of them (Ps 139:16). He prepared works for you before you were even born (Eph 2:10)! You were born to serve God: to worship Him with your whole heart! Do you believe it? 

So how can you develop the courage and the confidence to walk out your destiny? It all starts with asking God to show you what He wants to do in your life. He has given you eyes that you might see (Matt 13:16)! You don’t have to drift through life, wondering if you have a purpose, and struggling to know if you’re doing things “right.” God will show you. He will tell you! 

God wants to show you what He sees, so you can set out and do what He has called you to do! Pray this with me: Father, help me to SEE what You SEE, so that I can be FREE: free to walk out my purpose, and free to live my destiny!

What Makes a Seer? 

What differentiates those who can see what God is doing, from those who can’t? Given the proximity of Christmas (at the time of this message, it is Sunday, December 9th, 2018), we’re going to examine this question through the lens of the Christmas story.

There’s something special about the Christmas season. We’re expectant: we’re waiting and hoping as we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus; and it’s in those times of persistent expectation that God loves to speak!

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. – Matthew 2:1-12 

In this text, we have two kinds of people: the wise men, and the Hebrew aristocracy (i.e. King Herod). The wise men saw what God was doing; but Herod completely missed it. So the question is, why? What was it about the wise men that allowed them to see what Herod was missing? What keys can we find in their posture and preparation that will help us develop a lifestyle in which we see what God is doing much more readily?

            1) They were available. 

The wise men were available. “Wise men” is the Greek magos,[1] which is the name given by Israel’s enemies (Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and others) to teachers, physicians, astrologers, and sorcerers. Needless to say, these men were not what we would call “Christians” today. Surely they were academically gifted and spiritually “enlightened;” but they didn’t know our God. 

But they were searching! They were looking and watching the sky, waiting for any indication that the Messiah would be born; and as soon as they caught wind that God was up to something, they moved! They dropped whatever they were doing, and made a trek across much of the then-known world, simply to see what God was up to.

Herod, on the other hand, was a believer. He should have known God. Herod’s father was an Edomite, whose ancestors had converted to Judaism.[2] Herod was raised according to Jewish custom and tradition. In other words, He knew God’s word! He knew how to pray! But still he heard nothing. He had everything he needed in the form of theological training to hear from God; but he missed it completely. Why? He wasn’t available.

Being available is key! Have you ever been in a place where you need to hear from God? I would argue God never stopped speaking; but there was a time when you stopped making yourself available. Sure, I know you sought the Lord and spent some time in prayer; but what made you think you could box God in and only expect Him to speak during the time you hit your knees and pray? God is GOD! He is always speaking; it’s us – His people – who have to make time to listen. He is free to speak any time throughout your day – and at night in the form of dreams – and our duty is to drop whatever we are doing when He speaks, and pursue what He has to say.

God uses people who are available. He doesn’t always pick the smartest guy or girl in the class. He doesn’t always pick the strongest guy or girl in the gym! But He does choose those who make a habit of being available.

The wise men weren’t inconvenienced by stopping to see what God was doing; they were excited. When God starts to show you something: is it a pain, or a pleasure?

            2) They were hungry.

The wise men longed to see Jesus. How do I know? Because they traveled across the known world at that time, desperate to simply lay their gifts at Jesus’ feet: 

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matt 2:11

In Eastern culture, this was the most profound expression of reverence possible. They dropped to their knees to worship Jesus – an action which surely would have alienated them in their non-Hebrew home country – and gave Him the best they had to offer. The only response they could even conceive as appropriate was to give Jesus – at that time only an infant – everything they had. That is hunger!

But Herod was not so hungry. When Herod heard about Jesus, he was the opposite of excited:

When Herod the king heard [about Jesus’ birth], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. – Matt 2:3

Troubled? Troubled? Why would Herod be troubled at the news of the birth of the Messiah: King of kings, and Lord of lords?

Herod didn’t want to worship a King; he wanted to remain king. Herod didn’t want to fall down at Jesus’ feet; he wanted everyone to fall down at his feet. The very birth of Jesus meant that Herod’s plans and authority might be compromised; so he took drastic action to try and kill God’s Plan. He planned to follow the wise men: not to worship Jesus, but to kill Him! When the wise men sniffed it out and avoided Herod (v 12), Herod enacted a plan to kill every male born in “Bethlehem and all its districts, from two years old and under” (v 16).

It’s easy to point a finger at Herod and ask, How could he? But the truth is, you are Herod. I am Herod. Often times when God is doing something great in our lives, instead of bowing at His feet and worshipping Him, we try to stop His plan – whether consciously through overt action of subconsciously through sabotage – because it conflicts with our plan. We fail to submit to God’s vision for our lives because we don’t think it will be as glitzy or glamorous as our own vision for our lives.

If you’re ever asking God to make your plans happen – instead of seeking to make His plans happen – you’re putting yourself in a place where your eyes are closed. It’s not that God isn’t speaking; it’s that you’re ignoring what He is saying to you! Herod could have made a decision, with a humble heart, to submit to what God was doing. Instead, he refused: and this was the beginning of the end of his reign.

Herod called the wise men “secretly” (v 7). He figured out what time the star had appeared. And then, “he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also (v 8)’”

But we know the truth. Herod had no interest in worshipping Jesus. He wanted to pretend he was worshipping just long enough to make his own plans happen. Herod had no interest in Jesus’ Kingdom; he just wanted to make sure Jesus didn’t interfere with his kingdom. Herod didn’t want to serve Jesus; he wanted to serve himself. Herod wanted to be king over his own life; instead of inviting Jesus to be King of kings and Lord or lords!

How often do you and I “worship” the same way?

3) They were expectant.

The wise men and Herod had fundamentally different expectations. The wise men – though they were not Hebrew – expected that God was going to speak. They believed God was going to show them something. They were ready to respond to His word! And God responded to their expectation with a sign that led them straight to Jesus.

Herod, on the other hand, did not expect to hear from God. Look at his response:

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. – Matt 2:4

Herod gathered the “chief priests and scribes” – the religious leaders at that time – and asked them for a word. He didn’t believe God would speak to him directly; so he relied on the wisdom of others to get him the information he felt he needed.

When you need to make a major decision, whom do you seek? Do you call your prophetic friend? Do you go to a conference because you “need a word?” Or do you seek Jesus – going straight to the Source – and trust that He will supply everything you could ever need?

The Self-Perpetuating Effect of “Hearing from God”

God takes us from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18). As we worship and respond to everything He has already done, He does more. The wise men took a step out in faith. They believed God’s word, and honored His sign; and in response, God gave them more.

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. – Matt 2:12

The wise men could have ignored the star. But instead, they dropped what they were doing, and gave everything to fall at the feet of Jesus. And in response, God continued speaking.

The more you hear and respond, the more God will speak. What has God already shown you? Do it! And in response, God will show you more.

“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” – Matt 25:29

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


[1] Strong’s G3097

[2] “Herod” at Encyclopædia Britannica: “…thus, Herod was, although a practicing Jew, of Arab origin on both sides.”

God Is Pleased With You!

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘God Is Pleased With You’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 12/2/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

God Is Pleased With You

In order to share the Gospel effectively, we must have the proper motivation. Being an effective witness does not make God love you any more; He already loves you more than you could ever imagine, whether you share the Gospel with one person,or with 1,000,001 people! Becoming an evangelism machine doesn’t give you some kind of inside access to God; you already have access to boldly approach God’s throne whenever you want (Heb 4:16)!

So before we dive into evangelism, I want to establish something: God is well pleased with you. Whether you do everything right or everything wrong for the rest of your life; as long as you believe in Jesus, God is well pleased.

I know, I know! That sounds absolutely blasphemous. You’re telling me that even if I mess up, again and again, God will still love me and is pleased with me?

Here’s what you have to understand: if you do all the right things, but don’t understand that God loves you, it will all be for nothing (see 1 Cor 13). If you try to impress God without understanding that He is already pleased, anything you try and do to impress Him is nothing more than a “filth yrag” (Is 64:6).

If, however, you understand that He loves you first, before you go out and do good things, there will be fruit attached to the active expression of your love forGod. You won’t have to try to makeGod love you any more; the Holy Spirit will simply work through you because you already understand He does.

You Are My Beloved Son

God loved Jesus before He did anything deserving of love. How do I know this? In Matthew 3, we read about Jesus’ baptism:

ThenJesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. WhenHe had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This isMy beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” – Matt 3:13-17

Jesus didn’t have to get baptized; but He chose to. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; he was encouraging men and women everywhere to, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2)! Jesus didn’t have any sin to repent of; but out of obedience, He got baptized anyway.

As Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended“like a dove” and alighted upon Him. And then, His Father spoke: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v 17).

Now, here is my question for you: why was God pleased? Was it because of something Jesus had done? I don’t think so! Up until that point in Jesus’ life, He hadn’t done anything. Zero miracles. No signs!No wonders. He hadn’t preached the Gospel. He hadn’t raised anyone from the dead! Yet here is God, His Father, making a declaration over Jesus for all the world to hear: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

What this tells me is that God loves Jesus: not because of what Jesus did, but because of who He was. God loves you, apart from your performance! Up until that point in His life, Jesus had done nothing supernatural. Yet God still wanted the world to know: This is My beloved Son, and I love Him!

In the same way, God loves you. He loves you: not because of what you’ve done (or haven’t done!); but because of who you are. You are a son! You are a daughter! You are a child ofGod, and He made you to love you.

But I’m Not Jesus!

You might be thinking to yourself, Well of course God loved Jesus! He was perfect! But me…not so much. But here is who Scripture says you are:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. – Gal 3:26

You are a son of God. You are a daughter of God! Not because of your works, but because of your faith.

God is pleased with you: no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you’ve done. He’s not pleased with you because of the works attached to your life, or because of your spotless testimony! He’s pleased with you because, just like Jesus, you are His.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Gal 3:27-29

You were “baptized into Christ” (v 27) when you gave your life to Jesus. God no longer draws a line in the sand between you and the rest of His children based on your genetic makeup or your life experience. “If you are Christ’s…” (v 29), then you are an heir to the promise of God. You are His child. He loves you infinitely! And you will be with Him – face to face – for the rest of time.

You Are the Righteousness of Christ

When Jesus died on the Cross, a great exchange took place:

ForHe made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Cor 5:21

Jesus didn’t just die with your sin, He died as your sin.God made Jesus – who knew no sin – to become sin. He did it for you! Why? That you might become the righteousness ofGod in Christ.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus died as our sin on the Cross.He took on your sin, and gave you His righteousness. When you made a decision to believe in Jesus, you activated that divine exchange in your life. You are no longer sin! You are now righteousness: spotless and blameless before God. Nothing can ever separate you from His love again!

I love that 2 Cor 5:21 says we have “become” the righteousness of God in Christ. Scripture doesn’t just say that we “have” the righteousness of God. If we just had His righteousness, we could lose it. We could leave the house without it and have abad day! If we just had it, someone could take it.

But if we are the righteousness of God in Christ, it’s no longer something we simply have as a personality trait or a possession; it is now an inseparable part of our identity! Do you realize what that means? On your best day – you do everything right, read your Bible, spend time in prayer, pray for your co-workers, and tell people about Jesus –you are the righteousness of Christ. But do you know what else? On your worst day – you wake up too late to pray, skip your Bible reading, cuss at your neighbor, tell off one of your friends,and forget to even think about Jesus– you still are the righteousness ofChrist.

That’s right! On your best day, you are the righteousness of Christ! But even on your worst day, you are still the righteousness of Christ!

Do you know what God sees when He looks at you? Jesus.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears,then you also will appear with Him in glory. – Col 3:1-4

Your life is “hidden with Christ in God” (v 3). When God looks at you, He doesn’t see your sin; He sees His Son! That means you get to “boldly approach” God (Heb 4:16), and never have to fear He will reject you. You always get to know He will love you – without fail, and more than you could ever imagine.  

Working Towards Evangelism

Remember, we are working towards being supernatural evangelists:bold messengers of our faith in everyday life. But before we even talk about sharing the Gospel, you have to know how much God loves you! If you try to show the world His love without first receiving it, you will be justas lost as the people you are trying to reach! But if you simply take time to receive His love – before you do anything else – your entire life and eternal future will change for the better.

What Makes You Righteous?

Your righteousness does not depend on what you do. It depends on who you are.

You were saved, not because of what you did; but because of He in whom you believed:

Forby grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. – Eph 2:8-9

You might read that and say, Aha! See?! I am saved because I believed! I did something to make it happen! But who do you think changed your heart and made you ready to believe?Whose Holy Spirit gave you the strength to give your life to Jesus? You are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Him!

Yes, God has a job for you. We – the church – have work todo! But a relationship with God has to come first. If you do the works to try and gain God’s favor, they will all be worthless (Isaiah 64:6); but if you do the works from a place of knowing you already have God’s love, there will be eternal significance attached to everything you do.

Some Common Questions in Response to Grace

Does This Mean My Works Don’t Matter?

Does the fact that God is already pleased with me mean I shouldn’t do good things? Absolutely not. Scripture says we will be rewarded for our works:

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.– 2 Cor 5:9-11

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. – Rev 22:12

We will be rewarded for our works. God already loves us infinitely; but what you will step into inHeaven, depends on what you allow God to do through you here on earth.

Isn’t This An Excuse to Sin?

Does the fact that God is already pleased with me mean I can do whatever I want, since I already know God will forgive me? After all, what incentive do I have to do the “right thing,” if I know God will forgive me,even if I do the “wrong thing?”  Paul addresses this issue explicitly in Romans 6:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? – Rom 6:1-2

You are dead to sin. Jesus died as your sin on the Cross; and you died in Him! That means you no longer have to struggle with the same lust and desire with which you struggled before you gave your life to Him. Grace – knowing God already loves you – is not an excuse to sin; it is an empowerment against sin.

How Do I Do the Right Thing?

If you’re in a place where you’re struggling to do what God asks you to do, here is what you need to know: God already loves you. He forgives you. And you need to remind yourself that God forgives you until you start to see the fruit of His forgiveness in your life.  

Here is how the Apostle Peter explains it:

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. – 2 Pet 1:5-9

We should all see spiritual fruit in our lives (vv 5-7). If, however, we’re missing the fruit,the answer is not to try harder; it is to remind ourselves that we are forgiven: that God loves us already, even before we get our stuff together.Scripture says that anyone whose life doesn’t bear fruit is not wicked, but rather “shortsighted” (v 9).You don’t have a character deficiency; you just need to be reminded of your identity! When our life doesn’t bear fruit, it simply means we have forgotten that we have already been cleansed from our old sins. And what is the solution, other than reminding ourselves that we have already been forgiven!

So, when you mess up: don’t beat yourself up! Don’t resolve to try harder. Simply remind yourself that you have been forgiven, and let the Holy Spirit do His work through you, like never before.

©Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Spiritual Gifts

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Spiritual Gifts’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 11/25/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

      Spiritual-Gifts-11-25-18

Spiritual Gifts

I believe in miracles. I have seen lives transformed – my own included – by the power of the Cross. I have seen broken bodies healed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Miracles are not an ancient relic: something that happened in the past, but that God no longer does. God is still moving! He is willing to heal you today. He is willing to transform your life when you ask Him!

As believers, it is our responsibility to show the world what God is capable of by exercising what Scripture calls “spiritual gifts:”

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. – 1 Cor 12:4-11

You see, it’s one thing to know that miracles are possible; but it’s something else to see them as part of your daily life. The Apostle Paul lists nine spiritual gifts: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the gift of faith, gifts of healings, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. I believe that all of these categories of miracles are for today: that we should purposefully pursue them as the church!

Earnest Desire

I believe we – as the church – have a responsibility to earnestly desire spiritual gifts:

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. – 1 Cor14:1

God makes these “gifts” available so we can receive them and exercise them and demonstrate His love to people who don’t know Him. Simply knowing these gifts exist is not enough! We have to pursue them so the people around us will know the power and the love of God!

What areas are there in your life where you want to seek God more? What areas are there in your life where you need to seek God more?

Scripture calls us not just to know about spiritual gifts, but to “desire” them. In the original Greek language, to “desire” means to “burn with zeal:” to be heated or to boil with passion for the pursuit of something.[1] We often read about spiritual gifts in church. But do we really desire them?

What would the church look like if we burned with passion to see God put His glory on display? What would our lives look like if we burned with passion for the people around us to experience a miracle so they would know God is real?

Spiritual gifts are available; but we have to desire them! God has already given them to us; but we have to reach out and take what He has already promised is ours!

Asking for More

I am in a restless state. I am so grateful for what God has already done in my life, in my family, and in our church. But I am desiring more. I want to see Him move like never before; and that means I have to desire God like never before! I have to ask; and I know He will answer!

Here are some areas where I am contending for more:

1) Healing

I want to see more creative miracles. Have you ever seen one? I have. Nothing refreshes your faith more than seeing God heal someone from a life-altering condition or disease. Last weekend, we prayed for a woman in our Brooklyn service. Due to a struggle with multiple sclerosis, she couldn’t see out of her left eye. But we stretched out our hands and started to pray for her as a church; and as we did, God began to move. Before long, she could see shapes and colors. She could start to make out images, when she could see nothing before! She didn’t go home with 20/20 vision, but I believe God started something in her that He is going to finish, and she will see perfectly out of that left eye!

God is willing to heal to prove He is real. Jesus is willing to heal through us (the church) to prove He is real to others:

Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when [John the Baptist] had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” – Matt 11:1-3

John’s prayer was, Jesus, if it’s really You, tell me! Look at Jesus’ response. He didn’t have to tell John anything; He was willing to show Him who He was by the power of God:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” – Matt 11:1-3

We spend so much time in church trying to tell people Jesus is real, and so little time showing them. Yet God’s reminder to us today is, if we simply ask for Him to show up, He will! He will demonstrate He is real to the people around us in ways that cannot be denied.

When was the last time you experienced a miracle in your life? When was the last time you saw a miracle in your church? When we start to walk as Jesus calls us to walk, the whole city will notice:

At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him. – Mk 1:32-34

When people so much as heard what Jesus was doing, “the whole city was gathered together at the door.” Isn’t it time for the church to stop talking, and start doing?

2) Salvation

I want to see more saved souls. Now more than ever, I want to win the lost at any cost. We will be starting 2019 with a series on evangelism: equipping the body of Christ to go out and share the Gospel with people in our everyday lives.

I love healing. I love spiritual gifts! At the same time, there is nothing more miraculous than a soul saved. Did you know that spiritual gifts are resources God has given you to reach people who don’t know Him? The Apostle Paul taught the early church about spiritual gifts; and then he reminded the church why those gifts were so important:

Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. – 1 Cor 14:12

Seeing a miracle refreshes your faith and reminds you God is real! But spiritual gifts really are not about you. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to demonstrate the power of God to people who don’t know Him: to prove He is real by what He is willing to do! Now more than ever, my prayer is less God, show me…; and more, God, show others through me….!

3) The Presence of God

I want to experience the life-altering presence of God like never before. I pray people would encounter God’s presence in our church services. More than that, I pray each and every single believer would encounter God in his or her daily life!

The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel encountered God’s presence constantly. Every time he did, the presence of God was so powerful that Ezekiel responded the same way: he fell on his face!

So I arose and went out into the plain, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face. Then the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and spoke with me… – Ezek 3:23-24

Ezekiel’s encounter with the glory of God was so powerful that he literally could not stand. Were it not for the Holy Spirit picking him up and setting him on his feet, he would have stayed on the ground!

When was the last time you fell on your face during worship? How long has it been since you were unable to stand because of the weight of the glory of the Lord?

I believe this is something all of God’s people are meant to experience. Look at how God showed up when His people first constructed the temple at Jerusalem:

And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. – 1 Kings 8:10-11

God’s promise for every worship gathering is, I will show up!! We should never show up, and ask Him to show up, and then act like nothing will happen. We should expect Him to show up in such a way that lives are forever transformed by the power and presence of God! The presence of God should move you! His presence should make you so weak in the knees that you stumble and fall. If you’re not there every time you worship, ask God for more!

It’s Time

We have work ahead of us as a church. If people are going to be healed, saved, and transformed by the presence of God everywhere we go, it all starts with cultivating a desire to see God do more in and through us.

Let’s get out of our comfort zone. Let’s refuse to settle for business as usual. Let’s contend to seek God for more, like never before!

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Greek zeloo (Strong’s G2206): To burn with zeal. To be heated or to boil with passion for the pursuit of either bad or good. To STRIVE after. To exert one’s self for another.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 10/28/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

The Holy Spirit in You

When you gave your life to Jesus, God gave you His Holy Spirit as a guarantee:

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. – 2 Cor 1:20-21

His Holy Spirit is a guarantee that when you die, you are going to Heaven to be with Jesus (see John 14:1-5). His Holy Spirit is also a guarantee that while you are still alive, you will live a supernatural life.

You are filled with the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead!

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead gives life to your mortal body – Romans 8:11

That means you get to pray the same prayers Jesus prayed – heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons (Matt 10:8) – and expect exactly the same results!

If you believe in Jesus, you already have His Holy Spirit in you. But did you know there is more?

There Is More

There is an experience that is separate and distinct from salvation called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Here is the best way I know how to explain it.

Imagine I have two sponges. They are both the same brand, and brand new: completely identical right out of the packaging. Now imagine I take one of those sponges and leave it out on the counter for several days. It will still be a sponge! But it will be bone dry. Imagine, on the other hand, I take another one of those sponges and submerge it in a giant bucket of water. Picture the sponge coming up out of the water, absolutely dripping. It is now soaking wet. Wherever that sponge goes, it leaves a trail of moisture. I can’t use the first (dry) sponge to clean anything; but I can use the second (wet) sponge to take care of business!

This is the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Every believer has the Holy Spirit in him/her; but not every believer chooses (or even knows to choose!) to be baptized in His presence. Some of us are walking around – bone dry – wondering why we don’t feel the presence of God, and why our prayers aren’t effective. Others are so saturated with His presence that we leave a trail of His glory everywhere we go!

Here is what Scripture says about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. We are going to work through the Book of Acts, and the examples will get more concrete as we go. The first several Scriptures will illustrate our invitation to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The remaining Scriptures will show us how to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 6, as the church was multiplying, the early church leaders needed help:

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” – Acts 6:1-4

The church leaders needed people who would be powerful and effective. So here are the qualifications they asked for in potential employees: “Seek out…seven men…full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v 3). Full of the Holy Spirit.

If there was no such thing as the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the early church leaders would have simply said, “Any Christian will do!” But they didn’t; they specified they needed men who were full of the Holy Spirit. If we all had as much of the Holy Spirit as we would ever receive at the moment we got saved, their search would have been over. But it wasn’t; they needed men who were full of the Holy Spirit.

And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. – Acts 6:5-7

Don’t you want to be used by God like that? Don’t you want to be a believer who not only has the Holy Spirit in you, but also has the Holy Spirit working through you?

The Apostle Paul, writer of 13 out of 27 books in the New Testament, knew the importance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” – Acts 19:1-2

This – by the way – is where a lot of the church is today! We believe in Jesus, but we’re not so sure about the Holy Spirit. We get nervous whenever anybody talks about Him. We’re worried the Holy Spirit will make us fall on the floor, laugh a little too hard, or do something weird! So we stay in our dry Christian lifestyle, instead of pursuing the greater things God has for us!

And [Paul] said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all. – Acts 19:3-7

Look at this progression. These were already believers. They had already been baptized “into John’s baptism” (v 3). They knew they were sinners in need of a Savior, but they didn’t know where to go from there. So, Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus.

But he didn’t stop there! There was still more God wanted them to have! So Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied!

Wow! Have you ever spoken in tongues? Have you ever prophesied? If the answer is no, there is more God wants you to have! He wants you to be baptized in His Holy Spirit: speaking in tongues, and prophesying!

The word “upon[1]” (v 6, above) is the same preposition used at Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16. Jesus was already fully God! He didn’t need to repent of any sin. Yet something powerful still happened at His baptism.

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. – Matt 3:16

God wants you to be saturated in His presence in exactly the same way! So why would you stop short of everything He wants you to have?

The Day of Pentecost

The early church was filled with the Holy Spirit as they sat in the upper room:

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4

They already believed in Jesus! They had already repented of their sins! But before they went out and did what God called them to do (Luke 24:49), they needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came, and they spoke in tongues!

Do you know what I find most encouraging about all this? Scripture says the Holy Spirit came. He descended like a dove (Matt 3:16) upon Jesus. Then He rushed in from Heaven on the early church (Acts 2, above). And after He came, He never left! Scripture never speaks of the Holy Spirit withdrawing His presence from the church: the body of Jesus Christ! He’s still here! And He wants you to let Him in to your life!

As the Gospel spread, so did the baptism in the Holy Spirit:

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 8:14-19

Again, here was a group of disciples who had received the word of God. They believed in Jesus! Yet the Holy Spirit “had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v 16)! They were already saved! But there was more God wanted them to have. So God used Peter and John to get them baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Note that Simon saw something (v 18)! That means that when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, something happened. There was a dead giveaway that these people were no longer the same.

Final example:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” – Acts 10:44-47

When Peter preached, the Holy Spirit fell! Nobody had to lay hands on anyone at all! They spoke in tongues, and then they were baptized in water.

Here’s what we have seen in all these examples:

1) The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate and distinct experience from salvation. These were believers: people who already believed in Jesus. Yet God wanted them to have more!

2) There was evidence. As people received the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues. Simon (Acts 10:18) was not even a believer; yet he saw something that was evidence of the power of God being poured out on the people present.

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in tongues is the Scriptural evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. That statement brings about a very logical question: Can I be baptized in the Holy Spirit if I don’t speak in tongues?

I was baptized in the Holy Spirit over a decade ago. I came up for prayer after a Friday night service. Someone prayed over me, and nothing happened. But I didn’t give up. I didn’t lose hope! The following Sunday, I was sitting in my seat at church during worship, and the pastor said, “Start speaking in your heavenly language.” I opened my mouth, and tongues came out!

I remember praying for a young woman in our church to be baptized in the Holy Spirit several years ago. She came up for prayer after service and asked for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I laid my hands on her and started to pray. But half-way through the prayer, I heard the Holy Spirit say, Stop. So I stopped. I said “Amen,” and asked her to return to her seat. She was puzzled. Heck, I was puzzled! Why wouldn’t God want us to contend for the baptism in the Holy Spirit then and there, in that moment? Minutes later, I looked over at her: she was laughing and speaking in tongues! How good is God?!

How many of us get discouraged because we pray for the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but we’re afraid nothing is going to happen! Don’t let fear of what is (or isn’t) going to take place keep you from having everything God wants you to have! Sometimes healing happens in an instant; other times healing takes time to unfold. We should always pray for the instant miracle, yet leave room for God to do a gradual work if that is the path He chooses! Why should praying in tongues be any different?

Also, remember that speaking in tongues is evidence; it’s not the main event! Tongues is like the receipt you get at a store. You don’t go to buy a receipt; you go to buy something else! Yet your receipt is evidence, in the event that anyone ever calls your former purchase into question.

There will be moments when Satan tries to lie to you, and tell you that you haven’t been baptized in the Holy Spirit. And that is when you open your mouth, and start speaking in tongues.

If you don’t speak in tongues right away, don’t get discouraged. Keep pressing in. Keep asking. Don’t give up! It might happen right away. We’ll pray for it to happen right away! But it might also take some time. And we have to be okay with that.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for [e]bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” – Lk 11:9-13

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Greek epi, Strong’s G1909