The Beginning of Birth Pangs?
by Richard W. Greene, President of The Keystone Project
Get ready! There’s more to come!
Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, records one of the most significant and profound bodies of teaching on the kingdom of God in the Scriptures. Here we see Jesus teaching His disciples the principles of kingdom living in a passage known as the Sermon on the Mount. He concluded His message with a key, foundational parable of the kingdom – The Two Foundations.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27, NASB)
This is a primary parable of the kingdom because it clearly and emphatically states the secret to living a sustainable, successful kingdom life – do what Jesus says! It is not enough for us to hear and understand the commands of Christ. We must “act on them.” The parable introduces two men who have both heard the teachings of Jesus, but only one of them acts on them. Jesus likened this to building a house. We are building the house we live in – it is called our lives. We build our lives on what we do, not on what we know or even on what we believe. In the parable, our actions are the foundation upon which we are building. Notice that the foundation of our lives and churches is not our theology or statements of belief (although these are important), not our church denominations, not our worship services, not what we preach, and not what we sing. It is what we do. Jesus warned that a house built on the foundation of not doing what He has said is like a house built on the sand. Such a foundation is weak, shifting, and porous. It cannot withstand the ravages of the storm. The foundation of the rock of Jesus’ commands, however, is immovable, deep, and secure, and it withstands any storm.
Let’s highlight a few things from this parable: (1) you are building your life and ministry on a foundation; (2) you build on that foundation either by acting on (doing) what Jesus has commanded or by not acting on (not doing) what Jesus has commanded; and therefore, (3) we must not only know what Jesus has commanded, but we must do what He has commanded, or else what we have built will fall.
Well, brothers and sisters, the bad news is that the storm is upon us! With sudden swiftness, the coronavirus storm has slammed against and swept away almost everything we have built for our lives and ministries. What is left standing in the churches? Our buildings are empty. Our pulpits are silent. Our worship and fellowship are digitized. Our programs and productions are closed. Even though some of us seek to maintain these things online, safe distancing ourselves, if we are honest, the online version is a shell of what we had. When this is over, will we simply return to what was? Surely, the Lord is speaking to us in this pandemic. Can you hear Him? What is He saying? What does He want His people to do when this subsides?
The good news is that we have plenty of time to reflect and consider not only what we have built but also what foundation we have built on. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gave His church a command, which is its enduring missional foundation, upon which every church must be built:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NASB)
This is the mission Jesus commanded, and it is still not completed. Why? Could it be that we have prioritized other things more than this mission? This is reflected not in what we believe or teach but in what we do. There are still more than 7,000 people groups in the world that have not been reached with the gospel of the kingdom, despite the fact that we have everything we need to reach them. If Coca-Cola can reach them, why can’t we? Perhaps we are less motivated than Coca-Cola. This generation, especially, is without excuse before God and the nations who remain lost. Have we acted on this command by going and doing it? Is this our true foundation? If so, then nothing of critical importance in your church has changed in the midst of this crisis. You can determine your foundation by what has endured the storm. What do you have left?
I fear that too many of us are waiting for the storm to pass so that we can resume what we were doing before it hit. Is this pandemic just an interruption to be endured and then ignored? Is it not a warning? Brothers and sisters, do you not know that there are greater storms on the horizon? This pandemic is likely a part of what Jesus described as “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8). There is more to come. If you simply rebuild what could not endure this pandemic, how will it endure even harsher storms? Let us not be foolish in these times but wise, understanding “what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).
I have read reports and updates from many leaders, churches, ministries, and denominations, and it is eerie to realize that in a moment God took away from us everything that was not missional. What we have built for ourselves in the church is gone. It seems as though the Lord is kicking us out of our Jerusalem as He did the early church (Acts 8:1-4). They had the greatest megachurch in history, including anointed apostolic preaching, teaching, and leadership; dynamic and inspirational worship; powerful times of prayer; and favor with all the people. BUT … they were not on the mission of the Great Commission. They were not going to the nations. They were simply going to church in Jerusalem! Seeing this, God unleashed a violent and deadly persecution against them. Two thousand disciples died in that persecution, and many others fled the city and surrounding region. Think of it. They lost their jobs, their homes, their families, and their fellowship in a church that they loved and that had met their needs. They had to leave the only church paradigm and experience they knew. Many were hunted, arrested, and imprisoned. BUT … as they went, they preached the gospel of the kingdom, healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed the hungry; and that is how the missionary movement began (Acts 8:4). God took away all they loved and knew and gave them the nations!
Here in Keystone, we are under lockdown, unable to even visit one another. Our corporate worship and fellowship are via Zoom. I have not held my grandchildren in over a month! But the mission continues. Nothing can stop it. No storm can destroy the mission Jesus gave us to do. In many respects, it’s all we have because … it’s all we’ve ever had! The mission – what Jesus commanded – is our foundation, and what we have built on that foundation is not only weathering this storm, but it is even growing and multiplying in the midst of it, both locally and internationally. When a storm comes, you prepare for it. You put away outside furniture, close windows and doors, set aside back-up food and water, and get ready. During this storm, knowing that other storms will come, we have prepared for them by developing several new missionary initiatives that cannot be stopped by any pandemic, such as The Keystone Project Online Academy; the beginning of regular international webinars; a Mission Partners Program; weekly video devotionals; regular written devotionals going out to thousands of people; a Teacher Training Program to train, certify, and empower many others to teach our lessons; deeper outreaches to native peoples in the Americas; and improvements in our Summer Discipleship Internship Program.
Locally, while in isolation, we have made masks for our community, the Native American reservations, and medical facilities that are in dire need of them. We have distributed food to the elderly and others. We have also provided winter clothing to the homeless in Rapid City. In addition, we are housing and discipling four Native American men, one of whom was homeless and living on the streets a few weeks ago, and another who came to us from prison. We are sharing with one another, praying for one another, loving one another, and worshipping together, even though we cannot gather physically. I am getting excellent reports from many Keystone Project graduates in the US and abroad who are engaged in serving those who are suffering during this time as well. The mission is as contagious as the coronavirus – maybe even more so!
Our city mission teams are still on mission even as they are unable to freely move about. This is because they have built lasting missional relationships with the people around them. This is all in addition to the regular live training events we will continue to conduct when we are able and our missional business of operating a hotel, which seeks to bless its community and customers. All of these adjustments to the storm are missional adjustments because that is our foundation – the mission.
What will you do? Will you simply reconstruct the house that just fell in the storm? Can you rebuild the same house to withstand the next storm, even though it is still built on a foundation of sand? Forgive me for speaking so bluntly, but isn’t it stupid to build a house on sand (isn’t that the meaning of “foolish”)? Has not God shown you that His church is not a building nor simply a meeting in a building, but that it is a mission to the lost, hungry, poor, homeless, addicted, oppressed, sick, imprisoned, and those who are in despair? The question is not “Can’t we do both?” The question is, “What is your foundation?” Is your real foundation your weekly meetings in a building and your programs? How is that working for you in the midst of this storm, and how will it work for you in the next storm that is sure to come your way? I urge you, pastors, please use this time to plan for the reopening of your churches on the rock of the missional foundation Jesus commanded. Don’t just ride out the storm and rebuild what has fallen. Lay a new foundation for a new work of the Holy Spirit.
Personally, I am excited to see the things we have been teaching and calling for come to pass. I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and the physical and economic suffering of this pandemic, as I am sure many members of the church in Acts were during the persecution that scattered them into the nations. But I know that this is a true kairos moment for God’s people. A great awakening is here! The Keystone Project will respond to the best of our ability and, by God’s grace, enter fully into this moment by acting on the things that Jesus commanded. We will continue to “Go … and make disciples of all the nations,” even if we cannot travel to them. The mission always finds a way. I know that things will change, and I pray that they do! We do not know what the future holds, but we know our foundation is sure and whatever storms may come, the house will stand because it was built on that which cannot be destroyed!
Seize this moment! As we said in our last devotional, don’t waste this epidemic. This is an awesome, maybe once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead your people into a powerful change of the Spirit. You may never have such an opportunity again. I urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, consider rebuilding your churches and lives on the foundation of the commands of the Lord, especially the command to make disciples of all the nations!
In Jesus’ name, amen!
ABOUT THE KEYSTONE PROJECT
The Keystone Project is a global missions network of churches and leaders committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation.