“Itchy Ears Want Works”

As one who is passionate about missions it is so easy for me to leave the gospel of grace and move to works oriented motivational techniques to stir peoples hearts about getting the gospel to the unreached. This is short sighted on my part and is something I need reminding of often. Only the gospel of grace motivates rightly and for the long term!

Through the message below the Lord was gracious to me once again…may the gospel be first and foremost in my heart and words. Let us press on together to keep our gaze upon Jesus…the rest will follow!

Thank you Joel Brooks and Gospel Coalition!


Itchy Ears Want Works

By Joel Brooks

I can remember the exact place where I was standing, the music that was playing in the background, and seeing the group still praying and weeping by the side door, when I heard words that knocked me off balance. It was 10 years ago, and I had just finished preaching when a young woman came up to me and asked if we could talk. She was emotionally moved from the sermon, but what she said surprised me. “Joel, these past few weeks I have never felt so challenged and stirred, but after listening to you, I feel that if I don’t go on the mission field or go and do something wild for God, then I must not believe in the gospel. Is that what you’re saying?”

I was devastated. Her words crushed me. I said to her, “No, of course not! We are all saved by grace through faith alone. That is the gospel by which we are saved. God is never impressed with our efforts.”

I reassured her the best I could, but once she left, I quickly went over the message I had just preached. Did I say those things? Where did she get that idea? Yes, I had stepped on a few toes and said some things about not giving in to the American dream and how we all need to get up off our pews and live for the Lord, but I never said that we weren’t saved by faith alone. I thought, Of course we are saved by grace through faith! Of course our works can never justify us! Every Christian knows that! But was I faithfully preaching this? Was this my focus? I couldn’t get this question out of my mind.

Tempted by Apathy

When pastors plead for their congregations to shake off their apathy and finally take action, this attempt to motivate can lead us to abandon the gospel if only for a moment. I have sought the Lord to repent of my own misplaced emphasis on what we need to do to prove ourselves as real Christians. I need to constantly remind myself of the gospel. Daily I struggle to put to death the desires I have to show myself as wild for Jesus and the impulse to do something great for him in order to win his approval. Romans 4:5 is the medicine I take daily—“And to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . .” (italics mine).

What powerful, life-altering words these are! What lavish grace! Paul is saying that the one who does not go on the mission field, does not give to the homeless, does not tithe, does not throw away his TV, does not tutor at an inner-city school but believes in Christ who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Belief is all that is required for the ungodly. How amazing is that?!

This is the medicine we all need and what I must constantly preach from the pulpit—to Christians and non-Christians alike. Otherwise, no matter how strong my words are, they will only inspire people momentarily, never sustain them. I can guilt people into giving or use inspirational stories to move them, but without the steady drumbeat of the gospel, I am leading people into a works-based righteousness no matter how good my intentions. And sure, good works will follow, but not out of a heart of gratitude and worship to Jesus.

Gospel Foundations

The apostle Paul understood this. Writing his letter to the Romans, he addresses those who were already Christians, yet he still painstakingly walks through the gospel at the front end of the letter—not the end. At the end of his letter in chapter 15, he finally mentions that it is his hope that they help him in his mission to Spain (Rom 15:24). Do you see the flow of Paul’s letter? First, it’s the gospel—we are not saved by works, but by grace through faith alone. This then becomes our fuel for service. Once this gospel has been chewed on, every need to perform has been crucified, and every potential boast has been buried, then the end result will be living a missional life. The foundation of our service must be the gospel. Otherwise we serve with false motives.

The messages that concern me today are often filled with inspirational stories about people exercising extreme faith and enjoying miracle after miracle. But these have almost a propaganda feel and can be terribly misleading on many levels. They lead people into thinking that anyone who wishes to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind you own affairs” (1 Thes 4:11) is living a sinful life. Or to give your life towards being an honest accountant for the glory of God isn’t worthy service for Jesus. These stories can sometimes mislead people into thinking that the greater the act, the more intimacy with Jesus you will feel and the greater glory Jesus receives.

I have known quite a number of missionaries who have returned home defeated and discouraged after serving only a couple of years on the field. Several of them have told me they returned because when they initially decided to do this mission work, they assumed their faith would grow exponentially. They thought they would become spiritual giants and have a closer relationship with God. But after two years of giving up everything and exhausting themselves with service, they realized how mistaken they were. These actions didn’t bring them any closer to Jesus. Yes, they were missionaries, but they had built their lives on the sinking sand of works and not the gospel. They didn’t understand that Jesus loves them fully because of what he did—not because of what they were doing. As a result, after a couple of years, these missionaries had nothing that could sustain them. Service had become their idol, and now it was demanding its sacrifice. They returned home broken and burned out. I fear that some modern preaching is actually pushing people to serve with this type of false motivation.

Yet this is what so much of preaching today aspires to be, and preachers are reluctant to change because it works—at least it temporarily inspires and draws crowds. Perhaps this is what Paul warned Timothy about when he wrote 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

There are many ways to scratch itchy ears. Most usually assume that itchy ears want nothing more than a feel-good easy religion that is soft on sin. Yet this has not been my experience, and it rarely was Paul’s. Paul spent much time and energy fighting anyone that would add a single work to his gospel. He fought the party of circumcision, the legalists, and anyone else who would add anything to his gospel of grace. The itchy ears of his day wanted law. They wanted to be told what works they could perform to make God love them, or what they could give in order to pat themselves on the back and distinguish themselves from nominal Christians. Both Paul and Jesus saved their harshest rebukes for people like the Pharisees, the respected radicals of their day who were so righteous they’d even tithe their herbs!

Beware Results

I confessed earlier that there were times in my past that I preached works while just assuming grace. The results that I saw from this were substantial. People loved it! I first thought that sermons like this would turn people off and drive them away, but how wrong I was. Especially younger Christians cannot get enough of it. It grieves me to look back and think of those times I looked out at the masses, got caught up in the moment, and briefly abandoned the gospel in order to scratch some itchy ears.

I am probably not alone in this. Pastors, do not forget the gospel in your call for discipleship. I know you believe the gospel, but make sure you never stop preaching it. Make sure you never add anything to this gospel no matter how much you want your people to get up off their pews and do something. Make no mistake: I am not saying that you should let your congregation keep on sinning in order that grace may abound. In fact, I hope you passionately stir up you congregation to give to the poor, serve on the mission field, or give up their American dream. I preach this almost every Sunday and will continue to do so. What I am saying is that we must make the gospel of grace central to this message and resist any urge to add a single work in order to stir up our apathetic congregation. We have to work hard to guard the good deposit of the gospel given to us. Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:

I would remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Joel Brooks is the pastor of Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Let Us Heed Christ’s Call!

Let us heed Christ’s call to take the gospel to the unreached who have no opportunity to hear the good news unless someone goes to them! They are calling like the Macedonian of Acts 16:9, “Come over and help us…” . Will you Pray? Give? Go?

From missionary C.T. Studd (1860-1931):

“Yes, when? When indeed shall we see a real Church Militant here upon the earth? Christs call is to feed the hungry, not the full; to save the lost, not the stiff-necked; not to call the scoffers, but sinners to repentance; not to build and furnish comfortable chapels, churches, and cathedrals at home in which to rock Christian professors to sleep by means of clever essays, stereotyped prayers and artistic musical performances, but to raise living churches of souls among the destitute, to capture men from the devils clutches and snatch them from the very jaws of hell, to enlist and train them for Jesus, and make them into an Almighty Army of God. But this can only be accomplished by a red-hot, unconventional, unfettered Holy Ghost religion, where neither Church nor State, neither man nor traditions are worshipped or preached, but only Christ and Him crucified. Not to confess Christ by fancy collars, church steeples or rich embroidered altar-cloths, but by reckless sacrifice and heroism in the foremost trenches…”

Inspiring Missionary Slogans


These quotes stir my heart…may they do so with you! May we all be doers of God’s Word and not hearers only!

From “Mission’s Mobilizer”:

“I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light”John Keith Falconer

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply” — Hudson Taylor [ video ]

“God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him” — Hudson Taylor

“The Great Commission1 is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed” — Hudson Taylor

“If I had 1,000 lives, I’d give them all for China” — Hudson Taylor

“God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on him.” — Hudson Taylor, missionary to China [ video ]

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” — William Carey, who is called the father of modern missions [ more info ]

“To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.” — William Carey, pioneer missionary to India

“Is not the commission of our Lord still binding upon us? Can we not do more than now we are doing?” — William Carey

“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.”Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” — Jim Elliot, missionary martyr who lost his life in the late 1950’s trying to reach the Auca Indians of Ecuador [ info on video ]

“We are debtors to every man to give him the gospel in the same measure in which we have received it” — P.F. Bresee, founder of the Church of the Nazarene

“In the vast plain to the north I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been”Robert Moffat, who inspired David Livingstone

“If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?” — David Livingstone

“Sympathy is no substitute for action.” — David Livingstone, missionary to Africa

“Can’t you do just a little bit more?” — J.G. Morrison pleading with Nazarenes in the 1930’s Great Depression to support their missionaries

“Lost people matter to God, and so they must matter to us.” — Keith Wright

“The Bible is not the basis of missions; missions is the basis of the Bible” — Ralph Winter, missiologist

On the importance of mission education: “God cannot lead you on the basis of information you do not have” — Ralph Winter, missiologist

“Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”C.T. Studd

“If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” — C.T. Studd

“Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible.” — C.T. Studd

“No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.” — Oswald J. Smith [ more on Oswald Smith ]

“Any church that is not seriously involved in helping fulfill the Great Commission has forfeited its biblical right to exist.” — Oswald J. Smith

“The mission of the church is missions” — Oswald J. Smith

“We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.” — Oswald J. Smith

“This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!” — Keith Green

“There is nothing in the world or the Church — except the church’s disobedience — to render the evangelization of the world in this generation an impossibility.” — Robert Speer, leader in Student Volunteer Movement

“If God calls you to be a missionary, don’t stoop to be a king” — Jordan Grooms (variations of this also credited to G. K. Chesterson, Thomas Carlyle and Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

“If you found a cure for cancer, wouldn’t it be inconceivable to hide it from the rest of mankind? How much more inconceivable to keep silent the cure from the eternal wages of death.” — Dave Davidson

“World missions was on God’s mind from the beginning.” — Dave Davidson

“In our lifetime, wouldn’t it be sad if we spent more time washing dishes or swatting flies or mowing the yard or watching television than praying for world missions?” — Dave Davidson

“Let my heart be broken with the things that break God’s heart” — Bob Pierce, World Vision founder

“No reserves. No retreats. No regrets”William Borden

“If ten men are carrying a log — nine of them on the little end and one at the heavy end — and you want to help, which end will you lift on?” — William Borden, as he reflected on the numbers of Christian workers in the U.S. as compared to those among unreached peoples in China

“The reason some folks don’t believe in missions is that the brand of religion they have isn’t worth propagating.” — unknown

When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the ship captain tried to turn him back, saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” To that, Calvert replied, “We died before we came here.”

“Someone asked Will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved? It is more a question with me whether we — who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not — can be saved.” — Charles Spurgeon

“The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time” — Carl F. H. Henry

“Our God of Grace often gives us a second chance, but there is no second chance to harvest a ripe crop.” — Kurt von Schleicher [ Apple pickers’ parable ]

“Missions is the overflow of our delight in God because missions is the overflow of God’s delight in being God.” — John Piper

“To belong to Jesus is to embrace the nations with Him.” — John Piper

“God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with His, and, for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose.” — John Piper

“Go, send, or disobey.” — John Piper

“You can give without loving. But you cannot love without giving.” — Amy Carmichael, missionary to India

“Only as the church fulfills her missionary obligation does she justify her existence.” — Unknown

“As long as there are millions destitute of the Word of God and knowledge of Jesus Christ, it will be impossible for me to devote time and energy to those who have both.” — J. L. Ewen

“The command has been to ‘go,’ but we have stayed — in body, gifts, prayer and influence. He has asked us to be witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth … but 99% of Christians have kept puttering around in the homeland.” — Robert Savage, Latin American Mission

“People who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives … and when the bubble has burst, they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.” — Nate Saint, missionary martyr [ devotional thoughts ]

“We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.” — John Stott

“Believers who have the gospel keep mumbling it over and over to themselves. Meanwhile, millions who have never heard it once fall into the flames of eternal hell without ever hearing the salvation story.” — K.P. Yohannan, founder of Gospel for Asia Bible Society

“Tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ.”Francis Xavier, missionary to India, the Philippines, and Japan

“The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.” — Mike Stachura

“The true greatness of any church in not how many it seats but how many it sends!” — Unknown

‘Not called!’ did you say?
‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say.
Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army

“It is not in our choice to spread the gospel or not. It is our death if we do not.” — Peter Taylor Forsyth

“If God’s love is for anybody anywhere, it’s for everybody everywhere.”Edward Lawlor, Nazarene General Superintendent

“Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is — where life and death, sin and grace, Heaven and Hell converge.” — Robert C. Shannon

“People who don’t believe in missions have not read the New Testament. Right from the beginning Jesus said the field is the world. The early church took Him at His word and went East, West, North and South.” — J. Howard Edington

“It is possible for the most obscure person in a church, with a heart right toward God, to exercise as much power for the evangelization of the world, as it is for those who stand in the most prominent positions.”John R. Mott

“In no other way can the believer become as fully involved with God’s work, especially the work of world evangelism, as in intercessory prayer.” — Dick Eastman, president of Every Home for Christ (formerly World Literature Crusade)

“What’s your dream and to what corner of the missions world will it take you?” — Eleanor Roat, missions mobilizer

“We can reach our world, if we will. The greatest lack today is not people or funds. The greatest need is prayer.” — Wesley Duewel, head of OMS International

“Love is the root of missions; sacrifice is the fruit of missions” — Roderick Davis

“Missionary zeal does not grow out of intellectual beliefs, nor out of theological arguments, but out of love”Roland Allen

“I have but one passion: It is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ.” — Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf

“If you take missions out of the Bible, you won’t have anything left but the covers”Nina Gunter

“If the Church is ‘in Christ,’ she is involved in mission. Her whole existence then has a missionary character. Her conduct as well as her words will convince the unbelievers and put their ignorance and stupidity to silence.” — David Bosch

“Missions is not the ‘ministry of choice’ for a few hyperactive Christians in the church. Missions is the purpose of the church.” — Unknown

“The concern for world evangelization is not something tacked on to a man’s personal Christianity, which he may take or leave as he chooses. It is rooted in the character of the God who has come to us in Christ Jesus. Thus, it can never be the province of a few enthusiasts, a sideline or a specialty of those who happen to have a bent that way. It is the distinctive mark of being a Christian.” — James S. Stewart

“The average pastor views his church as a local church with a missions program; while he ought to realize that if he is in fact pastoring a church, it is to be a global church with a missions purpose.” — Unknown

“The Christian is not obedient unless he is doing all in his power to send the Gospel to the heathen world.”A. B. Simpson [ missionary hymns by Simpson ]

“Prayer is the mighty engine that is to move the missionary work.” — A.B. Simpson

“The will of God — nothing less, nothing more, nothing else.” — F. E. Marsh (also attributed to Bobby Richardson)

“If the Great Commission is true, our plans are not too big; they are too small.” — Pat Morley

“If missions languish, it is because the whole life of godliness is feeble. The command to go everywhere and preach to everybody is not obeyed until the will is lost by self-surrender in the will of God. Living, praying, giving and going will always be found together.” — Arthur T. Pierson

“The history of missions is the history of answered prayer.” — Samuel Zwemer

“‘Go ye’ is as much a part of Christ’s Gospel as ‘Come unto Me.’ You are not even a Christian until you have honestly faced your responsibility in regard to the carrying of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.” — J. Stuart Holden

“A congregation that is not deeply and earnestly involved in the worldwide proclamation of the gospel does not understand the nature of salvation.” — Ted Engstrom, World Vision

“To stay here and disobey God — I can’t afford to take the consequence. I would rather go and obey God than to stay here and know that I disobeyed.” — Amanda Berry Smith

“I believe that in each generation God has called enough men and women to evangelize all the yet unreached tribes of the earth. It is not God who does not call. It is man who will not respond!” — Isobel Kuhn, missionary to China and Thailand

“God is a God of missions. He wills missions. He commands missions. He demands missions. He made missions possible through His Son. He made missions actual in sending the Holy Spirit.” — George W. Peters

“The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.” — Unknown

“The Church must send or the church will end.” — Mendell

Compiled at: http://home.snu.edu/~HCULBERT/slogans.htm

A Challenge to Every Christian by Mrs. C.T. Studd

A Challenge to Every Christian by Mrs. C.T. Studd

“Say not–Is the thing possible?

But–God is omnipotent!
Say not–Look what I’d lose!
But–See what I’d gain!
Say not–Have I the wisdom?
But–Am I a fool? I Cor. iii. 18.
Say not–I might lose my life!
But–I must save their souls!
Say not–Should I leave my possessions?
But–Christ’s my inheritance!
Say not–Is it the right time?
But–Christ’s coming soon!
Say not–What salary shall I draw?
But–The Bible’s my cheque book!
Say not–I fear the hardships!
But–I shall reign if I suffer!
Say not–Who’s on the Committee?
But–God’s our Director!
Say not–Shall I not starve?
But–God feeds the birds!
Say not–I have no talents!
But–Christ is my wisdom!
Say not–Have I the faith?
But–Doubting is sin!
Say not–I am not eloquent!
But–Who made man’s mouth?
Say not–I don’t want to be fanatical!
But–Make me a flame of fire!
Say not–I am a doctor. Who’ll build and support my hospital?
But–I trust God for all!
Say not–I fear the devil!
But–With the sling of faith and a smooth stone from the Book, I’ll knock Goliath’s head off!
Say not–Good-bye (in tears), I’ll soon come back again!
But–I’m off to the Devil’s Den to turn the Devil out! How lucky I am! I’ve got my “Blue” at last! Certainly I am to be congratulated. Thanks awfully!


Up, for this is the day: is not the Lord gone out before thee?”
Up! Up! Ye Baraks.
Up! Up! Ye Deborahs.
Up! Up! to this work of the Lord.”

–From “With C.T. Studd In Congo Forests” by Norman Grubb, Chapter 27 quoting one of “Mother” Studd’s missionary pamphlets printed in the early 1920′s to gather workers for the “Heart of Africa Mission”

HT: Women of Christianity