By Mike Baker
The idea for the theme of this year’s North American Christian Convention, We Speak, started as all good things do—with an inspirational tug at my heart during a morning devotion.
My reading that day was Acts 4. You’ll recall that this chapter gives us insight into the trial of Peter and John, which resulted from a miraculous healing they had performed the day before. In my quiet time, I could not help but notice that there was a lot of talking going on. All the people of Jerusalem were conversing and conjecturing about the healing. The Jewish leaders were considering options and debating how they might silence the apostles. Meanwhile, the apostles were using this event to declare to all who would listen the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
During the course of this conversation, the Jewish leaders jailed the apostles, interrogated them, threatened them, and finally warned them to stop talking about Jesus at all. But Peter and John knew that silence was not an option for them. With matter-of-fact simplicity, they boldly replied in Acts 4:20: “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
When I read this fearless and dangerous reply, I knew in my heart that I had found the theme for the 2015 NACC in Cincinnati. Like the leaders of the early church in Acts, being silent is not an option for us. We are compelled to speak. As Christians we speak. There are several parallels for us to consider.
The World Is Speaking
Like this account from the first century, we speak into the cultural dialogue that surrounds us. There is a world of conversation taking place every day, and social media leads the way. It is estimated that every day there are more than 188 billion texts, 144 billion emails, 4.7 billion Google searches, and 400 million tweets. When you add this to the nonstop information of 24-hour news channels, blogs, books, and articles written, plus sermons, lessons, and debates spoken, you will likely agree that our minds are overwhelmed with the words of those around us.
The challenge is for each of us to find our voice in this universal conversation. Like never before we, as Christians, are called to speak words that matter in a world of non-truths and sensationalism.
God Has Spoken
We also speak because we have a message—and we have a message because God has spoken. Maybe you’ve never noticed before, but God is a talker. From the beginning of human history it was the creative, powerful intonation of God’s voice that pierced the shadows of eternity past and changed everything: “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). He spoke, and his words changed everything. Darkness disappeared. Life began. His covenant love was established. And he kept communicating.
Initially he spoke with Adam and Eve as he walked with them in the garden, but even after they sinned he communicated to his people. Sometimes he spoke through angels, and at other times he gave visions and dreams. On occasion he thundered from the holy mountain, and he also sent his word through messengers he called prophets. He spoke clearly to his servant Abraham through his covenant to bless all humankind. He spoke definitively through the law he delivered to Moses on the mountain. The whole Old Testament is one message after message from God to his people.
But his most powerful communication was in the fulfillment of the prophetic words about a Messiah. When the Word of God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, it was God’s ultimate message to the world. Everything he had been saying for centuries was perfectly expressed in Jesus. Hebrews 1:1, 2 confirms this: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
We speak because God has consistently spoken his Word culminating in his living Word. Jesus is the Word the world needs to hear, and he is using us as messengers to this world that he loves so much.
We Can’t Help But Speak
We speak because of what we know to be true concerning Jesus. The apostles told the Jewish leaders that they had seen too much to keep silent. In other words, their proclamations about Jesus and the salvation found in him were not words they could just ignore. No, they knew that their message was true, for they had personally witnessed the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In essence, they were saying, “You can threaten us all you want, but it won’t take away what we know to be true. Jesus has conquered death!” When people have information that has life and death consequences, they can’t help but speak.
Though we are not eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, as Christ followers we certainly have seen and heard enough to speak. We have believed the testimony of the word spoken, preached, and taught in our lives, and we have seen the miraculous change wrought in our lives and the lives of other Christians.
If Jesus has in fact overcome our sin and death by his death and resurrection, then we are also witnesses to the resurrection. God has given us new life from death through the sacrifice of Jesus. And if this is true, then how could we keep this good news from those around us who are lost and dying in their sin?
It’s true the world may not think they need our message. The world may speak against our message. The world may not listen to our message. The world may even try to keep us from sharing our message. But no matter the threat, we can’t help but speak because we have a word that is true and life-giving.
Preaching on Speaking
This year’s convention will feature something our tradition has been known for from the beginning—great preaching. Each session will include inspiring sermons from restoration preachers as we consider this theme We Speak.
It will be my great honor to kick the week off with the text from Acts 4:20. Then we will hear “All generations speak” from 1 Timothy 4:12-16 and Psalm 71:8-19. Next we will consider how our faith fuels our speaking from 2 Corinthians 4:7-14, “We believe therefore we speak.” This will be followed with “We speak even if no one listens” from Ezekiel 2:1-7 and “We speak powerfully in weakness” from 1 Corinthians 1:18-30. The reality that God’s people suffer will then be addressed in the sermon “We speak of hope in suffering” from 1 Peter 3:13-17. Then we will come to the final messages on Friday morning that will remind us “We speak good news” from 2 Kings 7:1-7 and “We will never stop speaking” from Acts 5.
“We” not “Some”
A focus of this year’s theme We Speak is that every voice in the kingdom of God is necessary. This year’s convention will celebrate every person speaking in the church.
According to the Bible, it’s not “some” who speak—all Christians are called to speak the good news. It is true that those who are gifted and called to preach, teach, write, and lead in the church may have greater opportunities and broader audiences. However everyone in Christ has good news to share and a specific audience to share it with. Prayerfully, preachers and leaders from all over the world will be encouraged to continue and intensify their speaking through this year’s convention—but as well, every believer will be inspired to speak to the audience God has entrusted to them.
Speaking for God happens in a variety of ways in the church. We speak in pulpits, but we also speak on front porches. We speak on blogs, and we speak at the checkout line in the convenience store. We speak to 3-year-old children in a Sunday school class, and we speak to our spouses and family members at dinner. We speak in the school cafeteria, on the mission field, on business trips, in boardrooms, and in university classrooms. We—literally all of us, in every setting, all of the time—speak of what we have seen and heard of our Lord Jesus.
Mike Baker is the senior pastor of Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois, and the president of the 2015 NACC.