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Archive for the ‘evangelism’ Category

The gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ came to earth in history, lived the perfect sinless life that we should have lived, and died a perfect sacrifice on the cross, all on our behalf, so that we might have life in his name. Jesus was dead and buried for three days, and then he was resurrected, and he ascended into heaven where he is with the Father, as an advocate before the Father for all who believe.

The gospel includes the biblical truth of the atonement (blood sacrifice, pointing back to the OT), which involves redemption of sinners who were enslaved to sin, propitiation of the wrath of God, and true justification because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Romans 3:21-26 explains this and teaches that what Jesus did for us is a gift from God to be received by faith. Those who believe are justified before God, who is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ Jesus.

The gospel would not be Good News if we had nothing to be saved from. But the Scriptures are clear that all have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). We were created to worship and obey God, but we have all turned in sin to idolatry and have rebelled against God. That is our fallen condition, which shows our great need for salvation.

It is also appropriate to add that, because of the depravity of sinners (including me), no man or woman will turn in saving faith to Christ without the Spirit first drawing them into the light. So, the gospel begins with theology, not anthropology.

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A friend asked me: Kevin, how can I work up the nerve to share the gospel with strangers? The following is my work-in-progress reply:

I guess sharing the gospel with strangers (or anyone) is probably difficult due awkward feelings. I know that is one thing that makes it hard for me: the fear of man. I think also American culture today fosters loneliness instead of community. But I believe a few good motivators are out there for personal evangelism.

(1) A motivation to bring glory to God encourages personal evangelism. Sharing the gospel with strangers may be an opportunity to experience the bigness of God. God is pleased with faithful servants. That should bring us joy!

(2) There is also the truth. Jesus commissions his own to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:47-48; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8). So obedience is another motivator. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:13-15).

(3) A Spirit-filled love for others is a special motivator. Many Christians flat-out don’t care about the lost. Prayer for and spending time with unbelievers often ignites a passionate desire to personal evangelism.

(4) Knowing that God can radically and sovereignly save any lost and weary sinner at any moment is a tremendous motivator. I know that God alone coverts souls. So I rest in a confidence in the sovereign grace of God and obey.

(5) Rejection is real. One motivator is Matt. 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” God sent prophets and they were killed. He sent Jesus and he was murdered. And he continues to send messengers today; and they are persecuted and reviled. They are like the prophets and Jesus when they are rejected. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” Eternal rewards, spiritual growth, and future hope in judgment are biblical motivators.

(6) Too often believers are shortsighted. They don’t consider the joys of witnessing a conversion. They don’t think about how heralding the gospel brings fame and glory to Jesus. They typically live in the moment: the moment of the fear of man. The fear of man too often trumps all of the biblical reasons for personal evangelism. This is where I think prayer, personal devotion, and a healthy desire to witness God doing amazing things helps. But I wouldn’t say that it isn’t hard. Rejection. Awkwardness. Fear of man. Individualistic culture. Those are hard things. Yet I love this: Yes the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18). But you can say to the one perishing: Yes, but you don’t have to perish. “To us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

I could say more, but these six are a start. Everything I wrote here I too need to work on myself.

Some inspiration for this post came from Alvin Reid’s book, Evangelism Handbook.

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I live on Sand Mountain.  Some of you who read this will have no idea what I am talking about.  Sand Mountain is a sandstone plateau in Northeast Alabama on which a number of cities lie, including my own, Albertville, AL.  It is really not a mountain at all, at least not in my understanding of mountains having grown up further West where the Rocky Mountains were within driving distance.  There is nothing physically frightening about Sand Mountain, but it is, nonetheless, a dangerous place for a “Christian” to live.  Let me explain.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Despite what you have heard, it is not easy to follow Christ in Albertville, AL.  Sure, there are tons of churches here and thousands of people who claim to be Christians and even attend church, but it is not easy to follow Christ here.  No doubt it would be difficult to live as a Christian in Salt Lake City where the vast majority of people are Mormons or Seattle or Maine where the vast majority of people are secular.  However, I think we face a danger just as great and just as grievous as the false gospel of Mormonism or secularism—we here in the Bible-belt face the false gospel of religion or “churchianity” as some call it.

We are surrounded by churches, para-church ministries, Christian radio, prayer at football games, revivals services, ministry conferences, Bible studies, and on and on.  Living in such a church-saturated culture, there is a great danger to attach ourselves to these things such that our hope is in our connection to a church, a connection to a Bible study, or a connection to any other religious activity we participate in rather than our connection to the Lord Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone.

The opportunities to plug into religion in Marshall County are bountiful, but how many are genuinely plugging into a single-minded passionate pursuit of the Lord Jesus Christ?  I don’t know the answer to that, but I fear that many more are plugging into religion.  It is this fear that drove me back to the Bible-belt.  I grew up in Amarillo, TX which is very much a part of the Bible belt and I lived there until I went to seminary after graduating college.  I lived in Louisville, KY, a city that in my estimation is not part of the Bible-belt.  Living there was interesting and challenging.  The last two years that I lived there, I lived downtown near the University of Louisville—I could share many stories of how I tried to preach the gospel to very secular-driven people on the campus of U of L and how difficult it was and yet how much joy it brought me, but it seems the Lord has brought me back into the Bible-belt and yet the challenges seem equally great.

I fear that much like these people that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7:21-23, that many in Marshall County will say on the day of the Lord, “did we not go to church and did we not pray at our football games and before meals and did we not attend revivals and prayer breakfasts and did we not join a church and attend on occasion and did we not go to Bible studies and give to missions?” and the Lord will say, “depart from me I never knew you.”  Let me be clear, the above list of activities are all good things and I wouldn’t condemn anyone for participating in them, but anyone, including myself who puts their hope in their connection to these things is in big trouble.

The connection that we must put our hope in is our connection to Christ who suffered “once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  And this connection to Christ inevitably and powerfully changes us.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This is the community the Lord has called our church to, not just a connection to religion but a relationship with Christ that transforms us and invites us to a community that fosters real, biblical, Christ-like transformation.

New Covenant Baptist Church (the church the Lord has graced me to serve in) is the most wonderful church I have ever been a part of.  I am continually reminded of how blessed I am to work with the wonderful people here, but it is my prayer for our church that we fight the temptation to put our hope in our good works, our church membership, or our religious activities.  It is my prayer that we would progressively grow into a community of believers whose hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ  where we are learning to be transparent about sin, engaging in ministry in our workplaces, and fostering relationships that point people to Christ and not religion.  In short, my prayer is that we would be a church that seeks the substance and not the form.  My prayer is that we would seek Christ himself.  Will you pray with me?

 

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Over at Slate.com, Christopher Hitchens (probably the smartest and funnest of the “pop-atheists”) offers us a few reflections on what he’s learned debating Christians.  He’s had plenty of practice since the publication of his 2007 bestseller, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  Most recently, he was involved in a number of exchanges with Doug Wilson, senior fellow over at New St. Andrews College (if I could do college over again, I might go there!).  What started as a series of emails between the two men (published here) became a full-fledged “tour” of sorts that has been developed into the recently released sort-of documentary Collision.

Wilson, who is a thoroughly Reformed, conservative theologian, served as a stark contrast to others that Hitchens debated.  Hitchens had the following to say:

Wilson isn’t one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just “metaphors.” He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn’t waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he “allows” it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing. (Incidentally, just when is President Barack Obama going to decide which church he attends?)

He also notes how what he understands as Southern hospitality confronts the brutal truth of there actually being a price to sin.  He wonders if the staunch “Calvinists” he’s running into really believe what they profess about hell and eternal punishment,

Usually, when I ask some Calvinist whether he is really a Calvinist (in the sense, say, of believing that I will end up in hell), there is a slight reluctance to say yes, and a slight wince from his congregation. I have come to the conclusion that this has something to do with the justly famed tradition of Southern hospitality: You can’t very easily invite somebody to your church and then to supper and inform him that he’s marked for perdition. More to the point, though, you soon discover that many of those attending are not so sure about all the doctrines, either, just as you very swiftly find out that a vast number of Catholics don’t truly believe more than about half of what their church instructs them to think.

Mr. Hitchens is a very intelligent man, and while he’s being very generous with his words towards Mr. Wilson, perhaps he’s yet to understand his ‘opponents’ fully.  Is it that they’re not sure about hell or is that they’re uncomfortable with people actually going there?  We all should be.  Unless you’re one of those creepy Calvinists who think we should rejoice that people are burning in hell because it glorifies God or something, when you explain eternal torment to someone, you feel some of the same pain that Jesus felt when he lamented over Jerusalem’s failure to repent (Matt 23:37-39).  Perhaps Hitchens mistook genuine love and compassion for embarassment.  Perhaps he mistook humility for doubt.  Let’s hope so.

What I really appreciate about this piece is similar to the only redeeming aspect of Sam Harris’ throwaway Letter to a Christian Nation, where he opined that moderates and liberals had more in common with atheists than Christians.  As he observed, the God of Scripture is quite conservative (though, in all honesty, Harris’ reading of Scripture is so unforgivably ignorant that this conclusion is more of a lucky strike than a well-reasoned conclusion).  God’s serious about there being no other gods, about idolatry, about sin, about his love expressed in Christ alone for the sins of the world.  He’s not babbling about metaphors, mythology, and the unity of all religions.

There’s always going to be the temptation to acquiesce to the world, to get cred with the elites in Cambridge, New Haven, et al.  Hitchens, like Harris, is proof that unbelievers recognize that brand of accomodationism and waffling for what it is: pathetic.  Be sincere, be upfront, be honest about what you believe.  And preach the whole gospel.  Hitchens recognizes the historic confession of the church in Wilson’s belief.  He doesn’t shy away from the harder truths.  Fudging the gospel may gather crowds, but it won’t gather followers of Christ.

In the end, Hitchens finds nothing compelling about Christianity.  Doesn’t matter what you believe or how you work out that belief; he’s not on board.  But he recognizes what too few Christians know: if you can’t find the confessional element of Christianity in something called “Christian,” no need to take it seriously.

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Have you ever accepted a dinner invitation that you knew would not be pleasant?  Jesus did.  He politely accepted an invitation to dinner from a Pharisee only to be accused of being unclean because he neglected to wash his hands before dinner (Luke 11:37-38)!  Jesus, however, handled this impolite Pharisee quite differently from what we might expect.  Instead of taking offense at the Pharisee or politely brushing off the Pharisees remark, Jesus launches full bore into a lesson on true spirituality.

Politeness is a prized virtue of our day.  We want people to be polite to us and we teach our children to be polite to others whether they see eye to eye with them or not.  I suppose there is something noble about being polite but Jesus often times was not very polite.  When this Pharisee took offense at Jesus’ neglect to wash his hands, Jesus’ response was to tell the Pharisee—“inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).  This is the sort of conversation that would end the dinner party in most American homes!

So was Jesus being a jerk?  Didn’t Jesus know that if he wanted to win this Pharisee to the Lord, that he needed to befriend him first and politely eat dinner with him without too much controversy?  Didn’t Jesus know that this conversation would go better if he got to know the Pharisee a little before pointing out his sin?

Jesus was no jerk.  He just sounds like one because of our own misplaced values.  You see Jesus responded to the Pharisee so pointedly because Jesus valued truth over manners.  If Jesus sounds like a jerk to us, then perhaps what we value needs to be examined.

The flesh is not our friend.  It does not have good intentions for us—sin and the devil have one hope in mind for us—to destroy us and deceive us (John 10:10; Heb. 3:13), to ignore this reality is not polite, to ignore this reality is foolishness.  Jesus valued truth over our human understanding of politeness.  He could have eaten with this Pharisee in relative peace—they could have talked about the weather, the economy, and their favorite hobbies and never broached any sensitive topics.  Jesus, however, loved people too much to merely talk about such safe things.  Jesus is interested in the heart.  Jesus always talked with people about heart issues, even if it was unpleasant.  Why?  Because he counted obedience to God more precious than the fleeting pleasures of sin.

This is clear in Jesus’ interaction with this Pharisee in Luke 11 as he says to the Pharisee and his house, “You fools!  Did not he who made the outside [of the cup] make the inside also?  But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.”  Jesus sees the foolishness of overlooking this Pharisee’s sad spiritual estate.  Jesus isn’t into the business of keeping up appearances and pretending like things are ok.  The Pharisees, however, were skilled at keeping up appearances.  That is why Jesus’ words here are so piercing—he is saying you are worried about the outside of the cup but God doesn’t care about the outside.  What needs to be changed is not behavior or appearance but the condition of your heart!

Jesus loved people too much to simply overlook their sin.  Jesus loved people so much that he spoke frankly and openly about sin.  Certainly there is a place for manners in gospel ministry (1 Peter 3:15), but do you love people enough to be honest with them about sin (Heb. 3:12-13)?  Certainly we need to be careful and take the log out of our eye, but do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ enough to lovingly help them take the speck out of theirs (Mat. 7:5)?  Do you work to keep up appearances or are you longing for spiritual transformation of the heart?  One way to test yourself is to honestly answer these questions—do I live so as to please men or to please God?  Do I love the truth enough to speak it even when it hurts?  Join me in praying that we would be men and women who value truth over appearance.

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One thing I struggle with is creativity.  I have now been the Family/Student pastor at my church for about 8 months and I haven’t come up with a name for our student ministry.  I have just been calling our Wednesday night meeting, “Student Night.”  I know that is lame!  So now that much of the foundation has been laid for our new church, its time to start casting a clear vision for our student ministry, setting some clear goals, and seeking by God’s grace to attain to those goals.  While names are relatively unimportant in the big scheme of things, there certainly is nothing wrong with thinking about presentation.  So as I think through the vision and goals of our student ministry, I think its a good idea to come up with a helpful name to illustrate our vision and to draw attention to our ministry and what we are doing.

So here is what I am shooting for:

1.  I want to come up with a name both for our student ministry as a whole as well as our Student Bible study on Wedneday night.  I have had more trouble thinking of the former, so perhaps the latter is more important.

2.  I want both names to be Biblical (the name doesn’t have to be Biblical words, but it should relate to the Bible’s teaching in some way that isn’t weird).

3.  I want both names to be related.

4.  It would be nice if there was a direct connection to a Bible verse that illustrates our theme/purpose.

5.  It must NOT be cheesy.  If there is even a wiff of cheese in the name that would be disastrous.  Some of you would argue that the very act of “naming” a student ministry and/or Bible study night is cheesy.  That may be, but I want to attempt the feat as faithfully as I possibly can!

I don’t know how many of my students read my blog, but if you are one of my students and you read this, feel free to give your two cents as well–I intend to you get your feedback before making the final decision anyway.

Here are some ideas I have so far (I don’t have many, like I said, I am not very creative):

I thought we might call our Wednesday night Bible Study:  “Boast” and our Scripture would be Galatians 6:14–”But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  The idea here is that what we do primarily on Wednesday night is boast of the Lord Jesus Christ and even more specifically we boast of the gospel–what Christ has done for sinners like us on the cross.

I thought of making T-Shirst that say:  “I Boast”  or perhaps just “Boast”  and of course people would think that is a little odd or perhaps arrogant, but the explanation would be gospel-centered–”we boast in the Lord Jesus Christ!”

Under this same Scripture, Gal. 6:14, we could also call our Wednesday night meeting: “6:14″  What do you think?  We actually start our Wed night student activities at 6:00, so 6:14 doesn’t work for the time that we start, but I suppose I could actually start activities at 6:14, and have the first 14 minutes of our night devoted to fellowship.  What do think? Is that cheesy or clever?

Most of my other ideas focus on Philippians 3:1-11 simply because that is probably my favorite passage of Scripture.

I could call Wednesday night:  “Glory” (kinda similar to Boast) as Christians are those who “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

T-Shirts could similarly read “I Glory” (which is less clear to those outside our group than “I Boast” I think but perhaps you like that better?) or “Glory”

We could also go reverse psychology and call Wednesday night:  “No Confidence” which would be more intriguing on a T-shirt.  Of course what we would mean by that is that we put no confidence in our flesh or in ourselves but all our confidence is in the Lord Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross.

I have tried to think of what we could do with the verse numbers here but cannot think of anything.

Another wonderful portion of Phil. 3:1-1 is verses 8-9, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-”

If you can come up with a theme incorporating verse 8-9 or just verse 8, that would be awesome too and I would love to hear it.

Anyway, let me know what you think of my ideas, if you think they are kinda lame, feel free to express that, I don’t want to present something to my students that they will laugh at me about!  And if you have an idea completely unrelated to what I have shared thus far, feel free to share that too!

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This week–I missed a few days of Bible study and had to cram to catch up on my reading plan, my prayer life has been inconsistent, I was too hard on a student, I wasn’t hard enough on another, I went to lunch with a friend and hardly even spoke a word about the Lord, I spent too much time playing video games and not enough in prayer and Bible study, I was late to an appointment, I double booked myself and had to ask my wife to cover for me on an appointment because of my lack of planning, I passed up an opportunity to share the gospel, I shared the gospel with a friend but wasn’t bold enough, I passed up on opportunities to serve my wife, and I have been astounded by the grace of God.

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain- if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith- 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:4-7).

Trying to live for Christ on the basis of performance is as exhausting as it is futile.  Despite the fact that I claim to love the gospel and to have been saved by grace through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9), I continually find myself trying to live for Christ on the basis of my own performance.  I need Paul’s rebuke to the Galatians because though I think I understand the gospel, I show how little I really do by my own attempts at spiritual growth by good works.

Attempting to grow in Christ by works is not only exhausting, it is impossible, because no matter how hard we try, we will probably come up with a list like the one I wrote above.  Furthermore, when we attempt to grow in sanctification by works, we show our own lack of understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

2 Timothy 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

My list is my list and I spent some time this morning praying to God to help me deal with it, but if I take my list as evidence that I am failing in my walk with Christ, I have missed the gospel because I have tried to make it about works.  My salvation was accomplished by the power of God and is the gift of God and my growth must be by His grace as well.  If you are a Christian, knowing that your position is in Christ by grace and not by works will free you from the despair of trying to measure up to almighty God (which you will never be able to do!).

Let God deal with your list, but if you have believed on Christ as Lord, remember you are in Him (Eph. 2:5-6) by grace and by that same grace He will lead you home.  If you do, I firmly believe this precious truth will give you joy in the fight (2 Tim 4:6-8).

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Oh Preacher, will you not preach God’s Word?  Why do you trust in your gimmicks, your games, and your personality?  Why will you not preach God’s Word.  Let your name be slandered, let your programs fail, but NEVER neglect the ministry of God’s Word.  You may be able to woo many by the cleverness of your programs, but your programs will not transform the heart.

Jeremiah 23:29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

2 Timothy 1:13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  Woe to any man who claims to be a preacher but preaches not the Word of God.  If your ministry is not centered around the preaching of God’s Word and communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is time to reevaluate.

If your ministry is not one of the Word–I will tell you right now, your ministry lacks power.  And if you are not preaching the Word but are experiencing “power” it is not power of the Holy Spirit.  Preacher, why will you not preach God’s Word?

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What is good?  What is goodness?  How do you know what is good?  Who gets to define what is good?

Dictionary.com (one of my favorite sites btw–I know I am a nerd!) defines good as “morally excellent, virtuous, righteous, or pious.”

But what in our world fits that definition?  We could mention a lot of things–loving others, serving others, giving to the needy, and cultivating friendships are all good things right?  But who gets to decide what is truly good, what is best?  Who decides what is good?

There are two possible answers to this question:

1.  People–we, men and women, get to decide what is good based on what we think is best for ourselves and perhaps society.

2.  God–God, being creator of this universe, decided in eternity past what is good.  To truly understand what is good we must submit to Him.

Let’s play out this scenario.  If we get to decide what is good–then there is no objective standard for goodness.  Many postmoderns would readily admit that they believe that there is no objective standard of good or evil.  Lets play this thinking out just a little–if there is no objective standard for what is good, then my goodness is mine and yours is yours.  So what happens when my goodness rubs up against yours?  One of us is going down right?

What if I believed that everyone should wear blue jeans because shorts are evil–that is foundational to my internal standard of goodness.  I believe it so fervently, that I think everyone should wear blue jeans all the time and people who wear shorts are evil and the world is better off without them.  Seems like a crazy view to have right?  But if I really believe this and am going to live consistently in light of what I believe, I am going to do everything I can to take all you short-wearers down!

Sounds silly right?  Well it’s not too far from what other people think–think about the radical Islamic terrorists that flew those planes into the World Trade Center.  They thought what they were doing was right and good.  To them it was a good thing to fly those planes into those buildings and kill thousands of people. They felt that it was worth giving up their lives and killing others to serve their standard of goodness.

You will object that its just religious radicals that are accomplishing such evil feats based on their worldview.  Well what about what many secular people think is good.  Take abortion for instance, most secular folks believe that abortion is some sense a good thing–saves women and children from poverty and difficulty etc.  If you think that abortion is good on some level, how long until partial birth abortion is considered good, then what is keeping us from believing in the moral goodness of infanticide for those mothers who cannot afford an abortion?  If we give into infanticide, what is keeping us from getting rid of anyone in particular that we deem doesn’t deserve to live because they interfere with our standard of goodness or because we think we now what is good for them and it is not to live?  Sounds crazy right–if you believe that unborn children are children, then these sorts of things are the next logical steps.

If people define what is good, our standard of goodness will be me-centered and selfish.  I will determine what is good primarily on what is good for me.  If the God of the Bible, however defines what is good, then goodness is perhaps more others-centered.

When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responded by saying, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31).  He also tells us that greater love has no one than this “that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:33).  When called “good teacher,” Jesus makes clear what calling him “good” implies by saying, “no one is good but God alone.”  So when you call Jesus good you are calling Him God!  And only God is good.  The Bible tells us that no one is good (Romans 3:10)–sin has corrupted us in a profound way such that we have become consummed with ourselves and apart from God’s help we will remain that way.

Only through God can we truly know what is good and only through His son can we be restored to a right understanding and appreciation of goodness.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

True goodness, true love is defined by God and He has most profoundly demonstrated it to us through Christ’s death and resurrection on behalf of those who are not good!

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Dear Secular American,

I know what you have heard, that evangelicals are trying to force their religion down the throats of our country’s citizens by teaching creationism in the schools, fighting against gay marriage, and illegalizing abortion.  I know how evil you think those agendas are.  Fair enough, you are free to think that such agendas are evil and no doubt you have bought into the idea that is being proposed by the secular media that such agendas stem from people who take the Bible seriously and believe it to the Word of God.  And I know how the media and silly documentaries like Jesus Camp and Religulous have told you that evangelical Christians are dangerous nut jobs who actually believe the Bible.  If the goal of evangelicals is to force their religion upon secular American society, then I would agree, what evangelicals are doing is evil.

First, your thinking about the Bible needs to be challenged.  If evangelicals are really utilizing the Bible to force their religion down other American’s throats, then those evangelicals are NOT taking the Bible seriously.  Let me just challenge you to read the New Testament a little.  Nowhere in the Bible do Jesus or any of the Apostles command Christians to force their religion on anyone or usher in a theocracy.  Jesus tells his followers to preach the good news, to call people to repentance, and to give to the needy.  Any “Christian” movement that attempted to force people to become Christians did NOT do so because the Bible told them to.  In fact Jesus taught that His kingdom is not of this world, otherwise His servants would be fighting (John 18:36).  “For this purpose” Christ came into the world, “to bear witness to the truth.”  That is what the Bible calls Christians to do–to bear witness, not to make people, who don’t want to be, Christians.

If evangelical Christians would take the Bible seriously–you, secular American, would have little to fear.  You know what Jesus told his disciples to do when people would not receive them or their message?  Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet and leave (Matthew 10:14)–scary huh?  If you choose to reject the gospel, the Biblical Christian will simply pray for you, he may persist in speaking the truth to you in love, but he will never force you to accept the gospel because the Bible-believing Christian knows he cannot force you to do anything.  So when you persist in unbelief, the Biblical Christian will simply move on and preach the gospel to other people and pray that some seed was planted that God will cause to grow (1 Cor. 3:6).

The Bible teaches that it is God who draws lost people to Himself–”no one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Again, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3-6).  A Christian who really believes the Bible knows that she/he is utterly incapable of causing you or anyone else to be born again.  Biblically-minded Christians know that it is the “Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6).  So all you have to fear from a Bible-believing Christian is a gospel presentation that you are free to reject.  No doubt, a true Christian will try to persuade you (2 Cor. 5:11, 20) and implore you to be reconciled to God through Christ, but they will NEVER force your hand.

The goal of Biblical Christianity is to worship God and the testimony of the Bible tells us that we do that, not primarily in the political sphere but in the spiritual sphere (2 Cor. 10:4-5).  Our war is fought in the marketplace of ideas and in the hearts of those to whom we preach the gospel and because conversion is the work of God we WILL NOT force it anyone, we will simply speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  We live out our mission as Bible believing Christians by preaching, teaching, and proclaiming, never by forcing you to submit to the truth–one Day God will do that (Rom. 12:9).  I believe the Bible is true and that in the end every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue will confess Him as Lord, whether to one’s eternal glory or to one’s eternal shame in Hell.  I know I can’t make you appreciate that and I won’t try to make you, but I will tell you the truth and pray that God would open your eyes so that you can see it!  I apologize for those “Christians” who have made you think that the Bible teaches that our job is to force the world to bow the knee to Christ and shove our Christian morality down your throat.  If that is your perspective, my guess, however, is that you learned to perceive Christians in such a way more from the media and perhaps from a few Biblically-uniformed “Christians” rather than from the Bible itself.

If evangelical Americans owe you an apology, it is this–”sorry for not taking the Bible seriously, because if we had, our primary agenda would not be abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution in the schools but rather preaching the gospel.  I am sorry that many evangelicals (myself included) are far too uninformed on the Bible. We do not think those issues are unimportant, but they pale in comparison to how desperately you need to hear the gospel of Christ.  We apologize that our politcal agendas have distracted us from what is most important–the gospel.”  I will admit upfront that I believe abortion is wrong and that God created marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but before we talk at any length about those issues, I want to talk to you about something far more urgent–I want to talk to you about the gospel:

God created the universe and is the greatest being.  Before the universe was, God simply was–God is, was, and always will be.  God is holy–He is perfect in every way, in love, in justice, goodness, and power.  God created the World and He created it good.  God created people in His own image, He created women and men to be in fellowship with him.  He created them to love Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him (Isaiah 43:6-7).  There is a problem though, men and women freely chose not to worship God, in fact they rebelled against God’s holiness and tried to take His place despite how good and gracious God had been to them.  Because God is holy and perfect in justice, He could not overlook such a heinous act of insurrection against Him or He would not be just.  So the penalty of sin is death (Gen 2:17; Romans 6:23) and not just physical death but spiritual death, death cut off from the goodness and mercy of God (Isaiah 59:2).  Every single one of us have sinned in the same way that the Adam and Eve did.  We have sinned in that we have broken God’s laws (10 Commandments: we lie, we steal, we commit adultery–Jesus said you lust after a woman not your wife, you have committed adultery, Matthew 5:28), but more than just breaking the rules we have rebelled against God (Joshua 22:19, Rom. 1:18-20) by worshiping things other than God, who alone is worthy of worship.  We have worshiped, valued, delighted in many things that are not worthy of worship.  And God being ultimate and perfectly just, must punish us for our insurrection and that punishment is Hell.  Which is a real place that Jesus talks about extensively (Matthew 10:28) and because no one is righteous before God and no one seeks for Him or worships Him, we all deserve to go to Hell (Romans 3:10-18).

That is the bad news of the gospel, but the gospel is profoundly good news, so here is the good news:

Though God is just and must punish us in our sin and rebellion against Him, He made a way for us to be forgiven and restored to the purpose for which He created us.  We can be restored to a right relationship with Him in which we value Him supremely through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.  On the cross Jesus was bearing on his own shoulders the punishment that sin deserves for all who believe in Him (2 Cor. 5:21; Romans 3:23-25; 1 Peter 3:18).  If you will believe in Christ and turn from sin to Him, then Christ has died for you as a substitute.  He died in your place that you would forgiven from sin.  But more than that, Jesus conquered the curse of sin–death.  He rose again from the dead to show that what sin has power to do, he has power to overcome.  In His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death for all who would believe.

If that makes sense to you and you sense you need to come to grips with the God of the gospel, then I encourage you to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).  Pray to God that He would make His Son real to you and that you would turn away from sin to God and embrace Jesus as Lord over everything in your life.  That doesn’t mean you won’t sin anymore, you will, but you will then be free to begin living in a way that values God supremely and in valuing God supremely there is “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

Get a Bible (I recommend starting with the ESV or the NIV), read it, I recommend starting in the New Testament perhaps with the book of Mark or John.  Find a church that preaches and teaches the Bible faithfully.  Look for a church that does more than just tell you how to have a full life, look for a church that equips you with the Bible and encourages you to grow in fellowship with God and in conformity to Christ.  Find a mature Christian who is willing to talk through your questions about the Bible and will hold you accountable to study and to grow in community with others at church.

Christianity is not so scary if you really believe in the God of the Bible.

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