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Archive for the ‘evangelism’ Category

When you grow up in church and you are around spiritual teaching often it can be very easy to become comfortable with the Bible.  When I really read the Bible carefully and thoughtfully, it often does not make me very comfortable.  Of course I find rest in Christ and hope in the gospel, but what Jesus has to say and the way the Bible calls me to live are pretty radical and I think growing up in church can sometimes make us callous to the radical nature of its teaching. 

The Bible is a pretty wild book.  And I think there is a danger when you grow up around it, to become cold or indifferent to the radical nature not only of Scripture but of the gospel itself.  The gospel is pretty wild–think about it.  The God of the universe became man, dwelt among us, ate with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, betrayed by one of his closest friends, is beaten within an inch of his life at the hands of his own people, dies a criminal’s death on a cross, rises again, and sends the Holy Spirit to empower those who believe in Him.  And this death and resurrection redeems me, Jesus (as only He could do) paid for my sin on the cross and heals me such that I can personally know the God who made me. 

That is wild and I fight every day to believe every word of it.  And the more I fight to believe it the more clear it becomes to me that I am not a particularly good person.  Certainly, like any other person, I am often tempted to elevate myself over others because of my percieved obedience, but the more deeply I understand the gospel, the less I cling to my own righteousness and the more I cling to Christ.  And consequently the more I love people and long to point them to Christ.

So what does all this have to do with growing up in church?   Growing cold to the radical nature of the gospel happens very subtlely.  At first, perhaps, it begins by noticing the lost people in your community, particularly the one’ s caught up in particularly destructive sins.  You see drug or sex addicts and you are noticably quite different from them.  So as we begin to elevate ourselves over such people, it naturally follows that we begin to think ourselves to be deserving of some special blessing from God–becuase hey, by comparison to these folks, we look pretty good!  God must really like us.  So we begin to think that we deserve something from Him, whether it is some more respect, some more freedom, or some more money, or more something

And what happens when we don’t get that freedom or that money or that respect?  We begin to forget what God has done for us and question Him for what He hasn’t.

Perhaps this is why Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners and why Paul shook the dust off his feet and started taking the gospel to the Gentiles–because these folks didn’t have any false pretenses that they deserved something from God and thus were ripe for the gospel–I don’t know. 

I do know this–God is not a tool for you to use to get what we want.  Whether you know it or not, God is what you need. God is what I need–He is the answer to my heart’s deepest longing.  What we think He owes us, we don’t actually need–what we think we need will only leave us empty and hungry.  I need God.  You need God.  We need Him more than life.

Don’t think that God owes you anything because you are better than someone else, wake up and see all that God has done for you in Christ!

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)!

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Writing out my testimony is a tremendously encouraging exercise.  Every time I write it out, I write it out differently.  Not because the gospel changes (it doesn’t) but because as I grow, and mature (hopefully I am maturing), I begin to see with more clarity what God was doing in my life at different stages.  I also come to appreciate the gospel more and cherish it in new ways.  Kevin recently posted his testimony in 3oo words, I thought I would follow suite but mine ended up being 600 words when I was finished.  This in no way makes me more spiritual than Kevin (it actually probably makes me more long winded and less concise which is a continual problem of mine), but when I sat down to write out my testimony this is what I wrote and I decided that I didn’t want to cut any of it out to make it shorter.

If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and have never written out your testimony, why not start today.  It is a very worshipful experience–it will remind you of the grace of God that you have in Christ and will make you more apt to share it with others.

My testimony in 600 words:

Growing up “Christianity” was going to church from time to time and singing some songs about God and zoning out while some guy who I didn’t know from Adam spoke for 30 minutes about God.  I knew Christianity had something to do with Jesus but I wasn’t really sure what that was.  I remember singing songs about the cross but it always seemed really sad to me—that this guy who seemed so good died such a horribly painful death.

So I great up relatively unaffected by the cross and more importantly unaffected by Jesus.   Because “Christianity” was just something I was involved in and not something I cared about, I spent much of my teenage years trying to get as many people as possible to accept me and like me.  I did a lot of foolish things to that end—all while searching for contentment and joy which seemed to be elusive.

During the my later years of high school, I started attending church with some friends who actually seemed to care about Jesus, not just about appearing to care about Him but actually caring and thinking and interacting with Him—and the cross was precious to them.  This messed up my whole perception of “Christianity” and in addition, I was hearing the gospel for perhaps the first time in my life.

As I was attending this church and getting to know these people, I was being told that God is holy—He is ultimate—perfect and magnificent in every way.  I was also hearing for the first time in my life that there is something deeply wrong with me, something at the core of my being that was keeping me from the contentment I so desperately wanted.  What was wrong with me was me.  I mean that in all sincerity.  I was my biggest problem.  I realized that I had spent all my life worshipping myself and trying to find joy in life by doing what I wanted to do and getting people to like me so that I would feel good about myself.

What I was learning was that I was a sinner and that sin is breaking God’s law but more than that, sin is treasuring anything more than I treasure the God who made me.  I was learning the true meaning of the cross.  I learned that God is holy—perfectly just and I am not and therefore the relationship with Him that I was created for was messed up because of my sin.  It became clear to me that I owed my life to God and I had not given it to Him and I deserved to be punished by Him.  At the same time I began to learn that the cross was and is the eternal remedy by which that relationship for which I was created could be healed.  Jesus offered to take the punishment God owed me for my sin if I would turn from sin and trust Him as Lord.  And in return Jesus offered me His righteousness and an eternally satisfying relationship with God.  This was simultaneously the most mind boggling and joyous news I had ever heard.

So I gave up on striving for significance through the praise of others, I still struggle with that now, but I have thrown myself at the feet of Jesus and found a joy far more filling and a treasure that will not perish.  Perhaps that sort of joy sounds too distant or too idealistic to you, let me challenge you to read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and see if Christ doesn’t appear to be the all satisfying treasure of the universe.

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A teacher of the Law once asked Jesus: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, gave a quick answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

They are a summary of the heart of the Law. God commands you to keep the Law. Because he is the Creator of the universe, and all therein, he rightly demands this of everyone. The startling reality, however, is that we have and continue to fail to keep God’s Law. The real stunning thing is there are many who believe they actually can keep God’s Law (or keep it enough in comparison to the dude next door).

So I am writing this post for you. If you’re my friend, or if you just happened upon this blog, I care about you enough to tell you the greatest news I’ve ever heard of. I once heard a famous atheist, Penn Jilette, say of silent Christians: “How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them?”

Well, I don’t hate you. I believe that everlasting life is possible, and I want to tell you. Don’t worry about the cheeky title. It is relevant to the whole thing—you’ll see . . . and no, I don’t think YOU are brainless. :)

So here goes.

If you think you can earn your way to Heaven in a way similar to a young executive climbing the ranks of to a big-time swanky corporate office—if you never really thought about what God demands of you—if you know you’re a sinner, and you just don’t care—if you already know you are a sinner and you already gave your life in faith to Christ your Savior (who perfectly kept the Law on your behalf, and who paid the substituting penalty for your sins on your behalf, crediting his perfect righteousness to your account)—this is just for you!

The following is Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century preacher, at his very best:

Begin quote.

“Is there someone here so profoundly brainless as to reply, ‘I intend to keep [the Law], and I believe I can perfectly obey it, and I think I can get to heaven by obedience to it?’

“Man, you are either a fool, or else willfully ignorant; for sure, if you truly understand this commandment, you will at once hang down your hands, and say, ‘Obedience to that is quite impossible; thorough and perfect obedience to that no man can hope to reach to!’

“Some of you think you will go to heaven by your good works, do you? This is the first stone that you are to step upon—I am sure it is too high for your reach. You might as well try to climb to heaven by the mountains of earth, and take the Himalayas to be your first step; . . . for to obey this must ever be an impossibility. But remember, you cannot be saved by your works, if you can not obey this entirely, perfectly, constantly, forever (Rom. 3:20).

“‘Well,’ someone replies, ‘I dare say if I try and obey it as well as I can, that will do!’

“No, sir, it will not. God demands that you perfectly obey this, and if you do not perfectly obey it he will condemn you.

“‘Oh!’ someone cries out, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Ah! that is the point to which I wish to bring you. Who, then can be saved by this law? Why, no one in the world! Salvation by the works of the law is proved to be a clean impossibility.

“None of you, therefore, will say you will try to obey it, and so hope to be saved. I hear the best Christian in the world groan out his thoughts—’O God,’ he says, ‘I am guilty; and should you cast me into hell I dare not say otherwise. I have broken this command from my youth up, even since my conversion; I have violated it every day; I know that if you should lay justice to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, I must be swept away forever. Lord, I renounce my trust in the law; for by it I know I can never see your face and be accepted.’”

End quote.

So here is the Good News: You can be saved! You can, through union with Christ, be forgiven your sins and be rescued eternally for your joy and salvation, to the praise of God’s glorious grace!

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. I believed in Jesus and he saved me! He the Lord and Savior of my life.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Has Jesus radically saved you?

Jesus kept the Law perfectly. He died on the cross to put to death sin and death forever. Jesus is the only one who ever has kept the law perfectly, and the work of Christ can cover all your sins.

You can’t keep the Law. You can’t love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. You’ve given your heart, mind, and soul away in sin and idolatry to just about everything (but God). Your only hope is Jesus. Will you consider this?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

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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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