Archives For Evangelism

We all know that kids, particularly little kids say surprising and funny things, but sometimes they are refreshingly precise. They can cut through the boundaries erected by the mature.

This was the case last night as I was putting my daughter (4) to bed. We were talking about how I was going to visit a family member. She asked me if this person loved Jesus. I told her that I do not think that she is a Christian. Then I invited her to pray with me for her salvation. She complied. Then she sat up, pushed her curly hair back and said, “You know what, you should also go and tell her about Jesus right away. Prayers are good but you need to tell her about Jesus Daddy.” I told her that she was exactly right and that I would.

Here we are reminded about the simplicity of a child and perhaps some of the things that Jesus would have been aiming at when he reminded us of being like a child. She doesn’t have all of the hangups that we often have about evangelism. She hasn’t been rejected, argued with, or belittled. She doesn’t entertain the quiet, embarrassing doubts about the sufficiency and power of the gospel. She just understands, in her young mind, the need for us as Christians to tell unbelievers about Jesus. And she is exactly right.

I share this story because it was so encouraging to me and I think it would be for you also. Further, it reminds us not to overcomplicate things; it is really that simple: someone has got to open their mouths and talk about Christ. The gospel is powerful. It is sufficient (Rom. 1:16). After all, this is how we ourselves came to faith in the Savior.

Evangelism is hard. I can’t think of anyone that I have met over the last 15-plus years of being a Christian who did not struggle with evangelism. Even the people who seem to excel and have the gift of evangelism readily confess their weakness.

So, why is it so universally difficult?

Some common answers include such things as not knowing enough Bible, fear of rejection, or not being sure how to bring up the gospel. I am more convinced then ever that these are symptoms of bigger issues. I’ve distilled my answer to evangelistic struggles into three areas: my view of God, my view of others, and my view of the gospel. I am convinced if we get these 3 down then we will be well on our way to diagnosing unfaithfulness and demonstrating faithfulness.

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There are many factors that make evangelism difficult. There is the internal spiritual alienation from God that renders the unbeliever unimpressed by God and therefore unresponsive to him in worship (Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Then there is the fog of worldliness that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his Word (1 Jn. 2:16-17). We see this with the ongoing marketing of personal autonomy, self-discovery, and satisfaction in created things.

But there is another contributor to the fog that is very unhelpful. I am talking about the authority of personal experience. Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.

Earlier this week I was talking to a number of unbelievers about Jesus. In the midst of the conversation one told me that he can see the future. He said that he has, on a few occasions, been able to see what was going to happen. He pointed to his buddy for confirmation and, as you’d expect, got the requisite head nod. I know that in this conversation I cannot slash the tires of his experience. If I even pull out the knife of reason or testing he will shut me down. Personal experience and our interpretation of it is the authority. We might call it Sola Experiencia. 

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Paul rejoiced whenever Christ was preached (Phil. 1:15-18) and I try to do the same. Paul also talked about proclaiming Christ with wisdom and making the most of our times with the unbelieving world around us–even having grace dripping from our lips (Col. 1:28-29; Col. 4:5-6). Therefore, I can rejoice but also long for some evangelists to switch up their game a bit to be a more considerate and faithful.

Here are four evangelists that need to retire. If only they were just caricatures.

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When you read the Bible it is clear that two things are true: a) God is sovereign. b) Man is responsible for his actions. What becomes tricky is the harmonization of these twin truths. One person might say, “If God is sovereign then he cannot hold people responsible.” Another would say, “If man has responsibility to make the right decision, God cannot be sovereign.” Doubtless you have heard and even felt this tension.

The biblical category where this tension tends to get the most attention is the area of Evangelism. How does the truth of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility mesh together in terms of evangelism?

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Why don’t people heartily engage in mission?

This is not a new question and I won’t propose any new answers. However, the question is perennially important to consider and answer. When I say “mission” I mean the mission of the church, specifically, the making and training of disciples (Mt. 28.19–21).

THE PROBLEM

Why is there disengagement with and ambivalence towards mission?

  • Let me give you a word: selfishness.
  • Let me give you a verse: 3rd John vv.9–10.

John writes 3rd John to commend the church towards a gospel-driven hospitality. A “gospel-tality” if you will. He does this by highlighting the faithfulness of Gaius and Demetrius in contrast to the mission-sabotaging rebellion of Diotrephes.

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I enjoyed this video from David Platt about how to practically make disciples on a day to day basis.

I have often marveled at how much and how light the Apostle Paul traveled. As you read the book of Acts and the Epistles you get a quick sense of how much ground the guy covered. He was in and out of countries, cities, and towns. He shuffled through different cultural contexts with their variant practices of worship. You see him in synagogues, in the market place and in the Areopagus (Acts 17). At the same time, he traveled light. He had one satchel and it was filled with gospel.

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Rick Warren is a masterful communicator. So, what is he endeavoring to communicate with his announcement that they are canceling the services at Saddleback Church this weekend so they can serve their neighbors?

According to The Christian Post:

“Good Neighbor Weekend” has been enthusiastically received by the majority of the 20,000 members at Saddleback Church in Orange County. Many have already signed-up online for acts of kindness, according to church officials.

Volunteer opportunities suggested and organized by church members include visiting severely disabled children in hospitals, serving breakfast to homeless and families living in motels, and helping families having members in the military stationed away from home with house chores.

Additionally, many more churchgoers will be reaching out to their neighbors in ways they’ve conceived themselves.

Did you catch that number? 20,000 people! That’s a lot of people.

Let’s think about this then in terms of pros and cons (concerns).

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In Matthew 28, the Great Commission, Christians are instructed to bring the gospel to all people and nations. Think about how radical this is. It is a command to transgress the ethnic, national, and social boundaries of this world with the gospel. Of course, Christians are to do this in an honorable, charitable, and tactful way. But make no mistake about it, it is a command to make converts from people’s current systems to Christianity.

Think about how unsettling this would be if other institutions adopted this same charge. David VanDrunen, in his very helpful book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, says this:

This missionary task distinguishes the ethic of the church from the ethic of common kingdom institutions. Any earthly society that sees its task as evangelistic in nature has radically transgressed its proper boundaries. A Nazi regime that seeks to make the whole world German—or any American regime that seeks to make the whole world American, for that matter—is a frightening thing. No civil government could accomplish such a goal except by trampling other civil governments through unjust warfare. No particular culture could dominate the world except by a cultural imperialism that fails to respect the creativity of image-bearing human beings in other cultures.

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It’s been over 8 weeks now since protesters descended upon Wall Street to tangibly express their frustration. 8 weeks! That is 8 weeks of living in tents and among strangers in public parks. Initially in New York City and now spreading out to other metropolitan areas, it is clear that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors are continuing to gain momentum and news coverage.

What is not as clear is why they are “occupying” these parks. I should say it is not clear in an coherent, organized, precise direction.

On the other hand, their objective seems to strike a consistent tone.

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I was recently in for a doctor’s visit and was attempting to turn our time of chit-chat into gospel-chat. As I made my move the Dr was receptive. When I told him I am a pastor he smiled and asked, “Where do you guys get the topics for your sermons?”

Without thinking I gave what I think was a great answer, “The Bible.”

He smiled and said, “I guess I walked into that one.”

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A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent. (John Calvin)

I have difficulty remembering his name however, his impact remains profound. It was 17 years ago this fall when I was in Basic Training in the military. I was an unbeliever, a flaming (straight! but unabashed) unbeliever. One of my favorite ways to punctuate or begin a sentence was by taking God’s name in vain. Then this guy from Ohio had to bunk next to me. He always read his Bible and refused to let me get off my blasts without calling me out. In his fast paced, country-ish, Southern Ohio-Northern Kentucky twang, he would tell this Yankee, “Could you please not do that?” I would often reply with a stare. He would then say, “Please don’t take God’s name in vain.”

That didn’t convert me, however, it did unsettle me. It did produce some reform, at least around him. Furthermore, I was made aware of what I was doing and I didn’t like these regular meetings with that internal siren named the conscience.

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It has been said that if you want to make a Christian feel guilty you just need to mention prayer or evangelism. This is because we innately know that we should be doing more of both.

This Saturday Emmaus Bible Church will be hosting a conference on Evangelism. This will be our first conference as a church plant and we are thrilled to have Jesse Johnson come to help us think and act biblically in response to Christ’s great commission (Matt. 28.19-20). Jesse is the outreach pastor at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also blogs at The Cripplegate.

If you are local, we’d love to have you come and join us. Here is the schedule:

9am Session one: The Foundation of Biblical Evangelism
10am Session two: Presenting the Gospel
11:30am Lunch
1pm Session three: Handling Objections
2pm Q&A

We will be meeting at Cornerstone Church in La Vista, NE (map).

We’d love to see you join us.

Register online.

Christians have a responsibility to strike an admittedly difficult balance in this world. We are called to be faithful missionaries without being repulsive and obnoxious. This is a tough note to hit because the message itself is offensive, people (by in large) don’t want to hear it, and frankly– we are sinners.

This is why I take notice when I see a guy being faithful, compelling, and attractive.

Here in Nebraska, football is king. The state becomes red on Saturdays in the fall. People love their team and everything about their team.

This is why I was not surprised to read Dirk Chatelailn’s article in the Omaha World Herald on the intriguing relationship between Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown and Ameer Abdullah, a highly touted freshman running back.

However, the article was not concerned primarily with what goes on between the hashmarks as much as what goes on between an outspoken evangelical and a young Muslim.

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I recently had a great conversation with an unbeliever. He was asking good questions. And, by God’s grace, I think I was able to be helpful.

In one portion he mentioned that he is much more comfortable with a religion that doesn’t have a God of wrath (his words). He mentioned the local liberal Methodist church as a good example of this and the local Roman Catholic church as a bad example.

WHAT HE WANTED, HE REALLY DIDN’T WANT

As we talked it became evident that he wanted a God who was good but who just didn’t punish anything less than good. But you can’t have it both ways. Either God is good or he is not. And if he is good then he must be opposed to all that opposes him, otherwise, he is tolerant of evil.

Of course this option is absurd to every sane person, including my new friend. What most people mean is they want a God who will punish people worse then them and reward people as good and better than them. In other words, they are the standard.

WHAT CHRISTIANITY BRINGS

This is where Christianity crashes through the man-made barricades of safe religion. In order to get ‘in’ so to speak, you have got to line up with and behind all of the ‘bad’ people.

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It’s Autumn here in Nebraska. Which means the state’s past time is in full swing. Nebraska Football is a big story here. And they are an even bigger story when they are good and carry the tough, blue collar attitude of their state with them.

Fans love the team. This includes the players and the coaches. They experience something of celebrity status here. There is something romantic about it.

This helps inform us as to how to understand a news story that displaced the normal daily practice reports leading up to an important weekend game in Division 1 Football.

THE ACLU IS NOT DOWN WITH THE GAME PLAN
The local ACLU is not as enamored with one of the Husker coaches. Receivers coach Ron Brown has found himself on the receiving end of several strategic media blitzes aimed to knock him off of his game.

The issue is that Coach Brown is a Christian. He loves Christ. Everybody here knows it. He is a fool for Christ in the media, in person, with his players, in public or wherever he has opportunity to speak. He is one who truly uses his popularity and influence in the state to preach the gospel of Christ.

And once again the ACLU is not down with Ron Brown.

The Nebraska chapter of the ACLU told the press – without notifying Brown himself, the coach asserted – that it would be asking schools to ban Brown and another local speaker because their messages to students focused not on the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but the virtues of Christianity.

“Both men have made it perfectly clear: They intend to convert children to their own religious beliefs while the students are in school away from their parents’ guidance,” ACLU legal director Amy Miller said. “Neither of these men can be safely invited to a public school without the school broadcasting their deliberate intention to violate the religious rights of families.”

To which Brown responds:

“This has happened so many times it’s not funny…Bring it on.”

“I don’t have a secular school speech and a Christian school speech, or a football speech or a church speech,” he said. “It’s all the same to me. I’m not a chameleon. I don’t change colors with the crowd.”

But the coach tells the schools to make his talks optional. He also said he’s within his 1st Amendment rights to cite what he thinks is the authority on why kids shouldn’t use drugs and alcohol.

“Who says lying is wrong?” Brown asked rhetorically. “Who says cheating is wrong? Who says stealing is wrong? Who says doing drugs and alcohol is wrong? There’s a source. There’s a final say. And I believe that is the Lord God….It’s an intimidation issue, and I’m not intimidated,” Brown said. “I won’t be backing down.”

You have got to love Ron Brown. He doesn’t flinch. He just keeps going and preaching Christ.

MAKING THE MOST OF OPPORTUNITIES & NOT BACKING DOWN
The ‘funny’ aspect of this, in light of God’s providence, is that this state is so romantically involved with it’s team. The schools know that the kids will listen to Coach Brown. They will remember what he said about drugs, alcohol, bullying, etc. They hear him.

So from a purely pragmatic standpoint, it works. They assess and accept the necessary ‘safety risk’ (to use the ACLU’s words) in order to accomplish their greater goal. Their pragmatism get’s Brown opportunities to talk to kids. And Ron Brown doesn’t flinch. I love that.

Amy Miller from the ACLU says,

“Instead of giving a presentation on an important subject like drunk driving, though, the speakers end up exhorting the children to become Christians.”

To which coach Brown says,

“I don’t have a secret agenda. These schools know.”

Yes Coach, but you do have an agenda. And I praise God for that! May God keep him humble, faithful and bold with the gospel of Christ! And give him more opportunities (like a BCS championship game where he can have more mic’s thrown in his face!)

Great video. Convicting and motivating. I’ll get out of the way and give you the video. My Amen is echoing.

You can preorder Patrick’s book at Amazon here.

Recently, I was speaking with a friend who is a missionary to the Dominican Republic. Amid our encouraging talk I asked him about discouraging aspects of his ministry.

His answer surprised me. He confessed that the most discouraging aspect of ministry in his region is the other missionaries.

He went on to describe in detail how so many western churches send people to the island for mission work but in reality they are just on a vacation. They collect a check, get the benefits, and kick it at the beach. There engagement with the locals is minimal and when it is at all, it is often critical. They take up space at church and are really not willing to serve (because after all, they are missionaries).

After talking asking other international missionaries the same question I have regrettably gotten a similar answer.

My conclusion: What a bunch of lazy bums. They should be kicked in the rear and told to get to work.

Then I hear the echo of Nathan the prophet: ‘You are the man!’

What?

Many of us are not called to be international missionaries BUT all Christians are called to be missionaries (Matt. 28.18-20). We are called to be intentionally engaging people around us with the gospel with the same zeal that would be ideally displayed by missionaries.

Sadly, instead of zealous missionaries we often look like club-med, lazy missionaries. Engagement with unbelievers is limited (unless it is critical). We take up space at church are reluctant to serve because we are busy (family, jobs, etc). We sometimes act like we are on a vacation at the beach rather than on a battle field for souls. And listen, I am not pointing the finger at a nebulous crowd full of indistinct faces. I know at least one person in that crowd, for I am there. I feel this stinging rebuke of this missionary landing on my lap. I need the reminder that I am not on vacation but on mission. I have to just be reminded to cease with the sandcastles and pull my head out of the sand. I am here for work.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10.27)

Have you ever been overcome with frustrated despair as you wonder how to get through to your professing Christian friend?  Have you looked into the eyes of an unbeliever and asked yourself how you might bring them to Christ?  Have you wondered how you might appeal to them and somehow have them follow the Savior?  If you are a pastor, have you sat in your study and wondered how you might help people to get it?

To one degree or another all believers have struggled through such thoughts.  Often times though  in our noble ambitions we find ourselves retreating to unbiblical means.

We aim to make Christ more appealing to the one who seems to not think that he is so.  This usually means giving Jesus something of an extreme makeover so that the eligible unbeliever might be one over.  We might be tempted to change his message, his tone, his requirements, his work, his kingdom, and his demands.  Suddenly our ostensibly noble goal has placed in our hands the tools of idolatry as we craft a Jesus that looks like the rebel.

But this is not the way it works.

Instead Jesus is the suitor, the rebel must change, and Christ will be found to be glorious!

Notice the everlasting rebuke upon our shameful creativity: “My sheep hear my voice…”

Ah, this is what I need to hear.  I need to hear the Savior’s voice.  Listen, if they are truly ‘his sheep’ then they will truly hear his voice.  It is as simple as that.  And this is a result of the glorious reality that the Good Shepherd knows them.

So find yourself refreshed by the wet ink of John 10.  The Master’s words and actions remain true.  In this context he is scrapping with the religious reprobates who do not hear his voice.

But what does Jesus do? He just keeps on preaching the glorious truth of who he is and what he is doing.  He speaks of his glorious relationship with his Father.  He speaks of the power of his word and work.  He speaks of the hardness of their hearts.  Jesus just keeps on preaching.

This is a good model and motivation for us today.  Are you stressing out over how to make Christ appealing?  Hear and believe the words of the Savior, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Whether in the coffee shop, the dinner table, or the pulpit, you just keep unpacking the glorious beauty of Christ’s person and work to their hearts.  And if they are his sheep they will, with blood-stained regal certainty, follow Christ.