Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

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Go, Make, Live: a Three Part Approach to missions

March 28, 2012

A Series: Part 1

Throughout history God receives glory through the propagation of His name.  In Genesis, man is created in God’s likeness and told to multiply and subdue the entire world, so that the world might be under the dominion of those bearing His image.  In the Psalms we see that His people experience blessing and mercy so that His “way may be known on earth, [His] salvation among all nations.”[1]  Likewise we see in the prophets that His chosen people experience judgment so that His name might be known.  In the Old Testament God uses the judgment of sin as a means to proclaim His holiness and glory.  God judged the entirety of sinful man in the flood, but saved Noah to proclaim His salvation.  God judged Israel’s sin of idolatry by overwhelming their cities with enemies and scattering their families across the land.  The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed that these judgments were used, like the flood, to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, “as the waters cover the seas.”[2]  Despite sin, despite fallen man, God continually redeemed a people through blood sacrifice, and commanded that they go and make His name known among the nations.  The greatest expression of His mercy of redemption is seen through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  At the cross, God joined together His judgment and His blessing into one act of sacrifice.  This is the ultimate expression of God’s love for mankind that He gave His Son, as the propitiation for our sins.

Christ absorbed the flood of God’s wrath of judgment at the cross; and He became the vehicle of greatest blessing to the whole of God’s people.  Those who bore witness to this event were tasked with the mission to proclaim this judgment and blessing to ‘Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”[3]  The story of God’s blessing and judgment must now fill the earth through our lives lived in reflection of God’s glorious work through Christ on the cross.  To this end Jesus commanded His disciples and by extension all of us to, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”[4]

As a Church, we will reflect His mission with this statement of purpose:

That we will continue to proclaim His name; Going according to His will and for His glory to our neighbors and to the nations; Making disciples of those who call on His name baptizing them and teaching them to teach others the wonders of His works, Living so as to bare witness of the glories of His grace and the assurance of His hope.

In what follows, through a series of posts, we shall unpack this statement and seek to obtain principles that will guide our efforts and attempt gain a vision of the kingdom that will inspire our hearts to action.  We will begin by turning our focus to the “Going” and attempt to answer the questions of: Where to go?; When to go?; and finally Why we are going?  We will then focus on the “Making” and attempt to answer the questions of: Who are we making?; How are they being made?; and finally Why we are making disciples?  We will conclude this discussion by focusing on the “Living,” we will we will seek to apply the promise of Christ’s great commission on our lives and examine how His hope inspires our witness.


[1] Psalm 67:1-2

 [2] Hab. 2:14

[3] Acts 1:8

 [4] Matt. 28:19-20a

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Love and the City: The Greatest Text for Urban Witness…

March 12, 2012

Cities are truly miraculous places.  Tense with progress and teeming with energy and vibrancy.  Harvard economist Edward Glaeser in his great book, The Triumph of the City states that, “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies.  They are proximity and closeness.”  While this is true, we as Christians must look beyond the physical existence of cities and recognize the hand of God in forming them and drawing people into them.  As I have said in previous posts, God creates proximity so that those searching for Him might find Him.  Acts 17:26-27 reads: “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him, Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” 

While the world is content to use the metrics of absence to describe the city, we must do more.  Cities are not mere accidents of economics, nor are they defined by the absence of space between people.  Cities and their character are defined by the presence of God and the proximity to His witnesses.  Witness is key.  God has drawn these people together so that His glory might be seen by the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.  There is a reason that Pentecost and Peter’s sermon did not occur in the desert, or in some far-flung cave.

This brings us to the manner of our witness and how to engage with those in the city.  Cities breed adventurous apathy.  The opportunity to succeed in the city is great, but so too is the presence of failure.  People come to cities with a sense of adventure, but soon become apathetic to the prevalence of failure around them.  People cold and unconvinced by pleas for attention and messages of truth.  With this in mind,we must ask ourselves, how can we break through?

Though there are many texts in Scripture that speak to the means of and the need for evangelism.  One text reigns supreme in my mind for engaging the city.  I have seen it on display, used by church planters throughout NYC over the years of engaging that city.  I am not talking about Matthew 28 or Acts 1:8, or Acts 17.  The text that speaks to our task  is this:

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away…  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
  
(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

It is not enough that we have the intellectual capacity to engage the minds of the city, or the media savvy to captivate the eyes of the city.  We must have love.  Pure, sacrificial love that wants nothing in return.  It does not matter if we desire to serve the needs of the city, or are willing to move into it and sacrifice blood and treasure to reach it.  We must love the people in the city, and display that love through service.

This passage informs both the task at hand and the promise of how to fulfill it.  It is not easy to love the those who question your motives, or those who are openly hostile to your efforts.  The only remedy for the apathy of the city is continual, persistent, abiding love witnessed in deeds of selfless followers of Christ.  A love that bears all and endures all.  We must create churches of faith, we must preach the hope that is in Christ alone, but above all we must be willing to love when we are not loved in return.  We must be willing to serve others, be patient with others, and be kind to others.  I am not speaking of a social gospel, that tends only to physical needs.  Rather a gospel that uses the meeting of physical needs through service to proclaim through deed and word the lavish love of God.

Surely this was modeled by God who stayed faithful to the faithless Israel.  Surely this was heard from Christ as He forgave those nailing Him to the cross.  What remains to be seen and remains to be heard, is whether or not our proximity to others will bear witness to God’s love in us.  May our growing presence in these cities be marked not by the mere absence of space; but by the abundance of God’s love lived out in service.

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The Offensive Defense: Peter, Malchus, the Preacher, and Christ…

September 30, 2011

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)  So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”’ -John 18:10-11

We are called to preach in an era of irrational relativism and religious apathy.  The enemies of the church, be  they secularists, muslims, atheists or liberals, are increasingly hostile to the gospel and its followers.  Whether we like it or not, as Christians, we are constantly confronted with the cohorts of culture that seek to take captive our freedoms and hinder our mission.  The world is ambivalent to God, hostile toward His Son, and antagonistic to His message.  In light of these facts what is to be the Christian response?

John 18 is a prime picture of the fallen creation.  Man, once created in a garden, bathed in light, walking in harmony with God; now lies in darkness, beset by weakness, hostility, and evil.  Gone is the cool of the day in which God walked among His good creation; in Gethsemane, day is exchanged for night and the Maker of the Garden is persecuted rather than pursued.

Peter is ready for the darkness.  He is armed and wakeful and when the enemies of God arrive, his desire is to not be counted among them.  Ignorant of who he really serves, he draws his weapon and strikes the ear of his opponent, blood is shed and likely Peter felt courageous defending Christ in the flesh.  One man between the forces of evil and the Messiah. Yet, we know according to Luke’s testimony that at this point Jesus interrupts the fray, “But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” (Luke 47:51)  Jesus healed whereas His follower hurt.

Much can and has been said about this episode in Jesus’ life, most likely nothing new can be added.  However, it presents a unique challenge to the modern Christian.  As preachers, we are called to engage the world.  A world shrouded in darkness, in hostile pursuit of our Lord, and we are armed with the sword of the Word.  But what is our mission?  What is our role in God’s battle plan?  These might seem like simple questions, even superfluous ones, but often we lose sight of our place and strike the wrong target.

Jesus was always focused on His mission.  Throughout the gospels He is sovereign over time and the course that His life must take.  Even with His first miracle, when prompted by His mother to provide for a wedding, His response was, “My time has not yet come.”  He silenced demons, because “His time had not yet come.”  he removed Himself from murderous mobs because, “His time had not yet come.”  But here in this scene, in the garden, His time had come.  He was committed to the mission given to Him by the Father.  He saw passed the torches, the guards, and the opportunity for a quick remedy.  Jesus was focused on the heart:  His heart, that had to be pierced and their hearts that had to be healed.  Beyond the situation, lay the reality of what must be done.

The Word is power.  By God’s Word the universe came into being; men were created from dust and de-created with flood; seas parted, rivers stood on end, walls fell, nations rose and were scattered; it is sharper than the two-edged sword wielded by Peter that night in the garden.  For those who acquire some familiarity with it, and have been impacted by its life-altering message, it can become easy to misuse the text for personal purposes.  We march to God’s defense with the tools we’ve been given, blissfully unaware of our own agenda, drunk with the derivative authority of the Word of God.  Frequently when faced with the enemies of God we mis-judge our mission, we draw our weapon and aim for the ears rather than the heart.

We are often blinded by the situation.  When faced with unbelievers and those hostile to our cause we stumble at a response.  Should we rise to His defense and draw blood? Or should we sit idly by why they carry our Lord away?

When we face the enemies of God we would be best served to remember that Jesus commanded that we take up the cross rather than the sword, that we are to serve others if we are to follow Him.  When the world attacks Christ and His church, we must not respond in kind, Jesus did not call us to be His defenders, he called us to be His disciples.  To serve rather than to save.

Our time is coming, indeed it has come, and we must see passed the torches, passed the rhetoric and see the frightened soldiers, scared and confused, who unwittingly serve the darkness that Christ has overcome.  Brothers and Sisters let us pick our battles and use our weapons wisely, for the sword may sever quickly but  Word has the power to save.

Col 4:5-6 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

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God in the City…

May 17, 2011

Acts 17:26-27 reads: “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him, Yet he is actually not far from each on of us.”  What powerful words,  it is easy to breeze across these words and miss the impact of what Paul is saying.  As we walk around the streets and blocks of our cities and towns we should look passed the randomness of the chaos which marks the cities; we should see there God’s guiding hand. 

In every corner, alley, byway, sub station, office building, apartment complex, mall, store, restaurant and park He as brought the nations together to be in close proximity to His word. That Word is entrusted to us, resides in us, and should flow through us in unending witness of the Gospel.  He has crafted this time, this era, and this place to bring people to a knowledge of Himself, to grant life and to grant it abundantly to all who call on Him. 

Cities are no accident; they are the intentional gathering of people by God to bring them into close proximity to His word.  This only works if we stand amidst the flow and wash of people and lift up His word, so that looking to it, people might see and have Hope. The lostness of cities is not due to God’s oversight, but rather our failure in being the obedient vehicles of His message of Grace.   The period of their dwelling is determined.  The boundary of their influence is set.  They seek to find that which is close.  Closer than the brush of the person on the sidewalk, or the arm of the passenger on the subway, will they find Him when they find you ?

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Vehicles of God’s Pursuit, the Necessity of Persistence in Evangelism…

March 23, 2011

“5What then is Apollos? What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted,Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7Soneither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9For we areGod’s fellow workers. You are God’s field,God’s building.” I Corinthians 3:5-9

The “Go ye therefore” commission that animates the heartbeat of the church should echo ever louder in the mind and heart of the believer.  Our individual obedience to this command and to all it entails is a chief evidence of our own interaction with the power of the Gospel.

God does not need the assistance of man in the task of Evangelism.  This God has written His law on the hearts of men, He can arrest a mountain with His glory and apprehend a heart with His spoken word.  However, in his infinite grace and providence He has chosen the weak to serve and the broken to carry His message to His redeemed throughout the nations.

Each one of us, if we claim the name of Christ, assume the mantle of evangelist in one capacity or another.  Evangelism is the proclamation of the love of God in the Gospel of Christ to those in sin in need of redemption.  This can be an act, a word, a speech, or a lifestyle that reflects the unique grace of God to those around you.

It is often easy when engaging in evangelism to become discouraged if conversion is not immediate, or if there is not an instant result. We live in a results-driven culture, and our churches occupy a subculture that is equally results-driven.  While the end is important, the obedience displayed in the means should be our primary focus.  We sow, but it is God that brings the growth.

I lived the first decade and a half of my twenty plus years as christian burdened with the idea that my task in evangelism was two-fold: to preach; and to bring about their conversion.  When I was faithful to the first task but unproductive in the second, I often experience debilitating discouragement.  It is difficult for me to convey the freedom that washed over my heart when the burden of responsibility for another’s conversion was removed from me and rightly placed on God.

This brings me to topic of obedient persistence in evangelism.  Francis Thompson, the nineteenth century poet and tragic opium addict, wrote the haunting poem, “The Hound of Heaven.”  This work is a bit obscure in some areas but the overall message is powerful as it describes God’s pursuit of the wayward soul. Thompson writes:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears…

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

My reflection on this is to ask some questions; How is this lost soul pursued? Whose feet follow after him?  Could they be the ‘beautiful feet of those who preach the good news.”? (Rom. 10:15)

When those around us are fleeing through the nights, we should be there with the Light.  As they fill their days with idle distractions, we should be there with a focus. Through the years, as they progress through the labyrinths of philosophical excuses, we should be there with an answer.  With unperturbed pace, deliberate speed and majestic instancy we should be the voice they hear, in the mist of their tears, proclaiming the love of God through Christ.

For we are the vehicles of God’s pursuit of those He loves, of those He sent His son to die for, of those who flee not knowing where to they go.  They may not repent during your preaching, but perhaps it is your time to sow, another’s time to water and in God’s time the growth will come.

“For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in Him 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)

Brothers and Sisters we have been sent. Go. Obey. Pursue. Preach. And let God reap the harvest and the glory.

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Theological Inception, waging war within a hostile mind…

January 24, 2011

Their inclination to hide is as old as the garden, they retreat from God not in fear but in contempt, not behind bushes but beneath ignorance and indifference.  Why then do we hide when we possess so great a catalogue of grace?  May God grant us strength to resist denial and courage to say what Peter would not, ‘yes I am His disciple.’ -R. Nash.

There are common phrases in the evangelical world, rallying cries of evangelism that find their root in Scripture.  “We must reach the nations,” “we must preach to unreached people groups.”  These phrases are supplemented by organizations that highlight our mission to “Go into all the world, making disciples of all the nations;”  to “be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”   We spend millions of dollars, give thousands of sermons to millions of agreeable souls, all focused on the mission we’ve been given and the various ways to carry it out.  But when the people leave the pews, the churches are quiet and the dollars reach their destination a stark reality begins to take hold.  No amount of oratorical skill or financial resource will be able to do what it is pledged to do; no program can replace the delicate skill of an individual Christian speaking the truth in love into the darkened mind of the hostile sinner.

The New Testament is replete with instances of Christ and His apostles engaging one on one with individuals; confronting desires, rhetorical defenses and extraneous supernatural forces to address the individual’s true need.  There were no capital campaigns, there were no ‘evangelism emphasis weeks’, or mass rallies, just daily interaction with the living Word, the Word that exposes the needs of men.

Mind you, I am not criticising modern efforts to address the logistical hurdles that exist in evangelism, rather I wish to redeem the act of conversation as central to our walk and our witness.  Too many Christians, would rather aspire to Peter at Jerusalem than settle for Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch.  Many pastors would rather engage the intellectual elite like Paul at Mars Hill than mirror Jesus with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, or Zaccheus.  What lies beyond the crowds of the unreached is the individual.  Each one with their personal story, searching for solace in every location imaginable except the one place where they may truly find rest.

As we encounter these persons along the byways of life we come face to face with their efforts to deaden the pain of a Godless existence and muffle the call of the Shepherd.  They soothe their divorces with drink, their abuse with misplaced affection and their failures with anger and frustration.  Frustration with a world claiming to possess answers but whose mantra is to continually question everything.

A glance across every crowded coffee shop or airport waiting area will expose a sea of hurt masked by technology, hidden behind laptop screens and deafened by head phones.  These defenses on display are the same ones we use to signal that we are far too busy or preoccupied to engage nearby persons in conversation.

When you do engage in conversation you soon become aware that you are combatting forces both within and without of the individual.  These forces are working in concert to fend off the advance of the Gospel.  These external forces lie within the domain of the unseen powers and can range from the distraction of sirens and music, to loud neighboring conversation, perhaps even rude and hostile neighbors at the next table.  There is a genuine element of spiritual warfare on display, it is truly amazing how at key points in conversations the atmosphere around you can change and the cacophony rises to repel any advance you may be making in the mind of your subject.

When those outside distractions are overcome or if they are non-existent in your setting, there still remains the formidable front of the natural human mind.  This line of defense is multifaceted.  There are cultural preconceptions, past experiences, personal preferences and non-sensical opinions all working together to change the subject and distract you from your message.  Most lethal is the impression they may give that they are open and accepting to all points of view.  This is moralistic relativism on display and in practice, they will say ‘you have what works for you  and I have what works for me, to each his own.’  The temptation is to accept these statements as passive toward the Gospel, nothing could be further from the truth.  As Ronald Nash rightly puts it,  “Human beings are never neutral with regard to God.  Either we worship God as creator and Lord, or we turn away from God.”

The role of apologetics is not to engage the mind in order to sway it but rather to use world-views to weave past the mind’s defenses and confront the rebellious soul with the gospel of Truth.  Once Christ is proclaimed as Lord within the conversation the person’s mind will engage in every manner of distraction to avoid confronting the uncomfortable truth that they are subject to a sovereign God.

Rarely are we able to maintain the discipline necessary to keep combating every distracting argument with the Gospel.  Jesus models this intuition and persistence with expected brilliance.  To Nicodemus who focused on earthly fixations, Christ trained his eyes toward Heaven to see the Son of Man descending so that none should perish.  To the woman at the well so keen to discuss water and worship, Jesus taught her confront her sin and to savor a new spring of eternal life.  To the multitudes obsessed with physical restoration and healing He would address their malady then primarily speak those words He and He alone could say, “See, you are well, go and sin no more.”

When the crowds had drifted away, and the sermons had been preached, the distractions of this world faded, grace came to a thief hanging next to his savior.  There was no mundane coffee shop, no water cooler, just a poignant conversation between two men.  One facing death hopelessly lost and the other bearing the reproach of the world, giving His life that all might live.  Our context is different but our message the same; ‘one day we can see each other in paradise, if only you will confess His Lordship and utter the simple phrase’, Lord “remember me.”

These stories in the gospels are not merely fodder for crusade sermons, but a blueprint for daily intellectual and spiritual engagement.  How do you engage those around you?  What form does your apology take?  Do you have grand un-accomplished designs for evangelistic greatness or small intimate displays of one-on-one faithfulness to the great commission?

“The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,

Searching all the innermost parts of his being”  -Proverbs 20:27

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Apprehending απολοgetics…

October 20, 2010

The Word of God is fundamental to apologetics, the chief instrument of intellectual warfare within the battle of worldviews. And a Christian worldview, if it is anything, must be rooted in and must spring from the fathomless depths of the Scriptures.

The word serves as both the backdrop and the means of every salvation experience. Beneath every proclamation of God’s special revelation in Scripture lies the Word, implanted and incorruptible; that when received by a humble heart is the means God uses to bring one to a saving knowledge of Him. (I Peter 1:22-25)

It is false to create a distinction and to separate apologetics from evangelism. For to what end does one engage in apologetics if not to inject into a dark heart and mind of a sinner, the light and knowledge of the Gospel in Christ. God is in no need of theological or philosophical defense or justification. Christ does not charge us with the defense of His glory through apologetics, but rather charges us to proclaim His glory wielding the “Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God”, so that His elect may ultimately hear to believe and believe to confess.

Rightly seen, apologetics serves the church by engaging the various beliefs, behaviors and objections of the lost with the Gospel of Christ. Our weak tools of rhetoric and argument must be met with His sufficient Grace in order to experience His power made perfect in our weakness.

With this in mind, here is the first post of this series: Theological Inception… Waging War Within a Hostile Mind. What is intellectually and spiritually occurring when we witness with individuals and share the Gospel with lost souls.

The second post is Vehicles in God’s Pursuit… the necessity of persistence. How God uses those He loves to hound the souls of those whom He will have.