Christianity 201

October 3, 2019

Conviction or Humility? Which Do We Need When We Share the Good News?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

by Clarke Dixon

We Christians we have incredibly good, and incredibly important, news to share. When we share the good news of God’s love, should we be full of conviction, or humility? Which do we need in order to help people discover the good news in our day?

We can learn from Daniel who had a very important message to share with the Babylonian king. While God’s people were in exile, King Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream and expected his wise men not only to interpret the dream, but to tell him what the dream was as well! If not, all the wise men, including Daniel, would be put to death. His usual wise men could come up with nothing. What did Daniel do?

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. 15 He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. 16 Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant. Daniel 2:14-16 (NLT)

Daniel’s response demonstrated great conviction. Daniel was convinced that God would rescue. Daniel had so much conviction, in fact, that he arranged a future interview with the king before hearing from God! Do we, who are Christians, have the conviction that God rescues? Is our faith held as a matter of deep personal conviction, or are we simply Christians because our parents or grandparents were? Are we convinced that Jesus is who he said he is, or are we Christians because we think Christianity might be good for us? Have we looked at the evidence for Christianity, or are we Christians ‘just in case’ it might be true? We have good reasons to have conviction about Jesus and the Bible. If you have not considered the evidence, you can begin with my “Shrunk Sermon” series called “Compelling” which begins here. We can have deep conviction that God is, and that God will rescue. It is an old cliché, but can we dare to be a Daniel and share the message with conviction?

So it is conviction we need and not humility? Let us look again to Daniel as he delivers the message to the king:

. . . it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. Daniel 2:30 (NLT)

Imagine the temptation for Daniel, in learning the contents of the the king’s dream from God, to stand before the king with great pride. Imagine the temptation to gloat, to point out that he is the only one that could pull this miracle off. However, Daniel has great humility: “it is not because I am wiser than anyone else.”

In a previous sermon, we looked at missing ingredients that make Christianity taste awful in our society. Humility is sometimes one of those ingredients. We, who are Christians, can come across as “know-it-alls.” Perhaps it is because of what we think the Bible is. I have heard it said that the Bible answers any and every question you could possibly ever have about anything. Having read through the Bible myself many times, I have not found that to be the case. In fact, sometimes it raises more questions that it answers! The Bible itself does not claim to have all the answers:

 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV)

The Bible tells us what we need to know to have a relationship with God, and what life looks like when we lean into that relationship. But it does not tell us everything about everything. And that is okay. We don’t need to know everything about everything. That is also okay.

Let me give one example where we Christians can sound like we have all the answers and know everything. When I first began pastoring in the 1990’s I came across something aimed at gay people called “conversion therapy.” One organization in particular, called Exodus, was well known for this. At the time it sounded like a good thing to me. It seemed to fit nicely with Christian theology. Conversion therapy has been something that many  Christians have promoted with great certainty.

Fast forward to today, and there is a movement to ban conversion therapy. To many this might feel like persecution against Christians. But is it? The basic premise of conversion therapy is that you are gay because you have a terrible relationship with your father. Fix that, and you can be fixed. However, the evidence is in; many straight people have terrible relationships with their fathers and many gay people have great relationships with their fathers. Are we able to say with Daniel “we are not wiser than anyone else” and be willing to follow the evidence?

We may not want to follow the evidence because conversion therapy seems to fit so nicely with traditional Christian theology. But does it? The evidence is in, and conversion therapy has not worked. Now imagine it’s you, and you have been shipped off to a center with great expectation and prayerfulness. You come home, unchanged. You already feel like you have disappointed your Christian community by being gay in the first place. Now you are adding further disappointment by not being straightened out. You may give up on prayer, God, yourself. Many have.

Jesus told the story of a man beaten and left for dead. The religious elites passed by on the other side, but the Good Samaritan stopped to help. If conversion therapy is more harmful than helpful, then perhaps we should be the good Samaritans and be the first to call for a ban, not the last. The Exodus organization did indeed shut down and apologized for harm done in 2013. In shutting down and apologizing, the leaders of Exodus humbly followed the evidence rather than claiming to be wiser than everyone else.

Let us not act like we know all the answers, but let us with humility follow the evidence where it leads, on conversion therapy, and much else. Let us echo the humble posture of Daniel, let us communicate “I am not better than you, I don’t have more wisdom than any other human being.” Let us be willing to learn. Can we dare to be a Daniel and have a posture of humility?

Daniel had a good mix of conviction and humility. So did the apostle Paul:

12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Daniel knew that he was not smarter than everyone, but connected to Someone. This gave Daniel great conviction expressed in a posture of great humility. So which do we need in order to communicate the good news of Jesus in our day? If we are strong on conviction, we may want to reach for greater humility. If we are strong on humility, we may want to reach for greater conviction. We can, and should, declare the good news of Jesus with great conviction. We should do so with deep humility.

September 9, 2019

Restraint and Self Control

Six months ago, on our nine year anniversary weekend, we introduced you to the writing of Tonia Slimm at the site Growing with God. Let me say that I really like what’s being presented on this site. She’s in the middle of a series from Proverbs, and while I considered one of the introductory posts, this one was too good to pass up.

Use Caution and Restraint–Proverbs 23:1-3

Proverbs 23:1-3 (NIV)
When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive.

Proverbs 23:1-3 (MSG)
When you go out to dinner with an influential person, mind your manners:
Don’t gobble your food, don’t talk with your mouth full. And don’t stuff yourself; bridle your appetite.

Proverbs 23:1-3 (AMPLIFIED)
“When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is [set] before you; for you will put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food [offered to you with questionable motives].”


“Self-control is the exercise of inner strength under the direction of sound judgement that enables us to do, think, and say the things that are pleasing to God.” ~Jerry Bridges

Restraint and self-control are synonymous. They both imply the need to control, hold back, or check oneself. They involve harnessing one’s body, emotions, and appetites.

In principle six we find Solomon giving warning for the need to be cautious and using restraint. We will find in life that there may be times in a relationship or situation that the other party involved may have an ulterior motive in “wining and dining” us.

BEWARE OF THE FLATTERER!

Solomon admonishes us that not everyone can be taken at face value. Be cautious and use restraint.

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” ~Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Principle 6:

“When sitting down to eat with a ruler, take a moment to think about who you are with and what you are doing. If you are the type who eats too much too fast, do whatever is necessary to curb your enthusiasm for food. Also, do not eye the ruler’s delicacies, for the food may not be what it seems.” -(VOICE)

Solomon tells us that when we are invited to the home of a ruler, leader, or influential person that we need to be cautious. Consider what is before you and why. Consider the moral, ethical and spiritual precepts that might be affected by your proximity to this person in authority. Ask yourself a few questions:
1.) Why am I here?
2.) What is the motivation of the person who invited me?
3.) What are my boundary lines?
4.) Will I remain true to God’s standards?

The first two questions will need to be answered as you sit in the presence of this person. The last two questions should have already been decided before you arrived to sit at their table.

“When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, with a person of influence and power, consider diligently what is before thee, keeping in mind throughout the dinner that it is a mightier and loftier one at whose invitation one is present, and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite, keeping the usual gluttonous appetite in leash by the strongest warnings and threats, restraining the least sign of self-indulgence. Be not desirous of his dainties, craving the finest food on the table; for they are deceitful meat, literally, “bread of deception,” it is a deceptive meal, the object of the powerful person not being to dispense free hospitality, but to make use of his guest in some manner.” ~ Paul E. Kretzmann (The Popular Commentary)

We need to notice Solomon’s warning against gluttony as well. Do not go into this situation blindly, focused only on what is immediately before you, food, and making a pig of yourself. The tasty morsels before you may in fact be a way to compel you to become obligated to this crooked leader. BEWARE! Take Caution! Use restraint.

“Therefore see that you walk carefully [living life with honor, purpose, and courage; shunning those who tolerate and enable evil], not as the unwise, but as wise [sensible, intelligent, discerning people], making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil.” -Paul Ephesians 5:15-16 (AMP)

There is wisdom in using caution and restrain. This does not mean that we should be questioning everyone’s motives. But it does mean that we need to be careful to in tune with the Holy Spirit’s leading. It does mean that we need to know where we stand, at all times, and why. It does mean that we need to be in the Word and know what God’s standards and boundaries are so that we are not over stepping them.

“If we know that the aim of the Holy Spirit is to lead man to the place of self-control, we shall not fall into passivity but shall make good progress in spiritual life. “The fruit of the Spirit is self-control” ~Watchman Nee

My Prayer:
Lord, I have fallen victim to those smooth talkers before. I have ignored the still, small voice within and rushed in to areas that angels fear to tread. Forgive me, please. Help me to learn self-control and caution. Help me to constantly listening to the promptings of your Holy Spirit and being obedient too. Give me your wisdom in all situations, so that I can stay within your boundaries, I pray.

September 3, 2019

Gossiping the Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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On the weekend our pastor used the phrase “Gossip the Gospel.” He attributed it to a UK evangelist, but I suspect this expression has been more widely used than I realized, though I couldn’t remember having personally heard it before.

Generally speaking, the word gossip has a negative connotation. 2 Cor. 12:20 reads,

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.

But we are using it in a positive sense here. The article I liked best was this 2005 item from the World Mission Prayer League. Click the header below to read at source.


To “Gossip” the Gospel

“The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins…that he was buried…that he was raised from death…” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4, Peterson)

I have recently come upon an interesting study concerning, of all things, gossip. “Have you heard the latest? Do you know the newest? Wait until you hear!” It is a strange topic for a missionary newsletter.

I have been interested in gossip for several years – not, mind you, as a practitioner – but as a student of the phenomenon. Long-term studies from cultures around the world confirm what most of us have experienced already: gossip is a universal human activity. On average, it turns out, we dedicate a fifth to two-thirds of our daily conversation to the behavior. And it doesn’t matter much if you’re a man or a woman, young or old, from Fiji or from Phoenix. Most everyone participates equally. As one researcher put it, “Scuttlebutt is the most highly valued currency there is.” Most of us simply cannot resist participation.

A dear friend of mine – mentor, professor of missions, and Bible translator – proposes that “gossip” is a fine way of translating the New Testament word, evangelizomai. Or better put, “gossip” translates the action or behavior behind this New Testament word. You might recognize this word. It is the word from which we get the English equivalents evangelize, evangelist, evangelism, and the like. So here is the idea: “to evangelize” might properly mean, “to gossip the Good News.

It is a provocative idea.

We have supposed that the task of evangelism belongs principally to evangelists – meaning professionals designated specifically for the effort. But the New Testament envisions something far more participatory – a task that belongs to the whole people of God. They should chatter about the Wonderful News at every opportunity. They should devote a significant portion of their daily conversation to sharing it. They should “gossip” it.

Gossipers do not need a pulpit to share their news. They do not need a written invitation, either. Practiced gossipers share their news quite irrepressibly, as a natural part of the ebb and flow of their daily conversation. And if they discover a particularly noteworthy morsel, they can hardly wait to tell their friends – like Paul felt, maybe, when sharing the Good News in Corinth.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I do not emulate gossipers in much. But maybe there is something to learn from their enthusiastic sharing. What if we invested as much of our day in “gossiping the Good News” as gossipers do in sharing their morsels? The news we have to share, after all, is much more than scuttlebutt. It is the Juiciest Morsel of all time and in all of God’s universe.

If you have never gossiped before (I doubt it), perhaps you will want to take it up. But watch what news you share. Have you heard the latest? Do you know the newest? Heaven is open. The Son has come. The grace of God is here.

Chatter it.


So how do we begin?

Bill Hogg at Arrow Leadership says this:

[E]quip your people to share their faith and engage in ‘go and tell’ evangelism. There is still a place for ‘come and see’ and ‘come and hear’, however people need to be equipped to share their story and God’s story at home, in the neighborhood, at work and at play. If people are confused about the gospel and reluctant and reticent to share the gospel, we must address this in our training and equipping game plan. This is a big chunk of what I do these days…so let me know if I can serve and resource you in deploying people who are winsome and confident in gossiping the gospel.


One final quotation, from Grace Communion International:

As Wayne Meeks, church historian, puts it, the early Christians, who were a vibrant part of their communities, “gossiped” the gospel. The joy of the journey with Christ simply overflowed, impacting those in their intimate community. They didn’t have to “evangelize.”

June 12, 2019

It’s Up To Us To Issue The Invitation

Today, we return to the writing of Andy Elmes. To get devotions like these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Yeah, But What If?

Matthew 24:42-44, NKJV

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

A few years back the world was subjected to another end of the world prophecy, where a man apparently representing Christians all over the world told how Jesus would return on a particular date. He said that at 6 pm Pacific time the earth would split, Jesus would return and the rapture would begin. The date came and went without anything that had been forecasted happening. All that sadly did occur was, once again, the media and sceptics of Christianity had more fuel to use and reasons to laugh.

But this false prophecy got me thinking, and the next day in Family Church I preached a topical message on it. After sharing on the news reports of what this man had claimed was going to happen, and of course clarifying the truth of no man knowing the exact day and the time, I posed a question: “Yeah, but what if?” What if, for some bizarre reason, he had got it right? I then played a very loud soundbite of thunder and lightning in the room and, as it echoed violently through our bass speakers, people stopped to think, “Yeah, what if, if it was all over what would I have changed?”

For me some things were very clear, because my life is built on His word. Would I be in heaven standing in heaven’s Sonlight? Yes, I do not doubt that, or have to hope for it – rather, I have an assurance because my salvation is the result of my faith in His grace and performance, not my ability or works. But the troubling question was, if He had returned who would not be in heaven with me? Who would not be there with me because I didn’t make time to tell them, or was not able to get over the pride or embarrassment that caused me not to give them their invitation? A very sobering thought and one that should cause us all to think about those we say we care for. Do we care for them enough to make sure they would be there with us?

Other questions caused me to review my life and priorities (things I thought were important). If I was now standing in heaven, how much would the things I thought I needed and had lived for now really matter? What worth would they have to me now? Was what I spent my life on worth it? Did it carry any profit in the place I now called home?

We know that Bible teaches that no man knows the hour or the day, but we also need to remember that a lot of what this fanatical man said was actually true: one day Jesus will return without warning, like a thief in the night, at a moment when people least expect, and in the twinkling of an eye it will all be over.

Let me leave you with this motivating thought: What if? Who do you need to reach for Christ? Do you need to take a fresh look at your priorities and what really matters? What do you need to spend the currency of your remaining days on?

I’m so glad He didn’t come on that highly-advertised date, as it means we still have time to invite those we need to, and live the life we always intended to. What are you waiting for, Champion – live your best life now?

May 14, 2019

Evangelism is More Showing Than Telling

Today we’re featuring an author who is new to us, Heather Goodman who writes at All Things Are Yours. This the beginning section of a much longer article, so you are encouraged to click the header below.

Evangelism and Genuinely Liking People

Forget apologetics.   Forget signs and wonders.  If you really want to excel at evangelism, there is one golden key worth more than all the others – LIKE the people you are reaching out to with Jesus.  Since we often get really messed up with doublespeak when we talk about what it means to “love”, I’d like to submit that the real issue is whether or not we LIKE “them.”  In general, we can’t bring people to Jesus that we don’t like.

What is evangelism, first of all?

A student of Greek will quickly explain that evangelism involves sharing good news, being an ambassador, etc etc.  And that’s all good and true.  Evangelism is part of our kingdom role of being priests and kings.  Malachi talks about one of the jobs of a priest:

“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7“For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 2:6-7)

Sharing the knowledge of God both with believers and nonbelievers is incredibly important and is our honored role in the Kingdom.  I’ve heard people often quote, St. Francis in saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” But the reality is that words will always be necessary.   We are to help people UNDERSTAND things about God, and share knowledge.

BUT –  if our view of evangelism is just about TELLING people something, shoving a sign or a tract or a well-rehearsed message at someone, I don’t think we’re going to get very far with real humans with that approach.  At least, I never saw much come of my own efforts at evangelism when I approached people with that mindset.  Evangelicalism for a long time has I think based much of its lifeless attempts at sharing the good news with people on a misapplication of one verse:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”Isaiah 55:11

This verse is often used to justify completely violating or at completely impersonal attempts at sharing Christ with people.  Under this mindset, all that matters is making people hear words.   It doesn’t matter if the message comes to them in any real understandable form, or if it has any personal connection to them… simply shouting at them is good enough, for God will make any words we shove at them “not return void.”  Though an explanation of why that’s a bad way to read that verse is well beyond the scope of this blog post, that’s not what this verse meant when it was written, and I don’t think its what it means for us today.

LEARNING A DIFFERENT WAY

My relationship with being an emissary of the gospel really started to change a few decades back when I stopped trying to be a “good witness”  (which is evangelicalism-speak for “hiding all your sins and faults from nonbelievers in order to supposedly attract them with the perfection of your life now that you are a believer in Jesus”) and instead let a non-Christian friend see me “for real,” as I shared with him the depths of the depression I was in, as well as my intense struggles with God at that time.  When he suddenly up and decided that Christ was real and he wanted in on the Kingdom when I was contemplating how best to hurt myself, I started realizing that my first “convert” was teaching me something about how Christ makes Himself known to people – and it wasn’t by me being fake and seemingly having it all together in front of non-believers.

I also started learning that it wasn’t about shoving impersonal sentences at people that supposedly were “the Word of God that won’t return void” to them.  Some wise person shared with me that every person in existence is already in a relationship with God, and that He has been dancing with them their entire lives, carefully cultivating a conversation with them.  I started to understand that my job as an evangelist was not to plod on into that conversation like a bull in a China shop, but to respect it – and to learn to peer into how God has already been engaging with that person, and that person with God – and to enter appropriately into THAT conversation.

Just as the Holy Spirit is one who “comes alongside and helps” I started to see my job as a colaborer with Christ by the Holy Spirit, agreeing with the Holy Spirit in coming alongside a person being drawn to Christ, rather than coming at them.  Good evangelism is midwifery, and while some babies are born on their own, much of the time someone helps the baby along…

…continue reading at this link

 

May 10, 2019

Limited Love

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Jesus in Acts 1:8

Okay.

Wait a minute, Samaria?

No way!

…If there are situations you would prefer not to get into, and types of people you would prefer not to help, perhaps your love is too limited…


Today’s devotional comes from a source we frequently link to at Thinking Out Loud but not here at C201. The website A Life Overseas is an online point of connection for people in missions for whom “home” means two (or more) places. Today’s writer is Ivy Chiu whose background includes Taiwan, traveling by ship to different countries with OM, and now, as she writes this, living in Zambia. Click the header below to read at source and then visit some of the other articles by her and other writers.

Touch the Untouchables

o love God and His people is the core of missions. That’s why missionaries leave their homes and move to places far away from anything familiar. Love is the reason for this crazy movement.

Well, that sounds all great and wonderful. But as I’ve entered long-term missions, I’ve realised it’s not always natural for me to love the people I serve. I’ve found it’s possible to be on the mission field and do all the work but at the same time, not love the people. Instead, I’m there simply to fix a problem. Trying to understand people’s situations, but not wanting to really relate to them. Standing a safe distance away from the ‘untouchable.’

As an Asian with a lot of straight and silky hair (that is hard to braid), African hairstyles were a completely new territory for me. I am always amazed by the endless creativeness and possibilities with African hair. I enjoy watching the ladies braiding their hair, but I never tried it myself until one day a girl called my name and asked me to help her take off her weave. I said yes without realizing what I was getting myself into. The other lady knew this was my first time, so she gave me a warning “This is going to take some time and she hasn’t washed her hair for a while. It’s a bit greasy and messy.” Immediately, I felt the dirt with my finger and I could smell the grease on the wig which had been used by multiple people. To be honest, I was not comfortable, but it was too late to say no. With clumsy fingers, I dug in.

If I had thought about it before, I would not have agreed to help. I would have wanted to keep myself clean. Dirty hair might not sound like a big deal. However, this shows that in some parts of me, I still wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I wanted to make sure the ‘mess’ of people would not affect me. I didn’t want to take the risk. Deep in my heart, I still separated myself from the people I served. I might be friends with them, but I was not willing to put myself in their shoes. But this is not the attitude of love.

I also started working with people who are HIV+. I thought as a missionary I was totally ready to love these people who are often pushed away from communities – I was there to serve the outcasts with the love of God. The reality struck me when I had a few people over to my house. I am not proud of my reaction to that first visit. I freaked out over the possibility that someone would cut their finger and bleed and I would somehow come into contact with it. I have received many teachings and trainings about HIV – I knew I just needed to be aware. Even with all the knowledge in my head, my heart still panicked. Love should be without fear and there I was, a missionary afraid to get close to the very people she was called to serve.

‘’While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.’’ – Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)

Lepers were some of the most untouchable people in the Bible. Everyone was afraid to get leprosy, a sign of uncleanliness, and so lepers were often isolated from the rest of the world. To me, the most amazing part of the story in Luke is not that Jesus had the ability to heal the leper, but that Jesus chose to touch him. From other scriptures, we know that Jesus could heal people via simply speaking – it was not necessary for Jesus to touch a person for healing. However, He touched the untouchable as the way of healing. Jesus didn’t stand far off and pray for the man. He reached out His hand without fear. He loved this man and knew what the leper desired most. Jesus didn’t care what other people might think and He truly acted out the belief that the man was worthy to be loved and accepted.

This story brings me back to my knees in prayer for God’s forgiveness and love. My love is too limited and I need God to help me overcome the fear. It’s by God’s grace I am able to serve and love the people I work with because I am too weak. I don’t want focus on the work instead of the people; creating a comfort zone within the mission field. I need to daily remind myself that love is the reason why I am here and it’s risky. I know there will be times when I want to run away and pray from a distance, but instead I need to run to God and ask for His power and love to fill me and help me reach out my hand to touch the untouchable.

May 9, 2019

Compelling Mission

by Clarke Dixon

Does the way in which we engage people outside the church point to the reality of God?

In previous posts we have looked at Christianity as compelling because it is true. This week we begin looking at how Christianity is compelling because it is beautiful.

My boys are now reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which I also read in school. In this book and corresponding TV series American society has been ordered, supposedly, according to the teachings of the Bible. However, it is not long before the reader realizes that this is a very ugly society. If that is what Christianity leads to, it is not compelling at all! If Christianity is true, reflecting a good and loving God, we will expect it to bring beauty, not ugliness. Does Christianity lead to beauty or ugliness? Specifically, is the way Christians engage non-Christians beautiful?

First, freedom is beautiful. Imprisonment is always an ugly thing. With Christianity there is to be freedom. When we read the New Testament we find people freely choosing to be followers of Jesus. In the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, Jesus did not say “go and force everyone to be a Christian,” but “go and make disciples.”

This means that everyone should have freedom to not be a Christian. Some religions and worldviews use power to keep people in. We can think of fundamentalist versions of Islam. In some nations it is illegal to convert from Islam to another faith! My own children have been raised with a strong connection with the church family. But they are free to not be Christians. While my heart’s desire is that all three will follow Jesus, it is not my decision to make. They are free to choose their relationship with Jesus. As they grow into adulthood they will be free to choose their connection with the church family also. Sometimes we as Christians have made it difficult for people to leave the faith. That gets ugly. Freedom is beautiful.

There is also to be freedom for the non-Christian to not have to act like a Christian. Jesus did not say in Matthew 28 “go and make Christian nations, forcing everyone to have Christian morals,” but,

. . . go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT emphasis added)

The New Living Translation goes beyond what is in the original Greek, but captures for us well who is to learn Christ’s ways, namely, His disciples. As a Canadian I am watching the culture war in the States with interest. I see a desire to ‘make America Christian again.’ However, forcing an entire nation to follow Jesus gets ugly. We understand that Christianity is spreading very well in China. I imagine that the Chinese Christians are focused on making disciples, one person at a time, not fighting a culture war, one law at time. That is not to say that Christians should not be involved in politics. But when we are, let us not confuse lawmaking with evangelism.

We Christians have sometimes denied freedom, and sometimes still do. It has been and can get ugly. But we will not deny freedom if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Freedom is beautiful, and a Biblical Christianity promotes freedom.

Second, words are a beautiful way to share truth. Forced conversion through violence is ugly. Conversion through force or manipulation is something you will not find happening in the New Testament, nor is it something Jesus told us to do. Instead, we find people sharing what they know to be true about Jesus using words. You will not find a Christian going to war in the New Testament to ‘take the land for Jesus.’ You will find honest sharing. You will find conversations. You will not find warriors. You will find preachers.

We Christians have sometimes resorted to power, and sometimes we still do. It has been and can get ugly. However, we will not use force if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Words are beautiful. A Biblical Christianity promotes conversation and sharing through words.

Third, it is a beautiful thing to share good news. Keeping life changing good news to oneself would be ugly. Keeping Jesus for ourselves would be ugly. Keeping quiet about the amazing news of God’s amazing grace would be ugly. Some religions may promote a ‘keep to yourself’ attitude. That might be okay if you are keeping your love for liver and onions to yourself. But imagine finding the cure for cancer. We have learned of the cure for death itself! We have learned that God has a love solution for our separation-from-God problem. Keeping that to ourselves would demonstrate an ugly, ugly lack of love for others. From the very earliest days, Christians have been involved in missions. Because we must in order to get to heaven? Nope! Because sharing good news is a beautiful thing, a natural thing. The good news is too good to keep to ourselves!

The way Christians are to relate with non-Christians is not ugly, but beautiful. Freedom is beautiful, words are a beautiful way to share truth, and it is a beautiful thing to share good news. God’s call for how the Christian should engage with the non-Christian is, just as you would expect from a good God, beautiful. This is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

May 8, 2019

Can’t Stop Talking

One of the first people I truly “met” online was Christian Blogger Rick Apperson who is a Salvation Army officer in British Columbia, Canada and also the author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ, published by Westbow. His blog, Just A Thought was somewhat inactive when I last checked in 2017, but this week I discovered he is back writing. I thought this article would be a good fit here. Click the header below to read it on the blog.

I’ve Seen too Much

Peter and John were hauled before the leaders and told in no uncertain terms they could not talk about Jesus Christ. They were threatened and that threat was real, palpable. Yet Peter and John, in the face of pressure were able to say:

“As for us, we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Think about that for a moment. These two had every reason to NOT speak abut Jesus. Most people threatened with prison, beatings, death…they would hesitate to continue a course of action that would see that as the end result. Jesus was gone. Taken up into heaven. Peter and John could have very easily pulled back from their public proclamations.

Instead they said they couldn’t stop speaking about what they had seen and heard!

They had a testimony!

Later in Acts we see that James was beheaded and Stephen was stoned to death. Peter was thrown in prison. There were consequences for speaking about this Jesus.

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)

I think about the state of our faith today.

It seems many have gotten distracted by the “culture wars” and, at least on social media, people seem angrier and have wrapped themselves in an “us against them” mentality. Christians seem to want to fight politically (at least in the US) to stop “those people” from winning! I have to say that the “sins” of society will not be won politically! We can try to legislate morality but political gains will not change the hearts of man. Government funding may allow Christian organizations to keep doing our social service activities but it won’t save lives from the pit of hell!

We need to get back to the Peter and John way of communicating. We need to stop talking about what we’re against/for and start telling our stories.

We have a testimony!

I have seen too much. People may doubt the existence of God but I have seen the sick miraculously healed. I have personally seen the impossible become possible. I have seen not only healings but miraculous acts of provision where no other explanation is possible. I have seen God move in my own life. To that I can testify!

Let us remember how the Lord has moved in and through our lives and then proclaim HIM boldly!


This song was recorded in 1997. (In case the clothing doesn’t give that away.) Still, this song came to mind after reading Rick’s article. I didn’t realize it was Hillsong.


Read Rick’s other articles here at C201.

January 25, 2019

Looking for Disciples Who Look Like Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Several times at our sister blog we’ve linked to the writing of various authors at The Jagged Word, but we’ve never included his writing here. Today we’re offering you a sample. As usual, send some link love to our featured writers by clicking the title and reading each article at its point of origin.

Collecting vs. Making Disciples

by Joel A. Hess

I often forget a little detail in our Lord’s command to His church in Matthew 28. He says, “Go and make disciples…” Every time I read and reread this almost cliché passage, I am reminded that Jesus tells us He is going to “make” disciples. It will be something done to people. No one will be waiting at the church door knocking to come in. 

“Making disciples” implies that no one is going to “come to the cross,” “come to their senses,” or “sign up on the sign-up sheet” hoping to be selected. No one came to the birth of our Lord except those called by God. No one came to the empty tomb except those expecting to find a dead body. Jesus made every disciple we read about in the New Testament, from Mary and Joseph to Matthew the tax collector and Mary Magdalene.

He did this by the power of His Word and words. Every single person who has come to faith in Christ was once stone-cold dead—worse, an enemy of God. As Jesus says in John 8, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus finds us. We don’t find Him. So He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He is the “Good” Shepherd because He is the Shepherd David talks about in Psalm 23. But He is also really good at being a Shepherd! Just as God found Adam and Eve and made them into believers of His grace, so He finds lost, scared, dying people and does the same. He does this through His church, that is, through other believers in Christ.

While I give lip service to this directive of Jesus, I often times find myself collecting disciples instead. I think many of us pastors and fellow disciples do the same. It’s our default disposition. We look for people who look like us, believe like us, have the same political views as us, talk like us, and live lives like us. Ironically, it has been my experience that those people are the hardest to convert.

Social media probably hasn’t helped us, and neither has the increasing habit of putting our whole lives into political party categories. By doing so, we put a barrier up before we can even start to share the good news of Christ!

I get it. If we only live by sight and not by faith, it certainly seems impossible that a person bragging about their atheism, their alternative lifestyle, and even their hatred of Christianity would ever be a disciple of Christ. But that is what we all were! We were all made disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Word. No one began with a disposition that was neutral, let alone favorable toward believing in God.

How quickly we are tempted to write people off! How quickly we are tempted to not believe the power of the God’s Word, that is, the Good News, that God does not hold our sins against us but has placed them upon His Son!

The church is not a collection of like-minded people, but a creation of God’s, united in their being found, rescued, and gently made (and being made) into hope-filled, peace-filled believers of Jesus.

May God open my eyes to see my neighbor and my enemy as Jesus sees them: as future disciples.

 

January 4, 2019

The Help Someone Needs May Be You Sharing Your Story

Today’s devotional is from the website Partners in Hope Today, which we reconnected with six months ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  Click the title below to read at source.

Sharing the Message

Audio for SHARING THE MESSAGE

Within each personal story of the journey from bondage to freedom is the power of the Gospel to save those who are lost.  We are simply sinners saved by grace and kept clean and sober daily by God’s mercy.  When we tell our story, our lives give witness to God’s grace and mercy and we are fulfilling the great commission of spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  We are pointing them to the pathway of their own healing journey with Jesus who said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed;” (Luke 4:18 NKJV)

The Bible tells us that if someone struggles we should be gentle and humble as we help them get back on the right path.  It’s important to remember how we were when we were slaves to our addiction, just as they are now.  We need to support the desire in a person’s spirit to carry out their new life choices, even while their flesh is weak.  We also need to respectfully warn others for whom we perceive ongoing danger.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

We are not the Saviour, but we can love others as God loves us.  Love goes beyond mere words.  Sometimes it is demonstrated in silence or in an understanding touch as we come alongside someone who has strayed from the path of recovery.  Love doesn’t accuse but encourages the person to get back on the path to healing and continue the journey.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, May my life reflect the joy of living life to the full so that others may believe in the power of the Gospel to save and transform lives.  Amen


Would you like to be able to share your testimony with others? It could be very helpful to someone you know or someone you don’t.

CRU — the organization once known as Campus Crusade — offers these tips in organizing your thoughts and the chronology of your personal story.


Although we don’t sing hymns in many of our churches anymore, I decided to include this contemporary version of “Love Lifted Me” as an example of how a story (testimony) can be a great encouragement to someone else.

(For a more rocking version, click this link.)

 

November 13, 2018

Convincing Witnesses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com. Click the title below to read this one at source.

Full of the Spirit

But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said ‘Go stand in the Temple courts and proclaim to all the people the words of this life.’  Acts 5:20

This is what has stuck with me throughout this week, along with a few other thoughts.  It was the apostles that got tossed into jail for telling about Jesus and new life in Him.  The religious leaders were filled with jealousy, which is what 5:17 tells us.  It wasn’t any complicated scheme–just jealousy.  Anyway, an angel let them out and told them to go back to the Temple court and keep teaching.

What catches me is that the angel told them to teach about ‘the words of this life.’  The whole first few chapters of Acts are flooded with the accounts of the Early Church–about how the Holy Spirit has come and landed on them like tongues of fire.  And how when they prayed the place where prayed shook with power and everyone was filled with boldness.  And then there was so much Holy Spirit power that people brought the sick and they passed by Peter’s shadow and they were healed.

So when they went back to the Temple Courts, they talked about Jesus being risen from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand as a Founder and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses of these events and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.  

I’m sure the apostles didn’t just mumble a sorry testimony and invite them to Temple too.  No, they were convincing witnesses about the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Go on to Acts 6 and read about Stephen.  He was described as being “full of the Spirit,” “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” and “full of grace and power, who was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”  Now that’s an eye-catcher.

People are looking for something to fill the holes in their empty lives, something big enough to occupy the space that they’re filling with things like their fascination with technology, the NFL, materialism, sex, drinking and other addictions.  If we offer a wimpy version of the Christian life, it is no more appealing than picking up an old textbook, or visiting their grandmother’s church.

But if you show them the real Jesus, and the “life that is truly life,” as 1 Timothy 6:19 says, or the abundant life that John 10:10 talks about.  And 1 Corinthians 4:20 it says that the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but in power.  

Last Sunday night I was at our County Jail for Bible study.  There were six Native American women and another jail chaplain and myself.  We talked for a bit to catch up on how they were doing, and as I began the study, there was a male inmate calling out loudly the whole time.  I stopped and asked what that was.  The women said it was a man in the holding cell. They felt bad for him and said he had been yelling out all day in about ten different voices.

I asked if any of them had been at church with me the last summer when one of the women did the same thing and we stopped and prayed–and she stopped yelling out.  The women immediately begged me, “Please stop and pray.  Please pray.”  So we stopped.  The other gal with me prayed out loud first and me second.  We prayed that the spirits that were oppressing him would be bound and that the peace of the Holy Spirit would rest upon him.  Within one or two minutes the man was totally quiet.

I said, “Hey, do you hear that?”  And they said, “Hear what?”  I said, “My point exactly. It’s dead quiet out there.  Jesus did that.  He hears our prayers and has the power to work.  He will do that in your life.”  We got back into the Bible study and the jailers were stirring up a mighty commotion out in the hallway.  I mean it was like a circus out there.  It went on and on.

Finally I stopped and said, “I’m praying again.  This circus has to stop.”  I prayed that God would silence the commotion in the hall and that it would be so quiet that they could hear a pin drop.  Again, within a minute the noise stopped.  And again, I said: “Do you hear that?  Jesus did it again.  That’s what He wants to do for you.”

Today I met with a Native American gal that just got out of jail and treatment.  She came to church and is resolute about “doing the next right thing.”  She is making a break from the bonds of meth and alcohol.  I told her the story of what happened in jail last week.  Her brother is in prison, but God has gotten a mighty hold on him and he is a living, walking evangelist everywhere he was been incarcerated.

She told me about when he was back at the County jail and was with a guy I’ve known since he was a kid.  He was telling this other guy about Jesus and the other guy kept saying that he was a Native and believing that.  Her brother was telling him that it wasn’t helping his life and that  Jesus is the only way, and that He’s real and wants to save him too.

The guy said, “Well, if Jesus is real, I’ll pray for something sweet.”  Maybe he was being sarcastic, because it was 10 at night and he knew it wasn’t going to happen.  But they prayed that S— would get something sweet and that S— would see that God is real.  Not even 5 minutes later a jailer came to their pod where 5 other guys were, at 10:00 at night and said, “S— I have a cupcake for you.  I just thought you’d like it.”

This guy S— got down on his knees and started sobbing and said, “I believe, I believe.”

Now that’s proclaiming the words of this life!  Words of power, words that aren’t just words, but are about life changing abundance that people can grab onto and say, “Yes, He is real and can do things in my life.”

Now, I have to go stand in the town courts and speak words of this life…


Want more? Check out this article by Martha: A Stripped-Down, Boring Jesus.

June 25, 2018

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

If today’s title seems long, it’s because, in a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 says: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to compare and contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.)  A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping.  This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.)  In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.


Bonus content:

…There are so many people in this world who are lost and lonely and hurting, people who have nowhere to turn and no idea how to escape Satan’s evil grip. Jesus is the only one who can help them. All they need is someone to point them toward the Cross, someone to care enough to take them by the hand and lead them into the arms of their Creator, someone to hold them and love them into the kingdom…

…There is something about staring into the eyes of hopelessness, despair, and absolute grief that brings the gospel message home to you in a way that nothing else can. Your life takes on a renewed sense of purpose and urgency and you want to spend every waking moment of your life sharing your faith and setting captive souls free.

Reaching people for Jesus is what my life is about. “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’” (Luke 14:23). I challenge you to join me and ask yourself this question: If I don’t help them, who will?

~Nicky Cruz, sourced at World Challenge.

 

May 21, 2018

The Unsaved Aren’t Afraid of a Hell They Don’t Believe Exists

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, the writing of Kaleb Tillman who calls his blog The Controversial Christian. Kaleb has an extensive background in Christian music and broadcast media. Click the title below to read this at source.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.

October 10, 2017

A Fire That Can’t Be Put Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a second visit to Pure Devotion, the blog of Lori Thomason. Click here to read her story. There were two other items we considered for today, but they’re much longer than what we normally do here.

If you have time I hope you’ll consider those; for today’s click the title below to read at Pure Devotion.

Fan Your Flame

2 Timothy 1:6-7 (NLT)  This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

“You cannot put out a fire that burns on the inside.” (Bethel Worship)

I am reminded today of the spiritual gift that God has given me. I have been challenged in the last few days to test the temperature of the water boiling into passion for Christ. Have I become tepid? Is the river of life flowing inside of me lukewarm? God has not given me a spirit of fear or timidity – but have I taken it anyway? He is given me power overflowing from amazing and abundant grace – am I doused in it? Is love my passionate motivation in all things? I have self-discipline. It is produced by the Holy Spirit who tends the fire that burns within me. The passionate pursuit of Christ that began with just a spark of faith turned into confident hope.

Matthew 5:14-15 (NLT) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

I am back at the furnace of the three Hebrew boys. I can feel the flame of refinement. The purification process designed to produce gold in our life. The heat that burns away all impurity to reveal the faith that is hidden within. I wonder if that is not the purpose of our life. To go through the same trials, troubles, and tragedies or to face the same temptations (rise or fall) that will demonstrate the Glory of God to all who are a witness. The church has painted a pretty picture. Religion erases the need for grace to give way to a façade of perfection not yet manifested until the return of Christ. We hide our broken hearts. Shield are scraped knees. Hide our dirty hands. When what the world really needs to see is a relationship so authentic that nothing can separate us. The Light of the Word was not lit up hiding in an upper room – but rather on a Cross for all the world to see in His Suffering. A city on a hilltop must be a reference to us. Given credibility in the Kingdom by our witness, but not to be tucked away in time. We are the reflection of His Love in its bloody, messy form. It may not be pretty but it’s the thing that we hold on to.

It’s time to fan the flame of His Spirit invested in us. To blow fresh wind on the passion growing dim within us. See when the fire is within us – the stormy winds cannot put it out. The waves of conflict or controversy will not overtake it. Trials will only make it hotter. Fearless faith rises from the ashes of burned pride as God makes beauty from them just as He promised. Our confidence becomes our conviction. Impossibilities will be the fields where faith is planted confidently and boldly knowing miracles will come up through the fertile soil.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 (NLT) Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave.  Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.

The holy inhabitation of the Spirit of the Living God within us is the opportunity to experience true intimacy with Him. Jesus lives in us. Successful relationships thrive on intimacy. Intimacy is often considered in a physical sense but truly it is in the most spiritual sense that it is accomplished. Physical and material things change in life for they are in a constant and perpetual state of decay. Our body is born dying. Of course, we may try to maintain our appearance but truthfully the only advantage given to us is believers is new life that begins in our soul. As our soul prospers, so does our life externally. Intimacy is a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship. It is the product of love and should encapsulate all of its characteristics. (I Corinthians 13) Those engaged in an intimate relationship know the other by close association with deep understanding and detailed knowledge of the other person. Intimacy requires openness by both individuals. It is an act of engagement that speaks, listens, knows and understands far deeper than words. Our intimacy with Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to experience a passionate love so perfect it burns away every other perception of the word.

Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Is my love and commitment to Christ born of an intimate relationship filled with passion possessing the brightest kind of flame? It was the desire of Jesus to love us and live in complete intimacy with us that provoked Him to exhibit “love as strong as death” and “jealousy as enduring as the grave”. Nothing can separate us from God’s Love now. We are more than conquerors and confident overcomers in Christ. If believers truly believed that then there would be nothing that would keep us from the fire. We would jump in feet first in hopes to grow deeper in love with Christ.

I Peter 4:12-13 (NLT) Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

For everyone will be tested with fire. (Mark 9:49) What if your present trial is actually an invitation to greater intimacy with the Lord? Could it be that He is trying to demonstrate His Love for you yet again with an outcome that is miraculous? Fiery trials will happen according to the Lord. We should be glad because it is through these incidents that we become partners with Christ. It is in His Suffering that our joy is made complete and dispensed in our life through passionate and fearless faith that will not back down from the fight or the fire but valiantly and victoriously fights for love. Are you passionate about your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you investing in your partnership with the Lord? Fan your flame. Stir the fire deep within. Let your light shine. You will not be consumed but fully connected. A flame introduces to a fire becomes one with it making it burn stronger and brighter than ever before. You are part of something bigger than yourself – become one with Jesus. Jesus came to start a fire in us producing a light so bright it burns away darkness all around us. The Light is produced by His Great Love. How bright is your light day?

Luke 12:49 (NLT) “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!

January 26, 2016

A New Song, An Old Story

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Ecclesiastes 1:9

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun. (NIV)

Decades ago The Rambos, a country gospel group, recorded My Song Is New, My Story’s Old. I had to look up the song yesterday, but the idea of the lyric has always stuck with me. There’s a line that says, “Found a new way to say it.” That’s the challenge to Christ followers everywhere; to find a new redemptive analogy that puts across the story of grace and forgiveness; or to leverage the current technology to get that message seen.

Our devotional today is by John Stuart at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. Click the title below to read at source.

Something Old, Something New

Ecclesiastes 1:10 – Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (NIV)

I am fascinated by the current cinematic trend of remaking or re-envisioning old movies. For the last couple of years, it’s been difficult to find an original story or a completely new series of pictures. Hollywood seems preoccupied with retelling old tales with new actors and brilliant special effects, yet, no matter how wonderful these remakes appear to be, they’re just the same old stories presented in a different style or new medium.

As I watch crowds of people lining up at the movie theaters, it makes me wonder if the church could not learn something from this post-modern phenomenon. Are there new ways to retell God’s stories? Should we seriously consider using innovative media techniques to present our worship, our Bible studies, our programs, and our missions in order to reach a wider community?

The answer is, of course, “Yes!” Christianity has always been good at adapting its faith to new innovative processes. The gospel writers used widely-spoken Greek instead of obscure Aramaic to spread Christ’s message. The Reformers employed the printing press to produce Bibles in various European languages to expand Protestantism. Missionaries traveled the entire world using ships, trains, automobiles, and planes to take the gospel to other nations and indigenous peoples. And today, Christian pastors use the Internet by uploading sermons and devotionals, writing blogs, and posting pictures to reach people in their homes all over the world.

A long, long time ago, in Galilee far away, Jesus Christ lived, bringing a message of hope to His people and the rest of the world. His story is our history and we are the messengers of His words, works, and ways in our own homes, churches, and communities today. The gospel may be almost 2000 years old, but its teaching is still relevant for every human being on this planet. As Christians, it’s up to us to present that old message in new forms, whether it be by texting Bible verses, sharing prayers on Facebook, or writing devotional blogs. The opportunities are both amazing and boundless; it’s up to us to use them to glorify God and expand Christ’s kingdom across the globe.

Questions for personal reflection: How has my faith been shaped by current technology? How am I using that technology to share my faith?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we live in amazing times and have wonderful resources to share Your gospel message with our families and friends, neighbours and strangers. Grant us new opportunities to express our faith in positive ways using the technology at our disposal. In Your holy name, we share and pray. Amen.

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