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Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Ezekiel’s Call

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A few days ago, I read a blog written by Phil Johnson, in which he briefly discussed the topic of pleading with others to come to Christ. While I’ve heard that we should do this, I wouldn’t characterize my evangelism as “pleading”. On the contrary, when I share the gospel, I would characterize it more like “reasoning”, “discussing”, or “sharing”. It’s always seemed to me that pleading is at odds with discussing.

See, when I share the gospel, I never plan on ending the conversation by saying, “Will you please believe in this? Will you put all your faith in what Christ has done on the cross? Will you accept what I have told you?” I think one of the reasons I don’t do that is because it’s incredibly awkward. I realize I’m not the most agreeable, charitable person in conversation, plus I know I come off as argumentative when I don’t even mean to be. So why should I compound the gospel with my own overbearing, emotive appeals?

On the theological side, I believe Scripture is clear that it’s not our will that brings people to know Jesus as lord and savior. So pleading, in a way, seemed to me to be taking God’s work into my own hands. For a long time, I’ve thought that if I simply present the truth to people in a clear way, that’s all I need to do. God will do the rest in their heart; and hopefully one day, they will place their trust in him.

As I thought about this yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised by my current study of the book of Ezekiel. In the beginning of the second chapter, Ezekiel describes his call by God to be a prophet.

Then He said to me,

“Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!”

As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me.
Then He said to me,

“Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’

As for them, whether they listen or not–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house. But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.” (NASB) Ezekiel 2:1-7

There are two parts of this commission that struck me. The first part is the way in which Ezekiel is commanded to minister, the second part is the attitude he is commanded to have while he ministers.

God tells him, “…you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.'” There is a special responsibility God has given Ezekiel, that is, to speak his words directly to the people of Israel. God has the sole authority over not only Israel, but all men, and for Ezekiel to speak from God makes his words compelling upon them for change.

He then warns Ezekiel that, since Israel is a rebellious people, it is likely he will be rejected. Even still, God’s command remains, “But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.” The response of the people of Israel should not determine the content of what he says. Though they may be rebellious and threatening, Ezekiel’s message has a divine origin and must therefore be preached.

I think the section of scripture from which Phil Johnson gave his brief exhortation fitted perfectly with what I’ve been reading in Ezekiel,

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV) 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

In light of these passages, I think the best way to plead with sinners to come to Christ is to directly quote the passages of the Bible in which God himself pleads with us to be reconciled to him, such as this one. After all, the authority does not rest with me or my will, but with God’s. Who better to plead with humans than their creator? But in all this, God has chosen me to give breath to his Word, making his plea to others using my lungs.

If anyone else who reads this had other thoughts, passages, or experiences that shed light into this, I would appreciate hearing what you have to say.

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One of my best friends, a youth pastor, has shared with me how one day he’d like to be a bartender. As someone who values conversation, he sees the occupation as a great opportunity to share his life with others. The maxim in vino veritas (in wine there is truth) is the operant idea here. Sometimes people won’t open up until they’ve consumed a little bit of “truth serum”.

Last Thursday, I had the chance to experience this theory. After my last philosophy of education course, some fellow students and I joined my teacher for some beer at the local brewery/restaurant Boundary Bay. Looking around the table, there were a few people who were mere Theists (mere belief in God with no corresponding moral doctrine), an liberal Atheist, a liberal Christian, a recovering ex-Mormon, and an agnostic. It was quite enjoyable. After all, talking about values in class is hard work…talking about them outside of class is fun!

As the night went on, about half our group left for home, and I was left with the recovering ex-Mormon (REM) and the agnostic. REM is a happily married mother of two. She was curious about my political/religious views and, in order to continue the enjoyable evening, offered to by the agnostic and me another beer.

I accepted.

You don’t turn someone down when she wants to know what your beliefs are and buys you beer as you explain. Plus, Boundary Bay beer is the best. I’ve been trying to get my youth pastor friend to come up sometime to enjoy it with me.

As much as I could while not turning the evening into a Billy Graham crusade, I tried to share my beliefs. I also wanted to learn more about theirs. Neither of them was particularly compelled to ask more that would lead to me sharing the gospel…so I didn’t push the matter. But they both came away probably knowing the importance of Christianity to me, and that it has a big impact on my life. The recovering ex-Mormon might even bring her family to my church.

It’s times like these when I wonder how some people dismiss alcohol as evil…and would never imagine enjoying it with others. None of us were drunk or even close. No one did anything stupid. All of our personal convictions were expressed, not compromised.

I’m reminded of Luke 7:13

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Sometimes condemnation is inevitable. But as someone who is ultimately accountable not to men, but to God, I make judgment calls like this not based on what others say – but on what is wise. The fruit of this method of evangelism has proven itself to me over and over: people get a clear picture of Christ and their need for him, whether or not they accept it for themselves.

There’s no reason to say drinking alcohol over dinner is the only true way of witnessing to others. You don’t even have to have alcohol. But you do have to show hospitality to people, and you do have to share the faith that is within you. To some extent, you have to be willing to understand people with whom you disagree and love them enough to enjoy their company for a little while. I encourage you to practice some form of hospitality toward both the believers and unbelievers in your life. If you place God first as you do it, you will be blessed.

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This selection comes from a sermon of Scougal’s sermon entitled “That There are But a Small Number Saved”, based on the text from Luke 13:23,

“Then said one unto him,

“Lord, are the few that be saved?”

 

 

In this selection, we find Scougal proposing a theology that bears a sharp contrast the the inclusivism of the Anglican church of his day, as well as that of many Christian churches in America today. Consider this interview between Larry King and Joel Osteen:

KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know …

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.

When King pushes Osteen for a direct response to the question, “What if people don’t accept Christ?” Osteen repeats, “I don’t know,” several times. He doesn’t want to make a distinction between those who believe in Christ and those who don’t. He wants to make the way to heaven seem as open and available as possible. As we see in Luke 13:23 and in Scougal’s sermon, this is not only a flawed position; it is lethally dangerous.

Amongst all the stratagems whereby the great Enemy of mankind contrives their ruin, few are more unhappily successful than the fond persuasion he has filled them with, that heaven and everlasting happiness are easily attainable. What one says of wisdom, we may, with little alteration, apply unto this purpose: ‘That many might have reached heaven, if they had not been so confident of it.’

The doors of the Christian Church are now very wide, and men have access unto them upon easy terms; nay, this privilege descends unto men by their birth, and they are reckoned among Christians before they come well to know what it means. The ordinances of our religion are common to all, save those whom gross ignorance or notorious crimes exclude; there are no markers on the foreheads of men whereby we can judge of their future; they die, and are laid in their graves, and none cometh back to tell us how it fareth with them, and we desire to think the best of every particular person.

But whatever charity be in this, there is little prudence in the inference that many draw from it, who think they may live as their neighbors do, and die as happily as they, and since the greatest part of men are such as themselves, heaven must be a very empty place if all of them be debarred. Thus perhaps you have seen a flock of sheep upon a bridge, and the first leapeth over, and the rest not knowing what is become of those that went before, all of them follow their companions into that hazard of ruin. Interest and self-love so strongly blind the minds of men, that they can hardly be put from the belief of that which they would fain have true.

Hence it is that, notwithstanding all we are told to the contrary, the opinion of the broadness of the way that leads to heaven, is still the most epidemic, and I think the most dangerous heresy. Many are so ignorant as to avow it, and the strange security of more knowing persons as loudly proclaim it.

I know he undertakes an unwelcome errand, who goes about to dispossess the minds of men of such a pleasant and flattering error; but what shall we do? Shall we suffer them to sleep on and take their rest, until the everlasting flames a wake them? Shall we draw their blood on our heads, and involve ourselves in their ruin, by neglecting to advertise them of their hazard?

No, my friends; duty doth oblige us, and the Holy Scriptures will warrant us to assure you, that there are very, “few that shall be saved”; that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1); and that they are a “little flock” to whom the Father will give the kingdom .”(2)

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gsdfg.jpgDo not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

1 John 2:15, James 2:8-9

 

Bellingham is warming up.

In order to determine the seasons in Western Washington, you can’t ask yourself if it’s sunny, snowy, or rainy. You assume the rain part and then you look to see what else is happening. Rain with snow means it’s Winter; rain with golden leaves means Fall (if it’s raining, there are golden leaves, AND there are kids outside, it’s Halloween); and if it’s a completely clear sky accompanied by rain, it’s probably the fourth of July. Lately though, as we’ve start to get rain mixed with partial sunshine, we know Spring has made an entrance into the great Northwest.

As I write, remnant beads of last night’s rain rest on the pink flowers blooming outside my window. Hopefully, the rain doesn’t come back and I’ll have the opportunity to join the Immanuel Bible Church C-team in victory this afternoon. Over the last year, my relationship with my local church has bloomed like the glistening Rhododendron flowers; both have given color to an otherwise grey environment.

How do we love?

Last night, my church college group gathered to discuss what its Summer schedule would look like. The goal was to brainstorm different ideas about what activities, ministry, or hang-out times we should plan for. At one point, Mark, our pastor, suggested that he didn’t want our group to function like a country club – i.e. something all of us could do for fun while excluding the people and community around us.

This isn’t the first time Christians struggled with the idea of isolating themselves from the world around it. In fact, it’s a problem that has plagued the church as long as it has functioned.

At different points in history, the church has either erred on the side of loving the world in order to gain popularity with unbelievers (i.e. the 4th Century, when the church at Rome prostituted itself to become a national religion) or trying so hard to avoid the world, the church neglected to reach out at all (the Puritans & Pilgrims, as they tried to create a theocracy in America, chose to flee England, rather than continuing to confront the Anglican church…and few reached out peacefully to the Native Americans with the gospel). For this reason, it is extremely necessary to discuss the topic of love. Not romantic love; but Christian love, or the love of the Church.

Essentially, the problem for all Christians comes to this: we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, yet we are also called not to love the world.

I’ve never read any books or articles about this difficulty, nor have I heard a sermon that specifically addressed it, but it strikes me as an issue that, if understood biblically, could shed a lot of light on many issues within evangelical churches today.

Whom do we love?

About two years ago, I began working at the Gap. As I formed relationships with co-workers, I found myself immersed in a new culture. Key traits of the group were: deep intellectual conversation, good food, and alcohol (don’t worry…drunkenness was never my thing). These people are not Christians, but they aren’t hooligans either. I’ve developed a lot of respect for them. They are wonderful company, and they have (usually) been very respectful of my commitment to Christ.

As people moved away or found jobs elsewhere, I started to lose many of those connections and began pursuing my relationship with my church a lot more. Not that I had lapsed in my attendance or my love for my church (or my savior Jesus Christ), but I have to admit: spending time with the college group was many times more awkward than my friends from work. I say I “pursued” my church because I stepped up my attendance at events, became more proactive about getting to know people, joined the worship team, and made my membership at Immanuel official.

I simply cannot be constantly involved in two different communities. While they aren’t mutually exclusive, I will find my identity in only one. I will have one community that I see as a refuge, and another I see as a mission.

(more…)

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