Archives For Evangelism

200408-omag-hungry-600x411It usually happens like this: a married couple or an individual shows up at church. They are struggling relationally or spiritually. At some point they say, “I have been attending so-and-so church for several years, but something does not feel right. We know that the Bible says we should be growing spiritually, and we have tried lots of things, but I go away feeling empty. And my [unbelieving] husband even recognizes it.” After many questions, it becomes clear that they have little to no understanding of God, themselves, sin, Christ, and how it all applies to their lives. Very often, it’s because their ears have been tickled. They have been pandered from the pulpit.

Pander: “to provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable” (Merriam-Webster).

I imagine that these individuals have sat under preaching similar to a kind I heard recently. The pastor approached a somewhat controversial and very important text. He opened by saying that just about any interpretation of the passage is fine, and one cannot really say that this or that view is correct. After reading some of the passage and skipping over other parts, he began to describe his personal ministry experiences which argued against the clear meaning of the text. On the basis of personal sentiment, it was described that the passage could not mean what it said. In so many words, he excused and apologized for the text like one might do for an embarrassing uncle at a Christmas party. The preaching continued around the text without the text being preached.

This is one of the many forms of pulpit-pandering. But I’ve wondered about the long-term effects of this approach to preaching the word of God. What might happen to people as they sit under this all-too-common occurrence week after week? To be sure, it will not be without consequence.

Here are a few perils that can result from pulpit-pandering:

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The news in South Africa last week has read like a macabre sequel to Alan Paton’s haunting novel Cry, the Beloved xenophobia graphicCountry. Paton, in 1948, portrayed a disturbing dystopia of incipient segregation between Whites and Blacks in South Africa that would burgeon into the institutionalised racism of Apartheid.

What is unfolding today is the beating, robbing, and execution of immigrants from other African countries.

The news headlines call it xenophobia. That is a misnomer. Xenopobia, which connotes a benign fear of diversity, is defined as “the dislike of, or prejudice against, foreigners.” It’s a sub-category of racism because it is hatred by some (albeit a minority) of Black South African citizens of Black foreigners.

But what is happening in Johannesburg and Durban should more accurately be called xenocide.

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Last week I was notified by local law-enforcement that you (Westboro Baptist) were planning on visiting the church I pastor. They told me you had a track-record of not showing up for your protests, that we shouldn’t worry about it or do anything differently, and that if you did show up, they would ensure your right to be heard while maintaining order at our church.

I quickly found your website that lists your protest schedule, which conveniently also listed why you were protesting. You said you would be at our church because we are not active in street evangelism, as evidenced by the fact that we were meeting together in a building. I sent you an email asking if you were familiar with all of the evangelism and outreach our church does do, but never heard back.

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Seven years ago, a group of fifteen Southern Baptist evangelists met together to bemoan the growth of Calvinism within SBC circles.

When asked about his concerns, Jerry Drace (the evangelist who initiated the meeting) explained that some Baptist pastors are so Calvinistic “that they almost laugh at evangelism. It’s almost to the extent that they believe they don’t have to do it. So [Calvinism] gives them an excuse not to do evangelism.”

Drace’s comments raise an important question. Does an affirmation of God’s sovereign election in salvation (commonly called “Calvinism”) discourage people from faithfulness in evangelism?Calvin and Company

An answer to that question could be approached from several different angles.

One could, for example, consider evangelistic efforts among Baptists — comparing those who embrace the doctrine of election with those who do not. An SBC study “found that Calvinistic recent graduates report that they conduct personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.”

A better place to go, of course, would be the Word of God. There are many passages to which we could turn (from John 6 to Acts 13 to Ephesians 1); but I would start in Romans 9–10. Pardon the anachronism, but it is no accident that one of the most “Calvinistic” chapters in the Bible (Romans 9) is partnered with the one of the most “evangelistic” (Romans 10). Clearly, the apostle Paul saw no disconnect between the reality of God’s sovereignty in salvation and his own evangelistic zeal. Continue Reading…

WhitefieldThis week, I came across a remarkable sermon from George Whitefield, entitled, “The Eternity of Hell-Torments,” which he preached in London in 1738. When the reality of the fate of those who perish in this life without Christ is again pressed upon one’s conscience, it always seems like a burden too great to bear. But, as Whitefield would say in the sermon, “If the bare mentioning the torments of the damned is so shocking, how terrible must the enduring of them be!” Truly this is the most solemn of subjects. But we as Christians — as preachers of the Gospel of Christ — we must give our minds and hearts to the biblical teaching of the unbeliever’s fate. And Whitefield has done us an excellent service. You can read the sermon in full here, but I wanted to highlight his conclusion today on Cripplegate.

As a preacher, it was instructive for me to observe the way Whitefield pled with his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. He was not content to simply parrot out a few stock phrases that summarized the content of the Gospel, and give an “invitation.” No, he reasoned with his hearers. He considered what objections their sinful hearts may have concocted in their own spirits as they were listening, and he did his best to respond to those objections. He loved these people enough to get inside their heads, to trace out the probable outworkings of their unregenerate affections, and to leave them no room to think or feel the way they had been when they came in. This is the kind of penetrating, heart-searching application I aim for in my own preaching — not because my hope is to be like Whitefield for his sake, but because my hope is to love my people the way Whitefield loved his, and the way Christ loved His. This is the way that I want to preach the Gospel in my sermons.

But beyond observing a good homiletical example, this sermon penetrated my own heart, just as a fellow-sinner in need of the grace of God, and as a Christian who proposes to be in the ministry of rescuing souls from hell through the preaching of the Gospel. To be reminded of the eternal torments of hell is, in the true sense of the word, awful. But it is so necessary, in order to shake my soul from the complacency wherein I am too often found. I don’t want the miseries of hell; I want the joys of seeing and loving Christ in heaven! Sermons like this — and Gospel-appeals like this — urge me to renew my resolve to fight sin in my life, “lest,” in the words of the great apostle, “that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor 9:27). And I don’t want the miseries of hell for those whom God has providentially placed in my path, either. Sermons like this urge me to renew my resolve to be intentional in proclaiming the Gospel to the people around me, lest I fail to be a God-glorifying watchman (cf. Ezek 3:17-21). I pray you’re benefited by Whitefield.

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* Note: This article has been updated. And by updated, I mean completely changed.

The article I originally posted this morning was an amazing tale of intrigue, conspiracy, and dramatic conversion. It involved a former KGB agent named Sergei Kourdakov who violently persecuted the church in Russia only to be radically saved in America where he began working with Underground Evangelism—a California-based ministry that helped to smuggle Bibles into communist countries.

He was like a modern-day apostle Paul, risking his life to minister to the very people he had formerly persecuted. The parallels to Paul’s testimony were obvious and compelling. Moreover, the details of Kourdakov’s life were all arranged in convincing fashion in an autobiography published by Fleming H. Revell soon after he died (in 1973).

His story has been repeatedly told in books and sermons. Even Wikipedia houses an article propounding the details of Kourdakov’s incredible testimony.

My post this morning accurately conveyed details from Sergei’s autobiography. The problem is that his autobiography appears to have been a work of fiction, rather than fact.

Thanks to my friend and fellow blogger, Tim Challies, I discovered that the story Kourdakov recounts in his autobiography is most likely untrue. Christianity Today tells the full story at this link.

I had not been aware of the controversy surrounding Sergei Kourdakov’s story before seeing that link. But now that I’ve read the article there, I cannot in good conscience leave my previous post online.

If Kourdakov’s story is in fact false, it is a good reminder (for me) of the need to verify everything carefully. One of my pet peeves is sermon illustrations that are untrue. It appears, on this occasion, that I may have been unknowingly guilty of using such an illustration.

Consequently, I’m posting this retraction — possibly the first in Cripplegate’s history. While it might not be the last, I certainly hope to do better at vetting stories like this before I publish them.

Christmas is traditionally a time for family. And since no family tree can be completely homogenous Christians will be dining with unbelievers on Christmas Day. And sadly, some Christians I know are dreading that time.bride in the mud

You know the type: the believing bubble babies who were birthed into a Christian home, were either homeschooled or attended Christian school K-thru-college, and got a job in a sanitized and Christianized office where even the janitor has a fish sticker on his minivan. They get their teeth whitened by a Christian dentist and their oil changed by a Christian mechanic.

But the one time of the year they can’t escape rubbing shoulders with spiritual grime is at Christmas. Perhaps they even wish God would do some pruning of their family tree to make life neater.

Having been an unbeliever for many years I have news for that crew: your unbelieving family members are also dreading time with you. They view you as annoying, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou hypocrites.

This species of believer is not going to change its ways by reading a blog post. They will either mature into loving, gracious, witnesses for Christ, or they will become more entrenched in their judgmental ways until no family invites them over anymore. But if you are one, and would like to try change, here is one simple strategy to employ this Christmas to be less abrasive to unbelieving family and friends: accept that mud is muddy.

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IMG_0373 - CopyI grew up in an Italian-American family in Central New Jersey, hearing the Gospel and going to church. And as long as I can remember, I mentally assented to the Gospel. It had always made sense to me: if I broke my parents’ rules and disobeyed them, I was punished; similarly, I had broken God’s rules and disobeyed Him, and so I would be punished on a much greater scale. But because God loved us, He sent His Son Jesus to earth, who didn’t deserve to be punished, and He took our punishment by dying on the cross. And if I believed that, I wouldn’t have to be punished for my sins. I can’t recall a time that that message didn’t make sense to me. And because it did make sense, I thought that I was saved at a young age.

But I really hated church. It was boring. Every Sunday morning, my brother and I used to pretend that we couldn’t be shaken from our deep slumber, hoping that our parents would throw in the towel and let us stay home on Sundays. When they managed to get us in the car, church was still at least 15 minutes or so away, so it was plausible for us to once again be sound asleep by the time we arrived in the church parking lot.

I don’t know if the fake sleep routine ever actually worked, and so despite our commitment to stay out of church, we were there pretty much every Sunday. Usually, I would endure the singing and the preaching and then do my best to get my parents out the door as quickly as possible. But one Sunday when I was 11, I was particularly pricked in conscience as a result of something the preacher was saying. I don’t have any idea what it was, but it made me realize that though I thought I had been saved since I was 4 or 5, I hadn’t been. At the end of the service, “with every head bowed and every eye closed,” I “slipped up a hand” to indicate that I believed I was saved that day. But I didn’t tell anyone about it, and soon after that I reverted back to my old pattern of feigning sleep and living for myself.

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2013-04-16_16-28-38_187I grew up in a home without Christ, but with parents who cared for me. All I knew of Christianity was an emotionally stirring, but very confusing Roman mass at Christmas now and then. And if I ever heard the true gospel in detail prior to my conversion at 23, I do not recall it.

Besides skiing and getting good enough grades to be applauded, I did not care about much. And it showed in my life. I was a very arrogant person who pursued pleasure at just about any expense. I hurt quite a few people along the way, to my great shame, and wish I could undo so many things.

During my college years, I dove deeper into alcohol and drug abuse and was out of control. Somehow, I graduated from college in the sciences. And I was restless and looking for another, bigger adventure. So, I decided to take a year off before graduate school and be a ski bum. I packed up my truck and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When I pulled into town 15 years ago, I was homeless, had no money, no job, no friends, and, worst of all, no eternal life. And I didn’t care.

For the most part, my days were spent skiing, and nights, intoxicated. And I loved it. I threw away the graduate school application. The skiing was just too amazing. And the intensity with which everyone pursued outdoor sports was amazing. The only thing I could liken it to was a fierce, religious devotion, and one which surpasses many Christians in their devotion. I was all in.

I was also a hardcore evolutionist. I had the hominid family tree memorized and could narrate how things came to be on earth over the past 4.5 billion years. Then God brought along a girl (my wife, now) who challenged me to check out the scientific evidence for a Creator. I had never heard of such an idea. But the more I studied, the more I saw that the universe, macro and micro, yelled loudly of its Creator.

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Jesse one purpleI grew up in a non-Christian family, almost entirely ignorant of the Bible, Jesus, and the basics of the gospel. I was registered as a Quaker—to keep me out of the draft, were one to present itself again (flower power, and whatnot)—but this was mostly symbolic, and did not bleed over into any kind of religious upbringing.

In fact, when I was an eighth-grader I watched a soccer game on TV and noticed a guy in the stands who was holding a sign that said “John 3:16.” I honestly had no idea that meant, and I asked my dad. When I found out it was a Scripture reference, I tracked down a Bible. First I had to figure out that “3:16” was not a page number, and then sort through the five books in the KJV that bear John’s name. But because I thought it was connected to soccer, I was motivated and finally cracked the Bible code and read the verse. This was anti-climactic though, and left me super-confused—I could not figure out what God giving his son had to do with World Cup soccer.

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