Archives For Evangelism

New Year 2014As we approach the beginning of the New Year, many people are reflecting on the previous year and how they’ve lived their lives, and are making resolutions and determinations to live better in the coming year, whatever that may mean. The process seems to involve a kind of refocusing on things that are important to us so that when we will have come to the end of this next year we will look even more favorably on it than the previous one.

Though I’m a few days early, as we anticipate the coming of 2014 I want to write an open letter of sorts that focuses on the most important realities in the world. And the addressee of my open letter is you. No matter who you are—whether young in the faith, a seasoned saint, or not a believer in Jesus at all; whether we’re good friends, have only spoken a few times, or if I don’t know you from Adam—I can think of nothing more profitable that I’d like to say directly to you. And perhaps the most interesting distinctive about this open letter for 2014 is that it’s nothing new. It’s the same old message for a brand new year, because it’s the only message that is sufficient to transcend all times and cultures. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll read carefully.

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Christmastime is upon us. In a few short days, many of us will find ourselves in a home filled with family members and friends, some of whom we see often, and some of whom we see rather seldom. It will be a time of reunion, reconciliation, catching up, and sharing stories. In many cases, it will provide multiple opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel before the people we care most about.

But precisely because we care most about them, it can often be difficult to have those conversations. We still may fear our family members’ evaluation of us, especially if they’re our parents. We don’t enjoy being thought of as strange, naïve, or narrow-minded by those whom we care most about. Maybe the last time we tried evangelizing them it didn’t go so well, and we don’t want to strike any raw nerves. It could even be that our pride and self-focus has dampened our affections for Christ’s glory and our love for our lost family members.

But sometimes the problem is just that it’s hard to start the conversation. Now, in some cases, the theme of the Christmas will provide some natural opportunities to speak about “the Reason for the season.” Praise God for those times. Pray for more of them. And take them when they come! Oftentimes, though, our unbelieving friends and family members who know that we’re Christians are looking for every opportunity not to take the conversation in that direction. And so if it’s going to get there, we have to steer it that way. And I can testify from experience that Christians can wind up squandering opportunities to move a conversation toward Christ and His Gospel simply because they don’t know how to make that move without being too abrupt, tactless, or cheesy.

In my attempts to gracefully steer a conversation toward the Gospel, I’ve found that it is helpful to listen for key themes. Some have conceptualized the history of redemption as forming around the four key themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. As I’ve done some reflecting on these categories, I discovered that many of our life experiences can be viewed through the lens of these themes as well. Therefore, listening for these themes in a conversation with an unbelieving friend or relative can provide a way to naturally transition the conversation to the Gospel. Think through them with me.

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This post is an excerpt from my book, Holding the Rope: Short-term Missions, Long-term Impact published

by William Carey Books, to be released in 2014.

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. That little ditty has helped many historically challenged kindergarteners cement the date of the discovery of America into popular consciousness. But a comprehensive and true-to-life rhyme of Christopher Columbus’ success would read more like a dissonant tale by the Brothers Grimm. The iconic explorer commanded almost no skills besides sailing a ship. He could travel far, but rarely to where he was aiming, and upon arrival was never quite sure how to make the most of the accomplishment. The popular historian, Bill Bryson, commented wryly,

It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence.”

HTR 1 hands

Resolutely aiming his fleet at the Orient, Columbus inadvertently stumbled upon South America, believing it to be India, which explains why natives in the Americas were unceremoniously dubbed “Indians.” He then haphazardly explored this area for about eight years, bumping into various Caribbean Islands, which he pertinaciously continued to label as Oriental. He mistook the island of Cuba for mainland Asia, and he neglected to actually set foot in America, the territory most people assume he discovered.

Throughout his voyage he gleefully loaded his flotilla with copious amounts of fool’s gold and prodigious quantities of random plant matter that were to his estimation highly valuable spices from the East. Upon his return to Europe, as part of their exotic cargo, his surviving crew delivered their own dubious contribution to the Old World, namely syphilis.

Nevertheless, Christopher Columbus undeniably changed the world forever. By establishing contact with the New World and lugging unknown foodstuffs back home, he began an irreversible historical movement of seismic proportions, the social, political, economic aftershocks of which are still being felt today. The quake would significantly affect Church history.

In a similar way, a short-term missions trip (STM) can have lasting effects that cannot be predicted. A poorly aimed trip has the potential to wreak cultural and spiritual havoc in a village in Africa, or it can create a lasting bridge for the gospel to bring hope and change that echoes in eternity.

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 “If Superman were real, since he was born on Krypton and not a descendant of Adam, would he have a sin nature?”

I have been asked this type of hypothetical question on occasion while trying to have a meaningful conversation with an unbeliever about the gospel. Some of the atheists I encounter are very well versed in theology and Scripture, and have dismissed the gospel after what they consider to be thoughtful enquiry. They may express their disdain for gospel by posing conundrums meant to expose the inadequacy of the gospel, or an apparent inconsistency in my theology.Superman

By the time I am fully engaged in a gospel presentation I tend to get quite caught up in it. I really want the person to believe and repent, and for a moment, I forget that their salvation isn’t up to me, but the Holy Spirit. So, I have fallen into a trap most level-headed Calvinists wouldn’t. I have attempted to answer the proffered puzzle, so that I can show how consistent Christian theology is, and how the Bible is sufficient to answer every metaphysical question.

The problem is, it’s not. The Bible cannot answer every question relating to life and godliness—only the ones that actually have answers.

C. S. Lewis, with his towering apologetic intellect could also not answer questions that were posed to him by academic peers, such as “Can God make a square circle?” In A Grief Observed Lewis wrote with relieving candor,

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.”

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The missionary spirit is utterly contagious.

Even just one life burning brightly for the gospel can ignite the hearts of hundreds of others for generations to come.

What a powerful thing it is to contemplate that reality in the history of missionary work! Consider, for example, the following chain of gospel influence:

1. John Elliott (1604–1690) was a Puritan settler in New England who began evangelizing the native Americans. Known as the “apostle to the Indians,” he translated the Bible into their native language, helped to establish churches, and sparked a missionary zeal among Christian settlers in the New World.

2. That missionary spirit inspired men like David Brainerd (1718–1747) to similarly devote his life to reaching native American Indians with the good news of the gospel.

3. Though Brainerd died at only 29 years of age, his friend Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) was so impressed by the young missionary’s passion that he edited Brainerd’s diary and published it. Edwards himself would later work as a missionary to the native American Indians of Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

4. In 1785, an English shoe cobbler named William Carey (1761–1834) read a copy of An Account of the Life of the Late Rev. David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards. The book had a profound impact on Carey’s thinking, igniting a passion in his heart to take the gospel to India. William Carey left for India in 1793 and the modern missions movement was born. Continue Reading…

Is conversion easy to experience, or difficult? If you can’t remember your conversion experience, is it likely you are not saved? Do all people come to faith the same way? Does conversion always bring assurance of salvation? Is conversion seen in a decision that is made, or in a process that is experienced?

Turning to God

Turning to God, by David Wells, documents how the doctrine of conversion has been withering away for centuries. Written in 1989, then updated and re-released in 2012, the book catalogs various attacks against a Christian understanding of conversion, and it contains Wells’ call for evangelicals to cultivate a robust understanding of how we entered the Christian life. He shows how the questions asked above illustrate the difficulty inherent in any effort to understand conversion.   Continue Reading…

As a former youth pastor, I was asked regularly why so many of young people eventually leave the church. Why is it that so many of the teenagers who came to sunday school and youth group, who professed to know Christ, would abandon the faith when they went off to college? Why is it that so many young people who would come to a youth camp and make a decision around a campfire would not be serving Jesus Christ years down the road? Furthermore, why is it that this “falling away” (see Matt 13:20-21) is not limited to youth but extends to many who profess to have made a response at a jail ministry, nursing home outreach or other evangelistic encounter?

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The unfortunate answer is that they were never born again (cf. 1 Jn 2:4-6). Folks proclaim regularly in their testimony of conversion that “I asked Jesus into my heart in grade school, but never got serious about Christianity until twenty years later when I dedicated my life to Him after a serious issue in life.”

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The Mont-Joux pass is the erstwhile name of a particularly treacherous mountain pass in the Alps straddling Switzerland and Italy. For centuries thousands of lost sojourners perished trying to cross it in the biting winter. When a snowstorm unpredictably arose, there would be a whiteout, and with no way to stay on course travelers would get disoriented, distressed, irrevocably lost, and slowly freeze to death.Rescue dogs

But, suddenly, in the 1700s the death rate declined drastically. The reason was not due to any serendipitous technological advances. The climate hadn’t changed. The reason the increased survival rate was due to a dog; or to be more accurate, a breed of dogs. This uncanny canine breed possessed a prodigious aptitude for navigation in the blinding fog, a preternatural stamina in below freezing temperatures, and an almost mystical ability to locate lost people in a blizzard.

By this stage in history the pass had been named for the monastery founded by St Bernard of Mont-Joux, so naturally the dogs were also canonized, as St Bernards.

During the 200 or so years that the faithful saints served on the St Bernard Pass, over 2,000 lost souls were rescued from the frost-bitten clutches of an icy death. When the “saint” found a lost soul, they would rescue the iced travelers with a simple but effective, methodical process: first, they located them in the snow with their super-sniffer abilities, then they would deliver a life-saving supply of whiskey and bread in quaint oaken barrels strapped around their necks, and finally they would lead the revived popsicle back to the monastery at a blood-stirring pace by borrowing a pathway with its broad chest at a determined gait.

The rescue dog breed is an apt metaphor for the intrepid sub-species of Christian, the full time missionary. This is a breed of believer that exhibits extraordinary stamina and perseverance, and the exceptional abilities to sniff out local spiritual and physical needs, and lead disciples by example, into the soul-saving truth. Missionaries  also admit that they are impotent to help the lost soul, except for delivering the life-giving elixir they carry with them, namely the gospel message.

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 Last week I wrote about how Christians can cultivate a love for evangelism. This post picks up on that same theme, but aims it a pastors. It is adopted from A Guide to Evangelism, written by the faculty at Southern Seminary.

centrifuge

centrifuge

Is your church a centrifuge for gospel ministry? Are believers compelled out from the safe harbor of Christian fellowship to engage our unbelieving world?

Many churches can become evangelistic cul-de-sacs. Lots of believers go in, but very little gospel going back out. Instead of evangelistic DNA, it’s become an appendage expressed primarily in programs and events.

Instead, Christians must cultivate evangelistic instincts that a humble tenacity to engage in conversations that go beyond the point of least resistance and move toward the gospel. Last week, I wrote about how Christians can develop these evangelistic instincts. This week I want to pick up that same theme and ask how pastors can help their churches a church cultivate evangelistic living in the congregation.

Here are a few ideas for church leaders to help raise the voice for Christ exalting, gospel proclaiming evangelism in the local church:   Continue Reading…

ive got a messageEvangelizing unbelievers can be difficult for the same reason criminals struggle to find policemen…most are not looking for one. Instead of pursuing others with the gospel, we are cocooned with those who already know it.  A vortex pulls us into Christian activities and lulls us toward indifference to those yet to repent.

Genuinely drawing near to Christ will rightly submerse us in believer’s fellowship, but it will simultaneously thrust us toward others in gospel ministry.  Heavily evangelistic churches become that way as individual believers are passionate and proactive in daily life. They implement the faithful exposition of Scripture and are propelled out to reach sinners for Christ.

The Great Commission is an individual commission and it is not fulfilled in silence. but in conversations that confront ungodliness and unrighteousness with the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Day by day, we look for points of intersection, where the “salt and light” will collide with decay and darkness.  Transforming hearts forge evangelistic instincts, and here are four ways to  prepare those instincts:   Continue Reading…