Tagged: evangelism

Church Inside Out

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I’ve come to love the story of Basil the Great. He was bishop of Caesarea in the late 4th century. Basil earned his fame as a staunch defender of the Nicene creed, what most of us know as the traditional teaching about the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He worked tirelessly to oppose the teachings of those who saw Jesus as a created being. One of these opponents was the Roman emperor Valens, who banished Basil from the Roman empire on several occasions (though Basil paid no mind to the decrees).

Important though such work was, Basil’s greatest legacy was the Basiliad, the huge hospital/orphanage/hospice/poor house thBasil the Greatat was built outside of Caesarea. When Emperor Valens came to Caesarea to confront Basil face to face, he was so impressed by Basil’s work that he donated imperial land for expansions to the Basiliad.

When Basil died, Gregory of Nazianzus declared, “His words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.”

I love that imagery. I’d love to have it said of me. I’d love to have it said of the church. Words like thunder backed by a life like lightning; that’s what the church needs.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)

Far too often our churches are cloistered within four walls, living godly lives that are seen by no one. We become consumed by inward-focused ministries. With all of our energies directed at one another, cabin fever sets in, and the church fights and feuds over minor matters. As we distance ourselves from our communities, we come to fear and distrust the outside world. In the end, having no significant relationship with outsiders, we content ourselves with trying to convert our young people.

That’s not how we were called to live! Peter told his readers:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)

Our lives are to be lived out in the open. Non-Christians should see our lives and respect them. This is true of us as individuals; it’s also true for the church as a whole.

We’ve got to be the church inside out… insiders going out in order to help outsiders come in.

Jesus has gifted his church with gifts and with leaders to equip her for works of service (Ephesians 4:7-13). One of the main tasks of Christian leaders is to help members find and use their gifts in service to others. Leaders should be aware of the needs of the community around as well as knowing how to help members discover their own giftedness. Elders and ministers need a mechanism for communicating those needs to the body, be it through social networks, phone trees, Bible classes, small groups, or announcements from the pulpit. They also need an awareness that no church can meet every need. It’s possible that some needs will only be prayed about for now, trusting that God will raise up people for those ministries at a future date.

Leaders should be open to proposals for new ways of serving, for new ministries that better fit the current membership and contemporary needs. In the same way, some ministries should be allowed to fall dormant or cease to exist; there is no shame in moving on from a ministry that is no longer bearing fruit.

Church members should be creatively looking for ways to use their gifts to serve the community around them. Where giftedness meets need, that is the Christian’s calling. Sometimes those gifts fit within existing structures in the church; sometimes new ministries will be developed to minister to the community in more appropriate ways.

It’s important that we encourage our members to experiment with new ministries. Leaders should be positive and affirming when faced with ministry proposals, especially “outside the walls” ministries. People need to know that they can try something, evaluate it honestly, and make necessary changes (including suspension of that ministry for a time). As churches step outside of themselves, they will find more unpredictability and a need for more flexibility.

But step out we must. The church needs to be seen by the community, seen as a force for good. We will never be able to speak like thunder, until our lives shine like lightning. Others will never praise God because of us until they see deeds that are truly praiseworthy. I’ll close with a quote from my book Church Inside Out:

As the old refrain says, they won’t care what we know until they know that we care. The world does not want to be preached at. Outsiders don’t want Christians standing inside church buildings pointing fingers out at the rest of the world. But when they see transformed lives reflected in a Christian body that serves its community, they’ll want to hear the message.

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Tim Archer has coordinated the Spanish-speaking Ministries for Hope For Life / Herald of Truth Ministries since 2006. He has spent three decades working in Spanish ministry, including 15 years in Argentina. Tim preaches for the bilingual ministry at the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, where he attends with his wife Carolina, and their two children, Daniel and Andrea. Tim has authored and co-authored several books available HERE. He also writes regularly on his blog: The Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts.

Tim’s latest book, Church Inside Out, helps churches motivate their members to be actively ministering to the community around them. To promote the Summer Blog Tour, we’re giving away one set of Church Inside Out, both book and workbook. Just leave a comment below then enter over HERE

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When Ruth Comes to Church

Ruth 01The book of Ruth features three main characters: Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz.

In many ways the book could be called the Book of Naomi, as the story opens and closes with Naomi and she guides Ruth’s actions throughout the story.

Many Christian commentators seize on Boaz’s role in the story as “kinsman-redeemer“. Since Jesus is our redeemer Boaz becomes a type, or shadow, of what Jesus will be.

Then we come to Ruth.

She’s an outcast. Perhaps we often regard her as a romantic figure. She represents us: A recipient of grace.

As I read through this book last week I noticed some comparisons between her movement from Moabite to member of Jesus’ family, and the outsiders who visit our churches today.

1. Ruth was an outsider. Ruth was a Moabite. An Israelite enemy. She worshiped idols. She couldn’t be trusted. She spoke differently. Maybe she dressed differently. The local boys had been warned about women “like her”. She was destitute.

2015 Ruth is also an outsider. As the US immigrant population increases there’s a good chance that she’s a foreigner. Maybe an illegal immigrant. As such, some may regard her as the enemy. She probably doesn’t come from a Christian family. She has other interests, passions, or idols. Not being raised in the church, she speaks differently. She thinks differently. And she probably dresses differently. She may be destitute.

2. Naomi went into Ruth’s world. I wish I could describe Naomi as a missionary. In fact, it seems that Naomi’s family moved to Moab out of desperation, and perhaps a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide for them. Nonetheless, she entered Ruth’s world and made such an impact that Ruth followed her out.

2015 Ruth needs someone to enter her world. She needs someone to accept and love her so strongly that she doesn’t notice the differences. She needs someone to walk alongside her through times of grief and struggle. When she experiences this loving relationship, 2015 Ruth wants to learn more about the God of her 2015 Naomi.

3. Ruth moved to Bethlehem. At this point in her journey Naomi’s role wasn’t to motivate her, but to guide her. She needed to guide Ruth through the new Israelite customs. (I’m pretty sure the Moabites didn’t have the same gleaning laws the Israelites did, and certainly not a kinsman-redeemer.) Naomi needed to guide Ruth through the web of pre-existing relationships. Naomi knew who Boaz was and his eligibility to be their kinsman-redeemer. Ruth would have been lost without Naomi.

2015 Ruth needs someone to guide her into the strange world that is church. It’s not enough to expect 2015 Ruth to stay, just because she walked through the doors of a church. Who will explain what an elder and a deacon are? And who they are? Who will convince her that small groups may be uncomfortable at first but beneficial in the long run? Who will help her children find the right Bible classes or guide her through the sign-in process? 2015 Ruth needs compassionate guides every bit as much as Biblical Ruth did.

4. Ruth was courageous. When Ruth lay herself at Boaz’ feet, I wonder the thoughts that raced through her mind. This was a risk. Would he be angry? Would he treat her as an outcast? Would he refuse her? Would he mock her vulnerability or her lack of decorum? This was the moment when she lived up to her earlier pledge that Naomi’s land, people and God would become hers. There was no turning back if Boaz accepted her.

2015 Ruth requires courage. Although she has come to trust some of God’s people, she knows the people better than she knows God. God is a new entity to her. She likes what she’s seen so far. She longs for what’s promised. So she joins herself to God in baptism. But God and his church often has a bad reputation out there in the world. Christians often fail to acknowledge that the commitment that comes so naturally for those raised in a church requires great courage for 2015 Ruth her friends.

5. God validates Ruth. The book of Ruth closes with Naomi holding Ruth’s son in her arms. Then it details how the future king, David, is a descendant or Ruth. She becomes an integral part of God’s family.

2015 Ruth also needs validation. She needs a church to point out her gifts. She needs people to involve her in the life and ministry of the God. She needs a purpose. As she is integrated into the body of Christ one day she’ll look back and realise… “I’m no longer an outsider. I am loved.”

If Boaz represents Jesus, then our churches need to identify Naomis willing to seek and invest in Ruths. That’s how we’ll establish a lineage of faith.

Why Don’t WE Pray for the Lost Enough?

So many books, seminars and DVD series exist on the topic of evangelism. Most of these resources describe mindsets, motivational pep talks, and above all else a wide variety of techniques. I want to suggest that in the midst of all these voices we often overlook the most productive evangelistic practice: PRAYER.

Last Sunday I was blessed to speak at the Center Road Church of Christ in Kokomo, Indiana. They asked me to address the topic of evangelism, so I did.

A significant part of my sermon focused on the benefits of prayer in the evangelistic process. I’ve provided a summary below.

5 Reasons to Make Prayer Central to Evangelism

  1. Prayer involves God in our circumstances. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) begins with Jesus’ statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore…” Our evangelistic mission emerges from the fact that Jesus has all power! When we pray, we request the holder of all power to act on behalf of the lost in our  lives. This single function of prayer is 99.5% of the reason prayer should always be central to evangelism. The power of God that we request through prayer is real!
  2. Prayer reminds us that it’s not our expertise that’s on trial, we’re just joining God on His mission. Closely related to the previous point this reason just shifts the focus. If all power belongs to Jesus, then we need to remind ourselves that we’re just His tools. I suspect the #1 barrier to sharing our faith is that we take complete responsibility for bringing people to Christ. When we do that we subvert the work of God and the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Yes, we have to meet people, speak to people, express our faith, but we also need to give God space to work.
  3. Offering to pray for (unchurched) people is a a super non-threatening way of expressing our love for God, our love for the individual, and God’s love for that person all at the same time. It is amazing how people will open up when you ask if you can pray for them.
    One of the first time I asked a waitress if I could pray for her when I gave thanks for my meal she nearly burst into tears telling me how her cat was suffering and about the surgery it needed. Now I’m not a cat person, but I prayed for her cat (can’t remember its name) as I gave thanks for my meal. I was at a conference that week, but if that happened in Rochester, I’d have gone back to that restaurant to ask that lady how her cat was. I’ve gotta think that lady hated being separated from her cat while she was at work that day, but that God was able to give her some encouragement through my question.
  4. Offering to pray for people leads to spiritual conversations. How often do we psych ourselves out of speaking up for God because it just seems inappropriate. But when a stranger asks you to pray for something specific, they’re having a spiritual conversation with you whether they realise it or not. They’re asking you to approach God with a need on their behalf. Then as the above story demonstrates you can come back and ask how God responded to that prayer. Before you know it, you’re talking about God with a stranger and they’re viewing you as a conduit to God.
    Or you could just walk up to people and ask them if they know where they’re going to spend eternity. Try that with your waiter and see how it goes. 🙂
  5. When prayer for the lost is part of church gatherings it raises the awareness of the members. One of the few specific things that Jesus commanded his followers to pray for was workers to spread the Gospel. Do you remember this passage from Matthew 9:37-38 “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” When is the last time you heard this prayer at your church? Church leaders will often lament about church growth and evangelism, but are we praying as Jesus instructed us to pray?

Yeah, I know I cheated and there’s some overlap between those points, but I’d love for you to add to this list. Please leave a comment below.

And many thanks to Kairos Church Planting for helping me focus on prayer as the locus of evangelism.

Putting Words on our Lips

Today’s post is the latest in a series of guest posts centered around my churchs annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is Caleb Borchers. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…

I met Caleb in classes at Harding School of Theology. At the time Caleb and Fran were considering church planting in New Zealand so we had a love of the southern hemisphere in common. I also discovered that Caleb was a bigger rugby fan than I was, but more importantly he loved God above all. I have great respect for Caleb and Fran’s commitment to serve God in New England, an area many churches dismiss as “unreceptive” to the Gospel. The post below gives a great insight into the heart required to share faith when you find yourself in the minority.

“The mouth speaks what the heart is full of”

Have you ever bought a new product of some kind and been smitten with it?  Do you find yourself showing off that new cell phone a little too much?  Or do you find yourself wearing that same new shirt at every social event you attend?  Would your friends say that you just will not shut up about your new minivan?  Sometimes we just get excited about the latest, coolest toy that we have purchased.

tip tongue 01I will confess that I am often guilty of this sort of enthusiasm when it comes to my technological love: Macs.  I’m generally enthralled with all things Apple.  My MacBook has served me well for four years now, and I hope to get a few more years out of it.  I have an iPhone and find it enables a lot of my ministry, particularly when I am on the road.  My wife has an iPad she received as a Christmas Gift a few years back.  I like to steal it.  And if you give me the opportunity, I will tell you why I think these products are superior to other electronics.  In my more cynical moments I will tell you why your computer freezes and is riddled with viruses, and mine never is.  I’ll tell you why my tech runs faster and smoother than yours.  Generally, I’ll be completely obnoxious.

The truth is, when our hearts are full of excitement and joy they naturally overflow in our words and actions.  Jesus made this clear in a discussion he had with the teachers of the law.  In Matthew 12:34 he says “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” or as some of us remember from the KJV, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”  Many of us have something on the tip of our tongues.  I’ve discussed the latest consumer products, but maybe it’s the new TV show you love or book you’ve read.  Maybe it’s the new baby you’ve had.  Maybe it’s the political issue you think you should champion.  Whatever it is, many of us have something that we are quick to speak about. 

What does it say when the Good News isn’t close to the tip of our tongues?  After all, it isn’t called the “Good News” for nothing.  The Gospel should be this life altering message that shakes our foundations every morning.  It should change our core and fill our hearts with hope.  Yet the church spends millions of dollars and hours every year trying to get us educated enough or excited enough to share our faith.  Many (most?) of us have so little experience in telling others about God’s work in the world.  Even those of us who are capable evangelists tend to share a curriculum or tract more than the overflowing of our hearts. 

My point here is not to create guilt.  For far too much of my life I was caught in these cycles of guilt and guilt appeasement when it came to evangelism.  I’d read a passage or hear a sermon about sharing faith and feel terrible that I hadn’t done so.  So I’d try to find some sort of program or activity or class about the topic.  At this point I’d feel the guilt subside.  I mean, I took a class, what more do you want me to do?  And so I would return to regular life and not think about it again until another conscience pricking moment.  I am suspicious that I am not alone in this experience.  Is this a helpful way for us to go about dealing with Jesus call to us in the Great Commission?  I don’t think so.

Instead, I think we have to really look at heart transformation.  We don’t have an evangelism problem in the church today, we have a heart problem.  If the Good News was the “abundance of our hearts” it would also be on our tongues.  Here are a couple of ways I think this problem manifests itself and ways to deal with those problems:

Walk Across the Room–  We don’t really feel saved from anything.  In his great book on evangelism “Just Walk Across the Room”, Bill Hybels suggests that everyone should have a simple before and after story of their life.  This is who I was before Christ, and after Christ I am now this way.  God has transformed my life.  Hybels, who grew up in church, recognizes this activity is hard for those that grew up in church.  That doesn’t make it any less necessary.  We believe that everyone, even people that grew up around religion, have to convert.  They have to put on Christ at baptism.  And that baptism means something.  What does it mean for you?  How was your life changed?  What has God given you by extending his grace?  Can you formulate a simple explanation of how God has transformed you since you came to him in baptism?  If we cannot put this into words, what can we really offer to others? 

–  We assume others are too lost.  That isn’t a terribly biblical way to talk about things, is it? But we do it all the time. We do not talk to a co-worker or neighbor or fellow parent because “they wouldn’t be interested.”  “They would never come to church.”  “They would never study the Bible.”  We have two problems here.  The first is that we are saying “no” for someone else.  How do we know unless we ask?  Why are we an authority on how someone else thinks?  The second one is the subtle arrogance we display in these comments.  In effect we say, “I’m a good/smart/righteous/humble/etc enough person that I will listen to God’s call, but my neighbor is too pagan/evil/stupid/arrogant/etc to take up faith.” 

A far more theologically accurate thought is, “If God could save me, surely he could save my neighbor!”  If we, like Paul, accept that we are amongst the chief of sinners, then no one should be considered too far gone for God to reach.

–  Our faith is of minimal importance to our life.  The joy of knowing God is choked out by the joy or pain we have in our latest home improvement project or relationship or financial issue or whatever else is going on.  We just have no space in our hearts for God.  This is where spiritual disciplines like prayer and Scripture reading are important.  They help clear out the space in our hearts, eliminating the junk. 

A foundational text for our ministry in Rhode Island is the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14.  In that parable Jesus deals with some of these issues.  The original guests did not understand the value of their invitation.  Their hearts were too full of other things like their marriages or fields.  In the end, the table is full of people that no one would expect to see at the table.  God’s messengers are told not to overlook anyone, they do not stop themselves from inviting anyone.  The master simply must have his table full, and will continue to search high and low for people to come, sit, and feast.

Much of our family’s life and ministry, for several years now, has been focused on how to share faith with those who do not yet believe.  This great responsibility has no silver bullets.  I cannot give you a book that will fix all of your problems and struggles in evangelism.  Every situation is different.  What we have learned is that the core element in our culture is that non-believers have to see Christians living out an excited, committed, authentic faith.  On our part, that means living with a transformed heart.  It means seeking God, asking him to mold us.  It means submitting to him in prayer and the Word.  A heart that knows what God has done appreciates his grace and Good News cannot help but overflow into the words on our lips.

 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Proverbs 4:23

Caleb Borchers is the lead church planter at The Feast, a new Church of Christ in Providence RI. Caleb, his wife Fran, and his two daughters have been in Rhode Island for three years now, completing an apprenticeship with the Blackstone Valley Church of Christ in Cumberland before moving into Providence to plant a church. The main focus of the Borchers’ apprenticeship and ministry has been how to communicate the good news of Jesus to 21st century people with little or no exposure to Christianity.

Caleb grew up in Detroit MI. He has a BA from Harding University and an MDiv from the Harding School of Theology. Caleb is a big sports fan and has been a contributor on several rugby and sports blogs. The Feast is part of the Kairos Church Planting network, a group of men and women striving to plant new churches, in new places, for new people. You can bless Kairos’ work to reach new people by joining the Kairos Prayer Network at www.kairosprayer.org.

Matthew 28: Go Disciple Baptise Teach

  • Read Matthew 28 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

The empty tomb, the defeat of death, and the hope of eternal life provides an appropriate ending to Jesus’ life story, but in many ways, it’s just the beginning.  What is the benefit of Jesus’ death, and resurrection if no one hears of it?  Matt 28:11-15 describes the efforts of the Jewish religious leaders to suppress this good news.  In contrast, Matthew’s Gospel closes with v16-20 where Jesus’ commissions his disciples to Go. Disciple. Baptise. and Teach.  Spread this Good News to every person everywhere on earth.  From this point forward, Christianity will be a proselytizing missionary religion.

At Lawson Rd we acknowledge that our version of the Great Commission currently begins with “Come”, rather than “Go”.  Of course, this is a problem.  However, I believe that it’s a vital starting point.

For the past 12 months our Sunday attendance has frequently consisted of 25-33% of people who are not members. Some of these are regular attenders, but many are newcomers to the church.  We praise God that he sees fit to bring people seeking Him through our doors.

The challenge for the congregation is to connect with these newcomers and welcome them into the piece of God’s kingdom at Lawson Rd.  The commands to Disciple, Baptise, and Teach are best fulfilled within the context of a church.  So the church must create an atmosphere conducive to this purpose.  As I discussed this with a group last night we considered the question, “How would a guest at Sunday morning worship react if you offered to pray with them?” The group’s response was mixed.

In some ways this question is unusual. People may feel that we’re being nosy, or too personal for a first-time meeting.  On the other hand, if we assume that people attend worship services for a reason then this question may provide them an opportunity to share what’s going on in their lives.  It may encourage authenticity.  I would hope that at a minimum it communicates sincere love and concern for the guest.

I am convinced that our “Go outside our comfort zone” will quickly evaporate if we already feel uncomfortable praying with someone who has come to a church seeking to worship God.  Since I’ve visited many churches and never been personally asked for a prayer need this blog is not a commentary on Lawson Rd in particular.  Why is it that when we come together as a church we feel more comfortable discussing, traffic, weather, football, kids, etc., than we do asking if we can pray for someone?  Under what circumstances would we feel comfortable offering to pray for someone?

I recently came across an article by Mark Taylor, the pulpit minister at Memorial Rd Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. In it he suggested a simple process for developing evangelistic awareness and transitioning from a “Come” to a “Go” church. “Going” doesn’t necessarily mean going very far.  Here’s four Great Commission things that everyone one of us can do:

  1. Reach Across the Pew
  2. Walk Across the Room
  3. Talk Across the Fence
  4. Pray Across our Town

Every single able-bodied member should be able to reach across the pew and introduce themselves to those they don’t know. Every single member should be able to notice someone in Bible class sitting alone and simply walk across the room and sit by them. Everyone can meet their neighbors and use conversational evangelism to mention what church they are a member of. And everyone can pray for God to bless our outreach efforts.

I think we’ll be discussing these concepts a lot more around Lawson Road in the coming months and years.

  • How would you react if you attended a new church and someone asked you, “Is there anything I can pray with you about?” (or something like that.)
  • Do you agree that established churches need to address “Come” as a precursor to “Go”?
  • How can churches better facilitate spiritual conversations outside of formal meeting times?

Colossians 4: Pray, Act, Talk

  • Read Colossians 4:2-6 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (5 December) you can listen to it here.

I’m running way behind in getting my blog updated, so I’ll make this a pretty short post.

These verses contain a pretty simply but important message for us.  This is one of the few passages that directly address how Christians should approach evangelism and interacting with the world.  Paul gives 3 clear steps.

1. PRAY  In verse 2 Paul asks the Colossian Christians to pray for his evangelistic mission.  But, perhaps surprisingly, he doesn’t ask for eloquence, or profound insight or wisdom.  Paul first asks for God to “open a door for our message“.  I wonder how often we place too much pressure on our presentation of the Gospel, and not enough time asking God to open doors.  How often do we make ourselves responsible for the salvation of family members or friends, rather than allowing God to work in their lives and soften their hearts.  It’s only after seeking God’s preparation that Paul seeks prayers for clarity in his own preaching.

2. ACT  Having brought his mission to God in prayer, Paul doesn’t immediately start thumping the pulpit or setting up Bible studies.  His next course of action is to consider how he behaves toward outsiders.  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. People will judge our actions before they listen to our words.  (This also assumes that we’re having interactions with people outside of the church.  Often this is not true, as Christians circle of friends and acquaintances gradually tightens to exclude outsiders.)  It’s not just elders who are to have a good reputation (1 Tim 3:7).  If the church is to have a good reputation in the community, the individuals must also have a good reputation.

3. TALK  Let your conversation be always full of grace… I’m often surprised how many Christians want to let their “actions do the talking”.  It’s often suggested in Bible classes I’ve attended that when people around us see our attitude and values that they’ll want to question us about our faith.  Perhaps that works sometimes.  No matter how pure our actions may be, they will never point others to Christ unless we open our mouths and explain our actions and our motivation.  While our actions often give credibility to our words, other times we need to speak first and unleash the power of God’s Word.  I suspect that some of the reticence to speak up for our faith is that we often don’t know how to verbalise our beliefs.

I’m interested to learn whether my observations match the experiences of others, so please leave a comment.

  • It’s always difficult to explain the relationship between God’s actions and ours.  We need to pray for his intervention, but still speak up ourselves.  Which side of the issue do you most often neglect, seeking God to “open doors” and then doing nothing, or taking all the responsibility for sharing the Gospel upon yourself?
  • Where do you interact with “outsiders” during any given week? (eg. work, school, etc.)  Do you find it difficult to befriend people who don’t attend church?
  • How often do you have a spiritual discussion with someone who doesn’t attend your church?  How would you seek to bring someone into relationship with Jesus?  Invite them to a worship service? Try to set up a regular Bible study?  Meet regularly for coffee?  Wait for the right moment?  Something else?

 

Nehemiah 1-3: Possibilities

  • Read Nehemiah 2:11-20 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (1 August), you can listen to it here.

This week, I’m starting a new sermon series from the book of Nehemiah.  It’s difficult to cover a 13 chapter book in 4 weeks so I’m resorting to the old preachers trick of picking some themes and then have them start with the same letter so that they’re easier to remember.  I chose the letter “P”, just because several of my themes began with that letter and then I made the other two fit.

One of the many unique characteristics of Jesus’ ministry was his ability to see life from a different perspective to those around him.  At his trial, he could look Pilate in the eye and say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)  Honestly, who talks like that?  If we encounter someone claiming to be a king in an alternative universe we generally label that person a geek or a freak.  But Jesus spoke in a way that made his perspective seem rational, real, and believable.

Jesus could see the dualism of the physical and spiritual realms and the way they interact.  He understood how actions in one realm influence events in the other.  He knew saw life like no one else saw life.

We could argue that any great leader in history brings a unique perspective to their task, that’s why they’re recognised as a leader.  (Although some of them may have simply been in the right place at the right time.)  But God’s leaders in Scripture generally share the trait of seeing life from God’s perspective.

Thousands of people knew that the walls of Jerusalem were in a state of disrepair: the inhabitants of Jerusalem and surrounds; and, others, like Nehemiah, who heard the news from travelers.  Apparently every other person simply accepted that “it is, what it is”.  (Granted, there may have been farmers etc. unhappy with the situation, but not in a position to do anything about it.)  In contrast, when Nehemiah heard the news he mourned, fasted and prayed for 40 days.

There are several ways to consider the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls:

  • It could be a civic pride issue, “What’s the point of mowing my yard and keeping it nice, when the cities walls are in mounds of rubble all over the place?”
  • It could be a national security issue, “Without walls anyone can just waltz in and sack and pillage the city!”
  • It could be a political issue, “If we don’t have any walls how can we ever gain our independence from foreign rulers.  We need to be able to defend ourselves.”

But Nehemiah saw the destroyed walls as a spiritual issue.  He prayed to God confessing his sins.  He reminded God of His promises.  And because he knew that God is, “the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love…” (Neh 1:5) he saw possibilities for rebuilding the wall.  Yes, he worked in a position of privilege as the king’s cupbearer, but hasn’t God used faithful peasants and slaves in the past also?  Nehemiah’s faith and vision  allows God to use him, not his job.

We often limit the mission of the church and the influence of God in our lives by not recognising God’s perspective on our situation.  We’re too quick to see problems rather than possibilities.  Yahweh is a God with big ideas.  2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God wants “everyone to come to repentance.“  How many churches and Christians really want that?  How many people really believe that it’s possible?  What possibilities do we see in our community or among our family and friends?  How many people have we written off as “not interested” in knowing God?  I wonder if Nehemiah would see different possibilities?

  • If you’re a member at Lawson Rd, “What possibilities might Nehemiah see that we’ve been overlooking?”
  • What attitudes or perspectives do we hang on to that limit our ability to view life as God would have us view life?
  • Is it unrealistic to have the goal of “everyone coming to repentance“?

Last week I attended a seminar by Nelson Searcy.  He made the following statement that I like and believe is pertinent to this discussion.

“Our churches need to have the goal of making it difficult for people in our communities to go to hell.”

If our churches are not contacting people in our communities, then it’s easy for them to go to hell.  They just keep doing what they’re doing.  But when we’re involved in the lives of those around us.  When we’re inviting them to meet Christ.  When they’re hearing the Good News of Jesus.  They have to deliberately reject all that in order to go to hell.  I like that as a church goal… but I’m not going to put in on the church sign!

Luke 5: Jesus Calls Sinners

  • Read Luke 5:27-32 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (January 31) you can listen to it here.

In the short story told in this passage, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day express shock that Jesus would eat with sinners and tax collectors.  According to Everett Ferguson (Backgrounds, 88) the tax collectors were no less honest than other businessmen, but were despised due to their liaison with the Romans.  Whatever the nuances, Luke clearly demonstrates that social conventions dictated that religious leaders, such as Jesus, should not fellowship with these unsavory characters.

In addition to vs 31-32, I came across a quote that contrasts the attitudes of Jesus and the Pharisees towards these people.  “For Jesus, recovery is the issue, not quarantine.” (Bock, Vol 1, 496)  Jesus accepted the hospitality of Levi and got to know his friends.  He did this so that he could provide healing, while the Pharisees quarantined themselves from these people who might infect them.

Churches and individual Christians still struggle with this dilemma.  We’re like cops in movies who go undercover.  How far under can we go before we become one of them?  Often the risks convince us we’re better off staying in the safe quarantine zone rather than involving ourselves in the lives of people outside the church.  We call people to repentance by standing on the outside with a megaphone pointing at the areas of life that need changing.  Jesus went into the house, ate and drank with the community then called them to follow him.

To prevent this posting getting too long, I’ll make several short points and you can discuss them further with me by leaving a comment.

  • Jesus didn’t enter this situation alone, his disciples were with him.  He didn’t have a group of “righteous” friends and “sinful” friends that he flitted between.  He made sure his two worlds collided.  What do we learn from that?
  • In my sermon I suggested that the Pharisees expected Jesus to be hanging with the “righteous” people at the synagogue rather than eating with sinners.  If Jesus came to our towns, where would he spend his time?  Are our churches more Godly than the Jews’ synagogues?
  • We often have separate groups of church and non-church friends.  What are some ways you’ve found or seen to bring the two groups together?
  • What can churches do to better mingle with the unchurched “sinners” in the surrounding community?  What are some effective missional approaches you’ve seen or heard of?

The Rollercoaster of New Faith

  • Read Exodus 5 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (13 September) you can listen to it here.

My sermon this week focused on the frustrations Moses experienced as he sought to share his good news of God’s deliverance with the Israelites.  At first they were excited, but when things didn’t go smoothly they turned on Moses and Aaron, abusing them.  My sermon emphasised the persistence that sharing our faith requires, if it is to bear fruit.

We also benefit from considering the other side of this relationship.  It’s easy to criticise the Israelite overseers who in 5:20-21 abuse Moses.  We know that Moses is the hero of the story and he’s working with God, so anyone that contradicts him is on the wrong side of God.  But I think the overseers’ attitude is very realistic and more common than we often credit.

My impression of this story is that during their 400 years in Egypt the Israelites had forgotten a lot about Yahweh.  In fact, given how quickly they adopted the golden calf in Exodus 32, many of them had probably converted to Egyptian gods.  Then Moses turns up in Es 4:29 to meet with the Israelite elders and he tells them a fantastic story of a god that will free them from slavery.  On the basis of the signs Moses performs and the foggy memory of Yahweh’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the elders buy into the story and in 4:31 they “bow down and worshiped” Yahweh.

It seems to me that this mirrors the faith journey of many people today.  While their parents or grandparents attended church the people we encounter have forgotten more about God than they remember.  Some of them, through desperation, relationships, or Bible study, will be convinced of the truth of God’s Good News.  They will “bow down and worship Yahweh”.

In emphasising the Good News of hope and freedom, forgiveness and reconciliation, grace and love, we run the risk of creating the impression that deliverance from all of life’s difficulties is imminent.  It’s no surprise then when our new brothers and sisters in Christ have a hard time understanding what’s going on when they encounter obstacles.

The Israelite overseers certainly encounter a major obstacle.  Pharaoh demands greater productivity with less resources, and then beats them when they fail to meet the new standards.  I don’t think anyone can blame them for questioning the message Moses brought.  There’s not much good news in a beating.

This story reminds us that making right choices and accepting God’s truth doesn’t necessarily result in an easier life, particularly in the short term.  However, knowing the ultimate fate of Pharaoh should encourage us to keep the big picture in mind and the victory Christ has already won.

It should also remind those who are older Christians to continue to encourage and disciple those with younger faith, because baptism’s just the beginning of their new life.  Questions, doubts, and difficulties are all common experiences that Satan throws at new Christians and we can’t afford to leave them on their own at that time.

Have you experienced particular challenges in your life soon after accepting the Good News of Jesus?  or maybe after a particularly uplifting spiritual experience, eg. a great book, a retreat or seminar?  What got you through that difficulty?  How important was the encouragement of other Christians?

What’s our Mission?

I’m having a nice quiet vacation, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to jot down some thoughts arising from Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration (Lectureship).

One of the recurring themes of the various sessions I attended challenged churches to consider their mission.  The various speakers questioned whether churches do a good job of engaging their community/neighbours.  Maybe we’ve become better at serving ourselves than others.

One of the reasons for this introversion is our understanding of our mission.  Sometimes churches become more concerned about maintaining their perceived purity than connecting with those God places around them.  Another way of saying this is that “we lose sight of our mission.”

Over my church life I’ve most often heard the church’s mission described in terms of the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20, & Mark 16:15-16.  One of the presenters suggested that Lk 10:1-24 provides an alternative (better?) model for us.  While the Matt & Mark passages give more detail as to the message, the Luke passage provides some guidance regarding methods and mindset.

These passages all share the instruction for Jesus’ followers to GO.  I wonder if at times we don’t interpret this as “go to church each week” rather than “go and purposely engage the world with the Good News of Jesus.”  I don’t think this necessarily refers to doorknocking campaign.  I guess I’ll talk more about methodology later, but here’s an interesting article.  Although it primarily discusses church giving, it also describes one church’s efforts to serve its community.

For at least 10 Wednesdays this summer, the Morning Star Church is contributing free popcorn and sodas to people attending the concerts in Highland Park.  The 400-member church pays for the snacks, feeding up to 1,500.

Other passages that describe the evangelistic mission of the church include Acts 1:7-8Can you think of other passages of Scripture that describe the mission of the church.  I really think this will make an interesting list.  Please leave a comment with your suggestion.

One speaker that I really appreciated on this topic was Mark Love from the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College.  If this topic interests you I think you’ll enjoy the website.