No other New Testament passage addresses race relations in the church as directly as Ephesians 2. In verses 11-22 Paul addresses both Jewish and Gentile Christians urging them to adopt an attitude of humility. Both groups depend upon Christ for their salvation and in that truth both groups should find unity.
The key verse found in this passage is verse 15b-16,
His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. (VOICE)
For most of my life I have focused upon the role Jesus’ death on the cross plays in allowing God to forgive our sins. Forgiveness and restored relationship with God epitomise the cross.
So when I read these verses in Ephesians 2 I’m forced to expand my understanding of the cross. We’re told here that Jesus died to break down walls between Jews and Gentiles. To welcome them both in to the kingdom of God.
This is where the Bible gets tough for us. If Jesus died to remove barriers and dividing walls. If Jesus came to preach peace. Then this is an element of the Gospel that we must proclaim also. If God could make one new humanity out of Jews and Gentiles, what can he do with us?
The church doesn’t have the luxury of preaching oneness in Christ and peace with God while having nothing practical to say to our society caught up in racial tension in cities across the country. However, the church has a credibility problem. We want to tell Charlotte, Baton Rouge, Ferguson, San Diego, etc that Jesus brings peace and removes the “dividing wall of hostility”, but in too many cases the church is as segregated, or more so, as our communities.
If Jesus died to remove barriers between people so that people could be reconciled to God, then what are we doing about that?
As a first baby step we challenged the church to make October a “Month of Hospitality”. Over the next 30 days we propose to remove some barriers by having each member enjoy a meal (or coffee, etc) with another member on the other side of a common dividing barrier:
- Racial divisions;
- Age divisions;
- Education divisions;
- Income divisions;
- Political divisions;
- Marital status divisions; and
Why only apply this challenge to members in the church? Because, if we can’t overcome the barriers that exist within the church, we have no credibility to tell the world that we bring a message of God’s peace and reconciliation.
What will you do to live out the Gospel that breaks down barriers?
I’m grateful to share Brandon Fredenburg’s contribution to our Summer Blog Tour. Brandon is a thoughtful writer who shares resources and perspectives that I usually overlook.
As part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.
I’m afraid the title is more ambitious than my few paragraphs offer. To make my task more manageable, I offer a few idea-starters about the gospel as taught by Jesus, Paul, and the early church bishop, Athanasius.
The gospel Jesus taught
In contrast to Matthew’s and Mark’s summary of Jesus’s “gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), Luke 4:18–19 depicts Jesus preaching selectively from Isaiah 61:1–2:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
He has anointed me
to evangelize the poor.
He has sent me
to declare liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the broke(n) with a full release,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (my translation).
When Jesus omits “and the day of our God’s vengeance” (Isa 61:2b) and rehearses God’s blessing of a foreign widow and an enemy general, he turns the gospel of God his hearers expect inside out. “He isn’t just our God and he blesses our enemies,” Jesus reveals. Their reaction, like their “God,” is one of deadly vengeance.
Perhaps this is why Jesus begins his evangelizing with the word “repent.” Apparently, even John the Baptist missed it, as Matthew 11:1–15 makes clear. Jesus says those who even barely grasp his message have far greater insight than John. John’s gospel of violent, fiery judgment, it seems, put him at odds with Jesus’s view of the nature of the kingdom of the heavens. “Repent,” then, as Jesus uses it, retains its core meaning of “shift your paradigm” with reference to God and God’s kingdom. For John, repentance focused on the personal sacrifices required for holiness; for Jesus, repentance kept its eyes on the merciful nature of God toward all persons (Exod. 34:5–7; Jonah 4:2b). “For I delight in mercy but not sacrifice; and in knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6, my translation).
Jesus’s gospel is about his Father and his Father’s nature. The Father’s nature was so misunderstood, Jesus claims no one but he knows the Father (Matt. 11:27). He then immediately invites those wearied and burdened by compromised gospels of God to come to him for rest, to take on the easy, restful yoke of learning as a disciple of his gentle humility and light burden. “No one knows the Father except the Son”: not John the Baptist, not the Pharisees or the scribes, not Moses or Elijah, not Jesus’s disciples, no one except he … and his post-resurrection disciples. The Father is known rightly and fully only through his Son (Heb. 1:1–3b).
The gospel Paul taught
In 2 Cor. 5:14, Paul claims that Christ’s death universally incorporates humanity. In his death, all died. When this insight becomes clear, a whole new world comes into focus. Paul knows this from his own experience: before he embraced it, he viewed Jesus as a renegade false prophet whose death was just. Once the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, he saw the new creation. He no longer saw through Adam’s blind, fearful, ashamed, sin-focused eyes. Jesus Messiah incarnated into the old, blinded, fearful, ashamed, sin-wracked Adamic humanity, embraced it and us fully and carried it and us into Death. And by God’s own unilateral act of cosmic justice, Jesus (and it and us) were raised to newness.
Paul makes a parallel point in Ephesians 2, but goes farther. In 2:1–3, Paul sets the cosmic stage: we were all dead in our sins, naturally characterized by impulsive anger, like the rest of humanity. The “we” in 2:1–3 is undoubtedly all Adamic humanity. “But,” Paul contrasts, “God, being rich in mercy, because of his abundant love with which he loved us — even while we were dead in our sins — co-enlivened us with Christ: you are rescued by [God’s] favor!” Not only did we all die with Christ, God raised us all up and seated us all with Christ. This rescue from Death is anchored in God’s favor, accomplished by God’s faithfulness, given as unconditional gift, and integral to God’s (new) creation-act.
Paul extends Jesus’s gospel to include Jesus’s cooperation with the Father in rescuing Adamic humanity from its errant view of God and the self-caused alienation “in our own minds” (Col 1:21). The rescue for all humanity has been a fait accompli since Jesus’s resurrection. The message of what God has done in Christ is proclaimed so that, by awakening to its truth, all persons can dwell in the present blessings of the new creation.
The gospel Athanasius taught
Just as Paul authoritatively interpreted Jesus’s gospel in scripture, Athanasius’s views both reflected and influenced the understanding of the early church (ca. 200–400). In contrast, Augustine’s perspectives (post-400) dominated the Latin church and, through it, the Reformers and most of contemporary Evangelicalism.
In his On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius explains that humanity, brought to life out of nothing, maintained life by keeping a clear knowledge of God’s nature (i.e., the Logos) within them. Humanity’s existence depended on an uncompromised trust and dependence on God. Once the devil deceived humanity into mistrust, humanity cut itself off from its source of life and knowledge. Thus, by degrees, humanity not only lost its ability for clear reason, it began to disintegrate into physical death and, beyond that, into the corruption of utter nothingness; that is, into Death. Return to nothingness was not a God-imposed punishment, but a God-warned natural consequence of cutting our own umbilical cord.
It was both intolerable to and unworthy of God that he would do nothing to rescue those created in his own likeness, especially because they had been tricked by falsehood, and because a neglect to rescue them would demonstrate weakness. Thus, a rescue by the Logos that had created humanity was needed. The incarnated Logos fully incorporated all humanity into his own body, joining corruptible to incorruptible, and sacrificed himself (and us in him) to death to settle Death’s claim. Since Christ is the incorruptible Logos, Death could not contain him. By Christ’s death, Death died. Because we died his death and he ours, physical death is no punishment and Death-as-annihilation is no possibility. Moreover, once Death died, Christ then offered himself (and us in him) to the Father, who raised him as firstfruits and will raise us-in-him at the final resurrection.
The Gospel inside out
The gospel of God is not an invitation. It has no steps for us to climb to seek and gain God’s favor. It is not an offer that, by accepting, we activate its benefits. No, the gospel is far greater.
The gospel is the astounding declaration that, despite having gotten God all wrong in our thinking, having mischaracterized, misrepresented, maligned, mistreated, and had malice toward him, God has never been against us. To be sure, God has been against all our fearful, ignorant, misguided, vengeful characterizations of him and their effects, but he has endured them to be with us so that we might truly glimpse him and repent. He did not leave the glimpses to chance, but manifested himself entirely in the Lord Jesus Christ and the new creation life in which we participate. The basis of the gospel has always been God’s compassionate nature toward all creation; its benefits have always been active for all persons, but its enjoyment is possible only to those whose eyes see. Repent, and believe the gospel of God!
Peace and all good to all, always.
Brandon L. Fredenburg is a professor of Biblical Studies and assistant dean for the College of Biblical Studies and Behavioral Sciences at Lubbock Christian University. He lives, ministers, and teaches in Lubbock, Texas.
This post launches a series of posts by guest bloggers that we’re calling The Summer Blog Tour. Throughout the month of July, each Monday and Wednesday I’ll be posting a new article by a new author. The goal of the Summer Blog Tour is to share some inspiring articles, and to expose you to some new authors you might like to follow in the future. Beyond reading the posts on Peter’s Patter, I encourage you to explore more of their writing on their home blogs.
For the Summer Blog Tour we’ve chosen the theme:
The Power of a [ ] Story
To get us started I invited Steve Rigdell to write for us. He’s the author of the book Can I Tell You a Story. Steve serves as an elder at the Southern Hills church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He lives to share the story of Jesus with this world which he does effectively through his primary work as Director of Ministry for Hope for Life. You can follow more of Steve’s writing through his regular contributions to Heartlight.org.
The Power of Telling a Story
Jesus often used stories to illustrate how to live as his disciples. I believe hearing the stories of Jesus still equips us to live out his call on our lives. And here is one example of how I think that works.
I have often heard people talk about the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28, but I wonder if we have missed what it means. It is too easy to simply make the point that “go into all the world” means go out of your front door and into your world.
What does that mean in terms of real life action? I believe Jesus explains exactly how his followers go into their world and make other followers. I think he shows how to go, where to go, and what to do when we get there.
Listen to the stories he told about going into your world.
How do I go? I go living forgiven.
She was a woman caught in adultery. The response by those who caught her was the familiar refrain of guilt, shame, and feelings of worthlessness. But Jesus offered forgiveness, not condemnation. And then he told her to “go and leave your life of sin”. Go back among her friends and family as a changed person. Live forgiven. That is how we demonstrate the truth that Jesus changes lives. We are the living examples of God’s work in this world.
Where do I go? To those in need – and then serve them intentionally.
The story of the Good Samaritan was told to illustrate who is our neighbor. It is the story of a man who saw someone in need and then did something about it. He cared for them. Your world, your neighborhood, is full of hurting people in need of help. Physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. Sick people, abused people, lonely people, addicted people. The last thing Jesus said after the story of the Good Samaritan was for us to “go and do the same.” So we go into our world as servants committed to helping others. But we do it with purpose.
We serve intentionally in the name of Jesus. This gives us credibility to speak into lives. Our lives are living proof that Jesus works. Our service is the proof that the Jesus story is worth hearing.
What do I do when I go? Speak with courage the story of Jesus.
He fought so many demons he was called Legion. He was lonely and in pain. Jesus met him, connected with him, and healed him. When Jesus left that place, Legion was ready to go with him. He was all in for a mission trip with Jesus. Except that Jesus told him no. Instead, he told him to go home to his family and tell them what the Lord had done for him and how he had mercy on him.
Our lives give credibility to the story of Jesus. Our service gives opportunity to share that story. But you will not make followers of Jesus in your world until you tell them the good news of Jesus. Tell your story. Tell His story. And invite them to become part of the story.
Go into all the world. Go into your world.
Serve with Purpose.
Speak with Courage.
And you will make followers… who will make followers… who will make followers.
The nature of preaching means that over the course of a year all preachers will preach sermons we know are important, but we don’t feel passionate about them. This past Sunday I was blessed to preach on a subject I feel strongly about.
The celebration of both Easter and weekly Lord’s Supper emphasise the death and resurrection of Jesus. I quickly run out of superlatives when trying to describe the importance of these events. [Apparently it’s not good writing to repeat the word “very” 127 times in a row.] As vital as these events are within the panorama of history, within the story of God, and to both the world and to Christians, they are not the complete story of Jesus. And I’m not just talking about the absence of Christmas. I fear that many Christians have come to accept the picture of Jesus painted by Renaissance artists and children’s story books. Generally speaking, this is a portrait of a wimpy Jesus. This portrait of Jesus might be accompanied with terms such as: Gentle, tender, kind, compassionate, gracious, merciful, caring, and mild-mannered. These are all wonderful words. They all describe Jesus accurately and I value each of them immensely in my relationship with Christ. However, the majesty of Jesus requires more than one set of words to accurately describe him. When we stop the story of Jesus at the Resurrection we lose the image of Jesus currently seated on a throne at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. This was a truth that in Acts 7 that Stephen died proclaiming. This is a truth that we often confess at baptism today when we affirm the statement that “Jesus is our LORD and our Saviour”. Sadly, most of our teaching at the time of our baptism focuses on Jesus as Saviour while the implications of calling him Lord are glossed over. Ephesians 1:21-22 describes Jesus currently as,
far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.
In Revelation 1 the apostle, John, graphically describes Jesus as anything but gentle.
His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead.
This is not a cuddly Jesus. This is a powerful, awesome, drop at his feet, Jesus. This is the Jesus that calmed the storm. This is the Jesus who taught with authority because he had authority. This is the Jesus who went toe-to-toe with Satan in the wilderness and sent him running. This is God the Son. And He’s not a wimp. This is the Jesus who will be returning to Earth in the future to judge us all. This is the Jesus who will return and ultimately destroy Satan and all forces of evil. This is the Jesus who is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” I’m not discussing this in order to change the artwork in children’s picture Bible’s. Our image of Jesus has deep implications for how we relate to Him and how we live our lives. When we approach life with the image before us of Jesus ruling all powers and dominions, we will live with confidence. We will live with assurance that our setbacks, hurts and struggles will not alter the final outcome. We will live with the knowledge that “our side” has already won. We will pray, believing that “God’s will can and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We will not take the teachings of Jesus complacently because we acknowledge the power and authority he possess. Yet we will still approach his throne with confidence because we also experience his grace, mercy, love, kindness, and gentleness. Here’s my plea to all you preachers and teachers out there… When you summarise the Gospel, please don’t stop at the Resurrection. Let’s commit to talking about the Death, Resurrection and REIGN, and RETURN of Christ. The Good News is not just related to what Jesus did in the past. It’s the story of what Jesus does today and will do tomorrow. As I was preparing for this sermon I was surprised how often the biblical writers mention the reign of Jesus in their Gospel summaries. I’ll close with a few examples:
Hebrews 10:12-13 “ But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.” Hebrews 12:2 “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 8:34 “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.“ 1 Corinthains 15:3-5, 24-27 “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.For he “has put everything under his feet.”“
I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as some of those in the Bible, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. God wants us talking about this. Jesus sends us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark the proximity of Jesus’ ministry and demons glares at us. The first of Jesus’ miracles in Mark is an exorcism (1:21-28). When Jesus selects the Twelve (3:14-15) for special training to “send them out to preach and to have authority to drive our demons.” In 3:22 the teachers of the law accuse Jesus himself of being demon possessed and driving out demons by the power of the prince of demons.
In chapter 5 Jesus crosses into Gentile territory. Again, his first miracle among the Gentiles is another exorcism. When Jesus does send the Twelve out in 6:7 he “gave them authority over evil spirits” and in v13 we read that “they drove out many demons“. In 7:24-30 Jesus again enters Gentile territory and drives a demon out of a girl he doesn’t even see.
Then in chapter 9 immediately following his transfiguration Jesus descends the mountain to find the remaining apostles unable to cast out a demon. Jesus expels the demon and explains to the Twelve that “This kind can come out only by prayer.” A few verses later John tells Jesus of someone (not one of the Twelve) also casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus gives this anonymous disciple his approval as someone committed to the mission of the kingdom.
Unlike healings that are often linked to the faith of the individual, none of the specific examples of exorcism involve a request by the possessed person. Twice a parent approaches Jesus on their child’s behalf. Twice Jesus takes the initiative for the possessed person. He shows them mercy when they’re unable to ask for it.
All of that isn’t very important to the point of this post. Of all the exorcisms the story in chapter 5 provides the most detail.
Jesus disembarks from a boat in the middle of the night having calmed a storm that the Twelve thought was going to kill them. Suddenly out of a graveyard a wild man covered in cuts and chains emerges and runs toward them. At this point, I’m pretty sure the Twelve have jumped back in their boat and are again in the middle of the lake.
Jesus talks to the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. You can read the rest of the story for yourself. As Jesus climbs back in the boat the former demoniac asks to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your won people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you , and how he has had mercy on you.”
The word that grabs my attention in this story comes at the end of the section. What is the message that Jesus gives this man? Tell people how the Lord has had mercy on you. MERCY. The mission Jesus gives him doesn’t call for repentance, or predict a terrible judgment coming. His mission is to tell his story of God’s mercy in his life. When he tells his story of mercy he prepares the way for Jesus to come later.
In this sense he became a Gentile version of John the Baptizer because in 7:31 Jesus will return to the region and people will seek him out to heal their loved ones.
I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as this man’s, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. This is something God wants us to be talking about. God wants us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.
We may not recognise the demon-possessed people in our society as Jesus did, but we have those people who intimidate us. Sometimes we allow fear to prevent us from showing mercy. We see a person that intimidates us, maybe not a demoniac, but how about someone we know is gay? Does the vocal atheist in the workplace make us head for the boat as she approaches? Do we run from the kid in the schoolyard that bullies us, or that guy at church who’s always complaining? In Matthew 5:7 Jesus teaches us, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Sometimes we become fixated on bringing unbelievers to a point of repentance. Sometimes we want to proclaim fiery judgement on all the moral decay we see around us. But that wasn’t his man’s job and it’s not always ours. Sometimes our job is simply to tell and demonstrate God’s mercy. Sometimes our job is just to plant seeds and allow God to make them grow.
This man didn’t hold a tent meeting with thousands of conversions. He did prepare the way for Jesus.
Do our conversations and lives prepare the way for Jesus? Do we present Jesus in a positive light so that down the road someone might be willing to learn more about him?
Sometimes it’s just about mercy.
And then we need to get back in our boat.
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
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 🙂
- 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.
Today’s post is the latest in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s 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.
I 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:
– 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.
The early leaders of the Restoration Movement emphasised restoring the structure and worship of church to its New Testament origins because they believed existing churches had moved too far away from that model. In The Crux of the Matter, Childers, Foster and Reese make this observation:
“Like us, they searched the Bible for information that would address their concerns, and address them in ways that made sense in their time and situation. …Constantly changing human conditions demand a constantly renewed approach to Scripture.” (2001, 154)
In many ways the Church of Christ is the way it is today because we stopped reading Scripture to answer the questions of our time and situation. We’ve continued to teach the answers to the questions of 200 years ago. While many of those questions continue to be relevant, some do not. Our contemporary culture also asks questions that Stone and Campbell couldn’t have imagined. For instance, environmental stewardship is a relatively new theological discussion. Do Christians have a special responsibility toward Creation? (A friend of mine published a discussion guide on this topic available on Amazon. Or you can visit his website: www.IsJesusGreen.com)
One of the exciting aspects of the Restoration Movement is the name “Restoration”. While it has previously had a fairly narrow focus on “restoring the New Testament church”, we have an opportunity to expand that application. In many ways the whole of Scripture describes a movement toward restoration. In Acts 3:21 the apostle, Peter, described the return of Jesus as “the time … for God to restore everything , as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” History culminates, not in destruction, but in restoration!
If the church exists as an outpost of God’s kingdom, then we must adopt His mission as our mission. As God works toward restoration, then we must also. But what does this look like? I believe it means that the church and its members will involve ourselves in social and humanitarian causes that work to restore justice and equality in our society. When we see decay and brokenness we recognise the need for God’s restorative healing to work. This need may exist in a marriage, or in a neigbourhood, or a nation. The grand scheme of restoration involves eliminating hunger, disease, war, environmental pollution, discrimination, etc. While we live in a world impacted by sin we can’t eliminate all of these, but we can make a difference for God.
To see an example of a church that has committed itself to the expanded theme of restoration visit the website www.ARestorationMovement.com. The Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX has committed itself to restoration projects within the church, the local community and around the world. You can listen to the sermon that launched this project here.
Of course, restoration of a spiritual relationship between God and humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus remains the primary mission of the church. But proclamation of the Gospel still fits within a greater context of the restoration of Creation which we cannot ignore.
- What’s your first thought at the idea of linking faith with environmental stewardship?
- What comes to your mind when you think of Christ returning to “restore all things”?
- Can you think of examples from the New Testament that demonstrate an enlarged Restoration Movement?
I’m excited to share a new blog that I’ve recently launched that brings together my greatest love and my favourite hobby: God & sports. Its URL is
I was inspired by this article written by Josh Graves (who blogs here). Sports fields around the country and world provide a crucible of intense human experiences. Athletes frequently face moral choices: steroids in baseball, match fixing in international cricket and Italian soccer, the NFL’s bounty scandal. Sports often serve as a public face to social issues, for instance: Racial integration in US baseball, and rebel cricket tours to South Africa during apartheid in the 70’s & 80’s. Off the field, professional athletes also meet extreme challenges that most of us don’t consider. How will they use their new found wealth and influence? How will they handle the increased availability of sex, drugs, alcohol?
The recent publicity given to prominent Christian athletes, Tim Tebow & Jeremy Lin has added another layer of interest to professional sports. I have never really viewed sports stars as life role models. I’ve always managed to respect athletes for their performances on the field and ignore the rest of their life. However, social media and increasing media exposure in general have removed the concept of professional athletes having private lives. Their views, comments, and behaviours are exposed for everyone’s review, this includes the faith statements of sports stars.
Some athletes meet these challenges head on and come out triumphant. Others may be heroes on the field, but their lives are in shambles away from the spotlight. How do people react? What differentiates athletes? The intensity of the athletic experience makes sports a valuable lens through which to comment on the broader human experience. That’s the goal of this blog. Sometimes we’ll just talk sports, and other times I’ll reflect on a Christian response to particular situations. And sometimes, I might just talk a little God all by himself, after all, the Bible uses some sports analogies itself!
I’ll continue my (almost) weekly updates on this blog, but I hope some of you will also take the time to review my attempt at inculturating the Gospel. www.GodMeetsBall.blogspot.com
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
- You can listen to this sermon here.
If we were writing an outline of “love commands” the New Command to “Love one another” would display as a subpoint to “The Second Command” to “Love your neighbour as yourself“. Since Jesus had already instructed his disciples to love those around them, even their enemies, why did he need to specifically tell them to “love each other“? I can think of several reasons, you may think of more… or you may disagree with mine? 🙂
First, toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel (chaps 18 & 20) we find the apostles competing for honors in Jesus’ kingdom, asking who will be the greatest. Back in John’s Gospel (13:21-30) we see that Judas has just left the Last Supper to betray Jesus. In v38 of this chapter Jesus predicts that Peter himself will deny Jesus. Then in chapter 14 Jesus predicts his departure. Jesus is leaving. He’s leaving a competitive group of guys who’ve just been betrayed by Judas, and who themselves have deserted Jesus at his death. These are the guys who’ll continue the mission of the Kingdom of God. In order to get through the tough times ahead, they’re going to need to “love each other”, just as we still need to.
Second, Jesus tells us that it’s by our mutual love that outsiders will recognise our commitment to God. He doesn’t say this when he tells us to “love our enemies“, although that’s sure to raise eyebrows. Surprisingly, people don’t see God as much when we serve our communities as they do in the way that we love each other. Perhaps we don’t recognise this point as much because we don’t love each other as strongly. Consider the example of the first church who sold their possessions to meet the needs of the poor among them. (Acts 4:32-35) What would prompt you to sell something to give to a needy brother or sister? How severe would their need have to be?
Third, Our love for each other reflects God’s love toward us. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The way we treat each other reflects the way Christ has treated us. That’s a pretty huge responsibility. With the world looking at us, the church, we have the job of modeling God’s love for His people: for all people. The more we mature in Christ, the more we understand the way he loves us, the better job we should do of loving those around us. Our love for others derives from God. Our love from God expresses itself to others.
- If you had to choose a 3rd “love command” do you have another preference? Why?
- Why do you think Jesus had to be more specific than just “love your neighbour”?
- It’s easy to say “love your spiritual family as Christ loved you”, but how do you express God’s love for you in relationships with others?