Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘evangelism’

Ever Ready


We’ve all read the warning many times.  Looking forward to the day He returns, Christ tells us, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:42) We tend to respond by wondering “when,” but the more practical question is “how.” How can I prepare so I’m ready?

There is no doubt Christ requires that those still here when he comes back must be serving effectively when he arrives.  Scripture seems to describe that age as dark and filled with persecution.  No wonder the Lord wonders, “But when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)  There will obviously be a church here, but will He find us faithful?

If we’re all cowering in bunkers singing our favorite songs while we escape the opposition of the world, our returning Lord won’t find much faith on the earth.  If the world is being swept away by unbelief and we’re doing nothing to resist or rescue the perishing, there’s not much faith there no matter what we believe about the Bible.

So I’ve come to believe the #1 essential for saints who want to be prepared is a teachable spirit.  We must always be learning so that we can correctly read the signs of the times. Christ has two words for believers who cannot: wicked and adulterous.

We must be prepared to minister the Gospel in any setting: great interest in faith or complete hostility; prosperity or economic calamity; golden days or plague years. We have to know what makes people tick and where they hurt.  We will need to be able to overlook personal differences in order to find common ground for pre-evangelism and sharing the gospel.

Proverbs 6:6 suggests the ant should be a role model for us: she gathers food in the summer and stores up for the winter.  I don’t think there’s any doubt that can be applied to encourage saving some money for hard times.  Living within your means is more than spending only what you have; it’s also about saving something for times when you’re earning less or encounter a famine.

But the larger lesson is that we should also store up some truth, some experience, some insight for adapting when the world changes for the worse.  Readiness requires that you and I must cultivate a teachable spirit. We must stop asking, “Am I comfortable,” and begin asking, “Am I ready?”

The virgins who weren’t ready missed the wedding feast.  The laborers who weren’t ready lost their jobs when the master returned.  The guests who weren’t ready were kicked out of the wedding.

And saints who aren’t ready to serve up the Gospel to the next generation are missing the point.  Saving up for winter means I am ready and resourced to rescue my neighbors when harsh weather descends on them.  That is one practical implication of loving my neighbor as myself.

For an uplifting message about Redskins QB Kirk Cousins, resourceful saints, and readiness, click here.

Lift up the Cross!




Sexual Positions

Atlanta Pastor Andy Stanley ignited a firestorm a couple of weeks ago with a bizarre sermon illustration.  He apparently wanted to convey the complexity of the moral questions Christians must answer in 2012.  So he shared a true story about a couple who were not allowed to accept leadership roles at his church because one of the two men was not officially divorced.  By denying the man a role of leadership due to “good old fashioned adultery,” Pastor Stanley skated right past the problem that the men were carrying on a homosexual affair.  It left the impression that the Southern Baptist pastor was extending acceptance of gay sex.  Friends of Stanley argued that the charge is outrageous:  homosexuality was not the point of the sermon.   But who honestly knows what the mega-church pastor was thinking?

That’s the problem with the current rush from judgment that is underway in churches all across the land.  Research and personal experience tell us that young people are broadly accepting of gay and lesbian relationships.  Can we honestly hope to reach the next generation if we insist on rigid doctrines while they demand compassion and authenticity?  One could argue that the future of the American Church is not being written in black and white anymore.  Indeed, the ministry narrative of the future will be written with fat, colorful marker pens and the storyline will feature the teenager who is dropped off for Bible Study every Sunday by his lesbian Mom and his transgender Dad.  How do you help a kid like that?  Don’t worry about it: the Minister to Students can sort if all out, right?

That’s why the idea of ‘triangulation,’ once a political strategy, is fast becoming a doctrine of church growth.  Whenever you have two competing moral positions and one is popular while the other is biblical, what does a pastor do?  A faithful pastor upholds the biblical position.  But a ‘sensitive’ pastor hammers out a third position– an ambiguous one that is somewhere to the left of one and the right of the other.

  • If abortion is legal but the sanctity of life is biblical, give a quick nod to cute babies but preach on keeping the gospel positive.
  • If divorce is popular but lifetime marriage is biblical, concede that divorce is painful, but rail against hateful Christianity.
  • When Darwinism is rising even though Creationism is scriptural, ponder both sides while you denounce ignorant legalism.
  • If homosexuality is trending but heterosexual marriage is biblical, pivot to the hypocrisy of adultery in marriage.

As a pastor, I sympathize with the concerned voices who ask, “Can we ever reach them with the Gospel if they think we’re hateful, bigoted prudes and homophobes?”  It’s a great question!  But I identify more with Paul who asks in Romans 10:14, ” How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

Whenever I share the Gospel with a man who uses excessive profanity or a couple who are shacking  up, it’s true I don’t call out their specific sins.  I share the Gospel and point them to Jesus.  And if they turn to Christ in faith, I ask them to read their Bible, pray and meet with me again in a few days.  And I am often amazed at how , in my absence, the Holy Spirit has brought conviction of sins I never pointed out.  But if the Spirit hasn’t spoken by the time we meet again, I gently explain all the things that repentance and faith will require of them.  It’s my job to disciple them.

So I would agree that it’s true- one sermon can’t possibly address every moral evil.  And even the most eloquent preacher cannot clarify every implication of a simple illustration in a 25 minute sermon.   But in an age when homosexuality is being widely celebrated as an alternate lifestyle, it’s dishonest and disingenuous to try and reach young people with ambiguous stories.  Paul would argue, “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”

We’ll be fighting this battle for a generation.  Let’s be certain the sound of the bugle is clear.

And lift up the Cross!

The Christian Brain, Part 2

Occasionally, I’ll hear someone confess that it’s “hard” being a Christian.  The hard part usually boils down to the challenge of saying No to temptation, or the pain of being rejected by fashionable people.  Sure, stuff like that is tricky.  But I believe that the biggest difficulty of walking with Christ is the part about speaking the truth in love.  Sometimes, it’s hard to accept the truth when the world believes the it’s idiotic or even destructive.  And when I finally dare to utter it, the truth tends to come across as offensive and “in your face” because I have delivered it in anger or self-defense rather than love.

The Christian brain operates differently than an ordinary human brain.  For example:

  • A Christian brain is aware that it’s software has been corrupted by sin; warped by a short-timer’s perspective in an world that cycles in centuries; and confused by temptation.  Hence, pure reasoning is usually insufficient for effective problem solving.
  • The mind of a believer cries out for some objective truth to counter all the subjective emotionalism generated by the warp and woof of living in 21st Century America. Rather than simply enduring a diet of cultural sugar, my brain craves the nutrients and fiber that come from God’s Word.
  • In the face of a challenging situation, there are dividends I can reap when I refuse to respond instantly out of reflex.  Instead, I slow down, open up my mind to the Holy Spirit, and allow him to breathe some insight in the midst of my typical, hyper-active, do-something-even-if-it’s-wrong approach to life.

We’re all familiar with the mode of thinking you might call “secular humanism.”  In this viewpoint, God may or may not be real, but either way, he’s not a factor.  Then there’s another mental construct you might call “theistic humanism.”  That is, God is active and real, but his wisdom is largely limited to those important but invisible realms we call spirituality or religion.  In other words, “We can figure out science by ourselves.”  In contrast to both those worldviews, believers operate from a mode of thinking you might call “Christian theism.”  That is, we believe that the only reliable truth or interpretation of the truth available to us is from God, who is not only real, but is central to all of life.

Skeptics would say, “Oh!  So you Christians believe you should check your brains at the church door.”  And I would reply, “No, we believe it’s important to use our brains.  I apply my intellect to comprehend what God’s Word says.  Then I further apply my mind to understand the lessons of biology, history, and physics.  Then I invite the Holy Spirit of God to give me the power to apply the truth, and the patience to pause until the fog lifts and other things become more clear.

It takes a lot more brain power to be a Christian because I can’t simply settle for reflex answers or personal insults.  I am called to know the truth, apply it to the situation at hand, and then communicate it with compassion.  Advocates and atheists can settle for slogans and insults.  Disciples of Christ are directed to speak the truth in love.

Lift up the Cross!

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