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Evangelism/Outreach

Telling Our Kids the Bad News

Mike McGarry pens a helpful article for parents on how we respond to our children's sin. 

I needed to make a decision. I could tell him that he could try harder and do better next time. Or I could believe he really couldn’t help himself.

As Christians, we believe in original sin. Our sinful nature has corrupted (though not eradicated) the image of God within us. We desire self-glory more than God’s glory. We want to control more than to serve. We prefer pleasure to sacrifice. We listen to ourselves more than we listen to God.

In that moment, and in moments like it, I reminded my son that he’s a sinner. He sinned against his sister by knocking her over. He sinned against his parents by ignoring their admonition to slow down. He sinned against the Lord by putting himself first.

This incident was no great tragedy. He knocked his sister over and she was fine. But that isn’t the point. The point is that it’s the nature of sin to demand, “Me first!” And that’s exactly what he did.

As we talked about his sin, I reminded him of the gospel. God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross so we could be forgiven of our sin. Because we’re forgiven, we should live differently—not for his acceptance, but from his acceptance. We say no to ourselves and yes to God because he loves us and is making us more like himself. And when we look like Christ, the world sees a glimpse of the greatness of God.

If I refuse to tell my kids they’re sinners, I’m forfeiting a chance to communicate gospel grace. 

Inoculated Against Grace

As a youth pastor, one of my greatest concerns is the salvation of “church kids.” Many seem to have been “inoculated” against the gospel by two things: their righteousness and their familiarity with Scripture. When there is no personal need for confession and repentance—because I don’t see myself as a sinner—the gospel loses its goodness and becomes a message merely for others.

As parents, we cannot build on a foundation we have not already built. When we confess our sin to our kids, we’re acknowledging what they already know: Mom and Dad are sinners who desperately need Jesus. If we aren’t willing to model confession, then we will be modeling self-righteousness. We’ll be subtly pointing to our own goodness without giving credit to the Holy Spirit who sanctifies.

When we don’t teach our kids about sin, we are actually making it difficult for them to become Christians. Without knowledge of their guilt, there can be no confession of sin or profession of faith. But when we teach our kids about their sinful nature, they’re more prepared to prayerfully turn to God for strength and help to resist temptation.

Give Them Good News

If we want our kids to know Christ and love him, then we must tell them the truth about themselves. They are human beings created in the image of God but captive to sin. Remember, the gospel is good news. Proclaim the power of God for salvation. Demonstrate the hope that comes through repentance and faith, in both salvation and sanctification.

When I discuss this issue with parents—even those fairly mature in their faith—I often get the impression I’m saying something radical. I pray this is not true, for this should be a basic cornerstone of gospel-centered parenting.

Does this mean we should start pointing out every sin our kids commit and shouting “sinner!” at them? Of course not. Instead, we must prayerfully seek the courage and wisdom to speak gospel truth into their lives as God opens opportunities. This will involve telling them they are sinners. It will involve telling them how God loves sinners. It will involve telling them how God saves sinners.

If there is no bad news, we won’t need the good news. We must tell our kids both. 

Read the whole article here.

Are You Living in a Ghetto?

Paul Tripp with a call to check our lives and our hearts when it comes to our schedules and priorities: 

For me, one of the most unsettling statements Christ makes comes during his Sermon on the Mount. He says to those listening, and to us reading years later, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:14)

Why is this statement so ruffling for me? Because in another passage, Jesus declares, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

The logic here should make us feel uncomfortable: Jesus is placing his name (the Light of the World) on you and me. It's God's divine plan to make the light of his Son visible to others by sending us into a dark and lost world and living as light.

Matthew 5:14 is not a commission for pastors or full-time missionaries. Rather, this command is for everyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus. We have been called to be lights in the world, pointing to the Light of the World.

But here's the problem: many Christians live trapped inside a Christian ghetto.

If you were to look at an average week, how much of your time is consumed by the scheduled activities of the local church? How many hours do you spend participating in worship services, small groups, men's and women's ministries, youth ministries, children's ministries, etc?

What about your friends? Outside of these scheduled ministries, how many hours do you spend with other Christians in social settings? Is it natural for you to gravitate towards a believer over a non-believer?

Let me pause - the goal of this piece is not to discourage you from participating in ministries, nor to discourage you from spending time with fellow believers. Not at all! But, I want to encourage you to be unsettled and ruffled by the teachings of Jesus.

For many of us, we haven't actually taken Matthew 5:14 seriously. We haven't created for ourselves a lifestyle where we have natural opportunities to be a light in a dark place. We're simply trapped in the Christian ghetto.

Read the rest here.

Why We Don't Evangelize

Daniel Darling with some needed reminders: 

I’d like to suggest that there are three spiritual reasons why we don’t evangelize:

We’ve lost our wonder.

When I read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Great Commission, I’m struck by the lack of guilt and manipulation in his words. Jesus’ announces the good news that He’s been granted all authority in Heaven and earth. By virtue of his death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ is reigning King. He’s defeated the powers of sin and death and has reversed the curse. And now he’s calling out a people for His name from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

When I read Jesus’ words, it seems to me that He’s not imploring his disciples to share the gospel. He’s expecting it. And why not? These people on the hillside hearing Jesus’ words? They’d just witnessed a man brutally crucified, buried for three days, now risen. If you had met Jesus, if you’ve seen him first dead, then alive, nobody would have to convince you to go tell someone about this miracle. Jesus’ instructions were permission to not be silent, to take this gospel beyond Israel and to the nations. 

Why don’t we evangelize? Not because we don’t have the right tools or the right spiel. We don’t talk about Jesus because those of us who know Jesus have lost the wonder. If you’ve been with Jesus, who was raised from the dead and has given you new life, if he’s indeed the reigning King of the Universe, if you know and love him, of course you are going to tell people about him...

We’ve lost our love for neighbor.

Today our world is divided along political, racial, economic lines. Every day we are tempted by the ease of social media, by the tribalization of our politics, and by racial and economic differences. We’ve lost the art of loving people with whom we disagree. Just check your Facebook timeline. Consider the harsh and often vulgar language often used, by professing Christians, to describe politicians they don’t agree with, people groups they are afraid of, and religions they don’t agree with.

You will not share the good news of the gospel with someone you do not genuinely love...

...It could be that our evangelism must be preceded by repentance. Repentance for our hating of the people God has called us to love around us. If you love Jesus and you love your neighbor, sharing the gospel message won’t simply be something you check off your to-do list. It will be a natural outgrowth of a Christ-shaped life...  

We’ve forgotten our source of power.

Lastly, we don’t evangelize because we’ve mistakenly put ourselves at the center of evangelism. For many of us, our fears, our frustrations, our inability to talk about Jesus stems from a man-centered view of salvation. We really think it is us, our ingenuity, our power, our technique that delivers a soul from death to life. But salvation is not work we accomplish, but a work of the Holy Spiri. It is God who “quickens” the dead heart (Ephesians 2:1). It is the work of the Father to draw people to his son (John 8:44).

This means that in obeying the Great Commission, we can’t fail. Our job is not to do the saving, but do the sharing. Our job is to simply be faithful in declaring the word to those who haven’t heard. We are the ones God is using to share his message with the world. There are no others. (Romans 10:14). But we can rest in God’s sovereignty, motivated by the knowledge that if we share the news, people will repent and put their faith in Christ...

Read the rest here.

Get Out of the Ghetto

Paul Tripp with some words that challenge us to go into the world with the gospel: 

The Bible is filled with unsettling commands and ruffling statements. In other words, many of the directives in Scripture are meant to disturb our claustrophobic, self-absorbed kingdoms and make us move towards Christ and his bigger Kingdom.

For me, one of the most unsettling statements Christ makes comes during his Sermon on the Mount. He says to those listening, and to us reading years later, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:14)

Why is this statement so ruffling for me? Because in another passage, Jesus declares, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

The logic here should make us feel uncomfortable: Jesus is placing his name (the Light of the World) on you and me. It's God's divine plan to make the light of his Son visible to others by sending us into a dark and lost world and living as light.

Matthew 5:14 is not a commission for pastors or full-time missionaries. Rather, this command is for everyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus. We have been called to be lights in the world, pointing to the Light of the World.

But here's the problem: many Christians live trapped inside a Christian ghetto.

If you were to look at an average week, how much of your time is consumed by the scheduled activities of the local church? How many hours do you spend participating in worship services, small groups, men's and women's ministries, youth ministries, children's ministries, etc?

What about your friends? Outside of these scheduled ministries, how many hours do you spend with other Christians in social settings? Is it natural for you to gravitate towards a believer over a non-believer?

Let me pause - the goal of this piece is not to discourage you from participating in ministries, nor to discourage you from spending time with fellow believers. Not at all! But, I want to encourage you to be unsettled and ruffled by the teachings of Jesus.

Read the rest here.

The Antidote for Evangelistic Apathy

Erik Raymond does an excellent job in this post diagnosing our apathy in evangelism and encouraging us forward. Here are a couple of excerpts: 

Why don’t we evangelize more faithfully?

This is a general but nevertheless important question. There are a number of true and helpful ways to get at answering it, but I want to simply focus on one here. One reason that we do not evangelize is that we don’t consistently believe the gospel. There is not a consistent “buy-in” for the powerful truth of it.

Think about an ambassador for any organization. Their value is not simply in holding the position but in believing in its mission. Think about those who endorse a product. How valuable would a Pepsi promoter be if he was seen drinking Coke all the time? I am not attempting to reduce the gospel down to a product to be peddled but simply showing that even in everyday life the principle shows itself forth. The best proponents of something are those who actually buy in. They are truly behind it.

 

Is there any wonder why the gospel is far from our minds in conversations with unbelievers if it is likewise distant from our talks with other Christians? Some Christians have grown adept at never talking about the gospel at all. Never mind with those who are headed to hell, they don’t talk about it with those who are going to heaven!

Evangelistic apathy is neither healthy nor right. It requires our attention. Take some prayerful, quiet, reflective time before the foot of the cross. Ask God to grip your heart with its preciousness. Ask him to renew in you a deep sense of gratitude and joy in God that comes from knowing that God has adopted and forgiven you in Christ. This may take some time. It may be uncomfortable. But, it may change your life. And, it may also change those around you!

Read the rest here.

Giving the Gospel at Christmas

This post from Desiring God has some great thoughts to chew on as we spend time with non Christian family and friends this Christmas.

Tis' the most wonderful time of the year . . . and it's a unique opportunity to give the good news of Jesus to your unbelieving family.

Randy Newman's book, Bringing the Gospel Home, is a resource meant to equip Christians in how to talk about the gospel in their closest relationships...

Christmas with Family Who Don't Know Jesus

David Mathis recently extracted some practical ideas from the book in connection to all the family gatherings accustomed to the holidays. Here are those ten points again, or in his words, "a few thoughts from a fellow bungler to help us think ahead and pray about how we might grow in being proxies for the gospel, in word and deed, among our families."

1) Pray ahead

Begin praying for your part in gospel advance among extended family several days before gathering. And let’s not just pray for changes in them, but also pray for the needed heart changes in us — whether it’s for love or courage or patience or kindness or fresh hope, or all of the above.

2) Listen and ask questions

Listen, listen, listen. Perhaps more good evangelism than we realize starts not with speaking but with good listening. Getting to know someone well, and specifically applying the gospel to them, is huge in witness. Relationship matters.

Ask questions to draw them out. People like to talk about themselves — and we should capitalize on this. And most people only enjoy talking about themselves for so long. At some point, they’ll ask us questions. And that’s our golden chance to speak, upon request.

One of the best times to tell the gospel with clarity and particularity is when someone has just asked us a question. They want to hear from us. So let’s share ourselves, and Jesus in us. Not artificially, but in genuine answer to their asking about our lives. And remember it’s a conversation. Be careful not to rabbit on for too long, but try to keep a sense of equilibrium in the dialogue.

3) Raise the gospel flag early

Let’s not wait to get to know them “well enough” to start clearly identifying with Jesus. Depending on how extended our family is, or how long it’s been since we married in, they may already plainly know that we are Christians. But if they don’t know that, or don’t know how important Jesus is to our everyday lives, we should realize now that there isn’t any good strategy in being coy about such vital information. It will backfire. Even if we don’t put on the evangelistic full-court press right away (which is not typically advised), wisdom is to identify with Jesus early and often, and articulate the gospel with clarity (and kindness) as soon as possible.

No one’s impressed to discover years into a relationship that we’ve withheld from them the most important things in our lives.

4) Take the long view and cultivate patience

With family especially, we should consider the long arc. Randy Newman is not afraid to say to Christians in general, “You need a longer-term perspective when it comes to family.” Chances are we do. And so he challenges us to think in terms of an alphabet chart, seeing our family members positioned at some point from letters A to Z. These 26 steps/letters along the way from distant unbelief (A) to great nearness to Jesus (Z) and fledgling faith help us remember that evangelism is usually a process, and often a long one.

It is helpful to recognize that not everyone is near the end of the alphabet waiting for our pointed gospel pitch to tip them into the kingdom. Frequently there is much spadework to be done. Without losing the sense of urgency, let’s consider how we can move them a letter, or two or three, at a time and not jerk them toward Z in a way that may actually make them regress.

5) Beware the self-righteous older brother in you

For those who grew up in nonbelieving or in shallow or nominal Christian families, it can be too easy to slide into playing the role of the self-righteous older brother when we return to be around our families. Let’s ask God that he would enable us to speak with humility and patience and grace. Let’s remember that we’re sinners daily in need of his grace, and not gallop through the family gathering on our high horse as if we’ve arrived or just came back from the third heaven. Newman’s advice: “use the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ far more than ‘you’” (65).

6) Tell it slant

Some extended family contexts may be so far from spiritual that we need to till the soil of conversation before making many direct spiritual claims. It’s not that the statements aren’t true or desperately needed, but that our audience may not yet be ready to hear it. The gospel may seem so foreign that wisdom would have us take another approach. One strategy is to “tell it slant,” to borrow from the poem of the same name — to get at the gospel from an angle.

“If your family has a long history of negativity and sarcasm,” writes Newman, “the intermediate step of speaking positively about a good meal or a great film may pave the way for ‘blinding’ talk of God’s grace and mercy” (67). Don’t “blind” them by rushing to say loads more than they’re ready for. As Emily Dickinson says, “The truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.”

7) Be real about the gospel

As we dialogue with family about the gospel, let’s not default to quoting Bible verses that don’t really answer the questions being asked. Let’s take up the gospel in its accompanying worldview and engage their questions as much as possible in the terms in which they asked them. Newman says, “We need to find ways to articulate the internally consistent logic of the gospel’s claims and not resort to anti-intellectual punch lines like, ‘The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.’”

Yes, let’s do quote Bible when appropriate — we are Christians owing ultimately to revelation, not to reason. But let’s not make the Bible into an excuse for not really engaging with their queries in all their difficulty. (And let’s not be afraid to say we don’t know when we don’t!)

8) Consider the conversational context

Context matters. It doesn’t have to be face to face across the table to be significant. “Many people told me their best conversations occurred in a car — where both people faced forward, rather than toward each other,” says Newman. “Perhaps the indirect eye contact posed less of a threat” (91). Maybe even sofas and recliners during a Thanksgiving Day football game, if the volume’s not ridiculous. Be mindful of the context, and seek to make yourself available for conversation while at family gatherings, rather than retreating always into activities or situations that are not conducive to substantive talk.

9) Know your particular family situation.

In some families, the gospel has been spoken time and again in the past to hard hearts, perhaps there has been a lack of grace in the speaking, and what is most needed is some unexpected relational rebuilding. Or maybe you’ve built and built and built the relationship and have never (or only rarely) clearly spoken the message of the gospel.

Let’s think and pray ahead of time as to what the need of hour is in our family, and as the gathering approaches pray toward what little steps we might take. And then let’s trust Jesus to give us the grace our hearts need, whether it’s grace for humbling ourselves enough to connect relationally or whether it’s courage enough to speak with grace and clarity.

10) Be hopeful

God loves to convert the people we think are the least likely. Jesus is able to melt the hardest of hearts. Some who finished their lives among the greatest saints started as the worst of sinners.

Realistically, there could have been some cousin of the apostle Paul sitting around some prayer meeting centuries ago telling his fellow believers, “Hey, would you guys pray for my cousin Saul? I can’t think of anyone more lost. He hunts down followers of The Way and arrests them. Just last week, he was the guy who stood guard over the clothes of the people who killed our brother Stephen.” (53)

With God, all things are possible. Jesus has a history of conquering those most hostile to him. We have great reason to have great hope about gospel advance in our families, despite how dire and dark it may seem.

When We Fail

And when we fail — not if, but when — the place to return is Calvary’s tree. Our solace in failing to adequately share the gospel is the very gospel we seek to share. It is good to ache over our failures to love our families in gospel word and deed. But let’s not miss that as we reflect on our failures, we have all the more reason to marvel at God’s love for us.

Be astonished that his love is so lavish that he does not fail to love us, like we fail to love him and our families, and that he does so despite our recurrent flops in representing him well to our kin.

(HT: Desiring God)

The Good News for Your Workplace

Darrin Patrick gives some helpful thoughts to help us think about he mission field God has given us in our workplaces: 

Many of us have a problem with overworking. All of us have a problem with undervaluing the people we work with and for. One of the reasons why this happens is we fail to consider God’s plan for our work.

The average person is going to spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. You think maybe, just maybe, God wants to speak into that.

You’re not there just for your job. You’re not there just for a promotion. You’re not there just to make a name for yourself and build your resume. God didn’t just put you there for you. He put you there for others. He wants to reach your workplace with the gospel through you.

Here are five ways that can happen:

1. Pray for divine appointments

2. Be available to your coworkers

3. Serve your coworkers

4. Plan outside of work activities

5. Sharpen your gospel sharing skills

Read the rest here.

Family, Thanksgiving and the Gospel

If you're going to be around family and friends this Thanksgiving the following two posts highlighted by Justin Taylor are must read material.  Read and give thanks.

David Mathis offers some wise counsel, inspired by Randy Newman’s book Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well. Here’s an outline:

  1. Pray ahead.
  2. Listen and ask questions.
  3. Raise the gospel flag early.
  4. Take the long view and cultivate patience.
  5. Beware the self-righteous older brother in you.
  6. Tell it slant.
  7. Be real about the gospel.
  8. Consider the conversational context.
  9. Know your particular family situation.
  10. Be hopeful.

A complementary post to read is Russell Moore’s “Family Tensions and the Holidays.” He organizes his counsel around five things to remember, especially for difficult extended family situations:

  1. Peace
  2. Honor
  3. Humility
  4. Maturity
  5. Perspective

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Better Together

This excerpt, from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop’s book The Compelling Community: Where God's Power Makes a Church Attractive, is a reminder of how God uses his people together in bringing our non-Christian friends to Jesus. 

My friend Walter was an addict. Here’s how The Washington Post told his story:

He used crystal methamphetamine, and then he discovered crack cocaine. He was homeless for a time, and then he was a thief. He lived in doubt and fear, in paranoia and darkness, until one morning in 2010, when he went for a run.

Barrera believes it was that experience, when he needed a break after only one block, that he replaced drugs with running. Three years later, its hold is as strong as any narcotic. Instead of waking each morning in search of the next high, he tried going a little farther than the previous day, a few more seconds without stopping. After a few weeks, he ran a 5K, and the feeling afterward was familiar.

“Everything just feels perfect, feels right,” he says.

Soon he was running marathons, but eventually that wasn’t enough. Barrera ran a 50-mile race last June, and three months from now—if the rain holds off often enough, if his legs stop sending pain through his body, and his old life spares his new one of surprises, such as last year’s jail term—he will run a 100-mile race in the mountains of Colorado.

Reading the Post article, you would think that running saved Walter. And in one sense, it did save him—from homelessness, joblessness, and crack. But talk with Walter and he’s quick to tell you that running merely changed the decor of his prison cell. True freedom came not from a run, but from a walk—through a train station. 

Several months after Walter’s first run, another friend of mine, Brady, walked through the train station looking for people to talk with about Jesus. He noticed Walter and passed him by. But his conscience was pricked, so he retraced his steps and asked if Walter wanted to talk. As Walter reflected later on, he’d noticed the Bible Brady was carrying and had an odd urge to ask him about it. But being the quiet type, he’d resisted. So when Brady walked directly up to him, he was surprised and delighted. They talked through the gospel, read through sections of the Bible, and parted company. Walter was intrigued, but still lost in his sin.

The next time they met, Brady started reading through the gospel of Mark with Walter. And he began introducing him to various members of his church, who introduced him to yet other Christian friends. One of those new friends sang a song on Easter Sunday about Christ’s resurrection that Walter couldn’t shake. At the end of a long run a few weeks later, with the lyrics of “Jesus Is Alive!” repeating through his head, Walter suddenly realized he believed Jesus was alive. On his knees, he trusted in Christ. By the time he was baptized, dozens in the church already knew his story.

So who led Walter to the Lord? Who gets to “notch his spiritual belt” with another miracle of conversion? Ultimately, it was the Lord himself, wasn’t it? In John 6:44 Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” But whom did God use? Was it Brady, who had the courage to walk up to a stranger and explain the gospel? Was it Andy, who met him a few days later? Was it Mark, who preached one of the sermons God used to pierce Walter’s heart? Or was it Shai, who sang that song?

I suppose you’d have to answer yes to all of these! In my experience, Walter’s story is typical in the pattern it follows. For him, evangelism was personal. That is, he didn’t simply wander into a church by himself, intrigued at what they had to offer. Instead, he first heard the gospel through a relationship with Brady, even if that relationship was only two minutes old. But evangelism wasn’t merely personal—it was also corporate. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who “led him to the Lord” since all sorts of people from the church were involved. “Mob evangelism” is how I like to describe it.

And the wonderful news about Walter is that this personal, corporate evangelism didn’t stop with him. Shortly after his baptism, he told the church that before his conversion, he’d committed crimes that deserved jail time. Following Christ meant repenting of these things, so he turned himself into the authorities and went to prison to serve his sentence. While in jail, a congregation he hardly knew showered him with visits and letters. To his fellow prisoners, that love added weight and reality to the testimony of God’s grace they heard from Walter. Before his release, Walter’s cell mate also professed faith in Christ.

 

Sharing the Gospel with the Irreligious

Greg Gilbert with some wisdom on how to talk about Jesus with those who are not religious.

Millennials, like the rest of us, are human beings. I know that’s not a terribly surprising thing to say, and I haven’t actually heard anyone deny that fact. But with the coming of age of each new generation, it seems there’s always a flurry of books and articles competing both for the honor of naming that generation and of describing what’s unique about them. And of course, so long as we’re okay using sweeping generalizations, each generation does tend to exhibit characteristics setting it apart from those who came before and will come after. Usually that has to do with the historical and cultural context in which they came of age. So one generation was deeply affected by the post-World War II world, the next by the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, the next by the Cold War, and on and on.

I’ll leave it to the professionals to do the work of describing exactly what’s affected millennials and how it’s affected them. As a Christian pastor, my task is to do the even harder work of reminding people—including millennials themselves—they’re not that different from the rest of us. The world has been around for a very long time, and the deepest problems plaguing millennials today have plagued every generation throughout human history. What’s more, the greatest solution we can offer millennials is the same as it’s ever been. That doesn’t change.

Changing Culture, Unchanging Power

My church, Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, is located right next to the campus of the University of Louisville, an enormous research institution and, of course, athletics powerhouse (Go Cards!). Because of that, I’m constantly talking with college students—the heart of the millennial generation. Those students come from a thousand spiritual and intellectual directions, too. Some are Christians, some are Muslims, others are agnostics or humanists, and a majority identify as none of the above. This new category of religious affiliation, “nones,” have never even given it a moment’s thought.

But you know what I’ve noticed about all of them, regardless of their intellectual and religious leanings? And you know what ties them together with the students from my own generation I started college with 20 years ago, and also with the generation before that, and even the generation before that? When you get to the bottom of it, they’re all sinners, and they need to be saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Here’s why that’s so important to remember: In our excitement to figure out what makes each generation unique, it can be easy to think the gospel that saved many in the last generation simply isn’t going to have the same power in this new one. But of course, the differences we can identify between generations are just the tops of the mountains. Are they important? Yes. But what’s more important are the metric tons of commonality that exist between all of us as humans: We are all made in the image of God, we have all rebelled against him and gone our own way, we all need the grace of forgiveness and a substitute to stand in our place. Death stares us in the face, and eternity stretches out before us all. So maybe the first and most important thing we can do as we minister to millennials and nones is to remember we’re ministering to human beings. And the same good news that’s saved millions through the ages will, by God’s grace, continue to do so in this generation and every one that follows.

All that said, though, my experience pastoring millennials has shown me this generation does arrive with a special set of presuppositions, ignorances, and (perhaps most importantly) attitudes that we as Christians need to know how to address. That’s not to say any of those are unique to millennials; we Gen X’ers had many of these same things, too. (It’s like I tell my 13-year-old son: You think I don’t understand you, but I do. Oh, I do!) Unique or not, this is the millennial moment, and since we’re therefore surrounded by millennials, it would do us well to be aware of what makes them tick.

Here are four pieces of advice that might help as you go about pastoring and sharing the gospel with this rising generation:

1. Assume They Share None of Your Christian Presuppositions

2. Frame the Gospel of Jesus in Its Epic Biblical Storyline

3. Be Confident About Your Faith in Jesus

4. Keep Your Eye on the Tomb

...In the end, there’s no magic formula for convincing millennials and nones to embrace Jesus. There’s no special key that will unlock their hearts. And that makes sense, because there’s never been a magic formula or special key for any generation of humans.

What’s needed is the same thing that’s been needed in every generation—a smart, confident, resurrection-grounded explanation of the astonishingly wonderful thing God has done in Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Read how he fills out each point here.

Together for the Gospel

Here's another great post from Rico Tice at The Gospel Coalition on evangelism and the importance of our corporate witness: 

One of the greatest impediments to our growth and godliness as Christians is our individualistic approach as Westerners.

All Christians are made differently, but we’re also made to work together. As an individual believer you may be a foot or a finger or a follicle, but you are part of a body, the church, and it is as part of that body that you’re most yourself—and most useful—as you contribute to and depend on the rest of your church. 

Forgotten and Crucial Word 

One of the most forgotten and crucial words of the Christian life is “together.” As Paul says in Philippians 1:27, “Stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” 

As part of Christ’s body, you share his Spirit and you share his gospel—so stand together. And yet the question that so often undoes an enthusiastic young Christian is not “Do you love Jesus?” (they do), or “Do you love telling people about him?” (they do), but “Do you love his church?” 

We need our church, and our church needs us: “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Cor. 12:18)

We strive together for the faith of the gospel.

Centrality of Evangelism 

Now, part of the way we are to strive together is in evangelism. When Jesus gave his Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20), he meant for us to cross the street to share the gospel with our neighbor just as much as he meant for us to cross the seas to bring the gospel to unreached people groups. Both are essential; neither are optional. And if you’re not called to do the latter, then you are commanded to do the former.

But again, we mustn’t allow innate individualism to hamstring our evangelism. We are to witness together, as a local church. Yet so often the indispensability of the church in evangelism is forgotten—not only by members but by leaders. In his book Our Guilty Silence, John Stott brilliantly articulates the centrality of the church’s role in evangelism:

The invisibility of God is a great problem. It was already a problem to God’s people in Old Testament days. Their pagan neighbours would taunt them, saying, “Where now is your god?” Their gods were visible and tangible, but Israel’s God was neither. Today in our scientific culture young people are taught not to believe in anything which is not open to empirical investigation. How then has God solved the problem of his own invisibility? The first answer is of course “in Christ.” Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. “No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son has made him known” (John 1:18). “That’s wonderful,” people say, “but it was 2,000 years ago. Is there no way by which the invisible God makes himself visible today?” There is. “No one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12). It is precisely the same introductory statement. But instead of continuing with reference to the Son of God, John continues: “if we love one another, God dwells in us.” In other words, the invisible God, who once made himself visible in Christ, now makes himself visible in Christians, if we love one another. It is a breathtaking claim. The local church cannot evangelize, proclaiming the gospel of love, if it is not itself a community of love.

So it’s not only the individual Christian believer who is to let their light shine, a narrow beam of torchlight in the word; each local church is to be a lighthouse—a great, wide beam of gospel light illuminating the surrounding darkness.

God’s Intended Medium 

If we are to stand firm in one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel, we must not see our local church as just our campaign headquarters from which we hear the gospel and go. And neither is it just our field hospital, where we return to be patched up. It is those things, yes, but it is so much more. It’s a loving community of Christian brothers and sisters that gives credibility to the gospel. Indeed, it’s God’s intended medium for his message.

You are called to share the gospel. And (especially if you’re in church leadership of any kind) you are called to encourage others to share the gospel. But don’t feel obliged to do it all by yourself. Use your character and gifts as part of the church in which God has deliberately placed you. Shine a gospel light in your office or factory and in your local coffee shop; join it with the beams of others as you meet mid-week in ways that include witnessing; and let it be part of the great lighthouse for your community that your church must be. As Jesus himself put it, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

What Would Life Be Like as a Missionary

A thought-provoking post here with regards to our mission.

I had a great visit with a church member recently. In our discussion he hit on a point that I believe many Christians have a burden for. Essentially he was concerned with intentionally integrating Christ in all that he does, in particular his work environment.

In one sense I as a pastor want to tell people exactly what to do and in another sense I do not.

From the standpoint of his thoughts he needs to think in terms of one who has been given work to do and a mind to do it. Work is not part of the curse but is a blessing from God. As Christians we should endeavor to be the best employee and team member in the office. This we do not for self-exaltation or merely for financial gain, but because “…you serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3.24).

On the other hand I don’t want to tell him what to do. Instead I want to ask him what to do. What would change if you did your current job as a missionary to Europe? What changes would you make if you had been sent to a foriegn country, given a job, a house, and the mandate to be a missionary and reach those people? How would you spend your time? How would you pray? What types of relationships would you pursue? How would your read the news? What would you think of your neighbors? How would you talk to the cashiers? What would you be listening for in your community?

As Christians we know this is the reality. God is a missionary God who sent his Son to accomplish redemption for his people and then he has sent his Spirit to apply the work of Christ to his people (Gal. 4.4-6). Jesus himself pushes off against this glorious theological truth as he articulates that we, his people, are sent into the world as missionaries:

“As you sent me into the world so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17.18)

As Christians we often need a reorientation in our thinking back to our basic identity and calling. “What if you were a missionary…” is not a hypothetical question. We are missionaries sent by a missionary God. This reality must give shape to our thinking, planning and action. I love that my friend is asking and thinking about these things.

(HT: Erik Raymond)

Ordinary Christianity

Erik Raymond makes a good case that discipleship is a inseparable part of ordinary Christianity:

What is your job as a Christian? If God gave you a job description for the Christian life, what would he put on it?

At the core of the Christian’s job is the task of discipleship. We read this clearly in our Lord’s pre-ascension words:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:18–20)

What does it mean to make disciples? A disciple is a learner and a follower of Jesus. When we make disciples we are working to see people who do not followJesus come to follow him (conversion) and then teaching them to faithfully followJesus in every area of their lives (maturity).

Many Christians hear this and file it away in a cabinet of idealism. Sure, I’d like to disciple people but I really can’t. They feel like discipleship is above their pay grade. Is this true? Is discipleship something that only pastors, elders and the “mature” do? Or is it for everyone?

Here is my main point: disciple-making is ordinary Christianity. It is fundamental to it. Like learning to count and say your alphabet in the natural realm, there is scarcely any part of the Christian life where discipleship does not touch. In so far as Christianity is a community faith, it is a disciple-making faith.

There may be a dozen different paradigms flying around when you hear discipleship. Some people insist on reading a book, meeting for coffee, eating a meal, working out, etc. All of these may aid the work of discipleship but they are not a prerequisite for or the necessary substance of it. Jesus never gave us a program for discipleship but he gave us his example and a broad, far-reaching command to do it. As a result, we have great freedom and a great burden for discipleship.

What does it look like? When Jesus commands us to make disciples he intends for us to live our lives in obedience to him in the presence of other people (believers and unbelievers). This intentional living seeks to show others the worth and the power of Christ. In short, we let people in to see how we live out the Christian faith.

Let me give you some examples:

Discipleship happens when a guy wants to be married but doesn’t have a game-plan for how to go about it. He asks another brother for guidance and help. This brother takes him out for lunch and talks through some biblical and practical principles. He then commits to pray for him, to be available for questions, and to meet occasionally to talk about his progress.

Discipleship happens when a mom with two toddlers drops something off that she borrowed from another sister at church. During the exchange they get to talking and the young mom expresses her feelings of fatigue and failure to measure up to her perceived standards of motherhood. The other woman listens to her, reminds her of Scripture, prays with her, and then continues to come alongside of her for encouragement in the gospel.

Discipleship happens when a dad points out a scantily dressed lady and tells his teenage sons that what they see is not beauty. He explains to them what beauty is as it relates to God’s character and will. He continues to tell, show, and emphasize the true beauty that God delights in (1 Pt. 3:3–4).

Discipleship happens when a brother notices another brother is running hard after his job and neglecting his family and ministry. He comes alongside of his brother to remind him of the true and lasting treasure, and the proper perspective on work.

Discipleship happens when a mom is at the park with her children. At one point the kids become unruly and she patiently, graciously but faithfully, disciplines her children. There are many watching eyes around her. Both the believing and unbelieving women are intrigued. Conversations begin and soon the fruit of the Spirit points to the matchless worth of Christ.

Discipleship happens when a home-school mom breaks away with free time only to go to the same coffee house hoping to make new friends and open doors for sharing the gospel.

Discipleship happens when a single woman senses another single woman’s discontentment in being single. She makes it a point to come alongside of her for encouragement in the goodness of the gospel.

These are just everyday, ordinary occurrences. In fact, I picked them from the ordinary lives of people in our church family. It is this ordinary work that pushes the church ahead toward maturity while protecting her from spiritual shipwreck.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Heb. 3:13–14)

Discipleship is the ordinary practice of believers. You could say that Christianity is more than discipleship, but it is not less. We are our brother’s keeper. It’s in the job description.

Will You Be My Neighbor?

A good reminder about the mission field in our back yard.

Do you know your neighbors? I’m asking about the people who live immediately to your right and your left, maybe across the street or beyond your backyard or across the hall. If you can name them, the statistics suggest that this knowledge sets you apart in today’s America.

But how much do you really know about them?

What do they do for work? What do they like to do on the weekends? What matters most to them? What makes them happy? What are their fears, their struggles? What’s the most significant thing that happened to them in the last year? What do they think about Jesus?

Pretty basic, right?

For all that technology has accomplished in connecting us with people all over America and even around the world, it’s built miles of distance between next-door neighbors. Most of us live less than fifty feet from our neighbor’s front door, and yet we couldn’t live further apart. It almost feels like you have to book a flight. Technology — think garage doors, air-conditioning, Amazon, smartphones, and Netflix — has tragically made strangers out of neighbors.

 

Relationships that used to be normal and natural have become rare and even inconvenient. As a people commissioned by God to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), trends toward isolation and away from real, face-to-face friendship should trouble us. These relationships are the highways for the good news, the widest channels for true hope, life, and happiness.

 

Old-Fashioned, Friendly Freaks

Don’t expect people to answer the door the first time you ring the doorbell. Would you? But don’t let that keep you from ringing (or answering), either. They’ll immediately assume you’re selling something. But you’re not, so do not fear. Keep greeting, keep knocking, keep inviting until they know you’re really only there because you love them. Be the old-fashioned, friendly freak on your block. You may even be surprised how many people around you have been starving for this interaction.

Being an engaged and friendly neighbor ironically will make you seem like a foreigner at first. You’ll be weird. And buried in that weirdness is the unique window through which you witness to Jesus. In that way, even though neighborhood relationships have become more cumbersome, ministry may have become strangely easier, precisely because Christian efforts toward friendship will be all the more strange.

Face-to-face friendship is a lost art that’s critical to loving the lost. When God put you where you are, he wanted you to be a witness to real people. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria” — and Minneapolis and Houston and your hometown — “and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Being that kind of witness, in word and in example, will require some kind of consistency over time. It requires a friendship aimed at Jesus’s fame.

It Starts with a Name

Start simple: Learn (and remember) their names. Names are a small thing, but a crucial thing. It’s the most basic unit of currency in friendship, but remembering someone’s name says so much about whether you really care or not (and most people in any given neighborhood simply don’t). Write their names down somewhere you’ll see it — like on a prayer list — and pray for them.

As you have more opportunities to talk, ask questions and try to remember details here and there. You could start with the list above, but don’t box yourself into any one series of questions. Look for what they love to talk about, and walk down that road with them as far as they’ll take you. The real counter-cultural act of love in an attention-famished world like ours is to remember what they told you and bring it up later on.

 

It’s never too late to be a better neighbor. The awkwardness may last a few moments initially, but the results also may endure eternally. Take the next step in their direction — they’re only a few steps away — and trust God will overcome the weaknesses in you and the brokenness in American society to draw his own to himself.

Read the entire article here.

Questions, Listening and Evangelism

Chris Pappa makes an important point as we think about reaching our friends with the gospel-

For many people, the most frightening part of evangelism is just getting into the conversation. Even as a full-time pastor, this is one of the areas that I find challenging as well. Sure, if someone came up to us, fell on their knees, and cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” most of us would know how to share the gospel with that person (I hope). Let’s face it, though: this has not happened to many of us. (By the way, if that has happened to you, would you let me know?)

Because getting into spiritual conversations can be so nerve-wracking, it’s good to have a few tools in your tool-belt that can get things going. Now, a tool is only as good as the person wielding it. No evangelistic tool I’ve seen is a magic bullet, and there is absolutely no substitute for Spirit-fueled love for our lost neighbors. Fortunately, we do not need to choose between genuine compassion and helpful evangelistic aids.

One of the more unwieldy evangelistic tools out there is the “diagnostic question.” This is supposed to be a non-threatening question that leads to a natural conversation about God. Something like, “Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?” or “What do you think happens when you die?” One of the problems with diagnostic questions is that they can feel so ridiculously cheesy. You tilt your head just the right way, change your tone of voice, and squint your eyes. The end result is that the question is anything but natural.

Diagnostic questions are often much better in theory than in practice. But I think diagnostic questions can be redeemed. A lot of it has to do with the way we ask the questions. This may seem like common sense, but if you plan to ask a disarming and natural question, then ask it like a sincere question and listen to the answer. We are all wired to recognize and bristle against a sales’ pitch. People are clever enough to know the difference between you asking a sincere question and you setting a person up for an information bomb. So ask with the intent of listening, not as a ploy to score evangelism points.

We can also choose wiser and more natural questions. There may have been a time when asking someone, “If you died tonight, how sure are you that you would go to heaven?” was a question that would open up conversational doors. It seems less so now. One question that I find rather useful is to ask, “Do you sense yourself moving toward or away from God?” It’s an open-ended and non-threatening question, but the answer lets me know where a person is coming from—provided I actually listen.

There are a host of others that I think can be useful: “What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about God?” “What has been your experience with the church?” “What do you think a successful/happy life looks like?” Again, none of these are sufficient on their own, but if we ask sincerely and listen with compassion, we may be surprised by where the Spirit leads us.

Read the rest.

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Pushing Past the Fear of Talking About Jesus

Joel Lindsey over at For the Church with some important encouragement in overcoming our fears: 

I believe that many of us are prone to fear and insecurity when it comes to sharing our faith in Jesus Christ. Whether we avoid talking about Christian convictions, inviting someone to church or your small group, or actually sharing the testimony of our personal salvation, many -- probably most -- of us struggle.

Why is it such a struggle?

There are probably dozens of reasons why we are insecure about sharing our faith, but I believe it typically boils down to one issue that the Bible calls “fear of man” (Psalm 118:6; Proverbs 29:25; Hebrews 13:6). Let’s call it what it really is: fear of man is nothing more or less than idolatry. Why? Because when we consider the perceptions of people to be more important than the greatness of God, our behavior is motivated by what others think and say about us, not the glory and enjoyment of God.

When this happens, we have allowed someone other than Jesus to sit upon the throne of our hearts. We want to please and appease particular people, which means we end up worshiping them instead of Jesus.

God to the Rescue

Thankfully, God hasn’t left us on our own. Did he simply give us a pep talk in the Bible? No. Did he offer us a 12-step program for how to be better witnesses for Jesus? No. He did something much better, much deeper than that: He gave us his Spirit, the Spirit who transforms us from cowardly bystanders to courageous witnesses for Jesus.

Becoming a courageous witness is not based upon our natural strength or abilities; it is based on faith in the absolute power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible often speaks of our being united with Christ by his resurrection (Romans 6:5) and enjoying the same powerful Holy Spirit that raised him from death (1 Corinthians 6:14). As the power of Jesus’ resurrection works itself out in our life, we grow in holiness, learning to live in victory over sin, and are empowered to be witnesses.

Through faith in Jesus we are forgiven of our sin, empowered by the Holy Spirit to put sin to death (Romans 8:4-13), and empowered to be courageous witnesses (Acts 1:8).

Be a Courageous Witness

Within your circle of influence you have family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and acquaintances that are in need of hearing about Jesus. Step outside of your comfort zone, acknowledge your insecurity, believe again the truth that God wants to save people, and trust God’s promise that you will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to witness for Jesus.

Would you pray every day for courage to step out of your comfort, share the good news that Jesus transforms sinners for the glory of God with those in your sphere of influence, and invite them to your small group or worship service on Sunday?

Brief Answers to Common Objections

Here are some great sound bite answers from Tim Chester to some of the most common objections to Christianity.

"How can you claim there’s only one true religion?’ You may be asked this question as you’re at the photocopier at work or at the bar buying a round. Here’s the second part in the apologetics series that will give you some ideas of how to respond when you only have five minutes.

1. People often liken religions to blind men encountering an elephant. The first blind man feels the stomach of the elephant and concludes it is a wall. The second feels the trunk and concludes it is a snake. The rest conclude it is a spear, tree, fan and rope, depending upon where they touch. The story purports to prove that all religions reflect the truth, but none grasps the whole truth. If people tell this story, ask them: ‘How do you know it’s an elephant?’ In other words, the story assumes the teller is as enlightened, objective observer.

2. People may say: ‘If you were born in Iran, you’d be a Muslim not a Christian.’ But the same goes for the pluralist. ‘If you’d been born in Iran, you wouldn’t be a pluralist.’ In other words, your belief that all religions are equal (or misguided) is as culturally and social conditioned as my belief in Jesus (more so since going to church is now a minority activity in our society).

3. Jesus claimed he was the only way to God (John 14:6). If all religious roads lead to God then Jesus was a liar and Christianity is false. In which case, not all religions lead to God.

4. People sometimes ask if you fully investigated all religions before deciding to follow Christ. Two responses: (1) You don’t need comprehensive knowledge before you can be confident something is true. You don’t read every newspaper and interview multiple eye-witnesses before believing a sports result. (2) I didn’t decide Christianity was the best religion; Jesus laid claim to my life.

5. Ask people to define religion. Jesus is not another religious figure, but the end or opposite of all religion. Religion is about an upwards movement of humanity towards God. Jesus represents of downward movement of God towards humanity.

6. Because Jesus is God’s initiative towards humanity, the message of Jesus is a message of grace. It is not dependant on human achievement, but upon God’s gracious and completed work. So Jesus alone gives assurance of salvation.

(HT: Vitamin Z)