What loving our enemies looks like

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You know how there are some passages of the Bible people seem to reject quicker than others?

Romans 1 is one of those.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to preach on this text, one of the most divisive chapters of the Bible. Much like Genesis 1, which presents God as the authority over all creation, Romans 1 reminds us that, despite our best efforts, we cannot deny His existence, for He has made it plain to us in the things that are seen.

And yet, people do deny Him. Thousands of people die every day clinging to this rejection of God… Thousands live every day clinging to it, and embracing its fruit with abandon. Idolatry, foolish thinking, sexual immorality, gossip and slander, disobedience to parents—evil of all sorts and kinds. For these, who are haters and enemies of God, only one thing awaits them at the end: the unrestrained wrath of God.

And even as we know this truth, that punishment awaits, we are also called to love the lost, to love our enemies. So what is one of the most important ways for us to love them?

The answer is, for many, something that seems so counterintuitive, and yet it is the one thing that can turn away the wrath of God from those who are perishing: the gospel.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). This is the only hope those any of us have. And so loving our enemies, loving those who mock and jeer, who treat us as intellectually incompetent because we believe such silly things, means telling them this truth—stuffing our pride and often our hurts so that they might also be saved.

We plead with them, knowing that they might reject us. But we do it because God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Think back to Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and life,” God says. “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?”

There is no act of righteousness committed by man that will satisfy God’s anger. We need the righteousness of another to save us, a perfect righteousness. And so God, in love for His people, provided. God loved the world in this way, by sending His only Son so that whosever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. And at the cross, Jesus took the full force of God’s fury against sin, bearing the burden for every sinful thought, word and deed ever committed by those who would believe in Him. And then He rose from the grave as proof that sin had been defeated, that forgiveness had been achieved, and could be found in Jesus.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

And so we must go and we must plead with those around us, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” We must plead with them to repent and believe the good news. We must offer them the grace God has so richly provided in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because those who have rejected God’s authority are perishing, we must plead with them to repent. We must show great love to the lost. Great affection toward those trapped in the worst of sins. But most of all, the most loving act we can possibly do is tell them that their only hope is to repent and believe.

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RIP idiot Dads

This Cheerios commercial gives me hope that “dad as incompetent boob” marketing might be coming to an end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GYxH2-WeZY

Why Collectively Ignoring Mark Driscoll Isn’t an Option

Richard Clark hits the nail on the head:

You can mark me down on your list of people who have, in some way, gawked and marveled with morbid interest at the inward and outward controversies surrounding that infamous Seattle pastor and his church. For those invested in the broader evangelical landscape–and any parachurch organization or outlet must be, these events are inescapable. Driscoll’s missteps inevitably reflect not just on his own church, but on the evangelical church as a whole.

But really, that goes for any pastor. Any time any pastor of a church is caught in controversy or scandal, those happenings are reported breathlessly by local news outlets, and then–if they’re just scandalous enough–by national news outlets. And it’s not like we can blame them. After all, the moment “Christian Pastor Acts UnChristianly” ceases to be news-worthy, we’ve got bigger problems to deal with than a bad reputation.

Great deals at Westminster Bookstore

Westminster Bookstore has some pretty phenomenal deals on a few books about preaching (focusing both how to preach and how to listen to a sermon). One of the best is the current special on David Helm’s Expositional Preaching—get this for $8 (or $6.50 per copy when ordering five or more). They’re also offering four-volumes on practical shepherding by Brian Croft for $32.

Grace And Identity

Tullian Tchividjian:

A few years back I was driving one of my sons home from his basketball game and he was crying. He’s a great basketball player but had a less than stellar performance and he was, as a result, crushed. After doing my best to comfort him by listening to him and reminding him that his game was not nearly as bad as he thought it was and that even the best basketball players in the world have an off game here and there, I asked him why he was so upset. He told me plainly, “Dad, I played terrible.” I said, “I know you don’t think you played well but why does not playing well make you so sad.” He said (with tremendously keen self-awareness), “Because I’m a basketball player. That’s who I am.” Somewhere along the way he had concluded (due to success on the basketball court over the years) that his self-worth and value as a person was inextricably tied to his achievements as a basketball player. If he was a good basketball player, then he mattered. If he wasn’t, he didn’t. So a bad game was more than a bad game. It was a direct assault on his identity. I realized in the moment that any attempt to assure him that he was a great basketball player wasn’t going to help him because basketball wasn’t the issue–identity was. He was suffering an identity crisis, not a basketball crisis. A basketball crisis is easy to solve–a little more practice and a lot of encouragement typically does the trick. But an identity crisis is deep. It’s an under the surface problem requiring an under the surface solution.

Can There Be Thrills in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn:

A sincere young man told me that no matter what I might say, Heaven must be boring. Why? “Because you can’t appreciate good without bad, light without darkness, or safety without danger. If Heaven is safe, if there’s no risk, it has to be boring.”

3 Ways NOT to Share Jesus

Chris Martin:

One of the first posts I wrote here on the blog was on three ways to reach Millennials. There’s no silver bullet for reaching young people, everyone knows that, but you can seek to be wise in doing so. If and when you have the opportunity to share Christ with a Millennial, here are three ways you should NOT answer the question, “So why should I believe in Jesus?”

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Jesus, Eunuchs, and the (Almost) 30-Year-Old Virgin

Chelsea Kingston:

In a world where hedonism and gross individualism hold sway, the prominence of what a friend and pastor calls “the sexual fulfillment myth” is no big surprise, really. And so, in a way that our culture finds almost impossible to comprehend, celibacy in singleness demonstrates a most visible sign of authentic Christian witness. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke so strongly on the subject.

7 Signs We May Be Worshipping Our Family

Jason Helopoulos:

I am thankful for the growing emphasis upon the Christian family in evangelical circles. Our two children are home schooled, so I am in no way opposed to homeschooling. We attempt to practice family worship each night of the week, so I am not opposed to family worship. For goodness sakes, I wrote on a book on the subject. I am passionate about it. We have attempted to have our children in corporate worship with us since they were babies. I am working on a book on that subject as well, so I am not opposed to children in worship. However, there does seem to be a tendency with the home school/family worship/children in worship emphasis that can turn this good thing upon its head. If we aren’t careful, instead of encouraging worshipping families, we become family worshippers. The following are possible signs that we have begun worshipping the family rather than encouraging our family to be worshippers.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today only, you can get Thom Rainer’s excellent book, I am a Church Member for 99¢.

Get The New Birth in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Steven Lawson’s The New Birth teaching series (DVD) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Sola Scriptura by various authors (ePub & Mobi)
  • The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (paperback)
  • Twelve Challenges Churches Face by Mark Dever (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Coming (Back) to America: Coming Back to Commercials

Thabiti Anyabwile:

Here’s the first thing I notice about living in the States again: commercials. Well, truthfully, I didn’t notice them. My seven year old son Titus noticed them. All of them!

Here’s the thing: In Cayman we never had cable or watched network television. We relied on DVDs, Netflix, or something on Apple TV. This meant commercials never interrupted our programming–not even during the annual commercial feast called the Super Bowl. Since Titus was born in Cayman, his entire seven years of life have been lived in our commercial-free Siberia.

But coming back to America means he has a Saturday full of commercials! He’s exposed constantly to product pitches and appeals.

Should We Stop Using the Language of “Personal Relationship” in Evangelism?

Leon Brown:

As far back as I can recall, Christians have utilized the phrase, “personal relationship” in evangelism. It is oft-times used as a synonym for “salvation.” Perhaps pressing the phrase to its unlikely meaning, we might suggest that the phrase, “personal relationship” includes one’s union with Christ, justification, sanctification, reconciliation, and eventual glorification. At a minimum, if the former is meant by the phrase, it seems like an acceptable set of words to utilize in evangelistic outreach.
The problem I have with the phrase, however, is not which theological categories it includes but which categories it obviously does not. I can only base my observations on personal experience, but I have yet to hear testimony, whether while witnessing or some other published work/blog/Facebook post/Tweet, that the “personal relationship” language epidemic includes both the wrath of God and the Church.

How to share the Gospel with someone who thinks all Christians are hypocrites

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I’ve heard it before and I’m sure you have too–the common skeptic complaint that all Christians are hypocrites. To back up this claim, many point to being burned by a Christian in the past, abuse that has taken place in the church, or media portrayals of Christians and come to the conclusion that because of that failure, Christianity must be a hoax.

I hope to encourage you and equip you to not only respond, but be able to steer these types of conversations into great opportunities to share the gospel. There is no one-sized-fits all approach to any evangelistic endeavor, but here are a few steps you could take to steer this type of conversation somewhere eternally productive.

A quick reminder: just like in any other evangelistic conversation, your speech needs to be gracious and Christ-like (Colossians 4:6). Our message of grace needs to be said in a tone of grace–we don’t want to be hypocrites!

1. When someone complains that all Christians are hypocrites, tell the person that they are right.

Thinking that all Christians are hypocrites is in line with Scripture and what Jesus taught. Jesus spoke against hypocrisy and railed the Pharisees for putting on an outwardly religious show but forsaking a deeper spiritual life (Luke 11:42). Because we are all sinners (including Christians), we all are hypocritical in one way or another.

Responding this way might catch them off guard by giving them a compliment. Most people won’t mind having something good in common with Jesus–in fact they’ll like it. Tell them that the Bible says all people have sinned and that hypocritical Christians are what you would expect in a world tainted by sin.

You could also share that when a Christian doesn’t live up to God’s standard, that doesn’t make God’s standard false, but rather shows the value of God’s standard. When the world sees a hypocritical Christians who cheats, neglects the poor, and hates others, this shows the value of the Christian virtues of honesty, charity, and love.

2. Explain sin and how nobody measures up to God’s perfect standard.

People will be glad to hear that Jesus agrees with them–but probably won’t be too thrilled to find out that they don’t measure up to God’s standard either. But everyone who comes to believe the good news has to believe the bad news first. You may want to say something like,

The Bible also teaches that we are all sinners and have been hypocrites. You, me, the hypocrites you just mentioned–everyone. We’ve all failed to love God above everything (something due Him as creator) and we’ve failed to love others by lying, stealing, hating, and living for ourselves.

Before moving on from step two, it is wise to gauge how the person you are speaking with takes this news. It may not be wise to continue to step three if they reject the fact that they are a sinner. Giving the riches of the gospel to people who will not acknowledge their sin could be like throwing pearls to swine to pigs to trample them. Humble hearts that acknowledge their sin are ripe to hear about the solution to their sin in Jesus Christ.

3. Present Christ.

Now is the time to proclaim the greatest news ever imagined: God saves sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ–and that offer of salvation is available to all. Your words could be the most important words this person has ever heard. This is also a good time to remind yourself of God’s grace to you in saving you from the domain of darkness and bringing you into the Kingdom of His Son.

4. Ask for a response.

After presenting the gospel, ask people if what you shared makes sense and call them to believe in Jesus Christ. Even if they are currently 100 miles away from trusting Christ, asking them penetrating questions about how the gospel affects them will spur deeper reflection and show them the natural response to the gospel is trusting Christ by faith.

5. Pray.

Entrust this person to God and pray that your conversation would bear fruit in their lives. God is the one who saves–and can use the seeds you planted to bring that person to faith and repentance many years in the future.

May the Lord stir in the hearts of the people you talk to by His grace to show them their sin and need for a Savior so that they can proclaim what one hypocrite realized, “Salvation comes from the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).


Kevin Halloran is a lover of Christ, drinker of coffee, and reader of books who has no real reason to continue being a Chicago Cubs fan (but is anyway). He serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews via photopin cc

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The Supreme Court Agrees with Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t

Trevin Wax:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.

Television’s Rape Epidemic

Tim Chalies:

I don’t watch a lot of movies these days, largely because it’s rare that I can find something that promises to reward me more richly than spending the same amount of time in a good book. That said, I do enjoy the occasional miniseries when I can catch it on Netflix or iTunes; I guess I find it easier to part with forty minutes than two hours. Even with that limited exposure there’s something I have observed and something that has spelled the end of my interest in more than a few shows: Rape is in.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And of course, after hitting publish, I learned about a few more:

Finally, for those interested, Vintage Jesus and Vintage Church are also $1.99 each (though, I’ll be honest, they don’t hold up that well).

Outclassed by a kindergarten kid

Sam Freney:

I think my daughter is a better evangelist than I am. She’s five years old.

Largely it’s because she hasn’t yet learned the unspoken rules: that other people might find what you believe to be offensive; that it’s just not ok to discuss religion or politics in polite company; that you must simply conceal, by whatever means necessary, any suggestion that you are part of, attend, or are in any way associated with church.

In other words, she loves Jesus, she loves her church, and she loves telling people that. Or singing Colin Buchanan songs in full voice on the train. Or writing stories at school about what she did with her church friends on the weekend. Or making a connection to something that’s happened and saying, “That’s just like what Jesus said in the Bible, isn’t it?”

Free Online Seminary Classes, Courses, Programs, and Book Recommendations

Kevin Halloran’s put together a pretty massive list of free online seminary classes, courses and programs, as well as several book recommendations. Go have a look.

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Fasting from Technology

Thomas Kidd:

In my small group at church we have been discussing the spiritual disciplines, and one of the recent topics was “unplugging,” or fasting from technology. Fasting is, of course, an ancient practice, but in the past fifty years or so it has been applied more and more to electronic devices, from the radio to the smart phone. My group really resonated with the need to take intentional, periodic breaks from the internet, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, as well as the devices that deliver these to our eyes and brains.

“Genitalia Are Not Destiny” — But Are They Design?

John Piper:

Is gender set by a preference of the individual, or a providence of God? Or to put it another way: Is my sex determined by my decision in my mind, or by God’s design in my nature?

To find God’s instruction about this, we turn to Romans 1:19–28.

Acts 2 Ministry in an Acts 17 World

Dan Darling interviews James Emery White about his latest book, Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated. Here’s a quick look:

As pastors and church leaders survey the data on “nones,” how would you counsel them to approach their ministries in this new era?

Well, the entire second half of the book delves into this question, but here’s an overarching theme: I would suggest they move from an Acts 2 model to an Acts 17 model. By that I mean that in Acts 2, you had Peter addressing the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem. On a spiritual scale from one to ten, they were probably on an eight. They believing in God, the Old Testament Scriptures, heaven and hell, and a promised Messiah. That’s a lot to begin with! And Peter fashioned his approach accordingly. Fast forward to Paul in Acts 17. On our imaginary scale, they were probably about a two. Paul didn’t approach them as God-fearing Jews, but as the (at best) agnostics that they were. He had to start with creation and work his way forward. He understood that evangelism, for that group, would involve both process and event. Too many churches are taking an Acts 2 approach in an Acts 17 world.

Emotion Isn’t the Caboose to Faith

Owen Strachan interviews Tim Keller:

You state that we all know there’s a standard by which we will be judged—”there is a bar of justice somewhere for all of us.” Could you unpack this idea? Why is it relevant today?

What that means is in our hearts, we know that morality’s not relevant. We know that there’s a standard by which people are going to be judged regardless of how they feel. We bear witness to that when we may say morality’s relative, socially constructed, evolution and culture determine what we feel is right or wrong, but there’s no real standard. But then, deep in our hearts, we do feel when someone does something wrong that they should be accountable. So I was trying to tell people what they intuitively know to be true is true. There is such a thing as objective moral truth.

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Whetting your appetite for the Word

Chris Hefner:

Recently, my wife and I had the joy of bringing our second son, Nathan, into the world. Newborns cry (for those of you who are not parents yet). Nathan cries amazingly loud when he’s hungry. He desires, with unfettered passion, to be fed every 2-3 hours. God reminds us in 1 Peter 2:2 that we are to desire his Word as babies desire to be fed. I had to ask myself when was the last time I cried out for the Word of God. I think that may be a good question for our congregations as well.

Making Friends, But Not Disciples

Trevin Wax:

But sometimes, I wonder if our emphasis on relationships might cause us to turn all our focus to relationship-building and indefinitely postpone gospel proclamation. So someone asks you, “Are you sharing the gospel regularly?” and you think, Of course! I’m building a relationship with an employee at a coffee shop; I’ve got a friend who watches football with me; I’m getting to know the parents in my child’s preschool class.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Four volumes in Leland Ryken’s Christian Guide to the Classics series are on sale for 99¢ each:

You can also get Boring by Michael Kelley for $4.80, and Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers by Graham Cole for $2.87.

10 tips to avoid becoming self-promoting jerks online

Mark Sayers:

Social Networking can be a fabulous tool for leaders to advance the kingdom. However like so many other things it can also lead us into dangerous territory if unexamined.

Below are some tips on how to use social networking well in our celebrity obsessed, image based culture without falling into the sin of pride. I have probably broken several at times, but hopefully they will be of help to you.

Our Snarky Eye-Rolling Might Actually Be Sinful

Dan Darling:

Today there are many addressing legalism and the way it suffocates the soul. Even for those who don’t have this biography need to be reminded of John Newton’s words, “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” For the recovering legalist, there are few passages better than 1 Corinthians 8.

And yet, Paul doesn’t end this chapter with his rebuke to legalists. He then turns toward those who delight in their spiritual freedom. There is, among those who understand the freedom found in the gospel, an easy temptation to wound the consciences of our brothers and sisters by mocking their choices in the gray areas. Paul said that to compel someone to violate conscience, to belittle the rules they have set for themselves, is to sin, against Christ. 

Does your slogan say what you think it does?

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Whether it’s on our signs, our websites or on the lips of our congregations, every church has a mission statement or slogan that people rally around—something that articulates the vision of what we’re all here to do.

At least, we think it does. But maybe it doesn’t.

One of the challenges of church marketing (yes, I used the “m” word) is seeing our mission statements and slogans from an outside perspective, carefully considering what they communicate, intentionally or otherwise, to people who aren’t us. We’re all blind to our own blind spots, and without good council and perspective, the message we’re sending may be the opposite of what we’re attempting to.

This is what we see in so many of our church slogans. Here’s one example:

“A church for people who aren’t into church.”

What does this actually communicate? Let’s think about it from a couple of perspectives.

This slogan is birthed out of the seeker sensitive mindset of the 1980s and 1990s; the idea most churches using a slogan like this is trying to get across is that it’s a place where non-Christians will feel safe to explore the Christian faith at their own pace.  They’re trying to say they’re welcoming and inviting.

But what does a Christian attending a slightly more theologically conservative church take away from it? In my town, it’s a safe bet a church using this type of slogan:

  • Has topical “talks” instead of expositional preaching
  • Has a low-level of commitment from congregation members
  • Has a low-level of biblical literacy
  • Has high attendance turnover

(I say this from experience, not to be a snarky, divisive jerkwad.)

At best, to this sort of believer, it comes across as trying to be “relevant” to the culture in the negative sense, and perhaps a few steps away from abandoning the gospel at worst. (This, again, is something I’ve seen from churches using this exact slogan.)

Just as importantly, what does this slogan say to its intended target—the non-Christian?

Not much.

The difficulty here is the idea of being a church for people who aren’t into church is those people aren’t into church. There is nothing you can do to be a church for them except to not be a church! It’s like saying a banana is a banana for people who aren’t into bananas—if someone doesn’t like bananas, there’s nothing you can do to make them want to eat one, even if you claim it’s not like any other banana they’ve tried.

The fact is, there are only a few things that lead a non-Christian into a church service:

  • The work of the Holy Spirit
  • alleviating familial pressure (Easter and Christmas visits)
  • baby dedications (sometimes)

Being a church for people who aren’t into church isn’t likely to do that.

Whether we like it or not, marketing is a part of ministry. We need to think carefully—from a theological and practical perspective—on what we’re saying, considering whether or not the message we’re conveying is true and clear and God-glorifying. If we don’t, our attempts at marketing might be doing us more harm than good.


photo credit: deadwords via photopin cc

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10 Things We Need to Hear from Young Church Leaders

Chuck Lawless:

I have the privilege of spending much of my life with young church leaders. As a seminary dean and missionary trainer, I hang out with people younger than I am. I’m the teacher, but I learn from the young generation as much as—if not more than—I teach them. Sometimes they teach me something new, as with technology and social media. In other cases, they simply remind me of something I’ve forgotten or have taken for granted.

Of course, all young church leaders have room to grow, and nothing I say here can be applied to every young leader. With that understanding in mind, here are some of those general reminders that I, and perhaps other older leaders, need to hear from young church leaders.

The trauma of abuse and the blessing of repentance

Wendy Alsup:

Last week, a former youth group leader at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was convicted of multiple accounts of sexual abuse of minors. Testimony at the trial confirmed that an elder at the church knew of the abuse and did not report it to authorities. When I read a news report while researching this article, I was struck by this section:

Tears of joy could be heard from victims and their family members as the verdict was read.

“I started crying. It was just, it was overwhelming to know that the struggle, the fight, the 25 years of trying to bring this forward, was worth it,” victim Jeremy Cook, now a married father of three, said.

I could only imagine their reaction. My heart aches for children who for years keep their abuse secret out of fear and misunderstanding of what happened to them. But what about the child who does tell someone but that person either doesn’t believe them or minimizes what they’ve experienced? I can’t imagine the double harm such a response does to youth already experiencing the trauma of abuse. If a child was shot in the arm, we’d recognize more clearly the double trauma of protecting the one who pulled the trigger, minimizing the damage done by his actions, and not reporting it to the police.

Blue Collar Man:  On Financial Struggle and Working for a Living

Ted Kluck:

In general, youngish-Reformed evangelicals tend to be a pretty affluent, heavily degreed, upwardly mobile lot with a surplus of time to read websites and grow their considerable book collections. With “providing” often being a top priority for Reformed men, this group generally has a clear vocational plan and usually gets plenty of opportunities to implement said plan. And because we tend to be small-government capitalists, we tend to feel pretty good about ourselves when we’re making lots of bank–and don’t feel conflicted about enjoying it. And in general (again), readers of TGC tend to be pastors, professors, seminary students, theology nerds, or wives of the aforementioned.

But what about those who don’t fit this social/cultural Reformed paradigm, including in their vocations?

New for Logos: D.A. Carson sermon library

The folks at Logos Bible Software have a brand new product available for pre-order: the D.A. Carson sermon library. Containing over 500 messages from over 30 years of ministry, “Carson’s sermons focus on specific biblical passages such as Ezekiel, John, and Revelation; on theological topics, including the New Perspective on Paul, openness theology, and providence; and on practical issues such as suffering, discipleship, and cross-cultural ministry. Preached in churches, colleges, and at conferences around the world, these sermons provide instruction and edification from a preeminent evangelical voice deeply committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” At $90, now’s the time to order this collection before the price goes up.

Can a Videogame Teach Grace?

Nathaniel Valle:

Many games implement a worldview of obtaining rewards for our actions. An economy of risk and reward is fundamental to the gaming experience, and, excepting games like The Sims, it’s a comfortable harmony we’ve come to expect.

Yet there is no such discernible reward within That Dragon, Cancer, a title designed around the life of a young child stricken with cancer. It’s a surreal, poetic experience, and the game’s designer intends for the uncomfortable and unfamiliar scenario to convey truths somewhat neglected within most gaming experiences. In a video from Games for Change 2014, Josh Larson asks a question central to the soul of his game: “How does one calculate a parent’s love for a dying son who can’t easily express any love in return? How then should we design this?”

Witnessing To Homoexuals

Leon Brown:

Years ago, my wife and I used to visit an area in San Diego, CA that was heavily populated by homosexuals. We made a routine visit to this area at least once per month to share the gospel. Personally, it was a rich time. I had some amazing conversations with those who embrace the homosexual lifestyle.

During that time, and since then, I have realized you have to be prepared to do two things while witnessing to some homosexuals.

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A spiritual family tree

Jason Helopoulos:

What does your family tree look like? I am not so concerned about your biological family tree. Frankly, that is of very little interest to me. I’m interested in your spiritual family tree. From where did you come spiritually? Who shared the faith with you? And who shared the faith with them? If you are a believer, you are in a long line dating all the way back to Abraham. But even more importantly, what does your spiritual family tree look like going forward? What growth is budding off of your branch? This is Asaph’s concern in Psalm 78. It is a glorious Psalm about passing on the faith to the next generation. It is quite easy to dismiss the call of Asaph–to treat this charge as something light or as someone else’s duty; but it is anything but a light charge and it is our duty.

The ad man’s gospel

Alastair Roberts:

As Don [Draper] says, ‘You are the product. You, feeling something.’

The ad man knows this secret, and so do many contemporary evangelicals. Much of the time Bell isn’t trying to communicate a particular abstract theology to people. Rather, he elicits desirable emotive states from his audience and connects those with a heavily chamfered theology while tying undesirable emotive states to opposing viewpoints. All of this can be done without actually presenting a carefully reasoned and developed argument for one’s own position, or engaging closely with opposing viewpoints.

The advertising style comes with a fragmentation of thought. Even the way that Bell describes his thinking and writing process – trying to find a theme to bind together hundreds of detached impressions – seems to manifest this. The advertiser does not make lengthy and involved arguments and those who are raised on advertising can seldom handle them.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This weekend I shared a pretty great list of new Kindle deals; here are a few of them in case you missed them earlier:

Carnal Peace

R.C. Sproul:

In our generation we’ve been told that the highest virtue is peace. We’ve lived in the age of the atomic bomb. We’ve seen widespread warfare. We’re tired of disputes, tired of people fighting and killing each other. It is by God’s grace that churches aren’t burning people at the stake or putting them on torture racks as was done in earlier centuries. We’ve learned to coexist with people with whom we disagree. We value that peace. But I’m afraid the danger is that we value it so much that we’re willing to obscure the gospel itself. We have to be careful of speaking about unity when we really don’t have it. At times I think we believe we have more unity than we actually have.

God’s Not Dead and the angry atheist professor

James Hoskins:

In several ways, my life is similar to Josh Wheaton, the main character and hero of the recent movie God’s Not Dead. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home (the son of a preacher). I considered myself a devout Christian throughout high school and later when I enrolled at a very progressive state university and chose to major in philosophy. I quickly learned that all of my philosophy professors were either atheists or agnostics (to my knowledge), and that several of them are rock stars in their respective fields. One professor,Clancy Martin, is even considered an expert on Nietzsche, whose famous statement “God is dead” is where the film derived its title. So, from just about every angle, one could easily have expected that my college experience would equal or exceed the combative anti-Christian environment of Josh Wheaton’s philosophy class depicted in the film.

But it didn’t. It was the complete opposite.

Mission can’t be reduced to preparing people for this life

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The gospel is the good news of how God reconciles his rebellious image-bearers to himself by the death and resurrection of his Son. This good news properly entails transformed living that touches all our horizontal relationships, but which is never reducible to horizontal relationships. The proclamation of this gospel that has freed us and prepared us to meet our Maker is our joyous privilege and solemn responsibility. When the discharge of this mission is met with God’s blessing, it produces men and women who are ready for both this life and the next.

Thus Christian mission can never be reduced to preparing people for this life. It can never be properly Christian if all that it aims to do, if all that it accomplishes, is to effect some reforms in government, or to improve social, moral, and economic standards. I cannot imagine a church profoundly shaped by Scripture that will not want to reform government and improve social, moral, and economic standards. But if that is all the church is trying to do, if it is all that individual Christians are trying to do, they have lost their moorings. There is a primacy to preparing people to meet God which, though its horizon is eternity, will also change how people live here and now. To put the matter another way, the notion of realized eschatology is ridiculous unless it is predicated on futurist eschatology. The ethics and values of the End cannot be brought back into the present if there is no End.

D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, pp. 434-435


Photo: iStock

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of new deals at Amazon:

If the apostle Paul was a blogger…

Derek Rishmawy gives us a look at Romans 8 written in the style of a modern blogger.

Are We Expecting Too much or Too Little From the Church?

Erik Raymond:

Many people think of friendships as those relationships where we have a lot in common with the other person. This is true, but what is the basis for this commonality? Some people will leave a church saying, “I can’t find people that I have a lot in common with.” This is a staggering and revealing statement. It could mean, “There are no Christians here.” It could also mean, “I am not a Christian.” And it could mean, “I don’t chiefly value my identity as a Christian as the basis for relationships.”

Behold: the two absolutely worst arguments against homeschooling

Matt Walsh:

Why do I even need to debunk the socialization claim? You’ve seen our society, haven’t you? You’ve interacted with people, right? Homeschooling might be increasingly popular, but the vast majority of the people you meet have been public schooled. And you’re telling me that the vast majority of the people you meet are ‘socially well adjusted’?

Really?

Was the Ascension Bad Evangelism Strategy?

Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow:

The ascension seems like bad evangelism strategy. It removes the key piece of evidence that substantiates the claims of Christianity. It’s like our best player got subbed out as the game was just beginning.

But in Scripture and for the Christian, the ascension is startlingly good news. In fact, there could be no salvation or mission without the ascension.

Evangelism by Mack Stiles

Evangelism by J Mack Stiles

Our church has always been very clear on stressing the need for evangelism. Whenever our local missions pastor preaches, it almost always turns into a sermon on evangelism (especially when he’s trying not to). We have a local missions team that goes out every week to open-air preach and interact with individuals on the streets of our city, sharing the gospel at every opportunity.

But then, about a year ago, we did something really bold: we took all of our small groups through a personal evangelism workshop. And the response?

*crickets•

I was a small group leader at the time, taking my group through the course. It was really challenging material, but presented in a way that took a lot of the fear out of evangelism. But despite its initial “failure,” the impetus behind offering this training is a good one—a desire to create a healthy culture of evangelism, one where it’s seen as a normal part of the Christian life.

I have a hunch Mack Stiles would stand up and cheer if he knew this was something our church attempted (and continues to nurture). Why? Because that’s exactly what his latest book, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, is all about.

Evangelism: it’s not about the results

If there’s one thing Stiles wants you to understand, it’s this: evangelism is not about programs or events. It’s not a technique or a specific kind of response. Many of our problems creating a healthy culture of evangelism stem from a lack of a biblical foundation. We count declarations of faith, hands raised, cards put in a bag, people walking down aisles… but do these things really mean anything? Maybe, but maybe not.

Regardless, if we’re going to see a culture of evangelism take root, “we must be very careful to conform our evangelistic practices to the Bible, because this honors God,” he writes (24).

And so, he begins by defining his terms—specifically, what evangelism means.

“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade,” Stiles writes. “This definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal” (26-27).

…the definition does not require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is.

Those four elements in Stiles’ definition are key: teach, gospel, aim, persuade. Without those, you don’t really have evangelism. Our goal in evangelism is to communicate the gospel with the purpose of persuading our hearers that it is true. That doesn’t mean browbeating or extorting a profession of faith out of them. It just means speaking with conviction about the truth of the gospel.

This, I think, is one of the places we all get tripped up. We tend to speak almost apologetically about the gospel, or we wring our hands, break out into a sweat, and worry about saying the wrong thing. But this is also where it’s helpful to remember something crucial: “conversion is required, but conversion is a function of genuine faith, which is given by the Spirit” (37). In other words, you’re not responsible for the result. You’re only called to be faithful and speak.

What a culture of evangelism looks like

So what does a healthy culture of evangelism look like? Stiles is pretty honest that it’s impossible to instruct people on everything that goes into it, but he can describe the yearnings that surround it. He breaks these down into 11 points:

  1. A culture motivated by love for Jesus and His gospel
  2. A culture that is confident in the gospel
  3. A culture that understands the danger of entertainment
  4. A culture that sees people clearly
  5. A culture that pulls together as one
  6. A culture in which people teach one another
  7. A culture that models evangelism
  8. A culture in which people who are sharing their faith are celebrated
  9. A culture that knows how to affirm and celebrate new life
  10. A culture doing ministry that feels risky and is dangerous
  11. A culture that understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism

There’s so much that could be said about each of these, but notice how they all work together. You can’t have a culture of evangelism without any of these points. If the people attending week in and week out aren’t passionate about sharing their faith, then no amount of encouragement from the pulpit is going to change that. It’s something that builds from within the body, and something that needs to be celebrated.

Simple, but not.

Create and cultivate the culture you want to see

Creating a culture of evangelism isn’t a one-and-done thing. You can’t preach a series on evangelism or offer an occasional course, pat yourself on the back and say, “nailed it.” You have to be intentional about creating and cultivating the culture you want to see, but there’s only so much control any church leader really has.

Why? Because “a culture of evangelism is grassroots, not top-down.”

In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church.… The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism. (65-66)

Do you feel the tension there? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to force the change from the top or programmatize evangelism. But it doesn’t work that way. A church only becomes more evangelistic as its members become more evangelistic. And this is big, scary stuff. Church leaders can and should model it, but the members have to own it.

Thankfully, it’s a vision that I believe every faithful Christian can own. We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism. It’s what I want to see in my own life and in the lives of all the members of my church. How about you?


Title: Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus
Author: J. Mack Stiles
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

What will they hear next weekend?

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Easter always has a lot of buzz around it, both from Christian and non-Christian sources. News outlets are always looking for a big, salacious Jesus-related story to plaster across magazine covers, newspapers and websites. Over the last few years we’ve seen big “exposés” on the gospel of Jesus’ wife, the Jesus family tomb, and the gospel of Judas, all of which have gotten some people talking about Jesus… but pretty quickly fizzled out of everyday conversation.

Christians, likewise, make a big deal out of Easter. This is one of the big times of year for programmatic evangelism in a lot of churches—encouraging every regular attendee to invite a non-Christian friend of family member being the most common. (There’s also the spectacle silliness some churches engage in, but let’s not talk about that right now, mmmkay?) And it’s a big deal. I mean, tons of people—whether nominal believers, adherents of other religions, agnostics, and even some atheists—show up every Easter.

Looking around the auditorium at the high school where our church meets during first service, I couldn’t see a single open seat (and second service was undoubtedly even more packed). The children’s ministry was filled to bursting… And most importantly, the gospel was preached, with clarity and conviction.

I’m guessing the Easter Sunday experience was similar for many of you, too.

It’s a safe bet most visitors to a church in North America heard the gospel this weekend (again, except for in those ones that engage in a lot of silliness…). This is something we should thank God for, to be sure. The resurrection of Jesus holds the promise of the gospel—that Jesus’ death on the cross actually did satisfy the wrath of God, that our sins are paid for, and that all who trust in Jesus will be forgiven and given new life.

But, here’s a question that’s on my mind:

What will next weekend’s visitors hear?

I’m thankful there are many churches, including my own, for which Easter Sunday is more-or-less the same as every other Sunday. The gospel is front-and-center every weekend. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the thing we celebrate together each week without fail. So, you know what visitors to churches like those will hear?

The gospel.

But for far too many churches—churches filled with really great people—yesterday’s message was kind of an anomaly. Next weekend will begin a new sermon series offering steps to handle finances, raise obedient children, or have a better marriage… and the gospel, while not denied, won’t be quite so front-and-center. They won’t hear about the only hope they have (and may not realize they need).

They might hear a call to moral living, but they may not hear a call to bow before Jesus.

And if they’re not hearing that, what are they really hearing?

While I don’t believe we should be gearing our worship gatherings toward the needs of unbelievers, we should never forget that they are always present. Visitors will be in the room. People who don’t know Jesus will be there. What will they hear next weekend?


photo credit: ACOUSTIC DIMENSIONS via photopin cc