Category: Evangelism (page 1 of 15)

Win Them By Our Life

“Let this, I say, be our way of overpowering them, and of conducting our warfare against them; and let us, before all words, astound them by our way of life. For this is the main battle, this is the unanswerable argument, the argument from actions. For though we give ten thousand precepts of philosophy in words, if we do not exhibit a life better than theirs, the gain is nothing. For it is not what is said that draws their attention, but their enquiry is, what we do. Let us win them therefore by our life.”

John Chrysostom
388 AD


“You are the salt of the earth.” ~Matthew 5:13

SaltShakerNot pepper. Some of us act like Jesus called us to be pepper. Some Christians feel like they’re called to behave in such a way as to irritate people. Some followers of Jesus just walk into a room and people’s eyes begin to water. Some Christians cause people to make funny faces and start sneezing.

No, we’re supposed to be salt. We bring out the very best of what’s already there. We bring out what’s possible. We season life and the situations around us so there’s more flavor. More to savor. By our lives we help make everything around us as good as our God always intended it to be.

So, when the world acts to condemn, we move to forgive. When the culture says you don’t matter, we say you’re a child of God. When society says I don’t care about you, we say what can I do for you? Where the world seeks to injure, we seek to heal. When the culture declares I hate you, we say I love you.

Everywhere we go, everywhere we are, we shine the light of love and forgiveness, we bring the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, the light of Jesus shines in us and through us with love and mercy and truth.

We bring it. We live it. And people around us are blessed and the world is changed.

We are the salt of the earth. Not pepper.



Sin and Relationships

brothersheartNearly everybody defines sin as breaking a law or disobeying a set of rules. But in Jesus’ timeless story about the two lost brothers in Luke 15, our Lord shows us it’s possible to perfectly obey all the regulations and still be trapped in sin. Both the younger son and the older son had faulty hearts. One ran away from the father’s house and disobeyed all the rules while the other son stayed at home with the father and kept all the rules. But they both resented the father’s authority. They both looked for ways to get out from under his command. They each tried to tell the father what to do and how to run his business. One rebelled against the father by being very bad. And the other rebelled against the father by being really good.

Sin destroys relationships. No matter what the sin is or what motivates it or who commits it, sin destroys relationship. Neither of the sons wanted the father; they each wanted what the father could give them. They wanted the father’s blessings, they wanted his riches, but they didn’t necessarily want him.

Like the lady talking about her husband and says, “I didn’t want to marry my husband for his money, but I couldn’t see any other way to get it!”

Sin breaks fellowship with the people in your life and with God. Sin wrecks that bond. Remember Adam and Eve hid from God, God didn’t hide from them. The separation doesn’t come from God’s side. The sin and shame and guilt creates the barrier. But even with the sin, God is still reaching out, he’s still seeking that fellowship.

A lot of people think God won’t associate with sinners, that God separates himself from sinners. No, God went out looking for Adam and Eve, right? “Where are you? What’s going on?” Our God walks with Enoch, he shares meals with Abraham and Moses, he dwells inside the tabernacle in the wilderness and inside Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Sin breaks relationship with God; but that’s always on the sinner’s end, not God’s.

God restores those broken relationships. Sin breaks and destroys and separates. But God in Christ came here to the sinners to find what is lost, to heal who is sick, and to fix what is broken. God’s mission is to restore the relationships, to reconcile all sinners back to himself. And he came here in the flesh and blood of Jesus to show us what it looks like.

Notice that at the beginning of Luke 15, Jesus is hanging out with sinners. That really ticks off the religious leaders who think God’s people shouldn’t have anything to do with sinners. But hanging out with sinners — eating and drinking with sinners, talking to and sharing with sinners — seems to be God’s strategy for restoring the relationship.

And sinners love it!

All throughout the Gospels, sinners are attracted to Jesus. Sinners are gathering around Jesus, they’re following Jesus, they can’t get enough of Jesus. And Jesus welcomes them. He eats with them. Exactly like the master of the banquet in the last story Jesus told in Luke 14. God’s strategy is a table. And God is bringing all people to that table.¬†God wants all people to have fellowship with him. Table communion. A righteous relationship with God.

All people.

Even sinners? Yes! Even tax collectors? Yes! Prostitutes? Yes! Blue Jays fans? (……)

Yes, even Blue Jays fans and politicians and bank robbers and murderers and cheats! Everybody is invited! And God himself comes to us to demonstrate in living color what it looks like.

Jesus seeking out sinners and getting to know them. Jesus hanging out with the lost. Peter saw it up close as an apostle of the Messiah and he tells Cornelius in Acts 10:

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and he went around doing good… because God was with him.”

No wonder the sinners and tax collectors loved him. Jesus went about doing good because God was with him. Jesus loved them! He accepted them! And it seems like he actually enjoyed their company. Jesus was good to sinners. Jesus showed mercy and compassion to sinners. Jesus shared his great joy and peace with sinners. And the religious people didn’t understand it. They wrinkled up their faces and called Jesus “a friend to sinners.” And Jesus said, “Thank you very much!” That’s the nicest thing you can say to our Lord.

What if we had the same reputation? What if we were known for hanging out with sinners? What if people criticized us because we showed so much mercy and compassion to sinners? What if our churches were known for sharing joy and peace with sinners?



Lost and Found


Jesus talks a lot about sin and salvation in terms of “lost” and “found.” His most well known parables in Luke 15 are about “lost” and “found.” Jesus came to this earth to, in his own words, “seek and save the lost.”

The story of the prodigal son is, of course, the masterpiece of all Jesus’ parables. This is the Mona Lisa. It’s the Grand Canyon. It’s the Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla of parables. This is the story to which all other stories are compared. This is the one that grabs our heads and penetrates our hearts.

In this story, the younger brother is lost. It’s obvious. He’s run away from home. He’s left his father. He’s in a pig sty, the absolute worst of all unclean conditions. He has no resources, no community, no family, no friends. He’s far away from home. He’s the ultimate outsider. He’s lost.

But the older brother is lost, too. He’s working out in the field. He’s loyal. He’s committed. But he’s angry and bitter. He won’t be in the same room with his sinful brother. He won’t even acknowledge that they’re brothers. He’s unforgiving and judgmental. He refuses to come into the home. He’s a different kind of outsider. But he’s just as lost.

One of the functions of this provocative story is to show us that lostness comes in a variety of forms. To be lost means to not have a relationship with the father — an intimate relationship, a transforming relationship that’s changing your heart and soul. You might be wasting away in a pig pen in a faraway country or you might be working really hard on the father’s property out in the field. Either way, if you’re not in the home, with the father, you’re lost.

And the Father is looking for you.

Part of the appeal of this story is that the way the father acts with his son seems too good to be true. The way he lavishes his love on his rebellious runaway child, the way he pours out his forgiveness and mercy on his son, the extravagant way the father rejoices — it’s too good to be true.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'” ~Luke 15:20-24

Or, maybe, it’s so good it has to be true.

The whole world is not going to be saved because of what you do. The whole world’s not going to be “found” because of your church’s outreach and mission efforts. But the stories in Luke 15 tell us plainly that as long as there is one single lost sheep wandering around in the wilderness, as long as there is one solitary coin buried in the dark corners of a dusty room, as long as there is one lost child, he will not quit until it’s not lost anymore.

Henri Nouwen, commenting on this timeless story, writes:

“God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.”

Jesus gives us the parables, probably, to show us how to live. Yeah, maybe. More than that, though, he gives us these stories to show us the Father and who the Father loves. And the Father loves everyone.



The Gospel is Not Difficult

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” ~Mark 16:8

Untitled-1We’re likely not afraid of being persecuted or of being killed if we’re caught telling the Gospel story. So what are we afraid of? What makes us so reluctant to tell? Yesterday in this space we considered the possibility that we might be afraid the Gospel is old news. It’s not relevant. It’s something that happened a long time ago and may not be practical or helpful for my friends. It’s certainly not new or fresh.

Please see yesterday’s post for a brilliant dismantling of that misguided viewpoint.

Is it possible that we’re afraid we’ll mess it up? If we attempt to share the Gospel, we’ll somehow get it wrong?

If we’re holding back from going and telling because we’re afraid it’s too hard, Scripture has something to say about it. The first four books of the New Testament are not about the foolishness and the failings of the disciples, although there’s plenty of that in there. The Gospel is about the power of God that overcomes our failings. Because the story is being told all over the world today, we know that the good news of Jesus’ resurrection was eventually shared by those fearful women at the empty tomb. That means Jesus’ promises and God’s will are being fulfilled despite our failings and sins. Praise God.

Mark’s ending, which is really a beautiful beginning, shows us that it’s not dependent on us. Our hope for a glorious future rests in the almighty power of the one and only God of the universe. Our God will make it happen, not us. Jesus makes us that promise.

Around the table with his followers on that last night, Jesus tells them: “You will all fall away.” And they do. Later that night, they scatter. They’re gone. Yet Jesus follows this prediction up with a promise: But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you” (Mark 14:28). Then, on that first Easter morning, the angel reminds the disciples, “He is going ahead of you” (Mark 16:7).

Megaphone1Wherever you go and tell, he’s already there. There’s nothing to be afraid of. He’s already there. Our feeble efforts to proclaim the good news are always made successful by the one who goes before us. Our lives are centered on Christ, we are bounded by Christ, our identity is wrapped up in him. And we know by his faithful word and promises and through his divine power that he turns our clumsy stumblings into graceful sprints. He makes our miserable failures into glorious victories.

I’m reminded of something the great Texas theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote almost twenty years go:

“God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Gospel. That seems to me to be great news in a world that is literally dying of boredom.”

What are we waiting for? To get all our ducks in a row? To find all the answers first? To first make sure everybody in our boat is on board with the exact same theology and the exact same practices? Man, I hope not. That sounds really boring.

What’s going to save more people? What’s going to redeem our part of the world for Christ? Not fear! Not anxiety! Not silence! It takes us getting out in the middle of it — sacrificing and serving, forgiving and learning, proclaiming with our lips and our lives that Jesus is Lord and he’s really fixing everything. Not waiting. And not being afraid. It takes throwing our entire selves into the Gospel right now, knowing and trusting that the God of our salvation is going to do something eternally wonderful with it.



The Gospel is Not Old News


“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” ~Mark 16:8

If it’s real, I have to tell. If Jesus really is the risen Messiah, if he really was raised from the grave, and if we really are forgiven and restored and righteous because Christ Jesus is crucified and resurrected, then we have to tell. But we’re so reluctant to tell. For some reason we run and hide

It’s not because we’re bashful. We’re not shy. If I find a new restaurant or a new album or a new soap, I’m telling people about it. “It smells great and it doesn’t dry out my skin!” Come on, we all do that. “That Longhorn Steakhouse on I-40, you’ve got to try it!” “Tom Petty’s new album, you’ve got to get it!” “That Cloverfield movie, you’ve got to see it! It’ll mess you up!” We all do this. When something brand new impacts me, I want other people to experience it, too. And I’m talking about it all the time.

“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

Are we afraid? Is that why we don’t tell? We’re probably not afraid of being persecuted or killed if we tell. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that maybe the Gospel is old news?

NoTalkingBarFullI wonder if we define the Gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus that happened almost two-thousand years ago? If so, it’s not really news. It’s not right now. And I was saved a long time ago. I was buried with Christ in baptism almost 40 years ago. I was raised with Christ, I put on Christ decades ago. Is that why we don’t tell? Because it doesn’t feel fresh? Is it not much more than the memory of something you obeyed a long time ago and you’re glad you did? Are we afraid the Gospel is irrelevant? Maybe it’s historical and theological and religious and good — but it’s not going to be super helpful or practical for my friends. Not like a new toothpaste or a place that serves really awesome bread sticks.

Let me challenge your thinking on this: the Gospel is not a point in history. The Gospel is not an event in time. The Gospel is what God is doing, what God has always been doing, and what God will continue to do in the future. The Gospel, the good news of salvation from God, is not limited to the first four books of the New Testament. The Gospel is what God has been doing since time began and what he keeps doing until the end.

When God doesn’t destroy Adam and Eve, that’s the Gospel. When God delivers the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, that’s the Gospel. When God forgives David, when he rescues Daniel, that’s the Gospel. It’s ongoing, continuous, and relevant to every human need. You name any need, you define any problem, and the Gospel is the answer. Jesus showed us.

Jesus shows us a man who’s been beaten up, lying in a ditch. I’ve got good news for that man: he’s going to get picked up! He shows us a rebellious son who runs home to his father smelling like a pig pen. I’ve got good news for that son: he’s going to get hugged! The man falls on his knees in front of Jesus and says, “Heal my child if you’re willing.” “I’ve got good news for you,” Jesus says, “I am willing!”

That’s the Gospel, today, yesterday, and tomorrow. God is involved and things are changing. The Kingdom of God has broken in. Jesus is risen and Jesus is Lord! That is very much today and very fresh and very right now. Jesus is Lord and he is fixing everything and he wants everybody to get in on it!

So I can’t just be a shopkeeper. Our churches can’t just hold religious services. We can’t just mark time.

It’s not old or irrelevant. His mercies are new every morning. We are being renewed by his Spirit day by day.

And we should probably stop saying the phrase “1st Century Church.” That’s not helping. We’re not the 1st Century Church. We can never be the 1st Century Church even if we wanted to be the 1st Century Church. And who would want to be? The Gospel demands that we be a 21st Century Church doing 21st Century things in 21st Century ways right now today in our 21st Century world. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is not a moment, it’s a movement! It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s very relevant.

When you tell a dying man that God will take care of his family, you’re telling the Gospel. When you tell a lonely woman that she’s invited to a feast and to join a family, you’re telling the Gospel. When you cry and pray with the parents of a gay son or a lesbian daughter and you tell them God loves you and God loves your child and this thing’s not over yet, you’re proclaiming the Gospel. You’re sharing the good news, even with people who are already saved.

“The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” ~Romans 10:8



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