Category: Evangelism (page 1 of 18)

Lining Up

Jesus invited people to follow him, to walk with him along the way. He ate with people he wasn’t supposed to eat with. He hugged people he wasn’t supposed to touch. He forgave people who were unforgivable. And they saw God.

People would experience God in us if our priorities and God’s priorities were the same.

Peace,

Allan

Show People God

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” ~Luke 11:52

The teachers of the law were guilty of prioritizing the letter of the law over the spirit of the law. They knew God’s law front and back, they had it memorized – book, chapter, verse. They could tell you exactly what you could and couldn’t do and what you could wear, what you could say, what you could eat, and who you could be with as you were doing it. Or not doing it. They were strictly enforcing the rules on others and felt no obligation to obey those same rules themselves. They would require certain things of others, but exempt themselves. They acted this way to improve their own position and increase their own power. There’s no love of God, no justice for neighbor.

Jesus says you are keeping people from knowing God. You’re blocking people from knowing who God is and what God is doing in the world. You yourselves don’t know God and the way you keep your thumb on people in the name of religion keeps anybody around you from ever experiencing God.

Jesus came here to reveal to the world who God is and what God is doing. If you want to understand God, you look at Jesus. He said it himself: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And we join him in that work. We, too, are called to reveal God to others. But these teachers of the law are doing just the opposite. They’re so concerned about keeping the letter of the law, they’re so consumed with following every tiny detail and making sure others are following it exactly the way they interpret it, they miss God. They turn the commands into their God, they make the Bible their God, and they beat everybody over the head with it.

This could also be a problem for us if we’re not careful. Sometimes we are capable of fostering an environment in our churches, our Bible classes, and our small groups – sometimes you can create this culture just around yourself – so that everybody has to believe everything and practice everything the same way we do. Or the same way you do. We can demand uniform compliance with the way we do things. Or the way I do things. People can walk into our settings and just feel like they’re being watched.

Just like the religious leaders were checking to make sure Jesus washed his hands exactly like they think he should, we can make it our goal to catch people. We catch people doing something wrong so we can wag our fingers in their faces or tell on them behind their backs. We can suffocate the people around us. If we’re not careful, we can straight up condemn people. How in the world are these people going to experience the love and grace and forgiveness of God if we’re acting like this in his name? That’s not him! But we make people think it is.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen? Is that what you call a fast? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him?” ~Isaiah 58:5-7

Our Lord and the Scriptures tell us again and again that it’s not about the fasting or the sacrifices or the details of our worship. It’s not making sure the people around you know the law, it’s making sure the people around you know the Lord.

Show them God. Bring them into the presence of God. Show them his mercy and love. Express to them his grace and forgiveness. Extend to them his joy and acceptance.

Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, forgive without limits, walk the extra mile, give up your coat, and love your enemies. Why? Because, he says, that’s the way of our Father in heaven. Live like this because that’s how God is. Join Jesus in his revelation. Show people God.

Peace,

Allan

What If?

Prediction: Stars lose tonight. The Dallas Stars are off to the best start in ten years, not just in the win-loss column, but in several other categories, too. The Stars’ power play and penalty kill are both on an NHL record pace. Dallas has scored nine power play goals in their first three games with a league-leading 56.3% scoring rate. And Joe Pavelski and John Klingbert are killing it at both ends of the ice.

But they lose tonight. This evening at home against Detroit, Dallas will debut their new alternate sweater and uniform and it is hideous. They’re calling it “Blackout,” but it looks like something out of Tron. Black is the primary color and the trim is called “Skyline Green” to match the neon tubes that outline the legendary 72-story Bank of America Plaza (InterFirst Plaza a long time ago) building in downtown Dallas. On a hockey player, it looks more like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle green. They’re not as bad as the alternate unis and logos they suffered through for two seasons back in 2003-2005 . But they will lose tonight with these awful sweaters and they will become a jinx for this club. They’re too gimmicked up. They don’t look real. It looks like something out of an energy drink commercial.  They won’t be able to win in these things. Starting tonight.

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Ten months into the global pandemic and counting, the national surveys and polls show that the people around us are searching for what’s significant and lasting. They’re looking for something solid and dependable and real. Transitioning now into the post-pandemic future, they’re seeking what’s trustworthy and true. The people you’re running into every day are disappointed, disillusioned, and divided; but they’re open to something different. They want an answer to everything that’s gone wrong; they’re looking for a solution to everything that’s broken. That way, that truth, that life is our Lord Jesus Christ and you’ve got him! And the time is right now to make him known to our desperate and dying world.

Your life, your words, your attitude can be the walking, talking proof that good overcomes evil. You can show people that love is greater than hate, that unity is more fun than division, that peace is far more effective than violence, and that forgiveness always beats revenge.

What if you and I remained calm when the people around us are anxious and demanding? Everything is turned up so loud right now, what would it mean to others if you were quiet and calm? I think it would be noticed.

What if you and I spoke with humility and grace? Instead of saying things so other people will like you or approve of you, what if you only said things that were encouraging to others and built others up? That kind of language would really stick out.

What if you and I tried to love everybody? What if we were known for how kind and graciously we treated others, even when we disagree? Wouldn’t that get people’s attention?

And what if we committed to that right now? Instead of being paralyzed by what we’ve lost in the past or stuck while we wait for the conditions to be perfect later, what if we committed to seizing the opportunities all around us right now? Opportunity is not something that happens at a dim distance somewhere in the future; opportunity is what you and I have right in front of us today!

Here’s our new normal: the virus and the political and social chaos have laid us bare. We’ve been cooped up in our homes with our broken habits for months and it’s revealed to us that our lives, this country, and the world are in more trouble than we thought. The folks around us know right now, more than they’ve ever known in their lives, that the answers cannot be found in government, science, technology, or in just trying harder. They’re looking for the way, the truth, the life right now more than they ever have. And you’ve got that in Jesus Christ!

The new normal is not to be feared. It is to be embraced and engaged as God’s time and place for something beautiful and eternal and new. What if right now you committed to living in a way that points others to what and who they need the most?

Peace,

Allan

New Normal

It’s one of those phrases from 2020 you’re sick of hearing and you never want to hear again: new normal. I get it. But we can’t act like nothing’s changed. Fifty-eight percent of American adults say the coronavirus pandemic has changed their lives forever. You and I are not living in the same world we were in this time last year. I don’t think it’s overly dramatic; it’s probably subtle. But the coronavirus has affected nearly every aspect of our lives.

We have a new vocabulary now: social distance, COVID bubbles, RAC nurses, Zoom meetings, hospitalization rates. We have new fashion accessories in masks that are printed with different colors and patterns, different prints and even logos; some masks even say, “I hate wearing this mask!”

And people are drinking more. Alcohol consumption in the United States has gone up 14% in the past year.

We’re more connected to our devices than ever before with online learning, work from home, and virtual church. We’re waiting in our cars for the next seat in the barber shop, we’re making appointments to work out at the gym, and it’s more drive-thru than dine-in. I don’t know what would cause Chick-Fil-A to ever open up their dining rooms again.

And there’s a general mistrust of information. With the competing news media and fake news and conspiracy theories and the constantly changing and sometime contradictory information about the virus, 41% of Americans say they’re overwhelmed by all the news and information and they’ve stopped paying attention.

Sociologists say Americans need two things right now: security and sociability. These are the two things we are missing and craving and desperately needing right now. Health security, financial security, a stronger sense that everything’s going to be OK. Being around other people, being in the same room with our friends and family, in our clubs and social circles, back at church.

That’s the main reason, they say, that 74% of Americans between the ages of 18-34 are dealing with mental health problems right now. Three out of four are suffering with at least two of these five issues: stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts. This is our new normal. These are the conditions we have to acknowledge.

And it’s not just the coronavirus. Certainly the pandemic has brought sickness and death to our world and is leaving a tsunami of related sorrows and devastation in its wake. But the political and racial tensions have also done a ton of damage. Our families, our community, our churches, the whole country — we are divided right now. The air we’re breathing today is thick with fear and anger and uncertainty. We must recognize this.

But we also need to recognize this. According to a massive Cleveland Clinic survey, 58% of all Americans say, in the aftermath of 2020, they are reevaluating their lives. Sixty-five percent say they are reevaluating how they spend their time. Seventy-eight percent say they value relationships more now than they did a year ago. And 72% of all Americans say they have hope for the future.

Yes, we are all moving into a scary, uncertain, new normal. But our new normal is filled with people who are re-thinking their priorities. People are seeking what’s truly important. They’re searching for what’s significant and lasting. The new normal is loaded with opportunity!

The people around you are searching for what’s trustworthy and true. The people you are running into every day are disappointed, disillusioned, and divided; and they’re open to something different. They want something or someone that’s real and solid and dependable. They want an answer for everything that’s gone wrong; they’re looking for a solution to everything that’s broken.

The new normal is not to be feared. It should be embraced and engaged as God’s time and place for something beautiful and eternal and new.

Peace,

Allan

Witness

“The Church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise.” ~Karl Barth

The best thing the Church offers the world is to show the world a way of life that can never be accomplished with social coercion or government power. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not. The world doesn’t know any other way to live but by might and threat and competition and violence.

It could use a witness to something else.

We are witnesses to a reality that transcends the limits of this world. The world can’t fix any of the things that really need fixing. What can the world do other than pass tougher laws and build bigger bombs? That’s it.

The Church provides a witness, a light to the world, an imaginative alternative. Loving your neighbor is very different from being a nice guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not even in the same universe as the peace that comes from having your mortgage paid off. Receiving the forgiveness of all our sins is not the same as rationalizing and justifying our failures. The Church is a separate, distinctive community, not to isolate or protect ourselves, but because we can best serve the world by being the Church.

We reject violence and retaliation to help the world see the way of peace. We refuse to threaten or control people to show the world the way of equality and respect. We break down social, racial, and denominational barriers to show the world the sinfulness of its divisions. We let go of our possessions with joy and gladness to expose the world’s idolatrous attachments to money.

“He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” ~2 Corinthians 5:15

We live for the risen and reigning Christ Jesus. His vision for the world is our vision for the world. His ways are our ways. What he says goes. As the Church, we see things the way they really are: Jesus is Lord. And when we say “Jesus is Lord,” we’re also saying “Caesar is not.” You can’t serve two masters. You’re either going to love one and hate the other or despise one and be devoted to the other.  We know you can’t have both. So there are moral consequences and political ramifications for a people who define reality as the last being first and the first being last. In our economy, the poor and hungry and sick are the most blessed. In our view, as soon as you try to save your life, you’ve lost it. We take the side of the powerless over the powerful because Jesus views people differently than Pilate does. We’re living for the new heavens and earth where the blind see, the deaf hear, and all the outcasts are coming to the feast!

And that kind of witness is not always practical and it’s not always safe. That kind of message might wreck somebody. It’s dangerous. It might turn something upside down. “Jesus is Lord” means we’re on a trip through the back of the wardrobe, we’re into a different world, a totally different reality that requires a completely different way to live.

The world needs to see and experience the Gospel vision in us. Who else is loving enemies and forgiving murderers and giving away possessions and saying “no” to violence and pre-marital sex and saying “yes” to suffering and sacrifice for the sake of others? The world needs to see that from us. How else will they even begin to imagine it?

We’re not asking the question:  Is what we’re doing effective or practical? Is what we’re teaching offensive? Are the things we’re advocating acceptable? No, our question is: Are the things we’re doing and teaching and advocating true to the fact that Jesus is Lord?

“Let God be true and everybody else a liar.” ~Romans 3:4

The New Testament refers to the Church as saints, the people of God, the temple of the Lord, the household of faith, and about 85 other really high and lofty descriptive words and phrases. That seems very generous on the Bible’s part. The truth is, we have good days and bad days in the Church. We have good decades and bad decades. Actually, the Church has good centuries and bad centuries. We know that. We don’t claim to be right about everything all the time. We’re not immune to sin. We don’t know it all and we don’t have everything figured out. But one of the many things that’s right about the Church is that, by the grace of God, we are a community of faith that exists and acts in Christ. We are the alternative society that sees the world and responds to it differently. And that Christian witness matters.

Peace,

Allan

What Else Barnabas Saw

“When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad…” ~Acts 11:23

The Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch to investigate the news that Gentiles there were being baptized. Is it legit? What are they being taught? How are they worshiping? Who’s leading them? Can we sign off on this? I’m not sure what the specific concerns might have been, but we do know that when Barnabas arrived, he clearly saw physical, tangible proof that God was at work. What did he see? Can we see those same things today? And are we even looking for those things?

“The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” ~Acts 11:21

Barnabas saw sinners turning their lives to Christ. They believed the Good News that God through Jesus was putting everything back together again. The persecuted proclaimers knew it, the new disciples in Antioch understood it, Barnabas saw it, and we need to believe it! We don’t trust in God’s Word, we don’t believe in God’s power, we don’t believe in God if we don’t think it’s possible in our churches and throughout our cities. Barnabas saw sinners stop sinning. And that’s what you and I need to be looking for, too. That should be our expectation.

But we have this attitude that we expect to keep sinning. Before we ever get out of bed in the morning, before our feet ever touch the floor, we know that we’re human and that we’re going to sin sometime before dinner. What is that?!? Where does that come from?!? Not from the Bible. I know we can’t be completely perfect this side of glory. We’re not saints. Randy Harris defines “saint” as someone who’s life hasn’t been sufficiently researched. But what is this concession to sin?

“Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” ~Romans 6:1-4

God’s grace is the avenue for genuine repentance and change. Where there is God’s grace, you’re going to see changed lives. By the same token, f your life is not changed, perhaps you have not personally received the grace of God — you’re rejecting it or denying it or something. It is God’s grace that motivates and initiates real change. It is God’s grace that empowers you and me to say “no” to sin.

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” ~Titus 2:11-14

The grace of God has given us the redeeming life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That ought to be enough, but it seems like it takes more to get us excited nowadays. We’re jaded. Bored. I know, Jesus saved us by dying on the cross. Yeah, yeah. Yawn. Are you kidding?!?! That is stark raving mad!!!

Jesus has delivered us from our bondage to sin! Jesus has rescued us from our slavery to death! We belong to a loving and gracious God through our risen and reigning Lord! Jesus is reigning right now at the right hand of God! He’s taken office! The ascension is huge! We don’t talk about the ascension enough! Jesus is in charge right now! And he doesn’t reign like Queen Elizabeth — he absolutely rules! And we humbly give our whole lives over to him! We say “No” to sin every day, every hour, and “Yes” to his gracious rule!

With a lot of exclamation points!

That’s what Barnabas saw in Antioch as proof of God’s grace. Is your life radically changed by the love of God in Christ? Do we see dramatically changed lives in our churches? Are we even looking for it?

Peace,

Allan

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