Build a Bridge to the Gospel

Busy MomRecently, I received a precious note from a mom. I have been preaching on the subject of evangelism lately noting that ALL of God’s people are, by design, proclaimers of the gospel. In fact, I have been encouraging the church I lead to embrace a challenge to identify one person (#MyOne) and share the gospel with them using the “3 Circles” Conversation Guide. Sharing the gospel is more than a statement or conversation about Jesus; which necessarily makes it more than a Christian greeting (God bless you) or a Christian truth (Jesus loves you) but that it connects the brokenness of man with God’s redemptive story and points to the restoration that is possible when we repent and believe the gospel.

This mom shared the challenge of this. In essence, she wanted to know how her sharing with her children fit into this challenge. It is a GREAT QUESTION and, with her permission, I wanted to pass along some of my response because I imagine there are others who are in a similar situation. So, “does sharing the gospel with my children, who have my nearly complete attention every day, fulfill the great commission mandate?”

In short, my answer is Yes, this is the Great Commission, but, ALONE, it is incomplete. This mom is intentional about consistently connecting the gospel to her kids’ lives. This is the premier method of discipleship. In fact, I don’t know of any better outworking of Deuteronomy 6 than what this mom described.

At the same time, Jesus expressed a “going” aspect of the gospel enterprise. He called us to make disciples as we go (Matt 28:19) and to go and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

These truths are not opposed to but complimentary of one another. We are to constantly rehearse, train and teach the gospel to those who are redeemed and exist within our circles of influence while at the same time, expanding the scope of our circle by building bridges to new people. Here is my response to this mom, in part:

My hope, and I think the biblical admonition, with the #MyOne promotion is to treat honestly the intent of the Lord in evangelizing. Jesus did this in every conversation. Sometimes more overt in some than others…but He always pointed to God’s redemption and man’s required response. The other NT writers did as well. I can hardly think of a teaching in the NT that is not focused on evangelizing or on living out the Gospel. They are never really separated from each other. 

If we are to treat the Scriptures with honesty, we must also see that there is a “going” aspect of the gospel enterprise as well. It is never the intent that we would simply work within our “constant” circles of influence; rather, that we would be continually building bridges to reach new people INTENTIONALLY seeking to see how the Lord is working in those relationships so that we can join Him in His gospel work. Just as with your child, God loves our neighbors and desires their redemption even more than we do. He has, in these cases, commissioned us as instruments of redemption both in telling and applying the gospel in the lives of others. 

So, reach your child and your neighbor. Praise God for that. Encourage other moms with the Gospel. Praise God for that. AND…intentionally grab that wife who is a HOT MESS and have her and her rowdy kid over for a play date…and get to know her and her crazy world. Then, prayerfully, build a gospel bridge. Then do it again! 

There isn’t enough time to do it all, but we must continually press the limits of the circle outward…for Jesus’ sake. 

So, what do you think? Can you relate to this mom? What would you add to what I shared?

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The Discipleship “Double-Standard”

lightSuppose you’re about to undergo knee surgery. You interview the doctor and he shares with you that he really didn’t study anatomy in school. He did, however, spend a lot of time thinking about anatomy and looking in the mirror, so he felt he was pretty good at repairing knees.

Perhaps your child comes to you and says she has a huge history final this week that is weighted for 25% of her grade. In essence, this test could make the difference on a college scholarship. As you discuss her strategy to preparing, she tells you that she doesn’t see the need to read her textbook or study her notes. After all, she has been thinking about the test and “the past” and all she heard in lectures. She feels very confident that reflecting on these things is sufficient preparation.

Hopefully, I am not the only one who would look for a reason to put off the surgery until I found a real doctor and certainly I cannot be the only one beginning to perspire over the approach of the daughter. The fact is, we KNOW that if we are to be adequately prepared for life, it requires study. Study doesn’t have to be boring or conventional, but it is intentional and it is oriented toward an objective.

Far too often, as I discuss spiritual development/growth plans with friends, I find that they too choose the doctor’s or the daughter’s approach. They have no strategy to focus on studying Scripture. If they do, it is a verse or a paragraph and 300 words of internet commentary. Prayer time is reduced to a brief statement or two between songs while stuck in traffic and asking for God’s blessing on a meal…even if it is a silent request. Fasting is non-existent, financial stewardship is an anomaly and don’t even bring up sharing our faith. That’s for EXTREME Disciples!

What if God expects more? What if the same logic and expectations we have for others on important matters MIRROR God’s expectations for us…because growing to maturity in Christ IS an important matter.

How do you start an intentional strategy?

  • START. Don’t gloss over this. It is far easier to steer a car on the street than in a garage. Do something more than attend church once or twice a month and listen to a preacher for 40 minutes.
  • COMMIT. Don’t commit to convenience but pursue results (Philippians 3:7-14).
  • INCREASE. Prayer time may be 2 minutes when you begin but if you have nothing more to say to God after 3 years of walking with Jesus than “forgive me for my sins and bless all the missionaries” you’re missing the boat.
  • LISTEN to God for you. Stop thinking sermons are about other people. God prepared it for you. If you’re only led to think of how it applies to other people, you’re again missing the boat. Who cares whether Dr. Doolittle’s classmates studied anatomy unless you’re getting a referral to go see them.
  • ASK. You’re not the first person to engage in this process. Don’t let your superficial pride prevent you from asking a pastor or another believer with “spiritual fruit” about their discipleship practices. Ask them to mentor you. I get five or six requests a year from people wanting to know if we can meet. Sometimes we do. Sometimes I connect them with better mentoring fits. That’s what pastors do. We coach people to maturity and we bring authoritative instruction from God.

We know study is important for our doctors or our daughters. Shouldn’t it be just as important for us as disciples?

 

Practice Affirms Ideology

mlk2The man who believes in the American ideal gives his sons to it. The Christian who believes in the necessity of Salvation as the only cure for sin, bears witness to it. The woman who knows that holiness honors God and promotes life pursues it with exuberant passion.

These are succinct statements that affirm for us that our actions define our ideology more accurately than do our philosophical statements. Please permit me to explain. We can admire a particular philosophy and not live it. Our philosophy even directs our ideology but not vice-versa. Our philosophy may shift, but our ideology is certain and directs our practice. Here is how one writer spoke of the difference:

There are very fundamental differences between philosophy and ideology. Ideology refers to a set of beliefs, doctrines that back a certain social institution or a particular organization. Philosophy refers to looking at life in a pragmatic manner and attempting to understand why life is as it is and the principles governing behind it.

So our ideology determines our actions. A problem occurs when we don’t understand the difference. We think “philosophically” about something and ASSUME we believe it, but act contrary to it. The question is “why?”

I am presently reading for an upcoming assignment. In my reading I have recognized that sometimes OUTSIDE forces affect our actions. (i.e. a robber forces you to give him money that you would not choose to give otherwise). Also, a conflicting nature can affect you (i.e. the sin nature of man warring against the desires of the soul (See Romans 7:14ff). In absence of these circumstance, our actions give indication as to our underlying ideology. Furthermore, when we act contrary to our ideology and recognize those actions as rising from sin or external influences, we struggle against them to return to an action consistent with our ideology.

So, back to my initial statements and the application. Can you really say that you are thankful for and believe in the American ideal without participating in the election process? If you do not vote, do you truly hold that the “representative democracy” form of Government is greater than a monarchy?

A Christian who does not bear witness of Christ (an unimpeachable command) cannot truly argue that He holds to the doctrine of sin and the sovereignty of God…unless he will also admit that he is being swayed by a sin nature or outside influence that wars against his compliance with the Lord’s command. To say, “I do not have to witness” is a far different statement than, “I am commanded to share my faith but I am plagued by my sins of pride and self-interest or by fear of persecution.” The former statement indicates an errant ideology while the latter indicates an accurate ideology but a confliction within the person.

In either case, the thoughts of Emerson ring true, “What you do speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.”

Today, examine what you do. Let it be the determiner of what you truly hold as an ideology. Ask, “Am I generous,”  and answer by looking at your checkbook to see where you spend your money. Ask, “Do I value prayer,” and answer by looking to see how often you actually pray. Ask, “Do I truly believe in compassion,” and answer by looking to see where you have acted compassionately toward your neighbor and those less fortunate. As you do, you’ll understand your true ideology.

 

How not to share the Gospel

Thinking about a conversation this week with a man as I was sharing HIS Story with him. The man, we will call Bob, lives here in Pensacola for over 50 years now minus a few years away in early adulthood. As we discussed his story, he shared that he was Cathoic but doesn’t attend any more. He had married a protestant woman and they never really fit in the Catholic church again. He said that he attended a non-denom church with her a few times through the years but whenever he did, they were “bashing Catholics.”

Here is the interesting point for me…This man did not remember what these churches were FOR, only what they said they were against. He did not know the differences in doctrinal beliefs. he did not know why they held to their beliefs in the Gospel. He only knew they were against Catholics.

Here is what else is interesting…Bob was already out of the Catholic Church…but now he felt compelled to defend it. The efforts of these chruches actually pushed him closer to the Cathoic church. His position as a “Catholic” was now more galvanized.

I don’t imagine that any of the churches or their pastors intended to galvanize this man’s Catholic allegiances. I don’t suspect they wanted him to become resistent to the gospel or to withdraw from attending any church. I suspect their desires were, in fact, the opposite; however, if we focus on what we are against rather than what we are for…we should not be surprised at the unintended but anticipated outcome.

I shared truth with Bob. We discussed the similarities of the faith and had a cordial discussion. We have a little room now for future follow-up but it will be tough sledding. I pray for Bob…but I also pray for us, those with a mandate to share the Gospel (which is all of His people):

  • That we would be wise stewards of opportunities to speak of our King.
  • That we would be bold and kind at the same time.
  • That we would share truth in love. If either is lacking, the “gospel enterprise” is deterred.
  • That we would speak. Frankly Bob meets 4-5 believers a week as customers. He seemed surprised that one (me) would actually invite him to attend a church event in the coming days since he is most definitely a “Catholic,” and I am not. [I invited him to come to my Christmas Eve Service and told him I would not be offended if he did not wear a tie if he was not offended that I would not be wearing my robe :)].
  • Finally, that we would repent of majoring on minors when all eternity hangs in the balance.

Your thoughts are welcomed. What would you do differently? How might you handle “Bob’s” experience? Open Bible 1

 

#P5: And the Prophet Wept…

Pastor's Five, P5 logo“The king of Aram, Ben-hadad, sent his servant Hazael to Elisha the prophet. The king was sick and wanted the prophet to tell him if he would recover. Hazael brought many gifts to the prophet and asked if the King of Aram would live…to which Elisha responded:


“…’the Lord has shown me that he will certainly die.’ [Elisha] fixed his gaze steadily on [Hazael] until he was ashamed, and the man of God wept. Hazael said, ‘Why does my lord weep?’ Then he answered, ‘Because I know the evil that you will do to the sons of Israel: their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword, and their little ones you will dash in pieces, and their women with child you will rip up’…’The Lord has shown me you will be king over Aram.’ “
   2 Kings 8:10-13, NASB.

In many ways, the life of the prophet (the proclaimer, the preacher) is a difficult life. We find ourselves seeing destruction in the future of others and we are not able to turn it around. [NOTE: I am not saying that I am a prophet in the same sense of Elisha or other OT prophets, but that as a student of God’s Word and as a shepherd of His people, I do see destructive patterns in the lives of people who cannot see it for themselves]. This aspect of ministry is difficult and heart-wrenching. I have had people in my office or over coffee that have heard me speak truth and have politely (or sometimes not so politely) ignored or resisted the truth and left on a course that left lives strewn along their path.

When you look at these situations as a “prophet,” you are left with two courses of actions: You can become clinical and emotionless and simply watch them destroyed according to the Word of the Lord…or you can (as Elisha here) weep as you watch their destruction according to the Word of the Lord.

Some wonder why anyone would intentionally subject themselves to such painful experiences. Well it isn’t all painful as a ‘prophet.’ Elisha raised the dead, provided for widows, made an axe head float, and opened people’s eyes to the greater reality of God’s Sovereign work (2 Kin 6:8-19). These highlights don’t diminish the pain though that leads to weeping and they don’t justify it in themselves. The reason a prophet engages in this difficulty is because the Lord has called him to such a mission.

It is God’s great plan that through the “proclamation” of His Word, men might be saved. It is foolish of course from man’s perspective, but is ordained in heaven as God’s chosen means. It is pastoral malpractice to withhold the truth from those God sends us to. It is pastoral malpractice to gloss over it or simply “spin” a gentler message. Fidelity to the calling requires us to announce even the difficult truths and to do it with weeping over the pain they will cause.

In many ways, this is the calling of all believers. It is a heavy message to speak to another and declare that apart from their repentance from wicked rebellion against God, they will be spiritually separated from God for eternity in a place of utter and intense torment as judgment for their rebellion…and that they possess the ability to reverse that course by yielding to the Sovereign plan of God for Salvation. We should do so with weeping over the future of the lost, but it is Christian malpractice to withhold truth from those wo whom we are sent (all the world), and it is Christian malpractice to gloss over their rebellion or simply to “spin” a gentler message.

Only the truth has the ability to set men free as they hear, understand, and respond to it. We are truth speakers and we must speak truth, or our silence speaks destruction.

Shalom, CA

Pastor’s Reflections…How Christians may lose their edge on the LGBT issue

open-bible 2In the wake of Memorial day Weekend in Pensacola, I have been reflecting on the approach of the church to our city’s celebration of the LGBT lifestyle. By no means am I claiming to have the definitive answer on how the church SHOULD respond to these events in our city, but as I have considered it, I think it is worthy of our conversation. It takes courage to address an issue, considering it in light of the Scriptures until we have come to a place of biblical clarity. To facilitate the discussion, let me state a few assumptions.

  • Biblically speaking, homosexuality is wrong. It is sin. It is no more sin than other sins and it is no less sin than other sins. It is simply sin.
  • The church cannot embrace and/or adopt sin or modify God’s Word as it relates to sin. Whether I like it or don’t like it, lying is a sin, killing is sin, homosexuality is sin, etc.
  • The church is accountable to God for how we represent God’s position toward sin and those who sin.
  • The church is accountable to the culture at large for how we represent God’s position on sin and those who sin. IOW…we cannot say to the culture something that is untrue about God. If God has spoken on an issue, we become a stumbling block to the culture if we do not act truthfully toward them on behalf of God.

With these assumptions in place, I am concerned about the fine line we walk between loving those who sin and celebrating sin itself. As a guy who thinks (unapologetically) like a missionary and who wants all people to accept Christ Jesus as Lord by faith, I am concerned that if we are not careful as the church, we can step over the line from demonstrating love and acceptance toward those who (like us) commit sin…and start to ignore the sin…or worse…we actually celebrate it as normal.

A couple of examples may illuminate the issue:

  • If a gay person comes into the church, it seems appropriate to love him as another person created in the image of God. He should be embraced as a person who is of great value to our King. At the same time, we could not accept him into membership while he still holds an acceptance or affinity with his sin. Until he sees sin the way God sees sin, he cannot come to repentance, thus he cannot be redeemed.
  • If the same gay person came in with his partner to fellowship and sing and “pal around” with church members as they sought to act as a couple…the church may blur the lines to allow unrepentant sinners to persist in the assembly unless we challenge the sin and are seeking a receptivity in the heart fo the gay couple.
  • Finally, if a church sets out to open a hospitality booth at a LGBT parade (or our current Memorial Day festivities at Pensacola Beach) and distribute water bottles, sunscreen, or other items…is it crossing a line and beginning to celebrate the sin itself? If not, why not? Now I understand how this effort might be evangelistic if there is a message of God’s love conveyed (verbally, in writing, etc). My concern is not so much with that as it is with simply being a “presence” in the midst of these activities…as if to communicate love and ACCEPTANCE of the sin and inadvertently communicating that God is “ok” with the sinner’s choice to sin.

While I don’t have all of the answers, I know that there is a message communicated by the church’s actions…so I am curious where you might think the “line” is in our activity. Love to hear your thoughts.