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evangelism

Christian Life, Culture, Evangelism

Jesus and Comfortable Distance

November 28, 2016

 

 

Several years ago I had a somewhat heated discussion with some staff members at a church about whether or not it was reasonable to ask the congregation to take a somewhat significant step of faith in the realm of finances. I pointed to Jesus’ command to not worry about money or clothing but to instead seek the kingdom of God, and the general response was along the lines of “that’s a nice sentiment, but you’re still young and you don’t have kids or anything yet, so you don’t understand that you can’t ask that much from people.”

I left that conversation pretty frustrated and disillusioned. It felt like the church leadership was culling what, to me, seemed a clear and challenging statement from Jesus, making it into something safe and comfortable for the middle class crowd that showed up each week. Doesn’t Jesus’ command override what we feel we can or can’t do based on our life situation? Is our security and comfortability Jesus’ priority, or is he pushing us toward something else?

I’m older now (at least by a little bit), and I have a kid. My wife and I live in a nice three bedroom house that we’re able to afford only because of our landlord’s generosity. Over the last couple months we’ve had multiple conversations about the incredible pressure there is to conform to the comfortable – to co-opt following Christ and make it a means of making us feel good.

It does make us feel good to go to church, to sing worship songs, and to know that we’re going to heaven and our sins have been forgiven. It’s comfortable to go each Sunday and know what to expect, to smile and greet the people you see each week, and to sit in “your spot” in the sanctuary. Because we, pastors and church leaders included, so love comfort that we structure our churches and our lives (often unconsciously) to keep anything that might threaten us at a comfortable distance.

The problem is that when you come to Jesus – the real Jesus – he refuses to leave you any room for comfortable distance from the difficulties of the world.

Jesus’ Uncomfortable Closeness

Jesus went out of his way to get close to people and situations that would make almost anyone uncomfortable. We see him converse with a demonized, severely mentally ill man and bring healing up close rather than praying from a distance (Mark 5:1-17). He touches a man with a debilitating, highly contagious disease (Luke 17:11-19). He converses in public with a religious and political outsider (John 4). His whole life was a stepping in closer than comfort would allow for the sake of comforting those who were afflicted. He spends time with drunkards, the homeless, prostitutes, and all the people that make our conservative, middle-class sensibilities shudder and scrabble for “wise” reasons to keep our distance.

It wouldn’t be wise to give to the person begging for money at the intersection because he might spend it on alcohol, despite the fact that Jesus said “give to the one who asks from you” (Matt 5:42) with no qualifications. The church shouldn’t have to deal with people who are mentally ill or disruptive to the service, despite the fact that Jesus seems to welcome such disruptions and bring restoration to those who are broken. We shouldn’t have to give too much of our time or money or possessions because it wouldn’t be wise to not have boundaries, despite the fact that our lives are supposed to be living sacrifices.

My friends, Jesus is the epitome of wisdom, and his wisdom looks a lot like uncomfortable closeness – stepping into difficult situations in the power of God and bringing change. He most certainly did not stay at a distance.

Our Call for Closeness

Jesus said to his disciples, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” If we are truly going to follow Jesus we need to get out of our safe spaces and go even into uncomfortable situations. Would you go with Jesus into a village where there was an ebola outbreak? Into the home of a prostitute? To sit with the man who is twitching on the street corner? I certainly hope so.

If you have the Holy Spirit, when you go into those places today you go with Jesus. Christ followers ought to be the first ones to go to the people and places that the world (the religious world especially) avoids. Any form of Christianity that makes us feel good and righteous apart from serving and loving those who make us uncomfortable is false religion. As James wrote in his Epistle, “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Jesus exemplified it. He stepped out of the security, peace, and comfort of his position in heaven to come into this earth and get close with troubled humanity. the Father’s call for us is to go to those same people.

I don’t want to get 10 years into leading a ministry and be making excuses for why we’re not doing what Jesus said to do. I don’t want the American dream to have more say in my life than the Kingdom-of-God dream that my Lord offers. Let’s take conscious steps out of our comfort zones and into faith, befriending, loving, and serving those who the rest of the world rejects. In Jesus there’s no room for comfortable distance – only the dreadful, beautiful power of grace and love to break down any and all barriers for the sake of saving those who are wounded and wandering. Amen?

 

 

 

Discipleship, Evangelism, Life

Six Key Ingredients for Relational Evangelism

October 3, 2016

 

 

We may need to rethink our default evangelistic methods. We’re not in Judea with the Jewish people who grew up hearing about the Exodus, God’s law, and Justice. We’re in Athens, where most people assume that every god is the same god and that man is free to do as he pleases so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

The problem with cold-call, door-to-door evangelism is that we live in a world where most people don’t have the backstory of the Christian worldview. They don’t have a mental structure where that story fits any more. We still need to do it as the Spirit leads (praise God for those who are street preachers and bold evangelists!), but we also need to leverage the relationships we have. I believe that without relationally-based evangelism and it’s ability to give people long exposure to the deep truths of the Gospel, we will see significantly decreased effectiveness.

Here are six things that I believe are essential to make our relationships truly evangelistic in nature:

1. Up-front declaration of your allegiance

One of the first things you should communicate about yourself is that you’re a follower of Jesus. Not mainly that you go to church, but that your life is Jesus’. This should be done in a natural, unforced way. It should be an easy thing for us to declare our allegiance to our King. To have that happen, point two needs to be a reality.

2. A life that imitates Christ’s

Relational evangelism won’t happen if you’re living a life that’s the same as those around you. As Jesus said, “it is enough that a servant should become like his master in every way.” Michael Frost calls it “living a questionable life.”

This is one of the greatest things about relational evangelism, in my opinion. Whereas door-to-door evangelism allows a person to hide their spiritual immaturity, relationships reveal the truth. The greater your life is lived in line with Jesus’, the more effective your relational evangelism will be.

3. Powerful prayer and the miracles that result

A central part of a life that imitates Christ’s in prayer. Powerful prayer. Prayer that sees results. If we want our relationships to be calling people into God’s kingdom we need to be praying publicly for others. When a friend shares a struggle or a need with you, stop and pray for them right there. Answered prayer is one of the greatest declarations to a skeptic that our God is real. It was the early church’s miracles that confounded the skeptics and opened doors for the Gospel in places previously closed.

4. Joy in the face of negativity

One of the side effects of living in a place of prayer and connection with God the Father is joy, that beautiful fruit of the Spirit that every human longs for. Joy regardless of circumstances. You’ll have plenty of questions about the reasons for the hope you have when you can laugh in the midst of painful trials and have joy when you’re being drug down.

5. Connection to a gospel community

Relational evangelism means the weight isn’t all on you. It’s a network of relationships in which the Gospel shines brilliantly. As Leslie Newbigin wrote, the hermeneutic of the Gospel is the local body of Christ.

6. Following the Spirit’s leading

Ultimately all of this comes down to one simple thing – following the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we do that our lives imitate Christ’s because he is the spirit of Christ. We pray constantly because we have a permanent connection with the Father. We have joy because he is the fountain of joy. We can call people to Jesus because he is the one who convicts them of the truth.
But where I want to point us to particularly is those moments when the Spirit calls us to do something that doesn’t make sense, seems risky, or totally out of left field. Maybe you’ve been developing a friendship and the person is extremely anti-Christian, so you’re worried that they might respond negatively if you clearly call them to repent of sin and put their faith in Christ. Set aside those worries. If the Holy Spirit is calling you to take the risk and lay out the Gospel clearly, do it. If he’s calling you to stop and pray for a stranger on the street, do it. Take risks, follow the Spirit’s lead, and watch as the relationships you have turn into an infinite array of opportunities for people to encounter Jesus and receive the salvation that he so freely offers.

 

 

 

Culture, Discipleship, Evangelism

Evangelism and the Prodigal Son – Part 1

August 8, 2016

 

 

 

Have you ever noticed that the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) never allows his son to fully proclaim his repentance? Instead of allowing the son who took and wasted half his wealth to speak his rehearsed apology and offer himself as a hired hand, the father cuts him off in the middle of his declaration that he’s not worthy by saying, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his fingers and sandals on his feet…” The apology is interrupted by the father’s celebration of the son’s return. The son isn’t given any space to prove his repentance or wallow in his sorrow. He’s returned. It’s time to celebrate.

Is this how people are treated when they return to God and step into the Christian community? In my experience, I don’t think Christian culture at large has practiced this well. We tend to want people to really prove their repentance before we celebrate their return. We want to see the “fruit” before we put the robes and rings on them. By fruit we generally mean show some real sorrow and agony over the bad stuff done in the past. Then when they’ve realllly demonstrated that they’re back to stay we can celebrate. But not too much, lest someone get the idea that sinning and leaving the father isn’t that big of a deal.

Does that align with God’s attitude and practice? Not if the father in this well known parable is an accurate reflection of God the Father.

Say you’re sorry

This kind of attitude has given us a mode of evangelism that’s aimed mainly at getting people to feel bad about their sin (i.e. be convicted) so that the forgiveness offered by Jesus will be appealing. They’ll see the beauty of the savior when they feel the fear of God, right? When they realize how far down their sin has taken them they’ll reach out for a savior to rescue them, won’t they?

There’s absolutely biblical merit to this. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the law was given so that we might realize just how sinful sin was. The Old Testament prophets play strong and loud the note of God’s judgment and justice. John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness for repentance and fleeing from the wrath to come.

Here’s the thing though. In each of those instances the message is directed primarily at the people of God; those who already knew the law, had been raised with the stories of the Exodus, and had the context for a just God and a baseline knowledge for what sin was. They already had the mental framework on which to build that message.

For those of us in modern America, particularly those working with young adults and the coming generations, that’s no longer our context. It’s increasingly common to talk with people who have literally never read the Bible, have been to church maybe twice, and don’t have the moral groundwork that traditional bridge-diagram type Gospel presentations assume.

I believe the story of the prodigal son an often-overlooked element that can help us communicate the gospel to a culture that doesn’t have that context.  We need to ask the question, what was it that made the prodigal son return home to the father?

The Son’s Realization

Was it that he realized how sinful he was and that what he’d done was wrong? No. The text tells us that the son says to himself, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” (v.17) It was the son’s realization of his need (“here I am starving”) and remembrance of how good his father’s servants had it (they “have food to spare”) that drove him home.

It wasn’t a conviction that he had done something wrong that drove him home. If anything that conviction and shame of his wrongdoing is what kept him away for so long after squandering his inheritance. It was his need for food and memory of the good things that his father did for his servants that inspired his return.

Are our churches places where the goodness of God is on display? Are they places where people see something that they long for? Does our life together in Christ communicate that the Father’s children and servants “have food to spare”? When we present the Gospel, are we communicating it in a way that is actually good news for those to whom we are speaking?

Where Jesus, John, and the other apostles are blunt, often brutally so, about the need to repent when talking to religious people, the tone changes drastically when they are speaking to pagans who feel the shame of their sin but don’t have the knowledge of the law. Rather than trying to convince them that they’re sinners in need of grace (as most modern evangelistic trainings would have you do) they start with grace.

Witness the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) – Jesus welcomes and answers her questions, offering her the water of life and true connection before he ever mentions her sin. The thief on the cross simply hears the words “today you will be with me in paradise,” no repetition of the wrongs he’s done. In John 8 we see the woman caught in adultery who Jesus actually defends from the justice that the law demanded be meted out to her, explicitly saying “neither do I condemn you” before gently telling her to leave her life of sin. Zaccheus too, that wee little man, is never told to repent in Luke 19. Jesus simply says that he’s coming to stay at his house. It is Zacheus himself who brings up the wrong he’s done, repenting in that very moment.

Encountering Goodness

My friends, If we want to reach those who are not religious, we need to give them an encounter with the goodness of God rather than beginning with the battering of God’s wrath and justice. In their spirits they already know those things well, because the Holy Spirit is at work. As Paul writes in Romans 2, it’s the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God that leads people to repentance.
When you’re sharing the Gospel with someone for the first time, begin with the infinite grace that is found in Christ. Welcome prodigal sons into your midst where they can taste and see how good the sons and servants of the Heavenly Father have it! As we do so it’s like setting up a beautiful feast at the Father’s house next door to the pig sty that they’ve been living in. They’ll smell the rich food, hear the joy and laughter, and see just how good the Father’s servants have it. They will come home, and the Father will once again be ready to run to them with arms wide to clothe them with the righteousness of Christ.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Culture, Evangelism, young adults

Five ways to bear witness in a post-Christian culture

December 28, 2015

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

  • 1 Peter 2:11-25

 

In the last generation and a half Western culture’s opinion of Christianity has shifted from generally positive to downright terroristic. Christians have gone from being seen as nice people to being characterized primarily as dogmatic bigots, sexually backward traditionalists, and ignorant conservatives. The backlash from four hundred plus years of Christendom is coming full force, and as others have noted (See here and here for a couple insightful articles along these lines) we need to set aside our assumptions of being a majority with significant cultural clout and learn to live into the role of exiles and a minority.

This is especially true for millennials, young adults, and the following generations who will (and do) live in the midst of this quickly-coalescing anti-Christian culture., The book of 1st Peter will become an increasingly valuable Biblical guidebook for how to live in light of exile and how to bear witness to Christ in a world that has little to no positive associations with Christianity.

In 1 Peter 2 the apostle lays out a strange strategy for bearing witness to Christ in exile. In contrast with the common evangelism tactics used over the last fifty years or so, Peter’s strategy doesn’t have much to do with cold-calls, getting people to acknowledge their sinfulness, or preaching on street corners. Honestly it doesn’t have much to do with speaking at all; it has everything to do with living a kind of life that brings up questions. Here’s what Peter calls the people he’s writing to to do in order to bear witness:

1. Stop sinning

In verse 11 he writes, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” How can a believer bear witness to the power and glory of the Gospel of Christ in a post-Christian culture? By removing the sin from their lives. Cut out lust and pornography, lying and manipulation, self-praise and laziness and the world around you will begin to wonder what the source of your transformation is.

2. Do good

It’s not enough to stop doing bad things. Instead, we must “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”Our lives should overflow with good deeds – from helping a new neighbor move in to congratulating a coworker on their success to giving generously of our finances. Our lives should be so full of good deeds that other people can’t help but be impressed.

3. Submit to authority (even bad ones)

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” Oh how hard this presses against our American tendency to assert our right to overthrow unjust and ungodly authority! We’re quick to fill Facebook feeds with articles insulting Obama and calling for the reform of American government, but does that truly reflect the character of Christ who submitted silently to the questioning of Pilate and bore stoically the utterly unjust weight of the cross?

The world, post-Christian or otherwise, knows well how to buck the authorities they dislike. What will bring questions and bear witness to patient faith in God is not mainly civil disobedience and moral outrage; it is submitting, for the Lord’s sake, to even unjust human authorities. (Disagree? Comment below.)

4. Honor everyone

“Show proper respect to everyone…fear God, honor the emperor.” Not only are we to submit to even evil authority, we are to honor everyone. Everyone here means – you guessed it – everyone.

Christian, do you know how to honor homosexuals? Are you equipped to honor, regardless of their policy on immigration/taxes/social security/ISIS/gender norms, the next President of our country? Will you be prepared to honor your boss when they fire you simply for being a Christian or will you take to social media and release your righteous, fully justified indignation? Trevin Wax has some wise words about honor and social media. (http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2013/11/25/does-your-facebook-rant-honor-everyone/) We followers of Jesus should be known for the way we are fair and honorable towards those who we disagree with and dislike.

In my personal opinion this practice of honoring everyone may be the most powerful tool for bearing witness to Christ in a post-Christian culture. We need to learn how to leverage it.

5. Love other believers

Peter commands us to honor everyone, but to “love the family of believers.” Echoing Jesus’ command in John 13, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” Peter echoes that indeed, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Love goes above and beyond honor. Where honor can be done solely on the outside, bowing externally while the inside is raging, love demands a peculiar level of affection. Love covers over differences and focuses on the good of the other. Love ignores petty divisions and searches out common ground on which to stand. If we want to reach young adults and millennials and a post-Christian world, love must be the tone of every conversation and interaction we have with other Christians. Petty divisions be damned, love be all.

 

As I look out over the collapse of Christendom I see a world of opportunity. I see a generation of young adults who are hungry for true spirituality and who are eager for purpose in life. in the midst of our culture’s is increasing opposition to Christianity we have a massive opportunity to help them correctly redefine what it means to follow Jesus. It is as we “live such good lives among the pagans” that we will bear witness and be the re-writers of those definitions.

Let’s begin to live that kind of life and “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” As we do so we will begin to see the fruit of true conversions and discipleship take place. Truly, there is no other way.

 

 

 

Culture, Discipleship, Evangelism, Leadership

Celebrate the right sheep

December 16, 2015

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’

-Luke 15:1-7

 

Jesus constantly seems to go against our expectations. Our priorities are, more often than not, in direct opposition to his.

No where is this more clear than in the world of ministry when we look at what is talked most frequently about and celebrated most consistently. In my experience we generally default to celebrating the fact that we have a whole bunch of really good Christians in our ministry/church/small group. Oh, we’re not so backwards as to measure only attendance. Our measurements hinge on the holiness and “christiany-ness” of the people who we’re ministering to. Do we have a group of people who are really working hard at obeying Christ, studying their Bibles daily, and praying together? Let’s celebrate! Have the believers in our care grown spiritually? Time to party!

Jesus, however, says that there’s more celebration in heaven over the recovery of one lost sheep than there is over the many already found. Jesus says that there are more parties in heaven when someone moves from lost to found than for when someone who is already in Christ gets in a small group or develops a Bible reading habit.

Which one are you and your ministry celebrating? Which are you prioritizing; the keeping, feeding, and training of your existing sheep or the recovery of lost ones?

Judging by the parables in Luke 15, Jesus thinks the priority (and the party) is for the recovery of those who are lost. Those who are the shepherds of God’s people are called to be missionaries, not managers. Somewhere along the way we get caught up with managing the growth of those who are already saved and lose sight of finding the lost. If we want to line up with God’s priorities for us  we need to shift how we operate and what we celebrate.

Drawing from Jesus’ three parables in Luke 15, there are at least four things that we can to do create a culture that aligns with heaven and celebrates the recovery of lost sheep more than the management of the saved ones.

Trust God with the ones that are already found

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

What a foolish shepherd! He leaves 99 sheep alone in the open country to go after one! Doesn’t he know that sheep are defenseless and there are predators around and that other sheep will wander off while he’s gone? That, at least, is how we generally operate. But not so for the ideal shepherd that Jesus portrays here. This shepherd trusts God to protect the sheep that are already with him. He operates as a missionary rather than a manager and goes after the one, knowing that God will keep those who are his.

Are we truly trusting God with those who are his, or are we spending our time fretting over keeping the sheep that we already have?

Go searching

The shepherd doesn’t wait for his lost sheep to come back. The old woman doesn’t wait for her coin to show up magically. In both cases they search. Want to have lost sheep rescued through the ministry God’s given you and brought into the kingdom of God? Step out of your safe, found-sheep security and get out into the wilderness. Get down on your hands and knees and look in the places where a coin might go. Go where the lost are. Stop expecting them to come to you – they’re lost. Start searching.

Do you have time set aside in your schedule – especially if you’re a vocational minister – to be in places where people who aren’t believers hang out?

Welcome sinners and eat with them

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When you go searching, don’t drop in to throw out a gospel presentation and then disappear. Instead, settle in and share a meal. Make friends. Jesus makes a point of spending his time in places where the lost spent time.

When was the last time that you shared a meaningful meal with someone who wasn’t a believer? Who can you name as a real friend that’s not a “found sheep”? If the religious people are muttering about you, you’re probably doing something right.

When a sheep/son/coin is found, party!

What we celebrate is a huge statement about what we value. Three times in this chapter Jesus emphasizes how much God values the return of a lost person. Heaven rejoices at the recovery of a lost sheep. God the Father throws huge parties when his lost children return home. We ought to do the same thing. After all, what better reason for celebration than the salvation of an immortal soul?

When someone who was lost is found, gather your friends and neighbors and party! Go all out in extravagance. Let your celebration echo heaven and be a statement to those in your ministry that what gets you stoked is the saving of the lost. Invite those who aren’t believers in to the party and let it be a statement to them that coming to Christ is more than just assenting to a set of rules.

 

I want to be like Jesus in this. Over the last few months I’ve found myself getting frustrated at the slow growth of the found sheep under my care. God used Jesus’ parables here in Luke 15 to push me back and challenge me to evaluate what I’m valuing, and I believe he may want you to do the same thing.

Let’s get our priorities straight. Celebrate the return of the lost sheep. Be a missionary, not a manager.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Discipleship, Evangelism, Theology

God On Mission

October 14, 2015

The Father didn’t send Jesus on vacation; he sent him on a mission. Throughout his adult life, Jesus had a goal. He wasn’t dropped randomly in an inconsequential place at an inconsequential time. Quite the opposite. Jesus was sent on a mission by God the Father “at just the right time,” and he was sent “not to be served, but to serve.” After his resurrection Jesus appears to his disciples and says to them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Wonder of wonders, he says to his disciples that they’re being sent in the same way that he was, on a mission.

Jesus wasn’t doing something new in his mission-oriented life. From the very beginning – even before the fall and sin – God has been on mission. His goal: that the earth be “full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” or, to put it as he did to his image bearers Adam and Eve, “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Jesus, however, gives us an extended, up close, and truly human glimpse of what it looks like when God shows up on mission.

I want to take the next several paragraphs and zoom in on a specific scene from Jesus’ life that I believe gives a beautiful picture of God on mission in all it’s wild and frightening strangeness. From this scene we’ll see six things that are always present when God is on mission. The characters: Jesus and twelve young men – a few fishers, a tax collector, a zealot, and some others. The scene: rural Israel in the first century.

 

Read the full post at the Verge Ministries blog

Christian Life, Discipleship, Evangelism, Ministry Update

Evangelism and the Provoked Spirit

August 31, 2015

Does the spiritual state of your city distress you? Does the fact that so many of the people in your apartment building/neighborhood/school provoke your spirit? If not then it’s little surprise that we aren’t seeing more people come to Christ. If we’re not emotionally engaged in the plight of the lost, it’s unlikely that we’ll be engaged at all.

As the five year anniversary of Threshingfloor has come and gone I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking back to those first couple years. If I’m honest I believe that my passion for seeing people come to know Jesus has being dampened by the menial week-by-week work of “ministry” and keeping something simply running. I use quotation marks around ministry there because it’s so easy to get caught up in the logistics and habits of a program or practice and lose track of God’s true heart.

Acts 17:16 records that when the Apostle Paul was staying in the city of Athens “his spirit was provoked within him” when he saw that the people of the city were giving their lives to idols. So provoked that he headed to the public gathering place and started evangelizing, discussing, and reasoning with whoever would talk with him about the Gospel, Jesus, and the resurrection.

My friends, are our hearts provoked within us when we see the people around us sacrificing their lives to the idols of success, sexual pleasure, comfort, and a thousand others? Does seeing people held captive by addictions, lies, and satanic influences cause a righteous anger to rise within us against the gods of this world who have bound those people? Do our hearts fill with sorrow at the sight of someone disconnected from their loving Creator?

As much as we like to ignore it, we are very often led by our emotions and desires. Our mind is incredibly skilled at creating “logical” reasons why we should have what we want. Without our emotions engaged in something it inevitably becomes a back-burner, easily forgotten object.

When our hearts don’t feel the provocation that Paul felt in Athens evangelism is more of an obligation than a passion. Disciple making becomes a “ministry” rather than a joyful way of living.

Let’s set aside – for a moment – the demands of logic and let God engage our hearts fully.

Will you join me in praying, for the next seven days, that God would align our emotions with his towards the lost? I want my spirit to be provoked within me at the sight of people who need Christ. I want that provocation to be the catalyst to my action of laying down my life in love and boldly declaring Christ’s offer of salvation to any and all who will hear – from neighbor to co-worker to stranger.

Christian Life, Culture, Fallout Revisited

Fallout Revisited: How to Prophesy

August 10, 2015

Fallout Revisited is a series that looks back through the six plus years of posts on the everlasting fallout and revisits the best and most relevant. This post, originally titled Proclaim, was posted three years ago in August of 2012.

 

—————-

 

“I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”

– Jeremiah 23:21-22

We are in an age where opinion has been crowned king, and those whose opinions are most popular are crowned the king of kings. Our world is growing ever more desperate for truth. Despite the increasing availability of information there is a vast shortage of deep, penetrating truth. Even in the church and the Christian community across the western world we have sold the proclamation of truth for the sake of purchasing the opinions that we want to hear.

Our situation isn’t far removed from Israel’s in the days of the prophet Jeremiah. Prophets across the nation proclaimed the Lord’s favor despite the fact that God himself declared destruction and calamity due to Israel’s idolatry. God says that the false prophets, “prophesy the deceit of their own hearts” (Jeremiah 23:26) and by doing so lead His people astray.

Sadly, as I look around at my fellow Christians I see numerous people who have been led astray and are in the process of bringing others with them, speaking from human logic and experience rather than from faith, confident that they have discerned what the word of the Lord is even though they have failed to actually listen.

My longing, and Jeremiah’s longing in his time, is to see a day come where the Lord’s people boldly speak the truth to each other and to the world. Oh, what a transformation this would bring! Truth has the terrible power to divide and unite, to root up what is evil and plant what is good in its place. In a world where politicking, deceit, and convenient lies are acceptable and even encouraged, the emergence of a people who speak the truth will have an earth-shaking effect.

In Jeremiah 23 God makes a statement that I believe is key for us to understand if we are to be the people who bring that prophetic truth to bear on our friends, communities, and world. I want to draw out four implications of the Lord’s words in hopes of giving us all practical ways to move toward the truth.

 

1: Begin in the presence of the Lord.

After declaring that he didn’t send the prophets who were promising peace and prosperity, the Lord says a phrase that offers both an admonition and hope. “If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people and they would have turned them from their evil way.” Throughout the book of Jeremiah it is clear that God’s earnest desire is that his people turn from their rebellion and be healed so he can relent from bringing disaster upon them. Time and time again he sends prophets to warn and admonish his people. However, because these prophets did not wait for a word in the presence of the Lord, they end up sending the people of Israel deeper into rebellion rather than realigning them with the Lord’s commands.

How often we make this same mistake! Know full well, oh Christian, that if you do not stand in the presence of the Lord often and at length, you will end up leading those around you further into sin. We are easily led astray, and without the constant pressure of the presence of Christ in our lives we are wanderers indeed. Make it your solemn promise to always begin in the presence of the Lord; to stand before the throne of the Almighty until you have the word you are to speak. Humble yourself daily in prayer and fill yourself daily with the scriptures. Then, when you can truly say that you have been in council with the Lord, your words will be words of truth that bring healing and not harm.

 

2: Be patient. Don’t go until you’re sent.

Another of God’s accusations is that the prophets didn’t wait for him to send them. Instead they went on their own timing, running when they shouldn’t even have walked.

An essential part of speaking the truth is speaking it at the right time. As Proverbs, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Even if we have received a word from God or our eyes have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to see how some scriptural truth applies to a certain person’s situation, we must wait until we are sent by our King, lest we speak out of turn and do damage. Only when the Lord sends us will our words be powerful and true. And remember, do not run where you aught to walk, or walk where you aught to tread tenderly. There are times to proclaim the truth in a flood of rebuke and there are times when the truth must be gently poured out like water from a spring. Go when you are sent and go in the way you are sent, then the truth you speak will be mighty to save.

 

3: Be Bold. Proclaim the word of the Lord.

For me, this is the hard one. By God’s grace it has become a habit to begin my time in the presence of the Lord, attending to his council. Patience in timing is relatively easy for me as well, however, my patience often turns to procrastination. Often I know the truth I need to speak and when I need to do it, but want to avoid any conflict that might result from speaking a pointed word.

We must note that it is only when the word of the Lord is actively, boldly proclaimed  that people are turned from their sin. Webster’s dictionary defines proclaim as, “to declare publicly, typically insistently, proudly, or defiantly and in either speech or writing.” There is no timidity here, only a courageous declaration of the truth that calls the hearer to respond.

In order for our world to be transformed, we must be proclaimers. Not silent onlookers, not whisperers, and not mumblers. When we have stood in the Lord’s council and are confident we are in line with his timing, we must proclaim the truth that he has sent us with, not apologizing or mitigating, even if it is a difficult thing. The word of the Lord is a double edged sword, but even the sharpest blade will not cut unless it is swung with strength. So speak boldly the truth you have received and,

 

4: Be Hopeful. Expect the Lord to work.

There is no wavering in the last sentence of God’s declaration in Jeremiah 23:22. “If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.” If God’s prophets stand in his council, go when they are sent, and boldly proclaim the word they have been given, then the people will turn from their evil ways. This is not a question of whether the people are willing or if their hearts happen to be in the right place at the moment the truth is spoken to them. It is a matter of whether the sovereign God of the universe pours out his grace and awakens the hearts of the hearer to the truth and to repentance. What the Lord has promised, he will do.

We have a similar promise in the New Testament’s great commission, where it is declared the all authority is Christ’s and that Christ is with his people until the end of days as the go forth to make disciples. God has spoken and promised. It is for us to put our faith in that promise and step forward boldly, in full expectation of people being transformed as the word of the Lord is proclaimed throughout the world.

My friends, we have a beautiful task ahead of us. We have been brought from darkness into the Kingdom of the light of the Beloved Son, and have been commissioned to go as ambassadors and prophets to those who are still in darkness. We go from the councils of our God, at his command and in the power of his Spirit into places where the wells of truth have run dry for eons, bringing with us the living water that can heal and restore what was once dead and lost. As we, the disciples of Christ, begin to proclaim truth to each other and to those around us, supernatural things will begin to happen. We will see lives transformed and people brought out from bondage into freedom; we will see dead live and hard hearts be softened. Oh, what a work we partake in! Don’t back down from it. Press forward, for the reward is great.

Journal, Ministry Update, Threshingfloor, Verge

Ministry Update – 06/02/2015

June 2, 2015

It’s been an eventful couple weeks for Kelly and I. Two weeks ago I came home from work to Kelly lying on the bed in some serious pain. After talking for a few minutes we decided to take her to the emergency room. A good thing we did too, since it turned out that she had appendicitis. It made for a late night, but Kelly had surgery that night to remove her appendix before it burst.

We were blessed with a surgeon who knew exactly what he was doing. The operation took barely 30 minutes, and Kelly was back home by 10AM the next day. Sadly, the recovery time meant that we wouldn’t be able to go to the wedding we had been planning on going to in Montana on Memorial Day weekend. But God, in his amazing way, had something better.

As a result of our staying in Fargo we were able to spend Sunday evening with several of our apartment neighbors who we’ve been praying for since moving in. They’re a rough crowd and exactly the kind of people that Jesus love to associated with. We got to spend an evening with them, pray for one of the guys’ back and leg pain, and heard some of their stories. It’s so refreshing to be with people who don’t know Jesus and see just how much he can transform someone’s life.

For the past four months or so God’s been increasing the tension in my spirit about the fact that though Threshingfloor has created some amazing communities and seen people who are believers grow deeper in their faith and a couple people seeking Jesus join us on a regular basis, we haven’t seen significant movement of people encountering Christ and faith for the first time. I’ve been spending significant amounts of time in prayer on this topic. I want to see our communities come to the place where they are packed full of people who aren’t Christians but are getting drawn to Christ by his love displayed through us.

It’s because of that desire and those prayers that I’m excited for the changes coming to Threshingfloor this summer. Our communities are shifting their strategies in order to go deeper and further in disciple making. Our community will be breaking from our normal gatherings and spending the summer hosting a grill out every Wednesday night as a place for people to connect with community and encounter the kingdom of God. The other Threshingfloor community will be spending the summer learning and equipping each other, using the Story of God to go deeper in the Gospel in preparation for making disciples among international students once school starts back up in the fall.

One of our Threshingfloor Communities

One of our Threshingfloor Communities

Things are on the move for Verge as well. This coming weekend we’ll be gathering all the Verge staff from across the country in the Brainerd area for a weekend to pray, play, plan, and learn together. It’s going to be a critical weekend for us, all the more since our team so rarely gets to be together in one place for an extended period.

On top of that we’re preparing to launch a new Leader Community – an awesome space for ministry leaders to connect and equip each other – in the Twin Cities, discussing partnerships with churches in Glyndon and Park Rapids and several other communities in the Midwest, and preparing for the Leader Advance retreat this fall.

There’s a lot happening, and within it all I’m pressing towards completing the process of fundraising for my position with Verge/Threshingfloor. At $950/month of support, we’re practically 1/4 of the way to fully supported, and halfway to the point where I will be able to move into full time ministry. Continue laboring with us in prayer that God would provide full support by the end of July!

You can also join us in praying:

  • The God would lead me (Ben) to a couple new guys to disciple deeply
  • Opportunities to demonstrate God’s love and grace to our apartment neighbors
  • That our community’s summer grill outs would draw 20 new people to Christ
  • That Threshingfloor would multiply to three communities this fall
  • Opportunities for Verge to serve disciple-makers in Iowa and the western Dakotas
  • Connections for Verge to help increase disciple-making at Community College and noncollege cities and towns in the Midwest.
  • Wisdom and skill for leading a ministry team that’s spread across multiple states

Kelly and I can’t express our gratitude enough to each of you who are helping make it possible for us to move forward in making disciples among young adults in the Midwest. We literally wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without your spiritual and financial support. Such a huge blessing to have friends and family who are willing to invest in us! We want to stay deeply connected to each one of you. If you want to chat, hear more stories about what God is doing, visit us here in Fargo, or have us come and visit you, let us know! In case you don’t have it, my contact information is;

ben@verge28.org
@thefallout

Christian Life, Evangelism, Spiritual Growth

The Fallout Revisited: Over-Educating a Passive People

May 25, 2015
The Fallout Revisited is an occasional series, delving back into the five plus years of archived posts here on the blog and digging up some of the highlights and posts that are still relevant. This article was originally posted January 18, 2010

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It seems to me that there is a problem common in the evangelical church, one that inhibits our ministry to those who are unreached and leaves us sitting in chairs and pews with heads full of good things that do no good at all. Our command and commission is to love God and the world He created by going into it, baptizing, making disciples, and teaching them to obey. Yet often times we get so stuck teaching people to obey the minutiae of the Lord’s commands that we forget that the greatest of them involves going out and doing, not merely avoiding sin or having the right doctrine. In the main, the church over emphasizes educating its people, a thing that has (at least) three detrimental effects on our ministry.

It causes people to value knowledge over love; right doctrine over right action; and education over relation.

Like a man building a house and caring more about what kind of screws are being used to hold the boards together that he does about building the house, many among the church today seem to be more worried about right doctrine and proper answers than they are about the church being a place where people can come to find life. It is most certainly an essential thing to have good, strong screws that will prevent a home’s frame from pulling apart under its own weight, but if the home is never built and no one is sheltered by it from the storms outside, what good is the thing? We need sound doctrine and deep knowledge, as well as people educated in the things of the Lord, but those things are not the thing.The thing is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor like you do yourself, and that through fulfilling the great commission. We do need to be a people who are deeply grounded in the word and in doctrine, sure of the truth and confident in our beliefs. We need to do so in the same way that a good construction worker knows each of his tools, what they are for, when to use them, and how to train others in their use. Yes, educate, but educate for the sake of ministry, love, and action!

It leaves people who do not feel fully educated feeling as if they are not fit to minister.

This is perhaps the most crippling of the three, one that saddens me greatly. There are a vast number of people in the evangelical church that feel as if they are not able to minister or present the gospel due to the fact that they have been taught (usually implicitly, without the leadership even realizing it) that one must be well versed in apologetic techniques, Bible verses, and facts to support Christianity in order to bring others to Christ. Even in my own life I see the bitter fruit of this problem. I spent years in my church’s student leadership training (at the time named CORE) being taught different evangelistic techniques like the “Romans road,” being given pages of evidence that the Bible is a historically accurate book, and taking the assigned time to write out my testimony in three different versions for the varying amounts of time I may at some point have to share it with someone, all the while being told that that you don’t have to be smart or have the entire Bible memorized or have attended church all your life to be prepared to evangelize. Yet which do you suppose spoke louder; The words or the large amount of time spent preparing us to evangelize?

Through all of those four or five years, I cannot think of a single time where I spoke of Christ to a person who I knew to be unsaved, simply because I felt that I wouldn’t do a good enough job since I didn’t know enough. Oh, how far that is from the truth! See how Paul in 1st Corinthians consciously chooses to lay aside his knowledge and skills in rhetoric, choosing instead to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message where not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:2-4)

It is not in education or knowledge that the Lord’s power works. Far to the contrary, it is in our weak and trembling faith that he moves. Seek knowledge of the Lord, not for knowledge’s sake, but for the sake of having your mind transformed so that you may better see and know Him, thereby increasing your faith. Spurgeon helped me greatly when I read this in one of his sermons titled “Gospel Missions”;

We send educated men to India in order to confound the learned Brahmins. Nonsense! Let the Brahmins say what they like, have we any business to dispute with them? “Oh, but they are so intellectual and so clever.” What have we to do with that? We are not to seek to be clever in order to meet them. Leave the men of the world to combat their metaphysical errors; we have merely to say, “This is truth: he that believeth it shall be saved, and he that denieth it shall be damned.” We have no right to come down from the high ground of divine authoritative testimony; and until we maintain that ground, and come out as we ought to do, girded with the belt of divinity—preaching not what may be true, but asserting that which God has most certainly revealed—we shall not see success.

Have you faith, young Christian? If you are indeed a Christian, faith is yours, for God is the one who gives faith and he gives it to all he has chosen or else they would not be saved, for it is “by faith you have been saved.” Do you have faith? Then you have all you need to minister and evangelize. How wrong the church is to demand that men have more than what God himself demands! Absolutely, memorize the Bible, study deep into theology and religion, but all for the sake of faith, not as an end in itself!

Over emphasizing education creates a passive people.

This point, in many ways, is simply a drawing out of a point implicit in the other two. When we put our main emphasis on education and proper doctrine, the common person is left feeling as if their job is simply to sit in their chairs and receive what is given to them. There is the rare individual who will rise and study for themselves, but for the most part the people are left to feeling as if when they listen and gain knowledge then they have done their part. Such is the state of much of our national education system; by the time students reach their late middle school or early high school years they have, for the most part, been taught so much and done so little with what they’ve learned that they are convinced that when they have attend class and answer the in-class questions and tests they have successfully done all that is needed. A wretched fact it is that the church seems to have moved in that same direction! The fact that we have cared more about people

We are to be the people who hear and do; to be like Moses, who spent time in his tent with the Lord daily, but never stayed there. Instead, he went out so radiant with the Lord’s glory that the people needed him to cover his face. Or like the Israelites in Exodus 24 after hearing the Word read responded by saying, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”

So for those of you who are church leaders; for those who love sound doctrine and good teaching, I urge you, love even more Christ and his command. Beware that you do not place “teaching them to obey all that I commanded” above and before loving, going, baptizing, and making disciples. All of those things are equally essential, and it is our part to hold them all up, to the glory and praise of Jesus Christ.

And for those who are not leaders in any official capacity, don’t allow yourselves to become passive or fall prey to the thought that you are not a fit minister for your King. Don’t doubt the one who called you; he who calls will fit each of his people for the ministry to which he sends them, and He has sent you…over two thousand years ago you, as well as every other person whom the Lord foreknew was sent by Christ’s command.

So, for all, go! Love doctrine and truth and studying down into the depths of the gospel, but do so for the sake of faith and spreading the Word. Do not be those cold people, brains filled with gospel truth but hands, feet, and mouths dead and not proclaiming or living it out. Instead, consider Christ, the Apostles, and numerous other men and women who have come before you and imitate them as they spread the Gospel, for who knows how the Lord will use you?