It doesn’t get more basic that this: “What is the gospel?” The answer is pretty simple; yet, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer. I was at a conference recently with 5,000 church planters—mostly from evangelical backgrounds. During one of the breakout sessions the speaker commented that if he were to ask those in attendance “what is the gospel?”, he would likely get a hundred different answers from the hundred people that were in the room. I was, in one sense, flabergasted, and in another, grieved.
I was flabergasted and grieved by the notion that the church has become so shallow that a hundred pastors and church planters could not come to any consensus on what the gospel is! Now I do believe that this speaker was overstating his point. But, at the same time, I do suspect that many in that room would have had trouble articulating what the gospel is!
If that weren’t enough, I became significantly more flabergasted when this speaker went on to define the gospel. He said, I define the gospel as, “radically transforming the world.” I am serious. This was his answer. Note, there was no Jesus in his answer. I immediately thought to myself, “what makes this statement uniquely Christian?” After all, wouldn’t most religions aspire to “radically transform the world?” I then commented to someone next to me, “Hitler did that!” Which apparently caused them to suddenly realize the emptiness of his defnition.
I am not sure what was worse: his pathetic attempt to define the gospel in such a way it fails to distinguish it from a corporation, tyrant, or any other religious group’s mission statement; or the fact that most of the 100 pastors and church planters “oohed” and “awed” after he made this declaration!
I am not saying that there is one definition of the gospel that all Christians adhere to. Of course, it would be nice if this were so. There are, however, core, essential elements of the gospel that underlie the Christian faith. So, what is the Gospel?
The gospel is quite simply that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem quite simple, but the implications of it are profound. For one, if Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is! Furthermore, if Jesus is Lord, then I am not! If Jesus is Lord, then neither is wealth, power, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. If Jesus is Lord, then my pride is not.
It seems so easy to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them. Will we deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him?
There are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If He is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
What does the NT teach about giving?
Some of you are likely reading the title and deciding to at least peruse this blog because you want to know what the Bible, and the New Testament (NT) in particular, says about giving so that you can be obedient. You may be a little fearful about venturing forward. But you are willing—as long as this blog doesn’t get too long!
Some of you are reading this because you want to know what the Bible says so that you can be faithful, but in all reality you are hoping to discern, “what is the least I can get away with giving?”
Some of you may be reading this because you are convinced that the idea of a tithe is Old Testament (OT) and that giving is simply not required in the NT. You may be reading with the mindset that if I say anything contrary to that you are ready to disagree.
Let me answer the question right off the top: there is no law on giving in the NT: NT giving is strictly from the heart! To say, however, that giving in the NT is from the heart is not enough! And it likely lets most of us off the hook way to easy! So, let’s go a bit further by examining Jesus and the law.
First off, Jesus said that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). Then He clarified that statement by saying that no longer was it merely acceptable to not murder someone, but from this point forward His concern was with the heart so that hatred towards a brother was murder; and He added that no longer was it merely acceptable to not commit adultery, but from this point forward His concern was with the heart so that to lust was to commit adultery. So, what then do you think Jesus might say about the tithe?
Before we answer that, let me note that I would affirm that the command for a “tithe” (i.e., giving of 10%) is not found in the NT. But to stop here, and make giving simply a matter of what one decides in their heart (2 Cor 9:7), seriously misunderstands the relationship between the law, Jesus, and the life of the people of God today.
What, then, does the NT teach in regard to giving?
Since Jesus did not abolish the law, the notion that the tithe is not in the NT and therefore it doesn’t apply for us today stands on precarious footing. Secondly, when Jesus affirms that the two great commands are to love God and to love one another (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27), He is upholding the essence of the law. Thirdly, as noted above with regard to murder and adultery, Jesus, not only doesn’t abolish the law, He intensifies it. These three things should sound an alarm to anyone who simply wants to dismiss giving as something previously, but not presently, required. As well as those who want to relegate giving to only “what we decide in our hearts.”
In addition, it is important to note that Paul says we are “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1 NAS). The significance of this is that, though we fully affirm that the sacrificial laws were fulfilled by Jesus, and that we have no need for sacrifices today, the principle of sacrifice is not eradicated but transferred. Yes, Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. Now, we, also, are called to be living sacrifices!
How then does this affect our understanding of giving? Simply put: what if we were to understand giving as something that Jesus and the NT intensifies? Just as murder has now been extended to hatred and adultery to lust, might we also surmise that giving is intensified beyond the tithe (10%)?
Now, there is much more to say of course. And a brief blog post cannot address it all. Let me note two things.
First, if you cannot afford to give, then don’t! There is no law in the NT on giving. What I am arguing is that NT principle—not law—is that we should give everything we have—and that stopping at 10% may not be fully surrendering our hearts. The person who makes $250,000 might well give more than 10%. But the family that makes $25,000 might not be able to give financially at all.
Secondly, if we give 10% or 20% and our hearts are not right before God, then our giving is worthless.
There is much more to be said. I encourage you to listen to my two sermons on giving delivered Mar 11 and Mar 18, 2018. See www.northpres.org
The relationship between doctrines/teaching and obedience is inseparable. Generally speaking, one cannot obey Jesus unless one first knows Jesus; and one cannot do the will of God, unless one knows the will of God.
Now, in saying this, I do not deny that there is a problem on both sides of the spectrum. On one side, there is way to much theological debate within the church and not enough doing the Gospel. On the other side, however, those who are actively doing the “Gospel” apart from theology and knowing Jesus are not any better off.
I hear way too often the notion that we do not need to be concerned with the words of Jesus but with doing the works of Jesus. In fact, just this last week I was at a conference where a speaker gave a impassioned plea to stop worrying about theology and doctrine and to simply get busy doing the work of the kingdom. Now let me acknowledge that there is a sense in which I not only understand the motivation behind the presentation, but even to some extent agree with the thrust of the message.
The problem with this message is that it was presented as an emphatic either-or-proposition. Either we spend our efforts on understanding the teachings of Jesus, or we spend our efforts doing the deeds of Jesus. The problems with this line of thinking are numerous. I will try to keep this brief.
First, there is the logical inconsistency (the argument is self-defeating) in that they must teach us that we don’t need teaching. The presentation I heard this week was a 20 minute passionate plea to stop talking about Jesus and start obeying Him. Hmm?
Secondly, the Scriptures are clear that learning precedes obedience. Ironically, another speaker at the same conference, who not only applauded the previous speaker, but also went on to scorn the role of seminaries in training leaders, used an illustration from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) to support her argument. The problem here, and this speaker apparently failed to notice, that in the story Mary (the learner) was praised by Jesus (“Mary has chosen what is better”), while Martha (the doer) was reproved.
One does not have to look hard to find that the role of preaching is foundational to the Church (see the book of Acts). And we could cite Romans 12:1-2 (“renewing of your mind”) as well as John 8:32 (“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”), and 22:27 (“love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”), and a plethora of other such references.
Thirdly, to deny theology its proper place leads quite easily to the problem of identifying what Jesus one is following. If it is true that Jesus is the way, then there remains a valid and necessary place for theological dialogue. (Again, let me affirm that there is indeed to much theological bantering going on in many places within the Church). But it is essential to know which Jesus we are following.
A symptom of the problem inherit in this theology v action thinking was evident in one of the breakouts I attended at this conference. One of the speakers defined the gospel as “radically transforming the world.” What? There was no Jesus or anything explicitly, or implicitly, involved in this definition. Does he not realize that Hitler “radically transformed the world?” Many people radically transform the world. This is not the Gospel! The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord; and Hitler is not! The Gospel includes the fact that Jesus is in process of radically transforming the world. But to leave Jesus out of a definition of the Gospel is incredulous!
Now, I must close by reiterating that I fully affirm that there is way too much debate and theological rancor in many Christian circles. There are many churches that need to get beyond “knowing” Jesus—as regard intellectual assent—and get busy with imitating Jesus. The point is that one cannot do the deeds of Jesus unless one knows Him and are doing His deeds.
Colossians 1:28 “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
It is sad that I have to hesitate to write a comment on contemporary American politics. But, too many are so entrenched in their views that they have trouble hearing criticism.
My exhortation remains: the Church should be above politics—especially above political parties. We should be willing to acknowledge truth and error regardless of what side of the political spectrum it comes from. We should be willing to compliment and criticize. And we should always do so in love. We want to see justice for everyone; redemption for everyone; respect for everyone.
As for what I have seen lately. I have seen a country that is opposing freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech, and the right to protest and speak your thoughts (whether we agree with them or not), is a basic freedom that has made America a great country.
As for our president’s comments the other night (that the NFL players who are protesting are - - - [insert profanity here] and that they should be fired), I am grieved that our leadership is shaming those who are protesting. You don't have to agree with the protests. But the right to protest is what makes this country great. Our president and leaders, in fact, should do everything to protect that right. For our leader to refer to professional athletes who are protesting with profanity and to suggest that they should be fired, is to take a step towards tyranny.
Again, I don't have to agree with your views. But I should absolutely defend your right to have them. As a Christian, I affirm that you are made in God's image and that you have freedom to act as you believe. I believe that in your acting on your freedoms you are acting humanly. I, of course, believe that to be truly human one must use that freedom to bring Glory to God. Thus, to slander those who are using their freedoms to peacefully protest, is unAmerican; but more than that it is unchristian.
#freespeech #ImageofGod #determineTruth#loveyourneighborevenwhenyoudisagree
I was recently having dinner in Jerusalem. Our group had just arrived that day from various part of the States. Though many of the people at the table knew each other from previous relationships, I was just getting to know most everyone at the table. The group decided that we should go around the table and introduce ourselves: tell about our family, etc. Then, they suggested, we had to answer any questions the group wanted to ask over the next three minutes (yeah, they were mostly younger and more adventurous people).
When it came to my turn, I gave the generic info about myself, my wife Toni, and our four kids. (Okay so I probably bragged a little about my family. Okay, a lot). Anyway, during the three minutes of questioning I was asked, “what is the greatest advice you would give you’re your kids?” I replied, fairly quickly, “never be afraid of the truth.”
Now, I must admit that I was a bit surprised by the responses of the others at the table. They were taken aback—in a good way. At was as if I had just given the greatest answer in world history (okay, maybe not the greatest answer, but one of the top ten—or top one hundred). The questions then followed, “what do you mean by that?” “Why would you say that?”
As a Christian, I would state emphatically, that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). This is a pillar of my faith. He is not merely the source of truth. He is the Truth. All truth resides in Christ (Colossians 2:3).
Because of this conviction, I believe that all truth will only point me to Christ. If I am in error on something, then, ultimately, I have a weakened understanding of Christ. I need to be corrected and aligned with Christ. (fortunately, this for me this doesn’t happen very often! Maybe I should have said, “hypothetically, if I were in error”!). Yet, I believe that we tend to live in fear of truth. We shelter ourselves (though some might object to this statement, I am convinced that it is far more correct then we are willing to admit).
But, if all truth leads me to Christ, then what am I to fear? I’ll tell you what we are to fear: we should fear being in error. Of course, we will never hold all truth. The sad reality is that some of what I believe now is wrong. I know this because I can tell you a long list of things I used to believe five, ten, and twenty years ago, that I now no longer believe. As a result, I am sure that some of the convictions I hold to now, will change also.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we can’t know anything with certainty. Of course we can (in fact, to say we can’t is a self-refuting statement).
What I am saying is that it is our sacred responsibility to seek the truth. And, as a Christian, I have nothing to fear because all truth will only lead me to Christ. (Oh, how I wish I could stop this blog at this point. But I must say more).
Be forewarned: There is nothing easy with seeking the truth. For one, I have to be willing to admit that I was wrong. We don’t like this. Especially when it comes to issues that that annoying uncle holds to. I’d rather rot in a cave somewhere, than admit that he was right! Never being afraid of the truth means that I will have to face situations like this. What if that Republican, or Democrat, of Libertarian was right after all?
There is another difficulty that comes along with never being afraid of the truth. Namely, that truth always demands a life change. Now, I could always choose to go on living as I am and never face up to that change. That is what we do most of the time. But, if I admit to the truth, then I have to admit that I am not living consistently with what I know.
For example, let’s say that I am a smoker. I could just deny that smoking is harmful. Or, I could try to avoid the question. Or, I could minimize the hazards of smoking. The fact is, however, if I agree that God has given me a responsibility to care for my body, and if smoking is bad (i.e., it is deadly), then I must confront the fact that I should stop smoking—of course, you might say, “many things are harmful and we all do them, this is just my weakness.” (now some of you are probably thinking, “preach it brother.” While others are upset, or frustrated, or wanting to object). (PS whether you quit smoking or not is up to you. I am just using it as an illustration).
The list goes on. If I know that going to church is important to spiritual growth, and I believe that spiritual growth is what Christ calls me to, then I need to change my life and make church attendance a priority. If I know that I should stop (fill in the blank here), or start (fill in the blank here), then I should change my life accordingly.
The problem is huge. The fact is, we simply don’t want to change. We like things the way they are. So, we ignore truth. We deny truth. We resist truth. We spend time, money, and great effort to reinforce our convictions as to what truth is. We bully the other. We demonize the other. We silence the other. We do whatever is necessary to maintain our convictions as to what the truth is and our comfortable way of life.
Now, most of you have read this blog and thought, “well, that is interesting.” Many of you will find this helpful. And that is good. You see, I wasn’t too edgy here. I didn’t challenge you on issues that you hold dearly. I used smoking and church attendance as my illustrations. But what if I used __________ as illustrations? Would your attitude have changed? I hope not. But, let’s be honest, we have core convictions that we don’t want challenged. And then Jesus comes along and says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Have you ever experienced giants in the land? A time when jobs weren’t opening up and the bills were piling up. A time when the doctors weren’t giving the diagnosis you wanted to hear. A time when relationships were crumbling and you saw no way out. A time when you learned that your beautiful child was addicted and you couldn’t get through to them. A time when your debt was so great you had no idea how you would ever get by. A time when. . . .
In case you don’t know the biblical story, it goes like this.
God’s people go down to Egypt during a famine (end of Genesis). They become enslaved (beginning of Exodus). 400 years later God calls a man named Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go and to lead the Israelites back to the land of promise/Canaan (still Exodus). Moses, at first, resists God’s call. Finally, he agrees.
Pharaoh, of course, rejects Moses’ request to let the people go. Why, after all, would he allow hundreds of thousands of slaves go free? God, through Moses, performs a series of miracles; which for the Egyptians were more like plagues (still Exodus). Pharaoh, finally, agrees to let them go.
The Israelites flee Egypt: only to be chased by the Egyptians after Pharaoh changes his mind. The final miracle—that ensure the Israelites escape from Egypt—is the parting of the Red Sea in which the Israelites cross on dry ground and the Egyptians are swallowed in the waters (still Exodus).
The Israelites, however, disobey God and are forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years (Exodus and the book of Numbers). During this wilderness time, Moses sends 12 spies (one from each of the tribe of Israel) into the land of promise to check out the land before they plan their attack (Numbers 13).
After viewing the land, ten of the spies report back to the Israelites:
“When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Thus, they told him, and said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there’” (Numbers 13:25-28).
Caleb, however, one of the other two spies (along with Joshua), reports: “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
The voice of the ten, of course, overtakes the voices of Caleb and Joshua: “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size’” (Numbers 13:31-32).
This story reminds us that there are often giants in the land. We all face giants. The fact is that God often calls us into places where the giants are. In fact, it seems like God likes to put giants in our way. We can’t seem to avoid them. Well, we do when we disobey.
But there is something beautiful about giants in the land. When God calls us to something and there appears to be no way that it can be accomplished, it seems that this is the time when God is most active in our lives. At times like this we must rely on Him. We know we can’t do it be ourselves. So, we cry out to Him. Our prayer time increases. Our searching increases. Our walk with Christ increases. Of course, our heart rate, our anxiety, and our stress levels all increase too. But these don’t have to.
When we face giants in the land, maybe we should step back and stand behind the One who rides on the white horse and has a sharp two-edge sword coming from His mouth (Revelation 19:11-16). Maybe if we surrender all things to Him. And in doing so, we can step back and watch Christ slay the giants in our lives.
The beauty of all this is that when we face giants in the land we get to watch the miracles. And when the giants are slain, only God gets the glory for slaying them!
I find it quite interesting that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any other author of the NT addressed Jewish or Roman politics. They didn’t address slavery—there were millions of slaves throughout the empire—nor Roman militarism, nor the many other ills that proliferated throughout the Roman world.
Now one can make the argument that Christians in the US have a different role because we live in a democracy. Certainly, living in a democracy carries with it the responsibility to participate in the political system.
One of the problems I see rising with regard to evangelicalism and politics has been the failure to properly distinguish between the church and the nation. It seems as though many within evangelicalism are convinced that it is necessary to impose Christian laws on the nation. For many, the reasoning is that Christian laws make for a better nation. And though I am certainly inclined to agree with this, my question is whether or not this is the role of the Church?
Is it the job of the Church to make sure the nation has good laws?
I see several weaknesses and unintended consequences that call into question this approach.
First, the people of God need to rise up and follow the law of love, which is THE law for the Church, well ourselves before we seek to legislate it on others. In fact, demanding that others obey what we ourselves do not is the essence of hypocrisy.
Secondly, imposing Christian laws does not address the issues of the heart. And it is the heart that matters. Having godly laws with uncircumcised hearts didn’t do the Israelites any good. Why should we expect things to be different today?
Thirdly, such efforts are more and more impacting our Christian witness in a negative way. Why is it that many Christians are surprised when non-Christians reject Christian laws? After all, if they don’t believe in God, or if they just don’t wish to follow Him, then why should we expect that they would want to follow God’s laws?
This is key. The fact that they have rejected God’s laws and often God Himself means that our efforts to impose such laws on them will often result in a further alienation of individuals from Christ.
This is one of those unintended consequences I was speaking about. The effort to impose Christian laws on a secular society is often received by that society as an attack. It is perceived as an attack on their freedoms; an attack on their convictions; and sometimes an attack on themselves personally. The end result is a further alienation of such people from Christ!
Such efforts have placed our civil responsibilities above our kingdom responsibilities.
Our goal is not to make a Christian nation. Our goal is to reflect Christ to the world in such a way that the world is attracted to Him! If our efforts to impose Christian laws on a society have a negative impact on our witness, then we should discard such efforts.
Now I am not saying that our intentions aren’t good; or that such laws are not good. But if the end result is detrimental to the cause of the kingdom, then we must abandon ship!
Is the Church called to be agents of social change?
Yes, but not by forcing such change on the state. Our means of affecting social change is first by living it out ourselves—regardless of the laws. This is how the early church overthrew Rome.
Finally, many Christians are operating from the perspective that our responsibility is merely to present the Gospel. That is, we are responsible for what we say and not what others hear. But if love is our over-arching ethic, then we must care how others are hearing our presentation of the Gospel. Now, certainly, we cannot control this at all times. But we do bear some measure of burden to communicate and express ourselves in love.
“But, God’s laws are good for society!”
I would agree. But we live in a democracy (a democratic-republic) and the nature of such is that people have the right to vote and decide what they want. We can try to influence their vote. That is true. But we must do so in a way that respects them and their vote!
This, I fear, has not been done well by the Church in recent years.
The Church must proclaim the Gospel in a manner that is relevant and palatable to the culture. Preachers should always speak against injustice. They should exhort the Church to be the people of God in the midst of injustice. This is the Gospel facing culture! We should raise up our congregations to advocate for those who are suffering oppression.
Many Christians are convinced that our country is going downhill and going there fast! This great nation is in decline. Election day is viewed by many as the means of reversing this trend. Folks, election day is not the day to reverse this trend. Every day is. Every day is another chance for us to reflect Jesus to the world. Only He can change hearts!
I would like to reiterate that my blog and facebook blog posts are intended to address Christians. My tag line is “Challenging the Church to be the Church.”
In recent weeks I have posted a number of comments on my facebook blog page about the refugee crisis. I am somewhat grieved by the Christians who are contentious on this matter. One of the primary mistakes people are making in their responses is the failure to divorce their responsibilities as Christians from their nations concerns.
One person honestly asked about the need to balance the love of Christ with the need for security. Here is my response:
My response is not just for you but for the many who might read this. I would simply say that sometimes the balance you ask about involves a risk. Though I personally don't think that part of the equation (the risk issue) is our (i.e., the Church’s) responsibility. Our job is to love like Jesus. The nation’s job is to maintain national security. And the US has one of the most extensive vetting processes already in place. But if they choose to close the borders because Christians are telling them to do so, then we have a problem.
Christians should be advocating love towards everyone! Period. Sure, we all take the personal responsibility to lock our doors, etc. But to shut them and not let them in: ever?
The entire Bible (OT/NT) is a story about refugee people! We are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb 11:13). Jesus told parables about welcoming the refugees. He says, "I was a stranger and you let me in" (Matt 25:35). Jesus Himself was a refugee—remember the Christmas story how they fled to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill Him? The early Christians were refugees after Saul began to hunt them down. Christians over the centuries have been refugees!
So, where is the Church now? Are we hiding behind our western comforts? Sleeping in warm beds and homes while our brothers and sisters are struggling to survive? Are we content and well fed while our brothers and sisters go hungry? Are we amusing ourselves with all the luxuries of the western world, while our brothers and sisters flee? I could go on for a long while with Scripture after Scripture (OT and NT) that commands that we take them in! Love our neighbor; love the alien within our midst; They will know we are Christians by our love; etc. Why are we as Christians more concerned about political argumentation and our nation’s self-interest than we are our responsibilities toward the refugee?
(Note: I am not saying that we don't have the responsibility to our families and our neighbors to be wise. Neither am I saying that a nation shouldn’t do what is right for its national interests. Nor, am I saying that nations do not have the responsibility to protect its citizens. In fact, I am not addressing how a nation responds!)
Instead, I am speaking as a pastor and a leader in the Church. I am speaking as a scholar and a teacher. I think I know the Word a little. And the Scriptures I read are unambiguous on this one. What I am saying, then, is that for the Church the command to love trumps these in times like this. Love the Refugee. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).
Lord, Jesus, have mercy on your Church, that we might give mercy to the world.
I often hear people say that they want a class on how to share their faith with others. I understand fully this desire. Many Christians want to share their faith but are afraid to do so. Some are uncertain because they don’t think they have they know enough. Others are uncertain because they think they do not know how to do so. The fact is that we will never know enough and that there is no perfect way to do it. We just need to get out there and tell the world about Jesus.
Now, if anyone says to you, “here are the 10 keys to effective evangelism,” or, “use these effective strategies for guaranteed conversions”, or, “win them over with this irresistible trick,” be cautious. They may well have good insights. But no one has the corner on “sharing the Gospel with success.”
When we think about it, our theology tells us that those who come to Christ are called by Christ. This means that there is no way we can be certain that our “secrets” to sharing Christ will ultimately lead anyone to faith. No matter how good our presentation was. If they are not called by God, they will not repent.
At the same time, however, we can go about it the wrong way. So, here are some thoughts on how we might share the Gospel more effectively.
Pray for them
Really, truly, deeply, and consistently pray for them. We believe that it is only God who changes the heart! God is the one who calls! God is the one who saves! Prayer helps us see things the way that God sees them.
In addition, our motives and ego can so easily get in the way. So pray for ourselves also. That the Light of Christ might shine through us to them despite our sinfulness!
Just be real with people. Love them. Care for them. Come alongside them. And live Jesus before them.
Love them for who they are. Don’t try to fix them. Don’t assume that they have to become like us to be saved! Sure, we hope that they will become more like Jesus each day. But, that is not a pre-requisite to being saved either! Being saved starts with recognizing that I am not like Jesus! I am a sinner. I need Jesus to change me!
Being real with people also means that we admit our faults and weaknesses. We believe that we are not perfect; so don’t pretend to be.
What to do next!
Invite them to Church or a Church event. Don’t worry if they say no. Just keep looking for ways to integrate them into your community. Allow them to journey to Christ.
Sure, some people have an experience in which they accept Christ. Some of us can name the day and time and place in which it happened. Others cannot. They just know that previously they were not a Christian and now they are. When that change took place, they do not know.
I remember a time when I was sharing the Gospel with someone. We met weekly and just read the Gospel of Matthew together. Sometimes we would discuss what we read. Sometimes we just kept reading. About 8 months later I asked, “why don’t you get baptized?” He was startled. The reality, however, was that sometime during the previous 8 months he had become a Christian. He had gone from just reading and inquiring to believing and desiring. I could see the change. I don’t know when it happened. Neither did he.
Within a month, I had the pleasure of baptizing him!
An important part of loving people and sharing Christ with them is to ask them questions. Find out who they are.
As people talk they will let you know how they are struggling; what they are looking for. You will find that be listening to them you will learn easy entry points to bring Jesus into the conversation and into their lives.
Sometimes they will be closed to the Gospel. That is important to know! Give them time. Sharing the Gospel too forthrightly with such persons will only cause them to repel further. Just love them. Be there for them. Model Christ for them. Perhaps, on occasion you can insert the Gospel ever so gently into a conversation and then let it go. If it is received, perhaps it will be a seed that germinates over time. Later, you can tell them more.
Others may be struggling with something. Perhaps it is a loss that they cannot comprehend. They cannot accept Jesus because it doesn’t make sense how God could have allowed this to happen. By asking questions you will find this out and learn how to bring the Gospel to them personally.
Share your story
This is crucial. You may not think you have a story, but you do. Sharing your story let’s people know that you are real too. You have struggled with growing up in a broken family; or suffering a divorce; or the loss of a loved one. Let them know that you are just another person. You have struggles. Life is not perfect for you either.
Some people have this conception that they have to have it all together before they can become a Christian. The problem is accentuated when Christians pretend that they have it all together. We, for some reason, think we are supposed to let people know how great our life in Christ is. The result is that people are distanced from Christ because they think they will never have it all together!
So, to the Church I exclaim: “be real with people.” Don’t put on a face of something you are not. Sure, Christ has made my life infinitely better. But my life is still full of gaffs and blunders.
In hearing your story, people might come to find that there is hope for them too. If God can save people like us, then He can and will do so for them!
For some reason we Christians think that we not only have to our life perfectly together but that we have to know everything. We don’t know everything. And no one expects that we do!
So, be ready to answer people’s questions. But not with this supposed “I know it all” mentality. In fact, one of the best answers we can give is: “I don’t know.” Now this answer should be immediately followed by, “but let me find out.” Then go and find out and come back soon and let them know what you learned.
Also, in answering people’s questions, acknowledge them as good questions. What might seem as a simple question for you, might be the basis for a real struggle for someone else.
The fact is that I struggle with the problem of evil and suffering too. I don’t know why, or even pretend to understand why, God allows 25,000 people to die each day from starvation.
I do know this though. That God has done and is doing something about it! The beauty of the Gospel is that, though evil and suffering is the result of the mess that we made of this world, God has entered into our mess by sending His Son that we might live. This is it. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why there is so much evil in this world. But, I do get the fact that God has done something about it! My son lives because God’s Son died! There is no greater comfort to a grieving parent than that!
Let the Light of the Gospel Shine Forth in Our Lives as we Love One Another
Finally, we need to do a better job of loving each other! Jesus said that this is how they will know that we are Christians!
OK Church, get over it. The conception that the prophets were like us. We do Bible studies on Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and the like and we think of them as leaders among the people of God. We memorize their words. We cite them in argumentation. We paste Jer 29:11 as a tag line at the end of emails.
But folks. Though they were leaders among God’s people, the prophets were hated. They were outcasts. They were killed!
Stephen, in his debate with the religious leaders shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus states, “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).
Yet we read this and assume that Stephen could not be speaking to us. He was speaking to “them” (whoever the “them” may be all we know is that it doesn’t include “us”). Ironically, most of the people to whom Stephen and the prophets were addressing didn’t think they were in the wrong either. They pointed to their fasting and giving and all things apparently religious as proof that they were on the good team. Surely, the people thought, the prophets were speaking to “them” and not “us.”
So, if the “them” back in the day thought that they were the “us”, then shouldn’t we be more cautious about assuming that we the “us” aren’t the “them”? Why should we assume that we are somehow different?
I suppose it all stems from the fact that we always assume that we are the good ones. Since the prophets were the good ones, then they must be part of us. Since the prophets were speaking to the bad ones, they must be talking to “them.”
Jesus Himself warned, “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city” (Matt 23:34). Here again, when we read Jesus, we of course assume that He was speaking to “them” and not “us.”
You see, we all know that we are in league with Jesus. So, we are part of the “us” and Jesus was definitely speaking to “them!” We may even go so far as to assume that we are the ones about whom Jesus was referring when He says that He will send prophets and wise men!
Now, I am not suggesting that we know who the “them” might be today! I just think we ought to be careful to too quickly assume that it aint us. Something I think we don’t even consider.
So, who might the “them” be? Well, if we think about it, the “them” cannot mean the secular world; the state; the people of other religions. After all, when we look at the text we realize that the “them” to whom Jesus was addressing was some of the religious leadership within Israel (the OT people of God). Does it stands to reason then that, if there is an application today, the “them” would similarly be some of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God)?
Ouch, that hurts. Since, I myself as a pastor would have to be considered as one who constitutes the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God). Of course, I am a part of the other “some.” But, no one considers themselves today to be a part of this “some.” Which means that the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God) today are actually “none.”
So, maybe it would be good if we regularly step back and assess our place in God’s household—without always assuming that we are the “good.” Now, I don’t say this to suggest that your salvation must be questioned regularly. Or, to have you constantly being introspective to the point that you live in fear. I am, in fact, not even speaking to you (singular), but to you (plural).
My point: as long as we assume that we are the “us” and do not allow ourselves to consider the possibility that we might be the “them”, we will never hear a prophetic message. As a result, we may well continue the pattern of shooting the messenger! Then we will indeed have become the “them”—the very “them” Jesus was warning against.
PS I chose this particular photo of a prophet to accompany this blog because the prophet here is left-handed! Like me! See, I am definitely one of the “us.”—or is it that he is like me?
Jesus is the center of the Apocalypse. Or, perhaps, it may be better stated—Christ is the Apocalypse.
The Book of Revelation opens with the words: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1).
The phrase is actually ambiguous, both in English and in the original Greek. The phrase can be understood to mean: “the revelation that is about Jesus Christ”; or, “the revelation that is from Jesus Christ.” When it comes to something like this the interpreter’s best option is to read the book and see which one makes the most sense. Is the book of Revelation about Jesus or is it from Jesus?
Even after reading the Book of Revelation, however, one is still unsure which option is best. This leads many to conclude, and probably correctly, that John was intentionally unclear and that he wanted us to understand the book of Revelation as both a revelation from Jesus Christ and one that is about Jesus Christ.
But when we say that Revelation is about Jesus what do we mean? Well, that is quite simple: it is about who He is and what He has done. Okay, but what is it that He has done?
Through the pages of the book of Revelation John highlights Jesus’ person and role in terms of three key features: 1) Jesus is God made manifest; and as such He is worthy of the worship due to God alone; 2) Jesus is the fulfiller of God’s promises in that He has accomplished the mission of God’s people; 3) Jesus, as the fulfiller of God’s mission, is the model for the people of God to emulate.
All three of these are vital and will be explored more deeply in future blogs. But for now, I will focus on one aspect of the third point. It is this third point that explains John’s somewhat surprising opening description of Jesus. For, instead of describing Jesus with all the glorious titles that He uses later in the book, John attributes three apparently mundane titles to Jesus: 1) He is “the faithful witness”—likely indicating that He was faithful unto death— 2) He is the One who has overcome death and is therefore “the firstborn from the dead”; 3) He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5).
Of all the titles ascribed to Jesus in the book of Revelation, that these three are the first is somewhat astonishing.
The importance of these three titles, however, cannot be underestimated. They serve to highlight John’s message to the churches—as well as to us today. Namely, that, in the same way that Jesus did, so also the people of God must: 1) persevere as faithful witnesses—despite the fact that this may well result in death— 2) knowing that we will also be raised from the dead, 3) and through all this we will reign as the kings of the earth (as C. S. Lewis put it: “we are kings and queens of Narnia!”).
One of the first principles in understanding the book of Revelation is that the book is about Jesus. Knowing this will help us not only understand the book, but also its message for us today. Jesus is “the faithful witness” (Rev 1:5). And as such He is the model that the people of God are to emulate. If one gets anything from reading the book of Revelation may it be: “Go be faithful witnesses just like Jesus!”
This year the session (ruling board) at my church has decided that we should focus our attention on “Thy Kingdom Come” (sometimes that King James English just needs to come out). Sounds great. I personally wish that Christ’s Kingdom were here. Now! I want it now! (reminds me of the girl in the new Willie Wonka Movie who bratishly—yes, that is a word: after all, I can make up words if I want because I have a PhD!—says, “but, daddy, I want it now”). That’s the point. We really want the Kingdom and we want it now!
What is God waiting for? Why is He taking so long? I mean it has been two thousand years (well, almost). One of the problems we have with this line of questioning (which many of us are guilty of) is that it begins and ends with a poor understanding of the Kingdom.
The problem is simple. Many of us have been taught that the Kingdom is wholly spiritual. After all, it is the Kingdom of heaven, right? Because of this we have concluded that the spiritual (heaven) is good and the physical (earth) is—well—not as good; or, for some it is bad.
This leads us to a problem. This sort of thinking tells us that only spiritual things really matter. Life itself, however, tells us something different. After all, we need to eat, drink, sleep, work, etc., in order to live.
What many Christians tend to do at this point is to try to live in these two worlds at the same time. One world is the Mon-Sat world. For many, this is the real world. We live, eat, and breathe in this world. The other world is then some sort of spiritual world—the Sunday world. This is the world of religion and spirituality. In this world, we pray and go to church. (Pastors often get befuddled as to how to get their parishioners more involved in the life of the Church: how to get them to pray more; give more; learn more; do more. This conflict will continue, however, as long as we allow ourselves to live as though there really are these two worlds).
The problem here is that this thinking stems from a poor understanding of the Kingdom. Think about it: Is it not true that God is the creator of ALL things (Col 1:16)? Is it not true that through Jesus God is reconciling “to himself ALL things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:20)?
Here’s my point. If God is Lord of all, then the Kingdom of God is not some spiritual thing that is detached from the world. Jesus is Lord Monday through Saturday too! This means that working, being in fellowship with others, resting, eating, and praying are all spiritual acts. After all, Adam and Eve worked in the Garden (Gen 2:15); they had fellowship in the Garden; and, they ate in the Garden. Such acts, then, are part of God’s eternal plan. They are not just things we do in this world until someday we escape it. They are all part of God’s kingdom, which are in need of being redeemed and restored.
What does this have to do with Thy Kingdom Come? Everything. The ECO (which is our denomination) document on the Church says, “Before the foundation of the world, God set a plan of mission to reconcile the world to Himself and chose to use the Church as His instrument of reconciliation. It is incumbent upon all members of the body of Christ to participate in the work of building one another up in Christ and be deployed for His work in the world” (ECO Polity 8).”
Therefore, instead of us sitting back and waiting for the Kingdom of God to come, we have been commanded by God to be the agents through which God brings His kingdom. We must learn to view our jobs from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to view our relationships from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to enjoy our food from a kingdom perspective (a kingdom perspective with regard to food would begin by acknowledging God for His provision and would include our recognition of others who may be in need of food). As we do this, the Kingdom of God comes!
Next, we must begin to look at the world around us and realize that it too is in desperate need of being reconciled to God! For, the Kingdom of God comes when we care for the broken in this world. This includes the broken people who need to see that Christ loves them and wants to redeem and restore them. It also includes the brokenness of the creation. After all, God created mankind to care for His creation (Gen 2:15).
In one sense, we have no other options. We cannot say “Thy Kingdom Come” and do nothing. We must do something about the lack of peace in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the children starving in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the brokenness of families in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. And of course, we must do something about the lostness within our neighborhoods and the world.
Thy Kingdom Come is a charge for us to get busy!
Oh. One last thing. We must do all of this with joy in our hearts. After all, we are children of the King and we will get to eat at His table forever!
A few years ago we conducted a seminar on understanding the ‘end-times’ in Scripture, and why and how it matters for our lives. I opened the seminar by asking, ‘What do you suppose is the most significant question that Jesus asked regarding His return?’ The answer, I believe, is found in Luke 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?"
So, I wish to examine why an understanding of biblical eschatology (the ‘end-times’) is essential in the process of making disciples. You may already see the relationship. But in case you don’t, let’s explore.
First off, we must note that an important aspect of discipleship (which incorporated then what may now be understood as an apprenticeship) takes the form of imitating Christ. This is part of what is entailed in Jesus’ charge: ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me’ (Mark 8:34). But what does it mean to imitate/follow Him?
Here is where a proper understanding of discipleship must include a proper understanding of our mission. So what is our mission? Let us suggest that we find the root of it in Genesis, where we can summarize as follows: mankind’s’ mission includes ‘ruling over God’s creation’ (Gen 1:28), ‘caring for His creation’ (Gen 2:15-16), and ‘bearing God’s image to the world’ (Gen 1:26-27—though in light of the Fall in Gen 3 our bearing God’s image to the world now includes making Him known to our fellow mankind).
As we continue in Genesis we find that Abraham was called to be the means by which God would redeem mankind and bring about the promised restoration in order that mankind might fulfill God’s purpose (Gen 12:1-3). Now, we know from the NT that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (e.g., Gal 3:13-14; 2 Cor 1:20). We must also note that the commission to Abraham included blessing the nations: ‘. . . and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’ (Gen 12:3).*
It was this failure to bless the nations that brought the condemnation of the prophets on Israel. And this was also the source of Jesus’ judgment on the leadership of His day. This was, in fact, a central reason for Jesus’ actions of judgment in the Temple (cf Matt 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46). For, in the midst of His overthrowing the tables and creating a stir in the Temple Jesus cites Isa 56:7: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations’ (Mark 11:17).
Yet, interestingly, when we look at the ministry of Jesus in the four Gospels, we note that He seems to intentionally limit His ministry to Israel. On one occasion, in fact, He states, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt 15:24). So, if in Jesus we find the fulfillment of God’s call to Abraham and the promised blessing to the nations, then why is it that He didn’t extend His ministry to the nations? Answer: because that is what He commissioned His disciples—and us—to do! That is, the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) calls the NT people of God to carry forward to all nations the mission that Jesus inaugurated.
Therefore, an understanding of Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT and His ushering in the ‘last days’ is essential for the understanding of our mission and what it means to make disciples of all nations! If we are His disciples, then we will follow Him. Among other things, following Him includes fulfilling the mission of God’s people to bear His image to the world.
So are we being faithful? Will Christ find faith when He returns? The answer is found by asking if we are making disciples in fulfillment of God’s call for His people.
In my first article I wrote about the danger of the obsession with the ‘End-Times’ and how many are caught up in the hysteria that accompanies it. I closed the article with this charge: ‘So, are we spending our time becoming disciples of Christ who are prepared to face the tribulations inherent in living as kings and priests for His kingdom? Or, are we overly enamored with speculations about ‘the end’?’
This leads me to an essential declaration for the Church: we are called to be disciples of Christ. The problem for many is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Gospel is and what it means to be a disciple. What do I mean?
First off, the Gospel is, among other things, the declaration that Jesus is Lord of all. We did not simply come to faith in Christ by merely asking Him into our hearts; as though that were to mean that He did not become Lord of all of our lives. The Kingdom does not work this way. We must surrender everything (Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-27: ‘a man must deny himself’) or we ‘cannot be his disciples’ (Luke 14:26-33). Jesus said that we cannot love God and mammon (Matt 6:24).
Understanding the fact that we either give our allegiance to ‘Christ as Lord’ or to ‘ourselves as Lord’ is central to the Gospel. Surrendering everything to Christ is just that a total surrendering in every way of everything.
This leads to my second point. Once we have done such we have begun a journey of discipleship. I stress begun because often times after coming to faith in Christ we live as though we have arrived. All one must seemingly do now is wait to die and go to heaven. This thinking is not only mistaken, but causes one to miss all the joys of living as kingdom people!
Paul tells the Colossians that he is ‘admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ’ (Col 1:28). The word ‘that’ in the Greek indicates purpose. That is, Paul is admonishing and teaching everyone in order that all men might become complete. The word of ‘complete’ [NAS] (or ‘mature’ [ESV, NET], ‘perfect’ [NIV, NJK]) suggests a process. Paul notes in Phil 3:12-13 that he has not yet attained the status of ‘complete’.
All this indicates that the Christian life is one of a journey. We begin this journey by submission to Jesus as Lord. We are enabled to do such by means of His atoning sacrifice: i.e., His life, death, and resurrection. But that is not the end, but merely the beginning. We are now endeavoring to become His image bearers as we grow in discipleship.
But, how then does one grow in discipleship? This is indeed a large question. Space will allow me to briefly explore only one key factor in our spiritual development.
Note that Paul says in Colossians 1 that he is ‘admonishing and teaching’ them in order that they might become complete. These are indeed two important aspects of the journey of being a disciple of Christ. The verbal root for the word ‘admonish’ [NAS, NIV] (‘warning’ [ESV, NJK]; ‘instructing’ [NET] entails a putting one’s mind to a proper order (which suggests that it is not now in order). The second verbal root is ‘teaching’ (all major translations). What do these two suggest? They strongly connote that all followers of Christ are to seek to become ‘complete/perfect’ in Christ by means of sound instruction and growth in the Word of God!
How does this relate to eschatology (the end-times)? The New Testament clearly teaches that there are two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world. These two kingdoms are at war. We were once slaves to the kingdom of this world and its god, the devil. Now we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and called to wage war as members of His Kingdom. We cannot sit idly by. In warfare, the enemy will continue to attack whether we are prepared to participate or not. One means of preparation for battle is to grow in discipleship.
When are all the speculations regarding ‘Eschatology’ going to ‘end’?
Sorry for the pun. But we have so much talk about the end of the world beginning to circulate again with the ‘prediction’ of 2011 by a well known radio preacher, as well as the secular interest in 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar.
My first thought is to wonder when will the church begin to learn from its lessons in the past? Don’t we as Christians realize that hardly a generation has gone by in the last 2,000 years where various individuals or groups have attempted over to determine the date and time of Jesus’ return? One only has to go to the New Testament itself to see that Paul was constantly battling false teachers in his congregations who espoused various speculations about the return of Jesus (see especially 1-2 Thessalonians).
All this despite the explicit teaching of Jesus that ‘no one knows’ (Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32) the time of His return (Now some have suggested that we may know the week or month of Jesus’ return, just not the ‘day’. However, the fact that Jesus used the terms ‘day’, ‘time’, and ‘hour’ interchangeably in Matt 24:42-51 suggests that He indeed meant that no one would know the time period at all).
Why then, one might ask, do we have in the New Testament so much teaching about the return of Jesus and ‘signs of the times’? And what are the key features of the New Testament’s teaching on the ‘end-times’? Space will only allow me to make a few brief observations.
First, I think that most of the current dialogue about ‘eschatology’ (or the ‘end-times’) in our churches fails to understand the nature of eschatology in light of the New Testament. For many Christians today, eschatology is a wholly future prospect. In the New Testament, however, eschatology is present and future. It was present in that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, as well as the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, were eschatological events. I will write more in subsequent articles on this point. Let me just note for now that in the account of the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), Peter explains to the people that the events that have transpired are the fulfillments of prophecy. Peter then quotes an eschatological passage from Joel, which notes, ‘and it will be in the last days . . . . (Joel 2:28-32; cf Acts 2:17-21). Peter exclaims that the present events that have been manifested amongst those gathered in the Name of Christ are a fulfillment of this eschatological passage!
Secondly, the present aspect of eschatology in the NT is also affirmed in that one of the key elements of the book of Revelation is the truth that the Lion of the tribe of Judah has ‘overcome’ (Rev 5:5). That is, Jesus has already won! And now we are to live in the aftermath of His victory as ‘kings and priests’ (Rev 1:6)! Now I am not denying or even addressing the issue of whether the book of Revelation addresses the future. What I am suggesting is that NT eschatology absolutely deals with the present. And as kings and priests we have a job to do! Fundamentally, this job is to proclaim that Jesus is Lord to a world that has its own kings and lords.
This brings us to our final consideration of the present aspect of NT eschatology. Namely, Jesus’ explicit warnings to His disciples that the time between the first coming of Christ and His return, in which they live as kings and priests, will be plagued by difficulty and hardship. This warning is very apparent when we read Jesus’ eschatological sermon in Mark 13 (or Matt 24, or Luke 21) and note the commands/imperatives. They include: ‘watch that no on leads you astray’ (13:5: all translations here are my own); ‘do not be afraid’ (13:7); ‘watch for yourselves’ (13:9); ‘do not be anxious’ (13:11); ‘but pray’ (13:18); ‘do not believe it’ (13:21); ‘watch’ (13:23). Mark 13 then closes with a series of commands/imperatives: ‘watch, stay awake’ (13:33); ‘therefore, be on the alert’ (13:35); and ‘be on the alert’ (13:37). This shows that Jesus understood well the adversity that His followers would face and the necessity for them to be prepared to face these challenges. Paul, in fact, affirms that ‘through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22).
Now it is not wrong for us to anticipate the return of Jesus. But if we spend so much effort looking for the signs of the times and failing to live faithfully today, then our efforts are misdirected. As Christians, we are to work today for His Kingdom knowing that ‘tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’ (Matt 6:34: NAS).
So, are we spending our time becoming disciples of Christ who are prepared to face the tribulations inherent in living as kings and priests for His kingdom? Or, are we overly enamored with speculations about ‘the end’?