evangelism

Everyday Missionaries

Are you a missionary? I am. I’m not always a faithful missionary. I’m not always an effective missionary. But I am a missionary… and so are you. All who follow Christ are given the mission to make disciples as we go along the road of life. Some are sent overseas. Some are sent to unreached places. Some are freed up to do this vocationally. But we’re all sent into the world together as communities of missionaries (John 20:21).

We talk about this often with our church. We try to help everyone embrace their identity as a missionary and a vital member of a missionary community (Life Group). For some, this can seem overwhelming, so I want to offer a few practical ideas that can help us approach everyday life as everyday missionaries.

Be regulars
We’ve seen people become a part of our community through relationships built at stores, gyms, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, parks, hospitals and grocery stores. These relationships rarely develop through a single encounter. They grow over time and with regular interactions. Go to the same places for your regular routines. Go to the same coffee shop regularly and build a relationship with the baristas. Go to the same gym at the same time each week and build relationships. Go to the same library at the same story-time session weekly with your kids, and become a part of that community. Shop at the same grocery store at a regular time and go to the same check out each time. Be intentional about visiting the same places for your weekly activities. Get to know the people, remember their names, ask about their kids and their weeks and follow up next time you see them. Before long, you’ll find out that you’re becoming friends.

Build friendships
New friendships require time together — whether it is with your neighbors, coworkers or other people you have met along the road. Eat meals together, go to parks together, watch sporting games together, do hobbies together — just do something together that allows you to share your life, listen, learn and love. In our culture, people will recognize an agenda-driven, salesman approach to friendship. We must actually love people — whether or not they ever come to believe. When you are genuinely friends with someone, they will trust you and listen to your perspective more readily, and they will more readily share their true reasons for not yet believing.

“Show & Tell” the grace of God
As friendships grow, we must model honesty about our own brokenness. Most people imagine Christians to be either clean and put together or hypocrites, so they feel the need to pretend like they have it together. This proclivity to maintain a façade of righteousness hinders us from proclaiming and celebrating the grace of God. Because of God’s grace in Christ, we can be real about who we are — our struggles, our trials, our failures and our joys. We don’t want to boast in our sin, but we do want to be honest about it so that we can boast in the Cross where we have received grace. As friends begin to let us into their lives, we must show God’s grace to them as we accept them, and we must be bold to share with them the good news of God’s grace in Christ.

Invite friends into your community
Introducing unbelievers to your community of believing friends is one of the most neglected, yet important aspects of introducing people to Jesus. Practically, this is the same as building friendships, but it requires finding ways to build friendships with unbelieving friends and believing friends simultaneously. When people see your individual life and your love, they see one good person. When they meet your believing friends, they will (hopefully) meet a community of grace, a community of honest and broken people, a community of servants and a community that loves God’s truth. They will meet the Body of Christ. Your community displays God to the world because God is in you (i.e. y’all). When broken people are accepted by God’s people, they begin to understand that God will accept them too, because of Jesus. Often people come into a real relationship with God after first coming into a meaningful relationship with His people.

Pray like missionaries
If we are God’s missionaries, then we must pray like missionaries. We must pray for opportunities for ourselves and for one another. We must pray for readiness. We must pray for Spirit-filled love. We must pray for patience. We must pray for wisdom. We must pray for awakening. Unless God graciously acts, we will never see people come to new life in Christ. So, above all, we must pray for God to awaken our friends to the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Apologetics for Everyone

1 Peter 3:14-16 – But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason (Greek: apologian) for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

a•pol•o•get•ics | əˌpäləˈjetiks |

When people think of apologetics, they typically think of some sort of intellectual debate or argument defending the Christian faith against some form of intellectual opposition. Though there are contexts where this type of debating can be helpful, this is not what apologetics was meant to be.

1 Peter 3:15 is the classic text from which the term apologetics comes from. People often take the verse to mean something like, “always be prepared to defend Christianity.” This leads people to spend time learning intellectual rebuttals to intellectual attacks on the faith. The reality is though, that’s not what Peter was talking about. In the context of the letter, Peter is encouraging suffering Christians to live as God’s distinct and holy people. Specifically in chapter 3, he is encouraging these persecuted Christians to have unity, sympathy, love, and humility toward all people; to refrain from retaliation, to love their enemies, to seek peace with all people, all the while looking to Jesus as the supreme example of this type of faithful witness. Peter knows that when the Christian community lives this unique type of life, it will inevitably provoke questions about the source of this unusual and attractive hope.

“How is it that you all can love like you do?” “How can you remain faithful in the face of suffering?” “Why do you serve people who mistreat you?” “Where does your hope come from?” Peter says, when these questions come, be prepared to give a reason (apologia) for the hope that is in you?

Apologetics then, is answering the questions raised by the distinctive lifestyle of our Christian community.

If this is the case, the main question for us as the Christian community is: Are we actually living in a way that would provoke these types of questions? Is our lifestyle distinct from the world’s? Do we love people that are unlovable? Do we serve people who are thankless and unappreciative? Do we have hope in the midst of suffering? Do we give to those in need even when it hurts? And do we do these things in context where this love can be seen and experienced by those who do not know Christ?

In other words, is our Christian community an attractive light in the midst of a broken city? And are we living in a way to make that light visible to the people around us who still live in darkness?

Book Report – What Is the Gospel?


In this two-part post, I’m going to review the excellent book “What Is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert.

Though we are submerged in a culture that is hesitant to communicate convictions with clarity, we as the church are commissioned to call people to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, how many of us Christians are able to clearly articulate what this gospel is?

I had the great privilege of recently reading Greg Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel? (2010 Crossway). If you’ve ever struggled with what the connection is between the gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus himself (Matthew 4:23) and the gospel of Jesus that is typically explained by his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (1 Corinthians 15:3-5), this book wonderfully articulates the links between the two and gives the reader a deeper understanding and appreciation of what the gospel is all about.

Here, I have provided a chapter by chapter summary of Gilbert’s book, but might I recommend that you buy a copy, and then when you’re finished buy more to give to believer and unbeliever alike. We’ll go over the first five chapters today and the last three later this week.

Introduction:

“My sense is that far too many Christians would answer with something far short of what the Bible hold out as ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ.’” p.15

Simply put, Gilbert wonders aloud what contemporary evangelicalism’s grasp on the gospel actually is. He argues (successfully) that the ability to understand and articulate the gospel have severely diminished even within the evangelicalism.

Chapter One: Finding the Gospel in the Bible

“God. Man. Christ. Response.” p.32

Authority for defining what the gospel is can only be found in God’s word, though we can’t just rely on a simple word study of “gospel” to find a thorough explanation of it. New Testament writers may not even mention the word “gospel” in their articulation of it, but it is a prominent thread woven into thoughts and arguments of nearly all of the New Testament’s writings.

Chapter Two: God the Righteous Creator

“No, the Bible tells us that God is good. He knew what was best for his people, and he gave them laws that would preserve and increase their happiness and well-being.” p.42

“A common view of God is that he’s much like an unscrupulous janitor. Instead of really dealing with the world’s dirt—its sin, evil, and wickedness—he simply sweeps it under the rug, ignores it, and hopes no one will notice. In fact, many people cannot conceive of a God who would do anything else. ‘God judge sin?’ they say. ‘Punish me for wickedness? Of course he wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be loving.’” p.43

There are many modern day misconceptions about who God is. He is a Creator, but more importantly, He is our Creator. He made humanity and, therefore, has the authority to dictate how our existence ought to be. Since He is good, He does not just give us arbitrary rules. Regardless, we rebel. God has revealed himself as one who forgives, but He will deal with evil.

Chapter Three: Man the Sinner

“Most people have no problem at all admitting that they’ve committed sins (plural), at least so long as they can think about those sins as isolated little mistakes in an otherwise pretty good life—a parking ticket here or there on an otherwise clean record.”  p.54

Sin is the rejection of God’s rightful rule over humanity. It is something we are guilty of corporately, but also individually, and we will be held accountable. This is scary, because the end result of this is eternal separation from God in a place of conscious torment called Hell. We not only have a tendency to diminish this reality, but also sin itself. The examples of how we mischaracterize sin in this chapter are very helpful.

Chapter Four: Jesus Christ the Savior

Left to ourselves, we would all be a bunch of hell-bound sinners on account of our rejection of God’s rule, BUT God did not leave us there. Instead he sent his Son, Jesus Christ the righteous Davidic King to roll back the effects of the Fall (think miracles) in the inauguration of his Kingdom. However, this alone does not deal with the problem of sin, therefore, on top of being a righteous King, Jesus was also the suffering servant who was slain for our sin (shadowed by the Passover lamb).  Because he suffered in the body as a man, we now have access to God because we have a perfect representative. Not only that, but we have the hope of eternal life because of his vindicating resurrection.

Chapter Five: Response—Faith and Repentance

“Faith is not believing in something you can’t prove, as so many people define it. It is, biblically speaking, reliance. A rock-solid, truth-grounded, promise-founded trust in the risen Jesus to save you from sin.” p.74

“But because we will continue to struggle with sin until we are glorified, we have to remember that genuine repentance is more fundamentally a matter of the heart’s attitude toward sin than it is mere change in behavior. Do we hate sin and war against it, or do we cherish it and defend it?”  p.81

Rather than a belief in something totally devoid of any reality, faith is the ability to trust in the resurrected Jesus to save you from your sin. This is why one is “justified” by faith. In that exchange, belief in the complete work of Jesus and his perfect righteousness is attributed to you if you believe in him. It is righteousness that we couldn’t earn, so it had to be given to us. The other side of the coin is repentance. Repentance involves turning away from sin and turning to God, but in no way means that someone is now without sin. Rather, it is a reassignment of masters. So though we still struggle with sin, there is now a hatred of it and a fight against it. This will result in a life that bears fruit. True salvation cannot be devoid of either of these two things.

Be sure to check back later this week, when we’ll review the chapters that tie it all together. We’ll be looking at the Kingdom, the centrality of the cross, and the gospel’s power.

Established Worth Found in Christ

Previously, I had posted on Aaron’s sermon about the anointing of Jesus by the woman with the alabaster flask in Mark 14:3-9. It is a beautiful passage, and I hope the sermon and blog proved to be profitable for those who listened and read. One thing I had wanted to mention but did not, though, was Jesus’s response to this extravagant worship:

And truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she had done will be told in memory of her.
Mark 14:9

By way of preface, I should note two things: first, this will not be an exegetical study of the above text, and secondly, hardly anything I write below is a thought that is original to me, but comes from having my thoughts formed after hearing many, many sermons.

Ok, that’s out of the way.

The context of this story, if you recall, was in the midst of when Mary was being harangued for her worship. In the midst of such derision, though, Christ affirms the precious nature of this worship, and in so doing, validates her own personhood, for He says, “what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

This is an astonishing statement. The Lord of glory Himself not only took note of Mary’s action, but also affirmed her worth. And that’s what I’d like to focus on here.

One thing you may notice throughout the gospel accounts is that in the midst of preaching to the masses and roaming around the countryside with His band of disciples, Jesus repeatedly takes special time and care to stop and interact with broken, hurting, and curious individuals. Passages throughout the Bible that talk about these stories have grown increasingly precious to me.

Perhaps one of the most striking instances of this is the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well captured for us in John 4:1-45. In it we have the story of Jesus interacting with a racially discriminated against, morally rejected, profoundly confused woman. For Jesus to even speak with a woman (not to mention one of “ill-repute”) in that day would have been scandalous to the utmost! And yet we not only see Him speak to her, but He gives to her the most profound of self-disclosures when, after talking to her about the prophesied Messiah, He says to her, “I who speak to you am he,” (John 4:26).

I would love to mention some more of these stories, but for want of time and space I will forego them here. Rather, I would encourage you to open up to any page of the four gospels and see that there is more than likely a story involving Jesus spending time with an individual.

There is something worth pointing out here, and that is this: people have worth. There is something within a person that the Son of God Himself found so compelling that He took the time to interact with many of them on a one-on-one basis. However, this inherent worth in humanity, I believe, is established in something extraneous to itself.

Perhaps one of the more peculiar yet foundational claims made by the Judeo-Christian worldview is that men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That is to say, humans are created with inherent worth because they are made in the image of someone who is infinitely worthy. This is a compliment that I think far exceeds anything that we could possibly comprehend.

I freely admit that I lack a comprehensive knowledge of all the worldviews that find themselves in stark contradiction to the teachings of the Bible. As for what I do know, though, I believe that the way in which Jesus displays this fundamental truth makes for a profound distinction between Him and all the other leaders and pedagogues of all other major worldviews. From eastern pantheism to western atheism, I have a hard time imagining how any other worldview might argue for something that appears so self-evidently true.

Conclusion

Reasonably, you may well wonder why I bother bringing this up. Good question.

For starters, I think we must know this: that the image that God has stamped upon us has been marred by human sin. In all the honor into which God created us, we have all too readily given it up to go after our own sinful and selfish proclivities.

Secondly, though sin has separated us from God, in a sense it did not separate God from us. This is what I mean, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” (Romans 8:3-4). Know this: Christ Jesus came into the world to save individual sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He came in the very likeness of man and died upon a cross in order to reconcile us to a most worthy, and good, and just, and holy, and loving God! Christ coming in this likeness tore down the veil that separated man from God (Matthew 27:51, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Hebrews 10:19-20).

Third, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is to say, if you are a believer in Christ, not only do you have the compliment of being made in God’s image, but you now have the utter privilege of being redeemed to conform to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Do not let this conformity confuse you, however, for in conformity to this Individual, we gain the truer and better expression of our own individuality.

Fourth, take the time to understand and love the way that Jesus does things. He loved people (John 3:16). He loves you (Ephesians 2:4-5). Rejoice in this love! And now show that love by following the example of Jesus. Understand that there is something very important about the individuals that God has placed in your life, both believing and unbelieving. Do not neglect this truth, for you would do so at your own peril and the peril of others. Like Mary, our response to Jesus, his love, and his salvation in our acts of worship and obedience toward God are precious in the sight of our Savior. As feeble and small as they are, like the destitute widow’s offering (Mark 12:41-44), or the handful of unbelieving individuals that you know, individual acts of obedience make for a powerful and lasting impact that leave impressions even upon Jesus.

Fifthly and lastly, this is how the Kingdom of God is built. It is built upon broken individuals being saved and then put together as wholesome stones into a temple (1 Peter 2:5). Yes, Jesus did speak to the crowds, but I’m sure it was not uncommon for them to leave after hearing His hard words (John 6:66). But in nearly all the examples of Jesus going to an individual, the change is drastic and effectual. Jesus did the hard thing by building His Kingdom from the bottom up, and not from the top down. He loves individuals into His Kingdom. This, again, distinguishes Jesus from all others.

We as the Crossing need to take this same approach. On several occasions I have heard Pastor Aaron say that we are planting a church in the most difficult way possible. That is to say, our “evangelism strategy” is simply to tell the church to love their neighbors, coworkers, and friends, to pray for them often and earnestly, and share the gospel in deed and truth (1 John 3:18), hoping that their hearts would be softened and they would come to know God in Christ.

Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to do it.