Tag Archives: evangelism

Most Owned, Least Read

Annually, bibles sales account for over $1,000,000,000.00. Yet also annually, only about 20% of the population say they read their bible regularly. The Bible is the most widely owned, least read book in history.

Why is this?

Every week, church people gather to worship and hear a message from the Bible. The more devout followers also attend bible class and/or small groups one to three other times during the week. Yet, for even these, the Bible isn’t read until they are in those study settings.

Again, I ask, why?

The Bible is an intimidating book. 66 books written over two-thousand years ago at the latest, and some of them nearly 3500 years ago. Yet for 35 different authors over the course of nearly 1500 years to write a book that contains a single thread bringing hope to generations is a miracle!

The Bible contains many teachings that are hard to understand. Does anyone really know for certain what Revelation is about, in detail? There are so many religions claiming the Bible as their book, yet they differ dramatically in their practices. How can a simple person understand it? Why even try? Isn’t it easier to trust that what my preacher/teacher says is reliable?

That’s awfully trusting of you!

For years I have wondered what it would be like to preach a sermon from the pulpit and completely make up all the scripture references and tell a message that gets close to but doesn’t match up with what is really in the Bible. I’d have the fake verses on the screen. No one opens their bibles during that time anyway. How many people would even notice I’d be lying? You wouldn’t notice, unless you already knew the book.

Preachers and teachers, even the most sincere ones, are fallible humans, just like you. They make mistakes, just like you. They have limited understanding, just like you. And they can’t read minds, just like you, so they do not know how a particular passage of scripture directly applies to you, personally.

Instead of waiting for the preachers to preach and teachers to teach, what if we read the Bible for ourselves? Then, when we engaged the preachers and teachers, what if we had questions about what we were already studying? What if our study led us to feel more confident in sharing God’s truths with others? What if studying the Bible daily created transformation inside us that others could see? What if we found greater contentment and joy through the perspective given us through the scriptures daily?

If we didn’t look to the Bible for guidance and a moral foundation in our lives, then how would we be different than the atheist who claims no moral truths? We could make up whatever we felt was right, and many religious people do just that.

No! We need the Bible to show us the path God intends us to walk. We need the Bible to help us connect with the God who loves us and gave Himself for us. We need the Bible to combat the temptations of the evil one. We need the Bible.

But we cant get to the truths of the Bible through osmosis. The words of scripture won’t dissolve through the cover and enter our bloodstream to fill our minds with goodness. We have to open the covers and read for ourselves, or listen (there are many, free audio versions of the Bible even for your phone).

Do you know what’s in there? Do you REALLY know? It’s time to start your journey into the text today. Most translations are written on a 6th grade reading level. If you find something you don’t understand, then connect with a spiritually mature person who can help you. Be transformed by the word so that you can be used to transform the world.

Advertisements

The Twelve Steps

In my last article I wrote about the five keys to maturity as Christians, and in that article I mentioned the similarity between the way the church should function and the way groups like Alcoholics Anonymous DO function. The camaraderie and accountability of those groups keep people on the path to sobriety. The life of the Christian should be filled with others who are helping them along on the path to sinlessness as well, but we have become so politically correct and afraid of rejection, we refrain from speaking into the lives of even those closest to us to hold one another accountable.

If you’re like me, there are many things in your life you’d like to change, not the least of which are sins you habitually commit. We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups. So how do we overcome these problems in our lives as believers in Jesus? For those attending AA to achieve sobriety, there are twelve steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understoodHim.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These steps have been proven to be effective to help people recover from alcohol addiction, and there are similar steps to groups like Narcotics Anonymous and others.

What if there were twelve steps to Christian living? What would they look like? My friend, Roy Rhodes, came up with these:

1. We came to believe that we were powerless in our sin, and that life was outside of our control.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than us was in control and could restore us.

3. We made a decision to give our will and lives over to the care of Jesus Christ, who offers sanctuary and salvation.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. We confessed to ourselves, to God and to another human being the nature of our sin.

6. We were entirely ready to surrender our sins to God.

7. We humbly asked God to remove our sins and shortcomings and restore us as bearers of His Image and Spirit.

8. We made a list of all persons that we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to examine the self, and when we are wrong, prompty confessing and setting things right.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to remain rooted in God, our strength and deliverance.

12. Having given our lives to God and experienced his healing in our lives, we try to carry the message of the Gospel to others and live these principles out in all aspect of our lives.

Steps 1-3 are similar to much of the language in churches today about how to come to know Jesus and find salvation. Step three is where we find baptism as a way to connect to the cross and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6). Step 12 is the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). But what about the other 8 steps?

Sometimes we wonder why there isn’t more growth in the church (because people aren’t living step 12), and I would suggest it may be because steps 4-11 aren’t being done daily in the lives of Christians to even get to step 12.

We may even do step 7, but often we don’t do the other steps surrounding that one to actually achieve success in quitting a particular sin. Steps like numbers 4, 5, 8, and 9 are uncomfortable and awkward. If we actually had to confess to someone else, they may betray us. If we seek amends with those we’ve hurt, they may reject our efforts. So we don’t try. We give up before we begin.

The five keys to being a mature Christian are these: Attend the meetings, get a mentor/partner/confidant, read the Book, works the steps, and tell others. The twelve steps to key number 4 are something like these above. If you want to see success in your life in Christ, you’ll work these as diligently as an alcoholic trying to overcome addiction, because you and I are addicted to sin, and we need to overcome our addiction too.


R.E.M. Was Right

“It’s the end of the world a we know it…” But I don’t feel fine.

Our world seems to be crumbling all around us. Media shows us atrocities daily stemming from numerous causes. As we watch these things happen, and experience these horrors either firsthand, or through a loved one, we can’t help but feel somewhat hopeless.

But why are all these things happening?

Some want to blame this, that, and the other. Others want to avoid the question altogether. But few are really speaking into the reason for the tragedies we are witnessing daily.

Our world wants nothing to do with God and the hope He offers.

FORGETTING THE PAST

60 years ago, Christianity was thriving. Churches were growing, but it was the beginning of the era of decline for the church. As people began experimenting with the New Age movement during the Hippy Era, and some traded religion for science, skepticism set into our culture, and the church did nothing.

It was easy for the church to do so. She had been the primary influencer in nearly all of society for ages. This understanding allowed people to believe that culture would convert their friends and family. In the USA, Christianity had been a primary influence even in government.

So, when times changed, instead of renewing the vigor for evangelism, the church simply watched. It wasn’t everyone in the church, but it was the majority, and that was enough to begin the decline.

IGNORING THE PROBLEM

Instead of reaching out to the lost with love and grace, the church fought against one another, striving to declare each sect the “right” sect – forgetting that sectarianism (division) is expressly condemned by the scriptures. The church was busy blaming one another as the masses began to leave. Fed up with the hypocrisy of “I’m right, and you’re wrong”, the world turned against the church. And, in turn, it turned against God.

However, instead of identifying the lack of God and His principles in society, everyone continued to blame one another or blame things. We blame God, Satan, video games, guns, science, illegal immigrants, other denominations, other religions, other races, politicians, and many more. The list goes on and on. But we don’t blame free will. We don’t dare take any of the responsibility, either. That would mean we would have to change – if we were the problem.

In the age of the apathy of the church, she began to atrophy.

No longer is the average Christian evangelistic. This has been the case for a long while. Shortly after the church was established, the church allowed the government to be the great evangelist through a partnership of the church with the state. As time went by, we assumed people inherently believed in God because of the cultural influence of the church, so we waited for the preachers to do the evangelism. All the while, we got fat with teaching from those same preachers.

When you eat and eat and eat, but you never exercise, you become fat through your laziness. This is the nature of the church. She, her members, want the preachers to preach and teach and evangelize; all the while the masses in her ranks can feel comfort and connection with God through education and emotional experiences once a week (three times if you’re “devout”). Where is all the action of the church like we read about in the book of Acts?!

FACING THE FUTURE

If the church (THAT MEANS YOU) doesn’t return to her calling according to Jesus in the scriptures, she will die. Sure, God can keep a remnant, like He has done for thousands of years, but should we really hope for that?

Shouldn’t we rather get out of our doors? Shouldn’t we discover how to use this wealth of knowledge that is imparted to us every week? Shouldn’t we return to the mission of the first church – the Kingdom of God and it’s expansion through love?

How many people have you brought to Christ? I’m not talking about inviting people to church. I’m talking about actually sharing the good news of Jesus with someone.

SEEKING HELP

You know what? If you went to your preacher, or some other evangelistic leader in your church, and asked them how to share the gospel with your friends, I think you would find them more than willing to spend one-on-one time training you in the ways of evangelism. But that’s going to require you to do uncomfortable things and spend valuable time on others. Is that any less than what Jesus has already done for you?

Do you want to change the direction of this world? This change begins with you finding one person who is willing to listen to how love, through Christ, can change their heart.

Immorality is a choice made from free-will. It is sin. It is not the will of God, and it doesn’t have to rule us or our friends. But until someone is given the choice, how can they begin anew?

Romans 10:14-15
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Discipleship Marathon

I hate running.

Even as I type those words, I’m not sure they’re strong enough to express the emotions I associate with that self-inflicted “sport” (read: torture).

Yet, I know that running is good for me.

So, in order for me to run – to do that which is good for me – I need motivation. For some people, good health is motivation enough, but I’m too stubborn for logic. I love to eat sumptuous food, and I love to be busy with other things, and I love to be comfortable. None of that will help me achieve the healthy body I need for high quality of life. So I need motivation.

When I have a goal set before me, I run. I’ve done a marathon, a Tough Mudder, and numerous other runs including, most recently, a long journey through the Grand Canyon. I trained for each of these events, and the training served me well each time. The upcoming events motivated me to do that which was uncomfortable in order to achieve success in an endeavor I had yet not attempted.

But when the race or hike or journey was over, I went back to laziness. Because it’s easier.

We all have areas in our lives where laziness, a lack of motivation, keeps us from training for upcoming journeys, whether physical or mental.

So many Christians live lazy Christian lives. There is little knowledge of the book they claim to live by. They aren’t exercising their evangelistic muscles. Their faith is weakened by their trust in their finances. It seems there is no motivation to step out and do the uncomfortable to achieve a greater reward.

In our grace-desiring Christian culture, we want God to give us grace, and we relish in that grace, so we reason that the grace we’ve been given entitles us to a lackadaisical approach to our Christian lives. Grace is good, but we are called to not only receive grace but also train ourselves to live “worthy of our calling” (Ephesians 4:1-2). We are called to continually train in the ways of Jesus to achieve the prize of salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14).

Does this mean we don’t have salvation if we aren’t working? We like to say we don’t earn our salvation by what we do, but James, the brother of Jesus, tries to clarify that concept. He expresses, in his treatise on faith, that it is impossible to have faith without deeds (James 2:14-19). Faith without action is dead (James 2:17).

We are called to train daily. It’s like living in an apprenticeship. We are trying to be like our Rabbi, Jesus. We can’t do that on our couches and hidden away in our church buildings. We can’t do that in ignorance of the scriptures and without talking to the Father. We can’t do that alone.

So we need to fellowship with the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25). We call that “going to church”. Yes, it’s required.

We need to study the word of God, for that is where we will learn who God is and how we should live as His children (Matthew 22:31; 2 Timothy 3:16). That requires reading.

We need to tell others about the goodness of Jesus and the Kingdom of God the way Jesus did (Matthew 28:18-20). That requires engagement. Introversion is not an excuse.

We need to spend time with the Father the way Jesus did (John 5:19; 10:30; 15:5). Prayer is essential.

We need to give generously, trusting in the Father for sustenance (Mark 12:44). He wants to provide more, the more we trust Him.

So will you train? It will mean reading. It will mean time spent. It will mean giving financially in order to learn faith in the Father. It will mean uncomfortable situations and conversations. This is discipleship. It’s what you signed up for when you were baptized. Are you in? The prize is much bigger than a medal at the end of a marathon – it’s eternal life.


Arrogance Perpetuates Ignorance

When I first became passionate about sharing my faith with others, I had a prepared presentation I would give anyone who would listen. If you were with me for more than a couple minutes, I was asking you questions to try and spark an opportunity to share the good news of Jesu with you. 

This zeal was fun, but it wasn’t balanced with humility. 

I had God’s plan of salvation, and I was certain it was the only way. I had it figured out, and there was nothing more to know concerning salvation. Because of this attitude I often became harsh, judgmental, and sometimes even angry when people challenged my ideals. 

Boy, did I have a lot to learn!

I still agree with much of what I tried to cram down people’s throats back then, but now I have a much more full view of the gospel message. The significance of Jesus is deeper than I knew in my early 20s. Baptism is so much more than a momentary ritual. Salvation means so much more than forgiveness of sins.

I now realize that to claim that I have full knowledge regarding Jesus and religion is arrogance that blinds me to further truth. 

I believe many of the things I did when I started into ministry, but if I had stopped my studies then, I wouldn’t understand grace and live the way I do now. I would have more experience, but I would be just as ignorant.

To know Jesus, and to walk in Him is to live a life of growth, learning more every day of the goodness that comes from life in Him. We should be ever striving to better ourselves through a more intimate relationship with the Father. We should be hungry for His words to help us know Him more and help us change to become more like Jesus. 

When I settle in my arrogance to think I know it all, I put myself above my brother. Pride brings about destruction. Many places in the scripture speak of this. The word is living and active. As I grow as a man, it shows me new things concerning my life and ministry. 

I hope to continually grow in my knowledge of the goodness of God, His grace and love. I pray you hunger for the same kind of growth. May we never become conceited, thinking we know all we need. May we never become arrogant, looking down on a brother who understands differently than us. May we choose love and grace over division based on understanding. 

May we be defined by our oneness in Christ as we seek to be more like Him every day. 


The Church Needs You

Recently, a friend told me he has trouble with the concept of giving in the traditional sense to the church because it feels like he’s just contributing to a black hole. There’s no understanding of where the money is going or what it’s used for other than paying the preacher and keeping the lights on.

I really understand the sentiment.  I’ve heard this from more than one person in my time as a minister. But is it right? Should our desire to give be controlled by our understanding of the inner workings of the ministry?

The generation that I am a part of doesn’t understand generosity in the same way that generations before do.

Prior generations gave, and still give, out of a sense of ownership and belonging to the movement or organization.  It gives out of a sense of duty and obedience. More recent generations give because of compassion and a desire to help the individual or cause. The difference seems to be that the former generations still give out of a desire to help and compassion without neglecting to maintain their gift to the broader organization.

When someone tells me that they don’t feel comfortable giving because of this or that reason I get this awkward sense inside – like something is missing in their statement. This morning I figured out why this statement doesn’t set well with me.

First, giving isn’t for me. It isn’t so that I can feel better about myself. It isn’t so that I can be comfortable.  Giving is a discipline of sacrifice to help me learn that life is about others.  It is a discipline that teaches me trust of God and not of my finances. Giving is a way of participating in the kingdom of which we are supposed to be seeking first.

When I understand giving in this way I can be more free to give. I can see what I need to learn about the discipline of giving. If I am living the selfless life Jesus prescribes, then there won’t be excuses of “I don’t feel comfortable”. There won’t be loopholes of “I can’t afford it”. Remember the examples used in the New Testament about giving: the widow (Mark 12 and Luke 21) and the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8) and the church at the beginning (Acts 2:44-47).

Second, giving isn’t done out of understanding but out of faith. To say you don’t give because you don’t know where the money is being used is not faith in the leadership God has placed in the church you attend. In the same line of thought, it follows that it is not trust in God to not trust in your leaders. Yes, sometimes people who are in leadership prove themselves untrustworthy.  That is why the scripture calls for a plurality of leadership.

If a leadership squanders the money you have given to the Lord, will you fail to receive your reward for your generous heart?

In most cases, however, the church leadership diligently seeks to use the generous donations of he congregation wisely. But even so, many people refrain from giving and cripple the work of the local congregation.

You are called to be generous with your finances for the work of God in His Kingdom. When God called Abraham he didn’t give him an itenerary. When the first century church gave they didn’t need a financial breakdown or tax deductible receipt. When you give, you are giving out of gratitude to God.

So, consider the work at your local congregation. What would happen if you and your friends gave 10%? What if you gave more? If you’re in a church like the one where I serve, the run down building could be fixed or expanded. More staff could be supported as missionaries to the local demographic. More local ministries could be funded to help the hurting. More evangelism could be done through more and varied means. More foreign missions could be supported. The church could grow in new and exciting ways!

So give to God and his church. Give to the homeless man on the corner. Give to the missionary. Do each of these things simultaneously, but don’t neglect the church. She needs the generosity of her members to be healthy.


Modern Day Sanhedrin

IMG_1677

Have you ever heard of Passion Play Ministries International? It is an organization that tells the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus to thousands of people in many nations and cities in the US and around the world through a live-action drama. The play is a large production with hundreds of people in the cast and part of the crew. The headquarters for this ministry is in Farmington, NM of all places. Yet, with such a humble headquarters location they are doing great ministry in spreading the gospel of Jesus around the world.

I was privileged to get involved with the Passion Play of the Four Corners last year for the first time. My wife saw an ad somewhere stating that they needed singers, and that is something I love to do, so I decided to join. I was part of the choir last year and sang in the opening song as a trio with a couple other ladies. I was also the host pastor for a night where I got to lead the opening prayer and then invite people to respond to the gospel message at the end.

It was an amazing experience, and I can truly say they are changing lives – not only lives in the audience, but even lives within the cast and crew itself.

This year I went back to audition, and I was told that the choir was going to be practicing on Tuesday evenings. Well, I am solidly booked on Tuesdays with my position as den leader for the local cub scout pack, so I decided to do some reading and see if God wanted to use me for a speaking part this year. Apparently He does. I was told that night I was to report to the Sanhedrin block when rehearsals began.

The Sanhedrin? I was to be one of the bad guys who connived to have Jesus crucified. These were the legalists that had missed the heart of the message of the Messiah and therefore missed Him when He came to them.

Oh well, if that was where God wanted me to be then so be it. I began to read, and after a few nights the director of the Sanhedrin block of the cast informed me that he wanted me to play the part of Caiaphas. Really? Not only was I going to be a bad guy, but I was to be the worst one – the High Priest!!

As I have been learning my lines and preparing for my role it has really weighed on my heart the severity of the role I must play. I have to be angry at Him. I have to accuse Him. I have to reject Him. I have to be all the things I preach against each week as I minister. Sure, this is only a play, but the weight of the things, I must sa,y hang no less heavily on my heart.

The one idea that keeps coming back to me, though, is this: The religious leaders of the day – the Sanhedrin – rejected Jesus and everything He stood for because they didn’t understand Him, and they were threatened by His doctrine as they saw it required a change in their way of life and livelihood.

Don’t we do the same thing?

Don’t we reject Jesus as we decide day after day to give in to our selfishness instead of allowing Jesus to reign in our lives and call the shots? Don’t we ignore Jesus as we get caught up in our lives or even worse, our religion? Don’t we reject Him as we feel that following Him would require a change of lifestyle that will threaten our comfort on every level, even fincially? Are we not just as guilty as the Sanhedrin?

When Peter preached the first sermon about Jesus in Acts 2, he finished by saying, “You, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross…God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:23,36)

That verse is for us too. We crucify Jesus when we put our selfish desires above His. What does Jesus require in response? Repentance and Baptism (Acts 2:38). When you understand what you’ve done and keep on doing to Jesus it should bring about remorse that leads to repentance. When you see what He has done for you by willingly dying for you in spite of your rejection it should inspire a desire for allegiance to Him that leads you to baptism.

Don’t stay like the Sanhedrin. News is that even Caiapha, after the resurrection, became a follower of Jesus. It’s not too late for you to follow Him either.

If you would like to know more about Passion Play Ministries International you can find them on the web at www.passion-play.org.


%d bloggers like this: