How To Do Evangelism Without Doing Evangelism

How To Do Evangelism Without Doing Evangelism

For many Christians, being a full-on Jesus freak like me doesn’t come naturally. For many reasons I’m kind of obsessed with this whole God thing, and I can’t help thinking about him all the time and about how he is related to everything, literally. You might think this would make me, as “they” say, so heavenly minded I’m no earthly good, but it would in fact be just the opposite. I’m so heavenly minded that I am able to be of some earthly good. When we live life in light of eternity, knowing this life is not all there is, that this life is in fact just the beginning of our forever life with our Creator, then our lives can be lived as he intended for them to be lived. As Jesus said:

 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The Greek for “to the full” means all-around, “more than” (“abundantly”); beyond what is anticipated, exceeding expectation; “more abundant,” going past the expected limit (“more than enough . . . “). That is the life Jesus, God himself in Christ, wants for us. And it is only in him, and in the gospel, the good news he came to bring us in his death and resurrection, that such a life “to the full” is possible. Sure, anyone can live a passably fine life without him, on the surface, but a kind of amazing fulfillment and joy about just being alive to everything can only be found in Him. Even as incredibly challenging and frustrating and disappointing, and sometimes downright terrible as life can be, in Him, in Christ Jesus, life is incredible often beyond the ability to convey. As is my habit of not getting right to the point, you must be wondering what this has to do with doing evangelism without doing evangelism. Well, hold your horses, and I’ll tell you!

While I am not an evangelist by trade (Ephesians 4:11), one who is called by profession to proclaim the good news of the gospel, I can’t seem to help wanting to talk about this good news all the time. What separates me from what I think many tend to think of when they see or hear the word evangelism, is that my sharing the good news is not restricted to a certain set of propositions about how we are to be saved from our sin. We might think of these propositions as the core of the gospel out of which radiates our perspective on all things, and that core is our reconciliation to our Creator.

It is quite obvious we are born fallen, or in theological terms, in original sin, which is alienation or estrangement from our Creator. In biblical terms, we are enemies of God, by nature openly hostile to and animated by a deep-seated hatred for him. Most Christians, let alone non-Christians, don’t realize the depth of this alienation. We tend to see sin as something akin to jay walking, when in fact it is more like genocide, an almost infinite difference. That’s why the gospel is so profound. As the Apostle Paul puts it:

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Again, what has this to do with doing evangelism without doing evangelism? Everything. When we get this, I mean really get it, we can’t help it affecting how we see everything, how we encounter and engage and feel about everything. C.S. Lewis, as he always seemed to do, captured this wonderfully:

 I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

And Lewis was an ex-atheist, which in his 30s he realized explained absolutely nothing about reality, while Christianity explained everything. We call that serious explanatory power!

Christianity, which is the gospel, which is our reconciliation to our Creator, affects how we define and experience every single thing every single moment of every single day of our lives. It gives definition and meaning to all things. It allows us to understand the puzzle pieces that fit into the puzzle of existence. In philosophical terms, puzzle pieces are the particulars (each fact or experience of existence), and they can only make sense because they are part of the universal, the big picture, which is God himself in Christ. How does this comprehensive understanding of existence in Christ help us do evangelism without doing evangelism?

Every person we encounter every day is looking for meaning in their lives. They are looking for hope, purpose, dignity, fulfillment, significance, accptance, love, you name it, none of which can be had in the particulars, in the puzzle pieces by themselves. But oh how people try! We need to understand this, to really buy it, because it is true! Why do you think in the most prosperous periord in the history of the world there are so many suffering from depression and anxiety, frustration and despair? Something like 40,000 people every year in America kill themselves! How pathetic and sad is that. And we have the answer! The gospel! Not the four spiritual laws, or the Romans Road, as helpful as such things can be, but in Christ, and in reconciliation to our Creator in him!

What this means is that everything in some way, some how, comes back to the gospel. It comes back to the Creator of all things who has revealed himself in his creation, in Scripture, our Bibles, and in Christ. So, we can speak this to those we encounter without being obnoxious, or “religious.” We can proclaim the hope, meaning, purpose, love, all of which comes from the reconciliation to our Creator in the one who reconciled us and all things to himself on a Roman cross and came back from the dead to prove it was all true. This is what people are looking for! They just don’t know it yet. We never have to say another person has to believe all this, only that we do, and it just happens to be the truth! Far from being obnoxious or annoying, this makes us winsome and attractive to people who are likely dying in a desert of existence and don’t know they’re really looking for an oasis of water named Jesus!

Another School Shooting: How Do We Respond	?

Another School Shooting: How Do We Respond ?

I’ll confess I’ve become numb to these horrific events. It’s hard for normal people to wrap their minds around such grotesque evil. Yet, we cannot allow numbness to dull our response to evil, wherever it may rear its ugly head, no matter how small or large. The question is what our response ought to be. Jesus had a counter intuitive response, as he normally did to everything, when unexplainable evil happened to people: repent. It seems callous at first glance, until we realize that it is the only actual logical response to such suffering. In Luke 13 Jesus tells us how we ought to think of such senseless slaughter:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Repent or perish is the logical response? What exactly is Jesus saying? We’ll often hear people say that someone’s death, let alone 19 children and two of their teachers, is a tragedy. For their loved ones and friends, it is an unspeakable tragedy. Only those who know of such sorrow can understand the pain of it, but it cannot end there. Jesus’ point isn’t that if we repent, somehow, we’ll escape death, gruesome or otherwise. No, rather it is that this life isn’t the end, isn’t all there is. Every time we see or experience death firsthand not our own, we ought to contemplate the eternal nature of our soul. Are we right with our Creator? Have we accepted the free gift of grace in Christ, a righteousness from God by faith, that we might be reconciled to him, and live life eternal with him?

Sadly, most people will not react this way because they have bought the lies of secularism that this life is what counts, and what we do and get here is what matters most. Only, it doesn’t. This life is a mist and will be over in mere moments, then what? Such an eternal perspective on things doesn’t make us indifferent to things of this world, however. It should make us more determined to see the Lord’s prayer, Thy kingdom come, become more of a reality in this fallen and often dark world. It was this mentality of the first generations of Christians that turned the pagan world, a world Thomas Hobbes described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” into the modern world that is far less so. I heard a statement this week that captures the futility of secularism, and its discontents: You can’t fill a God-sized hole with a government peg.

Yet Democrats, progressives and leftists, all have the same response to such horrors as school shootings: It’s the guns! Get rid of guns, and like magic, school shootings will cease. The moral inanity of such declarations is not worth addressing, if it were not such a pestilence on modern society. Guns, of course, do not kill people, but evil people use guns to kill. If we could find some way to rid America of the three hundred plus million guns in circulation, evil people would find other and more creative ways to kill. Contrary to Rousseau, who asserted that men are born free but are everywhere in chains, men are born in chains and are only set free by an inner spiritual transformation of the heart. Ultimately, only God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit can truly transform sinners into saints. I heard about this statement this week, and I thought it captured well the spiritual malaise of so many in modern secular society:

Walsh added, “There is a terrible spiritual sickness permeating our society. Evil has a deep foothold here. We scratch at the surface of the problem but never look below.”

These are terribly complicated problems, but they have very simple explanations. It of course goes back to the fall, and man ever since succumbing to the temptation that he can “be like God, knowing good and evil.” When man tries to be God, it doesn’t work out well. The most obvious explanation at this end of history is a rampant fundamentalist secularism. Western intellectual and cultural elites had been trying since the 18th century to rid western civilization of God, and in the 20th century they realized their objective. In America, that was fulfilled by the mantra of the “separation of church and state,” a dogma used to actually separate God and state. But it wasn’t enough for these elites to get God out of government; he needed to be out of every square inch of American culture as well. They were fine as long as “religion” was a personal thing, but bring it into the public square, and the next thing you know there will be a bunch of little Torquemadas on the loose burning heretics at the stake.

Contrary to the rabid secularists, though, America was founded if not as a “Christian nation,” then as a nation deeply influenced at every level by Christianity and Christians. In the famous words of the not terribly religious John Adams:

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

And the religion Adams was speaking of? Christianity. If America is not to turn into a police state, or a state of anarchy, it will only be Christianity that can save it.

 

 

The Omnipotence of Love Part 3

The Omnipotence of Love Part 3

I quoted Jesus in my last post saying, if we’re to follow him we must take up our cross daily and follow him. That daily part tells us loving others is an ever-present challenge that requires a continual dying to ourselves. As I shared in the first post, I learned a phrase when I was introduced to Reformed theology in my mid-20s that “love is efficacious.” That, to me, is the essence of love being omnipotent: it works, and it can’t help but working with everything it encounters. It accomplishes something, and something that is beautiful and beneficial to both the lover and the loved. That is also why it is the hardest thing in the Christian life to do because it goes so against the grain of incurvatus in se, of who we are as sinners; we are beings who are curved in on ourselves. The self-obsession is who we are by sinful nature. The paradox is that the cross is the greatest enemy of the self, but also its liberator. When the self is the driving force of our lives, it is the means to the death of the true self, us as we were meant to be as God’s most magnificent creation. When we understand the sin principle in our life, that which seeks our fulfillment above all things, we will understand why it must be committed to the cross.

These are all nice sounding words, but somewhat abstract. What exactly does it mean in practice? First, I will establish that there is nothing more important than love in the Christian life. Jesus, when he was asked by an expert in the law (Matt. 22), “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” he answered with these words:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The profundity of these words could not be overestimated. Jesus is saying love is the whole deal; it’s all about love! We can boil the entirety of God’s revelation in Scripture to these words, love God with everything that you are, and your neighbor as yourself. The last time I read through the New Testament epistles, I was struck by just this, that love is the essence of the Christian ethic. This is, of course, impossible, but as Jesus also said, with God all things are possible. The reason it is possible, that it is doable to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors, is because God first loved us in Christ. He didn’t demand of us, or command of us, something he wasn’t willing and in fact did himself do for us. Jesus said love your enemies, and even while we were his enemies, he loved us!

Love in practice is revealed to us all throughout Scripture if we know how to look, but God in condescending to us as he always does, boiled love down for us through the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13. Paul tells us we can do all kinds of amazing things, good things, religious things, spiritual things, but if we don’t have love, we’re just noise. Then he goes into the impossible possible description of what love is:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And to top off the apparently impossible, he ends with a statement that perfectly captures the omnipotence of love: “Love never fails.” Never. But we might reasonably reply that we’ve tried to love others, and it most definitely failed. Did we really? Are we sure of it? If we read these few verses of Paul, did we really love with this kind of other worldly love? It’s almost an impossible question to answer because doing these things is humanly speaking absolutely impossible. Keep no record of wrongs? Seriously? How exactly does that work? Do we lose our memory? No, but it is possible because God keeps no record of our wrongs, so we are compelled to keep no record of the wrongs done to us. This doesn’t mean we are stupid toward others who do wrong to us. True love is not naïve or gullible, nor is it easily taken advantage of. This requires a common biblical theme, wisdom. The Greek word for wisdom means clarity, the ability to see things as they are. The beautiful thing about Christianity is that there is no rule book, just do x and y will result. It’s much harder than that, and requires faith, which means trust in the God of love to help teach us how to love others.

I could write many more posts on the most important topic of living the Christian life, but next time you read through the letters of the New Testament, notice how the exhortation to love is everywhere. In all of the New Testament, the word love and its variations is used 261 times. That’s a lot of love! I’ll end with a verse that says it all, I Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” God loved us so much he gave his life for us in Christ, covering over the multitude of our sins, so we can realistically love others.

 

The Omnipotence of Love Part 3

The Omnipotence of Love Part 2

ineIn my first post on the nature of love that is all powerful, I briefly touched on the phrase that God’s love is efficacious, meaning it is effective to the end for which it is intended. In a term that goes back to the hippy drug days of the 1970s, this is heavy, extremely, insanely heavy! It is difficult for us to divorce ourselves from the modern conception of equating love with romance, with which love has very little to do. The problem with romance, other than it’s a wonderfully delightful human experience, while it lasts, is that it confuses love with emotion, as if love has to do with how we feel. This isn’t to say that love has nothing to do with feelings, only that love isn’t driven by feelings. True love, rather, is a commitment to the welfare of the other regardless of our feelings, and then in due course when faithfully rendered, results in a mutual affection of the one who loves and the beloved. That is how it reveals its omnipotent reality. We go from reluctant lovers, to those who love because we truly want to love the other person. That is Miraculous!

This kind of love’s enemy is the self, which looks for its own aggrandizement and to its feelings. To counter the unhealthy self-centered sinful self, Jesus said if we’re to follow him we must take up our cross daily and follow him. It is impossible living in light of 2,000 years of Christian history to understand how absurd, and offensive, this would have sounded to the people who first heard Jesus say it. The cross? You can imagine them thinking, what could a bloody horrible instrument of torture and death have to do with following him? It so happens everything. The only thing that could defeat death was the sacrifice of God himself in the person of Christ, thus showing us it is the principle of sacrifice that allows us to defeat the consequences of death in our fallen world. Jesus tells us this in John 12 when he is predicting his death:

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

Jesus was giving us the secret of true life when he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The thief, who is the devil, works continuously to get us to believe that getting what we want is the secret to happiness, only it isn’t. I’ve learned through trial and much error as I’ve grown older, I have no idea what I want, only what I think I want; big difference. The more important question is what do I need, and only God knows that. I learned this definitively in the fifth decade of my life when I was praying through some trying circumstances, and I would pray, “Lord, it would be ideal if . . .” One day it struck me like thunder right above my head, “How in the hell would you know what ideal is, you moron!” How stupid could I be for so long? I’ve learned being stupid comes naturally to self-centered sinners, which is why God is slowly, but surely sanctifying us, to make us less so. That prayer now had changed to, “Lord, it think it would be nice if such and so happened, but Thy will be done.” That says, I trust you, not me; you know all things, I know nothing (Rom. 8:28, all things).

So, what has this to do with love? I asked that same question in my last post as I seemed to be going off track, but I wasn’t. The essence of love is sacrifice, which is why it is the hardest thing to do in the Christian life. I learned a lesson on how stupid I was back when I was 28 years old that began, and only began, to teach me the lesson of sacrifice. I worked with a woman who just rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t the first time I worked for or with a woman who annoyed me, and I asked God, “Why do you put me in situations with people who are so annoying?” He replied, almost audibly, “To teach you to love them, you moron!” Oh, how I did not want to hear that! That means it’s not all about me? And what I want? Nope. Again, I could almost hear him say, “You have no idea what you want, only what you think you want. I know what you need. And you need annoying people in your life to teach you how to love them!”

So, when God blessed us with children, and they would come to me complaining about people at school or work or what have you, I would ask them: Why do you think this person is in your life? And they hated my answer: To teach you to learn how to love them! They didn’t want to hear that any more than I did. I’ve said that to others who are friends and family over the years, and the response is always the same. Ugh! In the second the Elisabeth Elliott podcasts I linked to in my previous post, she tells a story of a woman who had a horrible marriage. She asked the woman if she thought her husband was her enemy, and the women said yes. Then Elliott said, you know what Jesus says about loving your enemies, right? Ugh! If you listen to that story, you’ll catch something of what the phrase, the omnipotence of love, means; how love rooted in Christ and his sacrifice for us, as we practice it toward others, is inevitably efficacious.

On to part 3.

The Omnipotence of Love Part 3

The Omnipotence of Love Part 1

This is my first blog post on my new website! It is a blessing to have a website built by a professional, and a blessing I could afford it. Thank you, Kate, of CheekySkirt Media! And thank you God! Now back to business.

I had never heard the phrase the omnipotence of love before, until I saw a talk at The Elisabeth Elliot Podcast (and here is part 2). As soon as my eyes came upon those words, I thought it was brilliant! First, in case you have not heard of or are familiar with who Elisabeth Elliot is, she and her husband, Jim, were missionaries in Ecuador in the 1950s where he was killed by natives. The story was made famous by her book about their lives together called, Through The Gates of Splendor. I learned about it when I became a Christian in college, and it scared me because I always thought God wanted me to be a missionary in some remote jungle, and I didn’t want to do that! But Jim had a saying I learned back then I have never forgotten: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Indeed! I found out as my Christian life went on, I did become a missionary, but in the metaphorical jungles of our fallen world.

As I write these words, I just finished listening to part two of her talk, and she shares a miraculous story of a woman who learns to love her unlovable husband . However, it is miraculous in a way you and I do not normally understand that word. As I’ll try to explain, that makes it even more miraculous. We tend to see miracles as those happenings that transcend human experience or effort, and those of course do exist. They happened in the Bible, and they happen now, although our perspective on miracles is far too narrow and truncated. The reason is that we live by sight not by faith, and this is especially pernicious in the tyrannical secular culture of the modern world. We’ve been indoctrinated into thinking there is such a thing as the “natural” world, which is the material world we see in some way existing apart from God. Of course, we would never say that, or even think it, but it does affect how we see things.

I learned this when I came across a statement from C.S. Lewis that humbled me. He has a habit of doing that to me because he makes things obvious that I am too slow to have figured out on my own. He said that all births are every bit as miraculous as Mary’s virgin birth. Duh! Although when our daughter, our first, was born I cried out, There is a God! Somehow it was still “natural” to me. You know, I figured out how babies are made, and somehow found a woman who would marry me and cooperate, and boom, there’s a baby! But how is that not utterly miraculous! A seed we call a sperm comes out of one body, goes into another and among millions of them one gets attached to what is called an egg in another person, and whadday know, a baby pops out! It’s just “natural,” don’t ya know. Breathing is a miracle, seeing is a miracle, a tree, a cat, an apple, a thought, a muscle, dirt, everything is a miracle!

So, what in the world has all this to do with love, you ask. I don’t know! I’m still writing. Actually, it is going somewhere, which I why I changed the title to Part 1; this may take several posts. Love clearly doesn’t come naturally, pun intended, to sinners; it is not natural. I don’t think I have to convince anyone of that. In fact, it is the hardest thing we are commanded to do in the Christian life. Being “moral” is a piece of cake compared with trying to love other sinners. The reason is incurvatus in se, as Luther and Augustine put it in Latin; human beings are curved in on themselves. It’s all about me! It is sin’s proclivity to make everything about us that makes loving others so hard; it is our utterly self-centered nature that makes living out I Corinthians 13, humanly speaking, impossible. That is why it takes a miracle to do it.

Which brings me to the miracle that happened 2,000 years ago when an itinerant Jewish preacher named Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross in a small corner of the Roman Empire. It was the love of God in Christ displayed in that bloody corpse that defines the omnipotence of love. I’ll never forget the night back in February 1985 when I was introduced to Reformed theology. It was a Copernican revolution in every sense of that metaphor because my Christianity in an instant went from revolving around me, and what I did or didn’t do, or could and couldn’t do, to what God in Christ did for me! Steve, who would become my mentor, shared with me a phrase I’d never heard before. He said God’s love is efficacious, or effective; it accomplishes for its object what it intends, without fail. This is the miracle.

I will try to convey this in a couple blog posts (good luck!), but it’s really a simple concept. Love is transforming; wherever it goes, it transforms for the good. This has nothing to do with our modern conception of love as romance or feeling. How we feel about another person has absolutely nothing to do with love. In fact, we mostly love despite how we feel. Read I Corinthians 13: feelings are irrelevant. In fact, they get in the way because our feelings are always about us! What’s in it for me. I’ll explore this more in the next post, but listen to the second of Elisabeth Elliot’s talks, and specifically about the woman who learned how to truly love her unlovable husband. It’s amazing! It shows the miraculous, transforming power of true love rooted in Christ. Any other love is a poor substitute, and most certainly not omnipotent.