our journey together

our journey together

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What is the right way to evangelize?

What exactly is the job of a farmer who raises crops?  Is it the farmer who produces the vegetables and fruits that we enjoy, or is it the ground the seed is planted in that is to be given the credit, or is it the seed itself, or is it sun, or rain, or a good season, or is it God?  I think the answer is yes.  I believe all those things play into a good crop, and I think that it is ultimately God who has His hand in all those elements from the seed leaving the farmers hand to the picking of the crop.  This is a good example of what the gift of evangelism is and how we, as Christians, are to evangelize in this lost world.   Evangelism is the processes of casting the seeds of the Kingdom of God (sharing the gospel) into the hearts of people whose hearts have been tilled, in order that they are readied to hear the good news of the Kingdom.  Evangelism is also the process of tilling (helping remove the rocks of doubt), water (acts of kindness, relationship building, confirming), and harvesting (co-laboring with the Spirit in helping someone become a born again believer).
One of the key elements of being a seed sower is to actually throw seeds into the ground.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about a farmer who went out to scatter seeds on the ground and then in detail explains the kind of soil the seeds land in.  When Jesus explains the parable to his disciples he explains that the seeds are the message about the kingdom and the soil is the condition of the hearts of people who hear this message.  Therefore one of the main responsibilities of a follower of Christ is to share the message of the Kingdom or in other words the good news of the gospel of Christ.  In the Bible there are many places we find that anyone who is a Christian has the responsibility of evangelizing.  We find Jesus’ commissioning his disciples (Matt 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21, Acts 1:8), examples of believers (not just Apostles) witnessing (Acts 4:31, 6:8, 7:52, 8:4), and commanding us as believers to evangelize (Eph 3:6-7, 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2, Philippians 2:14-16, Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Peter 3:15).  The word evangelist in the Greek literally means, “A bringer of good tidings and the name given to the New Testament heralds of salvation through Christ who are not apostles (Blue Letter Bible, 2011).  Taking all these examples along with the whole metanarrative of the Bible we can see that it is our God given responsibility to be evangelists whether we think we have the gift of evangelism or not!
In this example of a farmer scattering seeds we see this is primarily proclaiming the gospel, but to evangelize is far more complex than just saying words.  In John 3:34 Jesus says that when he proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom he was speaking the words of God through the power of God.  Therefore I do not want to down play the importance of speaking out loud the gospel.  However it is equally important to prepare the soil / heart of a person who does not know or care about God.  Before a farmer goes into the field to scatter seeds, he prepares the field by tilling it and removing rocks.  Continuing with the metaphor I see tilling and removing rocks more of the friendship, service and apologetic aspect of evangelism.  Tilling is not a very fun thing for the soil or the heart.  God brings many things into our lives to cause us to stop and turn to Him.  We can get involved with the tilling process when we help people see what God might be doing in their lives by pointing to what He has done in our own life.  Paul helps the Church of Corinth see that God has comforted them in their times of need so that they may comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).  As well when we begin to care about our neighbors and they begin to care about us, we build trust and credibility in the relationship and as a result we are able to lovingly help them remove doubts and barriers to God in their lives.  As well tilling can take on the form of meeting their needs in times of trouble.  This kind of evangelism usually precedes the proclamation of the gospel or prepares the way for the proclamation of the gospel.  As well I see this kind of love as a demonstration of the Kingdom just as much as miracles.  Jesus told us that whenever we care for “the least of these” we are caring for Him (Matthew 25:40).  Loving “the least of these” could as well be seen as watering the seeds and helping them take root in the hearts of those in need. 
Yet I do not see us all being farmers, who are the ones who really know how to sow the seeds, where to sow the seeds, when to sow the seeds, how and when to water the seeds.  The farmers are ones who seem to know the ins and outs of farming far better than your average gardener who dapples in seed sowing in their back yard.  In the Bible it seems clear that there are some who are specifically gifted by the Holy Spirit in evangelism.  As well it seems the scriptures point out that this gift, evangelism, is a gift to the church.  In Ephesians 4:11-12 Paul writes, “It was He (God) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelist, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  These evangelists or farmers, if you will, have been gifted by Holy Spirit in order that they may equip the church to reach the lost.  These farmers help the little gardeners to be more effective in planting seeds in the soil of their neighbor’s hearts. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

God Loves Us and has Commissioned Us to Love

How much do people really matter to me? Does it matter that people are in pain, that they are hungry, abused, cold, desperately alone, seeking happiness but failing, sick and wounded, I could obviously go on and on and on. The real question is can I stop focusing on my own needs long enough to reach out to people around me and allow God to love them through me! I have not come to a conclusion yet, but I am willing to ponder the idea.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave … (John 3:16a).” If I start here with the presupposition that there is a God and that He cares about the world. I logically come to this conclusion by looking at creation and that there is ultimate truth or an ultimate right and wrong. Creation points to a good Creator and ultimate right and wrong point to a morally good Creator, who cares about His creation enough not to leave them alone. The incarnation of God is, in my opinion, the ultimate act of love. God came to rescue the world and me in our pain! “God so loved the world that He gave, His only begotten Son that whoever believes (trusts) in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).” God cared enough about me to give sacrificially of Himself and ultimately pay the price for my sins (Romans 8:1-4), in so doing this I am now able to fulfill the purpose of my existence – being reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) and able to be in a right relationship with Him. I am now capable to love God back by the gift of grace through faith in His Son Jesus.
Jesus did not only come to die but to live, to model, to teach us how we are meant to live our lives. Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit put it this way, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son… (Romans 8:29).” God has predestined those who have put their faith in Him to become like Jesus. We are to follow Jesus’ example because we are to be like Him and He loved people! Bill Hybels in his book, Becoming a Contagious Christian, writes about how he came to grips with who matters to God.  Hybles was reading Luke 15 where, “Jesus was so upset over the discussion the religious leaders were having about who matters to God and who doesn’t, that He said, in effect, I never want there to be confusion on this again. I’m going to tell you not one, not two, but three stories – rapid fire – to make sure everybody understands who really matters to God… There I (Hybles’ writes) was, seeing this and trying to grapple with what it means when Jesus says all people matter to Him. I knew what it meant theologically. That part was easy enough. But what did it mean practically (Hybles, pg 20)?” People matter to Jesus and because people matter Jesus they should matter to me.
God is a God of mission. He sent His Son, Jesus, and Jesus sends us into world to be His Body to the world (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12). Therefore if God has sent us into the world we must learn to love all people, lost people, dirty people, stinky people, annoying people, poor people. Shane Claiborne quoted Gandhi in his book, Irresistible Revolution, “When people asked him (Gandhi) if he was a Christian, he would often reply, ‘Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are (Claiborne, p. 161).” Jesus talked about this when He told the parable of Sheep and Goats that our lives will be judged by our actions not our words (Matthew 25:31-46). This has so gripped me that one of the core values of the church plant I am pastoring is: To be a missional church… We are called to be active in the community and the world! A church on a mission to BE the Good News of the Gospel to our Community. Rather than viewing missions as what we do with 10% of our resources, we want our whole lives to be in service to God. Each house group will have its own mission to the community based upon the leading of the Holy Spirit and the passions of their hearts. We want them basing the mission on the Scriptures Isaiah 58, Mathew 25:31-46 (http://churchdonedifferent.net/about.html). When I read the book “A New Kind of Christian” by Brian McLaren, I remember how angry I got with some of his conclusions but one thing I totally agreed with him about was this idea of mission. He wrote, “For Christ, his “called ones” … were also to be his “sent ones.” He trained those whom he called to follow him as apprentices so that they could be sent in his ongoing mission to teach his good news. In this line of thinking about the church, we don’t recruit people to be customers of our products or consumers of our religious programs; we recruit them to be colleagues in our mission. The church doesn’t exist to satisfy the consumer demands of believers; the church exists to equip and mobilize man and women for God’s mission to the world (McLaren, pg 156-157).” Therefore because Jesus has called us and sent us out to be co-laborers in His mission to reach the lost, we must learn to let His love “compel us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one form a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:14-16a).”
Knowing that there is a God, who cares about people (including me) and that he wants me to be involved in His mission in reaching the very people he cares about, causes me to pause, realizing this must be the reason I am on this earth. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day wanted to test Him they asked what is the ultimate purpose for mankind, and Jesus responds by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).” To love God and to love people are the reasons I am here! John writes in his first epistle, that anyone who loves is from God because God is love and it is when we love each other that we see God in the other person and His love is made complete in us (1 John 7-12). Shane Claiborne put it this way: “Mother Teresa offers us that brilliant glimpse of hope that lies in little things: ‘We can do not great things, only small things with great love. It is not how much you do but how much love you put into doing it.’ Above our front door, we have hung a sign that says, ‘Today … small things with great love or don’t open the door” (Irresistible Revolution, 2006, p. 319). I conclude Amen Teresa and Amen Shane! If I ever want to reach someone who is lost, in pain, hungry, abused, cold, desperately alone, seeking but failing, sick, wounded, I better be able to hold my hand out in love or not at all!