Posts Tagged ‘evangelism’

Living with a “wartime mindset”

August 10, 2018

Pastor John Piper understands how high the stakes are.

In my previous podcast episode, I talked about the inadequacy of most Christians’ efforts (including my own) to witness. I said that all Christians are ministers who are called to this task, as evidenced by the Great Commission that Christ gave to his Church.

Yet I’m sure that some listeners thought, “Yes, but I’m not bold enough to witness: I couldn’t do what the woman on the subway train in Manhattan did, for instance [not that I think I could, either]; I couldn’t muster the courage to give a Bible to an unsuspecting stranger (much less a celebrity who’s openly hostile to Christianity), as in the Penn Jillette story. The very prospect fills me with fear. I’m an introvert, after all. I’m too shy! I’ll have to leave witnessing to people who have a gift for it.”

Other listeners likely fear that certain techniques for witnessing risk “turning people off” to the gospel. (One point I made in the podcast, however, is that the gospel will turn many people off, no matter how well or poorly we present it.) Other listeners disagree with any self-conscious technique or effort to evangelize. They believe that we should follow the prompting of the Spirit and let opportunities for witnessing flow organically. Any ulterior motive to share the gospel with someone, rather than enjoy a relationship on its own terms, spoils the effort.

While I would argue against these objections, that’s not my point today… My point is, even if you disagree with something I said in my podcast, I hope we can agree on this: We live in a world in which the vast majority of people (judging only by objective demographic surveys) need Jesus and the gift of eternal life that’s available through him. Moreover, we have a deadly Enemy, Satan and his demonic forces, working to thwart even our most well-intentioned efforts to convince people of the truth of the gospel. We are at war, as Paul says in Ephesians 6, the stakes of which are higher than any merely human war.

So I’ll grant that, for any number of reasons, you may feel unqualified to witness. Fine… Given that nothing less than heaven or hell hangs in the balance, however, let’s figure out what you can do to reach lost people with the gospel: First, if you’re a parent, consider the lives of your children your most important mission field and respond accordingly: You are constantly “witnessing” to them, whether you know it or not. They are learning from you every moment about who Jesus is and how important he is to you. Your example will have a far greater influence on how they’ll spend eternity than anything they learn at church. You have an awesome responsibility! Don’t take it lightly.

What else can you do (whether you’re a parent or not)? Pray for people you know and love who aren’t yet in a saving relationship with God through Christ. Pray that God would send someone to reach them with the gospel and convert them, even if it’s not you. (Have you noticed, for example, that “prayer request” time at church focuses inordinately on loved ones who are physically sick. How often does someone ask for prayer for a loved one’s soul? Where are our priorities?)

Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower your church to be bold and successful in evangelism—not just “sheep-stealing,” which is what counts as evangelism in most churches. On that note, stop worrying about “growing the church” and worry instead about making disciples. Invite unbelieving or lightly committed Christian friends, neighbors, and co-workers to church. Support and encourage your church in its evangelism efforts. Give more money and volunteer more time for the cause of Christ in your church and world. Live in such a way that people outside the faith notice that you treasure your relationship with Christ above all earthly treasures. Pray for revival in your church. Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pray especially for your pastor or pastors as they seek to be faithful to their call!

In fact, you and I should live with what pastor John Piper calls a “wartime lifestyle”:

The phrase is helpful… It tells me that there is a war going on in the world between Christ and Satan, truth and falsehood, belief and unbelief. It tells me that there are weapons to be funded and used, but that these weapons are not swords or guns or bombs but the Gospel and prayer and self-sacrificing love (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). And it tells me that the stakes of this conflict are higher than any war in history; they are eternal and infinite: heaven or hell, eternal joy or eternal torment (Matthew 25:46).

I need to hear this message again and again, because I drift into a peacetime mind-set as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call the earth “home.” Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached peoples drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mindset that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.[1]

That second paragraph, especially, convicts me. “I drift into a peacetime mind-set… I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing.” Instead, I worry about worship attendance; I fret over the already-saved leaving for another church (and taking their tithe with them); I’m too easily satisfied with “church growth,” which relates to marketing and sales, rather than making disciples.

But no longer… Lord, help me live with a wartime mindset. Place people in my lives who will hold me accountable to live this way. Amen.

1. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009),111-2.

Devotional Podcast #28: “Fools for the Gospel”

August 7, 2018

Today’s episode tackles a difficult but important truth: There is no way to obey Christ and bear witness to him and his gospel without being perceived as foolish by many people—that is, if we’re doing it right. This was true for the apostle Paul; it’s true for us. So let’s “lean into” this truth for a change and see what happens.

Devotional Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, August 6, 2018, and this is episode number 28 in my ongoing series of devotional podcasts. You’re listening right now to “Words of Love,” written and recorded by Buddy Holly in 1957 in all its double-tracked, analog glory. By contrast, give people an infinite number of digital tracks today, and they can’t create something that sounds nearly this good! Just wonderful! Anyway, you may be more familiar with the Beatles’ 1964 cover version from the album Beatles for Sale or the long-forgotten American LP Beatles VI. But I recorded Holly’s version directly from his 1978 greatest-hits album Buddy Holly Lives, also known as 20 Golden Greats.

But this song is today’s theme because I’m talking about “words of love” in the context of something that many of us contemporary Christians don’t like doing: that is, witnessing or the dreaded “E-word,” evangelism—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others; telling others about Jesus and what he’s done for us, and what he means to us. We witness in many different ways, but at some point we have to do so using words. And in general Christians would rather receive a root canal than to witness with words. Yet the Lord himself has commanded us to do this important work: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

And perhaps you object: “Yes, but Jesus was directing these words to his twelve (or eleven but soon to be twelve) apostles. They followed this command, and here we are today. They no longer apply to us!” But that interpretation can’t be right: Because notice he says, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We haven’t reached the “end of the age” yet, therefore, he must have also been directing these words to his disciples up to and including those who will be alive when then end of the age happens. Right? That includes us! Moreover, when he gives the equivalent Great Commission in Acts 1—“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”—we know that even today we haven’t yet reached the “end of the earth” with the gospel. There remain in 2018 places that are yet unreached with the gospel, much less toward the end of the first century. So Jesus’ words weren’t merely for that first generation of apostles, but for all disciples until the end of the age and until the gospel message has reached the end of the earth.

As for another objection—“Yes, but the Great Commission isn’t for just anyone; it’s for ministers… like you, pastor Brent, not for me. I don’t have the gift of evangelism.” My first response to that is that we’re all ministers, whether we’re ordained or not. Philip, for example, in Acts 9, wasn’t a credentialed apostle; yet through his witness the gospel reached Ethiopia. Not to mention one of the most successful evangelists in all of scripture: the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, through whose witness an entire village was saved! The only qualification, as far as I can see, for doing successful evangelistic work is having had a life-saving, soul-saving encounter with Jesus Christ. 

So… Are you a Christian? Are you born again? Then that means you’ve been given the Holy Spirit. So of course you can be a witness! Moreover, if you happen to be a United Methodist, when you joined the church you promised God that you would be a witness for Christ.

How are you doing at that? Read the rest of this entry »

We say we believe in evangelism, until someone has the courage to do it

October 24, 2017

The above quote was purportedly the Rev. Moody’s response to a woman who criticized his methods of evangelism. He said, “I agree. I don’t like my methods, either. How do you do it?” She said, “I don’t.” “Well, in that case, I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing them.”

I hope he said it—it’s funny, plus it encourages all of us Christians to try to do something rather than nothing when it comes to witnessing.

Just today, I read on Facebook about an 87-year-old retired Methodist minister in North Carolina who handed out gospel tracts that looked like auto insurance cards—except in this case the insurance was related to the eternal life made available through Christ. Yes, it was a little corny, as these things tend to be, but the information was true. And to the man’s credit, he put his name and number on the card for people to follow up with him.

My clergy colleague posted a picture of this card approvingly, and he was criticized (naturally). We contemporary Methodists say we believe in evangelism, until someone actually has the courage to do it. One of my friend’s critics, whom I gather is also a Methodist minister, said that he believes in hell as a reality that people experience in the here and now. He neither confirmed nor denied that hell was an eternal reality. Regardless, our evangelistic efforts, he said, should be first aimed at saving people from this kind of hell. (If you didn’t go to mainline Protestant seminary, you won’t know how common this view of hell is, unfortunately.) Finally, he said that attempting to “scare people” into God’s kingdom is ineffective.

In response, I wrote the following:

Props to this retired minister for living as if he really believes that heaven and hell hang in the balance—and not (mainly) in the here and now but for eternity. If we don’t believe that, as Jerry Walls has said, then it’s no wonder our enthusiasm for evangelism has waned. To whatever extent we experience heaven or hell in the here and now, it pales in comparison to the heaven or hell that we will experience in eternity. And all we know for sure is that we have this life to repent and believe in Christ. Time is running out. Our mission is urgent.

In Acts 20, Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all.” Who among us UMC ministers can say that? I am not innocent. I have hardly done all I can to share the gospel with people in my corner of the world. And whatever his shortcomings, this elderly minister’s method of evangelism certainly beats my (usual) method of non-evangelism.

Theologically speaking, I find the fear of “turning people off” to border on Pelagianism. We’re not in charge, ultimately, of whether or not people believe the gospel, or even how they react to it. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that grabbing a bullhorn and a stack of Jack Chick tracts is as good as other methods. But I am saying that It’s clear from scripture that many people will be turned off—no matter how sensitively and lovingly we offer the gospel to them.

Finally, as far as “scaring” people, nothing we say is scarier than Jesus’ own words about Final Judgment and hell. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Thoughts?

Sermon 08-06-17: “God Has Given Us This Life to Receive the Gospel”

August 22, 2017

This sermon is unusual for me because it’s about one verse, 1 Peter 4:6, which includes strange words about the gospel being “preached to those who are dead.” What does that mean? One thing it doesn’t mean, as I argue in this sermon, is that people get a second chance to hear and respond to the gospel even after they die. No, the time to receive God’s gift of salvation is now. 

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 4:6

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In one of the two sermons I preached last Sunday morning, when I was talking about verse 1 and the connection between suffering and “ceasing from sin,” I said, “This is one of two difficult verses in this passage.” I didn’t have time to talk about the second difficult verse in last Sunday’s sermon. So I want to talk about that verse now, and next week we’ll look at verses 7 through 11.

Verse 6 says the following: “For this is why the gospel was preached to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” The gospel was preached to those who are dead. What does that mean?

Let me begin by taking about two things it doesn’t mean.

First, it doesn’t mean that Peter is talking about those who are spiritually dead. That has been one way of interpreting this verse over the years. While it’s true, of course, that apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead, Peter has just said, in the previous verse, that God is going to judge the “living and the dead.” He gives no indication that he’s switching gears and using the word “dead” in a figurative way. No, when he refers to “preaching to the dead,” he’s talking about people who are now physically dead. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 06-04-17: “The Holy Spirit Lives Here”

July 10, 2017

In this sermon, I emphasize our church has all the power we need to be successful in the mission our Lord has given us. Why? Because we have the Holy Spirit. Are we living as if we believe it? 

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:4-12

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Roger Moore: If you can’t have fun being a British spy, why bother?

Roger Moore was the James Bond of my childhood. So I love him. And after reading a Facebook post by an Englishman named Marc Hayes, in the wake of Moore’s death last week, well, I love him even more!

When Hayes was seven years old, he was with his grandfather at the airport in Nice, France, and he saw Roger Moore. He said to his grandfather, “Look, there’s James Bond!” His grandfather had no idea who James Bond was, much less Roger Moore. But he walked over to him and said, “My grandson says you’re James Bond. Can he get an autograph?” And so Roger Moore signed the child’s plane ticket. But the child was disappointed because he signed it “Roger Moore,” not James Bond. This kid didn’t know who Roger Moore was. So he and his grandfather went back over to the actor, and the grandfather explained the child’s disappointment.

At this point, Moore took the boy aside, leaned down to him and said,

“I have to sign my name as ‘Roger Moore’ because otherwise…Blofeld might find out I was here.” Blofeld is a famous Bond villain.” Then Moore asked the child not to tell anyone that he’d just seen James Bond, and he thanked him for keeping his secret.

Isn’t that great?

Twenty-three years later, a grown-up Marc Hayes had the opportunity to meet Roger Moore again, this time as part of a film crew that was filming a commercial for UNICEF. And Moore was part of it because he was a celebrity ambassador for UNICEF. Anyway, Hayes told Moore about meeting him when he was a kid. Moore said he didn’t remember the encounter but was glad he had a chance to meet “James Bond.”

Then, after the filming was over, as Moore was leaving the studio, he turned back to Hayes, “looked both ways, raised an eyebrow and in a hushed voice said, ‘Of course I remember our meeting in Nice. But I didn’t say anything in there, because those cameramen—any one of them could be working for Blofeld.’”

I can hardly share that story without tearing up. I’m sentimental about my childhood heroes. When William Shatner and Henry Winkler die, I’m going to be a wreck.

Anyway, I share this story with you this morning because like James Bond, you and I—and everyone who’s a member of Hampton United Methodist Church—have a secret identity. And like James Bond, we have access to a great deal of power. Remember one of the highlights of every Bond movie was when Bond would go into Q’s laboratory and get all these powerful gadgets that enabled him to accomplish his mission? We have something infinitely more powerful than Q’s gadgets. We have the Holy Spirit, which means we have all the power we need to accomplish our mission. Read the rest of this entry »

A recent example of effective witnessing

March 23, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I preached about witnessing. I shared some advice on the topic from a recent article in Christianity Today. The author, Jerry Root, a long-time associate of Billy Graham, said that when we witness, it’s not a matter of “taking Jesus to someone”; Jesus is already there. We follow Christ’s lead. But doing so still requires preparation. It’s a deliberate action.

For example, when we meet someone, he suggests asking them what he calls “public” questions—non-threatening questions like, “What’s your name?” “Are you from here?” Then we “listen to the answers and find in them the permission to go deeper. Eventually, we connect the gospel at the very point of deep felt need.”

Easy, right?

Well… I suspect for many of us this still seems intimidating—in part because we’ve seen so few examples of people who are doing it, or doing it well.

Last Friday, however, I encountered a living, breathing example of someone doing it well. I had business in Atlanta. While I was there, I went to a favorite coffee shop near Emory to work on my sermon. A couple of tables away from me, two young women were talking. I promise I wasn’t eavesdropping, but one woman’s voice carried across the room.

I overheard her telling the other woman about her experience raising an autistic child. I gathered that she was counseling this young woman, a new mother whose own child had recently been diagnosed with autism.

My ears perked up at one point when she told the young mother that she was a Christian. She volunteered this in relation to some educational choices that she and her husband had made. A few minutes later, she said the following: “I believe that God has made your child perfect, just the way she’s meant to be. And the Lord is going to take care of her—and you—and give you all the love and support and strength you need to be a great mother to her.”

I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout, “Amen!”

Nothing about this conversation felt forced. First, the woman volunteered that she was a Christian. Then, as Dr. Root described in the article I cited above, she waited for “permission to go deeper.” Having found that permission, she spoke from her heart about Jesus and connected the gospel to the young mother’s deeply felt need.

What convicts me about this conversation is how easily this Christian could have remained quiet about her faith. Doesn’t it often seem easier not bring it up?

What would happen if we prayed regularly—daily—for opportunities to bring it up? Who knows what the Holy Spirit might do? Is it possible that this young woman was so accustomed to sharing her faith that it would be harder for her not to bring it up?

“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 27: A Gift, Not a Wage

December 27, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Ephesians 2:8-9

glory_cover_finalI have a friend who’s a non-practicing Jew. Last year, he asked me the following question: “So are your parishioners upset about Starbucks not putting Christmas decorations on their holiday-themed coffee cups?”

I said, “No! In fact, the only Christians I know who are upset are those Christians who are upset about Christians being upset!” Or something like that… The point is, every Christmas season we hear about some new battle in the “War on Christmas.” While there may be battles worth fighting in that particular war, a trivial thing like a coffee cup or a cashier saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” isn’t one of them.

If we’re going to get upset about something related to the “War on Christmas,” let’s get upset  about that very anti-Christmas, anti-Christian song that plays on our radios round the clock during Christmas season. I’m talking about the song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”: “He’s making a list/ He’s checking it twice/ He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”

Nice children get toys, the song says. Naughty children get lumps of coal.

Think about it: According to this song, Santa isn’t the giver of gifts. He’s in the business of doling out rewards and punishments.[†] You’ll get rewarded if you behave well—if you perform good works.

By contrast, when we talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gift of forgiveness, grace, and salvation, good behavior and good works have nothing to do with it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation is a completely free gift.

I admit we Methodists, of all people, often struggle with this idea. We get confused because we talk so much about what happens after salvation—that process called sanctification. As a pastor, I talk about it, too. But please, please, please… make no mistake: The gift of salvation—forgiveness of sin, eternal life, adoption as God’s children—is not conditioned by what we do after we’re saved.

Consider a Christmas gift: What if you forget to send a thank-you note right away? Or, when you do, the note is poorly written or insincere? Or what if you never send a note at all? Will the gift-giver come to your house and take the gift away? Of course not! If the gift-giver tried to take it away, then he or she was just proving it wasn’t a gift after all.

In fact, we have a name for those kinds of “gifts”: they’re called wages.

A wage is a payment for services rendered. If God paid us what we deserved to be paid, based on what we do, we wouldn’t be able to read this: because God would have wiped us off the face of the earth already.

No. The gift of salvation isn’t given because we deserve it. It’s completely free.

The gospel of Jesus Christ begins with this premise: Every single one of us is on the “naughty” list. We are, in other words, sinners. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Or maybe a better question is, “What is God going to do about it?”

Think of the God’s gift of eternal life in Christ as a present under the tree. The giver has written your name on the tag. He purchased it for you because of his great love wants you to open it. But he won’t force it on you. He wants you to receive it freely. It’s your choice.

Are you ready to receive this gift? Begin by praying the following prayer:

Almighty God, I confess to you that I am a sinner in need of your forgiveness. I know that because of my sins I deserve nothing better than death and hell. But I also know that you loved me too much to leave me this way. I am sorry for my sins and with your help I am turning away from them now. I believe that your Son Jesus is Lord. I believe that through Jesus—through his death on the cross and through his resurrection form the dead—you are offering me forgiveness and eternal life. Enable me to receive that gift now. I promise, by your grace and power, to be a faithful follower of Jesus for the rest of my life—in this world and in the world to come. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

If you prayed this prayer, please let me or someone else know. My email address is brentlwhite@gmail.com. I would love to help you as you begin this journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This idea, along with some of the language, comes from “The Gift that Never Stops Giving,” mockingbird.com, Accessed 11 December 2015.

“Telling fire to come down from heaven”: Seeing ourselves in James and John

November 11, 2016
From the Crossway tract, "Hope for Hard Times"

From the Crossway tract, “Hope for Hard Times”

I wanted to include the following point in last Sunday’s sermon, but I ran out of time. The scripture, you may recall, included Luke 9:51-55. In this episode, Jesus and his disciples are passing through a Samaritan village on their way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans refuse to let them stay in their town.

So James and John have a brilliant idea: “Lord, do you want to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

This is not without biblical precedent. There’s an event described in 2 Kings in which King Ahaziah sends soldiers to arrest the prophet Elijah. The commanding officer says to Elijah, sitting on a hill, “O man of God, the king says to come down.” And Elijah says, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your men.” And that’s exactly what happens. Twice. It would have happened a third time, but the commanding officer begs Elijah for mercy and God relents.

To their credit, James and John know that Jesus is much greater than Elijah. So why shouldn’t the fire of God’s judgment fall on these Samaritans who’ve rejected Jesus, just as it fell upon the enemies of Elijah?

Regardless, as sensible as this suggestion may have seemed to the brothers, Jesus rebukes them. And their suggestion rightly offends us today. We hear this story and feel morally superior to James and John. After all, we would never want the fire of God’s judgment to come down and consume people who reject Jesus Christ. Right?

Let’s not answer too quickly.

After all, at this moment, there are tens of thousands of people within a few miles of our church who are currently rejecting Jesus Christ. What do we believe will happen to them if they persist in unbelief and reject Christ’s free gift of salvation?

If we refuse to share the gospel with them—either out of of fear, indifference, or benign neglect—aren’t we saying through our actions that we’re O.K. with the fire of God’s judgment falling on them—if not right away, then at least in the distant future?

As I’ve preached recently, many of us, including myself, need to change. We need to make witnessing—by which I mean sharing the gospel through words in addition to actions—our top priority.

Let’s begin by heeding Jesus’ words in Luke 10:2: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Let’s pray that the Lord will send laborers into the harvest in our community.

When I last blogged about witnessing, by the way, I said that I was recruiting a “Witness Team” from our church to share the gospel, hand out tracts and Gospels of John, and pray with people at our annual Trunk or Treat event. I’m pleased to say that it was very successful: we shared the gospel with dozens of visitors who came to the festival.

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A couple of members of our Witness Teach sharing the gospel with visitors to our annual Trunk or Treat.

We will continue this effort at the beginning of December at our annual live nativity.

Piper: Ultimately, scripture is the “God-ordained means of creating saving faith”

October 26, 2016

In the sermon I posted yesterday about witnessing, I argue that the proclamation of the gospel possesses its own power—through the Holy Spirit—to change lives. Therefore, if our efforts to witness never include a deliberate proclamation of the gospel, we are robbing our witness of power, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we fail to make converts.

As I’ve said before on this blog, the vast majority of church growth—especially once you subtract confirmations or baptisms of children who already go to church—is “sheep-stealing”: already-Christian people leave one church to join another.

Surely, our Lord wants us to do better. As I said in my sermon,

The gospel, Paul writes in Romans 1, is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” As I said earlier, citing 1 Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The gospel is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” but Paul continues: “to those whom God has called,” the gospel of Jesus Christ is the “power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Do you see the point: The gospel itself has power. God has made it to be that way. God calls people through our gospel proclamation. If we aren’t proclaiming the gospel to people, then we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re not making disciples! [pick up smartphone] If we as a church aren’t sharing the gospel as our number one priority, it’s like we’ve spent money and resources to build this amazing device but we’ve removed the battery… or we’ve disconnected the power supply… This may be the greatest thing people would ever experience, but they’ll never know because all they have is this blank screen! It’s not working! There’s no power! They need power. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power they need!

I was heartened to read that John Piper, in his irenic yet critical assessment of Andy Stanley’s recent sermon “The Bible Told Me So,” makes a similar point. As important as it is to clear away intellectual hurdles that prevent people from believing in Christ, mere intellectual assent can’t bring someone to saving faith.

Saving faith is not the persuasion that the resurrection of Jesus rose bodily from the grave. That persuasion is essential to saving faith, but not the essence of it. The devil knows that Jesus rose from the dead, and he is not saved (see also Luke 16:31). The essence of saving faith is seeing the supreme beauty of Christ in the meaning of the event, and embracing him as Savior, and Lord, and the greatest Treasure in the universe. Satan does not see the crucified and risen Christ as supremely beautiful, and he does not treasure him. But believers do. That is the essence of saving faith…

The gospel is more than the events of crucifixion and resurrection. It is a God-given narrative of what the events meant (as in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “for our sins”). It is not merely the assembly of events and evidences. It is a divine interpretation of their meaning…

What young preachers need to be clear about in deciding how they will preach is how God planned for the glory of Christ to be revealed to more and more people as the centuries pass. When Stanley says, “For the first 300 years the debate centered on an event, not a book,” that’s not quite right. The debate centered very largely on which written witnesses provided a trustworthy interpretation of the event. The church realized immediately that everything hung not just on whether the event happened, but on what it meant: What were its roots, and accomplishments, and implications for life and eternity? Who was this man, Jesus? Whom can we trust to tell us? How then shall we live? Who can tell us this with authority? That was the issue, not just the event.

God was kind enough to bring those authentic, long-trusted Gospels and Epistles together in the New Testament in due time. But their trustworthiness and authority were functioning from the middle of the first century onward. And the most significant reason God provided these Gospels and Epistles from the beginning was so that the compelling beauty and worth of Christ would shine through these God-given writings. That is how people came to faith. They saw the glory of Christ shining through the writings God had given — or the oral heralding or reading of them.

Therefore, what I am suggesting is that in our present New Testament we have the consummation of God’s demonstration of the beauty and worth of Christ. It is God’s own complete portrait of the glory of his Son — the meaning of his work from eternity to eternity, and its implications for human life.

Piper says that this truth has several implications. Chief among them is that the

testimony of God in Scripture to the truth and beauty and worth of Christ is self-authenticating. That is, the decisive cause of saving faith is not human argument (as crucial as that is). The decisive cause is described in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God creates a real illumination of our hearts by lifting the veil so that we can see the glory of what is really there in Scripture.”

Another implication is that “God’s portrait of Christ, as he is presented in the inspired Book, is the God-ordained means of creating saving faith.”

Finally, lest you doubt that Piper is one of his generation’s most gifted preachers, he concludes his essay with this:

So my concluding suggestion is this: join Andy Stanley in caring deeply about winning “post-Christians”; join him in moving beyond simplistic and naïve-sounding shibboleths; join him in cultural awareness and insight into your audience; join him in the excellence of his teaching and communication skills; and join him in his belief in the complete truthfulness of the Bible. And then spend eight years blowing your people’s post-Christian circuits by connecting the voltage of every line in the book of Romans with their brains.

When it comes to preaching, nothing is more powerful and self-authenticating than the Spirit-anointed, passionate, expository exultation over the inspired text of Scripture. If you don’t believe that, perhaps you have never seen such preaching.

Do you believe this? I do—although I confess I haven’t always acted like I do.

But that changes now: My invitation at the end of the sermon I quoted earlier was to invite members of our church to join me in creating a “witness team.” In fact, we’re having our first meeting tonight. I don’t know who or how many will show up. But we’re going to discuss ways in which our church can share the gospel in a more deliberate way with people outside of our church—starting this weekend, when literally hundreds of people from our community will be on our church property for our annual “Trunk or Treat” festival.

For starters, I’ve ordered a couple hundred tracts from Crossway. I’ve also ordered some pocket-sized New Testaments to give away to visitors.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights.

Sermon 10-09-16: “Keeping the Promise, Part 8: How We Witness”

October 25, 2016

keeping-the-promise-sermon-series

Most Christians are afraid of witnessing. Instead of admitting our fear, however, we often make excuses for why we shouldn’t witness. We tell ourselves, for example, that we don’t want to risk “turning someone off,” or that we don’t know someone well enough to talk about religion. What excuses have you used? This sermon challenges us to overcome our fear.

(Sorry… no audio or video this week. 😦 )

Sermon Text: Acts 17:16-34

If you’ve lost a job recently, and have had to find a new one, you know all about networking. The idea behind networking is, when it comes to getting a good job, it’s not what you know, or how good your resumé is, or how well or poorly you interview, or even how skillful or well-qualified you are. No: it’s all about who you know. “Networking” is about marketing yourself to the right people, meeting the “right” people—people who can help you find the right job.

It’s about putting yourself out there, going up to complete strangers and introducing yourself, and making small talk, and talking about how great you are. Many people, especially people who are shy and introverted, would rather die than do these things.

A consultant named Andy Molinsky wrote an article in last month’s Harvard Business Review about the discomfort that many people feel about networking. His advice? Step outside your comfort zone and do it anyway. Otherwise, he says, you’ll make excuses to justify why you shouldn’t do it: “Networking isn’t that important,” you tell yourself. “It’s the quality of your work that counts,” or “People who network are slimy or full of themselves, and I’m not like that.”

I bring this up because I’m interested in talking about witnessing—that fifth promise we make to God and to one another when we join a United Methodist church. We promise to witness. Yet for many of us, the prospect of witnessing is at least as scary as speaking in public, or making small talk with strangers, or anything else that’s outside of our comfort zones. Read the rest of this entry »