Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

The Light of the World

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.   Matthew 5:14, 16

The church was the center of our lives in my family. It was rare for us to do anything with people who were not part of our church unless it was with Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren. The crazy thing is that Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren were the coolest people I knew, but I was taught to feel sorry for them because even though they were Christians, they went to the “wrong” church. When I asked my mother why we didn’t hang out with anyone other than people who went to our church, she told me that we are the light of the world. This is when I became acquainted with Matthew 5:14-16. 

The thinking went something like this: Come to church, stick together, and let your light shine from within the walls of the church and somehow everyone in the community will see your light and realize they need it. That’s when they will decide to come to your church. Even as a kid I didn’t quite understand how that would happen. After all, when we are IN church, how can people OUTSIDE the church see or feel the light?

Through the years I have found this “we” versus “them” mentality to be arrogant and counterproductive. When I think I have it all together and you don’t then I have already lost the love God wants me to share with you. The truth is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. When I accept Jesus as Lord of my life, I also accept His mission. He came to this earth to be WITH us. Jesus took it the extreme by incubating in Mary’s womb for nine months and then worked as a carpenter until he was nearly 30 years old before beginning His mission. Talk about mingling with the world! It is when I live as Jesus did that I experience His love. When I walk with others, He walks with me.

And so I believe we have missed the point of the light in this passage. Jesus tells us that the light affects those around us only when we are WITH people, no matter where there happen to be. I can only shine my light on the path I happen to be traveling upon. If I want the light of Jesus to help others, I need to be walking on the same path they are walking on. In actuality, there is no difference between the light and the salt metaphor Jesus gives us to illustrate how we are to share His love in the world. They both require proximity to be effective. The “good works” in this passage can only be done as I mingle with those around me. If you want to know what Jesus considered to be good works, read Matthew 25 where He tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.

I believe the church is the hope of the world. But it can only be hope as we are led by God into the back allies and the out of the way places to share His light with His people in His world. Where will you shine the light God has given you this week?

What Do You Celebrate?

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!   Luke 15:1-2

Today I have three grown children. But it seems like yesterday when each one of them set off for their first day of school. There are many milestones in the lives of our children, but the first day of school is among the biggest. Perhaps this is because we understand that our influence as parents begins to diminish as the influence of their friends increases. We are afraid of all the evil influences in the world. Before we know it, they are in high school. This is when we really pay attention to the friends they have because we know that “birds of a feather flock together.”

We worry about our children hanging out with the wrong crowd. And the truth is that our parents worried about us for the very same reason. So when does that concern of protecting our children and even ourselves from the bad influences of “bad” people end? And if it doesn’t end, are we really followers of Jesus? Notice how the “bad” people in Jesus’s day wanted to listen to Him. And because they hung out with Him, the pharisees considered Jesus to be bad. In such a paradigm the bad influences in life always overwhelm the good. So the only way to remain “good” is to avoid the “bad” people. And when a “good” person turns “bad,” this paradigm teaches that he will never come back to the “good” side. And if he does, we better test him before we accept him. After all, we wouldn’t want him to influence us to become “bad.”

But Jesus lived a different paradigm. One that accepts all people and teaches us that good overwhelms bad, that love overwhelms hate, and inclusion overwhelms isolation. And so when the prodigal son comes home to his father in Luke 15, the elder “good” son is upset that the father has thrown a party for his younger “bad” son. In the eyes of the elder son, his younger brother can never be “good” again. Well, maybe he can be good enough to make it to heaven, but not good enough to be an honored guest in his father’s home. After all, we have to be careful about these “bad” sons and their influence. We have to quarantine them as if they had the Ebola virus that would spread to kill the entire church. We can maybe let them attend, but we are suspect of their spiritual gifts and are afraid to allow them lead in the church. 

But Jesus came to demonstrate to us that love wins. That we can live a life of inclusion. That we can mingle with “bad” people and be blessed by them. That we can celebrate every life. And when someone comes to Jesus, celebrating their life does not diminish our life in God. Perhaps this is the anxiety of so many in the church: We have tried so hard to be “good” and do everything that God has told us to do that if we celebrate a life that has lived contrary to God’s law, then we are afraid that we are condoning such behavior, and maybe even worse, admitting that we should have been mingling with them while they were still doing all of those “bad” things. Now that sentence was way too long. But what is even longer and more painful to God is our paradigm that “bad” is stronger than “good.” 

Perhaps we need to teach our children that peer pressure has the potential of turning “bad” kids into “good” kids. Perhaps we should teach our kids to trust in God and mingle with any kid He brings into their path. Perhaps we should teach our kids that good is stronger than bad, that love is more powerful than hate, and that Jesus has already won the battle. But the reason we don’t teach our kids this is because we don’t really believe it. Too many of us in the church are the eldest son in Jesus’s story.

But we don’t have to be the eldest son in the story. We can be the father, who instead of celebrating the bad things in life by thinking that the bad will always overwhelm the good, can begin celebrating the good in life. The father in Jesus’s story says this to his eldest son about what to celebrate, “We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15:32)

How will you celebrate the good in life? Do you believe that love wins? Do you believe that good is stronger than bad? 

Don’t Think Like Everyone Else!

The Lord gave me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said… Preserve the teaching of God; entrust his instructions to those who follow me.  (Isaiah 8:11, 16)

It’s easy to go through life simply reacting to one circumstance after the next. We have bills to pay, kids to feed, responsibilities to meet, and problems to solve. We go to school to learn how to read, write, and use numbers to count our money. We become adults who have been taught to believe that we know everything there is to know about how to live a good life. But then something happens to us or someone we know that rocks our world. It could be betrayal, abuse, failure, or loss. And what we’ve been taught isn’t enough anymore. The world teaches us that we are self-sufficient, that we either have or can find all the answers on our own, that there are winners and losers in this world, and that we have to look out for ourselves to be a winner. 

But God gave Isaiah a strong warning not to think like everyone else. You don’t give a strong warning unless there is extreme danger lurking ahead. The idea that we are self-sufficient and can solve all our problems is dangerous, indeed. If we are going to think differently, to adopt God’s worldview in place of our own, then we must “preserve the teaching of God.” To preserve means to maintain in its original state.

So how do we preserve God’s teachings? It cannot simply mean that I purchase a bible and put it in a place of honor on a hallowed bookshelf so that it can never be destroyed. This doesn’t make any more sense than preserving food to be seen and not eaten. When we realize that God’s Word became flesh and is written on our hearts as we consume the Bread of Life, then to preserve His teachings becomes personal. If I want to preserve His Word in my life, I need to read His Word, apply His teachings, submit to His will, listen to His advice, follow His guidance, trust Him as a friend, and teach others about His grace. Preserving the teachings of God is a daily walk with God. There is no better way to preserve the teachings of Jesus in your life than to allow Jesus to preserve you for life.

Maybe this is why Jesus describes those who follow Him as the salt of the earth. When we preserve His Word in our lives, we become the life preservers in the the world. Perhaps, just perhaps, you will know that you are preserving His Word in your own life when you become the salt in the lives of those around you. Will you heed God’s warning today? Will you preserve His Word in your life? Are you willing to change the way you think?

Sharing Your Faith

As a kid growing up in the midwest it was considered rude and self-centered to talk about yourself. I could talk website graphicabout the successes of my friends, but not my own. Because of this unspoken rule, not only did I avoid talking about anything that might be seen as a personal achievement, I avoided talking about anything that might be too personal. And so I learned to never share what I really believed… about anything. This included my belief in God as my Creator and Jesus as my Savior.

So how could I accept a call from God to be a pastor when I was a senior in high school? Well, the answer is easy. I saw the command of Jesus in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples as a command to DO, not a command to SHARE. With this mindset, I saw evangelism as an event you attend, not a life you live. It would include such things as a series of sermons to tell you about Jesus and His plan of salvation. It would include teaching you what the Bible says about the end of the world. You see, as a kid I could talk about our family trip to Florida and all the things I saw and the places we went. Similarly, as a pastor I could talk about God by quoting verse upon verse to prove a point without talking about what God had done for me. After all, that would require disclosure of personal information about myself. The very habits I had cultivated to avoid sharing my successes I was using to avoid revealing my failures. After all, a spiritual success has its roots in a moral failure. 

Perhaps this is one reason I did not go into pastoral ministry after college, but rather went to medical school. I could preach a good sermon about God, but I was not comfortable truly sharing my faith. However, as I journeyed through a career in medicine, I learned the value of accountability, transparency, and openness. It was while being a part of “Quality Assurance” committees in various hospitals that I learned the importance of openly sharing my successes and failures. The more accountable we were to one another as physicians, the better quality of care we provided to our patients. It became apparent that improved patient outcomes were dependent upon the willingness of physicians to share openly with one another. This included sharing what worked (successes) and what didn’t work (failures). And so I began to see that the unspoken rule I had learned as a kid requiring me to remain silent about my successes was not only a bad rule, but a potentially self-destructive one.

As a pastor, I have discovered that evangelism is not about preaching, but about living. It’s not about telling, but about listening. It’s not about a public event where I can teach, but about a private event which I can share. Evangelism is a lifestyle resulting from a transformational experience with Jesus. It’s about my faith. It’s about His grace. It’s not about me who no longer lives, but about Jesus who lives in me. Sharing my faith means sharing the life I now live by faith in Jesus. Such faith can only be shared as it is lived. 

In the words of Francis of Assisi, let us “preach the gospel and when necessary use words.”  

Mingling with Jesus – Steps to Fishing

My first experience with fishing wasn’t exactly positive. My father took me and my best friend when I was about 8 years old. We went to a small lake (more like a big pond) to fish from the shore. I had my dad put the worm on my hook as I was afraid to touch the slimy thing. And I have to admit that I’m not sure how much I really wanted to catch a fish because I didn’t want to touch it any more than I wanted to touch that worm on the end of my line! As the afternoon wore on, Randy caught 5 or 6 fish while I had not caught even one. The whole thing seemed kind of pointless, if not cruel to the fish. I was ready for home and something that was a bit more active.

With this experience in mind, I’d like to consider the connection we often make between how to fish and how to evangelize. Christians often talk about the techniques used to fish for fish as the same ones used to “fish” for men and women, boys and girls. Now I know Jesus called His disciples to be “fishers of men.” But was Jesus using fishing as a metaphor for the methodology of evangelism His followers were to use for centuries to come? Is Jesus really telling us to “fish” for men and women? Is he telling us to bait a hook or cast a net to catch people?

When I think about the natural result of such an action, I am horrified. Since my original experience with fishing at the age of 8, I have been fished several more times in places like northern Wisconsin and Canada. I must admit there is a certain thrill to a fish taking my bait and then me setting the hook. The more “fight” in the fish, the more exhilarating it is. When I land the fish, the result is always the same, however. The fish jumps and jumps and jumps as it searches for water from which it needs to extract oxygen. Fishing is all about knowing the fish from his habitat to mine with only one possible result – death. It is true that we need to die to self and allow God to reign in our heart, but a fish can’t live in my world long enough to even think about dying to self. The entire process of fishing, whether with a hook or net is so impersonal that I find it difficult to believe Jesus want me to using fishing as a methodology for evangelism.

So what did Jesus mean when He said, “I will make you fishers of men.”? Could it be that Jesus is describing a greater motivation than simply making a living? Perhaps He saw how we get so involved with the mundane tasks in life that we forget what really motivates us. If this is true, then this statement by Jesus to His disciples has nothing to do with the methodology of evangelism, but rather their (and our) motivation. The real issue is what motivates me everyday to do the things I do, and what people have to do with my everyday activities. In fact, I am coming to the conclusion that thinking of evangelism as fishing dehumanizes the whole process in a way that is counter to everything Jesus taught and modeled about evangelizing.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What are the key ingredients of evangelism? How is it similar or dissimilar from fishing? 

Mingling with Jesus – The Invitation

How do you invite someone to follow Jesus? What does that look like in everyday life? This is an issue Christians have thought about since Jesus walked on this earth. Jesus was filled with compassion for people as he walked from village to village. There are multiple stories of how he healed, cast out demons, and forgave sin in order that people could have a better life. In Matthew 10 we see Jesus giving instructions on how to invite people to accept Gospel message. This chapter gives us a picture of personal contact with people, making relationships, respecting their decisions, and ministering to their needs. But I still come back to may original question, How am I to invite people to follow Jesus?

I’m not going to give an answer to this question today, but I would like to share some general observations about invitations. I have received or given hundreds of invitations over the years. I receive invitations in the mail (conventional and electronic) every single day. I receive such varied invitations as a vacation to some beach paradise for 2-3 days, a dinner at a fancy restaurant, or a lecture on a health topic. Of course, the fine print on each of these invitations reveal that they want something from me. In each instance, they are actually wanting to sell me something. Sometimes the only thing they are selling is information, but usually they are actually selling a product. This product could be a time-share, insurance, or actual products. So I have become very suspicious of invitations.

I have not only received invitations, but have given invitations to others. As I think about it, I am uncomfortable giving an invitation to someone I don’t know. I was recently asked to give information to anyone who stopped by the cafeteria at the local hospital about a health program sponsored by the hospital and directed by me. I have given many of these “free information sessions” over the years and am very comfortable doing so. But for this particular event, we had not communicated very well to those who love the program and would invited their friends to learn more about it. So after about 15 minutes, there was no one at our meeting. What to do? One of the nurses went into the cafeteria and invited every single person in the cafeteria to our “information session” in the adjoining room. In one hour the only person who came into the room was someone who had a friend who invited them to come. Not one person from the cafeteria came at the personal invitation of a person they did not know. And this health program is a legitimate life-changing experience that is presented at great expense to the hospital for the sole purpose of helping others.

So how would you answer the original question? When do you invite? Whom do you invite? Why do you invite? And what are you inviting them to when you invite a person to follow Jesus?

Mingling with Jesus – Winning the Confidence of Others

How do we win the confidence of other people? What does that look like? In the past several months I’ve had the opportunity to visit such diverse places as Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. I have found one experience common to every one of these cities. In each city a man comes up to us we have never met and begins talking with us. I am always skeptical because there is no context for us to begin a friendship. Inevitably, after 2-3 minutes of asking about where we live and what we’re doing in the city and if they can help us, they ask us for money. They end up confirming what I suspected all along – they’re not interested in me, they just want my money.

As I have pondered these experience, I wonder if that’s the reputation Christians have today. And perhaps we are like that! Do we make friends just so we can turn them into Christians? And if they don’t become a Christian do we abandon them? After all, didn’t Jesus tell us to shake the dust off our sandals and go to the next town if people don’t become Christians? Well, Jesus did indeed tell us to “move on” when people are not receptive to us. But that is about respecting the other person’s beliefs and wishes, which is actually the only way we can win the confidence of anyone. I have found it a fundamental principle of human relationships to respect the other person enough to listen, have compassion, and take an interest in their life if I am to be a friend and win confidence. If I am making a friend so that he will become a Christian, then I am manipulating him the same as the gentlemen who greeted me in each of the large cities I have visited this year. This is not the picture I get of Jesus as recorded in the gospel accounts of His ministry on this earth.

This is a subject I challenge each of us to take seriously. How do we interact with other people? What is our motive? Who are we trying to impress? Why are we making friends?

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