Changing Our Christmas Message

It’s December. The month where we as Christians proclaim our sacred message of…outrage. Wait what!?  Yep, you read that right. Outrage.

Outrage, because some people won’t say, “Merry Christmas”. Instead, they’ll say “Happy Holidays” or (God-forbid) nothing at all. Outrage, because some people won’t even write out the word “CHRISTmas” but instead will use the dreaded substitute, “X-mas”. Outrage, because a secular company like Starbucks won’t even use Christian language or symbols on their cups. Oh the humanity!

What could be worse than living in a world where non-Christians don’t respect Christian traditions? How about a world where our message of outrage is the very thing keeping Hell-bound souls from hearing about Christ?

That would be worse.

So this December let’s stop the outrage. Let’s not fall into the Devil’s trap. Let’s not do anything that will take away from the beauty, the goodness, and the truth of the Christmas message. Let’s not do it.

We can, and should be, Christians who still say, “Merry Christmas” to others. Even if others won’t say it to us.

But let us also be Christians who listen to the Holy Spirit. Let us also be Christians who use our words and actions to reflect Jesus. Let us also be Christians who spread a message of hope (rather than outrage).

What might this look like?

In their own words, here’s how the Holy Spirit recently led three members of Fellowship to embody and spread a different message this season:

Carmen said: I was driving to Wendy’s for lunch and I passed the line of people waiting in camping chairs outside of Active Faith. My heart beat a little faster and the Holy Spirit said, “You should get something for them too.” So I added 10 cheeseburgers to my order and handed them out before continuing on my way.

Ben said: I was given by God an opportunity to share with a coworker about the importance of memorizing and meditating on Scripture, because good works can only be accomplished if I put good words into my mind.  What we put into us is what will come out.  This stuck with him.  He started asking more questions, because I explained how the Bible is divinely inspired, and is the best presentation of the one true God that I can examine for myself routinely.  He asked about justice and goodness, turning the other cheek, and why Jesus’ death was any different from other people who have been crucified.  I am sure that this was orchestrated by God, and that God can use this conversation to steer my friend’s life toward Him.  Amen!

Meredith said: I felt like God was calling me to reach out more to the moms of my daughters’ best friends. One thing led to another over the course of a couple of days, and now we’re all getting together at one of Cindi Jackson’s “Paint and Patter” classes for a girls night out. I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes me with this and how these relationships can strengthen and grow.

So how might the Holy Spirit want to lead you?

If we’re willing to give up our “right” to be outraged, I believe we can expect the Holy Spirit to lead us.

He’ll lead us to be Christ to others.

He’ll lead us to share Christ with others.

He’ll lead us to partake in and present the greatest message of all- the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This December, will you allow Him to lead you?

Every Question Is A Personal Question

The other week a student at SLHS asked me a question that comes up a lot in evangelism: what about the person that never had the chance to hear about Jesus? How can God send that person to Hell?

Now, like I said, this question comes up a lot, so I went into one of my typical answers. I talked about God’s sovereignty over all creation, and how all people have been given the ability to see that God exists and respond. And then how God, before he created anything, knew that if he gave all people free will some of those people would never in any possible scenario receive his free offer of grace. Therefore when he did create them he was free to put them in places where they would never hear about Jesus.

I think that is where I lost him. Actually, I know that is where I lost him because he said out loud, “That’s BS!” (Except he didn’t use the abbreviation). No, it’s not BS— it’s Christian philosophy at its best. Nevertheless, that didn’t really matter.

So I said to him with a laugh, “So you’re not convinced?”

And this is where the conversation took a turn. As we continued to talk he mentioned that all of his family is Buddhist. Ah, now things made sense. He wasn’t just asking some abstract philosophical question, he was asking a very personal question. He wanted to know if his family, who in his mind had never heard about Jesus, was going to Hell. That is a very different kind of question.

The mistake I made is a mistake that is often easy to make when talking to people about matters of faith. It is easy to talk about and respond to matters of salvation in the abstract. It is easy to do because often the person asking the question poses the question in this way as a means to protect him or herself.

But what I had forgotten that day is there are no purely abstract philosophical questions when it comes to matters of salvation. Every question asked is a personal question because the answer will always affect the questioner in a personal way. It may affect how they think about their own eternity, or it may affect how they think about eternity for others—but in both cases, the answer matters to them. If it didn’t they would not have asked the question.

When the student asked the question, I should have responded in a more personal way. Here are some examples of what I could have said.

  • “Wow that’s a really great question. It sounds like you are concerned about God’s fairness. If God is fair, how do you think God views you?”
  • Or “Wow that’s a great question. What led you to think about that question?”
  • Or “Honestly, I’m not 100% sure, but if you really want to know, I’d be happy to get back to you with an answer. But what about you? It seems God is wanting to tell you about Jesus. Do you know what Jesus has done for you?”

I’m grateful that God is bigger than my mistakes and missed opportunities. But hopefully this article will help you and me to remember whenever someone asks us a question about salvation, that question is always a personal question. So we need to pray (sometimes in the moment) and ask God to show us how to respond with a personal, not just philosophical, answer.

Sharing The Gospel Can Be Easier Than You Think

How much do you have to know to share the good news of Jesus Christ?

The answer is not a whole lot.

The important thing is not knowing a lot, but knowing where to go.

Think of a gospel-conversation like walking with friends along a path and making a few stops along the way. Your job is simply to walk with them in conversation and lead them to the right stops. Then at each stop give them an opportunity to respond.

What are the key stops on the path?

Stop #1 God’s Law.

Stop #2 God’s Judgement.

Stop #3 God’s Grace.

Stop # 4 God’s Offer.

What might this look like?

Watch this video:

Did you notice how the conversation was build around six key questions?

  1. Do you think you are a good person?
  2. Have you every broken one the Ten Commandments?
  3. If God judges you by the Ten Commandments on the Day of Judgement do you think you’d be guilty or innocent?
  4. Do you think you’d go to Heaven or Hell?
  5. Do you know what God did for sinners so that you don’t have to go to Hell?
  6. Are you willing to receive God’s gift, repent and to trust Jesus?

Did you notice how the questions lead the person to consider God’s law, God’s judgment, God’s grace and God’s offer?

The conversation took a few turns but ultimately it kept coming back to the four key stops. And that is all you have to do when sharing Gospel with others–take them to the stops.

I didn’t originate this method, and I definitely don’t think it is the only way to share Jesus with others. But it is one way. And it is a way that is easy and clearly points to our need for Jesus.

So try it out and then tell me how it goes.

And if you have a favorite method of Gospel-sharing put in the comments. And let others  know.

Blessings,

 

Saint Patrick’s Story

The story of Saint Patrick is a great story.

I think it’s one every Christian should know.

Because the story of Saint Patrick points us to the Gospel story.

Patrick lived in Britain in the 5th century A.D. He grew up in a Christian home, yet was not a believer.

At the age of sixteen Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates. He was taken to Ireland and enslaved.

Yet, it was in slavery that the Lord met Patrick.

In his book The Confessions, Patrick says that the Lord had mercy on him and gave him the opportunity to be forgiven of his sins.

Patrick received the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness and was forever changed. So changed, that he pursued God with a new passion.  In The Confessions he writes:

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn.

But that was only the beginning. After six years of slavery God gave Patrick a vision that led Patrick to freedom. Once free, Patrick returned to Britain and devoted his life to God.

He studied to become a priest and then a bishop. Then God gave Patrick a new vision–return to Ireland and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

Now is his twenties Patrick, returned to Ireland. For 40 years he shared the good news of Jesus with the Irish. He suffered and endured many hardships. Yet in the end, God used him to convert thousands of people and plant many churches all over Ireland.

It’s a great story. And it’s a Gospel story.

Patrick knew he needed a Savior. Patrick knew what he had been saved from. Patrick knew he had received God’s grace. And because of that Patrick responded to God’s call to share God’s grace with others.

The story of Saint Patrick reminds us that at one time we, like Patrick, were all slaves…slaves to sin. That it was in our slavery that Jesus met us.  Offered us forgiveness. Offered us freedom. And Jesus did all this so that we could pursue Him and help set others free.

So this Saint Patrick’s Day let us take a moment to meditate on Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and freedom. And let us take a moment to thank God for the grace he has shown us. Then maybe, just maybe, we might find our story becoming like Saint Patrick’s story. One that points others to the Gospel story.

Who’s My Neighbor?

I’m reading a very convicting book right now. It’s called The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. It begins by asking the reader to play the following game:

Think about your eight closest neighbors. To do this just imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe game piece. Then put your house in the middle. Next think about the eight houses in the sounding boxes. (Need a visual? Click here).

Now try to answer the following questions about each of your closest neighbors.

1. What are the  names of the people who live in the households represented by each of the other boxes?

2. What are some relevant facts about the people in each house? For example, where were they born? What is their job? What do they like to do?…etc.

3.  What’s something personal you know about each person in each of the houses? For example, what are their dreams? Do they believe in God? What do they fear? Or some other meaningful bit of information that you could only know after a meaningful interaction with them.

 

Take your time…

 

Now, how did you do?

 

Yeah, my sheet was mostly blank too. Turns out we’re not alone. The authors of the book report the following:

  • About 10 percent of people are able to name the names of all eight of their neighbors.
  • Only about 3 percent of people can share any facts about their eight neighbors.
  • And less than 1 percent of people know any personal information about their eight closest neighbors.

 

I’m not even in the 10 percent group.

 

Here’s the hard news (and the whole point of the book). Jesus said to love our neighbors. And there is no reason to believe that Jesus didn’t mean love our actual neighbors—people who physically live next door to us.

Which means if you’re like me, (you actually want to follow Jesus) then you need to make a change. So let’s do it together.

This summer let’s commit to praying for our eight closest neighbors. Let’s commit to building relationships with our neighbors. Let’s commit to learning something meaningful about our neighbors.

We all desire to see our neighbors have their lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is, so does God. That’s why he led you to live where you live.

God has put us in our houses so that we can represent (and be ambassadors for) Jesus to our actual neighbors. God wants us to step out in faith and begin to pray for our neighbors so that we might get to know our neighbors. So that God might open a door for them to one day hear and respond to the gospel.

I’m not gonna lie, this makes me nervous. I’d much rather share the gospel with 100 strangers then the person living 100 feet from my door.   But hey, if Jesus said “Love your neighbor” then I guess we ought to actually love our neighbors.

Who’s up for it?

 


 

To learn more about how you can love your neighbor join me this summer in reading the book, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

Or check out their website http://artofneighboring.com/

Or watch this video for a little inspiration:

16 Gospel Verses Worth Memorizing

 

  1. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
  1. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
  1. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have Bible_and_Key_Divinationeternal life” (John 3:16).
  1. “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).
  1. “Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38–39).
  1. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” ( Romans 4:25).
  1. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” ( Romans 5:8).
  1. “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures … he was buried.… The third day he rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures … and he appeared” (1 Cor. 15:3–6).
  1. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).
  1. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
  1. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my Gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8).
  1. “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14).
  1. “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” ( Hebrews 9:28).
  1. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
  1. “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
  1. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

 

 


This list comes from the book Grounded in the Gospel…

 

5 Online Gospel Resources Worth Using

 

Where can you go online to find great gospel resources?

Of course there are numerous websites dedicated to the Gospel and gospel resources. But if  you don’t have the time (or the courage) to wade through them all,  here are five online resources that will get you started:

1. Bible Gateway1024px-20060513_toolbox

Ok, this is just a Bible website with lots of great study tools for the Bible. But let’s face it the only way to really to know the Gospel and to be equipped to share the Gospel is by spending time in God’s word. Because everything in God’s word is in some way connected to the Gospel. So start with God’s word.

2. The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition is often a go-to site for pastors. But it has many great articles, videos, and other resources for the average church goer. The folks at the Gospel Coalition are passionate about the Gospel are doing their best to equip churches, families, and individuals to know and to live out the Gospel.

3. Veritas Forums

You might remember Veritas from your college days. Veritas is a ministry geared toward college-aged students and academics types. Online they have some wonderful videos tackling all kinds of tough issues. Sometimes the discussion can be a little heady and academic. But if you have smart friends who don’t know Jesus, this is the site for you and them.

4. KindnessResources

When it comes to evangelism and outreach there is a lot of Jesus “junk” out there. Thankfully that is not the case with these guys. I feel like most of their products would actually be helpful–crazy, I know. That’s  probably because this company was found by actual pastors who have hearts for evangelism and church planning. I think it shows in their products.

5. Liberate

Liberate is a relatively new site started by Billy Graham’s grandson pastor Tullian Tchividjian. I’ve just started going to it.  I like the articles, videos, and book reviews. But more than any of that, I love that Liberate exists “to connect God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world.” That’s Gospel.

I hope you find these sites helpful. If you would like more Gospel resources online or otherwise, just email me.

 

What resources would you recommend?

 

 

Not Just Another Sample

 

Costco has become one of my favorite places. Especially on Tuesday mornings when I go with Ian (our three-year-old). The place is still pretty empty. So Ian can run around, climb on the furniture, and “help” push the cart without bothering anyone—most of the time.

The morning gets better if we arrive at just the right time to miss the crowds but still get the samples. Samples are seriously a grace of God. Often Ian will ask for something, try it, then hand it to me and say, “I don’t want it.” Great! More1280px-Costcostorehenderson samples for me.

It’s the nature of samples to fish for preferences. Samples aren’t made for anyone in particular. Instead they are put out for the masses. The hope is that someone will have a preference for the sample and want more. But sometimes, few people have a preference for the sample and the product just goes away.

I love samples. And it’s probably because I am the product of a “sample” culture. Everything from foods to ideas to lifestyles are put out for us to try, to see if we have a preference for it. To see if we like it. If we do, there’s always a way to get more. And if we don’t, that’s ok. It’s just not our preference. The sample just wasn’t made for us.

But some things in our world weren’t made to be samples. Some things weren’t made just for people’s preferences. Some things were meant to be served to everyone.

The Gospel is one of those things.

It often doesn’t feel this way, because a lot people seem fine without the good news of Jesus. Many people have good families, are nice neighbors, have nice jobs, and live decent moral lives – all without putting their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

It can often seem like the Gospel message is just a sample. At some point people may or may not try it. And they may or may not decide it is for them. And even if they never try it, our sample culture says, “that’s ok, there are plenty of other things for you to enjoy.”

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul saw things differently. Specifically he didn’t see the Gospel as just another thing to be sampled. He says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…”

Paul didn’t see himself as one who passively stands in the marketplace of ideas offering one option among many for people to try. Rather, he saw himself as one called to go serve, to bring the Gospel to everyone. He knew that the Gospel was made for everyone. And that everyone needs the Gospel.

Despite what our lives look like on the outside. Despite the myriad of choices before us. Without the goodness of the Gospel, we’re always looking for good news somewhere else. We’re always in pursuit of the thing that will finally satisfy all our preferences. But sadly, in our attempt to satisfy ourselves we end up destroying ourselves and others.

Eugene Peterson describes this kind of life perfectly:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.” (Galatians 5:19-21 MSG)

These are the parts of our life that we don’t like to talk about. These are the parts our life that need more than a sample of something to satisfy our preferences. These are the parts of our life that need the power of God. They are the parts of our life that need the Gospel.

The Gospel was made for everyone. Because everyone needs the Gospel.

Every person, every household, every neighborhood, every people group, every culture, whether they recognize it or not is in need of the power of God. They are in need of God’s saving work. They are in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is why the Gospel will never be just another sample.

 

 

If we have been transformed by the Gospel, let us pray that God would empower us to move beyond our sample tables. In order that we, like Paul, might bring the Good News we have been given to everyone we meet.

 

One Thing That Keeps Us from Sharing The Gospel And How To Overcome It

 

What keeps us from sharing the Gospel with others?

Until recently I would have given one of three answers:

  1. Christians don’t know enough about the Gospel
  2. Christians have few (if any) non-Christian friends
  3. Christians have become too busy with their own livesV&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)

Maybe you would agree. Maybe you feel like you don’t know enough. Or maybe you feel like you no longer have any non-Christian friends. And it’s probably likely that you’re busy–crazy busy even–and you just don’t have time to even make time to share the Gospel with others.

I get it. At different times in my life, I’ve been there. And I’ve thought all the same things.

But Pastors David Platt and Francis Chan wouldn’t agree. As they see it, we don’t share the Gospel because we lack something. And that something isn’t knowledge, non-Christian friends, or more time for our neighbors.

What we lack is just one thing–boldness.

We simply lack the courage to do it.

After recently reading through the book of Acts and preaching on parts of it a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t agree more. The early church didn’t know everything there was to know about the Gospel. They didn’t have a ton of non-Christian friends. And they had jobs, families, and other things to do. But when it came to sharing the Gospel, they were bold.  

So how do we get boldness?

This is where we (and by “we” I mean “I”) tend to make the mistake. We tend to try to motivate ourselves (and others) to go share. We might try to motivate ourselves just to love others, or even just to see people as Jesus sees them.

It might work for a short time. But more times than not, the motivation quickly fades. We stop looking for opportunities. And soon we feel guilty again for not sharing our faith.

So what is the alternative?

The alternative is to stop looking for boldness within ourselves. Because it doesn’t exist in us, and we can’t generate it. The kind of boldness that enables us to share the Gospel only comes from God.

Thus, if we want to be bold we must pray. We must ask the Holy Spirit to give us what we cannot give ourselves. This is what the church in Acts understood.  The answer isn’t to try harder. The answer is to pray more. We must first pray for our own boldness, and then pray for each other’s boldness. Only when we start with prayer will we not only see the opportunities to share the Gospel, but we’ll have the God-given courage to actually do it.

 

If you still have a few minutes, check out this great conversation between David Platt and Francis Chan on Prayer, the Holy Spirit and Boldness. You won’t regret it.

 

Life-Saving Use of a Napkin

 

It wasn’t the first time I put my foot in my mouth.  I was a young youth leader just out of college talking with some church folks about evangelism. Someone mentioned they liked using Gospel tracts.  I rolled my eyes and went on a diatribe about how I had tried tracts and found them useless.

“No one really reads them.” I said. “They just throw them away”

I may have even thrown in some stats on the ineffectiveness of Gospel tracts for good measure.napkin

The conversation had been put to rest.

That is until a young women standing in earshot of our group turned around and messed everything up.

She shared how a few years ago she had been in a very bad place in life–drugs, bad relationships, and financial ruin–the whole deal. Then one day she was walking down the street. She happened to see a little booklet on the sidewalk. Curious, she opened it up. It was a Gospel tract. One that used the “Bridge” illustration. She read it. Saw the prayer at the end. Prayed the prayer. And that day gave her life to Jesus Christ.

“That tract saved my life,” she said.

“uh…huh,” I replied.

Since then I’ve become much more “open-minded” about the use of Gospel tracts. I no longer try to convert people away from using them. Even when I hear that they placed them on every car in a Target parking lot. Or that they gave a tract in place of a tip at a restaurant. Or that they just like to pass them out to strangers on a street. Because hey, if God used them once before, he can certainly do it again (and I’m sure he has).

The Apostle Paul reminds us “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”(Romans 10:5)…I think that even includes those who hand out tracts.

But what if you don’t have a tract?

Start with a napkin.

Below is the “Bridge” illustration that led the young women to Christ. If you were born before 1985 and have been around church for a while you’ve likely seen it. But in our “post-Christian” cultural, there’s a good chance you have kids, grandkids, friends, neighbors or others you know who haven’t seen it before.

Take a moment to learn it, or relearn. Practice it on a napkin a few times- (so your drawing is not all smudgy). Then pray for an opportunity to share it with someone. They might take your napkin tract only to later throw it away. But then again someone might happen to find your discarded napkin tract. And it might just happen to save her life.