Toward Greater Faithfulness in Evangelism

As I looked back over 2012, one of the areas I wanted to improve in the new year was engaging in evangelism outside the confines of pastoral ministry as such. While I regularly have opportunities for evangelism in church ministry, I wanted to be more pro-active about looking for opportunities in my normal, day-to-day interactions with people who have no plans of ever visiting a church. The Apostle Paul gave Timothy this very charge when he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:5, “Do the work of an evangelist.” The Scriptures are clear that we all have this privilege and responsibility, but how can we be more faithful to it?

One of the reasons why I sometimes hesitate to begin a Gospel conversation is that the task can seem overwhelming. I don’t mean that I’m not sure how to start or how to explain the Gospel. I mean that many times I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to explain the Gospel adequately, or perhaps the person I’m speaking with seems in a rush or even disinterested. Is there a way to overcome the time crunch, or to break through to a person who initially is disinterested or seems hurried?

The problem that looms in each of these scenarios is the feeling that every time I share the Gospel I have to get through the entire message. This wrongheaded thinking creates two problems. First, it turns me into a lecturer and ends all meaningful conversation. The other person usually ends up listening politely, nodding now and then, and then changing the subject when convenient. This isn’t fruitful or enjoyable for either of us. Second, it prohibits me from understanding what the person with whom I am talking is really thinking. When I am doing all the talking, I’m not listening. The reality is that every unbeliever has a worldview that conflicts with the Gospel and that can be used to turn a lecture into a meaningful and engaging discussion. I will never know what that worldview is, though, if I’m the only one talking.

In his helpful book Tactics, Gregory Koukl suggests a more modest goal than conversion in evangelistic encounters. He wrote, “All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want to give him something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.” Setting your goal on poking a hole in an unbeliever’s worldview makes Gospel conversations much more manageable and fruitful. It eliminates both problems mentioned above. You don’t have to worry about the clock, because your goal isn’t to get through an entire Gospel tract. That may not be what God wants you to do in a certain encounter. You also avoid becoming a lecturer, because your primary objective is to put a stone in your discussion partner’s shoe. That means you need to listen first to understand the contradictions in the other’s thinking. People are usually more interested in a conversation when they’re doing the talking. Once you understand the other person’s point of view, you’re in a position to gently but boldly show how it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and show them the truth of the Gospel. They might even be interested now, since you’ve shown a genuine interest in them and what they believe.

If, like me, you want to be more faithful in evangelism this year, setting your sights on a more modest goal might be helpful. Some people plant, some people water. Don’t feel like you have to do it all. At the end of the day, God causes the growth. Just get in on the process, and let God do His work.

Christmas Eve Meditation

One of the realities we face as people living in a fallen world is that tragedy and sadness surround us. This reality seems especially true this Christmas as we all mourn not only the loss of many lives in Newtown, CT, but also what such acts of violence say about our culture and the spiritual condition of our nation. It seems like lately one tragedy has barely ended before another one begins. This morning in Webster, NY, four firemen were shot, two fatally, while two others remain in the hospital. The gunman set a fire to lure the first responders to the scene, and when they arrived, he opened fire. It’s gut-wrenching to think that people have lost loved ones on Christmas Eve of all days because of the wicked acts of a wicked man.

The sad reality, though, is that our world is not any different than the world that Jesus was born into. In Matthew 2, we read about a wicked ruler, Herod, who put to death all male children two and under in and around Bethlehem. He committed this atrocity out of fear of losing power, for the sake of his own ego and pride. The world into which Jesus came was a world far more brutal than our own. It was a world where slavery was legal, and millions of people were treated as no better than cattle. It was a world where women were often treated as property. It was a world where homosexuality was rampant. It was a world filled with idolatrous worship and religious persecution.

In the midst of all the evil and chaos of the surrounding world, God made a promise that He fulfilled at Christmas. Matthew 1:23 says that the birth of Jesus took place to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.” Matthew reminds us that Immanuel means God with us. Jesus came into a world filled with evil and violence and hate as Immanuel. He came as God with us.

The promise of Christmas is that, no matter what happens in our world, no matter what befalls us personally, if we have faith in Jesus, then God is with us. He is with us to save, to deliver, to rescue, to comfort, to strengthen, to care for, to give peace, to carry, and to sustain us. In a world filled with darkness, Christmas stands as a burning and shining light that in Christ, God is with us. It might not always feel that way. From a human perspective, it might not always look that way. But the promise of God is sure. If we know Jesus through faith in Him, trusting in His death and resurrection, believing His promise to forgive our sins because of what He has done, God is with us.

Jesus came into our broken world as Immanuel, God with us. Our world has not changed. It is still broken. But neither has our God changed. He is still with us in His Son. May His promise give you comfort, peace, and joy this Christmas, and throughout the year.

Homosexuality and the End of Religious Freedom

It seems like not a day goes by without reading or hearing something about homosexuality and/or homosexuals wanting the alleged right to “marry” a person of the same sex. Story after story is written with one main goal: to normalize homosexuality through desensitizing people to it. Lately, things have become much more intense than I ever can remember. Name-calling, intolerance, and unbridled bigotry are the hallmarks of the contemporary homosexual movement. The latest news story is about a privately owned fast food chain, Chick-Fil-A, known for its Christian values, whose owner publicly stated he holds a biblical view of marriage (ie., a lifelong covenant before God of a man and a woman to one another exclusively). At least three different mayors of some of the largest cities in this nation have vowed to do everything they can to keep out such “intolerant” and “bigoted” businesses, all in the name of tolerance, of course.

But here’s the problem. The stance of CFA is nothing less than normal, historic, orthodox Christianity over the past 2,000 years (not to mention the stance of Judaism before that). Therefore, when a mayor (or any government official) asserts that opposition to homosexuality or the claim that homosexuality is morally evil disqualifies a business from setting up shop in a community, that mayor is not only banishing fast food chains like CFA, but churches as well. Every Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church in this country believes that homosexuality is sinful and against God’s will for humanity. If CFA is not allowed in Chicago or Boston because of its owner’s view of homosexuality, why should it be any different for a local church whose pastor and membership believe the same thing as CFA’s owner? Once that domino falls, the state will dictate to churches what is and is not acceptable doctrine if a church wants building permits to set up a facility in a given town.

Gospel-preaching churches simply cannot accept homosexuality as good or acceptable for people made in God’s image. This is not a “civil rights” issue; this is a moral issue, specifically, an issue of sexual morality (or immorality, as the case may be). When Christians assert that homosexuality is sinful, we are not saying anything different than when we say that adultery is sinful. It’s not an issue of anyone’s “right” to be an adulterer, nor is it an issue of discrimination or intolerance. It’s an issue of what is right and wrong, and on whose authority. Beyond the moral issue, though, this is a Gospel issue. One of the core symbols given to humanity to explain the Gospel is that of marriage. Jesus is the bridegroom, and the Church is His bride. When marriage is dishonored, whether by adultery or homosexuality, the Gospel is dishonored. Christians cannot accept homosexuality as an acceptable “alternative lifestyle” without denying the Gospel and thereby denying Jesus Himself.

The position the Church must take to maintain her identity as the Church of Christ and the position of the homosexual movement are directly at odds. There can be no compromise on this issue. If the positions of three prominent mayors become the norm, Christians can expect to be mistreated verbally by American culture, and, in time, mistreated through physical persecution. A recent article on time.com asserted that organizations that promote biblical morality are “malevolent,” and society rarely tolerates what it considers to be evil for very long. But none of this should be a surprise. After all, “A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…. They will make you outcasts…” (Jn 15:20; 16:2). Through it all, we have this confidence: The gates of hell will not prevail no matter how much they rage against the truth. Jesus Christ has overcome, and so have we in Him.