Sunday, October 25, 2009

Best Practices of our Faith: Evangelism


Acts 17:16-34 “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean." (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD ' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

Salvation, or The Gospel, or the Good News is this:
Admit you are a sinner  Romans 3:23
Believe that Jesus died for your sins John 3:16
Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, or Leader and Forgiver Romans 10:9-10

Peter sums it all up in the story of Jesus in Acts 2:14-36, 38. You can talk also about Steps to Peace With God, the 4 Spiritual Laws, or the Roman Road which looks at several verses through Romans to define the process of salvation. Next week we will talk about what happens at salvation. We acknowledge that salvation is a process, but it is also an event, when an ultimate decision is made.
For those who personally experienced salvation in time gone by the call is to Holiness; but Salvation when viewed in 2nd or 3rd person is evangelism. The Truth is, people need to hear the story of Jesus. How do they hear this wonderful story? The buzz is out that people who don’t know that story won’t come to an event to hear it. The church is not able to attract people like they used to, and if all our evangelistic efforts are based solely on an attractional model, we just won’t see much happening. If the people won’t come to us, we need to go to the people. The Emergent church emphasizes this, that to impact the world we have to go live in the world. We have to be the light in a dark place. This is not new. I grew up in a church that believed and taught this. Yes, we did events, but we also were challenged to take our faith with us everywhere we go.
Evangelism used to start with asking two questions. James Kennedy in Evangelism Explosion called them the 2 diagnostic questions because the answer people give you enlightens you to where they are at spiritually.
1. If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?
2. If you were to die tonight and were asked at the gates of heaven, “Why should you be let in?” what would you say?
These are great questions and I still use them. Evangelism used to start there, and in a Christian culture people understood them even if they were far from God. Today we don’t live in a Christian culture. Many non-Christians have little of the childhood Sunday School that you and I had. Immigration adds more and more people to the mix, and they bring other religions and cultures. How do you and I share the Gospel with them? What has to happen now more than ever in that pre-salvation place people are in? Let me share 2 thoughts with you.

Love - You, more than ever before, have to live a life of love before your neighbours, unsaved family and friends, and strangers. This cannot just be an act; it has to be authentic. You have to love your neighbour as yourself - now where have I heard that challenge before?
You have to invest time and energy into those relationships. If you spend all that time with Christians you will never lead someone to Jesus. Take advantage outreach events like the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and the Blades Family Faith Night; but those things should be just part of an ongoing dialogue about spiritual things. You earn the right to have that discussion when you live a life of putting others first (read “love”) because you surrendered your own life to Jesus . You are being transformed yourself by the renewing of your mind and heart by the work of the Holy Spirit in you. You are becoming more like Jesus in holiness which expresses itself as love.
Your neighbour hears you gossiping about someone; and what have you just done for the credibility of your faith and witness? You take advantage of someone and as you brag about it you are pushing that non-Christian even further away from Jesus. You keep the same vices and addictions as non-Christians and so they believe God is powerless to change. Perhaps we ourselves have come to believe that - a form of godliness but without the power. We don’t have to be perfect, but if you are constantly extending love rather than judgement, grace rather than self-righteousness, friendship rather than control, people will begin to understand the love and grace of God. They will begin to ask questions about why you are different. Are you different because Jesus is in your life? Is that increasing Christ-likeness happening in your life?

Authenticity - You have to be real and authentic. People aren’t as concerned about how good you are as they are about how real you are. Who wants a bleached out sanitized and sterilized life? Yet that is what we often pursue as the church, thinking perfection is what it is all about. In pursuing that we become institutional because we are pursuing the Law. The Law sucks the life out of our faith experience. It quenches new believers enthusiasm and causes the older saints to revert to a judging position rather than a vital discipling position. We are pursuing Jesus. We are meeting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. And one great truth about God is He accepts us as we are. Again and again we see Jesus approach and accept people where they were at - and in doing so was able to transform their life.
Zacheus was a thief disguised as a tax collector. Jesus had lunch with him and Zach responded to the truth of Jesus by repaying 4 times the amount he had stolen from people as restitution. The adulteress stood alone before Jesus with no accusers, and Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” The Samaritan women was given the Living Water and she told the whole town about Jesus. The list goes on, but the principle is to be real in your faith. We want people to experience salvation because we know how important it is. Most of the people don’t know how important, so they aren’t going to listen to us unless we truly love them as people. You can’t fake love. You can’t do love out of ulterior motives, out of an agenda. People know and they don’t respond if all you are is a salesman. We are ambassadors - we have a message to share. Be real as you do that. I want to leave you with 2 practical things you can do today. Love and authenticity are lifelong pursuits. They are changes that happen over time.

Pray - Today you can pray. Everyone can pray. Make that list of 5 or 10 people who need the Lord and keep it near you day to day. Pray for those people often, that God would draw them to Himself. Pray for opportunities for yourself or other Christians in their life to be used to share the Good News. Pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into the fields which are white and ready for a spiritual harvest.

Initiate spiritual conversations - Lastly, we need to be able to talk to people about spiritual things. Even though we don’t start with those 2 diagnostic questions, we can start with spiritual things. The Soulchat.ca program is one tool that the BGEA is offering us as a church. They are showing 3 commercials on TV programs over the month of November. Your neighbours are likely going to see them. The grocery clerks will, as will the people in your family. They are short, funny, and have a memorable hook line: “I got a guy for that!” “I can hook you up!” “I know someone”. We are going to give you some cards with soul chat on them as well as our church information. Those commercials are going to send people to the website where they will have an opportunity to read articles and videos and connect to a local church like us to get questions answered. We don’t have to wait for that phone to ring, though. You can hand one of those people near us a card and ask, “Have you seen the soulchat.ca commercials? What did you think?” As you listen and respond, what a perfect opportunity to ask them about spiritual things without any threat. You have a common place to come from. We can do an event at the end of November where you could invite them to come for a discussion
Here are some other questions you can ask:
Have you read much of Jesus’ teachings?
What would you say is the most foundational thing in life?
Do you have spiritual beliefs?
Who is a spiritual person you admire?
Do you know who Jesus is?
What are your spiritual questions?
If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
I don’t believe in a God like that either. Let me tell you what I believe.
Have you ever gone to church?

The Great Commission is not just a Great Suggestion!  Start with prayer, and go from there. Let God lead. He has promised to provide the words when you need them; but what you need the most is just your story of what God, what Jesus has done in your life. Maybe you realize He hasn’t done much yet. If that is the case surrender yourself to Him and let Him continue that marvellous work in your life that He started so long ago. Today is the day of salvation. What are you doing with Jesus today?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Your Best You - God’s Image


Romans 5:1-8 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

So what does it mean to be made in God’s image?

Being made in the image of God means you have a choice. You have a choice in life. Life comes at us hard and heavy sometimes and we can feel off balance. There has been some of the worst flooding in the Philippines. The water Is not solid, but by sheer volume it comes in and pushes and drowns and overwhelms cars and bridges, anything in its way. You get the sense that there is nothing you can do, that you are just caught in the current of life and swept along. Everyone has issues in life. If it isn’t financial, it is social, or mental or even physical. And in the midst of all that, you have a choice. Some people think the only way out is to give up. Some people do the “grin and bear it” thing. But you are made in God’s image, and with that image comes the ability to choose to accept God’s provision of grace in your life or not.
This choice to have God in your life or not is your choice. No one else can make it for you. No one else can deny you that choice. That choice is not dependent on where you are or what you have done in life. It is dependent upon you hearing what God is saying to you and deciding to follow Him.
One of my favourite stories in the Old testament is when Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He says ask your God to show himself. They tried and failed, but when it was Elijah’s turn fire rained down from heaven and it was obvious who sits on the throne of heaven. The evil queen Jezebel hears and threatens Elijah’s life, so Elijah flees and wants to die. Great victory, sudden defeat. Then the story gets good, for God has not given up on Elijah. He pokes Elijah and says go to Horeb and so he does. After and earthquake and a big wind and a raging fire we see God speaking to Elijah in a gentle blowing… a small breeze. Though God is bigger than we can grasp and can destroy worlds at a single word, He reached down out of eternity and whispered in Elijah’s ear, “You are not alone!” Ever feel like you’ve blown it, that you have no worth? God’s not done with you yet.
In fact, God has done all the work, everything that needs to happen in order for you to be in a vital relationship with Him; so that the choice is now yours. What will you do with Jesus? In the quietness of your own mind and heart you can respond to God calling you to Himself.

Being made in the image of God means you have unlimited potential. Start with the biggest deposit of gold ever reported, in the headwaters of the Busang River in the steaming jungle of Borneo. The Canadian company Bre-X Minerals Ltd. didn't know about that when it bought rights to the site in 1993. But after Bre-X hired a high-living geologist to map the ore body, the deposit, along with the fever dreams that accompany gold, grew to monster size—by March 1997 that geologist was talking about a 200-million-ounce resource. You do the math at, say US$500 per ounce. The potential had several parties trying to get in on the action. Unfortunately within months the gold deposit was discovered to be bogus and it affected the whole gold industry for years. The potential in the ground turned out to be nothing at all.
Now take you. You are created by a personal God. He is the God that created the earth and the universe. You have that power available within you. You were not just created as an object, but created in His image to have relationship with Him. Your potential is not based on who you are or were; or your performance today or in the past. It is based on who God is. He has created you with unique gifts and a place in the church to serve. He has pursued you through the years for a very specific purpose, and continues to pursue when you turn aside and continues to support when you are on the right track. What does it take to change the world. It takes God; but the greatest thing about God is He wants to use you and I to do it.
You get in relationship with Him, and learn how to listen to Him and how to walk in obedience, then there is nothing you can’t do. In days gone by waters parted, men stood unburnt in the midst of fire, had years added to their lives, were healed and saved from sickness and enemies. You may have issues and people say you can’t do anything, but if God wants you to the unthinkable, you had better begin to think it because He is that big. He used a donkey to correct Balaam. He used a prostitute to model forgiveness. He used a self-righteous church leader to give us the most popular verse in the Gospels. He used a shepherd to slay a giant. He used a slave to prepare a nation for a 7 year famine. He used fishermen and tax collectors to found His church. What is He saying to you? I was reminded this past weekend that we can and need to take responsibility for who we are. You want to grow in Christ? Don’t just wait for the right church program to run, or a church leader to drag you to the alter. Go after it. You can do it. Paul said he could do all things through Jesus who strengthens him. So can you.

Being made in the image of God means you are loved. Earlier in our Scripture reading we read the truth that at our worst Jesus loved us more than anything - more than heaven, more than His rightful place there, more than the comfort and perfectness of God’s presence. He gave all that up just so you would know that Jesus loves you. Romans 8 starts with these words: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Do you hear that? Jesus said that to the woman caught in adultery. He asked who condemned her, and there was no one. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Jonah had a very specific message from God and yet He ran the opposite way, and God still loved Him and used Him. David committed adultery and murder and struggled with pride; but he was the apple of God’s eye. Job suffered tremendous calamity and loss, yet God met him in his need, and Job found grace and blessing. Peter had words that denied Jesus and words that were quick to hurt and pursue pride; but Jesus restores him not just to ministry but as head of the church in Jerusalem. Paul had little patience for the people around him, but took the Gospel to the Gentiles, to you and I.
Do you then dare think that you are beyond God’s notice? Do you think that in you the Creator has made junk or garbage? Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t buy that bag of goods that says that because you are the most important thing in the world to God. You were made in His image. You have the imprint of awesomeness in your life, on your soul. If you need God to quicken your spirit, if you need to be raised from the spiritual grave or rescued from coasting so far away you begin to question how real He is, spend some time in His presence and at the very core of who you are you will know you are loved. He has promised again and again that He will never leave you nor forsake you. You have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother regardless of your circumstances. Romans 8 closes with these words: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Being made in the likeness of God means you are a warrior. You see depictions of warriors and soldiers on the news, in books, and in the movies. We have this sense of heroes, of people going beyond the normal and accomplishing something remarkable, even unthinkable. An autistic 10 year old boy saved his teacher’s life this past week by doing the Heimlich maneuver when she choked on an apple. There’s a part in most of us that at times has daydreamed about being the hero. In Jesus, you are. You are clad with the armour of God and you take the battle to “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” You can stand when all around you people are failing because eternity is in your heart, and the power of God is in your life. You have not been given a spirit of timidity or fear, but of power and love and of discipline. You can be that hero who stands in the storm, because you were made in the image of God. Pursue the knowledge and skills you need to understand your uniqueness in Jesus. Draw close to God and be filled with the Spirit. Don’t settle for mediocrity but pursue God with all your heart and soul and mind, and just see what He will do through you.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thanksgiving



Psalm 95:1-7 “O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD,
         Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
    2Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
         Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
    3For the LORD is a great God
         And a great King above all gods,
    4In whose hand are the depths of the earth,
         The peaks of the mountains are His also.
    5The sea is His, for it was He who made it,
         And His hands formed the dry land.
    6Come, let us worship and bow down,
         Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
    7For He is our God,
         And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand…”

As we look at the Bible in broad terms, we see God moving through the pages accomplishing the task of redeeming man to Himself. We see judgement because of holiness, and grace because of love. What about the story of your life? Can you see God there too? Has He been drawing you to Himself both before and after He met you at the foot of the cross at salvation? There are so many people out there that don’t get the story of the cross; they don’t know the story and they aren’t interested in the historical context. It seems they want a sanitized incarnation without any link to history or to the flesh and blood of reality. They want faith to be more about a practical theology than a spiritual response to grace.

This Thanksgiving, I trust that the cross is at the top of your list of what you are thankful for. With communion fresh in our minds, we are reminded again of the price paid for you and I to be redeemed.

The cross is about love - love in action. God is love in His infinite wisdom reached down out of eternity in order to make us free from the bondage we were in. Do you remember the story of Israel, of how they were enslaved in Egypt some 3500 years ago. They cried out to God and He delivered them. They were free from their bondage, free to make choices about life where there were no freedoms before. Outside of Jesus we are slaves to sin; powerless to help ourselves out of the futilities of life. There is that continual question about Why? What is my purpose; why am I here? Most of you, if not all of you have had that questioned answer. When you look around at your family and neighbours, though, there are people that are still enslaved. Who will be a Moses to them and stand before the god of this world on their behalf and cry, “Let them go - set them free”? We are saved to be ambassadors of Jesus, to share the reason for the hope that lies within us. I am thankful for my redemption, for the purpose that He has put into my life.

What are we redeemed for? What are we redeemed to? Sometimes we have visions of changing the world; of being successful in business or sports. For what did Jesus redeem you for? I was young when I accepted Jesus, and a teenager when I experienced that work of grace in my life when it was no longer a question of who would sit on the throne of my life. After high school I went o University for a math degree with an accounting option. Within a few weeks, though, I knew God wanted me elsewhere. The following year I went to Bible College, and after 4 years went to seminary part-time. I spent 5 years as associates in 2 churches and then moved to a maintenance job in a college for the next 9. A year of managing a Christian Campground and 3 as a supervisor in grocery retail brings us up to the time when we moved here to Saskatoon almost 3 years ago. So here I am having taken a scenic route to get here. Following Jesus is about what you are doing with Him today, in the present. All through my journey of the last 30 years I am thankful for God’s presence in my life in that daily sense. Through all the ups and downs I have never lost a sense of His presence. He has been faithful in good times and bad times. Do have that sense? God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Claim that promise in good and bad times. Rest in Him. These are not clich├ęs, but reality. This is where the rubber hits the road, where our faith reaches out and flexes its muscles. Job, who experienced tragedies and sorrow, never once doubted the presence of God. He had that assurance that in spite of his finite knowledge that God was there regardless of the circumstances of his life, regardless of the opinions of his friends, and in spite of what seemed to be endless sorrow. I am thankful for the presence of my Savior in my life.

There’s the story of Israel, and my story. The third story is yours and how you live out the redemption and presence of God in your life. Let me close with 4 encouragements to have more thanksgiving in the story of your life.

Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Thanksgiving is a necessary ingredient to dealing with anxiety. You cannot beat anxiety if you don’t recognize what is good in your life. If in your anxiety you forget what God has done you will be lost in your worry. Remember, and be thankful.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” The will of God! You were created to be thankful! Some people think they have the gift of being critical or the gift of questioning. Be careful, and understand what God is saying. He was not pleased with those attitudes in Israel, so let them go, be thankful and see what God is doing in your life.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater…” Being thankful helps us to focus on what is important; on ministry. We are thankful for two things here: for spiritual growth and for increasing love. When we cut to the chase, we want to see people fulfilling the 2 great commandments of loving God which is spiritual growth, and loving neighbours. When I see that as a pastor I am greatly encouraged. That is why we are here - to become more like Jesus. God is holiness and love; Jesus was holiness and love; let you and I be about holiness and love.

Ephesians 1:16 “do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.” Thanksgiving gives us the recognition that we are in a community. We are reminded of the body of Christ as our focus is drawn to those around us. Pray for one another. One of the great blessings I have is every night to pray with my family for people in the church and for our extended family. It connects me to people, even to those that do not come every Sunday. Pray for one another because it will help you to be connected to one another.