Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Honest Evangelism

The English word evangel is how we spell almost letter-for-letter in English the Greek word that is translated as gospel or good news. That means that evangelism is doing gospel work. Most of the time, when we speak of evangelism, we are addressing the practice of telling other people the good news about Jesus Christ so that they can trust him as Savior.

In my latest sermon series I made the case for doing evangelism based upon the glory and magnificence of the mission. It is another way of saying what the psalms often do—namely that our evangelism should flow out of our worship of God. Consider just one example from Psalm 96:1-2: “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.”

It is at this point that some of us get hung up. We think, “Tom, if you are right, then it should mean that my love for God and my delight in our Savior should so motivate me to tell others about Jesus that: (1) It is easy; and, (2) I am almost automatically thrust into it with no fear.”  Both are usually wrong.

The fact that our evangelism should flow from our love for God and delight in our Savior should lead us to want to evangelize and to be willing to do whatever is needed to make it happen. But, it will still often be hard and we will still have some fear.

That is why over my next few blog posts I want to share some help for us that will encourage and empower us to tell others about Jesus and to invite them to church events.

Some of what I share will come out of what I have learned through the years and some from a book I recently read by British evangelist, Rico Tice, Honest Evangelism: How To Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough. 

I will start with just some basic things we must remember.

(1) Evangelism begins with prayer, goes forward with prayer, and is made effective by prayer. Jesus teaches us that he chose us to bear lasting fruit (which includes winning others to Jesus) and that this comes about in response to prayer (John 15:16). I believe this brings a lot of relief. Whether or not people respond positively in faith to Jesus is not ultimately up to me and my perfect methods. It comes about by God’s Spirit working through God’s word (the core of which is the gospel), in response to prayer, and usually among his people. It is also a relief that I don’t have to go out and grab people by the collar. I start by praying: “God give me boldness; lead me to the right people; help me learn how to share; help me recognize opportunities.” As God brings people to mind, we begin to pray for them. And, as we come upon opportunities, we pray and ask God for the help and courage to do it.

(2) We are served well by learning to converse and to ask questions—with interest in other people. Some of the greatest love we can show to others and some of the greatest preparatory work we can do for evangelism is listening (James 1:19). As we get to know people, the Holy Spirit often opens up doors for us to pray for someone, share with them how the Lord has helped us, invite them to church or a Bible Fellowship event, or even share part or all of the good news with them (or perhaps our testimony).

(3) Similar to number two, we should learn to “chat our faith.” This expression comes from British evangelist Rico Tice. His point is one I have thought about through the years and sought to practice—namely that part of the way we overflow from our joy in God to others is to express in conversation what he has done in us, why we are thankful for him, or maybe an answer to prayer. In the same way that those things or people we love (sports, children, grandchildren, cars, etc.) make it into our conversation, so should our Savior. We do not have to be pushy or obnoxious. Yet, as we learn to do this, the Holy Spirit may open up doors for us to point people to Jesus.

(4) We should be comfortable with the reality that we will not share the gospel with every person we meet and we don’t need to “dump the whole load” on someone as soon as we meet them or every time we are with them. Most evangelism will take place over a span of time and in the midst of long-term relationship. However, this should not lead us to think that never bringing up our faith, Jesus, or the gospel is healthy or obedient to our Lord. Pray and look for opportunities, but be content that it takes time and we don’t need to rush ahead of him.

(5) Don’t minimize the impact that well-done booklets or pamphlets can have on someone whom you may see here or there or even just once. The Two Ways To Live pamphlet or the Heaven booklet by Randy Alcorn are two of the best.

We will talk about some more ideas in future posts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Some Brief Thoughts On A World Record

On Monday eighteen year old United States swimmer, Katie Ledecky, set a new world record in the 1,500 meter freestyle, beating her own previous mark. We all know that Ledecky did not jump in the pool for the first time this week, this year, last year, or even a couple years ago to take up a leisurely hobby. Even with much God-given talent, she has worked very hard to get where she is.  Why?

Has she worked hard merely because coaches told her to do so?  Has she put in countless hours working out, practicing, and sacrificing merely because of continual nagging by her parents? Neither of these is sufficient. Somewhere in Katie Ledecky there has to be a passion, dare I say an awe, when thinking about being the best swimmer in the world. It is this strong desire that stands behind her self-discipline to be in the water multiple times a day, as well as to give up much that other girls and young ladies her age enjoy. In this is a lesson for every follower of Jesus Christ.

In his book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges Of Pastoral Ministry, Paul Tripp writes the following about self-discipline and ministry:  “I am more and more persuaded in my own life that sturdy self-discipline, the kind that is essential in pastoral ministry, is rooted in worship.”  I would add that the same could be said for any Christian: Sturdy self-discipline, the kind that is essential for reading the Bible and praying regularly; for using our gifts, resources, and time to serve others; for making time to care for and help fellow Christians grow; for building relationships so that people can come to know Jesus—this self discipline arises from a deep, intense, passionate, love-filled, faith-fueled worship of our amazing God!

The apostle Paul makes this very same point in 2 Corinthians 7:1. After sharing in chapters 3-5 with the Corinthians and us some breathtaking promises that belong to everyone in Christ (what great good news!), Paul turns to a call to holiness in chapter 6 before drawing this conclusion in 7:1: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Paul’s logic is crystal clear: Based upon all God’s promise we have in Jesus Christ and compelled by our love-fueled, awe-inspired, God-centered intimacy with, and reverence for God, we should be altogether devoted to honoring God by doing what pleases him and not doing what displeases him. As the late author and theologian, John Murray, once wrote: “The fear of the LORD is the soul of godliness.”

Bottom-line, what all this means for us is that until we have a passion and desire for God, to find our joy in him, to be enraptured with his greatness and his merciful and always-good work in us, we will most likely never be motivated to make the small choices and exercise the small disciplines we need to in order to serve him and others for God’s glory. We will always decide anything and everything else is more important until we are consumed by the awe of God.

Please join me in prayer that Psalm 42:1 would become true of us: “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” When this is true of us no one will be able to prevent us from serving Christ and others. And the impact upon our community and world will be far more significant than a world record!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Expanding Eden To the Ends Of The Earth

In this morning’s sermon (which you can listen to at I mentioned that the Garden of Eden into which God places the first man and woman is viewed by the Bible as a kind of temple or temple-garden. As such, when God commissioned Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28), he was calling them to expand this temple (Eden) to the ends of the earth—to fill the earth with worshipers of God with whom God would be manifestly present.

Since this may be a new concept to many, I want to show why I believe this to be true. Though some of the threads of teaching I have noticed on my own study, there is an individual who has helped me to see the details with greater clarity. He is author and Westminster Theological Seminary professor, G. K. Beale. Beale has written for years on the temple theme throughout the Bible. Most recently in a book co-written with Mitchell Kim entitled God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden To The Ends Of The Earth (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), Beale puts his teaching on a popular level (where most Christians can benefit from it). This very helpful book brought into focus for me some of the following biblical teachings.

1. Implicitly the reality that the Lord promises he will walk among the Israelites and be their God (Lev. 26:12), that he commands the Israelites to keep their camp holy because he walks in their camp (Dt. 23:14), and he describes his pre-temple manifest presence in the tabernacle as walking about in a tent (2 Sam. 7:6), seems to make a connection between God’s presence among Israel through the tabernacle/temple later on and his presence among Adam and Eve in the garden. After all, he is described as walking in the garden with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8). This points in the direction of Eden as a Garden-temple.

2. Explicitly, Ezekiel calls Eden a temple, referring to it as “the garden of God…the holy mountain of God” containing “sancturaries” (Ezek. 28:13-14, 16, 18). “Mountain” and “sanctuaries” are both references elsewhere to the temple. Ezekiel also speaks of an “Adam-like person in Eden wearing bejeweled clothing like a priest (Ezek. 28:13, alluding to Ex. 28:17-20).” (All taken from Beale, Kim, God With Us, 18).

3. We also see parallels between Adam’s work in the garden and that of priests later on in the tabernacle/temple. God placed Adam in the garden and commanded him “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). These same verbs are used elsewhere in combination to describe the work of priests in the tabernacle/temple setting, as we see in Numbers 18:5-6.
Given these first three points, it is no surprise that Beale and Kim, commenting on God’s commission of Adam and Even in Gen. 1:28, write:
They were to extend the geographical boundaries of the garden until Eden covered the whole earth…. The [second-to-greatest] goal of the Creator was to make creation a liveable place for humans in order that they would achieve the grand aim of glorifying him…. God’s ultimate goal in creation was to magnify his glory throughout the earth.

4. What is also clear is that in Revelation 21-22 the imagery of the New Heaven and New Earth, along with the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, is built upon imagery taken from Genesis 1-2 and then expanded. So, we truly have Eden/paradise lost in Genesis 3 and Eden/paradise regained in Revelation 21-22.

5. In between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 we have accounts not only of how there will be and end-times temple (see Ezek. 40-48) that will lead to the eventual covering of the earth with the knowledge of God’s glory (Hab. 2:14), but also the affirmation that Jesus, the Son of God, is the fulfillment of the tabernacle (John 1:14) and the temple (John 2:19 [see Zech. 6:12]); that united to Jesus Christ his followers are the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) and this because the Spirit of God has come upon and dwells in his people in a similar fashion as God’s presence came upon the Old Testament tabernacle/temple (Acts 2:1-14); and that all the tabernacle/temple signified in the Old Covenant has been fulfilled in Christ’s coming and the New Covenant he has made with his people (Hebrews 8-10).
Based on this evidence, C. John Collins, Did Adam And Eve Exist? Who They Were And Why You Should Care (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), writes the following:
The Old Testament views Eden as the first sanctuary, where God is present with his covenant partners (Adam and Eve); the tabernacle and later the temple, reinstate this Edenic blessing. What makes the Promised Land special is that it too is to be like a reconstituted Eden, whose fruitfulness displays for all the world the presence of God.

So, when we put all this together we should not be surprised that Peter uses temple and priestly terminology to describe the New Testament Church and seems to be saying that the New Covenant people of God comprise the end-times temple, ministering the presence and salvation of God to the world until the redeemed from every tribe, language, people, and ethno-linguistic people group are brought in (Revelation 5:9) and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord fills the earth (Hab. 2:14).

This mission should excite us and it should help us understand that for which mankind is longing. Beale and Kim explain:
J. R. R. Tolkien diagnoses the roots of our longing: “We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with a sense of ‘exile.’” The longings of our hearts are frustrated from this exile, but these longings are properly satisfied in the dwelling place of God originally found in Eden [and restored in the New Heaven and New Earth].