evangelism

Random Thoughts on a Winter Morning

It is a cold winter morning. The ground is covered with snow and spring seems far away. Over the weekend I had the privilege of visiting Florida, where I drank in the warm sun and beautiful flowers that are still nonexistent where I live. I was grateful for those few days, as the winter here in Pennsylvania has been very long. We’ve had snow on the ground for many days and it’s been very cold. But spring is coming. It always does.

I spent the weekend in Florida with my two best friends from college. We have been dear friends for many years and can always pick up where we left off. They are both great examples of how to be a “pleasant traveling companion”. Their selflessness, kindness, and generosity made the weekend so pleasant. Not to mention our like-minded faith that has grown stronger through the years. True friends like this are rare and I am so thankful for them. Do we agree on every little thing? Of course not. But that is where grace comes in. Grace is most important in lasting friendships, is it not?

Grace is also critical to healthy family relationships, work relationships, and church family relationships. Without it we are petty, critical, and argumentative.

While in Florida, I had something really interesting happen to me that I wanted to share with you. On Saturday morning, I was laying in bed praying for a few moments before getting up. One of the things that I prayed was that God would give me an opportunity to talk to someone about Him. Now, honestly, I have to say I didn’t really expect Him to answer. I have to be up front about that. After all, I was in a place where I knew no one and, well…it just seemed pretty unlikely that this prayer would be answered.

But God…

That morning, we attended a baking class in the area. It was great fun and the teacher was an engaging older lady who made it both funny and interesting. In the midst of her demo she told us she was recently divorced after many years. She kind of said it off-hand but I could tell she was devastated. At the end of the class, she came up to me (Why me? Of all the people in the class, why me? I believe it is because of my prayer. There is no other reason. There is nothing special about me) and started talking about her broken marriage and her religion and gave me the perfect opportunity to plant seeds for the Gospel. I did what I could in a room full of people without a lot of time, but it didn’t feel like enough. Should I have said something different? I always come away feeling so inadequate in those situations. But I pray God will grow those seeds. Would you join me in praying for this woman? We will call her R. Pray that she will read the Bible and that her eyes would be opened to the Truth. She is disenamored with her current religion and seems to be really searching.

I don’t really know why I prayed that on Saturday. I don’t pray it often (even though I should!) but isn’t it amazing how God answered that prayer? When I am tempted to think God doesn’t care or that I can’t trust Him, I think about these faith-building moments. He surely does hear us. He hears us and He cares about us. It is a marvelous thing to comprehend!

It was nice to take a few days’ break away from reality. But I had to come back. And, honestly, I was glad to return. I missed my family and wouldn’t want to be gone from them much longer than a few days.

As I left the airport the cold air quickly reminded me that I was back in the land of winter. But spring will come again. Soon now, the snow will melt and the air will turn warmer. The trees will start to fill out with plump buds of green and the first flowers will slowly emerge from the soil. Winter never lasts forever.

I think that’s a good thing to remember, right now, in the midst of current events. It’s dark and it feels like the wind is getting brutally colder. But spring will come again. Most likely, it will come in the form of our eternal home. As we watch things take shape, we know that the end has to be near. But this, too, is in God’s Sovereignty. It’s funny to think most of us believed it would come but never contemplated that the last days plan would come to full fruition in our lifetime. But now I think most of us realize it very well could.

As we wait and watch for our Lord, may we be actively serving the Lord and sharing the Gospel. Now is not the time to sit twiddling our thumbs. I am convinced that there is little time left to us to go about the work of the Lord and there are so so many who still need to hear! There are so so many who need encouragement or who need “snatched from the fire.” Now is not the time to grow sluggish and lazy.

As we give our best, only God will keep us from stumbling. On our own, we are so weak and helpless. We will be presented blameless only because of our Lord Jesus Christ and certainly not due to any works of our own. This is the heart of the Gospel. Praise God for His amazing grace! But for Christ, we would be lost.

Now let’s unashamedly tell this to the world! They may hate us. They may marginalize us. They may grow frustrated. But we aren’t doing this for our own glory. We are doing it for God’s glory and because we love people. If we keep these things in mind, it will help make us stronger.

Let’s keep our focus on the Lord as we navigate this alternate universe. I will conclude with these important verses from Jude 17-25–

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time[h] and now and forever. Amen.

 

There Are Only Two Roads

Let’s say you live in Arkansas and you are headed to California for a nice long beach vacation. You load your suitcase in the car trunk, you grab a travel mug full of hot coffee and get behind the wheel. You turn on your car and take a moment to plug your destination’s address in your vehicle or phone GPS. Soon you are on your way.

You are ten or twelve hours into your trip when you get a phone call. Your mom is deathly ill in Florida and needs you right away. There is a rest stop a few more miles up the road and you pull in to reset your GPS. Instead of going west, you are now going to go east. You have a total change of direction.

Unfortunately, all of the major highways going east are closed. You turn on to a dirt back road that is hard to travel. But you have to go home. That is your destination and you have to get there. Nothing will deter you.

Now think about this in light of our spiritual journey.

There are so many people who say with their mouths that they are headed home to heaven. And yet they appear, by all accounts, to be on the major highway that is headed in the opposite direction.

So here’s the thing: We can’t be on both roads.

It’s comforting and easier to think we can be on both roads. After all, there are many who have died that made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as a child and yet lived very unholy impure lives. If they can travel on both roads at the same time it will mean they are safely in heaven–a very comforting thought to a grieving spouse, parent, or friend. And, too, if we can be on both roads at the same time, then how we live matters not at all. We can live to please self, doing whatever want, and still end up in heaven. How easy is that? Heaven becomes like a fire insurance policy that we have tucked away in a safe somewhere.

Of course, we know, both from experience and from scripture, that this can’t be. Just as we can’t set our gps for California and expect to end up in Florida, so we can’t travel on the broad road and expect to end up in heaven. Just as we can tell someone we are headed west when we are headed east, so we can say with our mouths that we are headed to heaven when our gps is actually set for hell.

When we are genuinely saved, the Holy Spirit stamps a new address on the gps of our heart. We immediately turn off that broad road and onto a rocky, difficult road that is going the other way.

There really are no exceptions for this.

We know this because of what God has said in His Word–

Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and [d]difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

There are two different roads. And if we are a true Christian we are on the narrow one.

I say “true Christian” because, quite honestly, I tremble to think how many have been fooled into thinking that they have guaranteed a place in heaven because of a prayer they said in fifth grade (or at camp or at VBS). Genuine conversion is always evidenced by a changed life. The saved person always changes their direction (read I John and James to get a better understanding of this).

So if we realize there are two roads and we can only be on one of them, let’s think for a moment about what these roads look like, practically-speaking:

The broad road is quite full of people. It’s an easy path and it’s very comfortable. Many church members are on this path, as it encompasses not only the blatant sinners but the moral, self-righteous ones, as well. Anyone who has not repented of their sins and trusted Christ alone for their salvation is on this road, whether they be atheists or the very religious. There are generally few, if any, battles with self or with the enemy because both are very happy with the direction that is being taken. Oh, there is the occasional battle due to a sense of duty or perhaps the external rules of man, but no major battles with self or the enemy occur on this road.

The narrow road, on the other hand, is rugged and difficult. On this road we can expect the antagonism and jeers from those on the broad road. There are many skirmishes with our flesh and battles with the enemy because they are trying, often desperately, to turn us back to that broad road. We get so exhausted but God is so faithful and gives us strength for another day. It is on this road that we find such sweet fellowship and support. Because it is not a road well-traveled, we truly treasure the others we find traveling on this same road and often quickly count them as true friends. Not that there aren’t issues because the travelers are, after all, sinners. But love is the rule of this road. Even though the road can be extremely hard to travel, we travel with confidence. We have an incomparable Guide and we know our destination.

 

So which road are you on? Which road are those you love on?

Of course we can’t know about anyone else and it is important that we don’t make any judgments about this. We can’t know, for sure, if someone is on the broad road or the narrow road. But thinking through this honestly and according to scripture will lead us to pray differently and also change how we converse and discuss when given the opportunity.

This is scary stuff. Most of us have grown up in a world of easy-believism (where a prayer guarantees salvation and needs not be evidenced by a changed life). The ramifications of this insidious lie of Satan’s are horrible and so far-reaching.

For, after all, truth is truth, no matter what someone “believes”. As Christians, we must make sure that our beliefs line up with the truth of God’s Word! We must always ask: What does the Bible teach?

Even if it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t like it, we have to face the truth. And one truth that is not popular today but is still true nonetheless is this:

There are only two roads. And they are going opposite directions. 

 

 

Changed Lives: Cathy

Two or three years ago, I received an email from a reader named Cathy. She introduced herself as the pastor’s wife of a small church and wondered if I would consider speaking at their upcoming ladies’ retreat. While I was among the ladies at her church, I felt like I was among family (and I guess I was, spiritually speaking!) When they asked me to come back again this past fall, I gladly accepted. As we sat around the table, Cathy starting sharing just a bit of her testimony with me. As I listened to her, I knew I had to ask her if she would share this with my readers.

It’s been just over a year since I shared the story of a fellow Christian as part of the Changed Lives series. This ongoing series is here to serve as a reminder that God is working! He is changing and transforming lives–even through the most tragic of circumstances. Cathy’s testimony is a shining example of God transforming a life.

It is my hope that, from this particular testimony, some of you may be encouraged to know that you can be healed from horrible abuse if you go to the true Healer. I hope that you will learn that someone’s antagonistic, hostile response when you share the Gospel is not always a reflection of what’s going on in their heart. The other thing I hope you will reflect upon as you read this is that just because a family looks perfect does not necessarily mean it is. The post-war era of the 50s was a happy time–but it wasn’t a happy time for everyone. Not even for the perfect-looking family living in the cookie-cutter house on the tree-lined street.

And, finally, I hope you will consider the Christian who caught Cathy’s eye and that you will take a moment to examine yourself in light of her witness in Cathy’s life. Are you standing out like she did? Do co-workers, store clerks, parents at your kids’ school, etc see a difference when they view you in light of their worldly counterparts? Would the way you live your life give someone pause to consider the Gospel? This really made me think and I hope it will you, too.

So without further comment from me, I present to you Cathy’s testimony–

I was born not long after the end of WWII. I was born into a prosperous America, a time of peace. My mother, father, older sister and I lived in a classic, Norman Rockwell suburban neighborhood. Tree lined streets, lots of “baby boomer” kids to play with, being able to stay outside until “the street lights” came on, a dog to “love on”, a stay at home mom, home cooked meals…it was a good time to be a child in America. My father was agnostic, and my mother was Catholic, although not very observant. God was never discussed in our home. The only time I heard His name was when it was being blasphemed.

From the outside looking in, it all looked like a “Leave It to Beaver” life. But behind closed doors, things were VERY different. My earliest memory is of being restrained by my mother while my sister was abused by my father. The abuse, emotional, physical and sexual continued until I left home at 18 to get married. God blessed me with two wonderful children, but I continued to be haunted by the events of the past.

I continued over the next decade or so to be a very angry young woman. I never felt at peace, or even remotely content. My anger would bubble over and my mood swings were extreme. I did everything to the extreme.

Sadly, that marriage ended in divorce. My children and I went on to live in a small apartment. One night a man broke in and attempted to rape me. Blessedly, he was unsuccessful and was arrested and found guilty of his crime. Still, I ran from God and my past.

I joined the early feminist movement. I left that because, even as a lost woman, I recognized that abortion was murder and they asked me to support abortion or leave. God moved me off that destructive path.

One day I realized people were coming into my life and sharing the Gospel. (At the time, I didn’t know it was the Gospel). I would laugh at them and off-handedly dismiss them and their message. I continued to be angry. I made a promise to myself that I would be the one to break the cycle of abuse with my children and because I was successful, I became very prideful over what I perceived as “being a strong woman”. I continued to define myself and excuse my sin because I was a “victim”. I held strongly onto that “victim” identity. Without it, and my anger, I didn’t know who I was.

I went to nursing school and began my career as an RN. People continued to witness to me. I still scoffed at them (now I praise God for them). One day a Christian nurse joined our team. I watched her at work because she was SO different than all the other employees, including me. She had unbelievable compassion for the patients and other workers, she had a peace and a calm that I had never seen before. She was not embarrassed or ashamed of her love for Christ. She NEVER complained, even when we had to work Christmas. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted what she had.

One day we had to go on an errand together. When we got in her car, I asked her to put on music. Her reply took me aback. She told me that all she had was “Christian music” and she didn’t think I “would like it”. That was the day that I really started to look at myself compared to her. God was beginning to humble me.

Our Lord continued to send people into my life who boldly shared what Christ had done for sinners. I remember the day like it was yesterday, I realized that I was a sinner, that I was separated from God, that I was headed for hell. I fell on my knees and sobbing, I begged God to forgive me of my sins and received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior! I couldn’t wait to tell the Christian nurse. She responded in a way that God would use many times over the years…she stated, “I have been praying that God would send a Christian nurse to work with me, I never thought it would be you!” 

Time and time again this simple statement has reminded me to pray for those who seem “very lost” and not responsive to the Gospel. It has reminded me to be bold in my faith and it has reminded me that living my faith out in front of people is one of the most important things that God has commanded me to do.

My life since my real “birthday” has been a wonderful testimony to our Lord’s grace. Immediately, my desires changed. I couldn’t learn enough or be around God’s people enough. Our home changed dramatically; the world was no longer welcomed there. My children repented and received Christ when they were pre-teens. I was blessed to be able to attend Bible college (with my Christian nurse friend who was diligent in discipling me).

Then the most amazing thing occurred, God sent a godly man into my life. He was a pastor and I found myself a pastor’s wife with four more wonderful children to love. As I grew in the Lord, I understood that God in His wonderful sovereignty allowed things in my life to prepare me to minister to other women who have experienced similar things. Over the years, my life before I was saved, my sweet friend’s words at the time of my conversion and all of the faithful who shared the Gospel with an angry, seemingly hopeless young woman have been used by God to serve the brethren and reach out to the lost.

I no longer was angry; I was able to forgive my parents and was able to have a relationship with them. My sister remained angry all her life. Praise God that I was able to share the Gospel with them. Sadly, my father, mother and sister all died lost; but I know that that too is under God’s sovereign control. I am at peace.

I pray my testimony will encourage those who read it to never give up on loved ones, co-workers, or others that may seem “too lost”, or will “never be saved”.  Live your lives boldly and totally for our Lord and Savior. Live to give Him glory and honor. Live to magnify Christ. I want to be able to say, as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7 and to the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21

Our wonderful Lord saves and uses the most broken vessels in magnificent ways for His glory. I am undeserving and blessed!

There’s More to Christianity Than Doing Good Works

“The reason Social Justice is attractive to the church is because it doesn’t invite criticism.” My brother (Pastor Dean) said these words as we talked on the phone yesterday. I immediately realized just how profound his words were.

Perhaps they are words each and every one of us should reflect upon.

There are many good things the church does that all people love. It matters not if they are Christian or not Christian. Nothing matters as we work hard with our fellow man to make the world a better place. This includes things like–

Feeding the hungry ♥ Adopting orphans ♥ Caring for the homeless ♥ Providing fresh water for third world villages ♥ Providing food, clothing, and shelter to needy families ♥ Giving money to charities

Who in their right mind is going to oppose such things?

And, just to be clear, I am not opposed to these things. And neither should any of us be. The Bible is clear: We are told to care for orphans (James 1:27); we are to help our fellow man– and particularly our Christians brothers and sisters– who are in need (Ephesians 4:28; Hebrews 6:10). These are good things to do.

But these aren’t the only things Christians are to be doing. Doing good for others is just a part of what it means to live a godly, righteous life.

There’s so much more. But the “more” doesn’t often draw the praise of man.

As soon as we go out into the world and preach the Gospel–the clear, unadulterated Gospel as the scripture teaches it–we immediately invite the antagonism, the scorn, and the hatred of the world.

And as soon as we try to teach and live out the Christian life that is clearly mandated in scripture among the murky and muddy waters that is the mainstream church we invite the antagonism, the scorn, and the hatred of that church.

When we bring a message the world doesn’t want to hear, such as you cannot be reconciled to God without believing in Jesus Christ (John 14:6), we will be criticized, mocked, and labeled. We may even be persecuted. By both the world and those claiming to belong to the church.

When we bring a message the mainstream church doesn’t want to hear, such as encouraging believers to practice discernment (Hebrews 5:14), be separate from the world (James 1:27), and strive for holiness (I Peter 1:15-16), criticism and animosity will often rain down upon our head from within the church doors.

This is why so many of us choose to do the Christian things that invite the praise and laud of people. And it’s also why we avoid doing the Christian things that invite criticism.

How much do you care what people think about you? Does this change what you stand for or stand against?

I have to be honest and let you know right up front that this has been–by far–my biggest battle in this ministry.

It is natural for people to want to be liked and I am no exception. I don’t want to be labeled divisive, negative, unloving, arrogant, and whatever other words I have been called.

And yet, over and over again, God continues to remind me that my job is to please Him, first and foremost. As believers, our priority is to do all to the glory and pleasure of our Lord, irrespective of the opinions of man.

The opinions of those around us are, in essence, irrelevant.

Now reflect on that truth for just a few seconds. Why do we do what we do? How do we feel if we do something good and it goes unnoticed? How do we respond when we are faced with a choice to speak out against something we know God hates or a false teacher that is leading someone we love astray? Do we have the courage to share the Gospel unapologetically with the lost all around us? Are we truly living like no one’s opinion matters but God’s?

Inside each of us, a battle rages between the flesh and our new man. And the flesh wants to be pleasing to our fellow man. It is just how we are. But when we are saved, we have a new purpose. We seek first God and His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). We are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Everything is changed.

In theory, that is.

In real life, it doesn’t just happen. It is a daily struggle.

However, as new creatures, we must fight this fight. For if we let the flesh win, it is not without deadly consequences. Think of how many children in Christian homes have grown up and gone out to live ungodly lives in the world because parents didn’t want to be unpopular? Think of how many inroads Satan has made into the lives of believers because they want to be cool to their friends? How many have followed false teachers because their Christian friends are afraid to speak up? Think of the light that has gone out in the church because of the desire to win the praise of the world?

If we aren’t willing to be different than the world and if we are driven by a passion to please the world (or the compromised, mainstream church), we will be rendered ineffective for the cause of Christ.

Sure, we can do all sorts of nice things for others and make this temporal world a better place to live in, but if we aren’t sharing the Gospel and pointing people to biblical Christian living, what eternal good are we even accomplishing?

Are we more likely to do the things that draw the praise of man? Do we shy away from the righteous and good things that draw criticism?

Pastor Dean’s words really made me think. And, once again, I was reminded: My priority is to please God.

Am I living to please God or are my daily life choices based on pleasing those around me? It is an important question that we should probably all give some thought to.

 

Unlikely Lesson on Sharing the Gospel

Last week, the two administrative assistants in our business office, along with myself, spent a few ours watching the demos of two different software programs. We are being forced to discontinue using an outdated system that is being “put out to pasture”, so to speak, and the time has come to make a move.

Some of you know me well enough to know that this kind of thing stresses me out. It is such a huge decision with big ramifications for our company. A software that has a lot of bugs or doesn’t do what we need to do could really make running our office difficult. And so I have been delaying it for quite some time. However, it can be delayed no longer.

Our office is right next to our house, so I told the two women to come on over and I put the demo on the big screen in our family room. We settled into our comfie chairs to watch and listen as each of the two salesmen tried to tell us why their program was the best one for us to buy.

The ways the two men communicated and went about selling their companies was in such contrast that it startled me, quite frankly. After the two demos were over, the girls and I sat talking about the two men and the comparison to sharing the Gospel. It could not have been more appropriate. And it was so clear.

Let’s, for the sake of clarity, call the Companies A & B. We will call the sales reps Mr. One and Mr. Two.

Our first demo was scheduled for 10am with Mr. One of Company A. He sounded friendly enough as we got started but after only the third question he reminded us that we had “a lot to cover here”. In other words: Stop asking questions. Now keep in mind that this is a BIG change for us and he is trying to sell us on his company. Strike #1. He went on to explain the software, clicking through the different screens but we noticed that he always seemed a bit stymied when we asked a question (which we continued to do despite his best efforts to discourage them). Strike #2. And then we got to a deal breaker. A strange inability of the software to do something incredibly basic. All three of us tried to kindly ask in different ways if the program could do what we needed it to do. Mr. One got defensive and insisted it could. All three of us obviously knew that it couldn’t. He would say it could but he couldn’t show that it could. Strike #3. Usually you are out with strike three but the program still interested us–if only we could get around that one deal breaker. Mr. One called me about a half hour after the demo ended to say that he had talked to someone and that it most certainly could do what we needed it to do. As I listened to him describe a different screen, clicking here and filtering there, I realized that he was just explaining a different way that the program could not do what we needed it to do. When I kindly made the observation that we loved the software but were more than a little surprised that something this intrinsic to running an efficient office wasn’t included in the software, he grew almost belligerent with me. He was condescending and very offended. Strike #4. In a final effort to try to see if this could work, I asked if it would be possible for us to have a trial of the program where I could set up a few dummy customers and see if I could somehow figure out a different way for the program to do what it needs to do (sometimes it just takes some thinking outside the box!) He then informed me that no, that would not be possible. I was befuddled. Here is a company asking me to spend thousands of dollars on their program and they wouldn’t give me a trial run at it? Why not? And that was Strike #5. At this point, I was feeling pretty discouraged. After this guy’s arrogant attitude, I didn’t really want to work with this company but what if there wasn’t anything else out there?

At 1pm, we reconvened to watch the demo of Company B with Mr. Two. As we connected, we saw our website on his screen. He had taken the time to pull up our website and read our About Me page. He explained that he felt it was important to know our company and what we do, so he could best explain how the software program would work for us. Gold Star #1. As he started to explain the program and we peppered him with questions, he kindly answered them, often thanking us for asking such a good question. The contrast to Mr. One was startlingly remarkable at this point. And such a relief, if I am honest. I realize that Mr. Two is obviously a very good salesmen who wants to sell a program, but we all wanted to feel free to ask as many questions as we needed and Mr. Two really made us feel like we could do that. He never once made us feel stupid or small for asking any question. Gold Star #2. As we continued to watch, we found a real problem with the program. Instead of insisting that his program could do something it couldn’t, he assured us that he had already talked with the program engineers about fixing it and he hopes there will be a change soon. In the meantime, we could go about it in a different way and proceeded to explain the work-around. Gold Star #3. He was incredibly kind and warm throughout the entire interview and never once was he condescending or impatient. Again, such a great contrast to Mr. One. Gold Star #4. A few hours after the demo, I emailed Mr. Two some questions. Within minutes he had answered to my satisfaction. This email included his assurance that he surely did understand our desire to have a trial time and he would be happy to set that up for us at our convenience. Gold Star #5. Through the whole process Mr. Two was kind and real, making conversation easily to find out more about us and our company and yet maintaining professionalism throughout the whole demo.

As the women and I discussed the decided difference between Mr. One and Mr. Two, we were reminded how much this pertains to how we share the Gospel with others.

Some are like Mr. One. Condescending, self-important, not knowing the answers to basic questions. They are defensive and easily offended. Their arrogance puts lost souls at a distance and leaves their important questions unasked.

And then there are those like Mr. Two. Kind, open, interested in others. They are the ones that know a good many answers to the questions the lost ask, but if someone asks something they don’t know, they will smile and assure the person that they will find out an answer from the Bible. There is a warmth that exudes from this type of person that is hard to resist. Even if you don’t like what they are saying it is really hard to not like them.

I don’t know about you, but I so long to be like Mr. Two as I talk to people about the Gospel. But, much more importantly, I want to follow the example of Jesus. I want to genuinely show that I care about someone enough to tell them the truth about heaven and hell. I want to be kind, humble, loving, and authentic. And I want to know the answers to their questions (and be willing to do the work of looking for biblical answers when I don’t have them.)

I don’t know Mr. One and Mr. Two beyond those demos. I doubt either of them are believers (which is why it was so important for me to continue to be gracious with Mr. One, despite my frustrations. I hope I succeeded…). But the two demos really reminded me of how important it is to be genuinely interested in others, to be patient and kind, and to have a thorough knowledge of the Bible and its doctrines, as well as of the Gospel.

Not to “sell” something but so that we can be used by God to share the good news of the Gospel with the hopelessly and eternally lost who are wandering in this dark and dying world searching for answers.

What Does the Bible Say About…(Being Relevant)?

I am not sure I can remember when the church wasn’t caught up in relevance. I guess when I was a child it was only beginning, but, even then, the “Jesus Music” had already been birthed and the direction had been set to bring in worldly entertainment. Looking even further back, there was a move to wed the church to the world in philosophy. I am sure Satan places some of his greatest effort into wooing the church with the world, since this renders the church ineffective.

And that is exactly what we have seen. A church caught up in being like the world becomes the world. The true Gospel disappears in the frenzy to stay relevant.

And what a futile task. It is impossible to stay relevant in a world that changes constantly. At first, it was only music. What is wrong with that? Throw out the stuffy hymns and bring in something new! But new grows old rather quickly and, since we have become a people fixated on “new”, we always need something different, something greater, something better. And so we have seen a steady increase in bringing in the latest, greatest thing. I have even heard of a church that brought in a strip tease act! Can you even imagine?

But how can this be?

Because the church’s people aren’t hungering for the right thing. Because the church’s people are most likely goats and not sheep.

Funny how the Bible never, ever mentions relevance. The passage that is most often used to defend relevance is in I Corinthians 9, so let’s unpack that a bit here today–

verses 19-23–For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

There are three differences to Paul’s style of evangelism and that of the modern day church’s style (that uses this passage to back up their warped view of evangelism)–

1. Paul was not interested in pleasing the world or making sure he was good friends with someone before sharing Christ. He had only the Gospel in mind. Nothing else. All he did was for the sake of the Gospel. This is far different from what we see today, where there seems to be a race to see how much we can be like the world and still be a Christian. And what we can see is that with this style of living, the Gospel becomes irrelevant and old-fashioned and eventually disappears altogether.

2. Paul was not willing to sin in order to share the Gospel. When Paul says that he will be like certain groups of people, he did not mean he would participate in their sinful activities. How do we know this? We know this because that would conflict with a hundred other passages Paul wrote to us about the Christian life. That means Paul wouldn’t have hung out at a bar drinking with his buddies and getting tipsy. He wouldn’t have sat down at a poker table and gambled away his day’s wages. He wouldn’t have joined his friends at the movie theater to watch a film filled with sex and violence. And he certainly wouldn’t have sanctioned bringing in worldly entertainment into God’s holy church. Paul would never advocate compromise with sin. Thinking that this is what that passage means is taking it completely out of the context of the rest of Paul’s writings.

3. Paul was a servant. Paul did what he did with a servant’s heart and not a selfish heart. He did so with a humble heart and not a prideful heart. This is very different than what we see today as people talk about what they can do or don’t have to do under the banner of the freedom that’s found in Christ. While there may be a pretense of service, when the veneer is stripped away, we find it’s really about feeding one’s appetite for the world and justifying it.

Darby sums up this passage very nicely in his commentary–

“It was the power of charity which denied itself in all things, in order to be the servant of all, and not the selfishness which indulged itself under the pretence of gaining others. He did so in every respect for the sake of the gospel, desiring, as he said, to be a partaker with it, for he personifies it as doing the work of God’s love in the world.”

So what did Paul mean with those verses? I think a comparable example in today’s society would be something like this–

If I am going to minister to the homeless on the street, I am not going to wear high heels and diamonds. If I am going to minister to the wealthy, I am not going to dress in rags. I will do all I can do–without sinning–to be like the group I am with, in order to gain an audience in which to share the Gospel.

This is a far cry from what we are hearing and seeing today. And, honestly, the church that brings in the world is so far gone as to have separated herself from the true church now. The true colors are finally showing. But there are still some walking the fence and it is to those that I address this post.

God never sanctions fence-walking. He demands we clearly pick a side. I John 2:15 makes it clear–

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

As does James 4:4–

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We cannot be friends with God and be friends with the world. The two are mutually exclusive. And because of this, we know that the mainstream church has swallowed a lie that has led to her demise.

But what saddens me beyond measure are the many, many true churches that have swallowed this lie and have made or are making this final compromise that will lead to their death. It is tragic. And it is everywhere.

While there is probably little most of us can do to change the wrong direction of the churches, there is much we can do personally. Let’s keep ourselves from falling prey to the lie that we need to be “like the world in order to win the world”. In our personal Christian life and evangelism, may we be like Paul: Doing all out of a heart of charity, with a passion to live a holy life, and all for the sake of the Gospel.

 

Is Being Nice Enough?

Do you believe that others will know you are a genuine Christian because you are a nice person? It is tempting to think this sometimes. We think that somehow because we are a nice and kind person, people will see that we are different and ask us about Jesus Christ.

But how often does this really happen? How often has someone asked you about your “niceness” and about what drives it?

I would say it’s pretty rare for a number of reasons.

First, there are many, many wonderfully kind unbelievers. Being nice and kind does not really set you apart. In fact, my daughter who used to work at a local restaurant said that the wait staff used to hate when “Christian” concerts and speakers came to town because their fans were often the cheapest and the rudest. What a testimony, huh?

So being nice is not something that describes just Christians and, in fact, many who call themselves Christians make a pretty bad name for the rest of us by not being nice at all.

Second, I would say that while nice people are a joy to be around and to work with, they don’t generally ruffle any feathers or cause conflict (often out of their own self-interest). And, while this may be a good thing in some circumstances, when it comes to someone’s eternal destiny, we sometimes have to risk a few ruffled feathers by speaking the truth of God’s Word.

Third, if we are honest, we have to admit that most people don’t really care about the God of the Bible. They have been blinded by the lie that they can create a being of their own wishes and desires and call it god and they are content to with this. They really aren’t searching because they think they are okay. Welcome to the postmodern world.

So is being nice enough?

I think we can safely say that it is not. Being nice will neither set us apart or give us extra opportunities to share the Gospel.

Does that mean we shouldn’t be nice? Of course not. All of us, as believers, should be very kind to others. We do this because it’s commanded (I Corinthians 13) and not as some evangelistic method.

So how do we set ourselves apart? What will draw people to us when they are hurting or have questions? What will cause them to direct their questions to us if the Holy Spirit starts to work on their heart?

If we are faithful to God and His Word, this will naturally show up in our lives. Not only in our kindness but in many other ways, as well. Someone who loves the Lord sets themselves apart in the workplace by not participating in the off-color conversations and raunchy jokes (Colossians 3:8). Someone serious about their faith doesn’t choose to be entertained at bars, strip clubs, or casinos like their worldly co-workers (James 4:4). Someone who is obedient to the Bible’s commands doesn’t cheat or lie or steal when they could do so without the boss or the spouse or the friend knowing (Colossians 3:9). Someone who loves others will speak the truth with love and grace as God gives opportunity (Proverbs 8:7). They control their tempers and do not hold grudges (Colossians 3:8). Someone who is a genuine believer has the courage to stand up for what’s right and to tell others the truth of the whole Gospel–including the part about sin and repentance (Mark 1:15). And they also have a generous and cheerful spirit (2 Corinthians 9:7). Integrity, honesty, grace, courage, generosity, patience, and, yes, kindness, should be the words that people use to describe us. Of course, we aren’t perfect and we don’t get them right all the time. Some of these are easier for us than others. But we should be different in a myriad of ways–not just by the fact that we are “nice”.

It is about so much more than being nice. It’s about being wholly dedicated to the Lord so that when people are searching they come and find you. Anyone can be nice. But it takes a genuine believer to point people to Christ with both their words and their actions.

 

Salvation is not a Moment

Does one prayer give us fire insurance from hell for the rest of our lives? Does it secure our place in heaven forever? Well, it might. But it might not.

You see, salvation is not a moment. And since we can’t know someone’s heart when they say that prayer it takes time to figure out if they truly were serious.

We learned this many years ago when one of our young employees was really struggling in life. My husband talked with him about the Lord and connected him with our pastor. He “got saved” and things seemed to change. We saw him around church for the next few months. And then, gradually, he stopped coming. A year or two went by and he ended up cheating our company by using our machines to do his own work on the side while he was supposed to be working for us. That was the end of his employment with our company and the last thing we ever heard about him was that he died in a motorcycle accident, leaving a wife and two young children.

Do I know he wasn’t genuinely saved? No, I can’t possibly know that. We lost touch and he could have changed. And, honestly, we can’t possibly declare if anyone is or isn’t saved. Only God knows the heart.

But what we can see are the repenting person’s transformation, or lack thereof. This young man, in desperation, called out to the Lord. But when things started to get better, the things of the Lord grew uninteresting and unnecessary.

It reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9–

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

I believe this passage teaches that there is only one type of prayer that leads to genuine salvation and that is the prayer that comes from the good soil of a repentant and humble heart and then produces a crop of spiritual fruit. Just because someone says a prayer doesn’t necessarily mean they are saved. We honestly can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. While Jesus tells us that to be saved we just need to believe in Him (John 3:16), we also know that true belief gives us a hatred for wickedness and evil by reading verses 19-21 of that same chapter–

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

So you see it is impossible to claim Christ as your Savior if you don’t love the light. While believers are not perfect and never will be on this side of eternity, we do love the light. We do desire to walk like and be like our Savior. We hate sin and yearn for righteousness.

If there isn’t even a smidgen of these new desires in someone you love who claims they are a Christian because they said a prayer, you have cause for concern. Pray for them. And talk with them as God gives opportunities (but never, ever saying they aren’t saved, because we can’t possibly know, but, instead, taking them to the scriptures and showing them what the Word says about genuine salvation).

I get why we like to think salvation is a moment. It is a comfort to us, isn’t it? It assures us that we will spend eternity together with those we love. But the Bible clearly shows us that this is a false belief. Oh, how I wish it wasn’t so, but it’s there. All through the scriptures. Not just at one, vague place but all through them. True salvation yields change.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So what does this mean for those of us that are genuinely saved? It should give us a more passionate prayer life and compel us to speak the truth in love and grace. For what could possibly be sadder than believing that a sentence you prayed as a kid saved you for eternity and then finding out too late that you have believed a horrible lie?

It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills. (Adrian Rogers)

Yes! a thousand times, yes! May we be kind. And may we be filled with God’s love. But may we speak the truth that heals rather than comfort people with lies that lead to their eternal damnation.

Salvation is not a moment.

 

No Excuses

Have you ever heard a fellow Christian say something like this: “Well, I just don’t have that gift.” Maybe you’ve even said it. Many of us have. Whether the discussion is on the topic of evangelism, giving, hospitality, or discernment, we often give ourselves passes on these commands in scripture with the phrase, “I don’t have that gift.”

But does that response hold up to biblical scrutiny?

This morning I want to take a look at this fairly common answer that is given whenever topics like these come up and make us uncomfortable.

God has made it very clear in Romans 12:3-8 that every redeemed person has a spiritual gift. Some of us know what ours is, some of us are still wondering, and some of us have never bothered to think about this at all. But every believer has one. The purpose of this post isn’t to delve into the spiritual gifts and how to know which one you have, but, rather, to determine if not having a particular gift is a pass at not practicing it.

It’s almost as if we believe that if we just say we aren’t good at it, then we can ignore it and go on our merry way.

So let’s unpack this just a bit. I feel like I may have bitten off a bit more than I can chew this morning, but let’s see what God’s Word says and see if I can then pull it all together. Let’s first turn to the book of John. This is one place that Jesus makes it very clear that we show we are His by doing what He commands–

John 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.

We show we love Christ by keeping His commandments.

John 15:10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

The only way we can abide in Christ’s love is by keeping His commandments.

John 15:14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

We have to assume the opposite is true, don’t we? If we don’t keep Jesus’s commands then we are not the friends of Jesus.

Lets hop on over to I John 2 where we read this–

I John 2:3-5  Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

So this takes it even one step further and says we are lying if we say we are a Christian but are not following God’s commands. We can’t say we know Him and then ignore the Word and the commands therein. John makes it all too clear that true believers just won’t do this.

But we can be deceived into thinking that a certain commandment doesn’t apply to us. Let’s take a look at some of these commands that we tend to ignore, using the excuse that it isn’t our gift–

HOSPITALITY

I Peter 4:9  Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.

Romans 12:13 {Be} distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

EVANGELISM

Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at[a] His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

DISCERNMENT

Philippians 1:9-10 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

I John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

GIVING/GENEROSITY

2 Corinthians 9:7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
10 So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.

I’ve picked these specific four things, because they seem to be the ones that are most excused because of not having the “gift”. Did I miss anything else?

Yes, God has given people special gifts and they help make the church run smoothly. But if they are only practiced by people who have these “gifts” then the Church would be sorely lacking, wouldn’t it? And that is where we find ourselves. Fewer people sharing the Gospel with others, fewer people giving of their first fruits, fewer people discerning, and fewer people practicing hospitality. And, perhaps, saddest of all, there are fewer and fewer even caring about these important things commanded by God in His Word as they are distracted and deceived by worldly worship, supernatural experiences, and mystical practices. The focus has turned inward to our own personal experience, rather than outward to how we can minister to others both by setting a godly example and by serving, according to God’s commands.

Not having a certain “gift” is not an excuse for not following God’s commands. Sure, it may come harder for us but that just means we need to work harder at doing it.

I will close with an example from my own life. I would not consider myself naturally gifted at hospitality. I have some friends who are really awesome at this. Their homes are lovely and impeccably clean, their food is delicious and served beautifully, and they make people who enter their homes feel comfortable and loved. My house is just a house and I am not all that into cooking. I don’t mind it, but it’s just not really my “thing”. And so I gave myself a pass on hospitality. But, more and more, the Lord convicted me about this. And I started to recognize a couple of things. First, I had to give up my pride. If my house isn’t cleaned or decorated just right, it’s okay. I am using it for His glory and I need to only please Him. I can’t worry about the critical eye of the “perfect homemaker”.  And, second, I don’t have to cook a fancy meal to be hospitable. I can just do coffee and dessert or buy pizza. We can do hot dogs at the fire outside or make ice cream sundaes. When I started thinking a little more outside the box it became so much easier.

I don’t have this nailed down and I certainly don’t practice it as often as I should, but I do feel like I’ve made progress and it came when I released what I felt it “should be” and started practicing what it “could be”. Perhaps this is true for all of the gifts. We don’t need to practice a gift perfectly. We just need to practice it to the best of our ability. That is all God asks of us. He will take it from there.

So let’s release our impossible expectations, our reluctance, and, most of all, our excuses and start following God’s commands in these areas. God will bless our obedience and the rewards will be great–here or in heaven and, often, in both places!

 

Some Favorites

Last Thursday my post was about evangelism. I hope that you were challenged to share the Gospel. If we truly believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, then it is not only our duty but it is also our privilege to share this with others. As I don’t have time to write a new post today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite posts on evangelism from the past few years.

What do we say? How should we go about it? How does modern evangelism differ from what the Bible teaches and does it really matter? And, for that matter, what is the Gospel? I hope these posts encourage you as you pray for and are given opportunities to reach your family, friends, and co-workers with the Good News!

 

What is the Gospel?

 
On Shows and Sharing (What if they don’t respond like I want them to?)

 
Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches

 
On Sharing the Gospel (some thoughts on evangelism from I Thessalonians 2:1-12)

 
The Dialogue Deception (is it enough to just have a nice conversation with someone?)

 
 
Have a great Monday!
 
 

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