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Archive | Evangelism

Should Christians be the Morality Police?

morality-policeThe cultural norm in America has shifted dramatically in the last few years. In fact, almost every day, another story pops up in the news revealing an ever-widening gap between the world’s values and God’s standards. Our culture glorifies and increasingly normalizes attitudes, values, and behavior that blatantly contradict biblical standards for godliness. But should Christians engage in this cultural clash? And if so, how?

A Christian’s Purpose in the World

Sometimes Christians get so distracted by cultural skirmishes we lose sight of our prime directive. A quick reminder of God’s purpose for Christians in the world will help us better determine how we should respond to our culture’s changing values:

  • We are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
  • We are God’s priests, declaring His praises to the nations (1 Peter 2:9).
  • We are Christ’s ambassadors, imploring the world to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

In Acts 20:24, the apostle Paul beautifully described this God-given task in the world as “testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” A Christian’s God-given purpose in the world is to introduce non-Christians to Jesus and His salvation. God has reserved judgment of the world for Himself (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), but we Christians often attempt to take His job. We expect non-Christians to share our standards, values, and viewpoints. When they don’t, we sometimes try to force them to accept and live by our Christian standards and worldview.

But forcing Christian morality on our culture focuses on the symptoms of the problem and not the cause – the need for Christ. It’s like a doctor prescribing aspirin for a brain tumor. We cannot change the world and its ways from the outside in. Non-Christians will naturally act like non-Christians. Without the indwelling Spirit, God’s standards seem foolish to them (1 Corinthians 2:14). A true change of values and behavior must begin with a heart change.

The Danger of Fighting Like the World

Christians often use the world’s tactics in an attempt to fight a spiritual battle. We flood our status updates and tweets with shock and indignation over the latest symptom of a spiritually dead culture. We demand a secular business conform to God’s standards with a boycott. The usual result? The culture labels us intolerant hypocrites and closes its ears to the message that can change their eternity.

Even if our efforts are deemed “successful” by the world’s standards, we must ask how a one-time temporary victory in a cultural skirmish impacts the greater spiritual battle. How do our efforts impact the name of Christ? Jesus invites the world to come to Him but we often throw stumbling blocks on their path. Rather than expressing Christ’s unconditional love for the sinner, our words and actions sometimes imply they must be “good enough” before they can come to Jesus.

Ed Stetzer describes this danger in a recent article at ChristianityToday.com:

Our desire must not be to prove ourselves right or to force our way on the world around us. Instead, our goal is to show Christ to be true and worthy. Just as wrong as running away from our culture is driving people away from the church. Countering culture doesn’t mean attacking it. Countering culture means engaging culture with conviction and compassion. We stand firmly on the truth of God, empowered by the Spirit, to extend the love of Christ to the world. Our desire isn’t to conquer but to redeem. It matters what we do, how we do it, and why we do it… A wrong response to culture is more than unhealthy or unhelpful. Engaging our culture is literally a matter of life or death.”

Christians Can Share Jesus and Counter a Godless Culture

Making the Gospel message our first priority doesn’t mean Christians simply go with the cultural flow. Armed with the proper goals, attitudes, and purpose, we can extend the grace of Jesus to the lost and stand firm on godly values and principles. Whether we’re considering a boycott, picket line, or social media statement, these guidelines can help us evaluate our cultural engagement:

  1. Keep the cause of the Gospel primary – Will our actions and words help or harm the spread of the Gospel? If I refuse to purchase Starbucks coffee or shop at Target will it help me engage my neighbor about spiritual things or hinder my opportunity to share Jesus?
  1. Model a godly lifestyle – When Christians refuse to conform to the world, the world notices. A Christ-like life points people to Jesus and causes them to glorify God (1 Peter 2:11-12). We don’t want the tone of our cultural engagement to negate our lifestyle witness. Will the way we choose to engage the culture foster respect or derision?
  1. Engage in gracious conversation – Public words of condemnation only hurt. Dogmatic diatribes close down lines of communication. But honest, grace-filled conversations within the context of relationship can spark interest in Jesus (Colossians 4:5-6). Always be prepared to lovingly, respectfully, and biblically speak to specific topics when asked (1 Peter 3:15).
  1. Do not support ungodly behavior –Sometimes Christians condone sinful behavior in a misguided attempt to be tolerant or relevant. For instance, after the Supreme Court’s decision last June to uphold same-sex marriage nationwide, many Christians added a rainbow to their social media profile photos.
  1. Do promote social change in positive, non-confrontational ways – Christians can vote, donate time and money, engage in politics, and support community efforts in ways that don’t invite confrontation and incite anger. Respectfully choosing to shop at a different store because of personal faith convictions elicits a different response from our culture than public words of condemnation. Supporting a crisis pregnancy center builds more relationships than an angry protest at an abortion clinic.

As we seek to share the Good News with the lost, let us be marked by our good deeds, not our opposition to the world. Let us be seen as for Christ, not as against the world.

This article first appeared at Crosswalk.com on May 18, 2016.

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Does God Need an Update?

Last week, Pope Francis visited the United States. Thousands came out to see and hear him at every stop. But his visit raised a question in the media that troubles me. Several times during news stories I heard journalists pose questions similar to:

Will the Pope address ways the Church can be more relevant in our culture?

God UpdateDon’t get me wrong. I believe Christians must show how our faith is relevant to people today. But what the media suggested went beyond strategies for reaching and engaging individuals where they are with the Gospel message. They wanted to know how the Church would “update and change” to better reflect our current secular culture. To bring Christianity into the 21st century.

This question doesn’t begin and end with journalists. People from every country and generation seem to want to change or update Christianity to suit their lifestyle. People want our culture to speak to God’s Word instead of allowing God’s Word to speak to the culture.

Consider with me for a moment just how ridiculous this idea really is. We humans – who are beings created by God from a handful of dust and live but for a moment in time – think we have the right to tell the Creator how things should be, what is right and what is wrong, and how we should be able to “get to heaven.”

Job tried this. Here is God’s response:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?… Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?” Job 38:2,4; 40:2

Jesus and Christ and His saving work on the cross is relevant to every person in every culture in every century. All have sinned and are separated from God. All need a Savior. Christ died for all. God doesn’t want any to perish, but all to be saved.

That never changes. It is always relevant.

And yes, I know that’s not really what those journalists are talking about. They are thinking of ethics, and lifestyles, and the things people consider to be important. Those things change constantly.

But God does not change like shifting shadows. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The one, true Creator God is perfect holiness. He is Life. He is Light. In Him there is no darkness at all. He is the Almighty, Sovereign One. He has no beginning and no end. He is all powerful and all knowing. He created life and established its boundaries.

And this is the God to Whom we say: “Hey, why don’t you step into the 21st century? Aren’t you a little behind the times?”

Really? Think about how ridiculous this really is. If our culture doesn’t agree with God’s standards, then who needs to change?

Have you ever thought that God or the Christian faith needed an “update?” If so, in what way?

Note: I totally agree that Christians and the Christian faith is and should be relevant to the culture. I believe Paul expresses this in his declaration that he tried to be “all things to all people in order to win some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). But Paul meant in ways that did not contradict God’s moral standards or teach doctrine differently than God has revealed in His Word.

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Pray for Laborers

harvest prayerLast week I was on a “ministry cruise.” Yes, yes, I hear you. “Sure, you were.” Seriously, I went on a four-day cruise with a small group of women who work together as advocates for a particular work of God in Bangladesh. And we spent lots of hours, praying, studying, and planning. But we also had  a lot of fun together!

One thing that struck me during our meetings – even with as much as we’ve seen God do already – there is so much work still to be done. So many people in Bangladesh, America, and around the world that do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So many, many people who would be forever separated from their Creator if they died today.

What can we do? What can we do as individual believers and churches to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ? Here are 3 things we can do today:

1. Go – We can go and tell someone about the eternal salvation that can only be found in Jesus. He is the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). “Salvation is found in no one else. There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Although the whole world needs Jesus, we don’t have to move across the world to tell – unless Jesus calls us! We can go on a short-term trip. We can go around our city. We can go next door!

2. Give – Missionaries – long-term and short-term – need our financial support. Even small amounts can be used to support the work of Jesus around the world.

3. Pray – I think we too often turn to prayer as a “last resort” or when we can’t do anything else. Prayer should be our first, last, and everything in between mode of operation. Pray for God’s guidance in what He would have you do. Pray that He would supply the needs of the missionaries on the field. And pray that He would send more laborers into His harvest field.

Today, on Labor Day, I think it’s appropriate that we pray for God to send out more workers into His harvest field. So many people do not know Jesus. The harvest is indeed plentiful. And sadly, the workers are few. Will you join me in this prayer today?

Lord Jesus, so many people around the world are lost, separated from You because of their sin. Call your people to go and tell. Raise up workers to the harvest! Expand Your Kingdom and bring glory to Yourself! (Feel free to add your prayers in the comment section!)

Do you know Jesus as Lord and Savior? Here’s how you can.

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I Really Blew It

Blew itI missed a big opportunity. God handed it to me in a silver pickup truck and I let it get away without a fight. I really blew it.

It happened last Saturday. I had just stepped out of a Lifeway store and was headed to my car. Just as I reached the first car in the parking lot I heard, “Ma’am? Excuse me ma’am!”

“Ma’am? Oh, does he mean me?”

I turned to see a young man sitting in a pickup truck, now directly between the store and me. His window was down and he was looking my way.

“Yep. He meant me.”

The young “cowboy” wore a sleeveless t-shirt and tattoos covered both arms. He needed directions. “Is there a bookstore around here somewhere?”

I thought about looking around for a camera. I mean, really? He was sitting in front of a bookstore. Surely this was a joke.

“Seriously?” I replied. “Lifeway is right there,” I pointed as I declared the obvious. But I could tell he had no idea what Lifeway was by the look on his face.

“Uh, it’s a Christian bookstore,” I tried. Half statement, half question. Still no recognition.

“I’m looking for self-help books,” he added hopefully.

Okay. Seriously, I have no excuse.

I stumbled around and told him I didn’t know the area – which I didn’t. That I had a friend waiting in the car – which I did. Then I suggested he try Sam’s, which was close behind us.

By the time I got to the car, I was kicking myself over the lost opportunity. As I began to tell Janet about the encounter, all sorts of better responses began to pop into my head.

There’s a Book in there (I would be pointing at Lifeway) that will give you help that lasts for eternity.

I have a Friend that can help you with anything and everything.

Or simply:

Do you know Jesus?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted or taught or written about 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

This guy needed hope. I know the ultimate Hope.

I blew it.

Praying today that God will give me another opportunity. Maybe I’ll head to Lifeway.

When was the last time you missed – or took – an opportunity to share your Hope?

Oh, and by the way – do you know Jesus?

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The Answer to Life’s Biggest Questions

Many things puzzle me. I have questions about a host of random, non-life-threatening issues. Here are a few examples:

  • How can mothers always hear the baby cry in the night, but fathers rarely do?
  • Why can’t I find a pair of jeans to fit my body?
  • How do I always end up in the slowest line?
  • Why is my hair neither curly nor straight?
  • Why does 1 ounce of chocolate contain more calories than 1 ounce of fruit?

Life's questionsOkay, I realize there is a logical or scientific answer to most of these questions. But I don’t know them. And in the big scheme of things, the answers to these particular questions aren’t really all that important anyway.

However, some questions are critical. You might even say some questions are a matter of life and death. The answers to those questions matter greatly.

In first-century Jerusalem, the question at the top of everyone’s list was this:

Who is the Messiah and when will He come?

They’d been waiting centuries for the Anointed One to come. The Messiah would save them, redeem them, give them hope and a future.

Who is the Messiah and when will He come?

Most of them missed Him when He did come, but a few did not. And after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, those few began to give the answer and the number of people who had the answer grew.

Who is the Messiah and when will He come?

And every day, in the Temple and in their homes, they continued to teach and preach this message: “The Messiah you are looking for is Jesus.” Acts 5:42, NLT

Jesus was the answer to the biggest question in Jerusalem in the first century. Jesus is still the answer today for life’s biggest questions. And not just in Jerusalem, but everywhere.

Why am I here?

 Jesus

What is the meaning of life?

 Jesus

 Is there life after death?

 Jesus

How can I know God?

                        Jesus

 Yes, life is complicated and hard and unfair and messy. And giving everything to Jesus doesn’t magically “fix” everything. But He is the answer to the big questions and He has the power and authority to take care of everything else in His time and way if you’ll depend on Him.

Have you ever given your life to Jesus? If not, why not today? Let Him be the answer to all your big questions. (Find out more about a relationship with Jesus.)

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3 Priorities of the First Christmas

Have you made a Christmas list? I’m not talking about a list of the gifts you hope you receive or even the gifts you intend to buy for others.

No, I’m talking about your Christmas “to-do” list. Maybe it looks something like this:

Christmas to do list

And the list could go on and on… Wow!

That’s a lot of stuff – and a lot of stress – for a holiday meant to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Christmas stressMonday, I began a series on having a “less stress Christmas.” The goal? To keep Christ the center of Christmas while enjoying the holidays with family and friends.

So, what can we do differently? Today, let’s go back to the first Christmas to discover the priorities of those who personally experienced the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah.

  1. Shared Jesus (Luke 2:8-18) – A group of lowly shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem received an angelic announcement that the Savior had been born. After a late-night visit to the stable to see the miracle, they couldn’t keep the news to themselves. Scripture says, “they spread the word concerning the child.” They told everyone who would listen and “all who heard it were amazed.”
  2. Worshiped Jesus (Matthew 2:10-12) – Magi from the east had seen the star and traveled a great distance to find the One who had “been born king of the Jews.” These important men put their lives on hold to seek the Savior. When they found Him, they were “overjoyed” and “bowed down and worshiped Him.”
  3. Pondered Jesus (Luke 2:18-20) – Scripture tells us that Jesus’ mother Mary “treasured up” all the things she heard and saw and “pondered them in her heart.” Mary deeply contemplated everything God was doing. She meditated on it and considered what it all meant. It was constantly on her heart and mind.

The ones who were there that first Christmas shared, worshiped and pondered Jesus. He was their focus and their activity revolved around Him.

So how are we doing? It’s so easy to allow our focus to shift from Jesus and onto the many other things that vie for our attention during the Christmas season. Many of these things that compete for our time and thoughts are good things too. But too much of the “good” can push out the “best.”

We just have to find a proper balance. When we make Jesus the priority, then the other things will take their proper place. There will still be time for cookies, shopping, and tree trimming. And some things that seemed so important before may simply fall away and not even be missed.

Want to experience the true joy of Christmas? Share Jesus with others. Worship the King of kings with all that you are. And ponder the Savior and His love for you.

What have you allowed to become a priority this Christmas season at Jesus’ expense? What can you do differently?

 

 

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The Gospel – Judgment or Saving Truth?

Gospel TruthHave you ever been called “intolerant” or “judgmental?” Or maybe you’ve heard something like: “Well, Jesus may be great for you, but…” or “There are many ways to God…” If you regularly share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, chances are you’ve been called this and more. It seems our culture tolerates everything but God’s truth and those who proclaim it.

Last week, while reading in the book of John, something Jesus said struck me and I believe it applies to us today as we seek to share the Gospel of Jesus with others:

Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are really trusting God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the darkness. If anyone hears me and doesn’t obey me, I am not his judge – for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged at the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me gave me His own instructions as to what I should say. And I know His instructions lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say!”    John 12:44-50, NLT

Can Christians – should Christians – tell others that Jesus is the only way of salvation, the only way to the only God?

Several truths found in this passage apply directly to this question:

  1. Jesus and the Father are eternally one and we cannot separate them.
  2. The Father – the one true God who makes up the rules – sent Jesus as the way of salvation.
  3. Anyone who rejects Jesus will be judged by this truth on the day of judgment.

We have been given the message of eternal life. That message is that we all stand condemned already because of our sin, but forgiveness and eternal life is offered through Jesus Christ and Him alone. When we share that Jesus is the only way to God, we are not being narrow-minded or condemning others. We are merely sharing the truth that God established because we want them to receive eternal life. Sharing Jesus is an offer of life!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

If we truly, truly believe Jesus’ bold declaration than how can we keep it to ourselves? The eternal destination of our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers depend on their relationship with Jesus Christ.

How are we doing? How can we share this message of truth today?

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Gospel Basics Scripture Memory Chart

Salvation Scripture MemoryIf you’re a mom, you know how to be prepared for anything. You keep medicines on hand in case illness pops up in the middle of the night. You carry snacks in the car when you run errands because somebody will get hungry. You pack a change of clothes for play dates, just in case. But are you always prepared to share the Good News about Jesus?

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 1 Peter 3:15, NLT

In his first letter, Peter urged believers to always be prepared to tell others about the salvation found only in Jesus. In addition to preparing our personal story of our faith in Christ we should also be ready to share key Scriptures about salvation. The best way to always have those “ready” is to memorize them.

Verses to Share the Gospel

The chart below suggests 24 verses or short passages. The first 10 will help you show an individual her need for Jesus and how to place her faith for salvation in Him. The remaining passages will help you walk them through an overview of what it means to be a disciple or to follow Jesus daily.

If this is your first time to seriously memorize Scripture you may want to pick just one of the two monthly passages to memorize. If you are ready for more of a challenge, memorize both passages each month.  PRINT PDF VERSION

Salvation Basics editedAdditional Help for Memorizing Scripture

If you’re new to memorizing Scripture, you may want to check out this additional posts and resources:

Scripture Memory Tips   (PDF version)

7 Activities to Help you Memorize Scripture

6 Reasons to Memorize Scripture

Have you ever used memorized Scripture to share your faith in Jesus with someone? How did God use it?

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What Will You Do Today?

What do you plan to do today? Many of us will head to work. Or clean up after yesterday’s big family dinner. Or catch up after a long weekend.

But today isn’t simply Monday. Today is the day after Easter. The day after Jesus rose from the dead.

What do you think the disciples did the day after that first Easter?

Easter, day after EasterOn Sunday night, fearful of the Jewish leaders, they had huddled together behind locked doors, (John 20:19), when suddenly Jesus appeared in the room with them. He showed them His hands and feet to relieve all doubt. He helped them understand what the Scriptures taught about Him (Luke 24:40-45). And they were filled with joy!

So, what do you think they did on Monday?

Everything was different. Something miraculous and powerful and life altering had occurred. The whole world had shifted. And they knew it.

The lives of all 11 of the remaining apostles suddenly took off on a different trajectory. Fishermen and tax collectors became pastors and missionaries. They traveled the world and risked their lives to tell the news that Jesus died for our sins and rose to life for our eternity.

If Sunday never happened, Peter, James, and John would have spent the rest of their lives eking out a living on the Sea of Galilee. Matthew may have even gone back to over-taxing his fellow Jews.

Because a dead messiah changes nothing. But a resurrected Messiah changes everything.

Right now I’m reading a book called “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken. His real-life story demonstrates what can happen when a Christian takes Jesus’ Great Commission seriously. (By the way, I’m warning you, Ripkin also asks why any believer wouldn’t take it seriously.)

One spiritual experience Ripkin recounts happened during an Easter Sunday church service when he was eleven. The message of the resurrection hit him powerfully, but he wondered why everyone in the pews around him didn’t feel the same:

How in the world was it that these people managed to get so much more excited about what happened at a high school football field on Friday nights than they did about the resurrection of Jesus at church on Easter Sunday morning?

That statement hit me right between the eyes. Why aren’t we all jumping up and down with excitement and joy?  We should all be so overcome with the miraculous power of the resurrection and what Jesus has done for us that we leave our jobs and our homes to tell people all around the globe about the resurrected Lord.

Yet most of us don’t even go down the street. Or to the next office.

Look, I’m as guilty as anybody. I get caught up in my day-to-day life, thinking I will go. Tomorrow. But somehow tomorrow rarely comes around.

What difference will Easter make in my life? Right now. This very hour. What will I do differently today because my Savior died for the world and then ROSE FROM THE GRAVE!!?

What about you? How can you respond to the resurrection today?

Tweetables:

“A dead Messiah changes nothing. A resurrected Messiah changes everything. ‘What will you do today?'” Click to Tweet

“What will I do differently today because my Savior died for the world and then ROSE FROM THE GRAVE!!?”  Click to Tweet

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3 Possible Responses to the Cross

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day we remember and reflect on what Jesus did for us on the cross. And although Jesus willingly gave His life to bring salvation to all people (John 3:16), all people do not respond to His sacrifice on the cross in the same way.

Jesus on Cross

  1. Ridicule, Mocking, Insults – On that first Good Friday, most of the people that stood beneath the cross scorned Jesus and His act of love (Luke 23:35-39). Not much has changed since then. The majority still reject Him. The “intellectuals” proudly claim that faith in a suffering Savior is for weak-minded people who need a crutch. The politicians demand we keep Christ and His cross out of the public sphere. The sad thing is, they “do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). They reject the only way of salvation (John 14:6).
  2. Stay Stuck – Every sinner must come to the foot of the cross. There we receive the forgiveness Christ bought for us with His blood (Romans 5:8-9). Yet too many believers plant themselves there. Like young children who cling to the bottle, they never grow up in their faith (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:11-14). They want salvation without surrender and heaven without holiness.
  3. Pick it up and Carry it – Jesus calls us to the kind of faith that requires us to pick up our own cross. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). This is how Jesus describes true discipleship. We follow His example of complete obedience to the Father and surrender our will completely to His. Ironically, it’s only in “losing” our life that we truly find real life.

How have you responded to the cross? If you’ve never trusted in Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins, do it today! If you’ve been washed clean by His blood, but are stuck in spiritual immaturity, commit to pick up your cross and follow Him (Galatians 2:20). Don’t settle for your best life now. Commit to Jesus’ best life for you always!

How do you need to respond to the cross today?

Tweetables

“Do you want your best life now? Or do you want Jesus’ best life always? Pick up your cross and follow Him. Luke 9:23”  Click to Tweet

“Some believers plant themselves at the foot of the cross and never pick theirs up to grow in spiritual maturity. Gal 2:20” Click to Tweet

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