What Kind of Church Outreach Works?

Since I started in ministry back in 2011, I have been a student of church outreach methods and practices. What is outreach? Outreach is simply the activity of extending one’s attention beyond one’s church community in order to bring the Gospel to outsiders, and to bring outsiders to faith in Christ and into the church.

Outreach is important, because as followers of Jesus, we ought not to keep the good news to ourselves. We want to share it and see others–as many as the Lord will give us–come to saving faith, reconciliation to God and others, and the transformed life that only Jesus can give.

Over the years, I have worked with ministries and staffs to develop strategies ranging from pub theology groups, to backyard barbecues, to evangelistic retreats and lock-ins, to well-known programs like the Alpha Course. I have attended conferences and researched curriculum. I have preached it from the stage, and I have obnoxiously wedged it into conversations. I would by no means call myself an expert in outreach, but I am a student of it. I don’t know everything (far from it), but I have learned a few things. And after years of studying and practicing outreach, I am convinced that there are two methods of outreach that is more effective than everything else.

The two most effective methods for evangelism I have found are these:

  1. Studying the Bible in a small group.
  2. A personal invitation to church.

Studying the Bible in a small group

There is something about opening up God’s word with a group of two-to-12 people, reading it, discussing it, and asking and answering questions about it that is just powerful. In Isaiah 55:11, the Lord says, “My word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (CSB). I have written about the benefit of small group Bible study to spiritual growth, so I won’t belabor this point.

If you are looking for something you can do to reach unbelievers with the Gospel, I would just encourage you to pray first, and then recruit one or two other believers to do this with you. Together, pick up a book on one-to-one or small-group Bible study (like this one) and start inviting your non-Christian friends and acquaintances to study the Bible with you. You can say something like, “Would you have any interest in reading the Bible with me and a couple other guys (/gals) for a few weeks?”

An evangelistic, small-group Bible study on a book like Romans or one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) can be a powerful environment for outreach.

A personal invitation to church

Ideally, there is one place you can count on the Gospel being announced at least once a week. That place, of course, is your local church (if your pastor is not preaching the Good News about Jesus every week, then you need to have a sit-down with him. Come on, Preacher! We’ve got souls to save here! Get on your horse!). Because of this, a church invite can be a great way to get your non-Christian friends, neighbors and family members in front of Jesus. The fact is, most of us are not inviting people to church. Before churches plan to spend money, time and volunteer hours on large-scale outreach initiatives, we should take advantage of the “outreach event” happening every weekend!

The invitation can be something as simple as saying, “Hey, if you don’t have any plans this Sunday morning, I’d love to have you join me at my church this Sunday. We can even grab lunch afterward. Want to come?”

These two outreach methods are simple, but let’s be honest, they are still intimidating. You still have to make the invitation. Sometimes, we may prefer large-scale events, because it allows us to hid behind everyone else in the church. These two methods require personal, face-to-face interaction and taking a risk. But this is exactly what the Lord did for us. Jesus came down and met us face-to-face. And last time I checked, He still invites us, through His word, to come to Him (see here and here).  It’s our privilege, as His followers, to pass that invitation along.

Further reading: 

  • Why Church Members Don’t Invite Others to Church: http://thomrainer.com/2014/07/church-members-dont-invite-others-church/
  • Five Surprising Insights about the Unchurched: http://thomrainer.com/2016/12/five-surprising-insights-unchurched/

What About Those Who Don’t Believe in God?

As I prepare for tomorrow’s message on the book of Jonah–the man who was plunged into the abyss, into the belly of a giant fish, and returned after three days–one concept has really shocked me. In this incredible (though not un-credible) story, there are two groups of people who become worshipers of the Lord, namely the polytheist sailors and the wicked citizens of Nineveh, who had previously been the furthest thing from believers. And yet, it is clear from the story that God actually expected their worship. He deserved it. They owed Him worship.

There is no sense, from Scripture, that worship of the Lord is something optional, or that God only certain people to worship Him, or that He only wants to be known, glorified and enjoyed by people who currently adhere to a particular religion.

God is the God of everyone He has created. And He has created everyone. He is even the God of those who don’t believe in Him. (Or at least, they claim to believe in Him. Whether anyone can truly be an atheist is an issue for another time. Spoiler alert: they can’t.)

These theme of the universality of God’s worship-worthiness continues on into the New Testament, in which Jesus is said to be the Savior, not only of certain people, but of the whole world (see 1 John 2:2 and 4:14). That is to say, there is only one God, and One who goes between God and man, to make peace between us.

Like the pagan sailors and the Ninevites in the book of Jonah, you, me, and everyone we know owe our allegiance to the one true God.

This is difficult, because there are many religious systems out there claiming to be true, and insofar as they deny the Gospel, they are therefore all wrong (see the recent controversy with Senator Bernie Sanders and presidential appointee).

However, it is also wonderful news (the word Gospel means “good news”), because there is a sure way to God. There aren’t multiple ways, but that’s okay, because there aren’t multiple gods. There is only one. And He has given us a way. That way is through faith in Jesus (John 1:12).

This Gospel is the message that Christians must take to our family, friends and neighbors: there is one true God. He made us, and we owe Him everything. We’ve been refusing Him the worship He deserves, and we’ve earned His punishment (that’s why God sent Jonah to Nineveh in the first place!). Rescue from that punishment comes through faith in the one who was plunged into the abyss of death and returned to the land of the living after three days. Not Jonah, but Jesus. Do you know Him? Whom will you tell?

Spread the News! New Resources Posted!

FYI, I’ve just posted two new resources that I hope will be useful. The first is for Spanish-speaking parents: a Spanish translation of the New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones (thanks to Antonio Salgado).

And the second is for churches to use in equipping their people to share their faith. You can find them both at the top of this page in the Resources & Media tab.

A Christian Perspective on Morality

Last Wednesday I had a fun time moderating a lively discussion on the subject of morality as part of my monthly MeetUp series, “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions).”

Before we opened up the floor to questions and discussion, I gave a brief talk on the topic. Here are the notes I taught from, unedited (which means my sources aren’t cited, and it’s really formatted better for speaking than reading. Please don’t tell Larry Mroczek, my junior year Honors English teacher).

Morality Talk – Let’s discuss right and wrong!

Biblically, morality comes from God.

God’s moral proclamation is not an arbitrary decree, nor is it a higher standard. Rather, the Bible teaches, “Be Holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

At creation, God gave Adam one command: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Notice that God did not have to command the man not to murder, not to steal, or even how to practice religion correctly. There was one command, and it was a simple one. Really, the command amounted to this: “Respect God and obey what God says.” This is what is summarized as the “whole duty of man” in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep his commandments.”

If you know the story, you know Adam did not keep God’s commandment. He was tempted by his wife, Eve, who had been tempted by the devil. Adam sinned, and his sin we now refer to as “The Fall.” Immediately after Adam sinned, God brought the earth under a curse, but the worst curse was for the devil. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that one of Eve’s offspring would destroy the devil, even though in the process the offspring would himself be fatally wounded. So God promised a self-sacrificing Savior at the dawn of human history. It is significant that this promise comes even before any of the moral codes God would soon give humanity.

The next moral code the Lord gave was to Noah, in Genesis 9, allowed the eating of meat, forbade eating meat with blood, prohibited murder, and gave a mandate for human reproduction.

After this, God began to establish a special relationship with a certain genealogical line of people, who were descended from Noah, through the biblical patriarch Abraham. It was with Abraham’s descendants, through his son Isaac and grandson Israel, that God established what we now refer to as the “Old Covenant.”

The Old Covenant was a legal-theological system based on conditional promises God gave to the nation of Israel, through the prophet Moses. If Israel kept their end of the bargain, they would receive life and blessings (Deuteronomy 30:19), but if they disobeyed God’s law, they would receive curse and exile from the Promised Land (Leviticus 26:33).

At the heart of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments.

During the period in which the Old Covenant was still in effect, God began to make more promises to humanity, building on the original promise of salvation, that he had given to Adam and Eve back in the beginning. He promised that an era would come in which every member of the people of God would know God and live morally—because from a biblical perspective, morality and relationship with God are bound up together. So in Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord describes the coming “New Covenant” era, saying, “’I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Now in the meantime, developments in moral philosophy were being made outside of Israel. Every society has always had some kind of moral code of laws—many of which paralleled the kind of morality God gave to Israel. This is explained in that God gave all human beings a conscience; in Romans 2:14-15 the Bible says that “…when Gentiles, who do not have the Law [of Moses], do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.”

What is also interesting is that two things take place: first, Israel does disobey God and break the Old Covenant, and they are exiled and dispersed. Yet, during that period, in which the Babylon Empire reigned supreme, we find that many non-Jewish societies made radical advancements in their moral philosophy.

According to Christian Scripture, the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets”) hang on the two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That second principle, loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self, spread to non-Jewish societies during the time of the Jewish exile.

A form of it reached Egypt between 2040 – 1650 B.C.—roughly corresponding the time when Israel were slaves in Egypt. But it was really primitive “Do to the doer to make him do.” It was just what we call the “law of reciprocity.”

Moses received it in around 1500 B.C.

But around the time of the Jewish Exile in Babylon, between ~597 B.C. and 538 B.C., we see nations under Babylonian rule adopting this Jewish morality. China, India, Greece, Persia and Rome all picked it up.

It was during that period that the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, and Darius (b. 550 B.C.) issued the decree that, “…all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land…in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

The western end of the empire was Greece. The eastern end was India.

Buddhism was founded in India in the low 500s, B.C.

Confucius wrote around 500 B.C.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics was written in 350 B.C.

So it has been proposed that these moral advancements owe their development in part to the influence of Jewish morality on the Babylonian/Medo-Persian empire (which later became the Greek, and eventually the Roman Empire.*

So in the non-Jewish world, you have approximations of biblical morality—though never, or rarely, the heartfelt conviction over sin that is seen in the Psalms, for example—but the revealed morality from God is limited to the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.

After a period of four centuries of silence, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem to a virgin girl, fulfilling further prophecies (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14) about the coming Savior, that God had previously promised back in Genesis.

Jesus completely transcends and transforms morality in a way that is analogous to the great moral shift that took place around the Sixth Century B.C., but far greater than that shift.

The highest moral principle of Jesus is not, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” but rather He says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Well, if you follow the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, you discover exactly what “as I have loved you” really means. Jesus lay down his life for his people. That model of self-sacrificing love becomes the new norm for the morality of the people of God. So when the Apostle John summarizes how to live in a loving way, He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Indeed, there can be no higher moral principle than this one—a fact that Jesus points out in John 15:13, when he teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Of course, Christian morality does not limit itself to love only for fellow Christians. Rather, believers are commanded to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Along with the command to love, Jesus gives many other moral imperatives—which echo some of the same morality of the Ten Commandments—recall, they had been at the heart of the Old Covenant—but which reflect the higher love to which Jesus’ followers (in the New Covenant era) are called. Rather than simply prohibiting adultery, Jesus prohibits lust. Rather than just murder, Jesus prohibits hatred and insult. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out a moral code for his followers that is far beyond anything developed prior to that time, whether Jewish or Gentile.

So Christian morality is inseparable from Jesus—and it is only through unity with him that a person can actually live a truly moral life, according to God’s standard.

If you continue to follow the development of moral progress in the world after the time of Christ, what do you see? You see followers of Jesus fighting disease and plague while Roman pagans flee the cities. You see women gaining previously-unheard-of rights. You see Christians fighting against and ending slavery, which had been enshrined in human civilizations for all of history. You see the Church inventing the concept of hospitals and colleges, making huge advancements in art and music and education. Even the concept of childhood owes its existence to Christianity. That’s right, an article came out last year called, “How Christianity invented Children,”[1] explaining how Jesus’ attitude toward children revolutionized the ancient world, leading up to the modern time.

Christian morality is bound up with the person of Jesus. He is the best revelation of God’s moral character (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the Creator of our world, and has the best understanding of how moral agents are to interact within it (John 1:1-3). He is also the ultimate human representative (Romans 5).

The moral bar he raises is actually an impossible standard to keep. But the Bible provides a solution for this. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all the moral failure of his people on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). In place of our moral failure (Romans 3:23), God attributes to followers of Jesus the moral perfection of Jesus Himself, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those same people, to empower them to live according to Jesus’ standard. Perfectly? No. But joyfully. Is it a struggle sometimes? Yes! But it is a struggle the follower of Jesus will ultimately win, by God’s grace.

So what about people who do not follow Jesus?

Can an atheist or non-Christian act in a moral way? Yes and no.

True morality, according to the Bible, is grounded in knowing God and loving him. Non-believers can approximate morality by doing moral things, yet if, in doing so, they are rejecting God, that cannot truly be moral.

Moreover, when a non-believer acts morally, he is actually being inconsistent. This is because, without God and the Bible, there is no way to ground morality in any kind of objective way.

So you have to ask yourself: Has God spoken about morality?

If not, then someone has to decide what is right and what is wrong. Who’s going to do that? It would have to be someone with comprehensive knowledge of the moral universe, in order to lay down any kind of absolutes. None of us possess that quality!

But then, maybe morality is subjective—varying from person to person or from culture to culture? This boils down to there being no morality at all. At least, it becomes impossible to differentiate between moral systems that are correct and ones that are incorrect.

John Frame, a theologian, asks this question, “How do you adjudicate between two different moral frameworks that sit before you, that each believe its morality is superior to the other person’s?”

James White, a Christian apologist, has pointed out, that the reality of the world is such that not every worldview actually desires peace and getting along. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher, has said this too: some people believe that they would “get along” much better without you in the picture!

How do we differentiate between these various worldviews? The Bible is the morally-infallible norm by which we do this.

So let’s say you answer, “Yes, God has spoken.” And there are moral standards that apply across the board.

Well then, are those moral standards found in the God of the Bible, as revealed in the Bible? If not, then how do we decide?

It boils down to something we have talked about a lot: presuppositions. When you presuppose the Bible to be true—that is, when you start with that assumption—you can make sense of the moral universe in which we live. When you start with anything else, you run into contradictions and self-referential incoherence.

To conclude: there are many moral systems out there in the world, but they ultimately boil down to two options: morality based on the perfect nature of God, or morality based finally on my ever-changing self and my own best judgments. With the radical, self-sacrificial love that Jesus calls us to live out, it ought to be plain to us which one is based on God’s character. Christian morality is not something any mere human could come up with, but it is something God calls each of us to.

The Bible says that, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

In other words, one day God will judge each of us by his perfect standard, which is his Son Jesus. Those who are his followers will have our sins forgiven and His moral perfection credited to us. Those who reject God’s offer will be judged according to the Standard. Will your life demonstrate that you loved God or hated Him? Your eternal destiny will reflect that!

So that is my best attempt to (somewhat) briefly explain Christian morality to you. Now, what questions do you have for me?

[1] http://theweek.com/articles/551027/how-christianity-invented-children

*I first heard of this theory from Derek Webster, lead pastor of Grace Pointe Church in Naperville, Illinois, while I worked there between 2013 and 2016.

My Recent MeetUp Teaching Plan On The Subject, “Meaning: What Makes Life Worth Living?”

For those who might be interested, here’s the teaching plan I wrote up, to facilitate a recent “Ask A Pastor” MeetUp (if you use this or any part of it, please properly attribute it–and let me know!)

Ask a Pastor MeetUp #3: Meaning Talk

“Absolutely futility. Everything is futile.” –King Solomon

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –Jesus

  • Ice Breaker: (state your name, then) name something you have no interest in.
  • What makes life worth living?

People I asked said:

  • “Family. God and family” (Tony, age 50, baby on the way).
  • “Family and my girlfriend” (Zladko, Starbucks patron).
  • “People I love, pursuing my passions, and standing up for worthy causes (Max, aspiring actor).”
  • “Worship. This life is temporary. But working to be perfect is easier said than done” (Omar, barista, Muslim).
  • “Family” (Andrea, fiancée).
  • “Experiences and how they shape me” (Josh, barista, depression-overcomer).
  • “The pursuit of happiness” (Nathan, musician, manufacturer, friend).

THE OPTIONS

  1. Love (Sex/Romance/Family/Friends)
    • Why it’s good
      • Man & woman created for relationship, marriage, sex (Genesis 2:18)
      • Family is God’s plan for godly children (Mal. 2:15)
      • Friendship is a gift from God (Prov. 17:17)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Makes life meaningless apart from romance
      • Puts too much pressure on other, imperfect humans (Jerry Maguire effect)
      • Leads to fear of loss and control, manipulaion
  1. Wealth (Money, possessions, retirement)
    • Why its good
      • We are created with needs for food, shelter, etc. (fruit in garden of Eden, clothes after the Fall)
      • Gives ability to share (Hebrews 13:16)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Practically it doesn’t work—false promise of security
      • Love of money is a root of evil
      • Makes meaning contingent on possessions—inaccessible for the poor. Who’s going to say that poor people have less meaningful lives!
  1. Success (Legacy; Personal sense of fulfillment; American Dream; Approval from others)
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for work, mission, quest.
      • “Do all to the glory of God”—we should seek to do our best at all times.
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Become a slave to work, when it is ultimate.
      • Work is not meant to be an end in itself.
      • Self-promotion, leads to fear, frustration, manipulation—self-focused striving.
  1. Power (Political power, promotion, personal influence)
    • Why it’s good
      • Government instituted by God (Romans 13) to protect innocent and punish evil.
      • Positive influence is a gift from God (“discipleship”—teaching others to live for God)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Some may never have access to it.
      • When sought for its own sake, it leads to corruption, etc.
      • In its worst forms, inevitably leads to tyranny.
  1. Religion
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for worship and obedience (Ecclesiastes 12)
      • Has a positive effect on the individual and society (12 houses of worship in Philadelphia added $50M to their area).
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Impossible to know if you’ve done enough
      • Leads to pride, self-focus, because based on performance
      • Leads to oppression, fear, control, coercion.


These options come down to rejecting our Creator and taking the reins ourselves. A (temporary) life lived that way, in this world, inevitably leads to a (forever) death in the next world
(Revelation 21:8; Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 13:50; Mark 9:43….).

THE BIBLE’S ANSWER:

A restored and right relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ, gives meaning to all of life.

  • Glorify God: 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Know God: John 10:10
  • Obey God: Ecclesiastes 12
  • Bring others to God (Matthew 28:18-20)

Knowing Jesus ties everything else together:

  • Love:
    1. “We love because He first loved us.”
    2. Love based on Jesus’ sacrificial death for His people
  • Wealth:
    1. Treasure in heaven that can’t be lost, destroyed, or stolen
    2. Greatest treasure is knowing God
    3. Needs met in community (Church)
    1. “Glory, honor and immortality.”
    2. Running the race, fighting the good fight. Winning the prize.
  • Power
    1. Think clearly about human government (don’t put all your eggs in that basket!)
    2. Trust in God’s designed outcome, whoever is president.
    3. Freed from personal striving for more and more influence/fame.
  • Religion
    1. Flows from gratitude and future hope, rather than oppressive and uncertain obligation.
    2. Based on personal relationship rather than impersonal law.
    3. Actually effective, and it pleases God—“The righteous shall live by faith.”

How to be reconciled to God:

  • John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  • Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • In short, “repent” and believe” in Jesus.
    • Acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (and you’re not!) and Savior (again, not you).
    • Believe that God raised Him from the dead (in other words… the Gospel is true).
    • “Lose your life” for His sake, and you will find real life. Matthew 16:25.

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” –Jim Eliot.

*****

For further reading:

 

The Upside Down-ness of the Christian Life

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes,

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be STEADFAST, IMMOVABLE, always EXCELLING in the work of the Lord, knowing that your TOIL is not empty in the Lord”  (AT).

The Christian lifestyle, fully realized, looks like this:

  • We are steadfast in our faith.
  • We are immovable in our hope.
  • We are always finding new ways to go above and beyond in loving God and other people (we do this at work, with our families, at church, with our friends, at school, in our personal lives–yes, even on social media).

No Christian that I’ve ever known (myself fully included) has ever perfectly lived this way. However, followers of Jesus who are growing in their faith make this their aim. They understand the upward call in Christ Jesus, and their eyes are fixed on the things that are above. It is the Christian’s heavenly perspective that colors his view of the world.

The Christian’s house is therefore upside down (by the world’s standards). The foundation of our building is above–in heaven. The rest of our house is built upon that foundation–our doctrines, our practices, with the rooms, where we live our lives, down here on earth. But the whole structure is firmly built not upon the shifting sands of culture, but upon the bedrock truth of God’s word, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone.

Sometimes, this “upside down-ness” of the Christian lifestyle puts us at odds with the society at large, whose house is very much built upon the changing values and norms of the reigning zeitgeist of the day. But we don’t hate unbelievers. Far from it! We love them–just as our King loved us while we were rebelling against Him; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Why do we live this way? Why toil and strive to further God’s kingdom–which is invisible–knowing that it may pit us against the very people we so urgently want to love and see reconciled to God?

We do this because we know that every bead of sweat spent serving King Jesus is never wasted. The Lord sees it all. He empowers us with the Holy Spirit. And He gives meaning and success to us when we labor for Him. God the Father is gathering a people for His Son, from every people group on earth. That includes our own people group. And so we labor and strive. We move forwardimmovable in our trust that God is real, God is good, and God is saving sinners like us.

Whom is God moving you toward today? Whom does He want you to serve? Who needs to hear the Gospel–the same Gospel that saved you? Move forward in God’s will today, and may our Lord make you immovable as you move.

Risky Evangelism

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name” (Psalm 91:14).

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). 

Face it: sharing the Gospel with others can be a daunting task. On the one hand, Christians are commanded by no less than Christ Himself to go out and “make disciples of all nations”–this implies evangelism (sharing your faith with the intention to persuade). But sharing your faith can be risky. In doing so in today’s world we increasingly risk ostracization, social rejection, corporate ruin and in some locales, physical violence.

This week is Holy Week, the week leading up to Good Friday and Easter, and the whole world is susceptible to have its attention grabbed by Jesus Christ’s passion, crucifixion and resurrection. In other words, this week is a prime chance to share the Good News with that person in your life you’ve been wanting to reach.

But you need more motivation. You need some encouragement. What if you fail? What if you say the wrong thing? What if you say the right thing, but you lose too much as a result?

Happily, the Lord gives us just the encouragement we need in Psalm 91. Look at all that the Lord promises to protect us from in this beautiful passage:

  1. The snare of the fowler (verse 3)
  2. Deadly pestilence (3)
  3. The terror of the night (5)
  4. The arrow that flies by day (5)
  5. The pestilence that stalks in darkness (6)
  6. The destruction that wastes at noonday (6)
  7. A deadly force that destroys thousands around you (7)
  8. The recompense of the wicked (8)
  9. Any evil (10)
  10. Any plague (10)
  11. Your foot so much as striking against a stone (13)
  12. Lions (13)
  13. Adders (13)
  14. Young lions (13)
  15. Serpents (13)
  16. Trouble (15)

Well, that list about covers everything, doesn’t it? God promises that no danger, no harm (no evangelistic failure!) can possibly separate you from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Evangelism is risky, but we really have nothing to fear.

We do not have to fear rejection, because we’ve been accepted by Christ. We do not have to fear failure, because Christ has succeeded for us. We do not have to fear pain, because in Christ God redeems our pain and even our death. We have hope and confidence that transcends any fears we might have.

Church, let’s go out into the spheres of life into which God has placed us and confidently stand on the truth we know: that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners like us, and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. We know His name, and He’s saved us. Now let’s go take some risks and see who else He wants to save.

The Bible Proved Me Wrong Today

Today I had the distinct pleasure of having a spiritual conversation with a woman, in a shop, about the Gospel. The circumstances of what shop I was in when I met her and the particulars of her story are not relevant here. What is relevant, however, is the conversation we had, and how the Bible contradicted us both.

Yes, the Bible proved me wrong today.

I was not out looking to have a spiritual conversation with someone at the time. I had stepped out from the cafe in which I had been working, in order to move my car (which was in a 90-minute parking zone) stretch my legs, and do a little browsing of this particular shop.

This woman, whom I’ll call Elaine (not her real name) and I spoke for about forty minutes on the topic of the Gospel. She had some interest in the biblical book of Job, but she had never actually read that book. So I was able to explain the basic story arc of Job to her, and I used that as a jump-off point to explaining the Gospel. It was then that things got sticky.

Elaine told me she had heard the Gospel before, because her mother had taken her to mass every day when she was a child. Every single day! So we talked about that, and I soon understood that her understanding of the Gospel was really not how the Bible explains it. Here’s how I determined that:

I explained the Gospel like this: we (people) are not basically, pretty good little men and women, trying to do our best and slipping up every once in awhile. That’s not how the Bible describes us. Instead, we are actually better compared to rebels taking part in an attempted insurrection. We have banded together to oppose the king and try to take his throne. The king has come to us and said, “You rebels deserve to die for what you’ve done. But I’m going to put your punishment upon my own son. He’s going to die, and you’re going to be forgiven. All this because I love you.” God: the rightful king who loves and saves the rebels. What an incredible story, right? And the best part is, it’s true! That is precisely our relationship to God, and that’s what God has done for sinners like us. He sent His only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, to take our punishment upon Himself, so we may become the righteousness of God Himself. Up to the point I shared that, I had Elaine’s attention. She had loved the story of Job, with all its intrigue and majesty. But here is where I lost her.

She told me that sounded crazy.

I agreed.

conversation6In fact, I went further and said that the Bible itself actually calls that message foolishness. But it is foolishness only to those who are perishing. Why? Because those who are perishing are trusting in themselves to get by, and the message of the Gospel–the divine Son who comes to die for sinners–seems ludicrous to people who think they are good enough for God.

I continued on: the Gospel is great news because the King’s Son didn’t stay dead. He came back to life; He conquered death. He was raised “for our justification.” Everyone will be raised from the dead some day; some will go to be with God forever, and others will suffer forever in hell (I have learned recently to just go ahead and say what the Bible says, rather than worrying about offending people. Sometimes things that are true are offensive–but the great news that is the Gospel more than balances out the terrible news about the truth of hell’s existence).

It was when I started talking about hell that I lost her even more.

She couldn’t believe in a physical, literal hell. And that makes sense, because she thought she was good enough for God. No, she didn’t think she was perfect. but good enough. You don’t need a hell when folks are pretty much good enough. Oh, and she told me she likes the idea of reincarnation. Even after I explained that the traditional Hindu doctrine of reincarnation views it more as a curse than a blessing, she maintained her respect for the doctrine. So pretty much, anything to avoid the Gospel.

So by the end of our conversation (which, again, was really very enjoyable), I had explained how the Bible contradicted her positions (some of which, as far as I could tell, were constructed ad hoc as we spoke). But what I was not expecting was the way the Bible would contradict me, too.

As I left the shop, I thought about our conversation and grew frustrated. This lady had been nice. She had seemed genuinely interested in the Bible. At one point while I was recounting the story of Job, she had exclaimed, “This is what you should talk about this Sunday!” She was hanging with me until I explained the bad news about her condition and the great news about Jesus. I genuinely wanted her to understand her need for the Savior. Heck, I wanted to see her become convicted of her sin right then and there, to repent and throw her life into the waiting arms of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to receive the Holy Spirit and begin her new life in the Kingdom of God. But none of that had happened. Instead, we both left the conversation in the same state as we began it. I, a committed Christian. She, a lapsed Roman Catholic with a hodgepodge of semi-spiritualist beliefs. I was frustrated. So I called my brother.

Well actually, I called my wife first. But she didn’t answer, so I called my brother and shared with him my frustration. What he said shut my mouth.

He said, basically, that maybe it was just my job to share the Good News with this woman, and she was never going to receive it. Perhaps, he said, I was just supposed to act like that old prophet, who warned the people of God’s impending wrath, all the while knowing that they were not going to listen.

I had conversed with Elaine in the hopes that I would see her give her life to Jesus, and enter the joy that I know so well. But it didn’t happen. Maybe someday it will, and our conversation today will have played a role. Maybe not.

But the results aren’t up to me.

The fact is, I had no right to be frustrated that my oh-so-eloquent explanation of the Gospel didn’t “work” with Elaine. The fact is, that it was never really about my oh-so-eloquent explanation at all. Unless the Lord opens Elaine’s eyes, the way He opened mine, she just plain won’t get it. That’s the power of sin on the human heart. And I know this, both from God’s word and from my own experience (news flash, Pastor Joel is a sinner).

So I was wrong to be frustrated, rather than to respond with prayer. And with thanksgiving to God that He allowed me the opportunity to convey the Good News at all. I wasn’t wrong to care about how she responded. But I was wrong to think that I could affect the outcome simply by trying hard. 

At the end of the day (and of every Gospel conversation we have), the results–like everything else–are in the Lord’s hands. And seriously, in who else’s hands would I want them to be?

Parakaleó

Parakaleó.

The word is a verb, in the ancient form of Greek in which the New Testament of the Bible was written. It means, “I invite,” or “I appeal,” or “I encourage.”

In his second letter to the Corinthian Church (listed in your Bible’s table of contents as 2 Corinthians), the Apostle Paul uses it this way:

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20.

This short passage from Scripture is the basis for the title of my blog, “An Urgent Appeal.”

This blog is for people who aren’t Christians. 

The appeal being made in that passage is that non-Christians might be reconciled to God. And the one making the appeal is none other than God himself–as the Apostle writes, “God making his appeal through us.”

That God is appealing, or inviting human beings to be reconciled to Himself tells us something. It tells us there is a divide between God and humanity. If there were no divide, there would be no need for reconciliation. Picture a deep, broad canyon, with all of humanity on one side, and a brilliant, shining throne on the other side, symbolizing God. We are on our side, and God is on His side, and He is calling certain people over to His side. “Be reconciled to Me,” He says, making His appeal.

That God is inviting human beings to be reconciled to Himself also tells us something else: this is a loving and merciful God. The reason for the great divide between humanity and Divinity is summed up in a single word: lawlessness. God is the Creator, and as such He is entitled to make the laws governing the behavior of all his creatures. Those creatures include you and me–and all of humanity. But we humans have not obeyed His law. In fact, we break it every day. Be honest: you have not even lived up to your own standards of right and wrong today. How much less have you perfectly kept the Creator’s moral law?

Therefore what might we expect to hear from such an offended King as God surely is–offended by our lawlessness and our indifference toward his authority? Instead of an appeal to reconciliation, we might expect to hear a pronouncement of doom. Indeed, that is what lawbreakers and rebels like us deserve. And certainly, it is the inevitable destiny for every human being who dies in a continuing state of lawlessness–having never been reconciled to God.

However, the Creator King, God, is in fact so loving that He has made a royal decree to save traitors like you and me, and to transform them into loyal, royal heirs.

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (HCSB).

God loved, so He gave His Son. Jesus, the Son of God, crossed over to humanity’s side of the canyon, so to speak. And when He got here, we betrayed Him, we denied Him, we turned Him over to evil men, and we had Him crucified. He was buried. But God raised Him up again, and now Jesus is alive! He has gone back to the Father, for now, but He will return (as judge. That will be when all that doom and judgment we mentioned earlier will happen).

In the meantime, He has sent the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity that God is; it is kind of a long story) to dwell inside every person who hears God’s appeal, turns from their lawlessness and trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save them from God’s wrath. Those He saves are given the right to live forever (“eternal life”) as God’s royal children.

So, while life persists, there is still time. There is still time for you to hear God’s appeal and respond to it. There is still time for me to join with my brother Paul and let God make His appeal to you. There is still time for me to “implore you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

One day, your time will run out. And that makes this appeal an urgent one. Hence the name of this blog: “An Urgent Appeal.”

Who knows?* Maybe some day this will be the name of my 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry. Or maybe I will get bored with this title, scrap it, and come up with something else. In the meantime, however, it aptly summarizes my purpose for this pastoral blog: to convey (1) the appeal God is making to His the people He has chosen, and (2) the urgency of that appeal.

This blog is for Christians, too.

In fact, because of what I will be writing and sharing, this blog will be primarily for Christians.**

What can my Christian brothers and sisters expect from this little endeavor? Come back here for exposition and explanation of Bible passages, for thoughts on defending and sharing the truths of Christianity, and for other things that I think will build up the Church and invite (parakaleó) more people to come in, through trust in Jesus Christ.

One aspect of this blog I am especially looking forward to is the opportunity to share with you the books and articles I’m reading, the videos I’m watching, the sermons and podcasts I’m listening to, and the discussions I’m having–in the hopes that you can use these resources to build up your own faith and develop a stronger walk with Jesus Christ.

Until next time, Settecase out. 

*God does.

**Though this blog will be primarily for Christians, this is the first post, and so I had to start things off with a clear explanation of the Gospel. If you are ready to know more about being reconciled to God, shoot me an email at jsettecase@gracepointe.us.