Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Folly of Angry Witnessing and the Folly of attacking Christians who befriend the Lost

Image result for angry street preaching
Is this what Jesus had in mind when said, "Go into all the world..."
From time to time in my life I've seen people standing on a street corner with a homemade sign that lists a variety of things that God hates.  Sometimes the things on the list are accurately taken from the text of the Bible, and sometimes they reflect the beliefs of the person who made the sign, often involving politically motivated choices as well.

What then should the average Christian think in response to such demonstrations, most of which involve anger and shouting, a tactic far more likely to make enemies than friends.  Should Christians care about offending the Lost?  Should we be presenting the Gospel with anger or love?

The most important question, which should be obvious to all who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ but perhaps is not, is this: What does the Word of God say about the tactics we should be using to witness to those who don't know Jesus as Lord and Savior?

1 Peter 3:15-16 is one such key passage, "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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

Do you mean, Peter didn't write, "Shout at the unbelievers, ridicule them, call them names, for then they will want to join you."  And he didn't write, "disrespect the lost, treat them with unkindness, and say horrible things, especially false ones, about anyone who dares to befriend an unbeliever."

Peter did write that we must witness with gentleness and respect, and he did write that we must conduct ourselves always with good behavior as representatives of Christ.

So, why all the yelling, why the hatred?  For some, it is a misguided notion that they have to defend the Law of God against societal or governmental forces, and therefore they have appointed themselves as judge, jury, and executioner on God's behalf.  For others, it might be a form of racism or ideology based hatred that is driving their counter-productive attempt to hate-witness.  The most obvious example of this in action in the West today relates to Islam.  There are some in the Christian community, at least they claim to represent Christ, who feel the need to warn about the dangers (which are of an apocalyptic level in their mind) of terrorism from individuals/organizations influenced by Islam, and therefore their only interaction with Islam is angry and militant.  They say things like "All Muslims are terrorists", or "Islam is of the devil".  They think that they're defending Western civilization and Christendom, but in reality all they accomplish is to make terrorism more likely by further marginalizing Muslims living in Western nations, and even more importantly, shutting the door against the Gospel's message even more firmly.  What Muslim, who believes in Muhammad and the Qur'an, is going to listen to what you have to say about the love of God and the desire that God has to offer forgiveness in Christ, when you approach that Muslim by insulting Muhammad and spitting upon the Qur'an?  In what reality does this tactic work even 1 in a million times?

Do you want the Lost to hear the Gospel so that they can be saved, or do you just want credit for yelling it at them?  Do you actually love the Lost, in imitation of our heavenly Father, who sent his Son to die for our sins, while we were still sinners, or has hatred clouded your mind and convinced you that some people are beyond God's saving grace?  (As if you deserved God's grace, but they don't!)

If you can't speak to those who don't know Jesus with gentleness and respect, maybe you should just keep your yap shut and let those whose hearts are burdened for a world full of people without God's love in their lives, be the ones to represent Jesus.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sermon Video: Apollos and the Whole Gospel - Acts 18:18-28

What happens when the Gospel message is missing a key component, or has something added to it?  The danger in such a case is that the Gospel will be devoid of the power that it has to save the Lost.  For example: If someone knew who Jesus was, but not what he had done for us, how could that partial information lead such a person to repentance and faith?  Likewise, if a person knew who Jesus was, and what he had done for us, but was also told that our response is to imitate Jesus and earn our salvation (as opposed to trusting in his work on our behalf), how could such a Gospel with that spurious addition lead such a person to repentance and faith?
In the book of Acts, Luke recounts the return of Paul at the end of his 2nd missionary journey, and his subsequent start to his 3rd missionary journey, but in between those trips he also recounts the arrival of Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, in Ephesus.  Apollos knew a good deal about Jesus, and his information was accurate, but he didn't know the whole story.  Apollos had believed the message of John the Baptist, the call to repentance and the identification of Jesus as the Messiah, but Apollos didn't know the end of the story, for he had not yet heard of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Even with the right intentions, and a zeal for the Lord, the truths that Apollos was sharing fell short of what was needed to save, it could point people toward Jesus, but not help them come to him.  Thankfully, the will of God was not idle, and Paul's friends Priscilla and Aquila enlightened Apollos by sharing with him the rest of the Good News about Jesus.
A Gospel missing any of its key elements: who Jesus is (both God and man), what he has done (his vicarious death and resurrection), or what we must do in response (repent in faith), is a defective Gospel, just as a Gospel with additional requirements tacked on (the normal one being human effort instead of faith).  We, as the Church, must always protect the integrity of the Gospel message, insisting upon it in our preaching and teaching, refuting those who preach a different Gospel, and trusting as Scripture tells us that the power to save comes from God, not us.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Do Christians really want Muslims to be saved?

In light of recent venomous criticism raised by self-proclaimed Christians against Christian author and apologist James White because of his willingness to dialogue with and debate Muslim apologists and imams with respect and fairness, an important question needs to be asked of the Church.  Do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, really want Muslims to come to know the love of God that is in Jesus Christ?  Do we want Muslims, any and all of them, to be violently killed or saved by love and grace?

If you actually do, as a Christian, want Muslims to come to know the love of Christ, (like any of the Lost: Atheists, Mormons, Hindus, etc.) what attitude would best help that evangelistic effort?  Do expressions of hatred help spread the Gospel?  Does calling all Muslims terrorists help them see that they need to come to Jesus by faith?  Or do we actually push forward the cause of the Gospel through dialogue, openness, respect, honesty, and charity?

James White has been the lightning rod of this issue, but it is far bigger than him.  The Church is being challenged by the violence of terrorism to reject hatred and remain steadfast in the embrace of the peace of Christ.  Giving in to hatred it easy, it appeals to our fallen human nature, it appeals to our tribalism and racism, but it is the opposite of the Fruit of the Spirit which we are supposed to be cultivating as disciples of Jesus.

Consider Saul of Tarsus.  He was a violent man, full of hatred, responsible for the deaths of Christians.  Should the Early Church have killed him in self-defense?  Should they have spewed hatred at him in return?  What did God do about Saul of Tarsus?  He showed him Jesus, and turned him into the Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest missionary the Gospel has ever seen.  If Peter or John had given in to the temptation to respond to Saul with hate, how many souls would have remained Lost instead of hearing the Gospel?

A related question that we, as Christians, need to answer: Is our hatred of Muslims being driven by our politics?  When contemplating the criticism directed his way, much of which has only a token connection with the truth, James White recently said, "If your politics destroys your passion for the Lost in your life, dump the politics, stick with what has eternal value."

Are you a Christian?  Do you want Muslims, the vast majority of which are non-violent no matter what nonsense you read online or hear from politicians trying to get your vote or businesses trying to get your money, but even the terrorists who have killed Christians, to find forgiveness in Christ?  You have been forgiven for your sins, you came to Christ by grace, are you willing to be so ungrateful an adopted child of God that you would push others away from God's love?  All have sinned, all need a savior, if you think you have any right to be God's gate-keeper and decide who deserves God's grace and who deserves God's wrath, you are woefully and dangerously mistaken.

If the Gospel you claim to believe isn't for everybody, then you don't really believe it.

If you don't show love to the Lost, you have failed in your responsibility to share the Gospel.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sermon Video: The Best Dad in the Bible - Job 1:1-5

Who is the best dad in the Bible?  If you ask that question about mothers, there is some stiff competition, but unfortunately, when considering fathers in the Bible, many of the most famous men struggled in their role as a father.  One exception to this trend is Job.  Job was not only a father of ten children, but also a man of noble character, exceptional reputation, and a successful businessman.  How do we know that Job was a good father?  First, Job made sure that his own character and relationship with God were exemplary.  To be a good father, one must first be a good man.  Too many fathers have destroyed their ability to be a good father by failing morally as a man, Job did not falter as a father by falling to temptations.  Beyond this firm foundation, Job also saw the spiritual health of each of his children to be his responsibility.  He acted as priest for his family, making sacrifices on behalf of his children to ensure that they maintained their relationship with God.  Therefore, Job provided for his family, both physically and spiritually, this same combination of responsibility belongs to all of us who have been given the privilege by God of being called a father.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Friday, June 16, 2017

The future of the Church, why do I keep worrying about it?

We spend a lot of time and a lot of energy worrying about the future of our own local church.  We also spend a lot of time and energy worrying about the future of the Church in America, or in the West, perhaps even globally.  Is my church heading in the right direction?  Is my denomination heading in the right direction?  How will the Church respond to the increasingly secularized culture of the West?  What about millennials, everybody keeps saying they aren't going to church anymore?...

These worries, or "concerns", if we want to feel better about what we call them and avoid admitting that we're worried, are probably unavoidable, to some extent.  We all want to know that our contribution and sacrifices will stand the test of time, that they are "worth it" and not wasted, and we have a natural and appropriate place in our hearts for our own local church, our denomination, and the Church in our nation.  If any one of those levels fails, or seems to be failing, it will be emotionally brutal for those for whom much of their identity is defined by being an American Christian, from this particular church, in that denomination.

Our emotional investment is natural, and for the most part a good thing, but it may also be somewhat misguided.  The Church, from the local one that you are attached to (hopefully), to the denomination to which it belongs, to the collection of churches throughout this nation (or any nation), doesn't belong to you.  The Church is the bride of Christ, the object of the New Covenant, the subject of Jesus' promise to his disciples that, "the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Mt. 16:18)  The Church in our generation will have its ups and downs, it will win some and lose some, it may shrink in one area only to grow in another.  Through it all, from this generation to the next, and the next after that, the Church will continue to be the instrument of the will of God for declaring the Gospel and making disciples here on Earth.  And as an instrument of the will of God, it cannot be defeated, our worst or best effort notwithstanding, for its success or failure is not predicated upon our power, but God's.

Does what we do matter, then, at our local church?  Absolutely, for we have been given charge over the sheep of this particular pasture, we have been entrusted with the words of Life, and we have been tasked with making disciples here in our midst.  We have, as a local church, much responsibility of the utmost importance.  What we don't have, what we can't have, is responsibility for the future of the Church, from the local to the universal level, that power rest, thankfully, solely in the hands of God.

Is the Church shrinking in the West?  Statistics seem to say yes, but you and I will not be judged by God according to statistics.  What we will answer for is the quality of our prayer, worship, and service in the name of Jesus.  It has always been the work of the Holy Spirit to bring salvation to the Lost, to spur revival among the people of God, and to overcome the forces of darkness in this world with the light of Christ.  If the Spirit of God sends revival upon our local church, our denomination, or our nation, God will deserve the glory, for the power of God will have been the cause.  What then does the future hold for us?  As our church here approaches its 150th anniversary in July, we can't help but wonder.  God knows, God alone has the power to shape the future.  Our task, our responsibility, is the present.  Our own lives, our own discipleship, our own community and our role within it as servants of the kingdom of God.

How does the story end?

"Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready." (Revelation 19:7)

God will have the victory, his Church will be victorious, for the uncountable throng of redeemed saints who comprise it are the bride of Christ, and their celebration of his victory in the glory of heaven is already certain.

Am I optimistic about the future of the local church where I serve?  Yes.  Am I optimistic about the future of our denomination, the American Baptist Churches?  Yes.  Am I optimistic about the future of the Church in the United States or in the West?  Yes.  But my optimism or pessimism alone won't determine anything.  There will always be reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism, regardless of them, we have a task to accomplish, a mission given to us by our Lord, and we are responsible for our effort on behalf of that cause, God, and God alone, is responsible for tomorrow.

"at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)