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A Modest Lesson in Evangelism

Guest Blogger: Jason Andersen

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” – Hebrews 13:7
“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” – Psalm 96:3

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” – Romans 1:16

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It was Saturday morning, about 6:00am. I had arrived in Bettendorf at about 8:30pm the night before. I was fairly tired, having stayed up well beyond midnight visiting with Pastor Mike in his home. Pastor Mike had invited me to go with him to meet brother Tony early for breakfast at a restaurant near the church before the morning men’s Bible study. I was eager to oblige. After all, I had not driven all this way to sleep.

This was my second visit to Grace Fellowship Church. I had come on my own this time, leaving my wife and children at home. All of us had visited together a few months prior, through a series of events which I will attribute to God’s gracious providence. But that is a story for another time.

We arrived at the restaurant to find brother Tony already seated. We were welcomed warmly. I had met Tony once before, but only briefly, and I was looking forward to spending a bit of time with him. I was eager to hear from him personally to learn how he had come to move from southern California to such an obscure place as eastern Iowa.

I looked around the restaurant. It was a simple place, with an unremarkable small town vibe. Being an Iowa native, such a quaint atmosphere has always felt pretty familiar and comfortable to me. Yet I imagined how foreign it must be for this Californian sitting in front of me. What made this man uproot his family and come all the way here?

As we sipped coffee and ordered food, Pastor Mike related to Tony a bit of my story — what it was that had brought me back there that weekend. I shared with Tony what had recently transpired in my life: the events leading up to our decision to leave our church in Ankeny, the sorrow in leaving behind beloved pastors and church family, and how I was soberly contemplating what the next chapter of our lives would look like.

Pastor Mike believed that it would be edifying for me to hear a bit of Tony’s testimony. I listened intently as Tony shared with me about his life — about the lack of personal shepherding he had experienced throughout his many years in the church, and other things that influenced his decision to move to Davenport. My heart was greatly ministered to. I won’t speak exhaustively of our conversation though, as that is not the focal point of this writing.

After we had eaten and visited a while longer, the clock was nearing 7:00am. Tony said that it was time for morning Bible reading (for those who don’t know, Tony leads a morning Bible reading time live on YouTube six days a week). I assumed that this was our cue to adjourn our meeting. Surely, I thought, Tony was going to go back to his car or head home and host his Bible reading from there before heading to Bible study. But as I was nearly ready to get up from the booth, I noticed Tony was getting his phone out. His Bible had already been on the table. Then it occurred to me. We were going to do this right here.

Moments later, we were live on the internet. In a public restaurant. With an open Bible. That we were about to read out loud. With strangers around.

Tony greeted folks as they joined his livestream, and waited a few minutes for people to finish coming in.
Tony looked at Pastor Mike. “You want to lead our time in prayer?”

“I would be happy to,” the reply came.

As Pastor Mike prayed, I contemplated this situation. “This is remarkable,” I remember thinking. “Here I am in a public setting with these two,  and we’re about to read the Bible. This couple sitting next to us is going to hear the word of God read aloud. That waitress is going to hear it. Those people behind us are going to hear it. Those people across the room will hear it.” This was a thing unheard of to me.

But at the same time, I also felt a swell of discomfort. “Is this OK to do? Will people find this a nuisance? Will the staff receive complaints? I’ll bet the staff is probably used to Pastor Mike by now, and he still seems to be welcome here. Maybe they know what to expect.”

I felt very out of place, in a couple of ways. First, I recognized that my flesh was recoiling with a cry of self-love. This came as no real surprise. My flesh really loves itself, and hates the idea of looking foolish. Because that’s what the word of God is to the world — foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18).

But the second out-of-place feeling was very different. As I sat in the booth with my head bowed in prayer, I recognized that I was in a sort of company right now that I had never experienced before. I was in the company of men — older brothers in Christ — whom I knew to be men with a tangible, palpable passion for evangelism. I had been around both of these men long enough to see that preaching the word of God to a dying world was not a theoretical activity to them — it was truly a way of life. And I found myself unable to relate.

My life as a Christian has been well-comprised of personal Scripture study, listening to and relishing sermons, reading blogs, meeting for coffee and breaking bread with friends, praying together for the needs of the saints, helping brethren in need. These things are all great. Yet I would refer to them as “internal” dynamics of the Christian life. That is, they serve my own growth and upbuilding, and they serve toward the edification of others in the church. These things take place inside the church.

But what about “external” or “outward” dynamics of the Christian life? What about those outside the church? What are we, as the church, actually doing to deliberately obey the great commission? Do we actually want to see the world evangelized? What am I doing to that end? I have heard many pastors speak with a great sense of urgency regarding the great commission; of making disciples of all nations, of preaching the gospel to every creature on the earth; but I’ve never been introduced to what that looks like in practice. How do we put feet to that? I’ve never seen it leave the realm of the abstract. Evangelism in our day has essentially been reduced to being an upstanding, moral citizen and occasionally discussing Jesus with the people around you if he happens to come up. But this doesn’t seem like enough; it doesn’t line up with the vision I see in Scripture.
Surely, I can say that I’ve engaged in a number of gospel conversations with unbelieving coworkers and acquaintances over the years. And these are good. It ought to be only natural that we look for ways to broach the gospel with the people we spend most of our time with. But the context of being at work tends to inhibit these interactions, and rightly so, because Christians ought to be working hard when we’re at work (Col. 3:23, Eph. 6:6), not neglecting our work in order to preach.

I’ve spent a number of evenings preaching at a homeless shelter (albeit to men who had no other choice than to sit and listen or be expelled from the place). This, too, is good. Yet there is a different dynamic created when these men feel like they are stuck there listening to your preaching as a sort of payment they must give in return for the hospitality of a warm bed for the night. To them, this makes both the preaching and the hospitality seem rather pretentious. Even so, I trust that God has used these times, for his word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).

So I’ve preached the gospel to men who were cornered by need into listening to me, and I’ve discussed the gospel at times with coworkers (being mindful of what could get me fired). But what about other contexts? The wrath of God abides on all who are outside of Christ — not only homeless men, and not only my co-workers. There are countless people out there who are living their lives as though everything is just fine. These people aren’t looking for the gospel, nor are they forced to suffer it, but they need it. How will we get it to them?

I’ve often thought about Acts 17. We are told that Paul went into the marketplace every day to preach and to reason “with those who happened to be there” (paratygchanō). Think about that. He was going into a public place, with the singular, premeditated purpose of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to strangers. In short, he was breaking all the rules of modern American evangelism. What he was doing is considered taboo by those in the modern church. He preached Christ in the middle of the street, out in the open, unashamedly challenging the worldviews of pagans as they went about their daily lives by heralding to them the good news of Jesus Christ, calling them to repentance and faith exactly where they stood:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but know he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul didn’t wait until he had “formed relationships” with these people. He didn’t first try to smooth these people over so that they “knew that he cared before he shared.” No. He preached Christ crucified. That’s what people need, and they need it now. Paul’s sole mission in every town that he went was to love sinners by proclaiming to them the gospel. The modern paradigm of good-deeds evangelism is not something we find in the example of Paul. The gospel must be preached (Romans 10:14). It is news to be heralded (Matthew 24:14), and that takes words.

To be certain, Paul definitely did form relationships with the people in the cities where he spent time preaching the gospel. In his letters, we see him very affectionately greet and address a number of individual, beloved brothers and sisters (Col. 4:15-17, Phil. 4:2). He had a deep, personal affection for the people in the churches throughout the regions he visited — people that knew him, and were known by him. He often spent substantial time in these cities, living among the people, loving them day by day, laboring to establish the health of their faith, as a loving mother nursing a child (1 Thes. 2:7). He gave them not only a word but an example to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). He spent eighteen months in Corinth alone (Acts 18:11). But all of these relationships began with the preaching of the gospel. He did not form pretentious relationships with them in order to maybe later hopefully have a chance to share the gospel. The gospel was front and center, always.

Paul regarded himself as a prisoner and a slave of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:1, Philemon 1:1, Romans 1:1). Paul saw himself to be under a divine obligation to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16), such that he said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” For if he did not, how then would he answer to his master? Paul would never have risked standing before Christ and having to testify, “Well, I spent months and years trying to form relationships with people, but I never really had a good chance to discuss the gospel with them.” On the contrary, Paul made up his mind to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul’s testimony before Christ concerning all of the churches would be, “I am innocent of the blood of these people, for I did not shrink from declaring to them your whole counsel.” (Acts 20:26-27).
The gospel must not only be spoken. It must not be whispered. It must not only be given honor in our church gatherings. It must not only be contemplated in the comfort of our own homes. And it must not only be shared with those whom we suspect would like to hear it, lest we forget that the gospel has no natural audience (1 Cor. 1:22-24). No. This gospel must be heralded unto all creation. Jesus commands nothing less.
What license have I, therefore, to be ashamed that these restaurant patrons would overhear the words of the Living God?

Pastor Mike finished praying. Tony donned his glasses and began reading in 1 Samuel 13.

As Tony read, I noticed that he wasn’t whispering, as he might have done if he were ashamed or otherwise afraid to be regarded as a nuisance by those around us. Neither was he going out of his way to shout, as to cause a ruckus. But if you know anything about Tony, you’ll note that his voice is pretty distinct. Not only is his voice deep, but it also seems to bend all the rules of acoustics. Even with his normal speaking voice, there was no doubt in my mind that the entire restaurant could hear everything he was saying.

Looking down at the table to my phone, I quietly followed along with the reading of the text. I wondered what the people around us must be thinking. There was an older couple at the table immediately adjacent to us, spreading jelly on their toast, sipping coffee. I noticed the woman sort of glancing over at us. My thoughts wandered to the people behind us. To the waitress. To those people over in the opposite corner. Surely, someone in this restaurant was casting an eye-rolling glance in my direction. “Those foolish Christians.”

Tony continued to read. Chapter 13 came to an end, and he moved right on into chapter 14. It was clear to me that Tony had not the slightest bit of shame in what he was doing. He had no need to apologize. This was the holy word of God. The eternal, authoritative revelation that the King of the universe has disclosed to mankind. And people need to hear it. Tony was not ashamed of the word of God.
And I shouldn’t be either. And neither should you, Christian.

Although God had already been working this conviction into me prior to this morning (through contemplation of texts like Acts 17), it was in those moments with Tony and Pastor Mike that I came to conclude that there was something seriously lacking in the way I had thought of and approached evangelism in my life. Through the mere reading of the word of God in a public place (which isn’t really that dramatic by itself), as well as through other exposure to the brethren at Grace Fellowship, I found myself to be witnessing a kind of passion for the heralding of the word of God that I’d previously only read about. It convicted me. It provoked me in a holy way (Hebrews 10:24) And it was resolved in my heart that I need to be around the example and fellowship of men like these.

Tony continued through chapter 15, then ended for the day. Pastor Mike then closed by giving some brief thoughts from the text. Minutes later, we drove to the church to meet the rest of the men for Saturday morning Bible study.

I share this anecdote not to give praise to Tony and Mike. They are imperfect men; broken, redeemed vessels. Moreover, the Lord hates a flattering tongue (Psalm 5:9, Prov. 29:5). I share this story only as a testimony of how God used this particular morning as a sort of culmination to an overarching work he has been doing in my heart, and I pray some may be blessed by it.

Jason

If Only…

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There is a statement that goes something like this…  “I’ll be happy when…” and then you fill in the blank.  Of course we all conjure up things in our minds when we think about a statement like this.

I’ll be happy when I have X amount saved in my 401K…

I’ll be happy when my kids get out of diapers… or I’ll be happy when I retire…

You can go on and on with this and we often do.  Sometimes we do it in a more noble way and we just “look forward” to certain things.  I’m not saying it’s sinful to look forward to things but why can’t we just live in the moment and live for the here and now and be content in the circumstances that we currently reside?

It really is an area that we should consider some discipline in our lives.  An area that can stand some refinements and improvements if you will.  And since this is not a self help blog I won’t try and provide “advice” for you to do that.  I think we must, if we are Christians, consult our truth source.  Perhaps you’ve already thought about a text or two that I might cite.  Maybe you are already jumping ahead and anticipating where I’ll go with this.   But I want to begin at the beginning because sometimes to identify issues in our lives we need to not just jump to the application but it’s better to study the root of the issue.

But the serpent said to the women, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5

From the very beginning the enemy sowed seeds of discontent.  Can you imagine the garden that Adam and Eve were placed was far beyond our imagination in beauty and perfection.  No insects are mentioned in the creation account.  So when Adam and Eve were in the cool of the evening with God they probably weren’t swatting at mosquitoes.  No gnats buzzing in their ears and no poison ivy or wild parsnips that was burning their skin.  They had all the food they could eat and were told to enjoy the surroundings, cultivate the land and procreate…

It was as good as it could possibly be.

Yet what does the serpent do?  He attacks the word of God, and he sows discontent.

“You know…  if you were only allowed to eat that one fruit you were told not to then life would be even “better” than it is now…”

“God is so unfair to you…”  “How could He keep this knowledge from you?”  “What a rotten God He really is…”

The woman had to think quick and Adam stood by and watched it all  happen.  As she thought about it I can imagine what was going on in her mind.

Maybe she thought things like “well, maybe he’s right?”  “Maybe God is holding out on us…”

“It’s so unfair that God would withhold this fruit from us…”  “Don’t we deserve it?”  “I mean Adam works hard every day and all, let’s just put this on credit and pay for it later…”

Given the knowledge of what it might have been like after the fall I wonder if Eve ever regretted the decision?  And sometimes when we “get what we want” the empty and hollow feeling of regret comes on so strong that we wonder what was the big deal about it anyway.  I know that for me there are things that are “nice”.  And I actually do appreciate them in my life but that has only come through a satisfaction that Christ provides.

I don’t receive my joy through the “If only’s” in my life.  I receive the joy and the satisfaction through being obedient to Christ and abiding in Him.  There is NEVER disappointment or regret in my joy and fulfillment in being in Christ.  There is never a stale aftertaste when I’ve spent time with Him.  There are never regrets that leave me hollow…

There is an instant satisfaction that comes through saving faith in Christ but there is also a learned satisfaction that comes through growth in holiness and a new desire through a changed heart.  That is where we have the privilege to suffer and give for the sake of the gospel.  Because if the gospel that saved you is only about you then you’ve got the wrong gospel.

Paraphrasing Leonard Ravenhill:  “Many want to come to the cross but they just don’t want to get on it…”

The Christian life should be one of sacrifice, learning to grow in contentment and striving for the glory of Christ.  Our “If only” in life should be that “If only I had lived more intentionally for the glory of Christ”…  That is an “if only” I can get behind.

If you find yourself wishing your life away or desiring happiness in things that rust and corrode then take a few moments and consider where is your hope?  Have you found true joy and hope in Christ or in that next thing you got going on?

 

Kevin

When a Christian Sins: Warning

In the previous post, we saw that Christians are to love one another by restoring another Christian caught in a transgression. I said that means we must actually talk about sin, pointing it out to others and calling them to turn away from it. I believe I’ve seen a deficiency in the church at large to perform this responsibility, so I want to hammer home this teaching and show that it is biblical, and therefore non-negotiable. To that end, let’s consider some implications of the following verse from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

“[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28

I was once involved in a church teaching ministry that used this verse as its mission statement. It was an instructional setting for educating the average church member; basically a Sunday school class. We focused on teaching through Bible passages and theological topics, as well as thinking about the world from a biblical point of view. That’s a fine effort, and there is much need for Christians to have a biblical worldview and to learn to interpret challenging passages, but that focus may miss the point of Paul’s words here. In this verse, Paul lists both teaching and warning as his tools for building mature Christians. In fact, warning is listed first, as if it is primary in this endeavor. So, any ministry that neglects repentance and godly living will probably not create mature Christians.

One may object that warnings are not for the Christian but for the non-Christian. Perhaps Paul meant that whenever he preached to the Gentiles and pagans, he warned them they must turn to Christ or face the wrath of God. The Apostle most certainly did that, as does everyone who faithfully shares the gospel. However, Paul didn’t have frontline, evangelistic preaching in mind here. How do we know? First, this whole paragraph describes Paul’s ministry to Christians, suffering “for the sake of His body, that is, the church” (v. 24). Second, and even more clearly, Paul said that the goal is maturity. There’s no such thing as a non-Christian who is “mature in Christ”, so clearly Paul had believers in mind.

I would argue that Christian maturity has less to do with theological knowledge and much more to do with righteous living. It has been pointed out that we’ve already received more instruction from God than we could ever obey in this life. That’s not to say theology is not important, because a right understanding of God serves as the ground of righteous living for a Christian, but much learning is wasted by the failure of both teacher and student to apply the truths about God to the heart. Interestingly, the Bible passages about qualifications for church leaders place far greater emphasis on the character of a man than his theological acumen (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13). That’s a topic worthy of consideration, since most of us know of brilliant pastors who lack integrity in their personal lives.

So what does it look like to warn Christians towards maturity? As usual, it helps to get a better understanding of the word itself. One Greek dictionary gives the meaning as, “to caution or reprove gently”. I briefly mentioned reproof in the previous post, and the idea is to redirect someone who’s headed the wrong direction. Many Bible translations use the word admonish here instead of warning. So we have warning, caution, reproof, and admonishment. Add it all up, and what are we talking about here? Essentially, this is a verbal spanking. My children receive admonishment from us several times a day, because they’re constantly bickering at each other or failing to finish a task. This isn’t yelling and screaming, but a reasoned exhortation to turn from one behavior and start performing another. In a similar way, Christian adults need these exhortations from one another.

Here’s a good example from my life. On a recent evening, some church friends gathered at our house. When the night was over, one of the men called me on his way home. He had noticed something in me that he believed was sinful and needed to be addressed. At one point in the night, I had behaved disrespectfully towards my wife and then laughed it off. While I was oblivious, he noticed that she seemed hurt by it, so he gently admonished me for my actions and then encouraged me to love my wife and seek her forgiveness. Not only did this brother help me reconcile an issue with my wife, he also gave me the chance to examine myself, repent, and become more like Christ. The Bible is rich with exhortations that sound like this, “Put off laziness, and put on hard work and service towards others. Put off drunkenness, and put on sobermindedness and wisdom.” In our church, we have these conversations on a regular basis, so I get to look around at mature Christians and rejoice in the fruits of such a commitment to one another.

I want to end by pointing out that “warning and teaching” always has the gospel as its foundation. Paul was not advocating a cold command to rigid living. This verse comes on the heals of him extolling the person and work of Christ in Colossians 1:15-23, and he starts our current verse with that in mind, saying, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone…” In other words, faithfully proclaiming Christ includes exhorting one another towards maturity in Christ. Understanding the gospel will motivate the Christian to cultivate a pure heart, both in themselves and others, which seeks to honor Christ through obedience.

What to Do When a Christian Sins

How do we deal with a fellow Christian when they sin? Do we ignore it and quietly pray for them? Do we bring down the hammer of God’s law? Do we tell a more mature Christian, maybe one of the pastors, and just let them handle it? No one influences our lives more than fellow Christians in our local church, so it’s crucial to get these interactions right. By my count, the New Testament uses the phrase “one another” almost fifty times to describe how Christians should act towards each other, so surely we can find guidance from God’s word to answer this question. I want to take a short series of posts to look at helpful passages. Let’s start with Galatians 6, which includes a commonly misunderstood phrase:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2

Paul said the spiritual among the Galatians should restore anyone caught in transgression. To restore is to put something back in place that has become disjointed, like setting a broken bone. The one caught in transgression is out of place, not obeying Christ or walking in His commands, and the spiritual one needs to actively work to restore them. One must not simply turn a blind eye. If someone is walking the wrong direction, the way to help them is to go to them, show them their waywardness, and turn them back in the right direction. This is the meaning of the word “reprove” that we see so often in the Scriptures. Restoring a brother or sister requires actually talking to them about their sin, showing them how it is a transgression of God’s commands, and exhorting them to turn from that sin and walk in obedience to Christ.

At this point, someone will object and remind me that we all sin, and that it’s arrogant to judge others. A friend recently shared this concern. They believe Christians can fall into the worst of sins, so who are we to call out sin in others, or, worse yet, tell someone they’re not a Christian because of their sin? Now, I don’t advocate racing out to tell people they’re unsaved, but neither should we offer comfort to those who will not put away sin and live holy lives. Most of the counsel I’ve heard, received, and even given to others has sounded like this, “Hey, we’re all sinners, and I’ve done the same thing many times. We’ll never be perfect in this life. I’ll pray for you, and I’m here for you if you need anything.”

This sounds humble and loving, but it’s neither. It’s not loving towards the person, nor the God against whom they’ve sinned. The Bible is clear; there is no condemnation for those who have believed in Christ for salvation. However, forgiveness is not the only thing we receive when we come to Christ. God gives us a new heart with new desires, including the desire to honor Him as our Lord. Therefore, a willingness to put away sin when confronted is one great evidence that a person has been born again. If we gently expose someone’s sin, and they turn from it, we can both rejoice over their restoration!

This, Paul goes on to say, is bearing one another’s burdens. Bearing burdens has less to do with being a good listener or meeting physical needs, as the phrase is most commonly used, and more to do with helping someone identify and repent of their sin. Members of my church — including, but not limited to, my pastors — keep watch over my soul by helping me live a godly life. Bearing burdens fulfills the law of Christ, and what is the law of Christ? Sacrificial love!

“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.” John 13:34

I obey Christ’s command to love other Christians by restoring them when they sin. Although it’s wrong to be rude or proud when exposing someone’s sin, it’s even more unloving to not approach them at all.

Finally, I want to return to a phrase which partially explains why Christians struggle to address sin in the lives of others. In Galatians 6:1 we read, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him…” Paul says those who restore others should be spiritual. What does he mean by that? Who are the spiritual people? The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian and seals them for salvation (cf. Ephesians 1:13-14), so how are some spiritual and others not?

Let’s back up a little to chapter 5. There, Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, and he urges Galatian Christians to “walk by the Spirit”. In short, to be spiritual is to obey God, or to act like a Christian. Those who sin are not keeping in step with the Spirit, because God’s Spirit would never lead them to disobey God. So, spiritual people are those who do not have unrepentant sin. Their current pattern of life is one of obedience. In other words, this loving act of restoration is not limited to “mature” Christians. A new believer who walks by the Spirit is qualified (and commanded!) to love their brothers and sisters in this way. This is fundamental to our lives as Christians, and we need each other. Just as this and other passages indicate, we must examine ourselves and put away our own sin first, but then we are all called to obey Christ’s command to love our brothers by drawing them away from sin. Christians, go bear one another’s burdens for the glory of God.

An Experience

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I love my church.  It’s not a perfect church, but it’s mine and in all its imperfections sometimes the soul is stirred in a unique way.  Tina visited for the first time back in March.  Here is her story.

 

An Experience – By Tina Kay

9:07am

 

It’s Sunday, the 5th of March, I’m already running seven minutes behind for my hour drive to a church I’ve never been too.  And for the whole 56 miles I’m questioning myself, “Why am I doing this long drive when I have a church I already attend just 3 minutes down the road from my house?”

 

Church services are always predictable.  It starts with an energetic “good morning”, and into an upbeat song.  Followed with two to three more upbeat songs.  Something to wake the congregation from their sleepy Sunday slumber until the free coffee found in the foyer kicks in. Which, I have recently begun to question myself, “How do I focus and worship God when I’m constantly sipping this suddenly amazing coffee that is so warm and comforting in my hand?”

 

The worship segment then would continue with two to three “slow” songs.  Unless worship is interrupted with the upmost important church bulletin announcements and of course the dreaded “greet the person next to you” suggestion.  Of which you will never say a word to them again.

 

Continuing on with the “slow worship songs”, something to stir the people to “worship”.  After service you will hear from the congregates “worship was amazing today”.  The next song will bring about the tears in their eyes.  After all they need to have an excuse for the tissues that are found under the first seat nearest the aisle.

 

Finally, after a long one hour drive of almost dozing off because I wasn’t able to stop and get coffee without being more late then I already was.  I thought no worries, I’ll grab a cup of coffee when I walk in.

 

I pulled up to a humble house building.  I wasn’t greeted with the aroma of free coffee in clearly marked “decaf” and “regular” canisters next to a basket overflowing with crumpled dollar bills labeled coffee donations.

 

Instead I was greeted with teeth!  Yes, I was greeted with a smile.  Sad to say, but I’m not used to seeing a smile like this when I walk up to church doors.

 

So mind you, I was running behind so I’m walking in just as church begins.  Yet I still receive more smiles when I come inside.  I easily found a place to sit unlike my other experiences of walking up and down the aisle feeling like an idiot because I can’t find an empty seat as everyone just stares at you.  Or if in some cases there is an usher to help you find a seat and the embarrassment of using hand motions to signal, “yes, only one!”  I still come to church ALONE!  No thanks to the church being so huge that I hardly ever see the same person more than once.

 

10:00am

 

Well, let’s do church… wait, I realize, where’s the musicians?  Oh, we’re praying first, okay. After catching myself start to drift off, I think, are we STILL praying or did I miss where the pastor transitioned from prayer to speaking?  I quickly glance up in a panic to make sure I’m not the only one with my head still bowed and hands folded.  Nope, we’re STILL praying…

 

10:26am

 

I hit the home button on my iPhone to see it flash 10:26am. Twenty six minutes later and we are still praying!  Now, I suddenly feel guilty… do I even spend this much time in my prayer life…?

 

“Your hymn books are under the seats” the pastor says as everyone stands.  Did I just hear that correctly? Hymn books?  Is my horse and carriage waiting outside for me?  And where did I set my bonnet?  Please tell me it’s only for a song or two.  But wait… there’s still no band or instruments up there.  This doesn’t sound promising.

 

10:35am

 

I suddenly remember the service goes till 12:00pm. It’s only thirty minutes or so in… this is gonna be a long ride.  Especially since my daughter has been squirming next to me saying she’s bored for the 100th time!

 

Why not put her in child’s class you ask?  Well that’s because this church doesn’t believe in that.  I thought it was a good idea and was actually excited about it until as you guessed it, “I’m bored!”  “I want to go home!” “I don’t like it here!” All came out of my child’s “I don’t care who hears me” mouth.

 

I didn’t get goosebumps.  I didn’t get excited about the worship and gawk in awe at the amazing musicians.  Which always makes me miss my acoustic Taylor 714ce with mother of pearl inlays… sigh… I wasn’t moved by the “emotional” chords we musicians know how to play. I wasn’t blinded with a display of flashing lights.  Heck there wasn’t even a stage with skillfully coordinated colors and decorations with hot lights that always makes the pastor sweat.

 

No, instead…..………..

 

I saw my sin.

 

With nothing to look at, with nothing to move me, I was moved by…….God. Moved by His words.

 

I saw God as Mighty.  For the first time I felt so small. I didn’t feel close to God, like I was His friend.  As we so easily sing I am a friend of God. I saw his majesty, I saw His perfection as I saw in horror, my sin.

 

I didn’t feel amped up from the worship.  I didn’t feel like I did a good job by showing up to church.  Like I was better than those people who chose to use their Sunday to sleep in.  I felt my sinful nature…

 

12:00pm

 

The two hour mark hits, I made it!  Blood sugar is low, but I made it. Before I can answer my own question of, do I just want to leave now or linger, I’m greeted with several smiling faces. The pastor even makes it a point to greet me!  After all, wouldn’t a good shepherd know if he had a new addition to his flock that day?

 

I’m slowly adding substance to my empty stomach as I crunch on chips and salsa.  Silly of me to think  that this “after church lunch” would be like all others I’ve been too.

 

Before we move on to more important things like stuffing our faces, the pastor challenges everyone to talk about something they learned from the sermon today.  Apparently this is not a new drill to everyone for they quickly reach for their notes knowing exactly where to find them.  For a moment I had deer in the headlights feeling, “quizzed?”, I thought to myself.  But I was more compelled by the pastors desire to know that his flock had grown that day.  That they weren’t only going to be nourished by the Mexican food they were about to eat. But that they were truly in fact nourished by Gods word and have showed growth that day.

 

Some of us gathered back at the pastors home.  Yes, not only was I greeted by the pastor but actually sat on his and his wife’s couch.

 

This, is where I am awakened.  And no, not by the caffeine from coffee, as I still haven’t had my cup yet.

 

I was asked to read to some scriptures.  I was sitting on the edge of the couch catching the warmth of sunlight rays from the window. I was reading the bible from a phone out loud. Scripture no longer remained behind the phone screen. It permeated the room and goes straight to me and cuts me…

 

Exposing all my wretched sin.

 

Was I never really saved?

 

I need your mercy God.

 

What I thought was my salvation, was my poor excuse of calling myself a Christian.

 

I no longer ever want to sin against you God.

 

We are interrupted with kiddos breathing heavily from playing outside.  My daughter comes running up to me begging to go the night service!  That’s right, she begged to go to church again!

 

4:50pm

 

Back at the church I head straight to the seat I sat in earlier that morning.  And there’s a bible for me!  Not just some dinky, smelly old used bible but a brand new super nice big study bible!  I didn’t have it just for the service, but it was mine to take home!

 

For the first time ever, my daughter inquires about what the pastor is speaking on.  Even though I had thought she was distracted by playing with paper and keeping her little hands busy, she heard Gods word.

 

As the pastor was saying these words; “Is the word of God something you make time for? To read from ALL of His word?  Are you hearing God speak to you? God’s word is our spiritual food.  Are you feeding your soul?  Stuff yourself with God’s word.  Every day you can have the same experience that Abram had. To hear from God.”

My daughter leans over to me and whispers “He wants us to eat our bibles?”  We both giggle.

 

Somewhere around 6:30pm

 

I have now stopped keeping track of the time.  I’m excited to have dinner after the service as the congregation heads over to all the tables set up to have a meal together.  This is what they always do every Sunday evening.  This is their family.

 

This was an experience one Sunday, the 5th of March from a Christian of 34 years who realized, she really hadn’t been a Christian.

 

I don’t want this to just be a onetime experience, I want to experience this always here on earth until I experience it in heaven. And I want that for you too.  As it truly should be.

Do You Really Want Eternal Life?

christian_pp

This post is for anyone who describes him or herself as a Christian. Regardless of your denominational flavor, if you fall under the broadest umbrella of Christianity, I have a question for you:

Do you really want eternal life?

That might sound like a strange question. You may ask, “Who wouldn’t want to live forever?” Well, regardless of whether you think it odd, consider the question. While you’re pondering that, I have another one for you:

How much time do you spend seeking to know God? I’m not asking whether you go to church. For many, church attendance is simply a habit or a religious requirement. I’m asking about seeking God; making an effort to know Him. Don’t count your time at church unless you truly wake up on Sunday morning excited to meet with God. No one else will know your answer, so there’s no reason to exaggerate; just answer honestly in your own mind. How many hours in the past month have you spent trying to know God more, whether by reading the Bible, praying, singing songs about Him, etc.?

Most of us will probably think our number is too small. Whether we said zero, or ten, or even one hundred, we’ll look at the number and think it should be more. True as that may be, my purpose isn’t to beat you up, but to get you to make an honest assessment of your own love for God (or lack thereof, as the case may be).

Assuming you’re being honest, some of you will discover that, aside from semi-regular church attendance, you spend little to no time actually deepening your knowledge of your Creator. At the same time, when someone asks if you want eternal life, you laugh. “Of course I want eternal life, and I’m pretty sure I’ll go to heaven!”

If that describes you at all, then consider this: the Bible teaches that eternal life is a never-ending pursuit of God, where His people serve, worship, and adore Him. Consider John 17:3, when Jesus prayed to His Father and said, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. ”

Did you catch that? Jesus said the very definition of eternal life is to know God!

If you find Bible-reading boring, don’t ever talk to God in prayer, and only occasionally gather with other Christians in worship, then what makes you think you’ll enjoy worshipping Him with the saints for all of eternity? Again, this isn’t meant to be a judgment, but a loving challenge to stop pretending and really consider the motives of your own heart. Do you want God, or do you just want heaven? Are you excited about being with Him, or do you just like the idea of having your sins forgiven? Does your heart long to know Jesus, or are you only afraid of going to hell?

One preacher has said, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, they just don’t want God to be there when they get there!” Another wrote this:

“The critical question for our generation–and for every generation–is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?” John Piper, “God Is the Gospel”

Indeed.

I have a confession to make: I’m afraid of the dark. It’s not so bad that I sleep with the lights on or curl up in a ball when the sun goes down, but darkness just bothers me. When the days are shorter during the winter months, darkness wears me down and affects my mood. Because of that, I find the following verse comforting:

“The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Revelation 21:23

Describing the vision he received of the new heavens and earth, John said it will never be dark, because God Himself will be an ever-present source of light. That gets me excited! I can’t wait to be in the presence of Jesus for all eternity, basking in His glory. Can you say the same, or do you have a different idea of paradise?

Can you say with the apostle Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8)? I’m not trying to set up some lofty standard that the only true Christians are those who are one hundred percent focused on Christ all the time. We can all grow weary or be distracted by things of the world. But the heart of a Christian has been changed, and we have come to see Jesus as our greatest treasure. Our Savior Himself said it would be so:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

The kingdom of heaven will be filled with those who joyfully cast all other pursuits aside for the sake of obtaining the one, great treasure…Him! To be clear, it is not our love for Christ that saves us, but rather His love for us. However, one of the great signs that a person has turned from sin and trusted in Christ is that they now love Him and pursue Him with their lives.

Here’s the real issue: if you have little interest in spending time with Jesus now, what makes you think you’re fit to be in His presence forever? Instead of paradise, Heaven would be dreadfully uninteresting to you, because it will be spent getting to know the God you have no attraction to. Do not be deceived, having no desire to know God is sure evidence that you are not headed for eternal life with Him. If you label yourself a Christian but don’t love Christ, then think about the Cross, and remember that He died to pay the penalty for sins like yours. Let your heart be broken and your mind be changed; humble yourself and call upon His name, pleading for mercy, and ask that He may grant you eternal life.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call upon Him while He is near.
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him.” Isaiah 55:6-7a

Necessary Conflict

conflict

I’m not a guy that enjoys conflict.  In fact I’ve been a guy that has always tried to avoid conflict with two exceptions.  The first being that I enjoyed competitive sports and I liked the battle that occurred on a wrestling mat when I was, shall we say, a younger man…  I also appreciated a good fight when I was younger.  It allowed me to test my metal so to speak.  I’m not proud of that anymore by the grace of God.  In fact I’m mostly repulsed by it but it’s a part of my past that I can’t ignore.

But sometimes conflict is necessary and sometimes it’s good.  As a Christian we must have conflict because we are in a world that is hostile to Christianity and hostile to truth.  There are also times to confront sin.  It could be in our own home, or it could be within a church.  But make no mistake it is necessary and it takes courage.  Lest we forget that no coward can enter the kingdom of heaven we must know how to be confrontational but maintain godliness.

Here are four examples of where conflict is necessary.

Church Leadership

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Acts 20:29-30

The job of an elder is to protect the flock from wolves.  To keep the flock safe from false teachings and from those that will even arise up from within.  To deal with problems that arise and head them off before they become problematic.  With this tremendous responsibility there is required great courage.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  Acts 20:28

It is with Christ’s blood that the church was bought and as one that must give an account this bears a significant weight.  As my pastor once told me “church leadership is no joke”.  He’s right.  Christ will judge them to a stricter standard and that is serious business.

Church Body

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… – Hebrews 10:24

One of the purposes of the local gathering of believers is to care for one another.  This is done through helping with physical needs but it is also done by helping with spiritual needs and one of the spiritual needs is observing one another.  We should be watchful, not with a desire for “gotcha” but for a desire to see our brothers and sisters growing in holiness.  To stir literally means to irritate and agitate.  To incite or provoke.  Not very popular, I would say, and a couple things we must think about in this incitement that it is ultimately because we love them.  We desire to see them purified.  And it must also be done with gentleness and meekness, considering ourselves and our motivations (Galatians 6:1).

We must know them and here is the problem for most churches is that they really don’t know them.  They don’t spend time with them so it’s difficult to “consider” them.

As iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. – Proverbs 27:17

The Home

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. – Ephesians 5:25-27 

Husbands you are to be prepared for conflict in the home.  Are you ready?  If you’ve been married for more than a week you know that conflict will arise in the home and it won’t always be pretty.  But the conflict I have in mind here is not an argumentative conflict.  It’s not a self serving conflict.  It is a selfless love.  An agape love.  It gives itself away that the other is the beneficiary.  I love my wife by giving myself up for her.  How do I do that?  I don’t hide away in my “cave”.  I talk.  I confront in times of non-conflict.  I talk with her if I see sin in her life.  The Scripture says that I wash her through the word that I might present her to Christ better than when I first met her.   I know how this sounds because I struggled with this for years and still do but this is a necessary conflict that produces peace and harmony in our relationship.  When we deal with things biblically it’s not surprising that things go well.

In The World

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  – John 15:18

We will have struggles in this world and especially if you are submitting yourself to the Great Commission.  If you step out and work at disciple making and biblical evangelism I can assure you that hatred and persecution will come upon you.  Do we shrink and withdraw?  Do we retreat to our bunker or hideaway in secret societies?  No, we must confront.

Why?

Because the world is dead in sins and transgressions…  (Ephesians 2:1).  If we love God and love people then we are compelled to tell them the truth.  We are under the conviction of the Spirit to tell others the good news.  The good news which is not good news to them.  It’s a despicable message to most.  It’s a foolish message.  But it’s necessary and without it none will be saved.

The Lord Jesus Christ

Lastly, I want to consider the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we are to be Christians then I guess the best course of action is to follow the examples that Christ left for us to follow.  Now, first of all we need to be sure we are actually talking about the Jesus of the Bible.  Not the one that those on the street will say “shouldn’t you be more like Jesus?”  They have a “Jesus” of their imagination, one that won’t save.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” – John 8:24 

Necessary conflict.  Jesus confronts the false religion and tells them to believe in Him or die…  it’s no more complicated than that.  And that got Him killed didn’t it?  Do you have to die on the streets preaching Christ?  I don’t know; are you willing?

Not only is church leadership no joke, but Christianity is no joke.  We are called to a life of discipline, of self control, of self denial and that requires obedience to the Scriptures.  If we are to confront sin and to challenge those around us then conflict will always be necessary.  It can be done with gentleness and love but it must be done.

This list is by no means exhaustive but my desire is to help us think biblically about certain areas that there might be confusion.  I used to think that being a Christian was just being nice to everyone and not offending people.  It is not my desire to offend but the truth is offensive to those that live in sin and as a Christian the only hope they have is to turn to Christ.  And that message is as equally unpopular today as it’s ever been.

 

Kevin

A Day in the Life of an Evangelist

Tony

and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go.  Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  Acts 5:40-41

Doin’ Some Ministry

I’d been looking forward to the day all week…  actually if the truth were known I’d been looking forward to this type of a day for months ever since Tony arrived in Iowa.  We’ve done some ministry together, mostly going to the abortion clinic, but we hadn’t really hit the streets for a full on day of open air evangelism.  Street preaching and gospel tracting, hopefully leading to some decent gospel conversations.

I suppose in some circles Tony is kind of a “big deal” at least he’s achieved some notoriety among those “odd” Christians that engage in evangelism and open air preaching or “field preaching” as some like to call it.  Called that because of the great ministers of old such as George Whitefield that gathered large crowds in the fields to preach when they were kicked out of their churches.  Or the greatest field preacher of all time the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

I suppose Tony is sort of a big deal but he’s not really a big deal to anyone that gets to know him.  He’s just Tony and he’s a dear brother in the Lord and a humble servant of the King.  But at one time it was watching Tony’s videos that I came to realize that maybe I too could do open air preaching someday.  Watching how he did it seemed so natural and so conversational, if you will, that I thought I didn’t need to be a “professional” to do this.  Years later who would of ever thought he’d be a member of my church.

It’s funny how things go because as we wrapped up our teaching that Saturday morning on God’s Providence, and providentially it turned out that the email only went to me and not to the church so instead of their potentially being several men wanting to go it was only me and brother Tony that were going to hit the streets.

Heading to Galena

Nothing unusual about the day other than it was as gorgeous a spring day as I can ever remember and after Men’s Bible Study Tony insisted we stop for iced coffee before heading toward Galena, Illinois (okay a slight exaggeration).  A small burg known for its intimate downtown, old American charm, and many visitors from all over the Midwest.  The town U.S. Grant chose to settle down after his presidency and well after he helped secure victory for the North to keep the Union together.  Galena is a fun place to go and for a couple evangelists it’s loaded with just what we need.  Lots of people in a tightly confined space, ready or not, to hear the gospel of Christ.

After a quick lunch at Culver’s and paying the rent due on my coffee, we headed toward the downtown to scope out the most advantageous place to preach and pass out tracts.  It didn’t take long to identify a good place.  Main street is one-way and it’s tight and narrow with lots of shops and restaurants on both sides of the streets and as it turns out the acoustics are just what a street preacher wants.  With or “without” amplification.  I’ve preached a lot in the open air in the last several years but I’d dare say Tony has probably preached thousands of times in the open air and his skill is polished and refined.  He has a great rhythm and yet it never sounds rehearsed.  I learn from him every time I hear him and as I prayed for him and stepped to the other side of the street he strapped on the Aker Amp and began to speak.  It was calm, sure and steady with a great deal of gentleness and love for the lost that flowed from my brother.  It was very edifying to me as a believer.

Not so Fast…

As it was my turn to go and I was preparing to start I said “Good Afternoon”….  and the words no more came out my mouth and Galena’s Finest rolled onto the scene.  I thought, “oh no… are they going to shut us down?”  The officer’s were extremely polite and direct and said you have your right to free speech here but you can’t use amplification.  Tony discussed it with them for a few moments and we gladly submitted to their request.  Tony told him that we are required to submit to their authority as Romans 13 tells us.  As a side note this would be quite advantageous to us later on in the day.  And as a matter of evangelism technique whenever possible it is always good to agree quickly to the officers terms.

Tony came over and encouraged me to not allow it to effect my preaching, to stay within the power of my own voice, don’t strain, but preach with boldness and authority.  Because the acoustics were so excellent, Tony later told me that my voice carried well down the street and he had no trouble hearing the gospel as I declared it.  I don’t recall the length of time I preached, it is often a surreal experience as you concentrate on the glory of Christ and lose track of time, but I suspect it was 35 to 45 minutes.

Half way through an angry townswomen asked if we had a permit while interrupting my sermon and Tony came over to intervene that I might continue on.  She was loud and boisterous, Proverbs 7 comes to mind, and would not easily be put off.  She had a big voice and she began to try and yell over the top of me but after a short while she meandered her way back to whatever she was doing.

Meet Andy

Andy

Tony went again next and that is when things really got interesting.  Not sure how long he had been going but I suppose it was 20 minutes and as I stood on the corner across the street I heard Andy coming…  I heard the horn….  You’ve heard loud and angry horns before, but you’ve not heard this kind of an angry horn before and as the big Dodge Ram Truck veered straight toward Tony he didn’t appear to be going to stop until Tony became his personal hood ornament.  I stood and watched in semi-horror, and semi-confusion as to what was going to happen.  Tony stood his ground, to my amazement, didn’t even budge an inch.  Andy decided rather than face a murder charge, he best move to the side a bit and missed Tony by inches.  The whole while keeping the angry horn on full blast.   You can watch the video here.

Andy was not a “happy camper” as one might say and he was screaming through the window and calmly Tony told him to have a nice day….  It was comic relief in the moment of not sure what was going to happen next.  After he drove away it was not the last we’d see of him that day.  Moments later he was back and yelling at the top of lungs about his love for Zeus, Thor and Aphrodite.  I’m really not sure what his point was but one thing was evidently clear was his hatred for the God he knew (Romans 1).

Our encounter continued for a while and Andy was not backing down and one point he said he had been a Catholic for 12 years and he almost calmed down to the point of normalcy.  It almost appeared like he was going to have a rational conversation for a moment but not so…  Moments later the Galena Police came onto the scene again.  In hindsight, they knew Andy fairly well.  When the officer asked him for his identification he refused and quicker than you can swat at a mosquito Andy had his arm behind his back and the officer was slapping on the cuffs and tossing him into his vehicle.

Providence had taken an interesting turn and after things settled down the officer’s asked Tony and I if we’d come make a statement.  We gladly obliged and we began a short walk up the hill to the station and were chased down by three young kids probably around 10 years of age.  They were telling us how thankful they were that we were there preaching the gospel.  Their mom was in hot pursuit and as I handed them all tracts and thanked them mom offered a friendly wave and mouthed a big “thank you” to us.

Some Great Take-a ways

There is a lot to be thankful for in our time in Galena and I’d be remiss to not mention my conversation with Elliott and his wife Pam.  Elliott thanked us and told both Tony and I that when he was saved God flooded his mind with every seed that had been planted along the way included hearing and seeing street preachers.  He asked for my email and I hope to continue to encourage one another along the narrow and difficult path of Christianity.  But along that path there is joy.  Joy in the fellowship with a dear brother.  Even if he is or isn’t a “big deal”.  Joy in suffering for the sake of Christ and the joy of the gospel.  Joy in a beautiful day in Galena Illinois.  Joy that God provides for and protects his people in all circumstances.  Even if it had turned out differently.

God is good and worthy to be praised.

Kevin

Empty House

empty_house

I live in an empty house in many ways…  I desire my house to be emptied.  What is it about my house that I really don’t care for?  I guess it’s the body of death that I wander around in that I’m referring to.  This temple, or as Paul said this tent.  We all live in them and the Christian hopefully has a better understanding of it than the average person.

2 Corinthians 5:1-3

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.

I want my earthly home to be destroyed because it’s not a very good one.  In fact it’s a mess and the closer I draw to Christ and see His amazing goodness the more I’m overwhelmed by my wretchedness.  I desire a better place.  A cleaner place, a place that glorifies and honors Him instead of bringing Him the shame I so often consider in my fleshly life.  I see that my desires continue to shift in that I really hate my sin.  I really hate that I try to overcome certain things and the going is very slow.

Lest I sound too gloomy there is hope…  But shouldn’t we sometimes just stay in this place?  Shouldn’t we just bathe in our own filth for a while?  Not that Christ hasn’t overcome because He has but I mean for me?  And for you?  Shouldn’t this help us understand what it took to accomplish our redemption?  Really give us a glimpse of the misery we are in?

2 Corinthians 5:4-5

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Here is the good news!

For believer’s we have a guarantee.  We have a guarantee of salvation because the Spirit has been given to us.  The word means a guarantee, earnest money, a down payment and the full amount to be paid subsequently.  It’s a sure thing.

We see two truths existing side by side in the way that God so often shows us things that are sometimes hard to understand.  The fact that we need to detest ourselves yet in that have the utmost of all hope.  We hate our sin, but we love our Savior.  We detest our flesh but seek the Spirit.   There is this bizarre thing going on that is almost too much for the human mind to make sense of.  It’s like a puzzle that makes no sense on the surface but as we stand back and gaze upon it later on it all comes clear.

God is that way in so many of the things He does.  We don’t understand how sorrow and mourning produce repentance and faith.  We don’t get that persecution brings joy.  We don’t get it because we can’t see it the way God sees it.  We only see the short term, the temporary state of our being.

We don’t always recognize that God is producing in us something that is far more valuable than what we want for ourselves.  Perhaps we want something that seems good but maybe God says you are not ready yet.  And so we wish for things but God says, “No, not yet, or maybe ‘No, never’ because I have something different for you.”

It’s hard to understand sometimes and I must admit in my flesh I don’t like it and I want this earthly tent to be gone.  I want to be in glory with Christ where the struggles of the world are done.  But then again, He says “No, I’m not done with you yet…”

And sometimes it’s just great to say it all out loud and cry out to Him for help.  “Lord, cleanse me….  Lord forgive me for I am  in a sad state of affairs… “

In all of it I find if we don’t know what to do  then we can only trust and we can only do our best to obey.  It seems obedience is a recipe for success if you will.  There is a time when just laying down our arms and giving in to that which we know is true is the best way to go.  But yet so often we fight against it.  And I don’t want to do that but yet when I do, when I receive the chastening, it produces a peaceable fruit of righteousness and I know I’m a son that has been trained for it.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

The day is coming friends when we will appear before the judgment seat.  All I have to offer the Lord is my obedience and that is not enough so my hope must be in the Lord Jesus Christ and that is enough.  My focus and my desire needs to be Him and all the rest falls into place.  That is my desire.  I hope it is also yours.

 

Kevin

Critical Conversations

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I consider myself a ponderer…  because I like to ponder things long and hard before I make decisions.  Maybe I’m really just a procrastinator.  I think it’s possible that is more like it, but the bottom line is I should have written this article a long time ago.

I had an amazing conversation this past week with a long time friend.  In the time I’ve known this friend I’ve gone from being a guy that talked about Jesus to being a guy that actually and truly lived for Jesus.

Even before I was truly regenerate I would discuss Jesus with my friend.  And he noticed that.  His wife also noticed it but when the Lord really saved me I went from talking about Jesus to living a life that gave me purpose in really being more diligent in how those discussions went. As my friend and I had this discussion this past week he said a couple things that really resonated with me.

Things like this…  “well I’m not sure I’m all the way there yet, but I’m trying.”  In digging a little deeper I realized that this is not a theologically correct statement, but I understood what my friend meant.  What really encouraged me about this conversation, that was evident to me, was that his life looked very different than what it used to look.  I think he was struggling to say, “hey Kevin, maybe God saved me, but I’m not really certain…”  He didn’t have the words to articulate this but it’s possible he meant it.

As I consider his life before and as he described things that were happening in his life I have to ask the question.  Did God save him?  Is God “saving” him?  It’s a question that takes on a pretty significant issue which is just how does that really happen?  And there are other questions that need to be answered in this whole process.

How does God save?  What does it mean to be saved?  For what purpose does God save?  I’m sure there are more but let’s start with these.

I bring up the topic today because when I look back at my life from pre-salvation, to initial salvation and then the sanctification and growth process I’ve almost forgotten how much God has accomplished in my life.  In my discussion with my friend he said that he desired to learn so much more and in his own way was sharing what little information he knew with others in his life.  And it dawned on me…  wow, that was me…  How could I so easily forget not everyone understand this stuff.  And this “stuff” is pretty important.

How does God save?

This very question has a presupposition that most people will miss.  What do we need to be saved from?

Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

To get to our question we have to start somewhere and that starting place is the “lostness” of mankind.  In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it, He created man.  God created man happy and holy (Question 21 in the children’s catechism).  God not only created mankind but he gave us a soul that will never die and told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil lest he die.  When Adam disobeyed God he plunged mankind into spiritual death.  Mankind was cursed.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sin in which you once walked…  Ephesians 2:1-2

To have a starting point in salvation one must come to an understanding we are not only lost but we are dead.  Dead spiritually with no ability on their own to come to God.   Without hope and without opportunity because we are not only unable, but are also unwilling.

The part of “how God saves” is through an understanding of this predicament.  God moves in the heart of a dead sinner by presenting the law of God that one might come to understanding of their helpless and hopeless condition.   The law is a tutor that brings us to Christ through the message of the gospel (Galatians 3:23, Romans 1:16).  The gospel is the good news which sets a sinner free from his captivity and slavery to sin (Romans 6:7).

This message of the gospel must come from an outside source because the sinner will not come to this revelation on his own.  It generally comes through either reading the word, or mostly through the proclamation of the message through a messenger.  A “preacher” if you will…

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  Romans 10:14

God uses the preaching of the word to save souls.  For most all this is a foolish message (1 Corinthians 1:18) but yet this is how God does it.  And if you weren’t saved via the gospel message you must examine if you’ve been saved to this gospel?

What does it mean to be saved?

When God created man the Genesis account says that God created man in His own image.  That God breathed life into man.

Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

The word breath means spirit, inspiration, soul.  God gave man a soul.  Created in His image Adam would live forever.  Upon Adam’s disobedience he plunged all of mankind into death and the curse of God.

To be saved means that God can redeem us from the curse.  He not only saves us from the curse, He saves us from the power and the penalty of the sin that we are born into.  God did this for a simple reason but a reason that is not popular with most people.  If you’ve been saved you must recognize that you were saved by God, saved for God and saved from God.

The God of the universe acquiesced to take on human flesh that He might accomplish what Adam could not.  Christ came to be the better Adam.  To fulfill the law that we would not be cursed under the law.

For what purpose does God save?

I’m unpopular in present day evangelicalism.  I’m unpopular because God’s word is unpopular and I place my trust completely in what it says.  I’m not trying to be arrogant in that statement because many will claim the same thing.  But yet when it comes to the Sovereignty of God and the claims that He makes in His word we can get to a point pretty quickly that will separate the best of friends.

God saves for His glory

God is a God of love and God loves His people but the Bible says God does not love all people equally and the exclusivity of this statement is offensive.  For many this makes God some sort of a monster that is toying around with people.  I don’t see it that way but yet I’ve struggled with the concept just like I think most “normal” people would.

The Scriptures are clear but yet often times hard to accept.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. – Ezekiel 36:22

This verse is God focused.  This verse shows us some hard truth.  God has tolerated a sinful creation that rebelled against the Creator.  And to reveal the glory of the Creator, He in His Sovereign plan, for no reason other than His purposes chose out a group of people to glorify His name on this earth.

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. – John 17:24

Man is not a victim.  Man is a willing participant in his sin.  The sin that he loves and is unwilling to give up.  There is so much more to say but yet the gospel message is simple and the offer is free to those that will come.  And today I must ask you a very real question.

Will you come to Him today?  On His terms, not yours?

For as an evangelist brother of mine says…  “God will not negotiate with sinners…”

Do you recognize that, not only do you sin, but you are a sinner?  If you are weary of the battle, then give it over to Him today and you will also find rest for your weary soul.

Do that today; for that is the purpose for which Christ came.  I’m hoping He came to save you.

 

Kevin

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