Results tagged “witnessing” from Reformation21 Blog

How many baptisms upon profession of faith have you administered or seen? I asked my church, as well as fellow pastors and ruling elders in the PCA, the same question. Overall, the answer was, 'very few.' Now, one of the easiest things to do is rationalize the numbers by explaining why they are so low (e.g., We do not re-baptize. Therefore, if someone was baptized as a teenager but came to faith in her thirties under our ministry, we do not administer the sacrament again). Examples like that do occur, but with the growing number of non-Christian households in this nation (i.e., USA), we would need far more instances like the aforementioned to sweep our shallow numbers under the proverbial rug.

I have announced to my congregation, on several occasions, that we want to see non-Christians come to saving faith and be baptized. And as I have been considering how to mold our church, humanly speaking, into a people who are zealous to see that occur, I was struck by the exhortation found in Colossians 4:5-6. Here is Murray Harris' expanded paraphrase of that passage.

"Be tactful and wise in all your relations with unbelievers; buy up every possible opportunity to influence them for the kingdom of God. Let your conversation always be graciously winsome and seasoned with the salt of wit and pungency, so that you may know how you should give an answer suitable for each occasion and each need to each separate individual" (198).

Before considering that a bit more, however, please allow me to say, 'thank you.' This is my final post at Reformation 21. No one has asked me to leave. In fact, I am surprised that I was never asked to leave. Next to Carl Trueman and Mark Jones, I may have caused the most trouble, especially with my posts about ethnicity and sex. Despite the unrest I may have created, I will no longer write for this blog simply because I have decided to refocus my attention a bit. Having a young family, planting a church, working toward my PhD in Hebrew, and many other things keep me quite busy. And writing for this great blog does take a percentage of my time that I can utilize in other places. Regardless of my reasons for leaving, again, I say, 'thank you.' Thank you to the readers, but also to Robert Brady, Gabriel Fluhrer, and Derek Thomas. You all have been great to me. You took a risk. You knew that I would write about things that are unpopular in our circles and that have not been previously considered on this blog. So again, thank you. 

At any rate, in a sermon titled, "And the Nuts and Bolts," Dr. Dale Ralph Davis, of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, in response to Colossians 4:5-6, said that Paul is exhorting Christians to responsive evangelism. Dr. Davis said, 

"Keep walking in wisdom toward those on the outside. Now, those are pagans, those who are not Christians. And you're snapping up the opportunity. Well, what opportunity might that be? Well, he mentions in verse 6 [that] your speech must always be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to give an answer to each one. It's talking about your relationship to pagans, those who don't share your faith. Don't look on them as a hurdle; don't look on them as a hinderance; don't look on them as a frustration; nothing like that but snap up the opportunity that they may give you. Dick Lucas makes a helpful point. He says basically what you have is responsive evangelism.... There are opportunities that come to you. You don't have to concoct them; you don't have to try to worm your way into them. It's something that comes as presented to you and you snap up the opportunity. And you did it with speech that is both gracious and seasoned with salt."

Provided Paul's exhortation to the church, at least in this epistle,  is to integrate 'responsive evangelism' in their, and our, lives, how can we do this if we do not spend much time with non-Christians? How can we do this if we do not cultivate relationships with pagans so that we can snap up, or buy up, every opportunity to "influence them for the kingdom of God"? 

This is another deterrent to evangelism: Christians do not spend much time with non-Christians. 

Christian fellowship and hospitality are amazing. The glories of spending time with other saints is one of the blessings of being a part of Christ's Church. And yet I believe we should also spend time with non-Christians. We need to snap up the opportunities that are given to us in order to share the gospel and invite non-Christians to church. How can we do that if the majority of our interactions is with Christians?

If that is you, that is you spend very little time with non-Christians, let me suggest two ways to change that.

1) Start local. Unless you live in Grand Rapids, MI, (that is a joke), you have non-Christians on your street. Begin by reacquainting yourself with them. Invite them into your home for a meal. Get to know them better than you do now. That will require you to spend more time with them.

2) Consider those at work. Consider inviting those at work into your home for a meal. Be hospitable to them.

As you begin getting to know other image-bearers, it is my prayer that the Lord will enable you to snap up every opportunity to influence them for the kingdom of God, and in his perfect timing, may he bring those persons to saving faith that you may rejoice with the angels in witnessing their profession of faith and baptism.

Sharing the Gospel is Inconvenient

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As I was walking from the restaurant to my car, I had one gospel tract in my pocket. I had purposed to give it to someone in route to my vehicle. Literally, that was my plan. I wanted to place the tract in someone's hand, continue walking, get in my truck, and leave. That did not happen. When I gave the tract to a man standing in my path, he asked, "What's this?" 

"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" (Prov. 16:9).

When he asked me to explain the material newly placed in his hand, I felt like he was inconveniencing me. I did not have time, or so I thought, to explain the law and the gospel to him. If he had just read the card, he would have received all the information he needed.

Although I felt inconvenienced, I am thankful the Lord ordered my steps in a different manner. I was privileged to share both the law and the gospel with him. Once the conversation ended, he said, "This is what I needed." I was shocked. He later began attending church with me.

Sharing the gospel takes time, time we often do not believe we have. Sometimes we are so concerned with ensuring our plans are completed, we do not stop to consider that the Lord may have other ways he would like to utilize us. Sure, we know in theory God "establishes [our] steps," but when the theory becomes a reality, it rattles our me-centered paradigm. That is one reason why some of us may not share the gospel very much, if at all. It is inconvenient, rattles our self-centered approached to life, and thwarts our plans. 

It takes time to answer people's questions about the Bible, sin, judgment, and Christ. It takes time to establish a relationship with people, invite them into your home, not just on your good days but also when your house is messy and your children are ill-behaved. It takes time to call people, particularly unbelievers, and remind them of the law and gospel and set up times to have coffee with them. It takes time to invite them to church. It takes time. 

Do you have it? More specifically, will you make it?

If this is true about you (i.e., sharing the gospel is an inconvenience), what can you do to avoid this mentality? One suggestion is to pray because you have a heart problem. Ask the Holy Spirit to change your disposition toward how you see your time and how you see non-Christians. I am certain he will answer your prayer.
In 2011, hip hop artist, Shai Linne, released his album, titled, "The Attributes of God." In one of his songs, "Taste and See," he said, "The world is not subtle, why should we be subliminal?" Good question - why? I believe many Christians are conditioned to retreat into the cocoon of quietness. "Don't talk about religion," many people say. Therefore, in an attempt to keep peace with our neighbor in the world, we embrace that mantra. But "the world is not subtle, why should we be subliminal?"

I wear Christianity on my sleeve. That is what helps me evangelize. Whether it is with my neighbors or those whom I newly meet in the marketplace, I look for ways to insert my religion and declare the gospel (Col. 4:4-5). Depending on the circumstances, the way I approach the conversation may look different. Regardless of my approach, however, I do not want to seem forceful. In other words, I do not desire to fit an unbeliever's image of what it looks like to "force my religion down his throat." That is a difficult balance, and in some cases it is unavoidable, as the mere mention of Jesus may seem like you are being forceful. In those instances, there is really nothing you can do.

One of the things that helps me share my faith and invite people to church, all of which can be subsumed under the category of wearing Christianity on my sleeve, is be observant. Watch and listen. Look at what people are reading and wearing. Look at their tattoos. Listen to what they are saying, publicly, to the barista at Starbucks. Observe what people are purchasing at the grocery store. Look at their jewelry, body language, and just about anything else you can observe. As you do this, remain as natural as possible. You do not want to seem as if you are staring or being rude. Despite the potential awkwardness this may bring (i.e., watching and listening), chances are you are already doing this; however, it may not lead to a witnessing conversation. How do you get there?

As I am watching and listening, I try to determine if I have anything in common with those who share the same public space, or if there is anything they can teach me. If I notice tattoos or interesting piercings, that is always an easy icebreaker. "What do those mean?", I ask. The person, in turn, responds and teaches me something about his or her life. Since I have tattoos and piercings, we share those similarities, and during the conversation, Lord willing, I may be able to talk my tattoos, which entails a brief history about their significance. The significance of some of my tattoos naturally leads to the gospel message. For those who do not have tattoos or piercings, this may not help. Take the principle of finding ways to relate or be taught by others and apply it.

The shift from a general conversation to a spiritual one is likely what makes things the most difficult. How do you transition from talking about a football game to Jesus? How do you take a conversation with your neighbor about high school and move it toward the gospel? To be clear, a one-size fits all approach should not be adopted. What I do may not work in your context. It may, therefore, require some adaptation.

Despite all the programs that are available, which ensure easy icebreakers and a fluid conversation from the natural to the spiritual, I am tired of the artificial segues to conversations about Christ and his Church. In my opinion, they are a disaster waiting to happen. For instance, if someone is drinking a glass of water and you desire to engage them in spiritual conversation, entering a conversation by asking, "Have you heard of the living water?" is not likely the best approach no matter how closely you desire to resemble the conversation in John 4.

An approach more natural to my personality, which still allows me to wear Christianity on my sleeve, is to ask questions. In the midst of a normal and general conversation, I will ask people, "Do you attend church?", "What do you think about religion?", or "Do you mind if we talk about God?" It is a simple and straight-forward way to approach the subject. Interestingly, at least in my context, most people are willing to have those conversations with me. Perhaps they respect my direct approach, or maybe they have been wanting to have this conversation, but no one approached them about it?

Since there are so many ways to approach a conversation about Christ and his Church, it is difficult to state, concretely, how it ought to be done in all circumstances. Tailor your approach based on your personality and discerning the situation. Keep in mind, however, conversations about spiritual things may not happen immediately upon meeting someone new or even with a neighbor. Perhaps discernment dictates that the conversation should wait until you get to know the person more. Regardless of how the conversation unfolds, remember, "The world is not subtle, why should we be subliminal?" It is okay to wear Christianity on your sleeve. You have nothing to hide regardless of what the world says.

Witnessing to Homosexuals

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How do you witness to homosexuals? The answer is, "Like anyone else," but perhaps for some that is an over simplification. Regardless, we can at least agree on two things. 1) The use of the law in witnessing does not change, and 2) The gospel does not change. As an aside, regardless of the person to whom I am witnessing, there is a particular format I utilize. It is simply, God as creator, God as judge, and God as redeemer. You can learn a bit more about that here. You can see an example of that here.

Years ago, my wife and I used to visit an area in San Diego, CA that was heavily populated by homosexuals. We made a routine visit to this area at least once per month to share the gospel. Personally, it was a rich time. I had some amazing conversations with those who embrace the homosexual lifestyle.

During that time, and since then, I have realized you have to be prepared to do two things while witnessing to some homosexuals. In part this was discussed in Rosaria Butterfield's book. Each of these things can tend to make you a bit uncomfortable, one more than the other.

In my experience, it almost never fails that homosexuals ask some version of the question, "Is my lifestyle sinful?" If you are reading this blog I hope we have the same answer; however, I am reminded of what my mother used to say, "It is not what you say but how you say it." You can respond with, "Of course it is! The Bible says..." or you can be more sensitive to the situation and brace, or prepare, that person for the answer so that you have a greater chance the conversation continues.

I have responded with the former enough only to know the conversation hardly remains after that point. Now, I say the same thing (yes, homosexuality is sin), but I attempt to prepare that individual for the answer by making a statement and asking a question prior to providing the answer. Borrowing from D.J. Kool, "It goes a little something like this."

"Is my homosexual lifestyle sinful?"

My response: "That is a good question to ask, and I intend to answer it, but you have to promise me that whatever my response we will still continue our conversation and even development a friendship afterward. Will you make that promise?" Depending on that person's response will dictate how I proceed in the conversation. 

Some homosexuals have a hard time being your friend if they know you believe what they are doing is sinful. They cannot maintain that level of discontinuity in their relationships with others. Notice I said, "some." It is not all. Either way, I want to establish that we should not think less of each other, especially as image-bearers, though we do not have identical convictions.

The second area, which for some tops the charts with an astounding, "I will not do that," is one that I find extremely beneficial.

Invite them into your home.

Have you invited homosexuals into your home?

This probably raises all types of questions. "What if he brings his boyfriend?" "What if she uses inappropriate language?" "What if he wears inappropriate clothing?" They are sinners; what do you expect? Asking "What if" questions is the responsible thing to do, but often times it can lead you into doing nothing.

In my experience, homosexuals are not as terrifying as some sections of the media portray them. They bleed red like everyone else and they have a conscience. In fact, some homosexuals have told me that they know their lifestyle is wrong. They prefer to live this way because they enjoy it.

For some, inviting a homosexual into your home is much different than a heterosexual idolater or adulterer. For my family, it is not. By that, I do not mean to remotely infer that all sin is the same; however, my family has decided that we want to dine with sinners (i.e., unbelievers) of all stripes. In our home, drug dealers, prostitutes, homosexuals, bankers, professors, and homeless persons are all welcome. Or as one rapper put it, I want to hang out with the wild things.

Our children will grow up around all brand of sinners (i.e., unbelievers) in our home, but that is okay. Can it be dangerous? Should we be cautious? Yes! But in most cases, that caution has not stopped my family from befriending sinners and inviting them into our home in order to get to know them and share Christ with them.

Ministry is messy. All you have to do is read the Gospels. Based on my experience, if you are hospitable to homosexuals, like anyone else, that enables the potential for a friendship to develop and for conversations about the gospel to continue. This is what has worked for my family.

The Death of Witnessing

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There are many impediments to witnessing (i.e., sharing your faith). Many of us are absolutely terrified. Beads of sweat begin to moisten our backs merely at the thought of evangelistic outreach. Sometimes we think it is better left to the professionals. They will say the right things; they will have all the answers; they will navigate the witnessing conversation appropriately. The list of impediments, some of which may be better categorized as excuses, is extensive. However, when you finally muster the courage to talk to others about Jesus, there is another force that prohibits you. In fact, it is not something you can control. It is technology.

Laptops, cell phones, loud stereo systems - I enjoy it all, but unfortunately some technology is the death of witnessing. Of course that is an overstatement; nevertheless, that is how I sometimes feel. To make matters worse, the technology to which I am specifically referring is one for which I have an affinity. It is the "i." If I had the money, my home would be full of "i" everything: iPads, iPods, and iPhones. They are all glorious. 

Prior to getting married I was a PC guy. My wife quickly and effectively converted me. I am thankful for her persistence, but as I go into the community to witness of God's marvelous works in Christ it is the "i" that causes me trouble.

Earlier today, when I boarded my flight from Washington, D. C. to Atlanta, Georgia, I was pumped to talk to the person sitting next to me about the gospel of Christ. He was not going anywhere; I was not going anywhere. We had over an hour to talk about the truths of scripture, but that did not happen. The "i" got in the way.

At one point I tapped him on the shoulder to ask him a question. He removed his earbud, answered my question, and quickly thereafter placed his headphones back on. He hardly gave me the time of day. He was not interested in having any type of conversation, let alone a religious one. I do not blame him. I blame the "i." I am quite disgusted that something I enjoy is contributing to the death of witnessing. Therefore, it is imperative that I get something off my chest.

Dear iPod,

I love you. I think you are great. You provide a variety of music and videos. You are there when I need you. You help me get through my work out, but sometimes you get in the way. Will you please be more sensitive? There is something much more important than your music, namely the gospel. In the future, will you consider when I am in your presence and quickly shut down? I want to talk to that person. Hopefully he will not be upset if you malfunction. If you condescend to my request, I will forever be grateful.

Yours truly,

LMB

Open Marriages and Drug Usage

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My wife tells me that I frighten people. Whenever we are in public and I meet someone new, I ask, "What's going on?" in a somewhat loud voice. It is not the content of my initial greeting that frightens people but the volume. I do not plan on changing. It is a way to break the ice with strangers and make people laugh. Typically at some point in the conversation, I try to transition from small talk to Christ and his Church. As a pastor this is fairly easy to do. Once I tell those whom I newly meet my vocation, the dialogue eventually migrates to the things of God. I prefer to establish my relationship with strangers on the gospel, or perhaps more accurately put by telling them the gospel during our initial interaction, so that as we get to know each other and the topic is approached again, they will not be surprised. Matt Chandler put it well. (Watch the first two and a half minutes).

Today (January 6, 2014), I had the privilege to bring up the things of God with someone whom I have known for about a year and a half. This extremely nice lady knows that I am a pastor. Therefore, she expects our conversation to eventually move toward the Bible. Almost every time I see her, we dabble our dialogue about Christ and his Church. To my shame, I have not walked her through the entire gospel message. Perhaps it is because I continue to interact with her while she is working. I do not know. I pray, however, that I will have the privilege to share the life-giving message of Christ with her. 

Meanwhile, I said something to spark her interest today about church that I have never said to anyone else. Normally, I give people a hard time when they use novice one-liners to introduce people into a spiritual conversation. Perhaps you have heard some of those one-liners. Someone has a glass of water and in an attempt to break the ice and pursue a spiritual conversation, a well-meaning Christian asks, "Have you heard of the living water?" Or if you find out someone enjoys rock music, you eventually get around to asking, "Have you heard of the chief cornerstone?" Years ago you may have heard something similar to these one-liners slip out of my mouth. I am too sophisticated for that now. Instead, I say other ridiculous things. Today was one such example.

When I saw this lady (let's call her, Susie), I invited her to church. Susie responded, "The church might burn down if I come." With a smile on my face, I said that she needs to come. "This Sunday," I said, "we are preaching about open marriages and drug usage." "What?" she asked. I repeated myself only to have her follow by saying, "I have not been to church in a long time; it will burn down." I retorted, "We have plenty of water." She laughed; I left. I did not think much of it. Minutes later she tracked me down and asked, "Can you tell me about what you are preaching on again? You have sparked my interest."

I do not know if I will ever tell anyone that I am going to preach a sermon on open marriages and drug usage again (see Genesis 29-30), but I am thankful that she was interested. I pray she accompanies my family to church this Lord's Day.

I guess you can throw this in the pile of, "Stupid things Leon says." Children: do not try this in your home town.