January 24, 2011

True Success

Tony Dungy, in his book Quiet Strength, writes the following:
Society tends to define success in terms of accomplishments and awards, material possessions, and profit margins....

God’s Word, however, presents a different definition of success--one centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ and a love for God that allows us to love and serve others. God gives each one of us unique gifts, abilities, and passions. How well we use those qualities to have an impact on the world around us determines how “successful” we really are.

If we get caught up in chasing what the world defines as success, we can use our time and talent to do some great things. We might even become famous. But in the end, what will it mean?

What will people remember us for? Are other people’s lives better because we lived? Did we make a difference? Did we use to the fullest the gifts and abilities God gave us? Did we give our best effort, and did we do it for the right reasons?

God’s definition of success is really one of significance--the significant difference our lives can make in the lives of others. This significance doesn’t show up in win-loss records, long resumes, or the trophies gathering dust on our mantels. It’s found in the hearts and lives of those we’ve come across who are in some way better because of the way we lived.

January 18, 2011

All the Small Things

Chuck Noll said, “Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”

As we are in the beginning of planting Crossroads Vineyard here in Huber Heights, Ohio, this quote seems very applicable. I read it a while back in Tony Dungy’s book Quiet Strength. He was talking about his approach to coaching, and how this quote was the basis for his coaching philosophy.

It isn’t a bad philosophy to have as a church planter either.

Too many churches are trying to be the coolest, the biggest, the greatest...the something. “Edgy,” “creative,” and “cutting edge” have all become buzz words for creating ministries that reach the lost. Maybe what we need is not another lame attempt to do something new, but rather a commitment to doing the small things well. Not that those who attempt such thing are being disobedient, but sometimes the rhetoric seems to imply that if someone is REALLY wanting to reach the lost it would look more like this or be more “creative,” or whatever.

Instead, let’s commit to doing the small things well. Visiting people...doing acts of service...making sure we things are neat and in order...following up on visitors...caring for people when they are hurting...preaching the Word of God...praying for the lost and those who are hurting...listening to God’s voice and going for it with everything we’ve got!

This doesn’t take a genius to figure out, and that is a good thing; otherwise I couldn’t do it. We just have to learn to do the small things well.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love...Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." Mother Theresa

January 10, 2011

If I Had Stuck to My Notes for the Message on The Great Commission

A few years ago I had an experience that caused me to hate the way many Christians do evangelism....we had a vacuum cleaner salesman come to our house.

He was a nice guy, and wanted to demonstrate his product...so Lori and I scheduled a time for him to come visit. He brought this vacuum cleaner that would make any clean freak giggle like a little school girl. It could suck up dirt from the ground, pulling it through the floor boards of our house, and into the vacuum. It was powerful! He demonstrated its power by pushing it around the living room vacuuming dirt we didn’t know was there

I wanted him to demonstrate its power in every room of the house, but I guess there is a limit...he could only vacuum odd shaped sections of the carpet so everyone who visited for the next few weeks asked... “Why does this section look cleaner than the rest?”

He pointed out all the wonderful things this vacuum could do. He reminded us of all the health benefits we could have by removing the dust and dirt from our carpet...which was apparently a lot...with this vacuum we could have cleaner skin, a slimmer waistline, and reverse the signs of aging. And if you got it up to 88 miles per hour the fluxcapacitor would kick in and we could travel through time.

After he presented all the reasons an intelligent person would buy this vacuum he asked me a question, “How much do you think a vacuum cleaner like would cost?” Apparently, my guess was off...by the price of a small country. After regaining consciousness I knew we weren’t buying.

I told him I couldn’t afford that much...and suddenly there was a special that I could take advantage of, but only for tonight, that would allow me to have the vacuum for half the price! I still couldn’t afford it.

That’s when it got really uncomfortable. There was this awkward silence because I turned him down, and he had equipment to clean up and put away before he could leave. He asked if he could use our phone to report in to his manager. I only heard his side of the conversation, but it went something like this...

“No, they aren’t interested....yeah, I told them about the great features...yep, I told them about the deal...no, they are still not interested...Really? You will let me offer it to them for that?...Ok, I’ll ask...”

And it was in that moment that it hit me...I now hated evangelism because this is how evangelism felt to an unsaved person being evangelized.

I was an evangelism major in seminary, and I realized that my evangelism training sounded very similar to this sales sales technique. In fact, most people in the church were taught a similar technique. We were taught to give a well-reasoned explanation for why a person, with any intelligence, should believe the Gospel...we knew the right questions to ask, and, in the likely case they resisted, we learned how to handle their rebuttals.

Evangelism was a sales pitch with Salvation and Jesus as the new and improved products we were selling. This is why people didn’t like being evangelized. They were being sold a product they didn’t want.

This is also why Christians didn’t like it either. I couldn’t put it into words, but I had been uncomfortable with the approach for years; not until I was sitting there with this salesman in my living room.

Rebecca Pippert in her book Out of the Salt Shaker & Into the World writes, "Christians and non-Christians have something in common. We're all uptight about evangelism."

We don’t like to do evangelism and non-Christians don’t like to be evangelized...and it’s because evangelism has been turned turned into a technique or method that is more sales oriented than love based. It has been reduced to a decision instead of helping a person realize God loves them. And it has created false guilt for many of us because we know we are called to evangelized, but don’t want to do that kind of evangelism!

This morning we are going to look at a couple of verses that reaffirm our call to evangelism, and give us a few ideas on how to do evangelism in a biblical and loving way.

Let’s look at Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:7-8 and then look at a few things we can draw from these verses...Jesus is about to leave the visible, human realm and return to God’s side...so he gathers His disciples and gives them these instructions.

Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Acts 1:7-8 says, “He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”

These two verses make up the Great Commission. Jesus is giving His disciples, and us, marching orders as His followers.

The first thing we notice when we look at these two passages is that evangelism is not about us.

In Matthew it says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth...” and near the end He says, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” In Acts is says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you...”

Because of His obedient sacrifice, Jesus has been given all authority and power in both Heaven and Earth...He has authority, power, and jurisdiction over everything. He is not subject to human control or earthly events. He is making it known that He is the one in control.

It is out of this authority that He sends us into the world. We don’t do evangelism out of our own authority. That deep inner push to see people follow Jesus isn’t from us...it comes from Jesus who sends us into the world.

The Apostle Paul calls us ambassadors in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Just as a political ambassador represents the country from which he comes and speaks on behalf of that country to another...so we represent God’s Kingdom and learn to speak on His behalf. Part of speaking is to tell people of God’s love for them and His desire for a relationship.

Jesus promises to be with us, and He does that through the Holy Spirit. In the Bible the Holy Spirit’s job is to teach, convict, lead into truth, comfort, and empower.

He teaches us the truth of Jesus’ words, empowers us to do Jesus’ will, and opens people’s hearts to receive the message.

The second thing we see is that evangelism is a command.

In Matthew 28:19 most English translations begin with the word “Therefore” but in the original language the word “Go” is the first word in v19. Acts uses the word “witness” which has an active legal element.

Evangelism is not a passive activity.

One of my first experiences with the Vineyard was through Servant Evangelism and Steve Sjogren. He often says is that we are not called to be a come and see church, we are called to be a go and do church.

I like that. Too often we sit in the church, and like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, we believe that if we “build it they will come.” Big buildings, tons of programs, great worship bands and great preaching don’t bring people to God. We are to Go...go out into the world and be Jesus to people...and as we Go the Holy Spirit empowers us with gifts to serve our world.

The third thing we see is that evangelism is a process.

Matthew says to make disciples...baptize them...and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. Acts calls us witnesses...meaning we will testify, as if on the stand at a trial, to all that God has done and is doing.

These actions describe what we do when we “Go.” We make disciples. Baptizing and teaching are two aspects of making disciples. When we baptize people, we are calling them to die to their old way and pattern of life, and calling them to a resurrected life in Jesus Christ. Baptism is not just a symbol. It is God’s grace to stop doing life in the old way, and to begin doing life in Jesus’ way.

Another part of this process is teaching...we must learn to do life differently. We don’t decide to follow Jesus and automatically know all we need to know. We will spend a lifetime learning to be obedient and working to give ourselves to God’s pattern of living.

This teaching centers on the things Jesus commanded. We are not teaching our own stuff...We must teach His words.

Disciple making as defined here is very different from what we call evangelism in our modern church setting.

The Bible never speaks of “being saved” in the way many have come to talk about it. We talk about saying a Sinner’s prayer to be saved. It often carries with it the idea of buying a ticket that guarantees we won’t go to hell, or maybe a contract we have signed with God...we signed on the line with our prayer and God guarantees we don’t have to go to hell and will go to heaven.

The Bible, however, talks about following and being in relationship with Jesus; reminding us that this is an ongoing thing. It is not just a single-moment in time...it is a single-moment in time that has continuous consequences.

These are two very different understandings of “being saved;” one biblical and one not. In one we say the prayer, and we are good for eternity. This is why so many who’s lives don’t reflect Christ at all and really don’t want anything to do with God still call themselves Christians.

In the other, biblical approach, it is a relationship. It began, maybe with a sinner’s prayer, but the person made a genuine change in their relationship status and began following Jesus’ leadership throughout their life.

God wants disciples not decisions.

Let me give you an example...

Let’s say that 16½ years ago when I stood at the altar with Lori, instead of saying the traditional things, I said, “I love you. We are married. I’m leaving now, but I am not taking you with me. We are still married, and I want you to live like we are married. But don’t contact me until I contact you.”

Lori might have had an easier time, but that wouldn’t be a marriage. It wouldn’t be a relationship. It would have been a marital one-night-stand.

No, when we got married, I said, “I love you and want to be with you.” And since that day, for better and for worse, in sickness and health, for poorer or poorer, we have lived together and learned to love each other. I loved her when I said “I do” at the altar, but through time and commitment and growth in our relationship, my “I love you” means so much more now than it did then.

“Being saved” or “born again” is supposed to be more marriage than one-night-stand. This means evangelism is not a decision but disciple-making. We are in this not for the quick-hit, Sinner’s prayer saying, moment...we are in this to make disciples and build relationships.

The fourth thing we see in these verses is that through evangelism everyone is invited.

Matthew says to make “disciples of all nations”...Acts tells us we will be witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Everyone is invited, and our mission isn’t complete until everyone has heard God’s message of salvation.

We can’t neglect the world to evangelize our own neighborhood, but we also can’t neglect our own neighborhood to evangelize the world. This passage points out that as we go out we are to evangelize. Wherever you go you are an evangelist in the midst bringing the Kingdom of God with your presence.

One of my professors and friends, Darius Salter, wrote a book called American Evangelism. In the introduction he says, “The Apostle Paul...would find it strange that anyone would attempt to write a book on evangelism. The early church did not do evangelism-it was evangelism.”

I think that is our answer. Evangelism is not a technique. It is not a ministry of the church that only a few people are called to do. It is not for the elite and super-spiritual. Evangelism is when the church no longer does evangelism...it is evangelism.

So let’s look at a few things for we can do based on these passages:

1. We must have God’s heart for the lost and His empowerment through the Holy Spirit.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Evangelism begins with God. It begins with His love for us and His love for His creation; with no sacrifice too great to reach us.

We often describe God in ways that are emotionless...omnipotent...omniscient...omnipresent but the Bible is full of descriptions of the emotions of God...and most of them revolve around His love for us and His desire to be in relationship with us.

Once we see God’s love for us, we have to capture this heart for others whom He loves too. God isn’t content to sit idly back and watch the world go to Hell...He is actively engaged in bringing salvation to His fallen creation. And He has invited us to be part of that action.

The past few months I have been working for Tom at Oinkadoodlemoo...funny name serious BBQ...some of the people I work with are not Christians and are, in fact, very far from God. We have regular conversations and God comes up in them, and sometimes I can sense the emotional walls go up. They have had bad experiences with Christians and evangelism in the past.

This has caused me to pray a lot more...God how do we reach them...How do we get through that wall...and God has reminded me that I can’t change someone’s heart or mind in regards to following Jesus...No presentation...no logical explanation...nothing will change their mind. The Holy Spirit must be at work in their lives.

I have the responsibility to be a faithful witnesses, to live a holy life in front of them, to speak up for Christ when I can, but the Holy Spirit is the one who must work on the inside of them and lead them to faith in Christ.

So now I include a prayer for the Holy Spirit to lead the way both with my co-workers and here in Huber Heights...because I can’t change someone’s mind or heart. Only the Holy Spirit can.

But I do have a part to play and that leads to a second observation...

2. We must have a genuine, life-changing relationship with God.

Evangelism is not a presentation. Evangelism happens naturally when we have experienced God’s forgiveness and presence and can’t help but tell others.

I love to eat, and when I find a place with good food I tell other people about it. Want a good hamburger I tell people about Tanks on Wayne Ave. or Thurman’s in the German Village in Columbus. Pizza...then it has to be Classic Pizza on Taylorsville and Brandt. Asian...then it’s Vietnamese Pho...

If we are in a relationship with God that has changed our life, met a need in us, and where we continue to experience His presence...then evangelism is not presentation, but the excited telling of what God is doing in our lives.

We can’t help but tell people about it!

When we out of that relationship with God, people begin to notice. We aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. But we have a relationship with God that has changed us, and people want to know what that relationship is.

This leads to the last observation...

3. We must care for and be compassionate for the ones we are evangelizing.

There are many people who evangelize because they recognize God’s judgment on sin and have come to hate sin...I want to evangelize because I see God’s love for the sinner and have come to love the sinner.

The difference between those two are very important, and make all the difference. I believe God will judge sin. I believe He hates sin because He knows how destructive it is on people that He loves.

When we start from a love for our neighbor rather than a hatred of sin then our methods are filled with love and respect. We listen more than we talk. We seek to understand them and their hurts before we try to get them to see how right we are. We treat them the way we would want to be treated. We give them the time and space required to make an informed and genuine decision to follow.

In our second monthly service, we looked at the last half of the Great Commandment...because I believe that evangelism must flow from a love for our neighbor. Otherwise, we like that salesman simply trying to get someone to buy a product they don’t want...more concerned with the sale than the person.

Conclusion

When I was 18 years old, I decided to follow God. I had been in church all my life, attended a Christian school, and even been called to ministry when I was very young...but I didn’t want anything to do with God. Finally, I began to cave, and two things happened that have shaped me and why I came back to Huber Heights.

The first was that as I wrestled with the call to ministry God very clearly led me to Matthew 18:12-14, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

I knew the churches I had attended through the years were loving and good places, but they hadn’t been that way toward the lost sheep. They had been more concerned with the 99 than the 1, and I knew God was telling me that those on the outside needed to hear...That is why my visit with the vacuum guy was so challenging. I knew I couldn’t abandon evangelism, but I also knew I had to learn to do it right.

The second thing that brought me back here also happened when I was about 18 or 19. I had just finished doing some youth stuff at the church I attended and was the last one to leave. I was walking out of the churchon a dark and cool summer evening...and I felt God impress upon me that this church was filled with good and loving people...that Huber Heights was filled with good and loving people attending good churches...but people were not being reached the way they should.

After several years following God through a variety of other ministry assignments, God led me back to Huber Heights, and we are now in the beginning stages of what God is going to do here in Huber Heights to seek out the 1’s instead of the 99’s.

Our mission as a church is to reach out to the lost and disciple them. We will be a church that helps people take their next step closer to God. There are people who need God’s love and forgiveness, they need what we have, and we get to be the people who Go as His witnesses and make disciples of all nations.

I have a short powerpoint that I want you to watch...it has some quotes and verses on it centered around evangelism. It isn’t meant to be guilt-driven at all...It is meant to be challenging. As it scrolls, I want you to prayerfully consider how God might use you in building His Kingdom in your area of influence and with this faith community.