Be a Friend of Sinners

When Jesus invited Levi to follow him, everything changed. This tax collector was transformed by the savior’s call. In order to express his gratitude and love for Jesus, Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor. He’s so thankful for Jesus that he gathers all of his tax collector friends and other sinners to come recline with Jesus and his disciples. This quite the party! Here is Jesus the son of God eating and talking with the social outcasts—the sinners. The shock of this scene is difficult for us to fully understand in our culture. Reclining at someone’s table was a mark of friendship, intimacy, and love. It was the place of community, long conversations, and fellowship. It mattered who you ate with in Jesus day, similarly to how it matters which table you sat at in the high school Cafeteria. By eating with people you were identifying with them. No one wanted to eat with these tax collectors and sinners because it meant socially demeaning yourself to spend time with them. Yet, these are the sorts of people Jesus hung out with. He was a friend of sinners.

Jesus’ Evangelistic Strategy

It is here that we see Jesus’ mission strategy. It’s a complicated, super difficult strategy that takes years to master. It’s a strategy that all the church growth experts out there have yet to figure out yet as they develop new ministry program after new program. You ready to hear what Jesus’ missionary strategy was? He ate with people. That’s it. He ate dinner with people. His work of evangelism and discipleship always took place around the dinner table. As Jesus tells us in Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking.” Meals are community creating events. Meals unite us with other people. Even today, food and drink connects people together. Why else to people gather at bars and restaurants? People go for community and fellowship. There is a reason everyone feels awkward eating alone in a restaurant. God has designed our meals to be times of connection and friendship with one another.

Now Christian’s are known for lots of things, but perhaps what we are best known for is our covered dish dinner. But, while most of our meals at church are with other Christians, look at the company Jesus kept at his meals! He eats with sinners and tax collectors! Now it is good for the body of Christ to come together and fellowship and eat together, but we have to ask the question, how have we strayed from Jesus’ own missions strategy? We’ve so secluded ourselves in the Christian bubble, that we only surround ourselves with Christians. In fact, we’ve intentionally designed our lives so that we have as little interaction with non Christians as possible. We do Bible studies where everyone there is a Christian. We swing the golf clubs with other Christians. We have Christian doctors, Christian handymen, Christian dentists, Christian coaches… you get the point. All of our friends are Christians and the only people we eat with our Christians. We only eat with people who are like us—Christian.

The American Church Has Killed Off Evangelism

No wonder the American church fails in the task of evangelism—we aren’t friends with anyone who isn’t a Christian! Indeed, we design so much of our programs in the church to reinforce the Christian bubble. The church becomes the Smörgåsbord of programs and activities that lead to the cul-de-sac of the Christian bubble. We have Christian golf tournaments, Christian Senior Adult activities, Christian choirs, Christian basketball leagues, Christian baking clubs. Again, you get the point, and I’m aware that I’m striking at nerve at Forest Hills, because this is exactly they way we program, and I think it’s well intentioned, but severely misguided. We’ve strayed so far from Jesus’ simple missional strategy of eating with sinners. We’ve swapped it out with hundreds of activity that all keep us busy but ineffective in reaching the world for Christ. So we can have a busy week at the church with activities, outings, and all the while never speaking once to someone who is not a Christian. I believe the American Church has unintentionally structured itself to kill off evangelism. After all you can not evangelize to non-Christians if you don’t know any non-Christians. Instead of mobilizing Christians to mission, the church has only entrapped them in the Christian bubble.

Eat With Sinners

So what would it look like for you and I to adopt Jesus’ mission strategy? What would it look like if our church began to declutter our programming to free you up to live like this? I hesitate to make such specific application lest I stumble across a sacred cow. So rather than critiquing church programming, I’d rather challenge you as an individual to live like Jesus. Do you want to be a more effective evangelist? Do you want to make an impact in the kingdom of God? What if I told you that you don’t need any formal training or certification and that its as easy as eating a cheese burger? Here is the challenge: eat one meal a week with somebody who isn’t a Christian.

We all have to eat anyway don’t we? On your lunch break at work, invite a co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord out eat with you. One evening invite your unbelieving neighbors over for dinner. Go grab a cup of coffee with a friend in your aerobics class who doesn’t know Jesus. It really is that simple. Be friends with non Christian people. You have to eat, so why not eat with other people who don’t know Jesus?

I’ve failed at this a lot personally over the course of my life, and I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve done my best to keep my lunches booked during the work week. It often means that we have to budget extra in our family budget for restaurant eating, but so much of my ministry is done over conversations with other men over a meal. It is there in those deep conversations with mouths full that encouragement is lavished, admonishment is given, and evangelism happens. So the challenge this morning is simple—who is one person you can invite to a meal this week who doesn’t know Jesus? In your community groups tonight, share the name of that person with your group for prayer, accountability, and encouragement. Work it into the rhythm of your life that you eat with other people, particularly with those who do not know Jesus.

Reevaluate Your Priorities

This may mean you need to re-evaluate your weekly calendar. Most of us are sinfully too busy. We pack our calendars so full with activity that we don’t have time to be intentional in building relationships with non believers. You may have to say no to some other commitments so that you can encounter new people on a regular basis. Use your hobby as a bridge to relationship. Love golfing? Join a group of guys and go golfing with them on Saturday. Love knitting? Join a sowing group in town and meet new friends and share your testimony with them. Love working out? Meet some people at the gym and invite someone out to coffee after your morning workout. Love basketball? Invite your co-worker over to your house to watch the game on Friday night. You get the picture. Evangelism isn’t always just going door to door. Though there is nothing wrong with doing that, but often the most effective evangelistic opportunities we have come through the trust of personal relationship. Be hospitable, friendly, and welcoming to all people. Build friendships with those who don’t know Jesus and through those friendships live out and share the Gospel. Missions isn’t an event and it isn’t nearly as hard as we make it out to be. It’s simply every day Christians doing every day things with Gospel intentionality.

As you are intentional with the Gospel and build those friendships with non Christians, the Spirit will work in the natural ebb and flow of the conversation to open hearts and provide you plenty of opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Be like Jesus. Be a friend of sinners.

The Best Use of Time

http://www.foresthillsbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/R_20150322-1059161.mp3  

Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:2–6, ESV)

1. Persistently Pray for Open Doors for the Gospel (4:2–4)

2. Live and Speak with Gospel Intentionality with Outsiders. (4:5–6)

Let the Nations Praise You: Worship is the Fuel for Global Missions

Missions is an idea far from our minds. In our day to day lives many Christians do not pause to pray or even think about what God is seeking to do across the globe. Although we have been blessed greatly as Christians by receiving God’s gracious salvation, we fail to see how we have been blessed by God to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. No passage describes God’s passion for the nations and our response to God’s blessing like Psalm 67.

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (Psalm 67, ESV)

God Has Blessed Us in Christ

As we think about our own salvation we have been saved by grace alone. If you are a Christian, God has set his love on you by redeeming you through Jesus Christ. God made a way to forgive you from your sins and in the cross of Christ as he pours out his wrath due our sins on his beloved son the radiant love of God shines like the beaming sun on us. We have been blessed beyond measure.

We who were isolated have been brought near.

We who were lost have been found.

We who were enemies have been made friends.

We who were orphans have been adopted.

We who were hungry have been made full.

We who were condemned have been justified.

You see we too have been blessed greatly by God as recipients of his grace and mercy.

God has blessed us incredibly, far beyond comprehension. We have not just treated better than we deserve we are treated the opposite of what we deserve. We deserve wrath, but have been given peace. We deserve condemnation, but God has given us salvation. God loves us incredibly, yet the Gospel is not simply “God loves me”. David Platt in his book Radical pens these words:

“The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period”, as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him – his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness – known among all nations.” Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is.” (70)

The purpose of God’s saving work, the reason we have been so blessed is so that God’s glory might be known in all the earth. This means that God desires that all the people of the earth praise him as God and find their joy in him, just as we have. We have been blessed to be a blessing. So for what purpose have we been saved? Why has God so richly blessed us?

So That All the World Might Praise and Be Glad in God

Here within these verses we get the thrust of why God created the world. Have you ever wondered that question? Why does all that exists exist? What is its purpose? What is its appointed end? The answers to all those questions is this – the glory of God. His glory is the purpose of all things. So God has put this world into existence so that he might be praised above all and by all. God’s desire in the creation of humanity was to fill the earth with his image bearers so that the whole earth might be filled with glorious praise. God has chosen to do this through the redemption of humanity. By saving sinners God glorifies himself through his great sovereign redemptive work.

However notice again the object of God’s redemptive plan. His blessing was never meant to stay within Israel, but rather Israel was blessed to be a blessing to the world. By blessing the people of Israel the praise of God was to spread throughout all the peoples of the earth. God’s plan from the beginning of creating is to glorify himself through all the peoples of the earth. The salvation of the nations is just a plan of God it is THE plan of God. It has been and it always will be. Why? Because as people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worship, value, rejoice and be glad in God, He is made glorious!

And he wants the nations to be glad in God! Oh how wonderful it is to be happy in God. To delight in him, to rejoice in him, the enjoy him. The proper display of worship is to treasure God. Here the Psalmist is calling out in petition to God begging that all the peoples of the earth might enjoy God as we do. The psalmist is praying asking that God would display his glory by having the nations find there joy in God alone. Enjoying God is glorifying God. And this is the aim of missions – to bring all the peoples of the earth to find their rest, their joy, their hope in the one savior who takes away the sins of the whole world and who purchases a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation for the glory of God!

So we like the Psalmist join in prayer crying out to God “Let the peoples praise you, o God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” We pray asking for God’s named to be hallowed, for his kingdom to spread, for the salvation of all the peoples of the earth!

The Goal of the Church is Worship, Not Missions

This is key for us to understand. The goal the church is not missions, but rather it is worship. It is the praising of God’s name throughout the earth. That is the appointed end of all creation. John Piper writes in his classic work on missions Let the Nations Be Glad and writes,

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever”

So because we as a church exist for the glory of God and since we have been saved for the glory of God, we must seek to bring glory to God through the evangelization of the nations. The glory of God is our aim in our passionate pursuit of him.

Apathetic to Missions

Though so many of us seem completely unmoved by missions. Why bother with international missions? Isn’t all the focus on missions excessive? I mean we may give money to missions, why is there any need for us to go? If we are honest many of us don’t even think about missions.

We don’t pray for missionaries.

We don’t pray for the unreached people groups of the earth.

We don’t cut back our spending so we can give more to missions. We don’t go on missions trips.

We just simply don’t really care all that much do we?

Yet, perhaps the reason we don’t care about global missions is because we do not love God as we ought. Perhaps the reasons our zeal for mission is weak is because we do not desire for God to be made glorious in our lives and in our world. Again, Piper writes,

“Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak. Churches that are not centered on the exaltation of the majesty and beauty of God will scarcely kindle a fervent desire to “declare his glory among the nations” (Ps 96:3). Even outsiders feel the disparity between the boldness of our claim upon the nations and the blandness of our engagement with God.”

If you are struggling to have a heart for missions. If the sacrifice seems to great to you and to costly, then pray that God would show you more of God. Pray that you would see the radiance of his glory, that another veil would be lifted and that you might see his majesty! I’m convinced the reason we are apathetic towards missions is because we do not realize the majesty of the God we worship. Our hearts have yet to be gripped by the beautiful vision of God’s glory that grips our hearts and brings us to our knees in worship. When his face shines upon us and we know the joy of his presence, a privileged purchase by Christ, then we will want to call the world to praise and be glad in this gracious God.

The reason our heart for mission is to small is because we do not realize the largeness of the God we worship. He is the God of the nations! He is the God of the universe and he WILL be made glorious in all the earth. He WILL be exalted among the nations. And he has chosen to glorify himself through us as his church. He is calling us to be a part of spreading his glory throughout all the earth. He is giving us opportunity to participate in the very purpose of creation.

Talk about a life filled with meaning and significance! Do you want that? Do you long to not waste your life on trivial pursuits that end up no where? Missions is God’s invitation to you Christian. It is your calling. It is the purposive your redemption. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We have been blessed by God to take this Gospel of grace to the very ends of the earth. What a sacred privilege and what a glorious honor! We must begin getting serious about this divine calling. We must begin to get serious about sending disciples globally around the earth.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!”

What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

Is Jesus the only way to God? Are those who believe in different religions or in no religion on a path that leads to hell? What about those who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel? One of the most controversial claims of Christianity is the exclusivity of the Gospel. This simply means that Jesus is the only way. There is no other options and there are no other paths to escape the destruction due our sin. The pluralistic post-modern sentiment that tends to dominate western thinking today is disgusted by such an arrogant and narrow-minded claim.

Jesus is the Only Way

Yet theology and truth is not determined by cultural wishes but by the revelation of God. God has revealed to us his truth and his plan in Scripture. The Word of God is quite clear as Jesus said himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). The exclusivity of Christ is not something arrogantly fabricated by the church but clearly taught by Jesus, the son of God. Jesus is not a way, but the only way. The simple definite article, “the”, makes it clear that there is only one possible route to the Father and it is through the son.

Most people who can escape the logical fallacy of a pluralistic understanding of truth can grasp the exclusivity of the Gospel. After all both Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity can’t all be right. The religions contradict themselves on the most basic level. So if we can grasp that only one religion must be true and if by God’s grace we come to see the Christian faith as the true faith, there is often one last hurdle for people. What about those who never heard the Gospel?

A Weighty Class Discussion

I remember the first time I encountered this difficulty. I was in my first semester at Charleston Southern University and I was taking an evangelism class. In that class the professor gave us a hypothetical dilemma known as “the man on the island”. The situation is that there is a man on an island who has never heard the Gospel. He is completely deserted in that island and there is no one who can tell him about Jesus. The dilemma is what happens to the man when he dies? Does he spend eternity in hell or does God save him even though he never heard about Jesus?

The professor then made us get into groups and begin discussing our position to the dilemma. For a bunch of first semester bible students we were surely stumped. This is the kind of stuff they didn’t encourage us to think about in Sunday School. After great discussion the class seemed split. Some said the man would be saved and others said that he would be condemned. After some class discussion the professor finally revealed his position, the man would spend eternity in condemnation and apart from God.

And the professor was completely correct. If Jesus is the only way than he is the only way. The New Testament is filled with an urgent passion to spread the good news of Jesus as far and as quickly as possible. You see the apostle Paul the great missionary attempting to make his way to Spain at the end of the life. He was always pushing to get to new people to share the good news of Jesus. Paul writes in Romans 11

“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? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)

The whole class felt the weight of the professors words that day. It was a heavy reminder of an eternal responsibility that is passed from one generation to the next. There is a great urgency for us to take the Gospel to the very farthest and most isolated parts of the world. It is the great task of the church to go and make disciples of all nations.

Tell the World

Because there are thousands dying every day all across the world without access to the Gospel, the church has an urgent mission. Simply put, the world must be told that Jesus is Lord. They must hear about how Christ died in their place for the forgiveness of sins. Yet, they cannot believe in Jesus if they have never heard. As Christians we must begin to take the Great Commission seriously, urgently sending and being sent around the globe for the glory of Christ for the good of the nations.

3 Easy Ways to Build Relationship with Non-Christians

It is so easy to find yourself stuck in a Christian sub-culture. In fact, it is so easy most of us do not realize we are in one. Jesus commands us to be both salt and light (Mt 5). Both illustrations assume that Christians are involved in the rotting decaying world of darkness. In order to transform the world with the Gospel we must engage the world. Yet our temptation is to seclude ourselves into a spiritual bomb shelter. We create a large institution with all kinds of Christian programs so that we never have to interact with the lost world around us. Many churches and Christians have found themselves in a secluded sectarianism. Yet we cannot be salt and light if we stay hidden in our spiritual bomb shelter waiting for the apocalypse. Jesus is coming soon. We must leave our holy huddles and engage the world.

Am I in a Spiritual Bunker?

Are you trapped in a christian sub-culture? Well here are a few diagnostic questions to ask yourself.

  • How many non-christians do you know by name?
  • How many of those people do you have in your contacts on your cell phone?
  • When was the last time you had lunch with someone who didn't know Jesus?

If we are honest with those three questions I think we will be ashamed of their answers. For many of us (including myself) we simply do not know people who don't know Jesus. We have become so isolated in our christian sub-culture that we cannot function as salt and light because we don't know anyone to be salt and light too.

So if you are like me and tend to get trapped in the spiritual bunker, what are some practical ways you can get out and engage the world for Jesus? Here are three easy and practical ways:

1. Find a Hobby or Activity Apart from the Church

Do something that is not associated with the church at all. Rather than joining an upward basketball team go join the rec. league and meet people who don't know Christ. Go join a community bowling league. Go hang out at high school football games. Be active in your child's PTA. Be involved and active in things that are not church related and do not apologize for it. However, do these things as a missionary, participating for the good of the community and for the evangelization of the lost people and friends you will make.

2. Be a Regular at Local Establishments

An easy way to get to know people who are lost is to be a regular somewhere. Go to the same restaurant every week. Go to the gym at the same time every day. Put a smile on your face and interact with people. Be kind and tip well. Ask the employees questions and strike up conversations. Get to know people and be their friend. You will be surprised how many opportunities you will have to share Christ through those relationships.

3. Invite Your Neighbors Over for a Dinner Party

Everyone loves a party. Christian hospitality is a wonderful gift and a huge catalyst for relational evangelism. Invite your neighbors on your street over for a BBQ. Grill some burgers and get to know each other. Become friends and see where God will take that relationship. God has placed you in your neighbored to be a missionary to your community. Begin praying and looking for ways to get to know the people who live around you.

Functioning as Salt and Light

Be intentional about looking for opportunities to make new friends who don't know Christ. We tend to drift towards the spiritual bunker more than we drift towards missional engagement. Be disciplined and pray that God gives you opportunities to get to know new people. These three tips are things anyone can do and anyone can put into practice. Get out of the Bomb Shelter and go be the children of the light empowered and redeemed by the Light of the World, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I recently preached a sermon on Matthew 5:13-16  on what it means to be salt and light. You can check out the sermon audio here.

How to Share the Gospel with Cultural Christians

We just examined how there are many false gospels that people believe in the Bible Belt. Most of these false gospels have developed because of a cultural Christianity that reduces the Christian faith to societal norms that regulate a community. Those in the Bible Belt and most of evangelicalism have been surrounded by a cultural Christianity disconnected from the Christian faith as presented in the Bible. As a result it common to speak with those who call themselves Christians but who believe do not believe historic orthodox Christianity. Although they might put "Christian" down on the census, many of these cultural Christians have not been converted and saved by Jesus Christ. This cultural, superficial Christianity appears to be fading away with the rise of those who claim no religious affiliation. Ed Stezer has written extensively on the rise of the nones. However, pastoring in the Bible Belt has proved to have interesting challenges. The greatest challenge of pastors and ministry leaders in the Bible Belt is this: How do we evangelize to those who already think they are Christian?

This is a very difficult challenge, unique to places like the Bible Belt.  In many parts of our country or the world there is just an outright rejection of the Christian faith. In some ways it is easier to present the Gospel to these people, because they often have little to no understanding of the Christian faith. Evangelizing in the Bible Belt can be an extra challenge because, in addition to presenting the true Gospel, we often have to show these cultural christians that they have gravely misunderstood Christianity. So the following are some strategies to help us better evangelize these cultural christians.

The Christian Faith is Not...

1. The Christian Faith is Not the Republican Party

Since the rise of the moral majority, Evangelical Christians have connected themselves heavly to the republican party. It is no secret that the Bible Belt states tend to vote Republican. There has been good reasons for this close partnership with the republican party, primarily due to important moral issues such as abortion or the Biblical definition of marriage. However the Christian faith is not the republican party. The Christian faith is not a political ideology. Yes, the Christian faith does impact how we think about politics, but no political party is the church. In fact, political parties will often fail in representing our convictions and beliefs, including the republican party.

Unfortunately many have assumed that since they vote republican and live in the Bible Belt, that is what Christianity is all about. In their mind to be a Christian is to be a good ol' church boy who hates democrats and has an anti-Obama sticker on their truck. The Christian Faith is not a political agenda, ideology, or party.

2. The Christian Faith is Not Be Good, Try Harder

Many think of Christianity as a list of rules to follow. Moralism is rampant, and many think that being a Christian means we must pay penance for our sins. Many cultural Christians are more like Hindus than Christians, as they believe in karma and that their good most outweigh their bad. As we evangelize to cultural christians we need to highlight their inability to earn God's favor or save themselves. We need to highlight the hopeless estate of every human being and that no matter how many times you may come to church or walk old ladies across the street, you cannot save yourself. We need the righteousness of God, not our filthy rags and rubbish. Thanks be to God, that he gives us the righteousness of Jesus!

3. The Christian Faith is Not a Southern Thing

Many think that to be southern is to be christian. Cultural christians assume that since they grew up in the Bible Belt they assume they are default Christian. Yet, the Christian faith is not just for southern people but for all people from every tribe, language, tongue, and nation. The Gospel is the true truth about the world for all people at all times. The Christian faith is much bigger than some cultural identity for our region. Jesus is the only way of salvation for all people everywhere. Jesus isn't just the way of salvation for southerners, but for the whole world. As a result, we have to get out of our southern bubble of isolation and participate in the Great Commission, taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

4. The Christian Faith is Not Just Your Parents Faith

The church I serve in is a church with a history. We are getting close to our 100th birthday. As I've spoken with many of our older members who have been members of our church their entire lives, I've spoken to them about their children. Many of their children have grown up in the church only to have nothing to do with it once they enter adulthood. In the Bible Belt there a many people who are de-churched, meaning they kind of consider themselves Christians but only because their parents brought them to church as a kid. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must emphasize that to be a Christian does not mean you live off of your parents faith. We must call these cultural christians to personally place their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and call them to commit to Jesus and his church.

The Christian Faith is...

1. The Christian Faith is for the Outcasts and the Nobodies

Although the south has made great strides the past few decades, repenting from the great racism of the past, it is still a recurring problem. Many cultural christians have a disdain for those of a different ethnicity, income level, or social economic status. They think that those who live on food stamps or dwell in rough neighborhoods do not deserve the Gospel or to ever set foot in our churches.

But Christ died for the nobodies and the outcasts. Jesus spent his time with the rejects of society–the drunkards, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. Many cultural christians are but self-righteous pharisees who think they are above other people because they are religious. We must emphasize to cultural christians that Jesus came to save all people–from the destitute and immoral, to the prideful and self-righteous. We ALL need God's grace and we must attack the racism and elitism that runs through so much of cultural christianity.

2. The Christian Faith is all about Jesus

As the church has become more institutional, cultural christians have gotten confused over what the Christian faith is all about. Is it about upward basketball games, boy scout groups, and elaborate Christmas dramas to entertain us? Is the church a social club to hang out with like-minded people  or to seclude ourselves from our sinful community? Is the Christian faith about providing family safe activities to protect us from the harshness of the world? Many have gotten so confused over the purpose of the church and the Christian faith.

We must remind people daily and often that Christianity is all about Jesus. It is not about institutions, programs, or morality. We must emphasize time and again the beauty of the Gospel. We must remind people time and time again of Jesus' perfect life, vicarious death, and victorious resurrection. The Christian faith is centered around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must regularly emphasize and remind people of this fact.

3. The Christian Faith Transforms Your Entire Life

The Christian faith is not separate from the rest of your life. Many cultural christians have their spiritual life, work life, family life, and recreational life divided into neat let segments that never interact. We must remind cultural Christians that when we claim Jesus is our Lord, he is just that, our Lord. He is Lord over our finances, Lord over our time, Lord over our families, and Lord over our work. Christianity is holistic encompassing the totality of who we are. Jesus didn't come to save just an area of our life, but our entire lives.

Sharing the Gospel with cultural christians has unique challenges. Often it takes time and patient, recurring conversation to let the Spirit tear down their gravely misunderstood cultural christianity in order to help them see the wonderful, life changing grace of God.

Have you experienced difficulties evangelizing to cultural christians? Share your experiences and thoughts with the rest of us in the comments!

4 Tips for Practicing Christian Hospitality

The art of hospitality is hard to find in action today. We think hospitality is just cooking a meal or hosting a party. Hospitality is at least those things, but it is much more than those things. Hospitality is making people feel at home, comfortable, and open to great conversation. Good hospitality will make you drop your guard and be vulnerable. Hospitality is also a spiritual gift, that the Lord can use mightily for his name.

1. Invite People into Your Home

To use a gift of hospitality, you must be willing to open up your home. Our homes can be quite private. Our homes are our space. They are often messy, chaotic, and our place to isolate ourselves from everyone else. Therefore the act of opening up your home is an act of vulnerability. You are inviting people to your most intimate place of rest and solitude. You are inviting them into a personal part of your life.

Many feel a pressure to impress when they invite people over. Many people invite people over not to serve them or to be hospitable, but to show off they cleanliness, furniture, or style. Yes, it is a good idea to clean your house before people come over. Yes, a nicely decorated house is a plus, but it is not the point of hospitality. The pressure to impress others is not hospitality but pride. True hospitality invites people over even though the house still might need a fresh vacuuming. The purpose of inviting others into you home is to serve them, not to impress them.

2. Ask Good Questions of Your Guests

Again the purpose of hospitality is not to fill people's stomachs but to fill their souls. Some of the best conversations to be had happen around the dinner table or sitting on your couch. When you have people over, take the opportunity to ask some good questions that take the conversation deeper. Don't spend the whole night talking about the basketball game or the latest episode of Downton Abby. As a hospitable host you are seeking to meet the spiritual needs of others.

For Christian guests ask questions like:

  • How did you come to know Christ?
  • What have you been reading in the Bible recently?
  • Has there been a sermon or message that has impacted you recently? What was it and why?

For non-Christians ask questions like:

  • Do you have any sort of spiritual beliefs?
  • What do you think about Church? Have you ever gone before?
  • Do you believe in a god? If so, which god?

Throwing out a spiritual question like this can seem awkward at first, but it is amazing how the conversation turns to deeper things after you do so.

3. Listen Carefully, Respond Graciously

A key component to being hospitable means listening to others. Some people are just talkers. We have all been to dinner parties when one or two people tend to dominate the conversation. They talk about themselves, their accomplishments, and their hobbies. A hospitable host is not someone who is self-consumed, but truly listens to others. As you ask questions of your guests, deeply and truly listen to their answers. Don't begin preaching a sermon to them, but listen carefully and respond slowly in gentleness and love.  Listen for things like "What is going on in this persons life?", "How can I be praying for this person?", or "Where are they at spiritually?" A hospitable person listens to others looking for opportunities to serve.

4. Pray with Your Guests Before they Leave

Kaitlyn and I are trying to make this a practice anytime we have people over for dinner. After a great meal and some deep conversation, we take time to pray with our guest before the leave. It is a great way to finish the evening, especially when there has been some deeper spiritual dialogue.

The Urgent Need for Hospitable Christians

I believe that the church desperately needs more people using  the gift of hospitality. In my experience, people don't tend to open up to much in the hallway of a church or in the pastor's office. Some of the best spiritual conversations I've had with people have taken place in my own home. More Christians need to open up their homes to others for the purpose of ministry. People are not looking for some formal, cold, distant religion, but a warm, personable, relational faith community.

I also believe that hospitality is also a vital component for modern evangelism. Many of our neighbors would never respond to an invitation to go to church, but would jump at the opportunity to come over for dinner. May we leverage our homes for the Gospel, and may they become the missionary outpost scattered across the world to make disciples.

How has someone else's hospitality impacted your life? Share with us in the comments below!

Is Proclaiming Christ Your Single Passion?

What would it look like if proclaiming Christ was your single passion?

How would it change the way you get out of bed in the morning?

How would it change your morning commute into work?

How would it change the way you spend your lunch break?

How would it change your conversation with co-workers?

How would it change the way you spend free time?

How would it change the way you change a diaper or drop the kids off at soccer practice?

How would it change your monthly budget?

How would it change your family schedule?

What would it look like if every person in your church had the single passion of proclaiming Christ?

How would it change your ministries?

How would it change your worship service?

How would it change your community?

How would it change your philosophy of ministry?

How would it change your churches budget?

How would it change your churches calendar?

What would happen if we kicked off the auto-pilot switch and start asking the right questions? What would happen if we pause and reflected on the way we live our lives? Would we have the courage to think, reflect, and repent?

Is proclaiming Christ your single passion?

Truth is Revealed Both Gradually and Dramatically

when-was-saul-convertedJesus is one with the Father. Jesus invites us to examine his life, because he and the Father are one. As Jesus speaks, it is God who speaks. As Jesus shows love, it is God who shows love. As Jesus stoops down to wash his disciples feet, it is God who humbles himself for this most menial of tasks. From Jesus' conversations, actions, and character we are able to see God himself. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. When we learn of Jesus we learn of God himself. How amazing it must have been to be one of those disciples; to walk the streets of Jerusalem with God; to recline at the table eating with the creator of the universe; to laugh and joke with the great Almighty; to be served and loved by the Son of Man.

Yet, even though God was incarnate in front of them, these men were not able to see fully who Jesus was. Indeed, they would not fully discern the glory of Jesus until after his resurrection. Even still, how blinded we are to the reality in front of us until God reveals it to us in power. Truth never changes, but our awareness of that truth either grows or diminishes with our hardened hearts. Jesus was God whether the disciples discerned his true identity or not, but they slowly over time began to understand who Jesus is.

God works this same way in our own lives as well. Often God's drawing of us to Christ is a slow and gradual experience. It is over the course of many months and many years, as God slowly reveals to us the glory of truth. The fog of falsehood disperses ever so slowly. God is truth and our understanding of him often increases with the passage of time.

Sometimes this truth will be revealed dramatically with a cataclysmic conversion event. Saul of Tarsus as he was on the road to Damascus was on his way to kill more Christians. However when truth was revealed as Jesus blinded him with his glory, God was revealed to wretched old Saul. After that life shattering event, Saul was no longer Saul. He was Paul. No longer a enemy of Christ, Paul was now an ally to him.

Truth can be revealed suddenly. God never ceases to do the miraculous by showing truth, instantaneously transforming a life. These are the people with the far more interesting testimonies. However these sorts of stories are rare for a reason. They are out of the ordinary. It is not the normal story of conversion. For most people who come to realize the truth of the Gospel of Christ, it is not one of these interesting stories like Saul of Tarsus, but much more like the disciples testimony. It has come from the gradual, slow, unexciting awakening to the truth. Then all of the sudden one day the message of the Gospel clicks.

We have heard it time and time again. We have had so many long dialogues about faith and Christ with our friends, but now all of the sudden it makes sense. The fog of falsehood has been lifted completely and you are gloriously aware of the majesty and power of Jesus. You understand why Jesus died, who did not die just a martyrs death, but a substitutionary death in your place. You begin to see that Jesus willingly went to the cross to die the death that you deserved because he lived the life you could not live. The Gospel makes since and you see its glory and bank your life on its truth. You go all in, not holding anything back. Jesus is Lord, and you cannot help but submit your whole life to him.

So which testimony is better? The instantaneous conversion of Saul or the slow conversion of the disciples? I suggest both are equally miraculous works done by God. Anytime a sinner repents and trusts in Christ is a miraculous thing. Although our conversion stories might look very different, it is God who saves us in our sin. It is God who removes the fog whether instantaneously or gradually, but either way he gets all the praise. The glory is His, in the conversion of the detestable persecutor or the church kid who spends his whole life surrounded in truth.

How did your conversion happen? Was it dramatic or slow and gradual? Love to hear your story in the comments!

Top Quotes from Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Evangelismandthesovereignty

JI Packer's Book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a incredible work that takes on the perceived tension between Calvinism and Evangelistic urgency.  Packer proves that the two are not enemies but friends.  He argues that a robust, Biblical, understanding of the sovereignty of God rightly fuels evangelistic effort and provides hope and boldness to the evangelist.  It is an incredible work, brief and to the point.  If you have wrestled with God's Sovereignty and Evangelism (and who hasn't) be sure to give this book a read.  It is well worth your time.  Here were some top quotes I picked out in my reading to give you a taste of what this book has to offer you.  You can pick up the book at Amazon Here.

There is abroad today a widespread suspicion that a robust faith in the absolute sovereignty of God is bound to undermine any adequate sense of human responsibility. Such a faith is thought to be dangerous to spiritual health, because it breeds a habit of complacent inertia. In particular, it is thought to paralyze evangelism by robbing one both of the motive to evangelize and of the message to evangelize with.

I shall try to show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God's government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks. So far from being weakened by this faith, therefore, evangelism will inevitably be weak and lack

The desire to oversimplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good people should fall victim to it.

We must not at any stage forget that. For if we forget that it is God's prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize.

And the point that we must see is this: only by letting our knowledge of God's sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in his service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault. For where we are not consciously relying on God, there we shall inevitably be found relying on ourselves. And the spirit of self-reliance is a blight on evangelism.

He who does not devote himself to evangelism in every way that he can is not, therefore, playing the part of a good and faithful servant of Jesus Christ.

In other words, evangelism is the issuing of a call to turn, as well as to trust; it is the delivering, not merely of a divine invitation to receive a Savior, but of a divine command to repent of sin.

The results of preaching depend, not on the wishes and intentions of men, but on the will of God Almighty

We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of his total demand on our lives. What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself and your failures and your inadequacy to meet life's demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, cheer him up and make him feel confident again.

In our own presentation of Christ's gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness, in one sense, will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick.

It is a tragic and ugly thing when Christians lack desire, and are actually reluctant, to share the precious knowledge that they have with others whose need of it is just as great as their own. It was natural for Andrew, when he found the Messiah, to go off and tell his brother Simon, and for Philip to hurry to break the good news to his friend Nathanael (Jn 1:40ff.). They did not need to be told to do this; they did it naturally and spontaneously, just as one would naturally and spontaneously share with one's family and friends any other piece of news that vitally affected them. There is something very wrong with us if we do not ourselves find it natural to act in this way: let us be quite clear about that.

We should not be held back by the thought that if they are not elect, they will not believe us, and our efforts to convert them will fail. That is true; but it is none of our business and should make no difference to our action.

Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.

Paul's confidence should be our confidence too. We may not trust in our methods of personal dealing or running evangelistic services, however excellent we may think them. There is no magic in methods, not even in theologically impeccable methods. When we evangelize, our trust must be in God who raises the dead.

God can make his truth triumphant to the conversion of the most seemingly hardened unbeliever. You and I will never write off anyone as hopeless and beyond the reach of God if we believe in the sovereignty of his grace.