"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, July 27, 2012

Evangelism and the Macgyver Deception

Many people in my church look at me as the young guy…but to the youth group—I’m old.  I had an instance this past week that revealed this truth to me when I asked the students if they had ever heard of MacGyver.  No hands went up.  I feel great sorrow to know there is a generation that is completely unaware of one of the greatest action heroes of cinematic history!  When I was seven years old, there was nobody cooler.  He had the coolest leather jacket, the most fashionable mullet of the early nineties, and he could foil any bad guy’s plan with a stick of gum, a toothpick and a tube sock.  I remember one episode when he staple gunned a guy to the ground.  How cool is that.  

I don’t know how many occasions it happened (…my memory fails me…I was seven after all), but MacGyver often found himself in sticky situations trapped in a room with a time bomb counting down.  In those moments of great pressure—when every second and every decision counted—MacGyver would pull out a paper clip and defuse the bomb with one second left on the clock.  

If any of you are like me, you look at evangelism with what I like to call the “MacGyver” deception.  You may get the sense that it would be a really good thing…maybe even what God is asking you to do…to share your faith with a co-worker, a friend, or a family member.  But it seems pretty intimidating.  After all, eternity is at stake here.  The pressure is on!  You may feel that if you don’t say just the right things, in just the right way, at just the right time, you’ll trip the wrong wire and a bomb will go off!  Hey, we’re not all MacGyver, afterall!  Maybe they’ll get angry at you for bringing up that “religious” stuff.  Maybe they’ll ask a question you can’t answer.  Maybe there’ll be some ridicule.  Maybe your mind will go blank.  These are the kind of bombs I get afraid of.  

I have decided that I really want to share my faith better.  I believe God wants me to as well.  I want to take the Great Commission seriously in my life.  Not just out of a sense of duty, but because I believe that is where God brings us our greatest joy.  I don’t want to look back over my life with regrets.  

The youth group and I have started going through a campaign by Bill Hybels called, “Just Walk Across the Room.”  It is transforming the way I look at evangelism.  Sharing our faith doesn’t have to be scary—there are no bombs, just relationships.  All we have to do is listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit who lives within each and every person who has given their life to Jesus.  He may simply prompt us to go say hi to the new neighbor next door, or to put our arm around a hurting friend.  He may challenge us to build up a friendship with a new person.  And then, in his timing, he may prompt us to share the gospel with these people.  We don’t need to manufacture a moment…just let God provide, and obediently follow his prompting.  I don’t need to be able to spout an impromptu three point sermon on the atoning work of the incarnate God through the process of justification, regeneration, and sanctification manifesting in the life of a surrendered soul (watch your co-workers and neighbors scratch their heads in that moment!).  I just need to be willing to start a relationship.  I can do that!  If I believe that I have received the greatest of all possible gifts, then I can share what Jesus has done in and through me…in fact, I’ll want to! 

There will be no bombs.  But as you witness people surrendering their lives to Christ for the first time, I guarantee there will be some fireworks!  Experience the joy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wake up, O sleeper!

My cell phone began buzzing to wake me up early Saturday morning.  I groggily lifted myself out of bed.  Every Saturday there is an internal battle that rages within me.  My pillow beckons for a few more minutes, but a group of guys is waiting to meet with me at the church.  They are my lifeline for the week—my accountability, encouragement, and spiritual support.  It’s time to get up. 

As I lifted myself out of bed, I heard something brushing up against my apartment door.  “Strange,” I thought.  “I wonder if that has anything to do with the racket I heard in the hall last night?”  After doing everything I need to do to get ready, I headed for the door.  I’m lucky I didn’t trip.  There, curled up on the floor in front of my doorway, was a man passed out, fast asleep.  I paused for a moment, not really knowing what to do.  This is the first time a drunk man has ever slept at my door…I wasn’t sure the proper protocol of response.  I stepped over him, locked my door and left my apartment.  Outside the apartments, one of my friends sat at a bench waiting for me.  “There’s a drunk guy in front of your door.”

“Yeah, I noticed that.” 

I drove to pick up the third member of our party.  This guy has only been a Christian for a short while.  Our group has been reading through the book of James.  He asked me earlier in the week if we could get together sometime and read a chapter together because he was having a tough time understanding what it meant.  When he hopped in my car, and I shared with him my bizarre morning encounter his response was, “you should have invited him to our group—I would have!  I’ve dealt with tons of drunk guys before.”  I responded the way a pastor would be expected to respond.  “That’s a good idea.  I should have done that.”

 That’s when he said, “It’s kinda like what we’ve been reading in James.  Faith without works is dead.   You wanna go back?” He asked.  I really didn’t.  That internal battle began raging once more.  I knew it was the right thing to do.  After heading to the church to grab a doughnut and some juice so we could serve the drunk some breakfast in…bed, we headed back to  my apartment to wake the slumbering man up.

The story would be better if the guy was still there, accepted our invitation and gave his life to Jesus that morning.  Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity.  He was gone.  Though he was gone, the lessons of the morning weren’t.  I learned that a “veteran” of the faith can learn a lot from a baby Christian who is eager to apply God’s word to his life. The drunk guy wasn’t the only one sleeping that morning.  My eyes didn’t see the opportunity God placed right before me.  The guy who didn’t understand James was the one who filtered the situation of the morning through the lens of God’s word, saw an opportunity, and applied it.  If I keep hanging with this guy, this baby Christian will make me into a true Christ follower yet!  God’s word is a message to obey, not just to listen to (James 1:22).  How many opportunities have I missed because I wasn’t ready to live the Gospel I have heard. 

Never again do I want to trip over an opportunity.  God literally placed someone at my doorstep.  Hopefully next time, I’ll be able to share a more exciting conclusion to an opened door.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jesus is no infomercial

Jesus words can be lots of things—instructive, convicting, encouraging…and also confusing.  There are many times I’ve read the words of Jesus and wondered what he meant or why he said them. 

In Matthew 12:15-16, we are told there were large crowds following Jesus.  And why not?  Jesus was a miracle worker—a great teacher.  Where ever Jesus went, there was bound to be a great show—and some great benefits!  As these large crowds followed Jesus, he healed the sick among them.  But on this occasion he did something worthy of head scratching.  After healing the crowds, he warns them not to say who he is.  Why is this?  If Jesus is the son of God, the promised Messiah, why didn’t he want anyone proclaiming this truth?  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus calls us to do?

What is Jesus revealing to us in this moment?  I think what we can take from this is that when and how the truth is presented is just as important as the truth itself.  It would be easy for the crowds to proclaim this healer as their king—the promised Messiah.  But, likely they would be proclaiming him their king because of the benefits that a healing, miracle working, king can bring to his kingdom.  The Roman rule was a heavy oppression on the people of Israel.  How nice it would be to have a miracle working Messiah to ease their burden.  Perhaps they could make Jesus their king of comfort.

First question: have you ever ordered something from an infomercial?  Second question: if you answered yes to the first, have you ever ordered something from an infomercial again?  When it comes to the promises of TV products…I’m a bit skeptical.  Often the products we see on TV don’t end up being the thing we had hoped for.  So, when Jesus quieted the crowd, I think he was turning off his own infomercial.  Though the voices might rightly proclaim who he is, their idea of what that meant was mistaken.  They would be giving some false advertising.

 Jesus wants us to worship him as the son of God.  He wants us to know who he is, and to know him personally, but Jesus never came to be a king of comfort—and he certainly doesn’t want us to proclaim him as the king of comfort.  When we worship Jesus as the king who gives us all the blessings we want—we begin to worship the blessings and not the one who provides the blessings.  Jesus won’t always heal us.  He won’t always give us our desires.  He won’t fit into our box of what we feel a Messiah should be.  Jesus wasn’t what the people were expecting…he wasn’t what they had hoped for.  No, he was far greater than that.  What Jesus did come to do was bring a new kind of Kingdom.  He came to transform our hearts and our desires and to turn us towards God…not towards a more comfortable life.  Jesus turned off the infomercial because he had something better to give then what was expected—not a product—instead he gave himself.

Who is the Jesus you proclaim?  Is he Jesus, the provider of comforts, or Jesus, the transformer of lives?  Which Jesus have you given your life to?  One’s an infomercial worth turning off, while the other is new life, adventure, and truth.  If you’ve got the wrong Jesus, maybe it’s time to change the channel.