Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Evangelism...On purpose!

These are the notes to a message I recently gave. God recently convicted me about my lackadaisical approach toward being a light. I, as are many men my age, am a committed sports fan. The month of October is a time of great joy, or great idolatry for a sports guy. Baseball playoffs take place, the NBA and NHL seasons start, and college, pro, and fantasy football are all in full swing! As I was on my way home from Game 2 of the Angels vs. Red Sox series, unbelievably excited after an intense Angels' victory, God brought Colossians 4:2-6 to my mind. Why isn't our evangelism as passionate as our hobbies- sports, TV shows, etc.? Why do we not plan for it the way we do other priorities in life? Hopefully the few points from Colossians 4:2-6 below help...

1. Pray Consistently- Paul says, "Continue steadfastly in prayer..." We must ask God to save & forgive those around us, since he is the one who has the power to do it. I do not ask my mother to fix my leaky head gasket; while she may offer heartfelt sympathy, fresh coffee, and warm cookies, she does not have the power to fix the head gasket. I ask Dad, since he has the power and ability to repair cars. We pray and ask God, because he has the power. We pray for open doors, we pray for the right words to say, and we pray for salvation.
2. Plan wisely- Paul says, "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." As I moved out from under my parents roof to a massive apartment with my new wife, I studied and research and planned everything. I read up on health insurance plans, researched every apartment complex in the area, read consumer reviews to make sure I got a decent car, found the best way to budget & save my money, read up on every possible credit card available to me, etc., etc., etc. Why do we plan for "important" things in life- investments, healthcare, retirement, vacations, but do not "plan" for when and how we will talk about Jesus to those around us who need Him?! Too many times, I sit with family & friends who need Jesus and simply wait for an opportunity. That attitude is far too passive. Sometimes a door will be opened, but other times we must kick it down.
3. Speak Graciously- Paul says, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt..." If God's grace was water, our words must be a hose; we deliver grace. We speak grace when we tell of what Jesus has done; we speak grace when we meet human needs of comfort, correction, and encouragement. But we cannot simply speak the right content. I believe Paul wants us to be compelling in how we discuss and share the grace of God. He says our speech is to be "seasoned with salt." We must be tasty in a distinctive and compelling way. Think of how Jesus reasoned with unbelievers- "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?" Make your evangelism provocative, piercing, and compelling.
4. Live Contagiously- After "seasoned with salt", Paul says the result of this kind of lifestyle- "that you may know how you ought to answer  each person." If we are answering them, they must be asking. Do you live in such a way that those around you ask? Why do you have hope in you? Why do you devote time to God's word, to the church, to prayer? Where does your comfort come from? Though the gospel is still "foolishness" to the world, people will be drawn as we live the lives that God designed for us.

Go get 'em! On purpose.

Monday, October 19, 2009

To Hell or not to Hell?

After nearly puking up my last few years of meals upon listening to Brian McLaren talk about "hell", I started to wonder, what exactly is hell like? We all have an image in our minds (or at least I do) of perpetual burning and flames, etc. But what does the Bible say? My list is in no way exhaustive, so feel free to add in the comments below. There are some verses/passages that I recall, but couldn't find.

First off, let me say that hell indeed does exist as a place of punishment. Jesus spoke about it over. and over. and over. Furthermore, there would be no urgency to accept the forgiveness of Jesus unless there was also a consequence for not doing so.

"Fiery Furnace."- In Matthew 13, Jesus twice refers to hell as a "fiery furnace." Once, he says that the "weeds" ("sons of the evil one") will be thrown into this furnace, just as real weeds are. Then he says that the angels will separate the evil from the righteous and throw the evil into a "fiery furnace." I'm not sure how literally this image should be taken, but I am sure that it speaks of real punishment, and that it is not pleasant.
"Lake of Fire." At the end of Revelation, the "beast", the "false prophet", the devil, "Death and Hades", and anyone not written in the book of life are all thrown into the Lake of Fire.
"Flame"- In the parable of Luke 16, the rich man in the "place of torment" says that he is "in anguish in this flame," referring to hell.
"Gehenna"- When the New Testament says "hell", it is normally this Greek word, gehenna. Traditionally, this is the valley outside of Jerusalem where much of the waste and refuse- possibly including dead bodies- were thrown.
"Outer Darkness/Weeping and gnashing of teeth."- Three times in Matthew, Jesus describes hell through parables and says that the evil will be cast into the "outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." Once again, this image differs from the ones above, but it is 1) for the evil and 2) not pleasant.

Will hell be a place of flames? The biblical images in my very non-exhaustive list are definitely "fiery." What may be unclear in the imagery is clear in Paul's explanation- "They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed..." (2 Thess. 1:9-10). And, what the Psalmist says is true for all men- "For me it is good to be near God!" (Psalm 73:28) What is clear is that hell is eternal separation from God and punishment by God, and to be near God in relationship with Him is our greatest good! It is not my focus to scare or to be a downer, but to motivate my own all-too-often-jaded-heart.

Friday, October 9, 2009

King Context! Finding the Familiar when You Least Expect It

There have been a few times in my life when, while running around town for one thing or another, I run into my mom, relative, or a good friend that I hang out with alot. And it is a pleasant surprise. I have a conversation with someone close to me, when it was unplanned, in a place and at a time when I didn't expect it.

At times, I also find the same pleasant surprises when conversing with God's Word. There are so many Bible verses that I, as someone raised 'in the church', knocking out my AWANA memory verses like Torii Hunter's HR last night, don't value or understand as I should, because I am "so familiar" with them. Because I have memorized a verse apart from it's original context, it's meaning becomes clouded to me, and the impact it should have is minimized. We must take Greg Koukl's advice to "never read a Bible verse." When you 'find the familiar' verses, passages, and stories in context, we can benefit more specific, impacting meaning. Let me give a few examples of what I mean.

Philippians 4:13- "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Most of us have heard this verse a jillion times, or at least seen it on Tim Tebow's eye black. Many of you are so familiar with this verse, I probably didn't even need to write it! Yet as I was reading through the whole book of Philippians a while back, I came across this verse unexpectedly, and I noticed the meaning of this verse in context. Paul writes, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content...I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need..." When he says he can do "all things" with Christ's strength, he is specifically speaking of our ability, with Jesus' strength, to be content. 

Lamentations 3:22-23- "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." A great hymn, many cute house decorations, and even a coffee mug, have been made with this verse as inspiration. But as I read through Lamentations, and did not expect to find this verse, its meaning hit me in a more powerful way as I read the context. Jeremiah, explaining his grief at the capture of Jerusalem, tells us that he "has forgotten what happiness is...has become the laughingstock of all the man who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath." Furthermore, he says that God "has shut out my a bear lying in wait for me...drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver." No doubt, the grief he felt was incredibly deep, incredibly painful, and left him on the brink of hopelessness. Yet he says that God's mercies are "new every morning." The black context brings out the bright, shining beauty and complexities of this well known verse.

There are many more examples of this in my life. I come across a great verse or passage that I am too familiar  with, and it's true meaning hits me in a new way, because it came at a moment and in a context where I didn't expect it. This is the benefit, brothers and sisters, of reading God's word for yourself. Devotionals are great, blogs (even this one!) have some use, and sermons can be awesome soul-food. But the side-effect is that we hear snippets of individual verses outside of their context, and thus deprived of their full meaning and power. Therefore, let us not deprive ourselves of feasting on God's Word for ourselves. You, even you, the AWANA All-Star, the Bible major, the leader of a friggin Bible Study may be surprised at the impact you may find! (I speak to myself).