February 28, 2011

Evangelism 3

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Evangelism 3 – Method & Message

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For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10v45

Jesus Christ was the man born to die – this is what we celebrate at Christmas – when God who is outside of both time and space, entered history in the form of a human baby. His purpose as explained in Mark 10v45 was “to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Apostle Paul also preached this, but what was his methods and his message in full?

Paul’s Method

Reasoned from the Scriptures

  • Paul knew that Scripture had been revealed, inspired and illuminated by God
  • Paul knew that Scripture equipped for service
  • Paul knew that Scripture helped get to know God more
  • Paul knew that Scripture revealed God’s programme
  • Paul knew that getting to know Scripture was vital in order to be used in Evangelism.

Meet where people are

  • Synagogue (Acts 18v4, 6)
  • Market place / work (Acts 18v3)
  • Invited people to home (Acts 18v7)
  • Forged relationships (Acts 18v2, 8, 17)
  • Prepared to change strategy (Acts 18v6)
  • Paul overcame his own fears and limitations of his own weaknesses and relied totally on God’s power when witnessing

Why is the cross so central to the Gospel?

Paul’s Gospel was “Jesus and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2v2). The Gospel is the cross! As important as the incarnation, resurrection and ascension are, without Jesus’ death on the cross there would be no Christianity, and subsequently no hope for the world! Therefore, the interpretation that we place on Jesus’ death is paramount! That He died is without doubt, but why did He have to die and what gain do we have as His Disciples?

The Gospel Message!

By His very nature, God is loving and compassionate, forgiving, faithful and slow to anger (Exodus 34v6-7). This is the part, if we are being honest all of us are most comfortable with!! Yet God is holy, righteous and just and must punish sin because of this very same nature. That is the part we as 21st century people are uncomfortable with! We love to think of God as being all love and gentleness, but don’t like to think of Him as a Judge who must punish disobedience.

But remember that God loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Psalm 45v7). Therefore sin & disobedience must be dealt with and it cannot simply be ignored. Sin is humanity’s problem.

The Problem - Humanity's sin

Sin is what separates humans from God and as a consequence leads to both a spiritual and physical death (Romans 6v23, Isaiah 59v2). Nobody escapes as all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3v23). In the Old Testament, sins were dealt with by blood sacrifices of atonement as coverings for sin (Leviticus 17v11), for without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin (Hebrews 9v22).

The Solution – God to the rescue!

The solution lies not in continual animal sacrifice of the Old Testament because Hebrews 10v4 reminds us that the blood of animals cannot take away sin but was only a veneer or covering. That was why it was necessary to repeat time and time again! It is only through the death of Jesus, that sin is taken away (Hebrews 9:v11-15, 26-28), and that was only needed once! Therefore Jesus is our permanent sacrificial substitute! That is why the elements of bread and wine in Communion or Breaking of Bread are symbolic, and not somehow changed into actual flesh and blood, as some would have us believe.

Substitution

Jesus died for our sin, the just for the unjust (1 Peter 3v18). That is how God is both just and the Justifier of sinners and that is why Jesus needed to be both fully God and fully human! If he lacked either, it would not be the full substitutionary sacrifice that was necessary to bear the permanent consequences of sin! This substitution was the sacrifice, required in order that Jesus as the Lamb of God could take away the sins of the world (John 1v29). He was the propitiation for all sin!

Propitiation

Propitiation is the turning aside of God's anger by the offering of the sacrifice of Christ. Towards sin and sinful behaviour God necessarily has great fury, anger and wrath (Jeremiah 21v5). Hebrews 10v30-31 reminds us, “It is dreadful to fall into the hands of the living God.” Yet as Micah 7v18 “He is slow to anger and quick to forgive”. God's anger and judgment of sin falls on Christ, instead of us. We need to approach God to appease His anger, in order to accept it (Romans 3:25; Isaiah 53:5; John 2:2, 5:6).

1 John 4v10: This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice (or propitiation) to take away our sins.

To some people, even some in the church, this is abhorrent! The very thought that God could willing send His son to be a blood sacrifice for sin is tantamount to child abuse! Richard Dawkins calls Jesus’ crucifixion an act of sado-masochism! Neither of these opinions is valid or true. God’s requirements are very clear as John 3v16 says it all in response to this “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”. If there were any other way, would not God have done it that way?

Redemption (Ransom) Mark 10:45

Not only was it propitiation, but also an act of redemption! In the time of the New Testament, this word was used to refer to the buying back of a slave - the price paid to buy the slave’s freedom. God paid redemption so that humans can be freed from the slavery to sin (John 8:35 Romans 7:14). The price was paid (1 Peter 1:18-19) and so we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As Christian Disciples, we are bought at a price, and we have a new position before God! We are bought out of slavery to sin, into glorious freedom where we are now slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:19); slaves to Christ (Romans 6:22). We are also Jesus Christ’s personal possession (1 Corinthians 16:19). But it is our responsibility to choose that way! God does not coerce forcefully – He leaves it as a choice for humans to make as individuals.

What is our response to this to be? Sacrifice, substitution, propitiation and redemption can be summed up in one word: love. For 1 John 3v16 states: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Jesus told us to take up our cross if we are to follow Him as His Disciple (Luke 9v23). Are you as a Christian Disciple willing to take up your cross and do all you can do to love others?

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For more to think about please do read Acts 17 & 18, ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. When I evangelise, what is the message I proclaim?

Q2. What can I adapt from Paul’s methods in order to help my evangelise?

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February 27, 2011

Evangelism 2

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Evangelism 2 – Endure

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But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Timothy 4v5

Dealing with Evangelism

All Christian Disciples are called to do the work of evangelism.  Not everyone will be an evangelist, yet we are called to tell and show others about Jesus – that is evangelism.

a. Overcoming barriers. There are at least six main reasons why Christian Disciples do not evangelise:

  • · Do not know the bible well enough to answer questions
  • · Entire friends are already Christian Disciples
  • · Testimony is perceived to be dull and tedious
  • · Others will wonder what took you so long, if you evangelise them now
  • · Don't know if my friends are true Christian Disciples or not
  • · There is no easy way to tell the Gospel

Christian Disciples overcoming these hindrances, are then liberated to evangelise their local community.

b. Early starters! New believers were actively encouraged to evangelise from the time of their conversion. There seems as if there was not a two step process of conversion and then later undergoing evangelism training. More likely, that they gained perceptions about evangelism, whilst they were being evangelised. Evangelism is to be what a Christian Disciple is, rather than an activity that a Christian Disciple engages in.

c. Changing perceptions! The approach to evangelism has changed over the last few years. As Christian Disciples, it is the job of all Christian Disciples to evangelise and witness about Jesus, using the skills and perceptions they inherently hold.  We are not to leave it up the Billy Graham’s and Luis Palau’s of this world. There is not just one style of evangelism. Interpersonal, invitational, serving, testimonial intellectual or confrontational styles are available for churches and Christian Disciples to use. An Christian Disciple's use of any or all of these styles would be dependent on their own personality, talents and skills.

d. Lead by example! New Testament church leaders led by example, and actively persuaded others to do as they did. Paul commanded that the Corinthian church follow him as he imitated Jesus (1 Corinthians 11v1) This is a model imbued with dynamism, by which others can go on doing the work in their own way, without relying upon the church leaders!

e. Lead by teaching! As evangelism is prayed about, activated upon, discussed and enacted, Christian Disciples undergo evangelism training, even if they aren't aware of it at the time. A good method is for training to be given, not just as a one off exercise but throughout the year. The reason for this, is so that every member has an opportunity to undergo some formal training when it is convenient for them as they see the leadership committed to evangelistic training! This training needs to be promoted from the front, so that every member can see the seriousness that the leadership think about evangelism. Bill Hybels recommends that every member of his church undergo evangelism training every two years!.

f. Neither powerless or alone! The main lesson for Christian Disciples to learn, is that evangelism can only truly be effective when undertaken under an umbrella of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit's power and authority, which allows the skills and talents of all people to be used as effective Gospel messengers. As Christian Disciples we need to continue reminding ourselves that it is Jesus Christ who is building the church, and that with the Holy Spirit's power, we are neither alone nor powerless! After all, He is a Holy Spirit of evangelism.  That is why as Christian Disciples, we need not fear the supposed rise of fundamental atheism or any other religion or –“ism”.  We have the power of the Living God within us, to equip and use us for His glory and mission.  People may be able to remove the supposed ‘spirit of Christmas’ from schools and other government buildings, but they can never take away the Spirit of Christ that indwells all Christian disciples.

g. Innovative evangelism! Not only would this make it new for the congregation, but possibly add an element of excitement, particularly if old evangelistic methods are being employed, and seemingly ineffective. Some ideas such as, having a prayer stall at the local market, or taking over a vacant shop on the high street for the explicit purpose of praying for people. The church could offer the use of its website as a local community forum, or 'virtual local community hall, for community notices. Another way would be to hold internet-based events and/or forums, so that those who are housebound or are part of what some call the Internet Generation, have a platform to converse and discover about Christianity, particular for their youth and student work. Rightly or wrongly, the truth is that people are gathering like that, and discussing Christian issues. New methods also can be seen as making use of every opportunity, or as Michael Green puts it “godly opportunism”.

When in Corinth, despite his nervousness and worries, Paul knew God was in control (Acts18v10) and that’s why he stayed a further 18 months following his vision where God promised protection, security and companionship (Acts18v11).  Paul endured in the face of opposition (Acts18v12-16).  The Jews went to the Roman proconsul Gallio, complaining that Paul had started a new religion, for starting new religions was forbidden under Roman law.  Anything that was a religion before the Romans assimilated was seen as a legitimate religion ie Judaism.  Gallio however dismissed the Jewish case as mere internal bickering about minor details, and kicked the case out of court as it were.  In doing so, Gallio had now made Christianity a legitimate religion within the Roman Empire, and this is why Paul stayed in Corinth a good deal longer (Acts18v18).  Paul did not succumb to the temptations around him, because he only sought one thing – to declare “Jesus and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2v2).  Perhaps that is how Paul won Sosthenes for Jesus Christ, as we read in 1 Corinthians 1v1, how he was travelling with Paul at the time of writing.

The world around likes to play clever tricks with us, just as the Jews did with Paul in Corinth.  But we are to be, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 10v16, “shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” We are to stay faithful to Jesus and sometimes it is difficult! It means staying faithful to Jesus and His will, regardless of opposition and alternatives. By doing this we endure and remain faithful to Him.

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For more to think about please do read 1 Thessalonians 1v3-10, ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. What are the barriers that you need to overcome in order for you to evangelise?

Q2. Are you enduring and being persistent in your Christian lifestyle and evangelism?

Q3. How am I as a Christian Disciple, living a life that is shrewd like a snake and harmless as a dove?

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February 26, 2011

Evangelism 1

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Evangelism 1

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Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 2v1-5 regarding his first contact with the city of Corinth: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”

When he was going the 50 miles or so from Athens to Corinth, Paul was alone.  He had left the intellectual centre of the ancient world, Athens, and entered Corinth, the cultural capital of the ancient world.  Do you sometimes think that Paul was like a superman, always brash and utterly confident when engaged in evangelism? According to that passage, he entered with great nervousness, weakness and fear.  He was not confident in his own ability or the way that he spoke and reasoned.  But why should Paul have been this way with the city of Corinth?

Corinth

The city of Corinth is located on the narrow isthmus linking northern and southern Greece.  It had two ports on either side, where small ships and boats could be dragged on greased planks the 3-mile journey across the isthmus, thus saving themselves a 200-mile journey through dangerous waters.  It was therefore a natural place for fantastic links for commerce and culture across the known world.  The world famous Isthmian games were held there. Paul’s reasoning for deciding to go there was probably along the lines of “If its good enough for commerce and culture to be spread from Corinth, even better for the Gospel to travel far and wide from that hub.” So he enters Corinth. But alas, with culture and commerce came its evil triplet – immorality.  The temple, which overlooked Corinth, was dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite and had 1,000 prostitutes.  Aphrodite was the goddess of love and sex.  In those days to go “corinthianizing”, meant to go actively seeking immorality.  These reasons are why Paul entered Corinth nervously – the proud and cultural intelligentsia, endemic immorality and the many temples to many gods including Aphrodite and Poseidon.  The Corinthians were post-modern people, even before post-modernity!  Their motto – “If it feels good, do it!”

Paul

Paul was nervous and weak in his own strength, but he was supremely confident in the Lord and the power of the Spirit to use him.  What can we learn from Paul’s visit to Corinth and how do we apply them to our lives today in the 21st century?  After all our modern cities and towns are no different from ancient Corinth!

Evangelism

Paul’s Message – The Gospel

  • The Gospel is Trinitarian – The Gospel is The Father’s mysterious revelation through the Son’s work on the cross in the power of the Spirit
  • The Gospel is Three Dimensional
  • Breadth of the Bible – all of Scripture is about God’s plan of Salvation.
  • Depth of the cross
  • Length of God’s mission

The Gospel is anathema and unpopular.  The Gospel is never popular, and if it is, then it is not a truly Biblically Gospel.  We have a false Gospel being preached where financial prosperity is the central claim.  We have a false Gospel where Jesus is a cure all being the central claim.  For Paul, and for all true Christian Disciples, “Jesus and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2v2) is the true Gospel.

Paul faced Jewish opposition

  • To the Jewish mindset, it was unthinkable that the Messiah would be crucified on a pagan Gentile cross (Acts18v6, 12-17).

Paul faced Gentile opposition

  • Jesus’ exclusive claim to be the only way, the only truth and only life challenged Corinthian pluralism & universalism!  The Corinthians lived a life filled with many gods, why would they want to settle for just the One – particularly one who had died?

· A life of holiness challenged Corinthian immorality!  Exercise self-control?  You are having a laugh, Paul.  Ha ha.

  • God’s power challenged Corinthian cultured intellect!  Some of the Athenians told Paul he was a babbler, and so would have the cultured and refined Corinthian intelligentsia.
  • Humility challenged Corinthian pride.  To kneel at the cross, takes great humility.  The Corinthians were a proud and cultured people, to whom the thought of humbly kneeling before a God was anathema.  Much better to be devoting yourself to a goddess of sex.  What more could a young Corinthian want than the mixture of religion and sex?

The same applies today.  We are shouted down if we dare exclaim that Jesus is the only acceptable path to God.  We are told there are no such thing as moral absolutes any more, and what’s right for you may not be right for me and providing I am not hurting anyone, stay out of my private business.  Sex and sexuality are worshipped and adored as if they were gods in themselves.  In an age of Scientific materialism and hyper-rationalism, people cynically laugh at us and say that we worship a dead man. We are often called fools for believing in Original Sin and deluded for believing in a God.  Have you been called those things? I know I have.  Humility is not looked upon as a strength today, its frowned upon as a weakness.  The world says that if you want to get ahead in life, you need to be strong, show some backbone and don’t ever back down to anybody or anything.  Certainly never admit you were wrong and had made mistakes!  The way of the Gospel is to kneel before the Cross, admit your mistakes and sins and be prepared to serve and take up your own cross.

The world is quite willing to accept a harmless baby at Christmas, but not the violence of the cross that followed.  That is why even atheists like Richard Dawkins like to sing Christmas Carols!  The danger of Christmas is when the glorious incarnation of Jesus Christ, being both fully God and fully human, is diluted into fantasy along with Santa and his elves.

For more to think about please do read Acts 18v1-17, ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

discussion_new.jpg

Q1. Am I using all opportunities to build relationships and tell others a truly biblical cross-centred Gospel?

Q2. Am I growing and changing into the very likeness of Jesus?

There are 2 more about Evangelism over the next 2 days! Stay tuned!

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