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Repost: An american perspective on evangelism

One of the american uni students I got to meet told me about how different it was over here in Australia. They couldn’t believe the number of non-Christians.

So I asked, “Aren’t there many non-Christians back home where you live?”

She answered — I kid you not — “Well, I only know of two in the town I’m from.” (Apparently it was a small American town, so it only had about 300,000 people in it.)

This girl had met more non-Christians in one day in Australia, than she had met in her ENTIRE LIFE. Now, I’m going to go out on a sceptical limb and say that not all of those “Christians” she met were actually Christian. In fact, she said herself that being in Australia had helped her see that many of her friends back home probably weren’t Christians – they just went to church.

Apart from being amazed, I couldn’t help thinking what happens in that town when the pastor preaches on “Evangelism”…

Bob and Terry get phone calls, letters, bibles, prayers, etc… from 299,998 people!?!

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Repost: How exactly is the 2nd greatest command like the 1st?

Aren’t the two greatest commandments opposed to each other?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matt 22:37-38

So… who are you meant to love? God or others?”

These “two” commands are really one command. Notice how Jesus says, “The second is like it”. Have you ever thought about what he says there? How exactly is the second greatest command like the first?

I reckon (haha) that these commands are dependant on each other.

If you want to love God, then you’ll love his humans. How do you love humans? You love them… like God loves us.

1John 3 says that doesn’t it… “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”.

So what does it look like to “love God”? It looks like loving other people; being self-sacrificing.

What does it look like to love other people? It looks like helping them to love God with all their heart, soul, mind.

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Repost: Try not to confuse your relationship ‘hats’

Some people you know on only one level; the local barista, a taxi driver, the policeman pulling you over for speeding. Its a pretty simple relationship, because you’re the driver and he’s the cop.

But what if the cop who pulls you over is a guy from your soccer team? Or your barista is a member of your church? Or your taxi driver is the husband of the couple you’re doing marriage counselling with?

In those situations, you have to be clear about what “relationship hat” you’re wearing… you’re not wearing the soccer team mate relationship hat, you’re wearing the driver/officer hat.

You can really stuff up a relationship when you try to wear two hats at the same time; “So officer, remember how we won the final together!?” doesn’t work.

I think this is really helpful in church staff teams, where we’re all close and good friends in Christ. Sometimes we need to say things to each other on the basis that we’re “Christian brothers” only. Other times we need to say it on the basis that we’re “employees” only.

This also plays out in share houses. Flat mates need to get used to saying things like, “Hey, I need to have a conversation with you, not as a friend, but as a flat mate.”

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Repost: Preach with the closing prayer in mind

…and then the preacher says, “lets pray”.

I think this point of the sermon (nay – the church meeting) is the pinnacle. This is the moment when you’re asking people to turn what they’ve heard into gospel centred action…

The action of prayer.

This is the moment of instant application. Your flock can respond to their God’s words right there and then.

Surely the first application of any Bible talk is praying, right? So do you preach with the closing prayer in mind? Are you spending that 20, 30, 40 minutes building up to that moment, when people can depend on Jesus and speak to the Father and say…

What do you want them to say to God at the end of your sermon?

Got it? Good. Now write your talk with that in mind.

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Repost: When a question turns into a ransom note

A ransom note isn’t a question. It might use words like “please” or “I was wondering if…”, but in the end it means, “if you don’t do this, I’m going to hold it against you / hold it over your head”.

When people ask you one of these questions; questions that sound like questions but seem to carry a ransom note tone to them… its worth just asking if you’ve heard them right. “Is this a question that you’re happy for me to decide either way?”, “Are you going to be completely ok with whatever I choose?”, “Are you asking me what I think, are are you really just trying to tell me what you think?”

Chances are they don’t realise they’re giving you a ransom note. That’s ok… But don’t simply answer every question assuming its a real question.

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Repost: Gospel Ministry is not you speaking truthfully about God

It is that… but “to another human”. Think about that for a moment; it’s an important aspect not to miss. You don’t just “do” ministry, you do ministry “to people”.

God made, became and uses humans. Ignoring the human aspect of ministry is a denial of God’s creation. You’re speaking to God-designed humans; humans who have been made to think, react, feel, engage, etc. Disregard for their humanness when speaking God’s words is a disregard for God’s design.

So how are you thinking about the humans you’re doing ministry to?

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Repost: Printing for preaching

If you’re still one who prints their sermon scripts, here’s some tips I’ve picked up from others;

  • Print to read at a glance; Use 15pt font or larger, double spaced, 2cm margins
  • Serif fonts (e.g. Times) are easier to read fast than Sans-serif fonts (the pointy tips on the characters help the eye flow onto the next character).
  • If you lean against your lectern, it’s worth keeping the lower third of your page empty because otherwise you’ll need to tilt your head down to read it.
  • Print page numbers, just in case they get out of order
  • List any props or slides you need to remember on the top of the first page (no use remembering half way through your talk when you actually need them)
  • Don’t print on both sides of the page (you’ll forget whether to flip or discard each page)
  • Most printing preachers I’ve seen choose not to place their finished page at the back of their stack as they go. Rather, they slide each page to the right, keeping two pages face up, and end up with a reverse-ordered stack at the end of the talk.
  • Write your opening prayer, but don’t write you closing one. Each talk lands slightly differently, so it’s worth praying from that uniqueness because its not a lecture, it’s not an mp3; it’s the word of The Lord for those there at that unique instance. Pray for them.

Repost: Loving the many vs loving the few

When you invest your life into someone; as a pastor, mentor, friend, helper, brother – you’re loving one person — just one — in many ways. Many many ways. Time, meals, prayer, hugs, bible-reading together, the works.

But by doing that, you’re implicitly choosing NOT to love many people. As finite, limited, time-bound creatures, we just can’t love many people in many ways.

But, we do find ourselves loving many people in a few ways; preaching, leading prayers, teaching scripture, uploading the sermon for other people, photocopying the outlines. All these activities love many people, sometimes 100s or 1000s of people. But they only love them in a few ways. They’re not holistic expressions of love, but they are expressions of love non-the less.

This means:

1. A body of people can love each other in many ways when they all take care of loving the many in a few ways (sounds very 1Cor12 right?)

2. Most (but not all) “loving-many-in-a-few-ways” are formal ministry roles. Most (but not all) “loving-few-in-many-ways” are informal ministry roles.

3. Have you thought about how many you’re loving in a few ways? Or who you’re loving in many ways?

Repost: Before you answer, ask if they care

It’s nice when people ask questions; whether they are atheists or mature Christians. We all like the feeling of being asked, or the opportunity to “give an answer for the hope we have”.

But, before you answer, just ponder whether they are asking to understand or just asking to make a point.

It could be as simple as saying, “Yeah, that’s something I’ve put some thought into. If I tell you what I think, is there really much chance it will change your mind?”

This is particularly true when chatting to non-Christians. They may have many presenting questions… But they aren’t real questions; they’re just gap fillers, questions to ask to appear didactic. If you said to them, “if I answer that question adequately, will it really make a difference to you?” And if they say “no” (as many I’ve spoken to have), then all of a sudden the conversation had shifted from abstract hypothetical barriers to the gospel, to real personal barriers to the gospel. You can ask, “ok, then what is your real question? What would it take for you to really consider Jesus’ claims?”

Satan loves it when we keep the conversation abstract and impersonal, so don’t go there unless its really the issue they’re dealing with.

#Nexus2015 – Cross Shaped Ministry – What was missing…

(The recent Nexus2015 Conference “A cross shaped ministry” thought through the implications the cross has on how we think about gospel work in our churches. These are some of my personal reflections – see the previous 4 reflections here.)

I do feel there was an significant theme missing from the conference, and while I understand it’s a day conference and you can’t touch on everything, I think this is important. In fact, when I asked our staff team what ministry implications they think spring from the cross, they answered this one first… evangelism.

5. The cross defines the importance of gospel ministry

If God didn’t spare his only Son… if, when His eternal Son begged him for another way, He answered, “No – There is no other way”… then woe be to those who now suggest there is anything greater than declaring the work of His Son. As there is no other name compares to Jesus’ name to be saved, so there is no other work that compares to Jesus’ work of bringing all things together under himself. And we get to be part of that work!

Or put another way; The cross of Christ is the very heart of God’s message to the world! It’s not a message to the disciples, or to the Jews… its God’s message to the world. God does not put an enormous flaming message in the sky saying “I’m sorry” (as in Douglas Adam’s galaxy). Rather he puts His Son on a cross and says, “It’s done”.

6. The cross defines the extent of gospel ministry

At the cross, Jesus purchased men for God (Rev 5:9), he was the Sovereign Lord who bought people (2Pet 2:1), he reconciled all things in heaven and earth visible and invisible to God (Col 1:20), he was a ransom (Mark 10:45).

Everyone in the world, because of the cross, belongs to Jesus. He bought them. They are his. This means that evangelism is not simply inviting people to consider Jesus (though we rightly want people to do this), rather our driving motivation is the knowledge and conviction that Jesus is already their Lord. We are pleading for people to “Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2).

They are His. We are right to covet what rightly belongs to our Lord. The extent of the cross should make us want more and more and more and more people to bow the knee. The cross should cause in us a holy-discontent with the size of our churches.

7. The cross AND RESURRECTION provides the hope of gospel ministry

I know this might be a fudge, as the focus was really only meant to be on the cross, but when it comes to gospel ministry, the resurrection and the cross need to be held together don’t they?

The resurrected Christ now pours out his Spirit – and that spirit is the ONLY hope we have in gospel ministry. Without the resurrected Christ’s Spirit at work in us and those we serve there is no gospel ministry to speak of.

What’s more, Jesus promises to save people! The resurrected and ascended Christ should give us great hope and enduring confidence to keep praying for more, keep speaking to more, keep running events and courses and calling people to invite their friends… We should be courageous, risky, bold… not in our own strength, but because we believe that Jesus died to save and rose to reign.

The resurrected Christ should keep us from being disheartened, and keep us zealous in prayer and evangelism.

#Nexus2015 – Cross Shaped Ministry – Reflections Part 2

(The recent Nexus2015 Conference “A cross shaped ministry” thought through the implications the cross has on how we think about gospel work in our churches. These are some of my personal reflections.)

3. The cross sets the terms of gospel ministry

The cross was divine judgement for sin, and Jesus’ resurrection brings the Spiritual renewal and transformation from sin. This lead to one of the most practical comments on the day… we must beware a common shift in our churches where “sin” only refers to “personal brokenness”, where “growth” only refers to “self-improvement” and where “sacrifice” only refers to “the personal circumstances I’m in at the moment”.

No. Sin is the rebellion against God, the defiant disobedience of His commands in heart and actions. Growth is the miraculous spiritual transforming power that allows Christians to say no to sin and obey God in the midst of pain. Sacrifice is giving up things for a better heavenly reality – it hurts and we need to stop fooling ourselves that we’re doing it.

4. The cross shows us the the pattern of gospel ministry

Since we follow a master who was beaten, ridiculed, persecuted… we should expect the same things, and we should call others to follow.

This is similar to the 1st point about our personal motivations, but it must go further. When we call on others to follow and serve in our churches, we must be wary we are not suggesting they do it for their own glory, or in their own strength, or for us – the under-shepherd! Rather the “recruiting conversation” should be a call to serve their master and his plans.

Next post… “Nexus2015 – What was missing…”

#Nexus2015 – Cross Shaped Ministry – Reflections Part 1

(The recent Nexus2015 Conference “A cross shaped ministry” thought through the implications the cross has on how we think about gospel work in our churches. These are some of my personal reflections.)

1. The cross kills our wrong ministry motivations

We don’t do ministry to try to “pay back God”. We don’t do ministry to “stay in God’s good books”. We don’t do ministry because we’re afraid God will be angry with us if we don’t.

The cross of Christ, in our place, purchasing forgiveness and freedom from judgement saves us from all these errors. We are wise to go back to the cross and there remember it is all done, our heavily Father is pleased with us in Christ.

2. The cross kills our wrong worldly motivations

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal 6:14

Our union with Jesus, is a union with him in his death and resurrection. So much so that Paul says his relationship with the world is viewed through the lens of being crucified. I think that means the world sees him as good as dead, and he sees the world as good as dead.

In other words, the cross reminds us that this world is moving towards destruction to make way for a new creation to fit Jesus’ resurrected body and Jesus’ resurrected people.

This should affect our concerns, our desires, our goals for life. It should make us pause when thinking about our hopes and dreams – for they should not be filled with this world’s offerings, but with the next world’s promises. The cross means greed and coveting is even more inappropriate – if that were possible.

More to come…

Repost: Speak-up when you agree

This is huge. It’s so important.

If you don’t speak up when you agree, then you’re opening the door for a single dissenter to appear like the majority.

Whether it’s in a formal meeting, or just a “friendly” discussion over lunch with a group of people; affirm and agree when you like what’s being said. Let the others know that you agree. Explain why you personally agree.

When you do this, it helps keep the tone of the conversation/meeting positive. It keeps the cards on the table so to speak. When you don’t speak-up, it creates a tone of secrecy and keeping cards close to your chest. It allows people to (unhelpfully) think the worst, and assume that you do not agree.

So if you do agree, agree out loud.

Four Leadership Styles

When it comes to leading people, it’s helpful to think about two aspects of every leadership conversation…
First, there’s the (horizontal) aspect; who makes the decision at the end of this conversation? Is the final decision way over on your side as the leader, or is it way over on the team member’s side? Or do you want the decision to be somewhere in between?
Second, there’s the (vertical) aspect; how much discussion takes place between you and the team member? You might have heaps of discussion about an idea or option, or you might have very little discussion at all.
The diagram below presents four possible alternatives when leading. We call them the four leadership styles. They follow a particular path where the more you want a mutual decision, the more discussion is required.

Leadership Styles 2015

As much as possible, don’t be the messenger

If you’re preaching, you are the messenger. And if your passage is saying “hard things” you – as the preacher – can feel like you’ve got to be the messenger of these hard words.

But that’s not the best way to go about it. Partly because people will simply dismiss YOU. Once they decide you’re a jerk or that you’re too young to know or anything like that, they have “shot the messenger” and have no reason to listen to the message. But the primary reason you shouldn’t make yourself the sole messenger is because you’re getting in the way of God speaking from his Word.

The “harder” the message, the more you need to show people that it’s not your message, its the bible. Keep pointing them to it. Say things like, “Look at verse 3 again… verse 3…”, “Read these words with me in your head…”, “This is not me saying this, this is the bible speaking”.

And once you start seeing how important this is with “hard things” in the bible, the more you realise you should do the same for “all things” in the bible.

A Basic Structure for Romans

This term our church is in it’s 4th year of taking 10 weeks (term 2) to slowly move through Romans. So, for our first bible study, rather than picking up in Romans 13 straight away, we did a basic overview of the whole book.

It seemed to work pretty well. I’ve taken a certain view of Romans that assumes Paul has got two audiences in mind (See P.Barnett’s “Why Paul Wrote Romans” RTR 2003). And therefore, each chunk of Romans makes the same point for everyone at Rome, before explaining it again with particular reference for the Jews in Rome.

  • Romans 1:1-17 : Introduction: the Gospel as the Power of God
  • Romans 1:18-3:19 : No-one is Righteous
    • 1:18-2:16 No-one is Righteous… Not the Gentiles
    • 2:17-3:20 No-one is Righteous… Not even the Jews
  • Romans 3:21-4:25 : God Righteously Forgives through Faith in Christ
    • 3:21-31 God Righteously Forgives All through Faith
    • 4:1-25 God Righteously Forgives even the Jews through Faith
  • Romans 5 : God’s Salvation is Certain and Assured
    • 5:1-11 Salvation from sin’s punishment (for all)
    • 5:12-21 Salvation from the law’s punishment (for the sake of the Jews)
  • Romans 6-7 : Jesus is the new Lord in our Salvation
    • 6:1-23 Jesus is our new Lord over life and death (for all)
    • 7:1-25 Jesus replaces the law of sin and death (for the Jew)
  • Romans 8-11 : Nothing will stop God’s Promise to Save his Elect
    • 8:1-39 Nothing will stop God’s plans (for all)
    • 9:1-11:36 Nothing will stop God’s plans (for the Jews)
  • Romans 12-15:13 : God’s Mercy calls for new lives
    • 12:1-13:14 God’s Grace calls his people to love all people
    • 14:1-15:13 God’s Grace calls his people to love – even to love the Jews
  • Romans 15:14-16:27 : Final Greetings and Instructions

 

 

 

 

 

The gospel dares us to ignore our feelings…

The gospel of the Lord Jesus is unemotional… it is simply a truth. Jesus; the God-Man died and rose to life for sinners; to absorb their guilt, punishment and death, and to make them righteous, holy and alive as His adopted brothers in eternity to display the glory of His Father.

But the gospel does cause emotions. The gospel causes many many different types of emotions! Christians can rightly feel things all the way from shame to joy, from insignificance to glorious-pride (in a good way).

But what happens when you feel one aspect of the gospel more than another? What about those times when you feel the guilt and shame of your sin; when you feel the weight of your personal rebellion against God… when you feel how small and insignificant you are and how you have nothing… absolutely nothing to offer… just sin; wrath-worthy sin.
What about those times when your feelings of guilt are so strong you just can’t believe that God would want you, let along love you and want good things for you?

See, it’s not that you don’t understand the gospel… you “know” that Jesus’ blood can atone. You “know” that God can forgive through the cross. You “know” what God says, but you just don’t feel it – you feel like it can’t be true… “God could never love me, not now, not after what I’ve done.”

That’s when you need to ignore your feelings. They’re lying to you. In fact, it’s Satan lying to you. So please, don’t act out of your feelings! Don’t act in line with your emotions! Choose, nay, DARE to ignore your feelings and act according to the gospel.

Imagine for a moment… if God really loved you and wanted good things for you, what could you pray for? What would you feel comfortable praying for if you truly felt God was your great and powerful daddy? Anything, right!?! Trivial things, right?! Little nothing things, right?!

So dare to do that! Boldly approach the throne of grace and ask for the type of things that you shouldn’t be able to ask for! Take the plunge! Do it!

Trust God’s unemotional gospel in the midst of your emotional turmoil.

 

Repost: What are the little things you can trust people with?

Before you can entrust big things (projects, events, sermons, etc) to someone, you want to make sure they have been faithful in little things (Matt 25:21).

We don’t simply do this to make sure they’re effective, or worthy. We do it for their sake too. It’s not very loving to give someone something that they obviously aren’t ready/gifted to take on… yet.

So what are the little things you give people to do?

It’s worth having a list of things – things you can say “have a go at this” without too much internal conflict about the results.

Jesus doesn’t want to ‘take the wheel’, he wants…

He wants you to learn how to drive properly.

We need to keep explaining to Christians what it means for Jesus to be their Lord. Having Jesus as our Lord does mean he needs to rule over every aspect of our lives. Jesus does want all our lives, not just the scraps or even most of it… he wants to rule all of us.

But that doesn’t mean Jesus wants to take over driving your life. It might feel like you’re letting go… but really you’re just choosing to drive the way he tells you to.

 

 

When being discerning becomes disrespecting

It’s good to be discerning. It’s good to listen carefully and question things and consider other people’s ideas from various angles. It’s particularly good to be discerning about biblical teaching and Christian wisdom.

But beware crossing the line from discernment into disrespecting. When you engage only to mock. When we ask questions only to undermine and attack. When we pass judgement on some idea or concept without adequate or fair engagement.

I’m certainly guilty of veiling my disrespect in a cover of discernment from time to time. So let’s not do that.