Category Archives: Evangelism

Love in the Book of Acts

heart.gifHow many times do you think the word love is mentioned in the Book of Acts?  I often use this as a warm up question when teaching about evangelism.  The answers usually range from somewhere in the teens to over 100.

Before you answer, here are a few Acts facts to consider:

  • Acts has 28 chapters (the average book in the Bible has 18 )
  • Acts chronicles the spread of the early church over nearly 30 years, from Jesus’ final words and his ascension into Heaven all the way through the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment near the end of his life.
  • Acts includes 13 presentations of the Gospel to a variety of people – crowds, individuals, Jews, Gentiles, ordinary citizens, high-ranking government officials, etc.

So how many times it the word love is mentioned in Acts?

Here’s the answer: 0.  Zero.  Z-E-R-O.  Seriously.  Do a word search in your Bible software.  It’s OK, I didn’t believe it the first time I heard it.

So what’s the point?  Does that mean love isn’t important?  Of course not.  God displays perfect love throughout his Word and his love for us is displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus the Son on the cross.  And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mention God’s love when sharing the Gospel.

But it does tell us some important things about evangelism.  The history of the early church should certainly provide a model for how we should go about sharing the truth of the Gospel.  The primary model used in Acts was to lay out the facts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and miracles and to highlight our need for him and his forgiveness.  There are calls for repentance.  But God’s love is never directly mentioned and there is no hint at universalism (the notion that everyone goes to Heaven). 

Preaching God’s unconditional love without the need for repentance and faith in Christ is not a Biblical model.  It can give people a false sense of security, as in, “God loves me without conditions?  Great!  No need to change anything.  I’ll get back to mocking/ignoring him now.”  That is the terrible place to be, as even those who consciously rebel are conceding that they are out of line with God.

People need to understand the bad news (they are sinners against a perfect and Holy God and rightly destined for an eternity in Hell) before they realize their need for the Good News (Jesus took the punishment for our sins and we can be completely and eternally forgiven and reconciled to God if we put our faith in Jesus).

Also note that the Gospel presentations in Acts rebut the myth that Christianity involves faith without reason.  Each time the message is given it is based on facts, logic and appeals to reason.  At no point is the message to have blind faith.

Acts 17:29–31 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

Read Acts for yourself and see what I mean, or read about Preaching God’s love in Acts.

Hat tip: Greg Koukl – Stand to Reason

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Remember, it is called the Good News for a reason

It is bad enough that Christians aren’t more intentional about sharing the Gospel. But in a twist that Screwtape would be proud of, countless people who profess to follow Christ are actually proud about not sharing the Good News.  Michael Moore gave a good example of this when he said:

I have always believed that one’s religious leanings are deeply personal and should be kept private.

I’m not sure where he came up with that belief, but it isn’t in the Bible.  Since Moore was claiming to speak for Jesus, perhaps he should tell us how the Bible teaches that we should be private about our religious beliefs.  That would make it hard to fulfill the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

A commenter named Joanne noted that:

Progressive denominations have stopped trying to proselytize with their missionaries YEARS ago. Look at Global Ministries (UCC/Disciples of Christ). They make no efforts to convert people.

She’s right, and it is pathetic that those organizations who willfully withhold the Gospel call themselves churches or “disciples of Christ.”

A regular commenter (“Sunday School Teacher”) noted this:

Our church is currently having a sermon series on Wesley’s “Three Simple Rules”.

The 1st rule is “Do No Harm”. Some people are trying to use this rule to argue that we should not try to change the religious view of others, as this could lead to conflict and thus harm.

I’m glad that SST is trying to lead his church in the right direction, but it is amazing that people learning about John Wesley would ever imagine that he’d discourage people from sharing the Gospel.  They couldn’t be more wrong.

As Paul said in Romans 1:16:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

From the Newsboys song, I’m Not Ashamed:

What are we sneaking around for?  Who are we trying to please?

Shrugging off sin, apologizing like we’re spreading some kind of disease.  I’m saying no way.  No way.

I’m not ashamed to let you know I want this light in me to show. I’m not ashamed to speak the name of Jesus Christ.

This one says, “It’s a lost cause.  Save your testimonies for church time. ” Other ones say, “You’d better wait until you do a little market research.”

I’m saying no way.  No way.

The Gospel can and will offend people.  We don’t want to add to the offense with our own style, but that is no excuse not to share it.  The bad news is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.  The Good News — and it is still good news worth sharing — is that there is a Savior.  He is Jesus, and He is the only way to salvation.

Hear the Good News, believe the Good News and share the Good News!  But please don’t identify as a Christian if you think it is bad news and refuse to share it with others.

Is forgiveness possible? Don’t ask the “Christian” Left, ask a Christian!

I like to re-run this now and then, which is appropriate, because it is TV-related.

It was surprising but so encouraging to see that the clip below was on the TV show ER a few years back.  The video is fictional, of course, but the premise occurs countless times every day around the world: People need and want forgiveness, but the world — and especially the “Christian” Left —  tell them lies.

The chaplain is the classic fake Christian you’d expect to find in most theologically liberal churches today.  I love how the patient doesn’t buy her “just make up a god in your own image” type of platitudes.

The money quotes from the dying patient:

All I’m hearing is some new age “God is love” one-size-fits-all crap . . . I don’t have time for this now . . . I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real Hell . . . I don’t need to “ask myself,” I need answers, and all your questions and uncertainty are only making things worse . . .

I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness, because I am running out of time!

Hey Christians, time to fire up!  Some people don’t want the truth.  But there are lots of real people like this in the world who need and want the truth.  They must be so sick of the lies and the politically correct “God is whoever you want him to be” nonsense taught by the world and by far too many churches.

Is it really so hard to understand that you do not get to tell the creator of the universe how eternity works?  You don’t set the terms and conditions of salvation any more than you get to tell your boss to triple your pay and give you 50 weeks of vacation, or tell your teacher that he must give you an A without you coming to class.

Christianity has the truth and the Good News, but far too many people claiming the name of Christ are unequipped and/or unwilling to share it, even when asked.  If that applies to you, then do something about it.  Right away!  I recommend Tactics by Greg Koukl as a great way to learn how to share your faith as an effective ambassador and apologist for Christ, just as the scriptures command.

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Are you ready to tell people the truth and the Good News?  Forgiveness, redemption and eternal life are possible, but only through trust in Jesus.

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Here’s a conversation you don’t want to have.

Reading the entire New Testament or the entire Bible doesn’t automatically save you, but isn’t it a logical thing for Christians to progress towards?  You want to avoid this:

  • Non-Christian: So, you believe the Bible is the word of God and tells you all about your Savior and such?
  • You: Yes!
  • N-C: Have you read it all?
  • Y: Uh, not as such, no . . .
  • N-C: Not even all of the New Testament?
  • Y: Look – a squirrel!

Another thing to avoid: Talking about the importance of the 10 Commandments but not being able to name them.

I encourage everyone to read some of the Bible every day.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.  Just do it.  It will make you a better ambassador for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Witnessing to the Witnesses (and others): Some useful tactics

A couple Jehovah’s Witnesses came by the other day and we visited for a while.  What would you think about my approach if you knew that I made the following points?

  • They are in the wrong religion
  • Their religion has characteristics of a cult
  • They are worshiping the wrong Jesus
  • Their New World Bible has some deliberate mistranslations
  • If you really love Jesus you’ll want to ensure you understand his nature properly
  • Hell is real

They must have thought I was a big meanie, right?  Just another one of those jerky know-it-all judgmental Christians.

Nope.  I made all those points quite clearly, yet the way I navigated the conversation resulted in the lead guy telling me in a sincere way at least three times what a nice guy I was (I give a lot of credit to Stand to Reason and Greg Koukl’s book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions for this approach).

Now we all know I’m as friendly as a basket full of puppies (We do know that, right?!), but you usually wouldn’t expect that reaction after I just made all those points about their religion.  So what made the difference?  Things like this:

  • I focused on the Bible, because we both claim that is the word of God.
  • I stuck to a few key points: John 1:1* (which I knew they’d have a ready response to, even though I could counter it), John 1:3** (they weren’t ready for that), the JW rule about them not being allowed to take written materials from me, and that their New World Bible translation has easily identifiable errors.  I continually referred to the real Jesus — the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the creator in Genesis 1 and John 1, the one whose descriptions are used synonymously with those of God in the Old Testament, etc.
  • I told them I appreciated how they cared enough to go out and share what they think is true.
  • I used common foes (Mormonism, Islam) as examples before addressing the JW theological errors.
  • I noted that it doesn’t bother me that they think I’m wrong and that I think they are wrong, so we can have a friendly discussion on where we differ.
  • I realized I had said “JWs” instead of their religion’s full name then sincerely apologized if they found that shortcut offensive.  They didn’t, noting that they use it themselves, but my desire to avoid unnecessary offense seemed to resonate with them.
  • I listened carefully when they made their points.
  • We had some friendly chit-chat interspersed with the theological discussions (one guy was from Italy, so we talked a little about that).
  • It was a hot day (August in Texas!) so I gave them each a bottle of cold water as they left.
  • I gave them one of my “business” cards that has my church information, email address and blog site.  I know they are unlikely to visit, but I smiled and encouraged them to come spy on what the Protestants are up to.

Where these guys end up theologically is between them and God, but I was pleased with the interaction.  It always glorifies God when you speak the truth about him, regardless of how people respond.  And it definitely planted some seeds.  The lead guy was going to take the John 1:3 objections back to one of their experts to try and respond to me.  And my comments on the textual criticism issue seemed stick with them (i.e., that with the thousands of manuscripts we’ve found around the world from different centuries we know that the New World translation has errors).

I admit that I find using these tactics much easier in person than on-line.  But they do work.  I encourage you to try them if you haven’t already.  You can’t control their reactions, but you can speak the truth in love.

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*Their Bible ends John 1:1 with “a God” instead of “God.”  (The right version: John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.)

**They haven’t mistranslated John 1:3 (All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.), so you can show the logic of how Jesus can’t be a created being.  This can be used with Mormons as well.

If you can’t dictate the terms to a McDonald’s cashier, what makes you think you can do so with God?

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him. If you think you get to sit in judgement of the real God, you will not find him.  If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find him – except in the mirror, and as you know that god has rather limited powers.  If you think that pretending He doesn’t exist will make him go away, you are mistaken.

Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

 

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?

That may sound obvious, but think about how many people insist that all religions lead to God.  Lots of false teachers in churches will tell you such things.  People claim that they wouldn’t believe in a God who says that homosexual behavior is a sin or who sends guilty sinners to Hell, as if not liking someone makes them disappear.

An acquaintance once noted that he would never believe in a God that would send his Jewish friend to Hell.  What was lost on this college-educated person is that whether he liked God or not, if the one true God will send non-believers to Hell then that is what will happen.  God is not going to disappear because this guy doesn’t like his terms and conditions.  And being in Hell with his friend is not going to make it better for either of them.  Side note: If the subject weren’t so serious it would be amusing how certain people are that they will be happier in Hell or that they get to spend time with friends and family there.

They don’t recognize the absurdity of thinking something doesn’t exist just because they don’t like it or the idea that they can tell the real God what He must be like.

What if you went to a company for a job and demanded that they hire you on your terms?  Hey, go ahead and ask for a million dollar salary and unlimited vacation.  Ridiculous, eh?  But only a tiny fraction as ridiculous as thinking you are going to tell God how things must be.

Or tell the cop who pulled you over that you set the speed limits today and that he is wasting your time.  Or pretend that he doesn’t exist because you don’t like him.

Or tell your teacher that she has to give you an A+ even though you won’t come to class, do homework or take tests.

Or if you are still at home, tell your parents that you set the rules now.

Better yet, go to McDonald’s and tell the cashier to give you your entire meal for $1 because you set the prices and see how that works.

If you can’t dictate terms to the person barely and momentarily higher than you on the cosmic organization chart, what makes you think that the one true God must answer to you or that pretending He doesn’t exist will make him disappear?  

God sets the terms, not us.  His first commandments make that explicit.  Better yet, the first verse of the Bible makes that clear.

What makes anyone think they get to dictate the terms of the universe and eternal life to the one true God?  Pride.  Satanic pride (“Did God really say . . .?”).

Be bold in prayer, but know that God still sets the terms.  Ask tough questions, but know that God is ultimately just and all-knowing (also see Job 38).  Seek him earnestly, but humbly and on his terms.

Where do you find his terms?  In the Bible.  They are indescribably generous.  All you have to do is repent and trust in Jesus.  No good deeds required – though in response to his mercy and grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit you’ll be inspired to do good deeds.  Better yet, not only are all your sins forgiven but God will credit Jesus’ perfect righteousness to your account.  It is the ultimate trade, but that is the only way to get there.

If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find the one true God.  If you’ve been doing that, stop kidding yourself.  Eternity is a mighty long time to regret your foolish pride.

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him.

Acts 17:26–27 (ESV) And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us . . .

 

Luke 11:9-13 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

If you are a believer, try using this line of thinking when sharing the Good News with others.  Ask someone what they think happens when they die, then use the 10 Commandments to point to their sinfulness and need of a Savior.  Explain how God sets the terms of engagement and how remarkably loving and generous they are.  Note how these same terms applied to you and how grateful you are for them.  If they start judging God or pretending that they can ignore him if they don’t like his ways, use any of the examples above to push a reset button on them.  They may not repent and believe on the spot, but you will disarm them of a really bad line of thinking and hopefully plant a seed that someone else will water.

Good news from the Middle East

We spent a few hours in the Dubai airport a couple years ago on our way to and from Kenya, but didn’t go out into the city.  It was a huge and wildly busy airport 24 hours a day.  Even from the airport windows the city looked beautiful.  I assumed it was as restrictive about Christianity as other Muslim nations, but apparently not.  Via Dubai: Amazing and Strategic City – Desiring God.

Proselytizing is against the law in the UAE. But what that means in essence is: You can’t pay someone to convert (as if that were possible) or unduly coerce them to change religions. But speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ abounds.

There are many Christian churches, and the ruler of the emirate is favorable to them for the sake of the expatriates. Only about 13% of Dubai’s local population is local Emirati people. The other 87% are expatriates, half of whom are of Indian descent. Thousands of these are Christians.

Therefore, the gospel sounds forth weekly in Dubai. And on the university campuses, there are organizations that aggressively seek to speak to students about what the Bible really teaches.

That is the best possible definition of proselytizing.  By definition, authentic Christian faith can’t be bought or coerced.  I hope and pray that this situation lasts and that the Gospel spreads from there to the rest of the region.