Which generation are we living for?

“[This kind of training ministry] will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don’t live to see it. Seen this way, though, it becomes a big decision in the ministry. We must decide where we want our ministry to count– in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. Really, it is a question of which generation are we living for.”

The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman

Gritty wisdom for church planters

Over at Raw Christianity Gunner is posting a series called Church Planting Among the Unreached: Gritty Wisdom with Brad Buser. It’s a recounting of some notes he took during one of Buser’s classes when he was at The Master’s College.

He writes:

Listen to people with scars. That’s become a motto of mine. Brad Buser has scars. In processing some old files recently, I came across one of his handouts from a class on Cross-Cultural Church Planting at The Master’s College around 2004. I never took the course, but Brad and his teaching were so well received by the students who took the course that I sat in on several sessions during my time on staff. The handout was entitled “Ministry Team Startup Talk,” a title that completely understates the priceless value of what Brad had to say. Brad’s teaching is rich in experience, incomparably honest, and fiercely missional (before missional was cool). The outline contains 20 points, and I’ll be sharing five at a time in coming days.

I remember Buser speaking at one of my church gatherings when I was in college, and being deeply moved. This guy has something to say worth hearing. Stop by and get some of the time-tested wisdom from a missionary who’s been-there-done-that.

Part One (Points 1-5)

Part Two (Points 6-10)

Part Three (Points 11-15)

Part Four (16-20)

When sharing the gospel makes you the fool

Yesterday I went to an evening service at my church, but before I entered the building, two young nice-looking high school seniors came walking toward me. There didn’t go to the church, so I introduced myself and inquired as to what brought them. They were two students at New Jewish Community High School who were assigned to visit a protestant church service. They found our website online and gave us a visit.

It didn’t take long to get talking about spiritual things. It started when I asked them about their beliefs regarding Judaism, Jesus, and the Torah. The conversation began before the service, and ended well after the service. We ended up talking for almost two hours.

One of the boys was particularly bright, and we engaged in most of the conversation. He wouldn’t call himself an agnostic, but that’s what he was. He believed he simply couldn’t ever know if there was a God. He was a total moral relativist, admitting that murderous terrorists were not necessarily wrong– they were virtuous in their own system. He had all the big questions most unbelievers have: If there’s a God, why all the pain and suffering? Why aren’t prayers answered? Why has religion been the source of all conflict for thousands of years?

He was a genuinely kind person. He wasn’t demeaning or insulting, and he was reasonable. He admitted when he was wrong and he seemed to think hard about things I said.

I shared the gospel several different times. Whenever I did, I asked them to genuinely repent and put trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. And whenever I did, he smirked, like I was some fool wrapped up believing in some crazy myth. I don’t blame him, the cross is folly to the world.

He caught on fast how the Christian gospel is exclusive. At one point, he said, “So wait. Are you saying that no one can go to heaven unless they are Christian?”

Me: Unless they repent and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, they won’t go to heaven.

Him: So we’re not going to heaven?

Me: Not unless you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins.

Him: What about someone who has never heard about Christianity? Someone who has never had the opportunity to hear about it?

Me: It breaks my heart, but Jesus said that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” People need Christ.

Him: Wow.

It maybe would have been easier to say “Well, I don’t know about that.” But the Word of God clearly tells us that unless people hear and respond to the gospel, they will not be saved (Rom. 10:17).

The whole idea of grace was brand new to them. They were shocked that all it took to get into heaven was repentance and faith.

Him: So I can punch you in the face, repent, and still go to heaven?

Me: Yes, but if it’s true faith and repentance, you won’t want to do those kinds of things anymore.

Him: So a serial killer can repent and go to heaven?

Me: Yes. And he’ll be forgiven. And he’ll stop killing people.

Him: I never knew that’s what you guys believed. But what if I do more better things than you? (He went on to humorously tell a story of how he saved his drowning cousin when he was younger). That good deed ought tip the scales in my favor a bit, right?

And so I went into the fallenness of man, and the doctrine of original sin, which he disagreed with. Which makes sense, because if there’s no universal moral code, there’s no such thing as sin. He obviously didn’t feel any need to repent.

Anyway, they walked away knowing full well what they were rejecting. I challenged them to read the Gospel of John and make an informed decision about the person of Jesus. I let them know their eternity depends on what they do with Jesus. And I prayed all the way home that Matt and Ben would accept their Messiah.

Sometimes, sharing the gospel isn’t so glorious. Sometimes, sharing the gospel makes you the fool. Let it be so, for

“We are fools for Christ’s sake”

1 Corinthians 4:10

Please pray for my friends that God would open their eyes to the reality of Jesus Christ’s gospel.

Who We Are

This is what we’ll be going over in youth group for the next few weeks. Check it out, read the related scriptures, and look ahead! If you’re especially observant, you noticed that the first letter of each word spells GOSPEL. This is what we want to be about.

Gospel-Centered.

Romans 1:16-17

Open and accepting.

James 2:1-5

Scripture-Based.

2 Peter 1:16-21, 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Prayer-Driven.

Luke 11:1-13

Engaged in Evangelism.

Romans 10:13-17

Loving One Another:

John 17:20-21

Gospel for Life: Faith comes by hearing

People will not be saved without the gospel. If there is one thing we get right, it must be this. Paul says in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’” Good examples don’t save lawyers. Community service doesn’t save store clerks. It is the gospel that makes blind men see. That is, the spoken message of God’s Word about Jesus Christ. Later in Romans Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), which means that in order to get saved, people need to hear the word of Christ—that is, the gospel. It needs to be spoken to them. It needs to be articulated. And in order for us to rightfully articulate it, we must comprehend it fully. Lost souls depend upon our understanding of the gospel.

Social service is not evangelism. Government involvement is not evangelism. For parents, spanking your children isn’t evangelism. High standards isn’t evangelism. Sharing your testimony isn’t evangelism (necessarily). Apologetics is not evangelism. Evangelism is the prayerful delivery of the good news of Christ, that is, the gospel, to someone who has not made him his savior.

This is the continuation of a series:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Bible

Part 3: Just one gospel

Fulfill your ministry

I’ve been studying 2 Timothy 4:1-5 the last two weeks. It’s the famous charge that Paul gives to Timothy to preach the Word. What I’ve learned is that though this letter is a pastoral epistle, which means that it’s primarily written for pastors, the underlying principles that we can take away are applicable to everyone. Every bit of the charge has a counterpart that is for the people.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.

Everyone will be judged

Though teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), all will be judged (2 Tim. 4:1).

Everyone is called to verbal gospel ministry

Here Paul charges Timothy to preach the Word, while in other places he tells entire congregations to be involved in teaching the Word. (Matt. 28:18-20, Col. 3:16, Eph. 4:15). The Great Commission is more about teaching than it is about going. And it’s a call for every disciple. Pastor should preach; laypeople should teach. Everyone is called to verbal gospel ministry.

Everyone needs to be ready

Not just pastors should be ready in season and out of season. Peter tells his people: “prepare your minds for action…” All Christians should be in a state of alertness.

Everyone has a duty to rebuke, reprove, and exhort

The charge to rebuke, reprove, and exhort with complete patience and teaching is not only for pastors either: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 61) and “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:11) and “but exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today'”.  This is how we build up the mature and restore the wayward. It is for everyone.

The rest of Paul’s charge:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

All should be sober-minded

This is essentially the same thing as being ready. We must wear the “readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

Every disciple is called to endure suffering

A few verses earlier Paul says something quite staggering: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus said similar things all throughout his ministry: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:25), and “If any of you would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” All believers should expect suffering (1 Pet. 4:12) and endure suffering.

All Christ-followers are commissioned to make more Christ-followers

This is the essence of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. All are called to some form of evangelism. This implies a verbal message. The pithy quote attributed to St. Francis is untrue and destructive: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” To make Christ followers, words are always necessary. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Everyone has a ministry to be fulfilled

Not everyone will preach. Everyone has different spiritual gifts. However, regardless of your gifts, you have been commission to teach in some capacity. “Speak the truth in love.” We are here on this planet for no other reason that to teach people about God. Fulfill this ministry in your local church.

One Million Years Later…

I guess it’s natural in times like these to think of eternity.

One million years from now, what will I be glad of? In ten million, will I wish I spent my time here differently?

On Monday after the funeral hundreds of family and friends gathered at the Larson house to celebrate and remember the life of Tyson Larson. Out of the thousands of conversations that took place there, one I took part in lodged a place in my brain and has been with me since. The conversation was with an uncle, a cousin, and my mother.

The uncle was Uncle Jack. He stood with his arm in a constant hug around my cousin, Katie Larson, while my mom leaned in against them. He spoke with tears quietly waiting behind his eyes:

I have so many friends. I have a thousand friends. I have friends comin’ out the ears. But the reason I have so many friends is because I’m not bold enough to confront them about their lives. I’m too afraid to share the gospel.

And though he only meant to speak of his struggle, he nailed us all.

Because often we are very good at being relational and terrible at evangelism, when the blatant truth is that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Ultimately, the pithy quote ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi is not biblical—“Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary” – and is usually a copout for those of us who fear sharing the gospel.

The simple, terrifying truth is that if people don’t hear the gospel, they don’t get saved—it doesn’t matter how moral your life is. Faith comes by hearing. Someone needs to speak up.

Relationships with people have eternal consequences because people last forever.

But to have the message of hope that has the power to save the wickedest sinner and not share it is unloving. To neglect the only possible news that can satisfy them forever is actually much closer to hate. Even if we succeed in making them have higher moral standards we will have accomplished nothing eternal. The most loving and eternally valuable action we can ever take toward an unbeliever is evangelism. And that means speaking the gospel to the lost.

The gospel is the story the God-man Jesus Christ coming to a people who didn’t deserve him to give them a gift they didn’t want.

And it was the most loving act in all of history.

It’s our example.

If the gospel shapes our attitude, we will not be “preachy” in a self-righteous way. If the gospel is properly understood it will demolish any semblance of self-righteousness.  Evangelism can’t happen with this poison– it contradicts the message of free, unmerited grace. The gospel is good news. Incredible, life-changing, eternity altering, soul-satisfying news. And if we believe it, we will lovingly evangelize with slave-like humility, sage-like patience, and lamb-like gentleness. The gospel-driven life—that is, the Christian life—is both relational and truth-telling.

Thanks Uncle Jack for the reminder. Thanks Ty for making it stick. This is just one way this tragedy is reshaping our family. Praise God.

O how I pray that God would give us eyes to see that which is eternally valuable!

First and Foremost: News

I’ve been helping with an on campus ministry called IMPACT on Fallbrook High School campus that is essentially a place where kids are drawn in by free pizza and a fun time with friends, and then are exposed to the gospel for about 5 minutes at the end.  While the students run the games and provide the entertainment, I am the speaker.

It’s been challenging to come up with messages that communicate the truth of the gospel in different ways and from different perspectives while maintaining their attention.  They need to go to class. They really only came for the pizza.  They’re simply not interested.  I see it as a challenge.

I like looking for illustrations that tell the story accurately, clearly, succinctly, and engagingly. It’s also been difficult in such a short message. So sometimes I like to get some help from people who can do it well.  One of the best short illustrations I found online, by John Piper, went like this:

Christianity is not first and foremost a religion. It is first and foremost news. It’s news.

It’s like we’re in a war, in a concentration camp, and suddenly you’re hearing on the smuggled-in radio that the troops of deliverance have landed in helicopters five miles away. They’re conquering everything in their path and they’re just about to get to the gate and open the doors. And having lived all your life in this concentration camp, you’re now going to be set free.

That’s Christianity. It’s news that God sent rescue troops into the world, namely Jesus Christ, and that at great cost to himself he has conquered our enemy the Devil, opened the gates of the concentration camp, and welcomed us home. And then you add the beautiful image of bride and bridegroom and realize that this is not just a soldier who simply frees you go and do what want to do. He’s you’re husband, as it were, who has been separated from you for years and years, and you’re the wife who has been in the camp. And when the gates are opened there he stands on the other side, and the kinds of affections are huge.

I remember watching at the end of the Vietnam war some of those magnificent videos of men who had been away from their wives, some of them I think up to five years. I remember watching them run toward each other and seeing them sweep their wives off their feet. My heart leapt and my tears flowed when I watched that kind of reunion.

So when I think about what is missing from the average person’s picture of Christianity, I want to show them that there is such a freedom that is offered us because of what Jesus Christ did to die for our sins, and such a sweet reunion with the one for whom we were made.

It’s news. Not rules. Not religion.  It’s good news.  Thanks again, John.

newspaper

Fighting Loose Living by Killing Legalism

rules_1668_1668Rules.

What is their role in the Christian life?

If you were to survey an entire high school asking this yes or no question, I bet 80% of them would say YES.

“Is Christianity primarily about following a set of specific rules?”

Essentially, most people have no idea that salvation has nothing to do with rules.  And until you debunk that, telling a student to follow Jesus because Jesus loves them is like telling a patient to fill out more forms because doc is concerned.

No thanks.

Thank Tim Keller for this insight

The Story of a Masai Warrior Named Joseph

One of the least likely men to attend the Itinerant Evangelists’ Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by the Billy Graham Association was a Masai Warrior named Joseph. But his story won him a hearing with Dr. Graham himself. The story is told by Michael Card.

One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross [suffering!] of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred—and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.

This is one vivid example of what Paul meant when he said, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body.”

There is something profoundly freeing and stabilizing to know that Christ calls us to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. It stabilizes us from being thrown off guard when it comes. And it frees us to choose it when love beckons us. And it begins to free us from the incredible seduction of American prosperity.

***this excerpt is taken from John Piper’s sermon called Called to Suffer and Rejoice: To Finish the Aim of Christ’s Afflictions, found here.