Evangelism Now – Part One

The face of our societies is changing. People’s world views are adjusting. We live in a different world than even 10 years ago…and the world in 10 years time will, again, be vastly different from today. So, what worked in leading people to an experience with Jesus and thus salvation ten years ago does not work today. And what works today will most likely not work in another decade. Remembering that the message never changes but the methods used to communicate the message must – let’s look at five things we will need to face in the next ten years…

1> We will need a clear understanding of the Gospel – not a cultural understanding. The Gospel is not “you do.” You say a sinner’s prayer, you change your life style, you change your behavior, you now read your Bible and pray. The true Gospel is “Jesus did. So we need to understand that people do not need to be taught to turn over a new leaf – they need to receive and live out a new life. They need to come to understand that, like Paul, it is “not I that lives but Christ living through me.” This new life is from Jesus’ death on the cross, for our sin and in our place. It is not about us – it is all about Him.

So, we need to have a new and clearer focus of the Gospel of the Kingdom and learn how to express it in a way that the changing culture we live in can understand and receive. Often we simply know enough to be saved but don’t know it well enough to share effectively. Time to become aware of the true Gospel of the Kingdom and not the gospel of salvation; the biblical gospel and not the cultural one.

2> A stronger focus on discipleship. The Church is rediscovering the need to “go into all the world and make disciples.” Not Christians, not converts, not followers, not believers…disciples! Jesus chose this word on purpose. He could have chosen others to describe those who came to believe in Him and receive His forgiveness and new life.

We need to be disciples before we can “make disciples.” And, becoming a true disciple is not something that happens but accident. It must be something we do intentionally. So, leaders of local churches need to be aware of the need to make disciples and be going about intentionally doing that. And, they must intentionally tell their followers to also be intentional in their obedience to the command to “go into all the world and make disciples.” Remembering, of course, you cannot reproduce something you are not yourself. Healthy disciples birth more healthy disciples.

In most churches discipleship is lacking. It needs to become a vital part of our DNA and not simply another program to buy into. It is the Christian life!

More next time…

Captive In Iran

I just finished reading (in three sittings) a book called “Captive In Iran.” I work with Iranian Christians in the country of Armenia so my heart is with them as are my prayers. I stay in touch with Iranian believers on a regular basis. They have a fantastic faith and stand against so many odds and yet remain faithful and fruitful.

The book is the story of Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh who were detained for almost a year in Evin Prison in Tehran. This is known to be one of the worst prisons on the earth. No official charges we declared against them for many, many months. Their first lawyer ended up in the same prison. The second one took months to just receive permission to visit with them. They were treated worse than animals and yet witnessed for the Lord and shared the love of God every day of their incarceration. Their only crime – telling others about the real Jesus (not the Muslim Jesus) and passing out New Testaments when someone asked for one (and sometimes when they didn’t). These actions were punishable by death. They were willing to die for their faith due to their intense love relationship with the Lord Jesus. Thy refused the many opportunities they had to renounce their faith and simply walk free of the horror of their prison. Instead they witnesses to other inmates and literally started a church within the prison system.

They were finally set free and moved to the United States. This was the result of God’s hand on their lives. They should have died for their faith within the prison. However, due to the prayers of believers around the world, several international Christian organizations pressuring the Iranian government, and the many letters that individual believers wrote the government of Iran they were set free.

A great book and one that is hard to put down once you start reading… learn more about those who suffer for their faith and are members of your family – the Christian family. Be an informed disciple of Jesus and pray accordingly.

Keeping the Sabbath – Part Two

To be unhurried and relaxed in Jesus – not striving and struggling spiritually – you need to be taking a weekly Sabbath. Sabbath keeping is foundational and basic to our spiritual health and vitality. It is the foundation upon which we build our lives, establish our convictions, and is the core of our lifestyle. I have found that taking from 6:00p one evening through to 6:00p the next evening is best – because then you have an evening to unwind and a night to sleep and then you have 10 hours (assuming you are up at 6:00a) to enjoy a Sabbath awake and unstressed.

There are four basic foundational qualities of biblical Sabbath keeping. These help us to distinguish between a “day off” and a biblical Sabbath.

First: You must stop. Sabbath is first and foremost a day of stopping. “To stop” is built into the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for Sabbath. So, you need to stop your world and get off. You need to stop working – doing those things you do to make a living AND doing those things that keep you busy on your day off. Remember that the Sabbath is not just a ‘day off’ and time to catch up around the house, the yards, or do your errands and laundry. You need to stop all work and regular activities and routines.

Second: You must rest. Once we stop, Sabbath calls us to rest. What do we do to replace all we are not stopping during our Sabbath time? The answer is simply whatever delights and replenishes you. Do things that “charge” you – spirit, soul and body. This can include napping, going to the gym, going for a long walk, reading a novel, watching a good movie, and going out for dinner. It is helpful to avoid turning on your cell phone, table, and laptop.

Third: Delight! The Sabbath is a time to do something that you delight doing. There is too little play or delight in most of our lives. Sabbath revolves around delighting in what we have been given. God delighted over His creation on the first Sabbath (Genesis 1:31). We are to do the same. We are to take the time to see the beauty of a tree, a leaf, a flower. We are to pay attention to the things that give us delight. This can include reading, hiking, nature, the beach, music, traveling and spending time with extended family members.

Fourth: Contemplate! Sabbath is a time to focus, particularly on seeing the invisible (God) in the visible and the physical. In other words, slow down to acknowledge God in all the creation around you – from nature to food to people to beauty to music. Our short lifespan here on earth is put into perspective as we look forward to our eternal Sabbath rest when God’s Kingdom will finally come.

Learning to practice Sabbath in today’s world is a spiritual discipline that we must work at. It is not optional – it is a biblical commandment that we neglect to our own detriment. It is the anchor of life when we slow down to be with Jesus, ourself, and others.

Keeping the Sabbath – Part One

In Exodus 20 our Heavenly Father listed His Ten Commandments – commands that, when followed, lead to healthy disciples – people who have healthy relationships with God and with other people. These were boundaries that the Creator God placed before us because He loves us so much and wants only the best for us. In fact, many years ago I began to refer to The Ten Commandments as The Ten(der) Commandments because they were given out of love for His people.

Of course, as disciples of The Lord, we are to keep these commands. In spite of all the teachings floating around about grace in the Church today these commandments are still part of the life and liberty of the Christian today. Jesus did not come to do away with the Ten Commandments – He came to fulfill them. And, in fact, He raised the bar when it came to these commandments. Those of us living under grace live by a higher standard. The old was “you shall not commit murder;” Jesus raised the bar on that one by telling us:”If you have hated someone in your heart you have already committed murder. So, the New Testament application of The Ten Commandments reaches a new level of commitment and obedience.

Now, here’s the problem. Most disciples that I know run full out 24/7. In fact, we seem proud of the fact that we are really busy, very active, terrifically involved, and have no time left to give to anything, thank you! In other words, we live without margin – emotional margin to name just one. So, we live on the edge of burnout, are not enjoying life, and always seem to be striving and never reaching that place where we think we will find happiness.

The problem – we are breaking one of The Ten Commandments – the one about the Sabbath. Those in leadership break this commandment, the people of God break this commandment… and, as a result, live life as it was never meant to be lived – in the fast lane. It is time to live 24/6 and begin to obey the Lord God’s 4th Commandment.

I have been on a personal learning curve when it comes to keeping the Sabbath. I can’t tell you I have it all figured out or nailed down. However, I am on a journey and it is taking me places I have never been before. Like most Christian leaders I was (and, in some ways, still am) too busy, working too many hours, emotionally and physically tired and expecting things to slow down once I could get over “one more project” or “the next hill.” But, this denies the core issue that needs to be dealt with – our obedience to the 4th Commandment. The question is not “how do you slow down the 75 hour work week to have a Sabbath.” The question is: “Are you practicing and enjoying Sabbath as a core spiritual formation discipline?”

Let’s look at this important area again next time…

Inverted Christianity

Some time ago I preached a sermon called “All or Some.” It was about God wanting “all” of us and not just “some” of us. He wants us to seek Him with “all” our heart; “worship Him with “all” our heart; serve Him with “all” of our heart… there were 8 areas that I had discovered God would not settle for “some” but wanted “all.” It seems God is just not into “some.” But we are – as we offer Him “some” because it is simply that much easier and less costly.

The Gospel of the Kingdom costs nothing – but it demands everything. As I have said many times over the past 40+ years of preaching; “If Jesus is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all.” This is true because of the meaning of the word “Lord.” And, yet many have not totally surrendered to Him.

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., has written another great book. It is titled “All In.” Because of my recent sermon I was interested to see what he might have to say so I ordered a copy. Batterson writes, “For many years, I thought I was following Jesus. I wasn’t. I had invited Jesus to follow me. I call it inverted Christianity. And it’s a subtle form of selfishness that masquerades as spirituality. That’s when I sold out and bought in. When did we start believing that the gospel is an insurance plan? It’s a daring plan. Jesus did not die just to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous.”

I couldn’t agree more. We have swallowed a very shallow gospel of salvation when Jesus came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. Big difference. We have made the gospel mostly about us – when it is really all about Him. We focus the truths of the Gospel on ourselves instead of seeing the Gospel as the greatest message ever heard and the only hope for humankind and thus becoming focused on others who do not know Jesus. We are safe, secure, and comfortable while billions of people still need to hear the Name of Jesus or they will not be going to heaven when they die.

Heaven and Hell are real – and we need to sell-out to the task the Lord gave to us – to go into all the world and make disciples. This is where our focus must be. This is where we must invest our time, energy and finances. He owns us because He redeemed us (purchased us back) and so He is looking for a return on His investment. It’s time to ‘sell out’ to Him and be about our Father’s business.

I, for one, have no interest in inverted Christianity – and little patience with those who do. I am praying for more patience.

Disciple Making – Part Five

As we end this brief series on principles of discipleship – remember that there is no “best model” for making disciples. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. But there are essential and absolute principles that we can be aware of as we disciple others. Jesus modelled them and we can see them in action as we read the four Gospels. He didn’t do it the same way with everyone. And it didn’t work perfectly. There were many who came in the front door of Jesus’ ministry and just as quickly left through the back door. But it did work. The first disciples changed the world.

The same needs to happen in our churches. So we must make sure, however, we choose to do it, to invest in and create environments that can ultimately change people’s hearts, heads and hands. This will never happen by accident – it must be intention. Making disciples must be foundational to the life of the local church and the life of every believer in the local church. It must be part of the DNA of the church and be front-and-center in every event and activity that the church is involved in or is helping to sponsor. It cannot be an added program to an already busy event-filled program. It must be at the heart of everything the local church and all of its members do in life . It is a 24/7 happening. And, it must become as natural as breathing.

When this becomes reality in each disciple’s life and in the overall life of the church we will truly see the fulfillment of the Great Commission as the whole world comes to hear and know the life-saving Gospel of the Kingdom.

Disciple Making – Part Four

Discipling someone involves their heart, their head, and their hands. We have looked at the heart and the head – let’s jump in and deal with the hands…

What people do and don’t do significantly influences their spiritual journey. Jesus told His disciples, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17). Jesus invested in His disciples and then sent them out. In fact, sending them out was a big part of how Jesus taught them. Sadly, in most churches today, people are being “sat” rather than “sent.”

Discipling must involve practical, hands-on training and equipping for ministry. Those being discipled must be offered opportunities to minister with others in a team – including others who are more mature than they are. It is good for them to be sent out and to learn how to minister from a mentor – including not just doing ministry but receiving feedback as quickly as possible after ministering so that they learn what works and what doesn’t. This feedback needs to be practical as well as theological in nature.

So, part of discipling involves training and equipping the disciple. Training involves teaching them the basic doctrines of the faith so that they are firmly established in the Truth and the basic teachings of the faith. This way they can defend the faith as Jude, verse three commands that we must do. As well, the disciple needs to be equipped in the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) and taught how to walk in the power of the Spirit so that they can fully proclaim the Gospel (Romans 15:18-19). All of this takes time and practice. So, they must be involved in the work of the ministry to receive the practical hands-on experience that they need.

Tomorrow – the conclusion to this short series of blogs on discipleship. For further blogs on the subject – enter “disciple” in the search engine connected to the blogs on the main web site

Disciple Making – Part Three

When going into all our world and about our daily activities we are to be making disciples. This means intentionally looking for, even making, opportunities to talk to others about Jesus. Once we connect with someone who is hungry and seeking, asking questions and looking for answers – we have begun discipling them. They have started their journey and are on their way – and so need to be discipled. Yes, even before they are born again and make a commitment to The Lord their discipleship begins…

As we have seen – there is no one way to disciple people. Like children, each person being discipled is unique and different and so a “canned” discipleship process simply does not work. However, Jesus, although He did not give us a formula did reveal the right principles and patterns for effective discipleship. I looked at the heart in my last blog … and the need to aim for the heart and not just the head of the disciple. More than information (head) but transformation which comes from the heart. Today, however, let’s look at the head as this is the second pattern Jesus left us for effective discipling.

The way people think determines how they see, what they want, and how they respond. The good news is that a person’s way of thinking can change. It happened to Saul of Tarsus as he was transformed into Paul. It has to happen, by whatever method, in the lives of the people we are seeking to disciple. We have to influence the way people think by exposing them to God’s truth, people, and work.

“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). So, we need to help those we are discipling to read, understand, and study God’s Word. But more than this, they need to receive fresh revelation from God’s Word as this is what builds faith. So, it would be good to pray Ephesians 1:17 for your disciples so that the Spirit of Revelation would be active in their lives as they read and study God’s Word.

As well, our disciples need to be with us as we meet with people and do our ministry touching people’s lives. Proverbs 13:20 states, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” So, introduce them to people and people skills so that they can grow and mature in relational skills and understanding.

And, we are to help our disciples live out their faith (once saved) in the places where they work. The Bible states, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)

How you do this, in your setting and with your gifts and personality, wilol look very different than how I do it. But it needs to be done.

Disciple Making – Part Two

When making disciples as The Lord we need to realize that there is no set pattern or formula to producing healthy disciples from non-believers or nominal believers. However, The Lord did reveal through His ministry – His words and His actions – that discipling follows a number of principles or patterns. Yesterday I suggested that all discipling needs to touch a person’s heart, head, and hands. Today, let’s look at the heart.

The condition of a person’s heart determines the condition of their life. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” And as Jeremiah expressed it: “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Of course, here the word “heart” means your spirit and not the physical pump that moves your blood through your body. Your spirit has ears, eyes, feelings, thoughts, and a will of its own. So, to disciple someone we need to engage their whole heart / spirit in the on-going journey of following Jesus.

Negative Example: The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. “These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me … For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:8, 19-20)

Positive Example: David. “After removing Saul, He made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after My own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13:22) Again, an emphasis on the heart or the spirit of David.

If we are going to genuinely disciple people, we need to create an environment where God can get a hold of and continue to work on their hearts. This environment needs to be one where the person (disciple-in-the-making) feels unconditionally loved, totally accepted just as they are – questions and warts included – and forgiven. They need to feel safe in the process and safe with the one discipling them. Otherwise, they will not open their hearts and allow Jesus and you in.

Too much discipling today begins with transferring information to the head. It must start with allowing God an opportunity to change their heart and thus transform them from the inside-out and not the top-side (head) down.

Disciple Making – Part One

The Bible states that we are to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). This is the Great Commission or the mandate and marching orders for the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church that Jesus is building will take seriously this call to make disciples and will have disciple making as part of every activity and every event that the local assembly holds. Making disciples is our “raison d’être” and something we obey because we love Jesus. Remember, He said, “If you love Me, you will obey Me.” and He is the One who said “go and make disciples.”

Behind me on the shelves in my study are numerous books on discipling. My library now has three dozen or more books on the topic of discipling. Some are good – some are just taking up space and are reminders that not everyone who writes a book really has something to say or something to add to the on-going discussion. I have read every one of those many books. Here is what I have learned…

People are unique creations of God, made in His image but now marred by sin. They cannot be mass-produced like automobiles or smart-phones. Every experienced parent knows this. What works perfectly with one child in the “training and instruction of The Lord” unleashes the devil in the next. It takes very different “models” of child rearing to successfully fulfill the God-given mission of parenting. The same is true with the God-given mission of “making disciples.” One size does not fit all.

Have you noticed in your reading of the New Testament that Jesus did not give us a formula showing us how to successfully disciple each and every person we lead to The Lord? He did not set out a given format that will work with everyone. But, He did reveal the right principles and patterns for discipleship. After all, He did disciple the twelve who became apostles and many others during His three years of public ministry.

There are three vital areas that we see Jesus addressing over-and-over again in the pages of the Gospel. He dealt with issues of the heart, the head and the hand.

The heart because the condition of a person’s heart determines the condition of their life. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

The head because the way people think determines how they see, what they want, and how they respond. Proverbs 23:7 indicates that as a person thinks, so they become.

The hands because what people do and don’t do significantly influences their spiritual journey. Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

This week – in the remaining four blogs for the week – I will be looking at these three elements that need to be engaged when we go out to intentionally make disciples.