Posts Tagged With: evangelism

1 Thessalonians 2: Sharing Our Very Lives

from “The Emperor’s Club” (2002)

Early in my teaching career I developed the habit of calling my students “my kids.”  I still do it now that I am older and no longer that teacher who is “easy to relate to.”   Every now and then I will be talking about “my kids” and they have to clarify whether I mean my two sons or my 100 students.  All of the effective teachers I know allow themselves to develop a deep care for their students, albeit expressed in a variety of ways.

I hear Paul saying the same sort of thing in this chapter:

We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her own children.  We were so devoted to you that we gladly intended to share with you not only the gospel of God but our own lives, because you became so dear to us. (2:8)

It was a common practice in the ancient world that upperclass families would employ the services of a wet nurse to care for their children.  Like modern nanny situations, this is just a job one does to care for themselves.  But also like many modern nanny situations, love and care would develop between the wet nurse and the children.

Paul says he allowed himself to develop that love and concern for the Thessalonians.  They weren’t just another stop on a long missionary journey.  They weren’t just another notch in his “gospel belt.”  He didn’t just turn them into a few free meals as he passed through town (as it seems his opponents were accusing him of doing).  They became to him like his own children.

If we are ever going to be successful spreading the gospel, we will have to develop the same heart that Paul had.  We will have to do more than just share words and a message.  We will have to share our very lives with others.

What caught your eye today?  

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John 20: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Back in college, I studied the Gospel of John with Jim Woodroof, an fantastic speaker and an even better man.  In that course, we read a book he had written about the Fourth Gospel called Between the Rock and A Hard Place.  The basic premise of the book, as I recall, was that Jesus is consistently portrayed in John as one who places people “between a rock and a hard place” so as produce a decision of faith in their life.  Jesus desired to bring people to rock solid faith in him but first they had to have reason to believe.

As was discussed in the introduction to John, one of John’s greatest goals with his book was to help people come to believe in Jesus.  This is the “gospel of belief,” as our other textbook called John.  We see a statement of this goal at the end of our chapter today, in what for many is the purpose statement of this gospel:

Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which aren’t written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe that the Messiah, the son of God is none other than Jesus; and that, with this faith, you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)

Belief, though, is easily squashed by doubt and alternate explanation.  As long as one can explain the deeds of Jesus in some other way, faith can be deferred.

My professor’s point was that over and over again we see Jesus doing things that could only be explained by him being divine.  He can tell the Samaritan woman details about her love-life.  He can heal a man born blind.  Jesus walks up and paralysis is gone.  Thousands of people eat a full meal from five loaves and two fish.  This was the “hard place.”  There people stood between the hard place of trying to explain away the inexplicable or the rock solid faith that can come through a belief in Jesus.  Either Jesus is divine as he says or there is some naturalistic explanation for what has just happened, but what that could be?  Could it be that Jesus is God is the easiest explanation?

I see this dynamic happening three times in John 20.

  1. It all comes to a head for the “other disciple” — who most people think is John — when he runs into the empty tomb and sees the grave cloths all neatly folded up.  This can’t be explained away, and it made everything else make sense for him (20:8-9)
  2. Mary sees a man she thinks is the gardener, a stranger to her. But when he can call her by name, she realizes Jesus was more than just a man. (20:16)
  3. Thomas can’t believe that Jesus could be back from the dead.  That is until he puts his fingers in Jesus’ wounds and can’t deny the facts. (20:25-28)

The best ending to this post would be these words of Jesus from today’s reading:

Is it because you’ve seen me that you believe?  God’s blessing on people who don’t see, and yet believe. (20:29)

What did you see today?

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John 10: Three Themes

The frontispiece to the Gospel of John from the Saint Johns Bible, a beautiful modern hand-calligraphied Bible produced in medieval style

There are three themes (among others) I am seeing a lot in John.  They show up in this chapter too.

First, I am struck by how many times the word “life” is used in John.  In particular, John really drives the point home in a strong way that Jesus offers his followers life, both here and now and in the hereafter.

I came so that they could have life — yes, and have it to overflowing. (10:10)

Second, repeatedly we are reminded in this overtly evangelistic book that one can judge the spiritual veracity of a person by their deeds.  You can tell something about the tree from its fruit.  Reader (original and still today), do you want to know if Jesus is for real?  Look at what he did.

If I’m not doing the works of my father, don’t believe me.  But if I am doing them, well — even if you don’t believe me, believe the works! (10:37-38a)

Third, scholars have opined that one of the possible purposes for the Fourth Gospel is to counter an over-glorification of John the Baptist.  I have never thought of it before nor noticed how many times John shows up in this gospel.  Yes, the point is being driven home in a strong way: Jesus is far superior to John.

“John never did any signs,” they said, “but everything that John said about this man was true.” (10:41)

Are you noticing these too? 

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BONUS: An Introduction to the Gospel of John

Though the book does not say so, there is widespread acceptance that this gospel was written by the apostle John, who often refers to himself in the book as “the apostle whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24).  Though one of Jesus’ inner circle of apostles, John is never mentioned in the book, which makes sense if John wrote the book but doesn’t if he didn’t.

Traditionally, because of its developed theology, the Gospel of John was considered the latest of gospels, likely written around 85 or later.  A good case can also be made that John was written before the destruction of the Temple and much of Jerusalem in 70 because the book refers to places in that city in the present tense.  A developed theology does not have to indicate a late date.

Scholars have argued that John had various goals in writing his gospel.  Maybe he was trying to write a gospel to a Greek audience, hence the emphasis on Jesus as the “word” (logos).  It is certainly possible that John was trying to combat false teaching through his account of Jesus’ life.  But John himself tells us the simple evangelistic purpose of his book:

These are written that you may believe (or continue to believe) that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:31)

Therefore, one of the fitting characteristics of John are the seven “I am” statements of Jesus, thought by many to be John’s twist on God’s self-revelation as “I AM.”  John would not have us miss the point that Jesus was more than just a man.  This is one of the reasons why John is often the first book non-believers are encouraged to read.

John is unlike the other gospels in many ways, supporting the belief that the other three were trying to borrow from each other and tell similar stories while John was attempting to do something very different, maybe for a very different crowd.  There are no parables in John.  Miracles (or “signs” as they are called in John) are not as common.  John tells stories not included in the other gospels.   Instead of fast action like Mark, this gospel is full of long teaching sections.  For these reasons and others, John is a favorite of many people.

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1 Timothy 3: Godly Everywhere They Go

I am struck today in this section on qualifications for church leaders like elders and deacons that how these men are viewed in and interact with the wider public of a community is as important to whether they can be leaders as their ability, their church personas, their management skills, their intelligence, and their financial success.

In addition, he [an elder] must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he may not incur reproach and fall into the devil’s snare. (3:7)

Those who serve you well as deacons, you see, gain a good platform for themselves to speak out boldly in the faith which is in King Jesus. (3:13)

Church leaders exist for the church, but who they are to a wider public must be considered as well.

What struck you today?

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2 Corinthians 10: Boasting Without the Ego

Some days it seems like we are swimming in a sea of ego.

Here in America, the presidential campaigns are heating up and there is enough ego to choke on coming from both parties.  I guess that is part of the game.  Football seasons are cranking up and a great number of athletes are more than willing to tell us how good they are.  In the world of Howard Stern, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, and Lady Gaga self-promotion is a must.  Then our kids learn this and life imitates art in the hallways of schools across America and on Facebook and Instagram pages.

How do we walk like Christ through the world of ego?  

We are headed now into the last big part of 2 Corinthians where the idea of “boasting” is key.  In this chapter alone the word “boast” is used seven times in eighteen verses.  As we will see more clearly in the next chapter but as has been seen several times already in the Corinthians correspondence, pride was certainly encouraged in the self-important culture of Achaia.  A person needed to make a name for themselves, develop the skills and personality traits that were admired, and then they didn’t need to feel bad about making these known.  Furthermore, pride always brings about competition, and it seems it was also okay to point out your opponents failures in comparison to your strengths.  We can tell that in the Corinthian church there were people present not lacking in ego and quite willing to point out Paul’s inferiority.

Paul states in this chapter that he felt justified in joining in the boasting, but he would boast in what God had done through him, not his own accomplishments.

But when we boast, we don’t go off into flights of fancy; we boast according to the measure of the rule God has given us to measure ourselves by, and that rule includes our work with you! (10:13)

For Paul, the most important things he has ever done, the greatest bragging point is simply the success he has had evangelizing.  Yet, Paul also knows that success does not come from his great rhetoric, because he is sometimes lost for words.  It is not his charisma and personality; he is too meek and weak for that.  It is not some ministry proudly named after himself, because the power of his ministry came from God and the ability to change hearts always comes from God.  The Corinthians need not look for Paul’s credentials to be impressed.  They only need to look at their own history to realize, they would not be in Christ had Paul not come to town.

In a world of ego, we would do well to boast like Paul did:

Anyone who boasts should boast in the Lord! (10:17b)

What stood out to you in this chapter?  

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Luke 5: What A Catch!

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deeper part, and let down your nets for a catch.” . . . When they did so, they caught such a huge number of fish that their nets began to break.  They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  So they came, and filled both the boats, and they began to sink. (5:4, 6-7)

What a great reminder that the blessings of God can be that immense!  Oh, to experience that in the areas of our lives that seem so vacant of goodness and provision!

At the same time, Luke shows us that this blessing of abundant fish had an illustrative purpose: to show the new disciples that just as he can bless the work they are used to doing, likewise Jesus could bless the new “fishing” business he is calling them to that may seem foreign and daunting.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Jesus to Simon.  “From now on you’ll be catching people.” (5:10b)

It’s all about trust.

How could a recent blessing be evidence that we can trust God for something new and different in the future? 

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Ephesians 3: Ministry Is A Gift!

As I said yesterday, Paul always contextualizes the gospel to fit the audience he is addressing.  Think of it like jazz.  There is a main harmony that is constant throughout a song, but from what little I understand about jazz music a good musician takes that harmony and riffs off in new variations of the same constant harmony.  (Feel free to correct me if I apparently don’t understand anything about jazz!)

Sometimes Paul calls each of these variations a “mystery,” or “secret” as Wright translates it.  These are unique, audience-specific versions of the gospel or the consequences of the gospel.  In Ephesians 3, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians theirs:

When you read this you’ll be able to understand the special insight I have into the king’s secret. . . . Now it’s been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  The secret is this: that, through the gospel, the Gentiles are to share Israel’s inheritance.  They are to become fellow members of the body, along with them, and fellow sharers of the promise in King Jesus. . . . My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is. (3:4b-6, 9a)

Paul has a ministry to share this wonderful new message far and wide, with Jews and Gentiles alike.  All are welcome.  This Jesus thing isn’t just for Jews.  Gentiles are welcome too.  And the revolutionary idea that Paul hasn’t really fleshed out in this book as much as he did in Galatians, for instance, is that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to become Christians.

This was not as easy a message to preach as we might think.  Sure, the Gentiles would be down with it.  But the Jewish gatekeepers were not as enthusiastic.  The first century Church spent the better part of that first century ironing out all of the details of that “secret.”  It got Paul beaten up more than a few times.  It caused churches to split.  It caused more than a little fuss.  Jewish Christians were content to come behind Paul and slander his ministry, lying about him and painting his ministry as an opportunistic grab at money and power.  I just have to imagine there were days Paul had to have second thoughts and desires to jump the next ship to anywhere.

That is why I am so struck by this line that comes in the middle of this discussion of his ministry:

. . . he gave me this task as a gift . . . (3:8)

Wow!  There was much about Paul’s ministry that I would not see as a “gift.”  I am afraid I am weak enough that there are days I would want to return that gift for another one.  Yet, not Paul.  Oh, to have that perspective!

What stood out to you today? 

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Matthew 9: Bring a Friend Along

Caravaggio, "The Calling of St. Matthew"

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting in the tax-office.

“Follow me!” he said to him.  And he rose up and followed him.

When he was at home, sitting down to a meal, there were lots of tax-collectors and sinners there who had come to have dinner with Jesus and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” (8:9-11)

Matthew wasn’t exactly the ideal candidate for a disciple to an itinerant Jewish rabbi.  He would have been a Jew, but many would have labeled him a traitor.  As a tax collector he was working for the enemy, the Romans.  Good Jews wanted out from under the Roman thumb, and Matthew was only perpetuating foreign tyranny.  Not to mention the assumption that Matthew was likely skimming a bit of the tax money off the top for himself, just like every other tax collector did.  So just the fact that Jesus would call Matthew to be a disciple was unexpected.

It is what Matthew did next that struck me today.

Matthew is leaving his life as a tax collector.  He is about to start a very different kind of life, dissimilar in ways he probably doesn’t even realize.  Still, he calls his friends to his house for one last party.  We can tell from verse 11 that this group of friends was composed of fellow tax collectors and other unsavory people.

Yes, Matthew is leaving his profession and even this town.  But he doesn’t just drop everything.  He is starting a new life, but he chooses to include his friends in this new life too.  It seems he wants his old friends to meet his new rabbi.

Did some of these friends become disciples too?  Did they come along with Jesus and Matthew?  We don’t know, but we do known that Matthew’s first act of witnessing was to his very own friends.  He wanted his friends to know Jesus too.

Good reminder.

What struck you in this active chapter?  

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Acts 8: A Scattered People

Scattered or Sent Out?

That very day a great persecution was started against the church in Jerusalem.  Everyone except the apostles was scattered through the lands of Judaea and Samaria. . . . Those who were scattered went all over the place announcing the word. (8:1, 4)

One way or another God is going to spread his Kingdom.  That was what He wanted (1:8) and here it is happening.

Were the disciples not spreading out as desired?  Were they, like we often are today, more comfortable staying where they were, with people like them, in familiar territory?  Did God use — or even bring, if your theology and this situation allows that idea — this persecution to advance His kingdom?  This is a speculative conclusion; we can’t know for sure.

What is clear is that His kingdom grew one way or another.  God’s people talk about God wherever they go.

What unpleasant time in your life right now might God be using to advance His Kingdom?

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