The Shared Life

August 25, 2014

The Shared Life

In connection with some our recent thoughts regarding taking care of each other in the body of Christ in our Sunday services, I wanted to share with you our denomination’s statement on “The Shared Life,” and what it means to be brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. If you are interested in knowing more about what the Bible Fellowship Church denomination believes, you can see our full statement of Faith and Order here.

Article 103-6 – Shared Life

103-6.1 Each believer belongs to Jesus Christ and to every other believer.1  This belonging is a relationship to God the Father,2  God the Son,3  God the Holy Spirit4 and to all who belong to God.5  This relationship is not the result of human effort, but begins with being born from above6 and is the living out of the divine nature7 under the Lordship of Christ and the authority of His revealed Word.8  It unites all believers to one another and causes them to be different  from their world.9

103-6.2 The union with the Lord and with one another is spiritual. The relationship of each believer with the Lord is the basis for the relationship between believers10 in sharing truth,11 love,12 and possessions.13 It is dependence, not self-sufficiency, and inter-dependence, not independence.14 Participation in this life affects every believer and church15 and impacts their ministry in the world and to the world.16

103-6.3 Shared life is a privilege and a responsibility.17 The life of the church, therefore, must be a renewing, God-glorifying celebration of life in Christ and a spiritual participation with other believers.18 Sharing this life in the presence of God is worship19 and demands the loving exercise of spiritual gifts20 as well as realization that we are responsible to one another before God.21 The exercise of these gifts builds up one another and equips the saints for the Lord’s work.22 Because this responsibility and accountability are necessary for the church to grow in godliness,23 discipline must be practiced in every community of believers.24 Not to do so brings the very name of Christ into dishonor.25

103-6.4 Responding in mercy, carrying each other’s burdens,26 is also a responsibility and privilege of all believers to one another, and causes them to love, care, share, and be involved with one another.27 All believers, and the church as a body, must recognize, accept, and practice the spiritual responsibilities of being one in Christ, no matter how deeply a fellow believer has fallen into sin or the miseries of this world.28

103-6.5 Every believer is a member of the body of Christ and must be joyfully and personally responsible to live a life of loyalty to the Lord of the church,29 to His Word30 and involvement in its ministry31 and purpose.32 This responsibility, although primarily focused on the local body, extends beyond the particular church to other bodies of believers.33 Because this is true, the shared life of the church breaks down the barriers of race, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, and geography, for all believers are one in Christ.34

1  Rom.1:6; 12:4,5
2  1Jo.1:3
3  Rom.6:3,4
4  1Cor.12:13
5  1Pe.2:9,10
6  John 3:3,5
7  2Pe.1:4
8  1Jo.1:7
9  1Cor.10:14-22; 2Cor.6:14,15
10 Eph.2:11-16; Rom.15:5-7
11 Eph.4:14-16
12 1Jo.3:13-18
13 Acts 4:32-35; 2Cor.8:1-5
14 1Cor.12:14-27
15 Acts 2:44-47
16 2Cor.8:23; Phil.1:5; Phile.6; Heb.13:16
17 Gal.5:13-16
18 1Jo.1:1-4
19 Rom.12:1,2
20 1Pe.4:10
21 Rom.12:3-13:10
22 Eph.4:11-16
23 1Tim.6:11,12
24 1Cor.5:12,13
25 Acts 5:11
26 Gal.6:2; Heb.13:16
27 Eph.4:31-5:2
28 2Cor.2:7,8; Gal.5:25-6:2; Phile.10,11,15,16
29 1Cor.12:6-11
30 John 10:3-5
31 Phil.1:27
32 Acts 11:19-26; Phil.4:14-16; Col.2:1,2;1Pe.5:9
33 Acts 13:1-4
34 Gal.3:27,28; Eph.2:14-16


Love and Holiness

August 11, 2014

For those who may be unaware, we are studying the idea of pursuing an “organic outreach” into our community, here at Cornerstone Bible Fellowship Church. We’re pursuing the idea of a less program/event focused evangelism and outreach and embracing a plan that sees church members building relationships with the unchurched in their midst for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. As the basis for our study, we’re using Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ excellent Everyday Church. Using 1 Peter as a model for us to consider ourselves as loving, holy people living on the margins of society, they are challenging our thinking on how best to reach out to the world around us. In it, they have an extended quote by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. I want to share it with you:

 Unlike models that call for a transformation of culture or that call for a Christendom-like alliance of church and state, Peter expects the gospel to always be highly offensive, never completely embraced or accepted by the world. This is a caution to those evangelicals and mainline Christians who hope to bring about an essentially Christians culture.

And unlike models that call solely for evangelism and are highly pessimistic about influencing the culture, both Peter in 1 Peter 2:12 and Jesus in Matthew 5:16 expect some aspects of Christian faith and practice to be highly attractive in any pagan culture, influencing people to praise and glorify God. (pp. 52-53).

The message here friends is that we need to strike a balance in thinking about how we reach out with the Gospel. Certainly the Scriptures know nothing about an alliance between State and Church and our efforts to force people to embrace our Christian beliefs and morals will never result in Gospel transformation. In fact, only Gospel transformation will ever result in people embracing our Christian beliefs and morals. To expect people to think and act like us even though their hearts are not regenerated is frankly, ridiculous. We need to change hearts first, and change laws second.

But, there is certainly something about who were are as Christians that will be attractive to the unchurhced, and rightly so. We are a people of brotherly love showing people there is a family available to them. When relationships break down all around them, there is hope and a home available to to them in the church of Jesus Christ. So, certainly by influence of our good works and love, people may embrace us as change agents in a culture of pagans, because they want something different.

The key is, to be that difference. People who love and serve the unchurched around us, not with the goal of positive change in the world around us, but for people to find the church attractive, so they will give us a Gospel hearing. We are also to be people of holiness, not just so we can drive our nation to embrace Biblical morals that they don’t really believe, but that the unchurched see us as people of conviction that are different in that we do not embrace the paganism of the world. The balance is that we do BOTH, not just one. Loving and holy. That’s how we will create opportunities for people to be drawn to the church and to the message of hope we have!


Revealing the Maker

August 4, 2014

 “I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of very fruitful brain and copious fancy, but they are welcome to it—I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy scriptures, be full of divine things as language.” Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

I have been utterly amazed at the level of wildlife that I have had the opportunity to enjoy since moving here to the Hudson Valley. Not only are the vistas beautiful; full of lakes and rivers, trees, and surrounded by mountains, but that as I look out my windows, I see the full panorama of the beauty of creation. Pileated woodpeckers, blue birds, blue jays, cardinals, and finches are just some of the birds that frequent my yard. A red fox has meandered along the forest line for me to see. Deer are in abundance, and I’ll never forget watching that fawn dart across my lawn in front of my picture windows. A family of geese waddled by when my family and I were having dinner on our porch. And, while I did not see it, I did get to experience the power of a bear as it ransacked my trash and destroyed two of my bird feeders. What beauty there is all around us.

 I often think that as a Christian I get to have a unique grasp of the wonder and significance of the world around me. As the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards said above, it is the whole universe that is full of “divine language.” Edwards is reflecting on the Psalms here. For instance Psalm 19:1 reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Everywhere I look, I see the goodness and majesty of God.

It is difficult, at least for me, to look at the wonder and beauty around me and think it all occurred by chance. Considering the gross statistical improbability that the universe could have arrived on its own and life developed on its own from non-life, I’m stuck wondering about where it all came from. Apart from God, I would be forced to look at this universe mechanistically, considering only natural law, and food chains, and such. I would miss out that this universe not only obeys laws, but reveals to us that the One who made it is loving and kind and gave it to us for our enjoyment. How can I look at the beauty all around me and think that God did not love me?

In the grand vistas of the mountains down to the smallest of insects, this world offers us a glimpse at the majesty, creativity, and love of God. Edwards again, could even see the wonderful beauty and care that God provided even for pesky spiders in a famous letter he wrote on spider behavior: “We hence see the exuberant goodness of the Creator, who hath not only provided for all the necessities, but also for the pleasure and recreation of all sorts of creatures, and even the insects and those that are most despicable.”

I wonder of the futility of appreciating the aesthetic beauty of the world around us apart from recognizing that it came from God. If it all happened randomly and through happenstance, then life maintains a level of senselessness. What’s the point? Yet, from both the Bible and the world around me, I can consider and think upon a God that loved me so much that He gave me the very universe to enjoy. From far off swirling galaxies, to a subtle ocean breeze, to the squirrels that steal from my bird feeders, to the bugs that crawl in the earth. All things of beauty are only truly known and truly appreciated, when I consider that they were given to me by a good and gracious God.

 So, when I take my morning walk tomorrow, and I gaze upon the wonder of the world, from the babbling brook to the animals that drink from it, I will remember to thank God that He gave me eyes to see a wonderful gift: His world.


6 Simple Ways to Be Missional

July 21, 2014

6 Simple Ways to Be Missional

I am out of pocket this week with my trip to PEI to help my inlaws, so I wanted to share 6 simple ways that we can try to be more missional in our daily lives. I’ve borrowed this from here.

1. EAT WITH OTHER PEOPLE
We all eat three meals a day. That’s 21 opportunities for church and mission each week without adding anything new to your schedule. And meals are a powerful expression of welcome and community.

2. WORK IN PUBLIC PLACES
Hold meetings, prepare talks, and read in public spaces like cafés, pubs, and parks. It will naturally help you engage with the culture. For example, whose questions do you want to address in your Bible studies, those of professional exegetes or those of the culture?

3. BE A REGULAR
Adopt a local café, pub, park, and shop so you regularly visit and become known as a local. Imagine if everyone in your gospel community did this!

4. LEAVE THE HOUSE IN THE EVENINGS
It’s so easy after a long day on a dark evening to slump in front of the television or surf the Internet. Get out! Visit a friend. Take a cake to a neighbor. Attend a local group. Go to the cinema. Hang out in a café. Go for a walk with a friend. It doesn’t matter where as long as you go with gospel intentionality.

5. SERVE YOUR NEIGHBORS
Weed a neighbor’s garden. Help someone move. Put up a shelf. Volunteer with a local group. It could be one evening a week or one day a month. Try to do it with other members of your gospel community so it becomes a common project. Then people will see your love for one another and it will be easier to talk about Jesus.

6. SHARE YOUR PASSION
What do you enjoy? Find a local group that shares your passion. Be missional and have fun at the same time!


Mission Through Meals

July 7, 2014

Mission Through Meals

As we continue considering how best we can build relationships with those outside of the church community with the hopes of reaching them for Christ, consider this quote from Tim Chester on how mission works through something as simple as a meal:

“Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.” (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, p. 89)

Are you looking for a way to better connect with unbelievers in your neighborhood, whom you work with, or just get to know someone better, the best place to do it is around the table. It’s not inaccurate to say that in the Gospels, Jesus was always on mission. And if you follow His movements, He was either going to, at, or coming from a meal. Some of us view meals as something that needs to happen. Simple fuel for our bodies. Yet meals have historically, and should be today, relationship building events. Want to have opportunity to share your faith with your neighbor? Invite them over for dinner. Want to get the chance to talk about Jesus with your coworker? Take them to lunch. Grace, community and mission happen around the table!


A Matter of Faith

June 30, 2014

“In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:18-21 ESV)

I was reminded the other night, as my wife and I were talking about what changes in how we approach outreach and evangelism might look like in our home. In light of some reading we’re both doing, we noticed how much opening our lives up to the unsaved would do to change our structured lives. The time and money invested in building relationships with friends, co-workers, neighbors and family, is rather overwhelming. We said to our selves, “this is a process that will take years to see visible fruit.”

Yet, this is the kind of investment our churches need to be making in the unsaved world around us. Over 85 million Americans have absolutely no desire to step foot into a church on Sunday. And frankly, they won’t with how things are progressing. The younger crowd is even worse. And trying to change what we do to draw people in won’t work either. To the unsaved, our “product” is unappealing in contrast to what the world has to offer. The vast majority of “church growth” that we are seeing in the West, is not people actually getting saved and being added to churches, but church folks just moving from church to church, often from smaller to larger ones where there are more “programs” to meet their felt needs. The problem is, all the programs in the world won’t meet the needs of the unsaved. Only the Gospel as authentically transmitted by Christians will do that.

That’s why this passage from Romans was so encouraging to me this week. I know that the task is not mine alone. The hard work of outreach will indeed be hard, but I am not alone. I have a church that supports and backs me up as they are doing the same as me, and I have the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit to bring men to Christ for repentance and faith.

So, in hope I believe against hope, that CBFC can have a huge impact in our corner of the Hudson Valley. I believe and trust and have faith that God will use us as we seek to creatively reach out to the world around us, getting where they are, meeting them on their own turfs, and building relationships and showing love and mercy and grace, and prayerfully sharing the Gospel and seeing people come to faith. That’s exciting to think about. And all that outweighs any fear and trepidation on my part about the costs to reaching out in this way. This is the hard work of outreach and evangelism before us. Are we up to the task? Abraham’s task was harder than ours and in faith, he trusted God for the fruition of the promise. We too can trust that God will fulfill His promise to us. Let us trust in Christ for the power and be faithful to our responsibility to make disciples!


The Missional Life

June 23, 2014

As I am spending a good few days with other men at the fishing trip, I did not have the time to do my regular post this week, and instead thought I would share an excellent post from the 9Marks Journal on the missional life. In some ways, the “missional life” is what I have been talking about with our approach to outreach needing to change. We’ll be talking about that further over the summer at CBFC, but for now, take some time and read the following post from Eric Simmons on this important issue for the church in America.

————————————————————————

Welcome to my neighborhood. Here’s what it looks like:

  • the lady ringing up my order at Panera Bread who is a lesbian;
  • the neighbor with everything that life seems to offer—the big house, the Lexus, the beautiful wife, the straight-A kids;
  • the guy next to me in the gym who is committing adultery and destroying the lives of himself and his family;
  • the guy who works in the bike shop with whom I am pursuing a friendship;
  • Phyllis, the 78-year-old woman who just lost her husband of 54 years.

Keep looking and you’ll find just about everyone. The atheist. The mocker. The scoffer. The intellectual. The ignorant. These are people that need Jesus. These are the people that I have been called to reach. They are my mission field.

What does your mission field look like? I’m sure the faces are different, but the state of their soul before God is not.

Pastor, God has called you to more than just the people in your church. He wants to mobilize you and your people to reach another people. The people next door. Your little culture.

Many Christians have been giving a lot of attention to places like the “10/40 window,” for which we should praise God. We should also keep praying that the Lord would send more workers into overseas harvest fields. But in our own post-Christian society in America there is an emerging unreached people-group. They’re not in a foreign country. They live right down the street.

Sometimes I think the most unreached people-group in the world are the ones next door.

The primary mission field for most of us is not far away, it’s in the routine of our daily lives. God doesn’t save us to be passive spectators. He saves us and then sends us out into the world to tell other people about Jesus. Each of us is called to play a part in God’s mission to save sinners—the same sinners we meet on a daily basis.

God’s kingdom—his inbreaking, redemptive rule—is advancing all around us. Paul says in Colossians 1, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 13-14). What an incredible picture. God is doing the work of transferring people from the clutches of Satan and this world into a new kingdom. His kingdom.

Don’t you want to be involved in that? God invites you and your church to be involved in this glorious process of bringing people into his kingdom. We get to play a small part in what God is doing. How? By living like missionaries who are sent by God. We are not just going, we are sent.

We don’t just go to the gym. We don’t just go to Panera Bread, or the bike store, or the neighborhood barbeque. We don’t just go to work or the classroom. We don’t even just go home for Christmas. Thinking missionally changes our perspective. It reminds us that God, the sovereign ruler of this world, sends us to each of these places. He sends all those who belong to him into this world to help usher people from darkness to his kingdom of light.

Our job as pastors is to help our church members see that God has a heart for the non-Christians all around them, and that his divine hand has brought these non-Christians directly into their every-day communities with this purpose of mission. Sunday’s are assuredly for hearing the preached word and caring for one another. But Sundays should also be sending days for the church—a day to remember that the mission is not over, that we are being “sent” as missionaries into the world to reveal God’s glorious kingdom.

So how do we teach the members of our churches to be effective missionaries? God instructs us in Colossians 4 that we must teach our people to pray, to live, and to talk.

Continue steadfastly in prayer being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray also for us that God may open to us a door for the word to declare the mystery of Christ on account of which I am in prison that I may make it clear which is how I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col. 4:2-6).

TEACH THEM TO PRAY

First, we must teach our churches to pray. Paul says in verse 2 that our prayers should be steadfast and watchful. God wants us to understand that our communion with him through prayer is the key to mission work. In other words, effective evangelism begins with diligent, watchful prayer. God wants us to talk to him before we go out in the world and talk about him.

Paul then transitions from this teaching on prayer to asking for prayer. Specifically, he asks the Colossian church to “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Paul is in prison, but he does not ask them to pray that the prison door be opened so that he could be released. No, he asks for the door of opportunity to be opened so that he can tell of the mystery of Christ. Paul basically says, “I might be in jail, but the word can never be imprisoned. Christ must be preached—even in jail. So please pray that, as I reach out to these people in this jail, the door of their hearts would be opened.”

Do you see what vision for God’s kingdom and mission can do? It takes jail time and turns it into opportunity! Paul loved being a part of the kingdom, because he loved the King. And he was so radically changed by salvation that he was more concerned about the life and eternal destiny of the jailer holding the key to his jail cell than about getting out of jail himself!

Paul believed that he was sent. Rome didn’t put him in jail. God did. Why? Because God wanted his kingdom to be revealed in a Roman prison. To Paul, this was opportunity.

What can we learn? Effective mission work begins with appealing to the King for opportunities to tell people about his kingdom and the gospel that makes a relationship with him possible. We must model and teach our people that effective mission work begins with faith-filled prayers and petitions for opportunities. Every day that we wake up and go to work or go to the gym is an opportunity to share the gospel. So encourage your people to pray for opportunities in their lives.

But this point needs a warning label underneath it: enter at your own risk. If you pray for opportunities, they will happen. And often they will happen at the most awkward, inconvenient moments. Remember, Paul received his opportunity in jail. So teach your people that often it may be the very circumstances that are inconvenient and interruptions to their normal lives that are the opportunities that God is giving them to share his gospel! So teach your people to be watchful.

Around the time I began wrestling with the concept of mission and kingdom and praying diligently for opportunities, a friend named Andrew and I were driving across the country. We tried getting into Rocky Mountain National Park to go camping, but God decided to send ten inches of snow—even though it was June.

So we holed up for the night in Grand Lake, Colorado. We were dead tired, we were starving, and the only place open was…the Saloon. I kid you not: the Saloon. When Andrew and I walked through the double doors it felt like the record player scratched to a stop. Everybody turned to look at us, and I think they knew that we were not from around those parts.

Andrew and I hurried over to the corner, doing our best not to make eye contact. Near us was a group of about six people. They probably had twenty shot glasses on their table (that means they were drunk). And they were toasting, one shot at a time. One of the gentleman toasted, “To Jesus Christ, and to Satan, his brother.”

I had prayed that morning for an opportunity to share the gospel. But this was not what I had in mind.

I looked at Andrew and said, “You know what? I have no clue what to do. I just know that he toasted Jesus and Satan, and I know that I just prayed about an opportunity this morning.” I had a tract in my pocket, so I walked over. “Hey, how are you?” I said, making as little eye contact as possible. “You know, I heard you toast Jesus, and this is about Jesus. You might want to read it. I’ll be over there. If you have any questions, come on over.”

I hurried back to our table, almost jumped into my chair, and started shoveling food into my mouth so that we could exit as quickly as possible. But sure enough, Kevin—the guy—and his girlfriend came over, and we started talking about Jesus. Kevin was belligerent, angry, and aggressive. But his girlfriend was open. She asked sincere questions about Jesus.

God used my prayers from that morning! He sent two idiots to Colorado, made it snow in Rocky Mountain National Park in June so that we couldn’t camp, led us to a saloon, and created an opportunity for us to tell this lady about Jesus. We got to pray with her that night as she professed Jesus. We left that saloon in awe.

So teach and model such prayer for your congregation. Start in private and let your public prayers be an overflow of that private passion for mission. Then publicly share stories of how God answered those prayers in your own life. Share stories of your failures and stories of God’s powerful work. As you share, the faith of others will be inspired, and they will step out in their mission to reach the world next door.

TEACH THEM TO LIVE

Second, we must teach our people how to live. Remember this: effective missionaries live distinct lives among a specific culture of people. God tells us, “Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the best use of the time.”

There’s a huge assumption in this passage: that you and I live among people who don’t know Jesus (the outsiders). What is Paul implicitly telling us to do? Be where the non-Christians are. Go to where those on the outside of the family of God are. Be missionaries to them. Live where they live. Be friends with them.

Think about it for a moment. What kind of missionary would go to a foreign city, find a place to live, find a source of income, find where to buy food, maybe find a hobby and a wife, and then kick back and enjoy his surroundings, never befriending the locals. We wouldn’t call him a missionary. We’d call him a resident.

Some of us have lost the fact that all of us are missionaries, and we have taken up residency.

More explicitly, Paul tells us to live wisely toward outsiders so as to make good use of the time. That means living a distinctly different life. I think Paul is applying Colossians 1:10—”Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him”—to evangelism. In other words, as we live our lives in relationship with people who do not know Jesus, the world should get a glimpse of Jesus and his character from the way we live. Our people should know that they are billboards for Christ—billboards that reveal how worthy Christ is. That he is worthy of all of our life.

When a person who does not know Jesus scratches the surface of our life and witnesses our actions, our motives, our decisions, as well as how we handle our money, our time, our energy, our pleasure, and, most importantly of all, our sin, that person should be struck by how glorious Jesus is and how amazing the salvation he offers is. A transformed life through the Spirit’s power is one of the most strategic and effective tools for evangelism. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control—all of these things will provoke outsiders. A joyful Christian walking through testing and trial will provoke people who are watching.

Does your church understand this? Do they understand why obedience and the fruit of the Spirit are so important? Obedience is not about winning points. It’s about looking like Jesus and imitating him. And as pastors this must start first with our own lives. Does your church understand how holiness has a greater end than just an “abundant” life? A holy life is God’s proof to a dying world that his kingdom really exists and living in his kingdom through Christ is far more satisfying than any life this world has to offer.

“Okay,” you ask, “So, what about being relevant?” The topic of cultural relevance is thrown around a lot these days, and I am glad it is. It’s an important conversation to have when it comes to our mission. We need to know our surrounding area and the people that inhabit it, so that we can understand what conversations they’re having, and what conversations we should have with them.

But relevance is a packaging for truth. It is important, but it is certainly not as essential as the truth itself. The truth is essential.

Not only that, godliness and the fruit of the Spirit are far more important than “being relevant.” Honestly, it’s easy to be relevant in our culture. Get a tattoo, get a nose ring, wear tight pants, and listen to the band Coldplay. Okay, great! Now you’re ready for the mission. You’re relevant and everybody around you is going to get saved, right?

Tight pants and a nose ring don’t compare to the power of the Spirit. If you own a Coldplay t-shirt and have a nose ring, that’s great. We need all kinds of people working in the kingdom, and I mean that sincerely. It’s very important not to moralize our preferences when it comes to appearance. It can turn people off to the gospel very quickly. But we do need to emphasize in our churches where the power resides for evangelism. It’s not the package, it’s the truth inside the package. It’s not the clothes that give us power, it’s the changed life that has been radically altered by Jesus.

We need to keep what is primary, primary. When those things that are secondary start pushing out what is primary in evangelism, danger is near. The emphasis should never be more on the shell and the packaging than on the message itself.

I love packaging. I really do. I still have the box from the iPod I got three years ago. It’s a brilliant piece of packaging: Smooth lines. Simple graphics. Pieces that fit perfectly together. Secret compartments. I could play with it for hours.

Packaging is great. But if the unbelievers around you open the package and see nothing different inside then there’s a problem. Your life has compromised the mission. Jesus Christ died on a cross so that what is on the inside of the package would be radically different.

If an unbeliever gets to know you—opens the package—and finds love, joy and humility, it will open up a whole new world for them. That’s relevant. As you talk to them about the grace of Jesus Christ as shown on the cross and how his grace changed you; and as you talk to them about what you were, about your anger, your pride, and how those things manifested themselves in your life; and as they get to know the real you changed by Jesus, grace will become amazing to them.

Teach your church that missionaries live distinct lives in a specific culture.

TEACH THEM TO TALK

We pray, we live, and thirdly, we talk. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

How can you be an effective and relevant missionary? Simple. Have conversations with unbelievers. Share your life with them. And in time share the gospel of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross with them. And make sure when you share you speak so that they can understand.

A few years ago, I was talking on the phone with my uncle, whom I love, but who does not yet know Jesus. We were talking about my dad, and I said to my uncle, “You know, my dad is so relational and relatable.” There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then I heard my uncle say, “What the heck does that mean? Did you just say ‘relational and relatable’?” I responded, “Oh, that’s bad pastor talk. I’m sorry. You know I’ve got that pastor hat on sometimes.” And I asked him to correct me every time I talk like that.

We Christians need to learn how to communicate. Sometimes what works in our church doesn’t necessarily translate out there, as with terms like “relational and relatable.” When that happens, we can just look at our non-Christian friends and say, “I’m sorry. That’s just Christian talk, here’s what I mean…”

But that does not mean that we accept the culture’s language in its entirety. There are certain elements that need to be rejected outright. Someone once told me that he curses around unbelievers because it makes non-Christians feel more comfortable. Now I’m grateful for this man’s evangelistic zeal. But cursing around non-Christians is not right, because Scripture clearly tells us, “Let no unwholesome speech come out of our mouth.” Our lives and words must be distinct from the culture around us.

At times, I become concerned when the whole thrust of our churches’ teaching on evangelism is “be bold.” I am all for being bold. Sharing your life and Jesus with unbelievers takes boldness. But in our desire to be bold, we can sometimes be arrogant. Scripture teaches us to be bold and to be humble. Every time you speak to an unbeliever, concentrate on how you say things. Concentrate on your attitude and your motive. Let the words you speak be marked by a humble—not arrogant—orthodoxy. Remember our motive needs to match our message.

Paul also says to let our conversations be seasoned with salt. Do you know what “salty” means? It means “witty and full of life.” Let your conversations with unbelievers be witty and full of life. Let your joy come forth, so that they can see it.

There’s a young man in our church named Mike. He is one of the most joy-filled missionaries I know. One day Mike was supposed to lead an evangelistic Bible study at a local college campus. But when he entered the room he had reserved, there were about eight gamers sitting around. Gamers are the types who like to wear black—black trench coats, black eye makeup, black fingernails, black everything.

Mike walked in, and said in a friendly tone, “Hey guys, it’s our turn. Can I have the room?”

In response, a tall man in a trench coat screamed, “No!” He ripped his shirt open and bared his chest, and his girlfriend came over and stuck a pin in his chest.

Then he stood up, looked at Mike and said, “I wanna eat your soul.” (I’m not exaggerating; this really happened.)

Here was Mike’s Spirit-led salty remark: “Well, don’t fill up on soul, because we’ve got plenty of free pizza.”

Immediately, the man’s buddies started falling over themselves with laughter. That salty remark defused a scary situation. And the gamers? They all stayed for the Bible study.

Why does Jesus want our conversations to be salty and gracious? Because most of the time God intends for us to be seed-sowers rather than reapers. And God wants every encounter with one of his children to be a moment where that unbeliever experiences grace and wit and joy. So let’s do the next Christian a favor and not ruin it for them by being arrogant.

There was a young lady named Colleen that I and a number of other from our church were reaching out to at Starbucks. She didn’t know Jesus, but she loved to be a part of our campus planning meetings. I would say to her, “Colleen, come on over and tell us what we Christians are doing wrong. We need your input. We’re just trying to save you anyway.”

And she loved it. She loved the people, and she loved hanging out with us. We got involved in her life. We gave her money to participate in an AIDS walk. It was a genuine friendship. But eventually she moved away to New York. I didn’t see her get saved, and it broke my heart.

Three years later, I was greeting people at the door of our church, and I saw Colleen walk in. Previously, she would never have set foot in a church. But there she was walking toward me with a huge smile and tears in her eyes. She was 8 months pregnant and unmarried.

She said, “Eric, I’ve heard that it takes a person 85 times to hear the gospel before they’re saved. Well, it took 86 for me. Thank you for telling me about Jesus.”

I didn’t lead Colleen to the Lord, but I was part of it. One more person transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Amazing grace.

Whether your church is in Dallas, Texas or Sydney, Australia, Philly or New York, La Paz or Orlando, God has strategically placed you and the members of your church in that place. He has radically converted you and called you to be missionaries. Why? Because he wants his kingdom to be revealed, he wants the lost to be saved. And your church gets to play a part in it. What a mission!

Eric Simmons leads the singles ministry at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.Along with Joshua Harris, Eric also leads New Attitude—a conference for young Christians seeking to promote Humble Orthodoxy. For more information go towww.newattitude.org.

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