Saturday, February 24, 2007

True Evangelism

Lewis Sperry Chafer’s book, True Evangelism, although written almost a century ago, remains surprisingly relevant to our Christian culture today. This seems to be due, in part, to the continuing threats against the work of evangelism from within the church. More specifically, the threat of accepting unnecessary and unbiblical responsibility for the conversion of another man’s soul remains prominent throughout Christianity. Chafer repeatedly counters this emphasis on human effort and reminds us that “no human effort is effectual apart from the power of God”. In fact, the salvation of mankind is a “divine undertaking”.
Although Chafer admits that God can use wrong methods of evangelism, he also warns of the dangers when overemphasis is placed on our role in this divine work of mercy. These dangers include the manipulation of a person’s action without an emphasis on the conversion of the heart. As a result, the public steps often required of evangelists can become a meritous act required of the listener in order that they may secure their own salvation. Even further, when an individual assumes this personal responsibility for their own salvation, their assurance of salvation is never firm because, fundamentally, it depends on a cause-effect relationship with God. In other words, “If I do certain meritous acts, then God will bless me with His mercy and deliverance”. Perhaps the greatest danger of this false assurance is the discredit it brings to the work of the Holy Spirit which is relegated to a subtle and secondary role in the work of salvation and the ongoing protection of the believer in Jesus Christ. Salvation, as Chafer emphasis, is not conditioned upon any human act such as prayer, repentance, reformation, profession or “seeking the Lord”. Instead, salvation is wholly the work of God and is demonstrated by a voluntary turning from all hope based on self merit and trusting God to do a perfect saving work based only on the merit of Christ.
Yet the divine initiative does not absolve us from the privilege of cooperating with the work of the Spirit in another person’s life. Chafer redirects the reader from a position of “pleading with souls” to a responsibility of “pleading for souls”. He emphasizes this important role of prayer in the life of a believer and goes as far as to say that the work of God in salvation is conditioned on the prayers of His people. In fact, Chafer suggests that a lack of Holy Spirit conviction is likely correlated to a lack of prayer in the lives of those who have trusted Jesus. All hindrances to the movement of God in salvation, as Chafer sees them, are due to some failure on the human side. Yet, this perspective seems to contradict his earlier statements where salvation is seen wholly as a work of God. Even further, Chafer admits that God can, in fact, work through wrong methods. Therefore, it seems inconsistent to on the one hand teach the sovereignty of God, yet on the other hand, condition His activity on the human obligation to prayer.
With that being said, the importance of prayer should not be discounted all together. If for no other reason, we should pray as a response of obedience to the example and instruction of Jesus (Mt. 6:5-9, Mark 1:35) as well as the Apostles (Acts 2:42). Even Jesus prayed for the salvation of the soldiers who crucified him when he said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Clearly, we are to humble ourselves and go before the Lord in prayer, recognizing His sovereign control of all things, and seeking to cooperate with His holy work in another person’s life. Perhaps prayer has as much to do with the heart of the one praying as it does for the one for whom he is bringing before God.
This may be more of Chafer’s point as he closes his book with an emphasis on the “cleansing of the priest”. Here he elaborates on the importance of the purity of the believer priest as he approaches God through prayer. More to the point, Chafer teaches that “there is no prevailing power in prayer or effectiveness in ministry so long as the believer’s sin and defilement are not put away”. Therefore, our prayers can be hindered by our disobedience (1 Peter 3:7), and our disobedience can distract us from cooperating with the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who have not trusted Christ. For this reason, we should make every effort to remain in undefiled fellowship with our Father, through the forgiveness made possible by the Son, so that we might cooperate with the work of the Spirit in order to bring about the salvation of mankind.
Chafer’s balance of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of His people remains as a relevant message for the church today. His book, True Evangelism, is a Biblically base classic that should impact us in such a way that we are humbled by the power and grace of God and encouraged to join Him in His great work of salvation. What a blessing it is to suffer with Christ as a tool in the hands of God.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Same Kind of Different as Me

Having read this wonderful book in recent weeks, I couldn't help but recall this story in my own experience today. Taking the advice of one of my seminary professors, I asked our hospital chaplain if I could join him as he visited patients in the hospital. I felt like it would be a great learning experience as well as an important step in my continuing effort to merge my work and my ministry in the workplace. Here is my experience:
As we approached the door to this hospital room, I first observed the signs posted on the closed door of the room. Some were the typical signs one might see in the hospital such as "Fall Precautions" and "Vital Signs"; however, one sign posted over the door knob was a well written sign requesting that the door be kept closed after entering the room followed by the patients name indicating it was his request.
As we knocked and entered the room, we were greeted by pleasant black man lying in his bed. The room was very warm and when we inquired, the gentleman explained that he is cold natured and liked to keep the room warm. A thin sheet covered the mid section of his body and he was wearing the always attractive hospital gown. The TV was on, the window shades were open and newspaper was stacked on his bedside table. His legs, both abnormally large for his otherwise thin frame, were exposed displaying thick compression hose apparently used to control abnormal swelling in his legs.
The chaplain and I greeted the patient and exchanged the normal pleasantries. When asked why he was in the hospital, the gentleman explained his battle with congestive heart failure in recent years. The chaplain asked how it made him feel to struggle with CHF and the patient responded by describing how this disease made him feel much older than he really is. At the young age of 50, his symptoms often inhibit him from normal activity.
The conversation continued as we talked about his job as a yellow cab driver here in town and how much he enjoyed taking people places. The conversation took an unexpected turn, however, when the chaplain asked if the gentleman had in family nearby.
The man's head sank into his chest and he lifted his hand to cover his eyes. Not a word. And then he began to cry.
With gentle compassion, the chaplain invited the man to explain the hurt he was feeling. What followed was a sad, and yet typical story. His parents had recently died - his mom within the past 2 years and the dad as recent as the last few months. Not only was he moved by the loss of his parents, but also by the guilt of not treating them as he should have when they were alive. He talked about the kindness and care of his mom. She couldn't read or write, but she always cared for him and his 6 siblings. He said she was God's angel. She did drink some, but that was mostly because his dad did too and it was just what they did. His dad did the best he could, he was a good man, but his mom was always there for him.
As I listened to this man express his sorrow, I thought of things he might have done to deserve such guilt for not treating his parents as well as he wanted to. Did he ignore their needs? Did he steal from them or mislead them in any way? What could have caused his guilt? It was not as I expected.
He went on to explain how his mom had a stroke and since he was the oldest of the children and the only one without a family (except for his brother who was in prison), he would need to care for his mom. His dad simply couldn't manage the task. Whether caused by the stroke or some other means, this gentleman's mom was as he explained "not in her right mind". She would eat toilet paper in such amounts that doctors would have to "flush out her system" to keep it from blocking all movement. Not only that, she was quite confused and would eat her own excrement. "I don't know why she did that", he explained. "That's wasn't like my momma to do things like that."
And then he would pause to cry. "I wasn't always kind to my mom...She always took care of me...I wish I could do it all over again and I would do it differently."
There was much more to this experience as we learned about the loneliness and isolation of this man's life. But we were also able to see his desire to help others and to do a kind deed if he would be given the opportunity. His guilt was not as I expected. Perhaps there was more, but what he told us today would indicate not that he neglected his family, but he just wished he could have done more. I thought that what he did do was more than most.
Like the book "Same Kind of Different as Me", I felt like I encountered a man who lived in a different world than myself with experiences that I will likely never see. And although I wanted to express my sincere love and concern for this hurting man, I felt like what I had to say would somehow get lost in the deep cavern that separated our worlds. And yet, as we held hands and ended our time in prayer, he eyes once again raised to meet ours. He said he was glad we came by to visit. He was really needing to talk to someone and it felt good.
I am certain that the same conversation would not have occurred if I entered the room as an administrator, or even a clinician. This man knew we were there to care for him and he was hungry for that love. We could have avoided the emotion with shallow conversation, but the intentional questions and painful silence led this man to say what was heavy on his heart.
What difference would it make if we approached people more often with an open agenda: I am here to care for you. What if we avoided the superficial conversation and instead invited people to tell us how they feel? What if we listened, even in the moments of painful silence? What if we saw no barrier of culture or experience and trusted that all humanity has a common desire to be loved? What if we were more diligent to share the good news of a love that forgives and embraces, strengthens and renews, even to the deepest part of our soul? What if we were willing to go there more often? What if...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

You've Got Power!

This is for all leaders, husbands and people of influence: You have POWER!
And of the power you possess, none is more dominant than your power to disappoint. Without a word or even a deliberate action, you can bring devastating disappointment. Expectations from others are high. Your next "right move" is more obvious to others that it is to yourself. And yet, you must live in the reality that to not make that expected move will be assumed to be deliberate on your part. A deliberate effort to hurt or ignore or discourage.
Now, there seems to be no way to avoid missing the invisible mark set by others. Your power to disappoint will be wielded without your ability to control it. Thus, you must learn to love, encourage and support others to such a degree that your inevitable disappointment will not overshadow the predominance of your love.
You can't avoid disappointment, but love can cover a multitude of sins.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"I'm a Christian"...Does It Matter?

Maybe I am more naive than I thought. Many will read this and say, "You should have known better." I'll admit... I do take people for their word and often get burned. For me, when someone says they are a Christian, I assume they mean what they say. And in fact, they probably do mean what they say...they just don't know what it means. In our culture today, the term "christian" can be attached to so many things, many of which have nothing in common with the identification of a follower of Christ - God incarnate.
Christian Science has it in their name yet they openly confess that Jesus is not the Messiah and is not one with God. When interviewed, Gordon B. Hinckley, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism), said: "We are Christians in a very real sense and that is coming to be more and more widely recognized. Once upon a time people everywhere said we are not Christians. They have come to recognize that we are, and that we have a very vital and dynamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ." Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be Christian and yet teach that Jesus is not The God, Yahweh, but "a" god. They will go as far as to say that the modern translation of the Bible is inaccurate because they (the translators) left out important participles as in John 1:1 where the inspired Apostle writes, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." No, they should say, "...the Word was a god." One letter makes all the difference in the world.
More practically, I recently interviewed a candidate for a job who came with glowing references. They spoke openly about the "strong faith" and "integrity" of this individual based on their "unwavering Christian values". I wanted to hire this person on the spot. They said all the right things and looked impressive from every angle. Yet the decision was not mine and those who made the final decision chose someone else. The wrong person in my opinion! But because of this persons confession as a Christian, I found them a job somewhere else. Only to learn that 2 days after the hire, this individual walked in and quit. No notice, no warning! Her husband got a transfer (supposedly). So much for "integrity" and "unwavering Christian values".
Another employee, also a professing Christian, is living with the father of her child and is trying to decide whether to get married or not. She too made an unexpected job change because she has been praying about it and feels like "God is leading her" to this new job in order to protect her family in case her relationship "doesn't work out."
Stop! Just Quit! I've had enough! When we are proclaiming the name of Christ and walk in a manner inconsistent with what we are saying, we are a liar and the truth is not in us!

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 Jn 1:6)

The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1 Jn 2:4)

Now, I understand we all make mistakes. That is why the author of 1 John follows these warnings with the promise, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
But for Christs sake (literally), don't walk in sin, and then claim that God is hearing your prayer, ignoring your sin and leading you in a path of continued unrighteousness. To walk in sin and proclaim God's leading in your life without a change in direction is incompatible with the truth of Scripture. To use the name of Christ to pad the resume with no evidence of living as the name suggests is blasphemy.

"We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us. (2 Cor 5:20)

Isn't it sad...the name Christian has absolutely no value today. You can't trust it. It means too many different things, and so many have nothing to do with the Christ of the Bible or those who choose to follow Him.
Isn't it sad...that we hesitate to be known as a Christian because so many people have corrupted what the name means that we don't even want to be associated with such a defiled title.
Isn't it sad...that the open denial of Christ continues today just as it did with the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Those who claim to know God are often the ones who discredit Him most.
Maybe I am naive, but this all hurts me deeply.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Purpose of Prophesy

During lunch with my good friend Andy this week, he asks a great question as we were talking about the book Epicenter. "What is the purpose of prophesy?"
Having not put too much thought to it, one particular verse did came to mind. I thought of Luke 12:54-56 when Jesus admonishes His audience and says, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. "And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. "You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?"
Our local weatherman sends us an email everyday to tell us what to expect. Some days it is rain and I will make sure I have my umbrella. Other days it is cold and I will make sure I wear my heavy coat. The natural signs of weather are fairly predictable and we often observe them and then act accordingly. Yet, Jesus tells us that we should be equally as discerning with spiritual things. We should watch what is happening in our world and consider how it correlates with the promises of God. To neglect this responsibility could lead to apathy. A place where we become dull to spiritual things and miss out on the blessing of recognizing the work of God in our lives and His faithful fulfillment of His promises.
It seems reasonable to me that if we recognize God's work in the world in accordance with His promises, we can receive personal encouragement in knowing that He is equally faithful in our lives as well. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)
This assurance of the faithfulness of God is but one purpose of prophesy. But seeing prophesy should also call us to action. It should give us a sense of urgency. It should stir us up, to be ready for the Lord’s return, and even to hasten its coming: “Learn this parable from the fig tree: whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:32-33). “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
"What is the purpose of prophesy?" I suggest at least 2 reasons: It is a gift of God in order that we may be strengthened in our faith and made bold in our witness. May we do so to the praise of His glory - Our creator God and King, whose kingdom has no end!