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Archive for October, 2018


Born to Run (Front Cover).jpgThe other day, at the beginning of Sunday School, I asked the group which was better: Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town. Most of them were clueless.

My brothers were Springsteen fans. I began to listen to my brother’s Springsteen albums. I’m torn between BtR and Darkness. Born to Run was the first album that didn’t sound like a 60’s Dylan album that took about $100 to make. That’s because the label give it a big budget in the hopes Springsteen would finally find commercial success. Darkness is … darker and more aggressive. But BtR is more consistent.

Springsteen is a story-teller with a great back up band. He’s not a singer. He’s one step above Tom Waits. He stays in tune but his voice is rough, very rough. These are great songs though.

The album, thanks to the big budget, took 14 months to write, refine and record. The title track consumed 6 months alone. Springsteen had a vision that he struggled to bring to life. His manager and producer just couldn’t understand and would soon be replaced.

While Darkness is darker, this is still dark. It has a fair amount of nihilism and despair. While they were born to run he laments an American dream the characters can never achieve.

At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines…

I wanna die with you, Wendy, on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss…

Yet, like George in Of Mine and Men he holds out the hope of a better future. He’s a man confused and torn by despair.

The album starts with Thunder Road. This time her name is Mary. She’s not a beauty but she’s alright enough for him. That is one of the interesting things about Springsteen. He uses lots of names, adding to the authenticity that helps him connect with his audience.

Again it is about soul-eating poverty, hopelessness. He longs to escape with Mary. The lyrics are long and meandering, like Dylan, instead of following the more typical pop song structure. It’s like he’s talking to you, sharing his fading hope for a promised land (and having a song by that title on Darkness on the Edge of Town).

The lonely harmonica begins the song to set the tone before the piano kicks in. It is a strange way to start a rock album. Finally the guitar kicks in and the song builds with his urgency. The sax solo is the crescendo and the song fades.

The is a big shift to Tenth Avenue Freez-Out. The more upbeat music hides the danger of the main character who has his back to the wall running on the bad side. Bad Scooter is looking for his groove as a musician seeks to find a place to play, a way forward. More isolation. All due to a 10th Ave. Freeze-Out. No gigs?

It all changes when the Big Man joins the band. Scooter and the Big Man bust the doors and take the city by storm. You are left to wonder how autobiographical this song is, or isn’t

In Night Bruce is writing about what he imagines a working man’s life is like. In a concert he tells the story of working for his uncle when he was 14, just long enough to get the money for a guitar. Hasn’t worked a day since.

This person lives for the night when he looks for the nameless woman with whom to share his life. There is no meaning in work, and love is elusive. This is a man looking for meaning, desperately. It explodes musically, and keeps up an aggressive pace.

Backstreets speaks of young love at the beach. But this isn’t Grease. Or is it just friendship. Terry is one of those names. But there is talk of slow dancing, studying movies to get the strut right. And finding life on the backstreets where life is a little dangerous.

It starts slowly, piano and organ until the sax, guitar crank up the volume. Ringing chords fill the verses. Finally a guitar solo. For a guy who showed up in a book on great guitarists, he sure didn’t play many solos, focusing on the band. I like guitar solos. At the end he repeats “hiding on the backstreets” about 20 times too many. Yeah, we get it. Play guitar!

Image result for dancing in the darkThe second side begins with the title song. Remember, I was listening to vinyl. This is the song that broke it up for him. Yes, it all went to another level with Born in the U.S.A. but Born to Run made him a star ready for superstar status in the mid-80’s thanks to MTV and Courtney Cox. Cars, a girl, despair. Oh, yeah I said all that already. But the song is full of hooks and they catch you.

She’s the One begins with the power chords and swirling piano. She’s the one who will steal your heart. She’s nameless, ethereal. The song is surprisingly aggressive musically. The sax really kicks in in the last part of the song.

Meeting Across the River begins with trumpet and piano reminiscent of a meandering river. A jazzy feel is a surprise. We meet Eddie and the two of them have a meeting about a “job” across the river. He wants to turn the tables on Cherry who claims she’s going to walk out on him. He wants to strike it big and walk out on her. It is a sad song. A vindictive song.

I don’t know what Jungleland is about. At points it seems like a brawl to settle debts but then boys wield guitars like switchblade knives. It is a mystery that begins with strings and piano. Then the piano begins the familiar riff that sets up the song. He throws in all kinds of details like a Dodge, the Magic Rat, a band or gang called the Rangers.

At the word jungleland the guitar strikes the chords and the song picks up steam. One of the astounding things is how Springsteen can remember all of these lyrics for his marathon concerts. Frequently there are tons of lyrics to the stories he tells. There are two instrumental breaks featuring the sax. They are quite lengthy as the song takes up over 9 minutes. The second winds down to the piano until Bruce sings again. It returns to a sense of despair. The Rat’s own dream guns him down. It was not a good night in jungleland. Bruce groans in lamentation as the song winds down. As does the album.

A number of these songs still fill his concerts. This is one of the best albums of the 70’s. Springsteen’s vision came to life and it was worth the struggle.

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It arrived at the church for free. I’m curious about free books. Sometimes they are important books that the publisher wants to put into the hands of pastors. I’ve gotten a few of those and appreciated them. Sometimes they are fringe-type books that contain some idiosyncratic ideas.

IGospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant by [Ham, Ken] wasn’t sure which Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant by Ken Ham would be. It was a small book (I read it in three sittings, but it could have been two) and I had just finished a few books. I had a gap in my reading. This fit into that gap without setting me back.

This book isn’t exactly what I had hoped it would be. It did have some important ideas. It also had some idiosyncratic ideas.

Cards on the table time. I am a 6-day young earth creationist. I am therefore not taking issue or colored negatively by Ham’s view of creation, or of Scripture. In some ways, I guess I’m part of his choir. Not fully, because I used to adhere to the Framework Hypothesis and don’t consider the allowable views of creation in my denomination to be heretical though I disagree with them. My friends and co-laborers in the gospel have different views from me. One playful gives me grief for mine. I’m good as long as they hold to a real Adam (and Eve) and a real fall. Anyway …

Image result for paul on mars hillHam starts with the premise, a correct one, that western culture has changed significantly in the last 30 years. This shift should mean that how we evangelize needs to change. He discusses this in terms of an Acts 2 Jewish culture versus and Acts 17 Gentile culture. The first had a (generally) biblical worldview and knowledge of Bible content and terminology. The latter came from a pagan background with no biblical understanding. There was plenty of pre-evangelism that Paul had to do.

Paul didn’t merely have a different style of evangelism but because his audience was very different needed to get to the gospel in a very different way. They knew of gods, not God, and had a different concept of sin and its penalty, what an afterlife was about etc.

I grew up in a time when most people had some basic concepts down. Events from the Bible were common knowledge even if people didn’t go to church. That isn’t the case anymore. So we need to talk about these elementary ideas so that our evangelism is meaningful to the person even if they don’t convert.

It was the why our culture is this way that made the book idiosyncratic. There was mention of the indoctrination in evolution. This is a real struggle and problem. Ironically, I became a Christian, in part, while studying evolution in college. Put into the context of the possibility of extraterrestrial life, this seemed fantastical and required more faith in accidents of nature.

HeImage result for barack obama devotes a chapter to another cause of this shift: Barack Obama. Yes, it was going okay until this point despite the frequent mentions of the Ark he built. While Barack Obama was a pluralist and post-modern, those were both issues long before he was elected President. He’s a result of the problem, not the cause of the problem. I’m no defender of President Obama, but he isn’t the devil and didn’t move us from an Acts 2 culture to an Acts 17 culture.

In terms of the solution, he’s essentially arguing for a more redemptive-historical approach than a systematic theological approach to evangelism. He doesn’t say that since it is taught in those “Greek seminaries” like the one I went to. “Greek seminaries” are those that views on Genesis 1-3 that are in addition to Ham’s (and my) view.

I wish it was fleshed out more. Compatible methods of evangelism would be one focusing on Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation including Two Ways to Live. This connects us to God’s great Story instead of zipping us in at redemption. You could do that in a culture that had general knowledge of the Bible.

Ham uses a form of presuppositional apologetics. I agree with that methodology and theological commitment. It is not just about evangelism but also helpful in theological debate/discussion. For instance, I find that differences of opinion on the proper subjects of baptism come from different assumptions or presuppositions about other subjects like ecclesiology. In apologetics you don’t simply discuss their views, but try to get to the root of their view and challenge that. It inevitably gets to the question authority (just like in theological debate).

At the end it is essentially an advertisement for Answers in Genesis’ curriculum. Other ministries have ads in the back, but not usually pages of book text. The effect is a little different.  Or at least struck me differently.

Keep in mind that I share his views on creation and apologetics! How he expresses them, and seems to discredit other Christians, can lend itself to cultic type thinking. That is the not only are we right, but we’re the only ones who are right kind of thinking. Having firm convictions is good! Placing everyone else on the outside can be dangerous depending on how small you draw that circle.

Image result for spidey-senseFor instance, the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus is a good and biblical circle. To draw the circle around the issue of baptism- only those who have our understanding of baptism are saved- is to draw the circle too tightly. And there are groups who do that- cults like the Church of Christ Boston did.

Ham is holding to what I believe is a biblical view. But at times I wonder if he’s drawing that circle too tight. Is only the “fundamentalist” branch of the PCA “in” or do we recognize those who hold to the other acceptable views of creation “in” too? I’m not sure from this short book, but I have some red flags going up. My spidey-sense is tingling.

What I am afraid of (or concerned about if you prefer that terminology) is that people who affirm where he is right will also affirm the idiosyncractic and begin to disrupt the peace of the church because their understanding of the purity of the church permits no disagreement on how the Creator created.

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I first heard of this book from Tim Challies’ blog. It piqued my interest. I thought it may prove a good resource when I preach through NT epistles.

This book is Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew Rueger. Rueger is a Lutheran pastor who was asked to teach a lesson “on the other side” at a university class on ethics. The argument by cultural progressives is that Christianity is morally regressive. Rueger explodes this myth/fallacy by showing what the world was like before the Christian sexual ethic took root in the Roman Empire with the spread of the gospel. The sexual morals of societies before the spread of Christianity looks like where the progressives are trying to bring society. Rueger then moves to the present and discusses the current debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

“My desire in writing this book is to help Christians engage the world around them in reasoned discussion.”

In a sense this feels like two books at times- or perhaps three. There are historical sections, theological/expositional sections and then sociological sections. They all work together to build a compelling case.

In many ways this is not an easy read, or one that should be read by everybody. In particular, some may struggle with the early chapters discussing the sexual morality of Greece and Rome. It made me very glad I was not born in that time and place. People who have suffered similar victimization may be troubled by it. However, this is an excellent book to offset the views students are taught in public schools and centers for higher learning.

The first chapter is The Roman Context, which necessarily includes Greece too. At the time of Christ, much of the Roman Empire had once been part of the Greek Empire and Hellenized. There were not really differences of practice, but there were differences of rationale behind those behaviors.

He begins by noting that orientation is a “modern phenomenon” which seems to be lost on most conservatives. Orientation is slippery, in a sense, because some gay activists freely acknowledge that orientation is a concept of recent conception, and some would not agree with the way orientation is defined by the courts. They see orientation as fluid, while the courts have defined it as immutable (he notes Varnum v. Brien, Iowa 2009).

The ancients, therefore, including the early Christians “did not understand sexuality in terms of orientation.” For Greek culture, “sex was about the pursuit of beauty”, and they took it where they could get it. The ideal of beauty in their culture was young boys. In Roman culture, sex was tied to their idea of masculinity which was domination. Men were honored for dominating others sexually, and ridiculed if they were dominated sexually. It was an ethic very much like what we see in prisons today. This shaped their view of rape in the legal system. It was only rape if it involved a free Roman citizen. Slaves and non-citizens could be raped without consequence, particularly by free Roman citizens (talk about privilege!).

Greeks made no such distinction between citizens and non-citizens. Pederasty was common among Greeks and Romans, though there was some taboo in Rome where freeborn boys were concerned. Young male slaves were vulnerable. You were expected to take advantage of them.

“Our early Christian ancestors did not confess biblical chastity in a safe culture that naturally agreed with them.”

Marriage was not between equals. Male privilege ran rampant in these “progressive” cultures. Marriage was for status and heirs and the Empire, not love. Sexual pleasure was sought elsewhere. Seeking sex from a boy or man was viewed as a higher form of sexual relationship which included intellectual love.

He discusses the role of the gymnasium in Greek and Roman life. The word meant ‘naked’ for it was where the boys and young men exercised naked. One of the more popular sports was wrestling. Clothes, inhibitions and modesty were all shed together. Generally slaves were prohibited from entering the gymnasium. These teens were watched, and pursued, by older men in this environment.

Family life was twisted by their diminished view of women. Greek wives were virtually prisoners in their homes. They would leave for some religious rites, but that was about it. Roman wives had more rights and mobility. They could conduct trade. Since their “job” was to produce children for the Empire, women were often married once they were able to have children to maximize the child-bearing years due to infant mortality rates. For the population to grow, you needed to have at least 3 children survive to adulthood (it’s all about the Empire)so you needed to have at least 6 children. Expectations were different for the wealthy (you can’t have too many elites), and infanticide was a problem in Rome.

Husbands had rights over their wives, but not wives over her husband. He was free to sow his oats outside of the marriage. She was not. If caught, she and her male partner could be prosecuted (assuming the husband was a free man with means). In keeping with the twisted view of sexuality in Rome, the husband could “rape the male offender and then, if he desired, to kill his wife.” This was a brutal and depraved society.

Image result for escherIt was a world of promiscuity and perversion into which the gospel of Jesus Christ was first preached. Paul called it a crooked and twisted generation (Phil. 2:15). The Gentiles who converted came from a background of pornography, prostitution (including temple prostitutes), homosexuality/bisexuality, and rape. Like those around them, they had been given over to their disordered desires. The Gospel called people out of this perverse way of life, confronting the sexual mores of Rome.

Rueger then addresses the Jewish Context, which should not be assumed to be the same as the Christian viewpoint because it wasn’t. Judaism did not permit homosexuality like the Gentiles did. It prohibited prostitution. It did, however, permit polygamy and concubines. There was also a double standard concerning adultery. Wives were to produce heirs.

The sexual abuse of children was considered punishable. But it was merely a fine in the Mishnah. Generally, Jewish culture was less perverse than Greek and Roman cultures. But we see it was still warped by sin. The Gospel and subsequent definition of holy living would confront aspect of Jewish sexuality and marriage as well.

“We live in a culture that has a vested interest in misinterpreting the passages about sex and morality.”

He then moves into the expositional section of the book. Rueger looks at particular passages that are central to these discussions. He discusses context, briefly, to help people understand how to interpret texts. He includes some passages about marriage to indicate the equal rights and responsibilities of spouses in sexual matters. He then moves into sexual immorality and homosexual sex. In 1 Corinthians he notes the two words used for homosexual activity which indicate both the penetrator and penetrated are guilty of breaking God’s Law, which is quite contrary to Roman ethics.

“It should be noticed that Paul does not treat homosexual sins differently than heterosexual sins when it comes to the application of Law and Gospel. Both are addressed side by side as equally contrary to God’s Law and both are spoken of as equally forgivable.”

He then moves to the present with “Mom, Dad, I’m Gay”. As a Lutheran pastor, he applies Law and Gospel to this situation. He also challenges the basis for those who challenge traditional/biblical teachings on homosexuality. In our culture, objectivity is laid aside and subjectivity is embraced. He discusses the many reasons why someone could be homosexual.

“It is important for us as Christians to understand that not all homosexuality is the same. … Christians do a great disservice to those who seek Christ’s grace and mercy by lumping all same-sec attracted people into one group.”

In that application of Law and Gospel, he draws a big distinction between those who seek to normalize homosexuality and those who believe it is wrong and struggle with their same sex desires (as well as other sexual sins). The former need the Law to convict them of sin, and the latter need to Gospel for forgiveness and sanctification. Too often I hear Christians speak of people struggling with same sex desire as one big group, as if they are all activists. There is a quiet majority (?) of those who are conflicted in themselves between what they experience and what they believe is right.

Additionally, the Church needs to remember that heterosexual desire also creates sinful desires (such as for adultery, fornication, pornography, polygamy etc.). I’ve had pastors say to me that it is different because same-sex attraction is unnatural. But we need to put those desires to sin to death because they are just as deadly & dangerous, just as sinful, as same-sex desires. Until we do that, we will treat them as lepers.

He stresses the role of the Church as making the pardoning and purifying grace of Jesus Christ known to its members who struggle with these desires. Being Lutheran, he stresses the sacraments. As a Reformed Christian, I hold a high view of the sacraments and their being means of grace. But not as high as Lutherans. He seems to disconnect their efficacy from faith. But the Table is a place to bring disordered desires of all kinds to Jesus and receive His help through our union with Him.

“Temptation is not the same as sin. Temptations play on those elements of our inner being that have a weakness for a certain sin, but in and of themselves temptations are not sins.”

He moves into an area of debate among even conservative Christians. He distinguishes temptation from sin. His statements are similar to those of Nancy Pearcey, Rosaria Butterfield and others (though Rosaria then seems to put homosexual temptation in a separate category in the next paragraph). The gospel does teach us to say ‘no’ to unrighteousness, which means we are mortifying our temptations. As Christians our temptations, while real and present, should not define us. He includes three paragraphs from Luther’s Larger Catechism in which Luther differentiates temptation and sin. Luther further distinguishes temptation from desire (or what we call lust), in which we are entertaining or giving way to temptation rather than mortifying it, but have not yet committed the act in question. This is likely what Owen means in his phrase “entering into temptation.” I find this a helpful distinction.

Tempted? Mortify it! Lusting? Mortify it and repent! Done it? Repent!

“Christians are not less sinful than non-Christians, but they do have a Savior who both forgives sins and fights within them against the temptations in their path.”

He returns to the question of orientation. It usually refers to the idea that sexuality and attraction are essential elements of a person resulting from their individual biology which cannot be changed. This “immutability” is an accident of their birth. This is how the courts have spoken about this. As Rueger notes, real life is not some simple. For some people, “orientation” or attraction is more fluid. They shift between heterosexual and homosexual at points in life (as opposed to bisexuality). The claims of the courts, and activists, don’t fit reality. Instead of orientation, he advocates talking about sexual identity or gender preference. These leave room for the gospel to be at work, while the language of orientation is misleading and fatalistic.

Rueger then addresses “A Mixed Bag of Objections”. He brings up objections to the Christian understanding of homosexuality and refutes them. We see objections like “inconsistency in applying the law” to which he responds with the three divisions of the law. He brings up racial prejudice and slavery, genetics and brain studies, and twin studies. He explores them, affirms where there are real concerns (Christians have been guilty of prejudice and advocated for and against race-based slavery rooted in man-stealing). He examines those studies and mentions other studies that sought to correct methodological flaws.

The next chapter focuses on same-sex marriage. He builds a case against it from natural law and reason since most people (especially the courts) aren’t concerned about what Scripture says. He brings up studies indicating that children thrive to a greater extent with two parents of the opposite sex. They do better in school and get into less trouble with the law. Where traditional marriage decays (including through divorce and never-married parents), state funding to support children increases greatly. He recognizes the limits of these arguments. Most people, while appealing to reason, often don’t listen to it. Their hearts want what their hearts want. Only God, by His Spirit can change that.

“Sexual promiscuity leaves a trail of broken people and regret. It also tends to go hand in hand with an attitude that sees people as objects for one’s own sexual gratification and not as beings worthy of committed love.”

This was a very helpful book. It is not a long book. Rueger is generally succinct and gets to the point. He does make a number of good and necessary distinctions which often trip up discussions by their absence. This would be a helpful book for pastors, youth workers, teachers, parents and students facing pressure to conform to worldly standards.

To return to his thesis: Christianity is not affirming regressive sexual mores, but continues to call people out of the regressive sexuality that results in rampant promiscuity, sexual abuse and assault, societal instability and misogyny.

 

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Recently, two of our members decided to join the core group of a church plant in another part of town. I hated to see them go, but we want to support church plants and see our people engaging in mission. As we commissioned them to this task (I didn’t want them to simply change churches but be actively engaged helping grow that plant) I gave them two books. One was a little book by Rico Tice (with Carl Lafterton) called Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough.

Rico is now Senior Minister at All Souls Langham Place, and founded Christianity Explored Ministries. He used to be the Minister of Evangelism at All Souls when John Stott was alive. He relates some of his experiences as a new Christian sharing his faith while in high school as well. He has decades of experience sharing his faith and helping other share their faith that he brings to the table in this books.

He is honest; about evangelism and himself. For instance, he begins the book this way:

“I find evangelism hard. The problem with being an evangelist is that people assume that you find evangelism effortless; but I don’t find it easy, and never have.”

We see something of his conception of God on the opening page: “God is the great evangelist, the great seeker and finder of people…”. Made in His image, and restored in that image by the work of Christ, we are to be seekers and finders of people too.

In the first chapter he discusses what he calls the painline. To share the gospel we must be willing to cross the painline, willing to risk discomfort and the loss of relationship. Being an evangelist involves grief and loss (as well as gain and joy!). His belief is that this unwillingness to cross the painline is what keeps so many of us from doing evangelism. We don’t like pain. We don’t want to lose friendships. We want to see all of our family and friends slid into the kingdom without us having to risk anything, without us having to enter uncomfortable space with them.

He refers to the parable of the Tenants (Mark 12) in making his case. He moves this from Jesus’ original meaning of Israel to the world. He explains that shift by noting that we share the same DNA as they do. It isn’t as if the scribes and Pharisees had different spiritual conditions from the average unbeliever. Those who threaten the spiritual status quo of rebellion risk being attacked. He notes the context of 1 Peter 3:15 as one of a persecuted church. The church is to be ready to give an answer for hope in the midst of being attacked for its faith in Jesus Christ. Rice is being honest about the hostility we can expect to experience.

Image result for asking a girl outThere are also people who are hungry for truth, love and salvation. He’s honest about that too. There will be gain and joy when we evangelize. When we shrink back we’ll get neither. “Until you cross the painline, you don’t know what response you will meet with.” I thought of my years dating. Or trying to. To ask a girl out you have to cross a similar painline. In many ways it is easier to ask out a girl you just met than risk ending a friendship by asking out one you’ve known for some time. You have to ask, is there more to be gained than lost. Will it be worth it?

And that is the topic of the second chapter. He spends some time pondering the glory of Jesus. The other side of that is grieving over the rejection or denigration of Jesus. Our union with Christ means that when Jesus approached Saul on the road to Damascus, He asks Saul “Why are you persecuting Me?” Conversely when people attack Jesus they are also attacking us (even if they don’t realize it).

“It is because I am one with Christ that I am thus dreadfully wounded.” quoting Henry Martyn

It was this grief over seeing Jesus robbed of glory, not being adored, that caused Paul to cross the painline. This is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer- our desire for God’s name to be hallowed should result in crossing the painline. Here he also discusses the reality of hell, and the motive of love in warning people on the highway there.

The painline is not the only reason we don’t evangelize. He discusses some others too. He talks about idolatry. The fact that we don’t talk about Jesus more than we talk about x, y or z means that we may love those things more than Jesus. Another reason we don’t evangelize is our lack of love for Jesus.

He is honest with us, and that honesty can hurt at times. Most of us should feel some conviction as we read the early portions of the book. May God grant repentance to us.

The second part of the book moves into how to evangelize (I keep wanting to type ‘evangelise’ since he uses the British spelling throughout the book).

“Part of any pastor’s job is to help people proclaim Christ in whatever circumstances God has placed them.”

Image result for evangelismHere he brings in God’s sovereignty. I’ve been pushing this in my preaching over the last few years with respect to evangelism. God has placed us in homes/families, neighborhoods and work places for particular reasons. We don’t have to go looking for people to evangelize, He’s already put us in contexts with plenty of people to evangelize. We are also greatly loved. We don’t earn God’s love by evangelism but evangelize because we are greatly loved. Though people’s fleeting affections may fail us, God’s never will. He is with us for the long run. He also reminds us that our job is bearing witness. The hard work, conversion, is God’s work. Success for us is speaking the truth about Jesus, saying enough that they can know who He is, what He’s done and how they can be saved. That might not be a single conversation, but many. And that is the subject to which Rice turns.

But we need to be honest too. People are not to be evangelism projects. We are to enjoy them for who they are, genuinely care about their interests (see Philippians 2). That is revealed in asking more questions of them- listening to them more than speaking to them. We also “chat our faith”, bringing it up in normal conversation when appropriate. That can be discussing what you did on the weekend, why you made particular decisions, address ethical questions at work etc.

In what we say, Rice talks about it in terms of Jesus’ identity (who He is), mission (why He came & what He did) and call (what he wants from us). This could have made for its own book, but he handles them briefly. That is the way we’ll likely have to handle them in our conversations. We need to be focused, and he is in this chapter. Jesus is the Messiah who came to save sinners and calls us to faith and repentance.

Image result for paul on mars hillHe then asks us to be honest about who we are. He identifies four main styles of evangelism personified by Peter, Paul, the formerly blind man and the woman at the well. Some of us confront others, some are more intellectual, some focus on our testimony and others invite people to come and see. One of these likely comes more naturally to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t utilize the other styles. God has made you in particular ways to reach particular people. Others in your life will be reached using other styles or introducing them to people at church who share in that style. We need each other for a church to faithfully evangelize.

Rice then addresses the cultural changes that have taken place in the last few decades that create addition obstacles to evangelism. People are generally ignorant of Scripture now. They don’t have a basic background that includes the Bible. Many have shifted from having objections to faith to thinking faith irrelevant. Current research notes that the average people will hear the gospel for 2 years before coming to faith. That time frame is increasing. Evangelism is a long term commitment to love a person and speak truth to them. They are less likely to visit church or a Bible study now. We need to be willing to bring the gospel, and the Bible to them.

He concludes with two things to do: pray and go.

This book is quite short. That could be a disadvantage if you are looking for an exhaustive volume on evangelism. This is not the book for you. But it is a focused book for people needing motivation and some direction. It is quite helpful in that regard. He accomplishes his goals. He includes enough personal stories to illustrate his points and help you realize this is an ordinary guy wanting to be faithful, like you.

 

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At our most recent Presbytery meetings, one of our pastors was handing out some free copies of a little book he’d recently read. That book was Hit by Friendly Fire: What to Do When Fellow Believers Hurt You by Michael Milton.

This is a very short book, which is likely a good thing when you are struggling with betrayal and deep wounds. It is a simple book as well. It is laid out to help you quickly deal with an all to common problem. As I noted in my sermon yesterday, the church is a community of saints AND a community of sinners. We will hurt each other, sometimes deeply. Pastors sometimes not that sheep bite, and they do. The closer you are to that particular sheep, the more it hurts.

In many ways this little book is an explanation of a text in Zechariah 13.

And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’ he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’

Zechariah’s experience as a prophet was intended to be typical of prophets and typological of Jesus Himself. Those who bring the Word of the Lord will not always be welcome among their people. They will be beaten and battered. Many were even put to death due to their unpopular message (sin and salvation has never been very popular). Jesus was rejected by His own people, cursed and reviled, given over to death at the hands of the Romans.

Leaders, particularly pastors, can draw the ire of church members because they have to say unpopular things. At times our friends, while not harming us physically, can inflict damage that hampers our ministry.

“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, not oaks.” Richard Sibbes

Milton notes 3 counseling sessions that had 1 thing in common; betrayal. When we are hurt, we can often respond by hurting others. We have to be wise and careful. It reveals our great need for Jesus.

“Without drinking from the divine draught of Christ’s very person, we become dry and graceless in our souls, and therefore we have no reserves to draw upon when conflict arises.”

It can be difficult for us to move on, as he notes with the metaphor of the stopped clock. We get stuck. Milton brings us to Joseph who connected his pain to God. His suffering was not accidental (nihilistic or chaos). This is not to blame God to be recognize God has good purposes in bringing difficulty into our lives, including the difficulty of betrayal.

Seeing the connection with God, we can then pick up our cross. Jesus’ suffering is a pattern for our lives, as well as His saving work. The Christian life is one of self-denial, and this is one of the key times that self-denial is necessary. First the cross and then the crown. Christ’s crown came in the context of betrayal. Ours too. It is not an excuse for self-pity and a victim’s mentality. It is the realization that I am called to die to self and follow Jesus. Like Jesus, I’m to entrust myself to the Father and continue to do good even as others line me up in their sights.

He then advises us to take off our crown. We are not in control. God is the Sovereign. It is not ours to avenge, not ours to repay. We then go to our own Gethsemene. It does sound a bit backwards since Jesus was in Gethsemene before taking up His cross. The key part of Gethsemene is “not my will but Thine be done.”

“Note carefully: if there is to be resurrection- a new life to emerge from the pain, the betrayal, the hurtful words- there must be a crucifixion; and if there is to be a crucifixion- by the Father for the good of many- then there must be a Gethsemene moment when you say, ‘Not my will but yours.'”

Just as the Father didn’t abandon His Son to the grave, He will not abandon us in our suffering either. We will be raised up, renewed. He will transform us by the pain.

He ends with an encouragement to not give up on the church. He notes a personal experience as a newer Christian when he walked into a church fight without realizing it. The pastor’s adult daughter encouraged him to not give up on God’s people. We are not all we long to be, nor do all we wish we’d do. We still live in Romans 7, and so does everyone else in the Church.

This is a helpful little book. He says enough, and doesn’t drown us with words. He gets to the point.

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