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IOut of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope. became familiar with Christopher Yuan’s story when my wife gave me a copy of Out of a Far Country written by Christopher and his mother Angela. It is the story of his coming out of the closet, dropping out of dental school and pursuing a gay lifestyle, his parents’ initial rejection, their conversion and subsequent pursuit of Christopher and his conversion after being imprisoned as a drug dealer.

In the course of that story he mentioned the concept he called ‘holy sexuality’. At the time, I hoped he’d develop that further. Over the years I was disappointed that he didn’t. His name would arise periodically as a wave of controversies regarding how the church is to interact with people experiencing same-sex attraction arose.

The Revoice controversy was perhaps the worst of the lot. In many ways it seemed to be an exercise in talking past one another. At least that was my experience of many of those discussions and debates. These controversies reveal that the Church still needs to talk about how to faithfully and effectively serve those who experience same-sex attractions.

Recently I discovered that he’d released Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story in the fall of 2018. I bought a copy for myself, and by faith one for the church library. It was my hope that this could be helpful in helping us work through these issues.

He tackles a number of the issues that lay at the heart of the various controversies. It is not a big book, so it sticks to the point and does not overwhelm with information. At times he interacts (briefly) with opposing views. That can be too brief at times, for instance his discussion of Matthew Vines on the issue of ‘bad fruit’.

He begins with the reality of God’s Story which is intended to help us to understand and shape our story. This refers to the history of redemption (creation ==> fall ==> redemption ==> consummation) found in Scripture intended to help us to understand life and the world. He moves into questions about identity, the image of God, and the reality of sin. He then introduces holy sexuality and dives into the issues of temptation, desire, orientation and then marriage and singleness. The book concludes with how to assist those who struggle with sexual sin in terms of sanctification, discipleship, and outreach. As you can see, the breadth of material covered is impressive.

TImage result for rosaria butterfieldhe book begins with a forward by his ‘big sister’ Rosaria Butterfield. There is some irony there. She was a lesbian professor/academic who became a Christian in the process of writing a book critical of the Religious Right due to the friendship that developed with a Presbyterian pastor and his wife. She left academia and ended up marrying a pastor. She regrets the work she did in laying the groundwork for the changes in our culture we’ve seen in the last 15 years regarding marriage and benefits.

He is a man who was gay, dropping out of dental school to basically live the party life. To support himself he became a drug dealer and ended up in prison. He saw a Bible in the trash and grabbed it because he was bored. He became a Christian and after getting out of prison went back to school and entered academia. He remains single, experiencing same-sex desires but seeking to live out a holy sexuality.

Rosaria’s forward covers some ground he will as well: union in Christ, the development of sexual orientation in the 19th century, that the real issue is not homosexuality but unbelief (which keeps us in Adam).

“The idol of our historical epoch is this: your sexual desires define you, determine you, and should always delight you.” Rosaria Butterfield

Yuan begins with discussing paradigms. Our identity shouldn’t be based on sinful practices, or what we can’t do (anymore). He expresses his frustration with the dynamics of the discussions, particularly the heterosexual-homosexual paradigm. I share his frustration. Between Christians as least, we should try to use biblical language. Too often I find people, both conservative and liberal, using cultural language for a very theological discussion.

He shares the story of Andy who was a classmate of his who was married. Eventually Andy left his wife because despite his prayers, God didn’t take those same-sex desires away. We’ve all known a guy like Andy. I know a few. Some left the faith without getting married. Others left their wives and their faith, leaving a trail of wreckage because they had to be “true to themselves”.

At some point people started to confuse their desires with their identity. Some conservatives further this despite their intentions in how they shape the gospel differently for people who practice homosexual sex. What many people with same-sex attractions hear is “If I am my desires, then who I am, not just my actions, are condemned. As I continue to feel these desires, I must still be condemned.” People like Andy are tempted to change their convictions because they confuse those desires with identity.

He notes that until the mid-1800’s, sexuality was about behavior, not orientation or identity. Carl Westphal was one of the earliest to use homosexuality to describe a person’s nature rather than behavior. Yuan does some philosophizing about the rise of identity through Romanticism and nihilism.

Sola experientia (‘experience alone’) won over sola Scripture (‘Scripture alone’).”

We do need to have a biblical anthropology, and speak consistently with that. I agree with Yuan and Butterfield that due to our union in Christ our identity is Christ. Where I ‘depart’ from them is in mandating that people speak the same way. Part of the Revoice controversy was about using the term “gay” or “homosexual Christian”. They were following Wesley Hill who says in his book Washed and Waiting that Christian refers to his identity and gay/homosexual his struggle (page 22). I don’t get bent out of shape when I understand that. Not the preferred terminology, but he’s often communicating with people who aren’t Christians and don’t typically speak about same-sex desire (they use the language of identity and orientation).

This is a practical difference, not a theological difference. In her book Openness Unhindered she has a chapter, Conflict: When Sisters Disagree, about this capacity to love people who speak differently. But her comments about the PCA and Revoice appear to have a very different approach. I’m a little frustrated with my sister. It’s okay- she’s still my sister!

YuImage result for christopher yuanan brings us back to Genesis for the imago dei and the reality of sin. These are foundational concepts that need to be addressed in these discussions. He speaks covenantally about our fall in Adam. We are guilty of our covenant head’s disobedience. We now have a fallen nature. This moves us into the reality of indwelling sin or a sinful nature. If we are off here, then the rest of the discussion will really miss the mark. If we make the wrong diagnosis, we’ll apply the wrong cure. This cuts both ways, for the culture war conservative and the progressive accommodationist.

To a sinner, sin feels natural and normal. This is because we have a darkened understanding and our thinking is futile (Rom. 1). ALL sinners have sinful distortions of our sexuality. We all want to live beyond the boundaries God has established for our sexual behavior in one way or another. Our problem is sin (the condition or state), not simply a particular sin. The person engaging in same-sex activity also sins in other ways. The issue is not simply same-sex desires and activity but sin (Adam’s and their own). Salvation is about sin, not simply sexuality. The goal is not heterosexuality but living in obedience to God through the grace of God.

Here is part of where things get murky in many debates I’ve had with people. I think Yuan is helpful. Here is some of what he says within this biblical framework:

“I’m not saying the capacity to have same-sex attractions or temptations is actual sin. However, the concept of original and indwelling sin fits every description of same-sex sexual orientation. Original sin is an unchosen condition, and indwelling sin is a persistent pattern of sinful desires or behaviors.”

He will later draw an important distinction between temptation and desire. Here is the distinction between a temptation to commit a sinful act and committing a sin. Some see the temptation itself as sin. Butterfield has a few confusing paragraphs in Openness Unhindered; confusing because they seem contradictory (first she says temptation isn’t sin but homosexual lust is- she could be using those terms to refer to temptation and inordinate desire respectively and then we’d be in agreement- see below). I wish Yuan spent time parsing John Owens seeming distinction between temptation and falling into temptation (which I think is that same distinction).

“Again: temptation is not a sin. But what you do with it may be.” Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered, pp. 83

“In addition, temptation is not a sin, but temptations to sin are never good. They are never from God. Therefore, patterns of temptation can never be sanctified.” Rosaria, pp. 123.

“Moving up the scale, homosexual or heterosexual lust is a sin- even the unintentional and persistent kind that springs up like a hiccup or a reflex.” Rosaria, pp. 123

This doesn’t make same-sex temptation okay or neutral. Nor is it ‘sanctifiable’. If acting upon such temptation is sin (it is!), then we should mortify those desires of the flesh as Paul tells us to do (Rom. 6 & 8). We are to make no provision for them because we’ve put on Christ (Rom. 13).

In some discussions I’ve brought up temptations to commit adultery or engage in pre-marital sex (heterosexual lust). Some who ardently oppose homosexuality, and are critical of organizations like Revoice say those temptations are ‘normal’, or ‘not contrary to nature’ as if one gets a pass because those are heterosexual sins. Such a view is quite unbiblical. Yuan confronts that common, faulty, view. Holy sexuality is not for homosexuals alone but for all Christians. We are to be chaste outside of marriage and faithful in marriage.

“Chastity is more than simply abstention from extra-marital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenantal commitment.”

Yuan then focuses on temptation. This section could use some more work. For instance:

“As God, Jesus did not sin and in fact is incapable of sinning (this is call impeccability).”

He doesn’t address Jesus as man, who specifically obeyed as man in our place for our salvation. There is a huge mystery here that Yuan pretty much ignores. It was as man, additionally, that he may be made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). Jesus resisted sin “all the way” while we often give up well before that. We don’t really know how powerful temptation is.

But Yuan correctly reminds us that as fallen humans (despite being united to Christ) we will experience temptation. This includes same-sex temptation (something some others I know seem to reject based on their understanding of regeneration). The issue is not whether you will be tempted, but what you do with it no matter what the temptation is. We are to be vigilant and put it to death!

He then moves from James 1 to James 4 to discuss desire, or inordinate desire. For many, the same-sex desires are not primarily erotic. It is about romance and being together. He notes that in many lesbian relationships romance drives the relationship, not sexual desire. This means that the problem isn’t just about sex, but the inordinate desire for a person of the same sex: friendship gone wild. Here he draws more upon Augustine than Owen. People can fall prey to “co-dependency, relational idolatry, sinful fantasies” and more.

“Nonsexual romantic desires are essentially yearning to become one with and be permanently and exclusively united to someone we hold dear.”

His discussion of marriage is short but helpful. Sadly some take “it is not good for man to be alone” out of context and make marriage about companionship. Marriage is about far more than companionship. It is about fulfilling the creation mandate together. Yuan gets that and explains that (citing Christopher Ash in the process). When we make marriage about companionship, the end of loneliness, we more quickly make marriage idolatrous (or disposable when this primary ‘goal’ isn’t met). Marriage becomes about me and my feelings, not about covenantal union to fulfill God’s mission. It isn’t less than companionship, but far more. Marriage is about someone who is the same but different. The same creature but the opposite gender. Like but not like.

Yuan also upholds the dignity and goodness of singleness. All people are single for much of their lives. They are not less than whole people. Jesus was not less of a person because he was single. At times in this chapter he seems to display some characteristics of New Covenant Theology rather than Covenant Theology. Yes, we must be born again but we still have the truth that “this promise is for you and your children” (Gen. 17 ==> Acts 2). God works through generations as well as in individuals. I also disagree with some of his implications about 1 Corinthians 7 while agreeing with his main point. Singleness is not a lesser state or a death sentence.

Singles should be able to have vibrant relationships with their spiritual family. Couples and families need to do better in caring for single adults and inviting them into the web of relationships. Singles (and the infertile) can have spiritual descendants through evangelism and discipleship. God provides plenty of meaning in life for those who are not married. Being single is a calling all have at some point (sometimes more than once), a calling we can walk faithfully in because of the indwelling Spirit.

He then moves back to holy sexuality and the process of sanctification. Justified and sanctified Christians experience temptations. Some still experience same-sex temptations. We are already new creatures in Christ, but not yet completely new. We are in process, in part because God is humbling us and one way to humble us is the presence of temptations.

“… because of our union with Christ, we can hate our sin without hating ourselves.”

He then deals with some bad theology by Matthew Vines. Vines interprets “bad fruit” to mean physical harm or emotional despair. Theology that produces hardship and distress is false doctrine, in his view. Therefore because so many homosexuals struggle with suicide, the teaching of the church must be wrong. Yuan takes him quickly to task. “Bad fruit” is sin or the lack of repentance. There is no true discipleship without denying oneself, which is painful. He also takes on Jen Hatmaker who blames so much suicidal ideation among gay youth for the church’s historic (biblical) stance on same-sex relationships. Yuan notes studies in secular countries, quite accepting of same-sex relationships, which also have similarly high rates of suicide among homosexuals. The problem is not the church’s teaching.

He moves into reminding us to be compassionate toward those experiencing same-sex desires, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. His parents rejected him before they were Christians and then loved and pursued him after they converted. He brings us to the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminding us that the original audience were to see themselves as the beaten man. We’ve received compassion from Jesus Christ, and compassion we should show.

He also provides some guidance for outreach. Often we need to listen and ask questions. They often believe we hate them. Like his parents, we may have to love them for a long time in tangible ways. He also provides some practical advice for when someone opens up to us.

Lastly he provides some basic instruction on discipleship. He pushes that you need a mentor, not simply a friend or counselor. This means that the local church, and ordinary means of grace, are central. Yes, we need peers but we also need older more Christians speaking into our lives, challenging us and calling us to deny ourselves and follow Jesus. We need to have the right goal in mind: holiness, not heterosexuality.

At the end of the book there is an 8-session study guide to work through the material. He wants this book to be helpful to people and churches. I think it will be helpful for the Church to sort through ministry to people with same-sex desires. I hope it will help us to sit and listen to one another, understand what people mean, identify the common ground (rather than assume it or the areas of disagreement) so we can move forward helpfully. Our desire should be to see people caught in this sin come to saving faith in Christ, and then to walk faithfully in holy sexuality for their good and His glory. This is a book worth reading.

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Often Philippians is called “the Epistle of joy.” There is much there about joy. But as I preach through it, I’m discovering it is also “the Epistle of conflict.”

On Sunday I preached on Philippians 4:1-3. It was a short week of preparation, and a busy few days for the holiday. After I preached the sermon, I wish I had developed a few things more thoroughly. I needed to meditate on this text more thoroughly (more so than usual, I suppose).

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

This passage begins with a reference to the conflict without. Paul calls on them to “stand firm”, applying the realities of gospel humility and discipleship he’s been discussing since the 2nd chapter of this letter. They are to stand firm against the Gentiles who persecute them, and the Judaizers who seek to lead them astray into ritual. Both are enemies of the cross.

They were to stand together as “my beloved brothers (a better translation of the phrase), whom I long for, my joy and crown … my beloved.” Philippi was a Roman colony. Many of the people gained their Roman citizenship by their service in the military. They were familiar with fighting formations requiring them to stand firm together. Now they stand no simply as fellow soldiers but people bound in love by Jesus.

Image result for roman phalanx

Our conflict with them is about the claim of the gospel. It is about the contrast between living as good citizens of Rome versus living as citizens of the heavenly city (1:27; 3:20).

In this conflict we are truly enemies, citizens of two different and warring kingdoms. They may use earthly weapons against us, but we are not to use earthly weapons (material or immaterial) against them. We’ve been given the armor of God (Eph. 6).

We can find points of commonality with the surrounding culture. We won’t disagree on everything. Those points of commonality are windows of opportunity for the gospel (to borrow Rick McKinley’s terminology).

What we cannot do is compromise. Acknowledge common ground, but not compromise. There are also windows of opposition we must contend with. They must be converted, which includes changing their views that are out of accord with sound doctrine. Stand firm in the face of an intimidating enemy though outnumbered. Our God will be faithful.

But remember that at the moment, they are your enemy, not your brother, and should be treated as one.

Paul then addresses conflict within the congregation. You can’t stand firm together if you are at odds with one another. Internal conflict distracts us from mission, even if it is about how to carry for the mission.

Paul urges both women to work it out, come into accord. First this indicates that women are important and do important things. They were gospel partners with Paul. Their conflict was not incidental to church life but threatened it. No conflict between siblings in Christ is insignificant. They must be worked out, and both parties bear responsibility to do so. It was not just Euodia’s responsibility. Not just Syntche’s responsibility.

Image result for slippery slope

If we think of this in terms of the slippery slope of conflict these women were likely “peace-faking” by engaging in flight. They were avoiding each other, operating on opposite sides of the room, refusing to acknowledge each other. Perhaps there had been times of peace-breaking, fighting. There may have been verbal assault. Nothing as serious as Cain deciding to kill Abel, but still attacks upon one another.

Image result for cain and abelThey weren’t living like people who were beloved brothers & sisters. Instead they were treating one another as enemies. They needed help to begin treating one another as beloved siblings. They needed help to get on the same page when it comes to worship, discipleship or evangelism. Those are things that matter, but frequently we act like our way is the only way. The need to agree with one another is even more important when we are fighting about things unrelated to the gospel (carpets, paint, loans or which property to buy).

Paul calls the “true companion” to act as a mediator to make peace, a peace rooted in Christ’s dying on the cross for our sin. Unity was to be restored by repentance and reconciliation, which are impossible apart from the gospel which makes us sons of God in the first place. Because of the gospel we treat the sins of our brothers differently than the sins of our enemies. This is important because of how we engage in conflict. The issues we disagree on are likely not sinful. What is sinful is our peace-faking and breaking. That sin is contrary to our status as brothers. In the conflict with the world it is in keeping with our status as enemies.

We are to once again find the common ground, the places we agree. Stand firm in your agreement. Then find a place of principled compromise among options that fit within biblical boundaries. You don’t compromise with the enemies of the cross, but you do with your beloved brother.

Sadly we often reverse this. We compromise with the world and stand our ground with our brothers as if they were our enemies.

Paul wants gospel partners to sort it out, as much as it depends on them. He knew the pain of a sharp disagreement that dissolved his partnership with Barnabas (Acts 15). We know he reconciled with Mark. We don’t know about Barnabas.

Paul recognizes that we engage in two different conflicts: within and without. How we respond is different. Don’t reverse them or you’ll really mess it all up. Get it right and you’ll see the gospel work powerfully in your community.

 

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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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Kevin Harney concludes his book, Organic Outreach for Churches, with discussing the Mouth of the Church. He previously addressed our heart (love for God, the world & our congregation), our mind (strategy for outreach), our hands (serving others), and now evangelism proper.

“The heart of your church is beating for Jesus and ready to reach out with love to the people of your community. The mind of your church is thinking strategically and planning to reach out with the good news of God’s salvation. The hands of your church are working, serving and showing the world that Jesus is alive. Now the fun starts. It’s time to open your mouth!”

It is one chapter. One. Short. Chapter.

As we grow in our faith, it should be easier to share the simple story of the gospel. We are more mature, trusting God more deeply. Unfortunately, we frequently have fewer opportunities because many of us have fewer relationships with non-Christians.

Faith comes from hearing, and that means someone has to actually speak. Harney wisely notes that no one size fits all. We each will gravitate to a different style of evangelism. He unwisely connects a more confrontational style to extroverted people. Extroverts aren’t necessarily confrontation. Prophetic personalities, however, are.

He recommends a book I used in FL to train in evangelism, Becoming a Contagious Christian by Hybels and Mittelburg. Yes, there may be some personal issues with Bill Hybels. There are some theological issues too. But I don’t recall the latter affecting the book at all. The former doesn’t. You aren’t recommending the book based on his character, but it’s ability to prepare people to evangelize. It does that well, offering 6 different styles of evangelism.

Harney also distinguishes 4 outreach intensity levels for events. Low intensity events focus on meeting basic needs, displaying the love of Christ in tangible ways. The highest intensity events clearly articulate the gospel AND calling people to commit (perhaps having an altar call). This means we should be thoughtful about our events. Low intensity, medium or going for broke? Similarly, some sermons are low intensity in terms of their gospel-focus, while others are very intense in calling people to faith and repentance.

This means training is necessary. He cycled back to this. Too often we fail to train people in evangelism.

In our congregation, I’ve been preaching to stir up people’s hearts. We’ve been trying to strategize, particularly with a new community being built next door. We also plan on doing some evangelism training. It will not focus on just one style. I also hope we will do some work with relational wisdom, which should help us build healthier relationships and understand the people we share our faith with better.

We haven’t applied everything but we are moving in the right direction. There are aspects we won’t due to differences in our theological underpinnings from his. This book had some bones, but also some meat. Most congregations can benefit from talking through this material. They do have to be discerning as they do.

[An enlarged, 2nd edition, is due for release in late May, 2018.]

 

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The first section of Organic Outreach for Churches by Kevin Harney covered motivation: love for God, the world and the congregation. He calls this the heart of the congregation. In the second section he addresses the mind of the congregation. The focus is on the administrative structure expressed by the heart that seeks to reach out with God’s love to the world around it through the congregation. Put another way, the first task of leadership is to cultivate love for God, the lost people around us, and our congregation. Until this is done, the administrative structure should not be changed. To borrow terminology from another book on ministry, there needs to be a vine before you put up the trellis.

“When our hearts are filled with love for God, for our community, and for the church, we are ready to strategize about outreach.”

This is one of the positives of his approach. He is talking about outreach as a (church) community project rather than focusing on preparing individuals to share their faith.

The first step in this process is the mind-shifts Harney believes need to take place so we can be productive. Here they are:

  • From random to strategic outreach
  • From famine to funding (making money available for LOCAL outreach)
  • From believing to belonging (as the first step in the process)
  • From us to them (regarding focus)
  • From programs to praying
  • From mush to clarity (regarding your beliefs)
  • From fatalism to faith

These are important shifts, though I would be hesitant to fully embrace the 4th one (us => them) for reasons I will develop below.

I will throw out a reminder. This all takes time. This morning I read about the building of the temple by Solomon. It took 7 and a half years. Just as the temple wasn’t built in a day, neither will a congregation’s outreach ministry. People are often harder to mold than stones. This is about cultural change, and that takes time, and undetermineable period of time.

He then develops the idea of from famine to funding, because you’ve gone from random to strategic outreach. Many churches provide money for missions, elsewhere. By someone else. Funding missionaries is a great thing. The point is not to eliminate funding to foreign (and even local) missionaries and ministries. The point is to add funds for your congregation to reach the people around you.

This also means that everyone is getting involved instead of paying surrogates to do the work for you. Not everyone will have the same role; the different gifts of God’s people will be engaged. This is one of the mind shifts he neglected: from them to us. No longer should outreach be the work of a chosen few who work on behalf of the rest of us (surrogates). An outreach committee would lead the strategies that involve everyone in various ways (even if all you can do is pray because you’re home-bound).

One common problem Harney experiences is that ministry leaders see outreach as an optional thing that competes with their ministry instead of being something that their ministry also participates in. As a result, they can ignore events, schedule competing events etc. The goal is for each ministry to see their place in outreach. To see it as part of their mission. The Outreach Team is then viewed as influencers. He finds it most helpful if all the ministry leaders comprise the Outreach Influence Team.

Harney then moves into the 6 Levels of Influence. It all starts with God. As a loving, eternal community (Trinity) God is a missionary God who has been sharing His love with people since the beginning of time. Between God and the world, Harney lists the Outreach Influence Team Leader, the Outreach Influence Team, ministry workers, and ministry participants.

To put it simply, the team leader encourages the team to maintain focus and develop the ways their ministry participates in outreach. The team provides training for workers in outreach, which helps instill the vision for outreach to participants so they begin to engage in praying for others, inviting people to events or ministry functions etc.

Then he moves into raising the evangelistic temperature utilizing the one degree rule. This is about accountability. And while it can be helpful, knowing the perversity that remains even in Christians, it can easily lapse into legalism and self-righteousness (self-condemnation if you aren’t doing enough). It is here that he starts to sound more seeker-driven than seeker-sensitive. It was here that I began to grow frustrated.

Why was I frustrated? The easy answer would be my flesh is resisting the call of God to engage in this process. I don’t think that is is (though he did talk about lots of meetings and I’m currently have meeting fatigue).

The other answer is a glaring lack of ecclesiology in the book. It is assumed, and you know what happens if you assume. Part of ecclesiology is the mission of the church. When there is no clearly developed mission of the church, an author’s emphasis becomes the mission of the church. There are subtle statements in this section that indicate that he thinks outreach trumps the rest, shapes the rest. Like most books on a particular goal of the Church, it becomes out of balance and begins to veer down dangerous roads.

Let me explain. I take a tri-perspectival view of worship (and most things, to be honest). I express this as worship is intended to exalt God, edify the Church and evangelize the world (in terms of unbelievers present). Worship cannot focus simply on evangelism as in the seeker-driven model. I think we should be sensitive to “seekers” (I don’t really like that word). By that I mean we explain things. We periodically explain some of what we do in worship. In preaching we explain “big words” and call people to faith for both conversion (justification) and sanctification.

Our mission, as expressed in the Great Commission, is not to simply make converts but disciples. We are to present people to Christ in maturity. Yes, you have to start with conversion but that is not the end all and be all of church life. Outreach is a part of our mission, not the mission.

If we are asking about outreach temperature, we should start asking about your marriage (if you are married), parenting, sex life, work life etc. because all of these are about being faithful to Christ in our context. Suddenly we have a long list, and even more opportunities to become self-righteous Pharisees boasting of our outreach righteousness, or parenting righteousness.

Taking part of the mission as the mission is just plain dangerous. No one comes out and says that, but it is expressed in terms of the “most important” part of our mission, or main emphasis requiring “inordinate amounts of time”.

So, while I agree that outreach should permeate all of our programs so it is an organic thing for the congregation, I don’t agree that it supplants or overwhelms all of the other ministries of the church. Our discipleship ministries should be welcoming to outsiders (and people should invite others as well as pray for the lost), should connect everything to the gospel (including calling people to faith as well as expressing that faith) as well as prepare people to share their faith (preferably in a tri-perspectival way, which is a separate blog post). Our worship should not be reduced to altar calls, “love songs” to Jesus with a great beat etc. I’m still a “Word & Sacrament” guy. Evangelism as well as exaltation and edification take place as we sing the Word, pray the Word, listen to the Word (preaching) and see the Word (sacraments). God works in that to bring people to faith as well as build people in their faith. We explain things, we don’t eliminate them precisely because worship is also for God and His people, not just the people who don’t believe yet.

Precisely because there is no explicit eccesiology, Harney is beginning to slip down this road though he may not realize it. There are some things that slow it: being clear about what you believe. He hasn’t gutted the faith like some do. But I find him beginning to move out of balance in this second section. In the third section, we’ll see where his trajectory leads us.

 

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In the next two chapters of Evangelism for the Rest of Us, Mike Bechtle discusses biblical methods of evangelism and personal techniques which reveals something of a (good) tension. The methods that we use should be biblical, but that doesn’t mean we’ll all use the same method. Or that each of us won’t use the same method each time we bear witness to Jesus Christ.

Scripture includes God’s passion for His glory in the salvation of sinners which includes our bearing witness to Christ’s person and work for that salvation. If Scripture is our norm or authority (it is!), then it reveals to us methods of evangelism. We should pay attention to the contexts of those examples of evangelism as well as how they parties involved interacted with those who don’t believe. Some of them came to faith, and others did not.

Not everyone Paul and Peter (and Stephen among others) shared their faith with came to faith. We should not expect everyone we share our faith with to come to faith either. We should have realistic expectations.

One of the examples Bechtle brings us is from 2 Kings 7 dealing with the lepers who discover Israel’s enemies had been defeated and tell the people starving in Samaria. I struggle with this example. I agree with his premise: evangelism is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” A number of others have made this assertion. They are reporting a redemptive act on Israel’s behalf. I guess I struggle with this as an earthly deliverance. It really isn’t the gospel so much as a type or foreshadowing. He needed to develop this further to show how this earthly deliverance connects with God’s covenant faithfulness revealed in Christ who died for our sins and kept the law for us. This is an example of the ‘imperfect witness’ he discusses next.

What I’m saying is this. At times Bechtle himself is not really clear about what the gospel actually is. For instance, later in this chapter he misses or neglects the reality of the double imputation I mentioned above: His bearing our sin and giving us His righteousness. Salvation is not less than forgiveness but more than that. It is about pardon and being declared righteous (not simply innocent). We are imperfect witnesses, and won’t say everything right. He still sin, and we don’t always use the right words. In a book we can’t include everything (this intends to be a short book, not a tome). But we should be as clear as possible.

We evangelize as justified people, not people seeing to be justified. We are righteous and have an established, unchangeable status with God. We are not trying to earn said status. This means, in part, that we can be honest about our sin including sin toward those we want to tell about Christ. That very sin may be what opens the door to talk about Christ’s work for us. We should be authentic, not used car salesmen, who own up to our weakness and struggle but rely on the supreme and sufficient Savior. Bearing witness has an objective aspect (what Christ has done for sinners), and a subjective aspect (our testimony about how Christ worked in my life).

“We’re not saved from every problem; we’re given his strength to face them, his presence to walk with us through them, and his patience to help us grow in the midst of them.”

One way of thinking about evangelism is to introduce mutual friends. Bechtle notes that we often go by personal recommendations when looking for someone to fix our car or home and a doctor to help us with a health problem. We aren’t selling a product, but recommending a person. We can’t make the person entrust themselves to Christ.We persuade, extolling His virtues and connecting them with their needs.

He mentions some pictures of this persuasion: salt, seed and light. In terms of salt he mentions that we often present the gospel in small doses, numerous conversations. We want to make them thirsty, preserve them (restraining sin) and provide some flavor. Too much salt hinders growth. In terms of light we reflect the light of Christ, shine on Christ instead of self. Seed is something we sow, but it grows apart from our work. We only control an environment. Not all the seed will grow. Growth, or harvest, takes time. It is not immediate. All of these pictures remind us to relax. Don’t focus on results so much as the process.

In our current culture we should be aware of the loss of civility. Being salt and light means being gentle and respectful, not forceful and angry. We can be passionate, but also humble. We can’t be so worked up about moral issues that we forget our own need for the Savior.

By knowing the people around us, we can speak to them during or after the “earthquakes” that take place in their lives. They all have them. You have to be there beforehand to gain trust. He notes that often we put up obstacles, thinking that being a good witness is filling our cubicles with “Christian posters” or knick knacks. We don’t have to force Jesus into every water cooler conversation. But we can and should “build relationships with fellow employees based on the common ground found in our daily tasks.” The same is true for neighbors. I don’t walk around spouting off Scripture verses. I’m building relationships with some based on common interests. We are intended to live among the lost, and you do. You may not like it and may run from it. Salt, seeds and light must be present to make an impact. As I recently told my congregation, you are here for the gospel. That “here” is home, office, neighborhood etc. But God placed you “here” for the gospel.

In the next chapter Bechtle reminds us that not only will one size not fit all for us, it won’t for the opportunities we have to share the gospel. A hammer is very helpful if you are driving (or pulling) nails. It is not so helpful for driving screws, cutting wood or wires, laying concrete etc. You need a tool box of evangelism techniques to share the gospel with the various people you know in the many different contexts. You should be building your tool box as a result. It is helpful to be familiar with evangelism explosion, the bridge illustration, the Romans Road, Two Ways to Live, the Great Story (creation, fall, redemption & glory), cultural connections (the trending section on FB to know what is going on), etc. The better you understand the Bible, the better you’ll be able to communicate it to people in a gracious way that meets their circumstances. You don’t want to be one of those people relying on a 12-in-1 tool all your life (helpful in emergencies but not too good for intentional and varied work- if that is all your contractor has, get a new contractor). Some will “fit” you better. Know your limitations, as Dirty Harry advised. Set healthy boundaries in light of your resources and limitations.

Who you are may also shape the means of evangelism. You could use these methods and techniques in street preaching or blogging. They are very different, and not for everyone. Engage in evangelism using the gifts and interests God gave you even as you share about your weaknesses, struggles and needs.

This is moving us from sales pitches to customer service. It also moves us from expert to information gatherer. Learn from the people you want to share with. Ask about their work or hobby. That is part of relationship building, but also gaining knowledge you can use in the future in other relationships. Be a person who grows in wisdom and favor with God and man. This will make you someone more comfortable with and likely to engage in evangelism.

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In the midst of his discussion in Evangelism for the Rest of Us, Mike Bechtle asks what they would do.

You might think he’s speaking about the people with whom you are sharing the gospel. Or other people, like those extroverts, who use other methods.

He’s really thinking about Jesus and Satan. In two separate chapters he addresses each respectively.

The first of the two chapters focuses on how Jesus interacted with people. There are some speculative questions, just to prompt thoughts. I have no idea if Jesus would go on TV, and don’t actually find it to be a helpful question (Bechtle isn’t focusing on that so this is not a criticism of him).

He does go to the fact that Jesus “came eating and drinking”, essentially doing things that the religious people of His day looked down upon. If Jesus showed up on TV, it wouldn’t be TBN. It might be CNN to talk to Larry King.

Bechtle has 2 assumptions: Jesus wants to impact people eternally, and He’ll use appropriate methods to do that.

What do we see Him doing?

  1. Jesus went about His daily life and ministered to the people He met. While on a mission, Jesus wasn’t necessarily like a missionary. But for 3 years Jesus was an itinerant rabbi. He focused on His disciples. But there were times when He traveled the countryside speaking to crowds. Most of the time was ordinary. He encountered people in every day life, like the woman at the well, and talked with them.
  2. He met people where they were and moved them closer to God. He went to them. He didn’t set up an office, or booth like Lucy the 5-cent psychiatrist. He found them. “Jesus’s goal was the same- to love people and move them a step closer to knowing God.”
  3. He prayed for God to work through Him. We see Jesus taking time to pray. Fully human, Jesus relied upon the Holy Spirit in His ministry just as you and I are supposed to. As “the perfect man” He was perfectly dependent upon the Father expressed in prayer.

“His philosophy of evangelism seemed to be, ‘Love people and talk to them.'”

Bechtle then applies this to us in the 21st century.

  1. Minister to the people you encounter while going about your daily life. Perhaps you need to pray to see the ministry opportunities available to you every day. The person in the cubicle next to you that is going through a rough patch. Your neighbor with ordinary problems. Jesus simply lived in proximity to people. So do you. See those ordinary encounters or interactions as appointments. Maybe you simplify your life. Live closer to work or church so you have more time. You don’t need to meet every need you come across (we are often driven by what the media thinks is important). But be open-hearted toward those in your path.
  2. Meet people where they are and help move them closer to God. Yes, that is odd terminology if we want to be overly theological. Yes, you are either in Adam or in Christ. We are talking about the process of evangelism. Engage them on one pertinent issue that comes up. Not every conversation turns into the 4 Spiritual Laws. You may just listen to them to better understand them, but willingly engage people.

He spends time talking about listening. We aren’t listening to challenge them, but to love them (which may include challenging their thinking at times). Listening builds trust as well as understanding. It is interesting to ask people about their jobs, most of the time. But you learn things about people, ideas, areas of knowledge. Listen to love.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1

Bechtle then turns the table, so to speak. He talks about what Satan does in order to keep us from bearing witness or being effective in bearing witness.

11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2

27 and give no opportunity to the devil.  Ephesians 4

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5

If we pay attention to the NT, we see that Paul wants us to aware of Satan’s strategies. If we are aware of them we won’t be surprised or ambushed.

  1. He wants to keep us distracted. Whether it is focused on method, our sin, entertainment … Anything but bearing witness. It is easy to distract most of us.
  2. He wants to keep us divided. He wants us fighting about methods instead of actually doing evangelism. He wants us to bicker over just about anything: the color of the carpet, instruments and style of music in worship, how to administer communion, etc. He stirs up pride and envy.
  3. He wants to keep us deceived. While we have the mind of Christ, our justified minds are still being sanctified or renewed. There are lies we can believe that keep us from evangelizing others. It could be hyper-Calvinism. It could be racism (see Jonah). There are lots of ways he can deceive us so we don’t bear witness. One Bechtle mentions is focusing on Satan’s power instead of God’s infinitely greater power.
  4. He wants us to be discouraged. He does this with unrealistic expectations. Reminding us of our sins and mistakes so we feel like failures.

In keeping with this overall strategies, Bechtle offers 10 ways Satan schemes to disrupt our efforts.

  1. He tempts us to sin. Whether or not we actually sin, the reality of our corruption is exposed and we can be paralyzed by guilt and shame. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith.
  2. He works against and outwits us. He knows our weaknesses and patterns. We need to be aware too, so we’ll know the places he’ll strike.
  3. He appeals to our pride. This the “mother of all sins”. One manifestation is seeking to be liked and respected. Our pride will take offense at any slight and detour evangelism. We should be humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand, remembering that He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
  4. He lies. It is his native tongue. We need to know the truth better so we can spot the lies.
  5. He works on our hearts, manipulating our emotions and passions. Scripture reminds us to guard our hearts lest it be tainted by bitterness.
  6. He convinces us to be friends with the world. This means we’ll minimize sin and participate in sin w/out a thought. We are to be friends with God who loved us and gave Himself for us. The world doesn’t love us and give itself for us, but kills us if we oppose it.
  7. He engages in battle against us. Put on that armor: truth, faith, peace, righteousness, salvation, the Word & Spirit and get to fighting.
  8. He pretends to be an angel of light. This is part of the deception. He can distract us with “good causes” that are keeping us from the main fight. The gospel does have social implications, but if we make them the main issue we’ve lost.
  9. He’s vigilant. Be watchful too!
  10. He interferes with our ministry. He’s like the heel in wrestling who cheats whenever the ref isn’t looking. Expect it at every turn. Don’t give up but keep trying.

“Resisting the devil means learning how our enemy works and taking offensive and defensive measures to render him ineffective.”

Not the best chapters in this book. But there were a few things worth considering. He could have recommended a book like Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.

As you go, make use of every opportunity knowing that the enemy will oppose you at every turn.

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