If I was bilingual, I would immediately get involved with this ministry. The goal of the Gospel Translations project is to translate biblical books and articles into as many languages as possible in order that preachers, teachers, and laypeople across the world may be encouraged and strengthened by the wealth of writing that is available to most of us in the English speaking world. It is all open source which means that the translated books and articles will be free resources. If you are bilingual, I would encourage you to check out this ministry and get involved. This project is a great opportunity to be a missionary to another country and people group even when you are unable to relocate.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
How do we engage the culture while remaining salty in a world that needs seasoning? How do we weave our lives into the world we know and yet remain distinct from it? These are the types of questions that are being asked today within the church as a whole. It seems that much of the emergent movement has been a reaction against hermit or isolationist Christianity. The challenge they are posing to the traditional church is to wake up and get involved with the changing world. I wholeheartedly agree. It is important to know what is going on in our world today including cultural norms. What are specific things that people are dealing with on a daily basis? What are the influences within culture? Who are the influencers within culture? What makes our particular culture tick? What challenges are people facing within culture? What role does our culture play globally? I believe these are important questions that we should be investigating. I believe the answers to these questions will help us know how to better minister to the people we are trying to love, serve, and reach. I believe it will lead us to a place where we will need to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty in the lives of others. It will be messy. We are messy. And Jesus came to love and save the messy. If we are to be like Jesus, we will love the messy. If we are to look like Jesus, we will learn to reach out to those who don’t have it all together. And the reality is that we all fall into this category so we can all relate. This fact has not changed over the course of human history. Since the core of human nature is unchanging and indifferent to cultures and periods of history, we can be confident that the gospel is always relevant. The good news is good news to everyone because we all have the same need. We all need redemption, forgiveness of sins, justification, and transformation. We all need Jesus.
But how far is too far? How deep do we immerse ourselves in the culture before we begin to compromise the very thing that makes us distinct? Where is the balance between immersion in culture and distinctiveness as a Christian? As I was preparing a survey sermon on the book of Daniel a few weeks ago, I realized that Daniel is a great example of what it means to be completely immersed and yet uncompromisingly distinct. Daniel 1 talks about the training that Daniel and others were given to prepare them to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. It would be easy to dismiss this example based on the fact that Daniel was essentially a slave. There is no doubt that Daniel had limited options. However, Daniel did have options. He could have refused to be educated in the pagan ways. He could have formed a picket line outside of the King’s court to show his disapproval for the King’s unholy kingdom and actions. Of course, there would have been consequences for such an action or choice. It is highly possible that he would have been put to death. What impact would Daniel have then if he was dead? Instead, Daniel learned “the language and literature of the Babylonians.” He studied the culture and learned how things work in the Babylonian society. In fact, he excelled in his Babylonian studies and distinguished himself as a man of great wisdom and understanding. In Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, King Nebuchadnezzar found men who were “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” There were no equals to these men and the king recognized it.
Since Daniel and his friends distinguished themselves by being diligent to learn the culture of the Babylonians, they were given positions of prominence within the kingdom. The king often looked to these men for guidance and answers. What greater opportunity for influence can there be than having the respect and ear of the king? I’ve heard Mark Driscoll say several times that the greatest opportunity for influence is found within the cities. Why? It seems that change begins in cities and later spreads to the rest of society. It seems that cities are the heartbeat of culture. In this case, the king’s royal court is the heartbeat of his kingdom. Many important decisions, decisions that alter a culture or society, are made with the counsel of the king’s court. And here are Daniel and his friends being highly praised and regarded by the king himself. The king seeks the counsel of Daniel on multiple occassions and Daniel reveals a word from God in each case. You only have to read further to understand the type of influence and impact Daniel had on the king and his kingdom. Daniel was immersed in the Babylonian culture.
At the same time, Daniel would not contradict God’s law by eating meat sacrificed to idols. Nor would he stop praying to Yahweh when a royal edict was made outlawing all prayers except to the king himself. He could not deny his convictions. He could not deny his faith. He could not deny his God who gives him life. God used Daniel in multiple ways. One of the most obvious ways is as an instrument of revelation. God revealed himself to Nebuchadnezzar and others through Daniel. He made it known that there is no other god outside of Yahweh. Daniel was immersed and distinct.
This is where we need to be. We need to follow Daniel’s example by immersing ourselves in the culture. We need to know what makes our society tick. We need to engage the culture in love and service. At the same time, we need to be distinct in humility, godly character, and work ethic. We must honor the Lord first in the midst of engaging the culture and world around us. We must remain salty, otherwise we are useless and no different than those without Christ. Our task is to be immersed and yet distinct. As we do so, we shall see the Lord open doors to influence those around us.
Today I began listening to the recorded sessions from the Convergent Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Let me just say that so far they are stellar. I have listened to the first three and now wish I would’ve been in attendance. J.D. Greear is soon to become one of my new favorite preachers. He gave some great examples of how to better serve your community. Ed Stetzer did a great job of reminding us of the inherent relevance of the gospel. I thought the highlight of his message came when he distinguished between changing modes and changing theology. The methods of reaching out and sharing the gospel can and inevitably will change as culture changes. However, the message of the gospel is timeless and not subject to the popular notions of the day. This is where the most extreme manifestation of the emergent church has gotten it wrong. Stetzer’s discussion naturally led itself into Mark Driscoll’s session. He gave an overview of his life and ministry and then explained the three streams of the emerging church: relevants, revisionists, and reformed.
These messages are quite possibly the best I have heard on the subject of the emerging church, cultural engagement, and differing methods. They are so good that I’m going to post them all here so you can have easy access to them. And if you are an iTunes user you can download all of the audio directly at the Southeastern podcast.
Christianity Today recently ran an article on Mark Driscoll called Pastor Provocateur. For all the flack that Driscoll receives for being brash, I found this article to be insightful and quite fair. I was touched by one man’s account of how Driscoll saved his marriage and ministry. I’ve also been challenged and encouraged by Driscoll’s humility in recognizing his shortcomings. It is always easier to see the faults in others and miss the huge plank in our own eye. I admire his transparency and ability to make God known through his weaknesses. There is a lot more I could say but go read the article for yourself. I believe it will bless you as you seek to live out the gospel daily.
The thought of evangelism has been consuming my thoughts lately. What am I doing to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus? When was the last time I told someone about Jesus? I keep running questions like these through my head. I don’t want to be the type of person who spends more time talking about evangelism than doing it. My friend Josh said the other night that his fear was that he enjoys arguing with other Christians about doctrine more than telling non-believers the gospel. I completely resonate with his fear. What he is saying is that we are bold to debate and discuss the scriptures amongst each other but we fail to simply mention the name of Jesus to a guy sitting at the table next to us who started a conversation with us in the first place. How can this be? Is it a lack of knowledge or preparation? Do we simply lack courage or faith? Are we ashamed or embarrassed? Is there just not enough time in a day to evangelize effectively considering all the other things we must do?
I have probably asked each one of these questions to myself multiple times. At any one time the answer could’ve been yes to any of these. I find that time is one of the most consistently daunting issues for me personally. It seems that by the time I get home, fix dinner, and do everything else there is only an hour or two to do anything before its time to hit the sack. This issue isn’t just confined to the average lay person. It extends to ministers as well. They can cram their days so full of activities, meetings, and administrative duties that personal evangelism seems to be squeezed right out of the picture. An article by Joe McKeever, Director of Missions of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, addresses the issue of pastors finding time for personal evangelism. As he says,
“Every pastor knows the problem. Between sermon studies, staff leadership, office responsibilities, weddings and funerals, outside speaking opportunities, hospital and nursing home visits, and denominational duties, the poor minister can feel overwhelmed. Finding time for his family can be a challenge; finding time to relate to his neighbors and bear a witness for Christ in the community can almost be impossible.”
Though it was written primarily for pastors, I found the article to be helpful in suggesting multiple ways we can see and make opportunities for evangelism in the midst of our every day lives. In the article, one pastor says, “Witnessing opportunities for the pastor is just like good sermon illustrations. They’re all around; you just have to pay attention.” This is good advice for all of us. We should be prepared at all times and mindful of our surroundings. Not more than an hour after praying that the Lord would make me aware of such opportunities I found myself in the midst of a conversation with a guy at a sports bar while watching Monday Night Football last night. Opportunities are everywhere.
However, we also need to be intentional about creating opportunities to share the gospel with others. As another pastor mentioned, “But sometimes you need to be more intentional. Create a situation where you will have opportunities to share your faith.” Sometimes it requires us to step out into an uncomfortable position to a place that is ripe for sharing the gospel. I’ve found downtown Nashville to be that sort of place. I don’t know how many times I’ve been approached by a homeless person downtown. Sometimes you know that a certain location is a prime target for the homeless. So you place yourself in that situation knowing that the opportunity will present itself in a matter of time.
I would encourage you to read the entire article. Consider the challenge it presents to your own life whether you are a pastor or not. If you are willing, share some of the struggles you face in sharing your faith. Also, leave some thoughts on how you have shared the gospel with others and what you have found helpful in doing so. May we all be encouraged to share the gospel more often as opportunities are made and presented to us.
Timmy Brister at Provocations & Paintings recently posted a three-part series on engaging spiritual conversations written by Gary Rohrmayer. I believe it is appropriate to first begin with a few challenging questions before outlining this series. How many conversations do you have on a weekly basis concerning things of eternal value? Are you seeking these type of conversations out? Is evangelism a dirty word in your vocabulary? Does the mere mention of the word make you nervous and uncomfortable? These are tough questions but we must be honest with ourselves in answering them if we are to rightly evaluate our hearts and lives concerning evangelism. If I’m honest with myself about this area, I would have to admit that those questions sting a little bit. Evangelism is an area that needs much growth in my life.
What is evangelism? We know the Great Commission that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:18-20) These words are oft quoted in churches. Many Christians have this verse memorized. But what does it look like to go and make disciples? If you are like me, you have tried a few different methods. There is everything from friendship evangelism to service evangelism to the dreaded door-to-door. Honestly I think sometimes all these “correct” methods can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. I also think that methods can change and there is nothing wrong with that. But are we doing it? And how do we do it?
Personally, I think conversations built through relationships is one of the best ways to share your faith with others. Through conversation you can feel out a person’s beliefs and encourage them to consider what they believe about the world and life. Where does it begin? Where does it end? Is there more after life? Why are things so messed up in the world? In all of this you are not just throwing some verses at a person or handing him or her a track, but you can truly begin to love this person and care for his or her needs. It becomes less of a sales pitch and more about expressing love toward that person. The root of this love is Jesus Christ and so it is to be shared and made apparent not only in your conversation but how you conduct yourself as a Christian.
So how do we make these spiritual conversations more frequent in our lives? The key is being intentional. But don’t take my word for it, go read Gary’s series for yourself. I found it practically helpful. He shows us how evangelism is a part of who we are and so it can come out naturally throughout our day. Here are four ways Gary suggests increasing spiritual conversations:
- Make It a Priority
- Pray for Opportunities
- Get Out and Into Your Community
- Establish Routines and Cultivate Relationships
So go read it then come back and share some thoughts.