Tag Archives: Evangelism

How to Share Your Faith at Work

As a Christian, you are a fully credentialed ambassador of the empire of Jesus, High King of the universe. God has entrusted to you the message of reconciliation, the good news that Jesus reconciles rebels to God. That's as true from 9-5 Monday through Friday as it is for any other hour of your life. When you go to church, you're an ambassador for the King. When you hang out with friends, you're an ambassador for the King. When you go to work, meet with a client, participate in a meeting, work on a project, drive a nail, create a blueprint, welcome a customer, or write a white paper, you're still an ambassador for the King.

Evangelism isn't the primary purpose for our work. Scripture reveals to us all kinds of purposes and motivations for our work. However, we shouldn't kid ourselves. One of the purposes is evangelism. We're ambassadors for our King always, including the time we're at our jobs.

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So how can we faithfully share the gospel with people at work? Here are five suggestions.

1. Just do good work as a Christian.

When you get a chance to speak the gospel to one of your coworkers, make sure you've already been backing it up by being a good worker yourself. Build a reputation as a person who works with purpose, creativity, kindness, and encouragement. Then, when you get to share the gospel, people will see how you reflect the character of your King.

Practically, you can hold up your vocational challenges to the light of the gospel and ponder how you can approach them "as working for the Lord" (Col. 3:23). Would Jesus have you cut corners on that project? Would he have you defraud that client by doing that job on the cheap? Would he have you rip into your employees when they make mistakes, even stupid ones? Would he have you mope through the day in a spirit of resentment and anger? No. He'd have you confront your challenges with faith that, ultimately, they're all coming from his hand. Amid it all, he'd have you "shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life" (Phil. 2:16). Then the gospel you speak will be confirmed in the eyes of those watching you.

2. Learn to put God on the table.

Yes, just throw him out there! Let people know in natural, easygoing, confident ways that you're a Christian. Why do so many believers try to keep their Christianity a secret? We all want someone to approach us and ask about Christianity (since that saves us the awkward experience of having to start that conversation ourselves), but often we go out of our way not to give them any opportunity to do so.

When someone asks what you did over the weekend, tell them you went to church. Mention the Bible study you attend on Tuesday nights. Don't just mumble, "I'm sorry I can't come to your birthday party; I'm busy." Say, "I can't come because I'm scheduled to work at my church's clothes closet this weekend." You don't have to be obnoxious or irresponsible about it. Just make sure you identify yourself publicly with Jesus. Let people know somehow you're a Christian and don't mentally censor your Christianity out of your interactions and conversations. You'll be amazed at how often people will take the opportunity to press in on the little piece of information you've just offered. People are often more interested in spiritual things than you think. They just need a bit of permission from you to feel free to talk about it.

3. Build relationships beyond the office.

Strive to break through the personal/professional boundaries that can form between you and your coworkers. Of course, you shouldn't let your relationships become inappropriate in any way. However, if you're going to share the gospel with someone, you'll eventually have to talk to them about something other than the job.

Really, it's not too difficult to do. Grab a cup of coffee after work. Ask questions that go beyond the shallow chitchat that often marks offices. Give some information about yourself that encourages the other person to open up as well. Talk about your family. Be honest about some of the struggles in your life or talk about some of your hopes for the future. In time, by your questions, your openness, and your interest in their life, you'll communicate you care far more deeply about them than just the talents they contribute to the company. You care about them for them. They'll be much more likely to listen to you discuss the gospel if they know they're not just another cog in your professional machine.

4. Use the witness of the church.

As you build relationships with people, look for ways to involve other believers from your church as well. One of the greatest witnesses to the gospel on the planet is the love Christians have for one another (John 13:34-35). If you and some friends from church are going to be hanging out together, invite one of your coworkers to come along. The conversation doesn't have to be explicitly spiritual. Sometimes interactions between a group of normal, interesting, fun, intelligent Christians will change a person's entire perspective about Christianity. Also invite coworkers to your church's worship services. Let them see what it's like for a group of Christians to gather and take their faith seriously. Many have never seen anything like that, and experiencing it can raise all kinds of good questions in their minds. Jesus called his followers to gather together into churches for a reason. Your church family can be an enormous evangelistic resource. Let them be coworkers with you as you hold firmly to the word of life in your workplace.

5. Have a "mission field" mindset about your work.

Have you considered one of the reasons God may have deployed you to your job is so you can break into a particular subculture with gospel grace? Throughout our society there are countless groups of people who share much in common simply because they work in the same field. They speak the same jargon; they struggle with the same issues; they ask many of the same questions. And sadly, in many of those subcultures the truth of the gospel is a rarity. For example, I imagine I (Sebastian) am one of only a tiny number of Christians working in the creative internet space today. That means I have the privilege of helping to break into that subculture with the good news. What specific group has the King deployed you to work among each day? Architects? Teachers? Auto salespeople? Thinking about the mission that way helps us not get discouraged by the thought of the millions who need salvation. Rather, we're energized by the thought that our King has deployed us to a specific network of friends and relationships into which we can speak truths seldom heard.

You could also consider taking your job to another part of the world, even places where it may be difficult for career missionaries to go. The globalization of the business world is one of the most important developments in the history of missions. Companies are expanding internationally and looking for professionals, experts, and entrepreneurs to open up new markets where none has existed. Why not consider being an engineer in Shanghai? Why not do your business in Dubai, Istanbul, or Moscow, where millions of persons from hundreds of nationalities live and work each day? These places need a strong gospel witness. Career missionaries already in these cities will be deeply encouraged by other Christians moving there and putting their hands to the plow.

Editors' note: This excerpt is adapted from Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger's new book, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Lives (Zondervan) [interview | free study guide | website | Twitter].

Struggling to Love in the Face of Evil

Even when life is "easy" it is hard to show mercy to our fellow sinners. When enjoying order, safety, and congeniality, serving others can still be a challenge. But when you are drowning in poverty, murder, violence, lawlessness, sickness, injustice, pain, and desperation, showing mercy to sinners amplifies the sin in yourself. As a sinner, it is difficult to love someone who doesn't return your love. So how do you respond when the one you hope to serve desires to kill you?

Our full-time team of a dozen missionaries serves in Honduras. This country is incredibly hard to live in, let alone minister to. For five years running Honduras has been the most murderous country in the world. Its people are the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere. The average first birth occurs at 15 years of age. Hospitals are closed, police are outgunned, pastors are driven from the country, babies starve, treatable illnesses lead to death, and indifference and apathy are endemic.

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Our fences have barbed wire, our windows have bars, our yards have attack dogs. The ladies on our team are not allowed exercise outdoors or live alone. Our kids can't walk to the corner store or carry mobile phones. Missionaries on our team have suffered burglaries, armed robberies, and had guns put to our heads. Ministry is not easy in Honduras.

Better than Fleeting Comfort

How on earth are we supposed to love a culture that refuses to love itself? And, more importantly to our sin nature, how are we supposed to show mercy to a people who want to harm us? Our mission team has been studying Acts, that ghastly book that tells about missionaries like Paul and Peter and Barnabas, who get chased out of town, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and continue to plant churches, preach the gospel, and show mercy to those who disparage them. The same book points out my sins and provides examples of a good missionary to whom I will never measure up.

The great theologians understood Christians are called to experience pain, and to endure it, because God is worth so much more than our fleeting comfort and pleasure. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the World War II martyr for Christ, described a Christian as "someone who shares the sufferings of God in the world." Augustine taught, "It is not the punishment but the cause that makes the martyr." Hudson Taylor, the pioneering 19th-century missionary to China, proclaimed, "For our Master's sake, may he make us willing to do or suffer all his will." And John Calvin explained, "You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy."

Suffering is not a new concept; it is just new to us. Scripture addressed these issues long ago. God is by no means unaware of our pain (Ex. 3:7), and he calls us to endure our sufferings and continue in our service to him (2 Tim. 4:5). We know God will not give us more than we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13), and we understand the Lord prepares his servants for battle (Ps. 144:1). God knows we can endure more than we think we can in his strength. We, on the other hand, have our doubts. Some days the battle just wears us down, and even if we think we can endure another day, we just don't want to.

Not Absolved

Our doubt, pain, and discomfort do not absolve Christians of our responsibility to spread the saving grace of Christ and show his mercy to the needy. Tim Keller stated, "If you look down at the poor and stay aloof from their suffering, you have not really understood or experienced God's grace." We were never promised lack of pain or suffering, only the unwavering knowledge that the Creator of the universe loves us.

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When we struggle with safety and security and still get out of bed every morning to toil in the name of Christ, he receives an extra measure of glory from our labors. How fortunate to experience suffering that results in God's glory, pain that expands God's name, and persecution that points towards heaven! John Piper said, "This is God's universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world." Indeed, our bodies and souls belong to the Lord. Our worship of Christ includes offering our entire life to God. Our joy comes in service when we obey his commands.

Be it money, comfort, family, or friends, mission work entails sacrifice. God calls us to be willing to give all we have. As with all other Christians, missionaries must die to self, forego personal gain, and submit to Christ. No matter the cost we are called to serve the Lord. "They gave our Master a crown of thorns," Martin Luther wrote. "Why do we hope for a crown of roses?"

Why Don't Calvinists Care About Missions?

As a general principle, if we hear a criticism repeatedly, we should take it seriously, no matter how unfounded or painful it may initially seem. I had an opportunity to practice this principle when a thoughtful student recently asked in class, "Why don't Calvinists care about missions?" I believe the charge is largely unfounded, so I wish he had asked, "Why do people say Calvinists don't care about missions?'" Still, however we phrase the question, it persists. Is there something in Calvinism that weakens the urgency of evangelism? We can easily think of several answers why maybe it does.

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Calvinists and culture: Calvinists are so bent on engaging their own culture that they can neglect other cultures, and so neglect cross-cultural missions. Again, Calvinists are so bent on engaging the culture that they can fail to confront their own culture, including its unbelief.

Calvinists and a well-trained clergy: Reformed leaders insist on well-trained ministers, which prevents rapid deployment when a mission field opens. There were four Methodist ministers in America in 1771 and 2,000 by 1816. That mass had not attended seminary. Rather, Francis Asbury and his allies commissioned them for itinerant frontier work. The story in the South Sea Islands is similar. Congregationalist missionary John Williams placed native teachers, "often with the slenderest of qualifications," on remote islands in the South Pacific. The work seemed too urgent to wait for seminary grads.

Some say that the doctrines of divine sovereignty and predestination undermine the urgency of evangelism and missions. At a minimum, it seems that Calvinists are less likely than Arminians such as Charles Finney to press for a decision "this very day." In his lectures on revivals of religion, Finney said, "Revival is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical [i.e. scientific] result of the right use of the constituted means—as much as any other effect produced by the application of means." This conviction led Finney to develop a system of high-pressure evangelistic methods. The Calvinist disagrees, and, citing Romans, affirms that revival and conversion depend ultimately on the work of the Spirit. We care about means but believe that the Spirit uses a variety of means. We can take our time, too, since we don't worry that a man will die the day before he comes to faith, trusting that God will bring his people to himself.

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I'll let the reader judge whether there could be some truth in these three points. Calvinists might show their concern for missions more readily if, for example, they were more willing to commission workers to go to lands that where evangelists don't need to know the effects of the Enlightenment and World War 1 on liberal European theology.

Nonetheless, Calvinists do care about missions and evangelism. The evangelical and Reformed denominations plant churches in cities and towns that lack sound churches and sponsor many works overseas. Our seminaries send impressive numbers of grads into church planting, campus work, and missional work on all continents.

That said, Calvinists must admit that Catholics, not Protestants, first sent missionaries to Asia and the new world. The Jesuit Francis Xavier led the way, reaching India by 1542. Many followed his lead—all over the globe. Whatever their failings, they wentProtestant missions didn't really get started until the early 1700s. Early Protestants didn't talk about missions much either; the Westminster Confession of Faith famously lacks a section on missions.

But there is more to the story. The first Protestants stayed home because they saw their own countries as mission fields. German, English, Scottish, French, and Swiss Protestants knew the gospel was almost unknown in vast swaths of their lands. At the time, church services were typically conducted in Latin, so the message was incomprehensible to the vast majority of people. Even in lands with Protestants leaders and evangelical creeds and catechisms, many areas had no competent preachers, so they were Christian in name only. The reformers gave themselves to evangelism and missions in their own lands.

Consider Calvin himself. He was forced to leave France under the threat of persecution and settled in Geneva, Switzerland. He soon founded a seminary. Great numbers of his students came from France and returned to France. More than 150 of Calvin's graduates planted churches in France, under a real threat of death. By the late 16th century, scholars estimate that 5 percent to 10 percent of the French populace worshiped in Protestant churches, until persecution scattered them. Similarly, while the early Puritans didn't send missionaries overseas, they trained pastors and sent them to every corner of England, in a time when many churches had no faithful gospel preaching.

In the great revivals of the 18th century, the Arminian Wesleys are perhaps most famous for their preaching in open fields and town squares, but George Whitefield, the Calvinist, had just as much influence in his day as the Wesleys. Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, another Calvinist, were surely the leading lights of America's Great Awakening.

In short, history shows that Calvinism was missional and evangelistic at the start. By our nature, all evangelicals care about missions. The question is, are we true to our essential nature, or do we follow secondary strands that can lead away from evangelism? Are we so intent on engaging and transforming our culture that we are slow to challenge it with the gospel? Are pastors so intellectual that they are content to make disciples after others convert them? Does our proper confidence in the Spirit invite sloth? If our churches see less evangelistic fruit than we hope, we must ask ourselves these questions.

Perhaps the biggest question is this: Are today's Calvinists true to our historic nature and evangelical calling? If we are enthusiastic about God's worldwide mission, how do our actions show it? How blessed it would be to answer these questions so convincingly that no one thinks to ask; all will know that Calvinists really do care about missions.

Was the Ascension Bad Evangelism Strategy?

Let's be honest: the ascension of Jesus is weird. It's the story of a man taken up into the clouds. I remember reading the story with a friend who is not a Christian, and she looked at me with pity as if to say, "You don't really believe this wacky stuff, do you?" I was about to object to her unspoken accusation when I thought, Yes, actually, this is pretty weird.

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The two men at the ascension scene, probably angels, don't seem to help matters. "Why do you stand here looking into the sky?" they ask. Surely the answer is obvious. The apostles have just seen a man taken up into the clouds, so I'd probably be looking up to see what happens next, too. The point these men are making, of course, is that what happens next—what their attention should be focused on—will take place on earth because Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit to empower his people to become his witnesses.

So, again, the ascension is weird. But it can also feel a bit disappointing. For example, you may have had conversations that went something like this:

"If God exists, then why doesn't he make himself known? Why doesn't he write a message in the sky? Surely he could if he were God."

"But he has made himself known," we say. "He sent his Son, Jesus. Jesus is God among us. He made God known."

"So you say, but how can I know that? Jesus died a long time ago."

Or, something like this:

"How can you be so confident there's life after death?"

"Because someone came back from the dead," we respond. "The resurrection of Jesus is key to the claims of the Christian gospel. Our faith stands or falls on this historical event."

"But how do you know that wasn't just a made-up story?"

"Because the tomb was empty and eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive. And those eyewitnesses weren't gullible people, desperate to believe. Thomas in particular, one of the Twelve, doubted the news until he saw and heard and touched Jesus for himself. His life was changed, just as meeting the risen Jesus changed the lives of countless other witnesses. Many went from hiding in fear to boldly proclaiming the story of Jesus even when faced with persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom."

"Yeah, but coming back from the dead? There's no scientific proof for anything like that."

These conversations meander around a similar refrain: wouldn't evangelism be a whole lot easier if Jesus were still on earth? Imagine he was still living somewhere in Palestine so that people could go to see him. Imagine scientists had studied him over the years and could verify that he was more than 2,000 years old. Or imagine Jesus himself was on tour, performing miracles and preaching the gospel.

The ascension seems like bad evangelism strategy. It removes the key piece of evidence that substantiates the claims of Christianity. It's like our best player got subbed out as the game was just beginning.

Startlingly Good News

But in Scripture and for the Christian, the ascension is startlingly good news. In fact, there could be no salvation or mission without the ascension. The great Puritan theologian John Owen affirmed the same when he said:

This assumption of our Lord Jesus Christ into glory, or his glorious reception in heaven, with his state and condition therein, is a principal article of the faith of the church—the great foundation of its hope and consolation in this world. . . . The darkness of our faith herein is the cause of all our disconsolations, and most of our weaknesses in obedience.

That said, what was the immediate effect of the ascension on the first disciples?

"Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God" (Luke 24:52-53).

Their response was worship, joy, and praise. Their Lord and friend had been taken from them, but they understood enough of what had happened for the ascension to produce in them worship, joy, and praise.

Why? They believed Jesus when told them: "But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). This exhortation remains true for us as well; Jesus' physical absence is better for us than his continued physical presence.

As we think about the ascension, we must rediscover the great comfort it brings. Diplomats and reporters often talk about "their man in Washington" or "their man in Tokyo." For Christians, Jesus is "our man in heaven." He is there for us, on our behalf. He's our representative, securing our salvation by his very presence in heaven.

But we must also discover the ascension as a great challenge. Jesus receives all authority and sends us out to declare that authority to the world. The ascension, then, is the beginning of mission.

This article has been adapted from Tim Chester and Jonathan Woodrow's new book The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God (Christian Focus, 2013).

A Bubba With a Passion for the Gospel and Golf

The Story: On Sunday Bubba Watson, one of the most untraditional golfers on the PGA Tour, was the winner of the 2014 Masters Tournament. But golf isn't Watson's top priority. What he considers most important can be gleaned from the description on his Twitter account, @bubbawatson ("Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer.") and his website, BubbaWatson.com ("Loves Jesus and loves sharing his faith").

watson_610_masters14_d4_scott_jacketThe Background: In an interview with Trevor Freeze of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Watson tells how he uses his Twitter account—along with his PGA platform—to share about his faith in Christ.

"For me, it's just showing the Light," said Watson. "There's people who want to put down Christians. I try to tell them Jesus loves you. It's just a way to be strong in my faith."

After his first Master's win in 2012 Watson's Tweeted: "The most important thing in my life? Answer after I golf 18 holes with @JustinRose99. #Godisgood." Later that day he posted on his account, "Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf"

"Lecrae said it the best," Watson said of the Christian rapper he listens to on his iPod. "He doesn't want to be a celebrity. He doesn't want to be a superstar. He just wants to be the middle man for you to see God through him."

Why It Matters: Christians have always been involved in professional sports, so why is the faith of superstars like Watson suddenly worthy of the public's attention? Because athletes like Watson show that it's still possible for athletes to be open and unapologetic about their willingness to share the Gospel. Also, Watson may be one of the best in his sport but he understands the importance of  keeping his priorities in order, winsomely admitting that their life's callings are secondary to serving the Creator who has called them. To a culture that is both obsessed and disillusioned with fame and fortune, this centered perspective provides a refreshingly countercultural witness.

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I Want My Kids Brainwashed

"I don't want to send our son to church to be brain-washed like those Stoddard kids!" our atheist friend said to his wife. He grew up in East Germany, and we had been church-planting in the former East for a few years by then. At first, I was offended that he would view the kids' program at our church as brainwashing. But then, I couldn't forget that he was probably taught Marx's view of religion throughout his life:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. (Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right)

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According to Marx, if people were to truly think for themselves, they'd detox themselves from using the addicting, mind-altering power of religion to numb their pain. But ironically, the effort in East Germany to systematically eradicate religion from society required a new form of brainwashing to inculcate its people with the socialist ideal. An atheistic society was forged, Christian holidays were renamed, and Christian rites such as baptisms, weddings, and confirmation were replaced with socialist ones.

The loss of individualism feared by my friend actually happened in East Germany under the guise of heralding Marxist equality. Socialist brainwashing appeared to be the only solution to the problems caused by Nazi brainwashing. Meanwhile, capitalism and individualism imposed a new and different tyranny of tolerance on the West, at the expense of individual opinion. As we can see, wherever we live, our thinking is a product of our culture, upbringing, and the political system to which we are subjected. Freedom of thought is perhaps an illusion, because we cannot ever think in a vacuum.

Can Our Brains Lead Us to Morality?

With reason as our guide, the so-called Enlightenment argued, we can all become moral, responsible, tolerant good citizens. The Enlightenment called people to trust Reason, and if we could all agree on what is reasonable, we could all live together with a certain set of commonly shared values.

But can logical deductions alone lead us to morality? Though our ability to reason comes from God, we can use this tool to selfish ends, rationalizing all sorts of immoral things by putting ourselves and our needs at the center of reality. This process happens to us as individuals but also to entire cultures and systems. Recently my husband and I visited the Wanssee Haus, a beautiful villa nestled in a rich neighborhood on the shores of Lake Wannsee. There, on January 2, 1942, over breakfast, the most powerful men in Germany master-minded the Endlösung, the final solution for the so-called problem of the Jews in Europe. They drew up an elaborate plan to deport thousands upon thousands to their deaths.

These well-educated men listened to Bach and Mozart but came up with the most morally abject plan of all history. Their "solution" seemed entirely reasonable to them at the time. They led a whole nation astray, and few had the courage to stand up against them. So is it possible for reason to run amok? Yes, according to history.

Do We Need Brain-Washing?

Through a superficial glance at history it becomes painfully clear that Reason alone cannot lead people to be good. Why? Because our ability to reason is radically flawed and limited in scope. Here in Germany we have the Holocaust as a glaring example. But it happens everywhere. Look at "wonderful" ideas such as the Crusades in Europe, the enslavement of Africans in America, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Rwandan genocide, or the recently uncovered North Korean atrocities. In the face of such a vast moral abyss, the doctrine of total depravity, though at first glance seemingly depressing, actually comforts me. It explains the human propensity toward evil. Human beings are not good at the core. If they were, how could we end up such a mess? Most people certainly aren't as bad as they could be, but the fall affected our beings in their totality. Every aspect of who we are as humans is broken: our bodies, our emotions, our sexuality, and our thinking.

We put ourselves at the center of the universe and think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We become our own standard, make our own sense out of this world and only trust our own faulty thinking when it comes to making decisions. This process of neither trusting God nor honoring him in our thinking is foolishly self-centered and leads our hearts down the path to darkness (Rom. 1:21). Paul's solution to this problem is recognizing that our minds are sinful and that the healing of our minds has to come from outside of us. The Holy Spirit must renew them (Rom. 12:2-3).

Paul does not tell us to stop testing, discerning, or judging soberly. But we must do these things in faith, and the outcome of our thinking should be understanding and embracing the will of God, which is good, acceptable, and perfect. If our thinking leads us down any other path, it is most likely self-absorbed and darkened. Our brains cannot lead us to morality, but God's Spirit can!

So should I be offended if someone thinks church is brain-washing my kids? No, on the contrary! Maybe, next time, I can come up with better answer for my critics, not responding with arrogance but with the message of the gospel, namely that "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

My kids' brains desperately need washing, as does mine. My children were born with intrinsic self-absorption that, if left unchallenged, might lead them down dangerous paths, both for themselves and others around them. But Jesus—the Logos, Reason incarnate—is the only one who has ever thought all of God's thoughts after him in a perfect way. Through his blameless life my kids will know what pleases God, and through his blood their minds can be cleansed.  I pray that someday their minds will be so renewed that they will stand against some of the evils the world around them has embraced without a second thought.

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We Proclaim Him: Signs of Grace in the Twin Cities

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When the gospel of Jesus Christ renews churches, a spirit of cooperation and celebration replaces their tendency toward parochialism and territorialism. Churches see others proclaiming the gospel of grace and expanding their influence in a region as partners in ministry whose successes are worth celebrating. Why? Because the gospel locates our corporate identity not in the size and scope of our own ministry, but in our status as the people of God, united to Christ and other believers by sheer grace. Churches convinced by this reality become more willing to create gospel partnerships for the good of the world.

We are seeing these signs of grace here in the Twin Cities: pastors representing a wide swath of the denominational landscape have come together to affirm their desire to establish a local chapter of The Gospel Coalition aimed not merely at fellowship and mutual encouragement, but also at partnering with one another to advance the gospel in our metro area.

We are only in the beginning stages of this initiative, but one thing's for sure: the Twin Cities needs all our churches to meet the unique ministry challenges of our region. No single church has all the resources necessary to participate in the gospel transformation of our five-county sprawling metro. The Gospel Coalition-Twin Cities exists to dream together how we can more effectively serve our community with the gospel of Christ.

All the Residents Heard

Our brainstorming began in earnest in mid-March at our first official chapter meeting. The substance of our discussion was borne out of a reading of Acts 19:8-10, where the apostle Paul comes to Ephesus and ends up "reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus." The punch line is Acts 19:10: "This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." In two years, all the residents of Asia heard the gospel. Historians tell us that the message reached somewhere between 250,000-400,000 people!

TGC Twin Cities LogoWhat if The Gospel Coalition-Twin Cities was more than a place of robust fellowship, increased camaraderie, and ministry support? What if we also pursued a vision to saturate the Twin Cities metro with the Word of the Lord such that we could say that "all the residents" heard it?

The Twin Cities has more mega-churches per capita than any metro in the United States. But even in this highly churched region, the gospel that Paul preached does not dominate the discussion. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism rules here, which means that people converse in gospel jargon they don't really understand. It's like they know the lyrics to the song, but not the tune.

We cannot control or predict who will trust Christ-that's the work of the sovereign Spirit of God. But we can control what comes out of our mouths—who we talk to and what we talk about. In 2030, about 3.2 million people will live here. How exciting would it be if we worked together, functioning as a true coalition, so that we could eventually say, "All the residents of the Twin Cities heard the Word of the Lord"?

Beginning of the Road

In preliminary discussions before our meeting, it became clear that social media would play a significant role in the advance of the gospel. So we invited Bill Evans, a 19-year veteran of digital marketing, to talk with us about gospel communication in a digital age. After his talk and a brief time of Q&A, we divided into groups and imagined what may have been Paul's strategy for reaching Asia, as well as what some of our halls of Tyrannus might be. It was a wonderful and stimulating time of discussion.

For our chapter, this is the beginning of the road, but it's a road we want to travel. Together. For the good of our city and the glory of Christ.

In the meantime, we will continue to strengthen one another for the ministry through our first annual pastors' conference on May 19-20: "We Proclaim Him: Expository Preaching and the Gospel of Grace." We have observed that it is entirely possible to preach an expository message without preaching the gospel of grace. If we are going to reach the Twin Cities, we need to be sure that our pulpits proclaim Christ every time we open up God's Word. With the help of gifted preacher and teacher Simon Manchester, senior minister of St. Thomas' North Sydney, Australia, we will reflect on how to proclaim Jesus Christ whenever we're in the pulpit. If you're in the Twin Cities and would like to join us, register at weproclaimhim.eventbrite.com.

Are Your Efforts to Contextualize the Gospel All about You?

I never thought moving from one suburb to another would make me reconsider my approach to contextualizing the gospel. That stuff is for missionaries and urban church planters, right?

It turns out it's also for a junior high pastor from a formal church in a conservative Midwest suburb who takes an associate pastor role at a casual church in a liberal suburb in the South.

I immediately enjoyed adapting to my new context. Being in a progressive part of the country, I felt closer to the "front lines" of the battle for the kingdom. My assignment to teach a Sunday school class of young adults—many earning MAs and PhDs—allowed me to indulge my theological and exegetical nerdiness in a way that I couldn't with my former junior highers. The switch from preaching in suits to an open collar was a nice perk. (And I chuckled to myself when I checked the weather up North.)

Who knew contextualizing the gospel could be so great?

Then one morning the next empty box on my Bible reading plan sat beside 1 Corinthians 9. Though I had read this passage countless times, I noticed something I never saw before: sacrifice was the hallmark of Paul's contextualization. Verse by verse, the Spirit began to show me that my enjoyment of my new context—even if not in egregiously sinful ways—betrayed more of a concern for my preferences and pride, not the lost.

Although my theology of contextualizing has remained intact, since that morning I've been forced to reconsider how I go about doing it. Despite how selfless "becoming all things to all people" sounds, our deceitful hearts enable us to apply the principle selfishly.

Are you contextualizing the gospel in a way that is more about you than the people you are ministering to? The following three questions that rise out of 1 Corinthians 9 will help you find out.

Are You serving Others or Yourself?

"I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor. 9:22) is a theme verse for contextualizing the gospel. Paul determined to meet people where they are. If we are not willing to bring the gospel to unbelievers in the midst of their mess—just like Jesus met us—then it will be hard for unbelievers to see that Jesus can save them out of the mess they are in.

But when you scan your eyes up a couple verses, you see the way Paul becomes all things to all people: "I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them" (1 Cor. 9:19, emphasis added). Contextualization starts with service. Becoming all things begins with serving all people.

When you start with "becoming" instead of "serving" you run the risk of picking a context in order to acquire an identity. For example, consider urban church planting. One person has in mind the artists, the entrepreneurs, the sexually broken, and the homeless. He wants to meet their need for the gospel. Another person wants to escape what he perceives to be suburban superficiality. He is attracted to the urban lifestyle, with its cultural richness, diversity, and trendiness. Planting a church, to him, seems like a meaningful way to move to the city.

The first church planter becomes all-things-urban to serve the people there. The second becomes all-things-urban mainly to gain an all-things-urban identity. The first person is focused on others, while the second person, though perhaps not entirely narcissistic, is serving himself. Paul exposes the distinction between these two mindsets when he describes contextualization as "becoming" by serving, not "becoming" alone.

Are You Claiming Rights or Giving Them Up?

Over and over Paul shows how he set aside his preferences to see others believe the gospel. How can you know if you are serving others? The key is to give up your rights:

"Do we not have the right to . . . ?" (9:5ff)

" . . . we have not made use of this right" (9:12)

"But I have made no use of any of these rights . . . " (9:15)

" . . . I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel (9:18)

What rights might you need to give up in order to bring the gospel to others? Your right to a certain standard of living? Your right to buy groceries without being asked for spare cash? Your right to preach without a tie?

One of the ironies of the gospel is that when you give up your rights you sense that you've received more from the experience, not less. Sacrificing to proclaim the gospel is immensely satisfying.

Are You Contextualizing to All or to Some?

In every sport I've played I've been coached to stay on the balls of my feet. Back on your heels, you are unprepared to react. But if you stay on the balls of your feet, you are ready to move toward the action. For Paul, contextualization was about doing gospel ministry "on the balls of his feet." He was ready to serve anyone at any time in any way.

This is different from how I often hear people discussing contextualization. People often talk about aiming at one context: the poor, the city, the university students, and so on. But Paul was ready to contextualize the gospel to anyone at hand:

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22)

Wherever you live—whether city, suburb, or rural—are you willing to contextualize the gospel to all, even people you don't like so much? Or are you merely willing to become some things to some people, that by some means you might save some?

If you have an overly defined segment of the population that you are trying to reach, it is possible you are merely trying to reach people whose company you prefer.

Jesus Served Us

In Philippians 2:7, Paul describes the incarnation as Jesus "taking the form of a servant." At the outset, Jesus looked to the needs of others. Moreover, Jesus was a servant through his death, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42). These bookends show that Jesus' entire ministry—from birth to death—was marked by giving up his rights as the eternally begotten Son to serve sinful people like us.

How do we respond to the way Jesus served us? By giving up our rights and serving others, whomever they may be, to bring them the gospel. It will require sacrifice, to be sure. But that sacrifice does not come without a reward, as Paul says, "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings" (1 Cor. 9:23).

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Pascal's Method for Presenting the Christian Faith

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.

Blaise Pascal was a brilliant 17th-century French mathematician and physicist who had a dramatic Christian conversion experience and thereafter devoted much of his thought to Christianity and philosophy. He began to assemble notes and fragments he hoped would be woven into a book called The Defense of the Christian Religion, but he died just two months after his 39th birthday and it was never written. Those fragments, however, were published as Pensees ("Thoughts"), and it has become one of the most famous Christian books in history.

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One of the most interesting of Pascal's Pensees is the one quoted above. Here Pascal looks holistically at how to present the Christian message to those who do not believe it. He begins with the psychology of non-belief. He says that people are not objective about religion (here meaning Christianity). They really despise it and don't want it to be true—yet fear it may be true. Some of these are fair-minded people who see good, well-thought-out reasons Christianity is not true. Others are not so fair-minded, and they just vilify and caricature it. But no one is neutral. People know instinctively that if Christianity is true they will lose control, and they will not be able to live any way they wish. So they are rooting for it not to be true, and are more than willing to accept any objections to the faith they hear.

How should Christians respond? Pascal thinks there are basically three stages to bringing someone on the way to faith. First, you have to disarm and surprise them. Many people hope Christianity does not make sense on any level. They especially enjoy hearing about professing Christians who are intemperate, irrational, and hypocritical—this confirms them in their non-belief. When, however, some presentation of Christian faith—or simply a Christian believer's character—comes across as well-informed, thoughtful, sensible, open-minded, helpful, and generous, then this breaks stereotypes and commands a begrudging respect.

After this, Pascal says, we should be somewhat more proactive. "Next make it attractive, make good men wish [Christianity] were true." We might object to the term "make" and suggest that Christianity is already attractive, but that's to miss Pascal's point. Of course he isn't saying we should make Christianity into something it's not; rather, we should reveal, point out, and expose its existing features. But the phrase "make good men wish it were true" gets across that this takes determination and ingenuity. We must know our culture—know its hopes—and then show others that only in Christ will their aspirations ever find fulfillment, that only in him will the plot lines of their lives ever have resolution and a happy ending.

I'm glad Pascal calls for this because, understandably, in these conversations we want to talk about sin and the barrier it creates between God and us. Pascal isn't arguing against that. Certainly he isn't telling us to hide that. But do we take time to talk about the manifold and astonishing blessings of salvation? Do we give time and effort to explaining the new birth; our new name and identity; adoption into God's family; the experience of God's love and beholding Christ's glory; the slow but radical change in our character; a growing freedom from our past and peace in our present; power and meaning in the face of suffering; membership in a new, universal, multi-racial counter-cultural community; a mission to do justice and mercy on the earth; guidance from and personal fellowship with God himself; relationships of love that go on forever; the promise of our own future perfection and glorious beauty; complete confidence in the face of death; and the new heavens and new earth, a perfectly restored material world?

If we do this, Pascal gives us a very specific outcome to shoot for. If we've pointed out such things in an effective way, then some (though surely not all) will say, "If Christianity really can give that, it would be wonderful. Yes, it would be great if it were true. But of course Christianity isn't. What a shame!"

Only then will most people sit through any kind of substantial presentation of the evidence and reasons for the truth of Christianity. Now Pascal says to "show that it is [true]." If they have not been brought through stage 1 (being disarmed and surprised by the lives and speech of believers) and stage 2 (seeing the great and attractive promises of God in Christ), their eyes will simply glaze over if you begin talking about "the evidence for the resurrection." They will still expect Christianity to be at best useless and at worst a threat. But if Christianity has begun to make emotional and cultural sense they may listen to a sustained discussion of why it makes logical and rational sense. By "emotional sense" I mean that Christianity must be shown to be fill holes and answer questions and account for phenomena in the personal, inward, heart realm. By "cultural sense" I mean that Christianity must be shown to have the resources to powerfully address our social problems and explain human social behavior.

Only if their imagination is captured will most people give a fair hearing to the strong arguments for the truth of Christianity. Let's appeal to heart and imagination as well as to reason as we speak publicly about our faith in Jesus.

Editors' note: This article originally appeared in the newsletter of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

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Is Your Church a Recovery Culture?

"In most churches I don't really feel welcome." It was an incredibly sad, if not uncommon, statement. Bill (not his real name) is a sincerely nice guy; he was also a recovering addict with a prison record. His tattoos all had stories. "This one is a reminder of my mom's death." "This rose is for my daughter . . . I don't get to see her anymore." "This one is from the best rock album ever!" Admittedly they weren't all good stories, but they were part of his life. Yet because of his story he felt unwelcome in most churches in our area.

prisonAt one church someone offered to buy him a suit, because he "had to have one for church." It was a sincere gesture, but it made Bill feel like he didn't belong. Another congregation simply ignored him. He came in alone, sat alone, and left alone. People seemed to notice his presence but seemed less interested to meet him. At his parents' church his story was well known, and because of the pain and sorrow he had caused his parents he often felt judged, criticized, and condemned when he attended. One lady in particular always made some back-handed compliment: "It has been awhile since you've been in jail. You must be doing well."

Tamed and Domesticated

In much of modern evangelicalism we have tamed the gospel, domesticated it. But the gospel says that we were rebels, traitors, insurgents against the almighty and holy God of the universe. The wrath of God, the fury of hell, and the rage of our blackened hearts are not safe, not domesticated topics. At the heart of the gospel is the bloody, horrific, murder of the innocent Son of God. We have domesticated the cross, wearing it on our t-shirts and around our necks. But we must see it clearly as the torture of an innocent man, the death of the Son of God, and the ruthless means of our salvation. The cross is not family-friendly, but it is the heart of our gospel.

If this is our story, then why do so many churches seem to suggest that some people are simply not sanitary enough to be welcomed within the fold? Whether intentional or not, some churches acknowledge certain sins as more respectable than others.

Take confession of sin for example. One friend publicly confessed, through tears and brokenness, that he was addicted to porn. But no one followed up. Not a single member of his small group, nor a single member of the elder board, asked him how he was doing. The confession was received with such awkwardness that most preferred simply to pretend like it never happened.

Or think about the types of illustrations pastors and teachers can use. We can communicate that real sins come from a certain list or fit a certain type. They include things like homosexual activity, abortion, and drug abuse. With these as our default examples, people will begin to distinguish between themselves and those "really bad" people.

Messy Sinners

Jesus, in his earthly life, loved messy sinners. In fact he was often challenged by the religious leaders for being a "friend of sinners." Jesus knew and loved prostitutes, political traitors, lepers, and social pariahs. Tim Keller has powerfully highlighted the distinction between Jesus and many modern evangelical churches. He writes in Prodigal God:

In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders "the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you" (Matthew 21:31) . . .

If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.

Jesus was a friend to sinners. We must evaluate ourselves and our churches and ask if the same thing would be said of us. I wonder if the list of sins from which the Corinthians were recovering would be found among our churches. Paul writes:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

If such stories are not found among our congregations we ought to pause and wonder why.

Marian's Story

I was so proud of the church when I heard Marian's story. She had been a full-time stripper and full-time miserable. Eventually she decided she needed to attend a church, and even though she hadn't yet abandoned her job, she was welcomed with open arms. She would sometimes show up to corporate worship still in her "work clothes." Her pastor greeted her at the door with a coat. When she decided to join the church they began to press harder on her to leave her job, explaining gently yet firmly how she was actually sinning when she went to work.

Their help and love didn't stop there, though. Without marketable skills and with little education Marian didn't have many options for employment. Her church began to surround her, support her, and help her get the training she needed to move forward. The church welcomed her as she was but loved her enough not to leave her where they found her. Marian's church was truly a recovery-culture church.

A recovery-culture church harbors no respectable sins. All sins are sick and disgusting and worthy of hell. Honest about that reality, a recovery-culture church therefore welcomes all sinners' stories. The guy with an addiction to meth and the woman with an addiction to anger both need help. Both are welcome. Both are loved. This process can be messy and complicated, no doubt, but so is our gospel.

Recovery-culture churches are not always family-friendly, but they are always gospel-friendly.