Evangelism


A while back my Dad to church with me and the kids.  He suffers from dementia, and taking him for a half a day gave my mom and brother a bit of a break.  It was good for the grandkids to have some time with their Pop, and I got to hang out with Dad.  My brother thought it would be good for my dad to spend some time with us and hoped that he would find church ‘inspirational.’

That got me thinking…should church be inspirational?

I don’t think it’s an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

As a believer, I attend church each week to worship my Lord, to fellowship with the family of God, to be fed by the Word.  I hope to be convicted and challenged, exhorted and encouraged.  In a way, I suppose I hope to be inspired, although that is not the word I would use.  But not in the worldly, ‘you can do it if you put your mind to it’ way.  I hope to be inspired to live a godly life and to trust in the promises of God.

My dad is an unbeliever.  Should church inspire him in some way?  I think not.  It seems to me that an unbeliever should have one of two responses when attending a Bible believing, Bible preaching church.  They should be convicted in a way that brings them to repentance, or it should convict them in a way that angers them.

See, the Word tells us that the cross is a stumbling block for unbelievers (1 Peter 2:8). It is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18).  Christ crucified is not some feel good, inspirational message.  It is an offensive message.  It tells us that we are wicked sinners in need of forgiveness.  To an unrepentant sinner, that ought to cause offense. To a sinner who recognizes his or her sin and comes to repentance, then the message of the cross is the most unbelievable, life changing message ever heard.  With either response, it doesn’t qualify as ‘inspirational.’

So if our church services inspire our unbelieving guests, we may need to rethink how we are ‘doing church.’

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Just “ask Jesus into your heart.”  It’s like the evangelical theme these days.  ‘I asked Jesus into my heart’ has become a part of so many salvation testimonies, and for many it is equated with salvation itself.  When my second daughter was born, I received a card from a Christian sister congratulating me, and praying that, ‘she was ask Jesus into her heart at an early age.’  While I appreciated the thought behind the words, my reflex reaction was, ‘I hope she never does that.’

WHAT?  Why?  Am I just being mean?  Why would I say such a thing?  Don’t I want my children to be saved?

As we drove to church this past Sunday my oldest, who is 5, asked how old she needed to be to repent and trust.  Repent and trust.  Those are words we don’t hear very often these days from anyone, let alone a 5 year old.  But these were words she has heard since she was born, and words she often uses.  She has never heard the phrase, ‘ask Jesus into her heart,’ and from me, she never will.  It is not uncommon for her to ask me a question about a hymn we are listening to, and whether the person singing had ‘repented and trusted.’

As you read this, if that had been your child, what would your response have been?  What a golden opportunity, right?  How easy it would have been to say, ‘Abigail, all you have to do is ask Jesus to come into your heart.’  Tempting, in a way.  Tempting to give myself comfort in thinking that my little 5 year old is now a Christian because she prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into her heart.

How many people in our country have done the very same thing, yet continue to live like the reprobate that they were and still are.  It is easy to say those words, and yet have no understanding of Biblical salvation.

My main problem with this trend is that it is no where in Scripture.  Yeah, I’m one of those literalists.  The Bible commands that we repent and trust, or repent and believe.  NEVER does it command us to ask Jesus to come into our hearts.  What exactly does that phrase mean anyway?

Abigail and I have had this type of conversation many times over the past year.  I do my best to answer her questions on her level, and I can see the wheels turning in her little brain trying to figure it out.   She knows the words, but also knows that she doesn’t understand ‘how to repent yet.’  I desperately want her to understand what it means to repent and trust, and I desperately want her to do so. But I refuse to lower the bar so that she can make an outward display that may or may not have any inward reality.  So I will continue to pray that God would enlighten her, that he would help her to understand what it means to repent and trust.  I will continue to trust in God’s Sovereign control over her salvation.  I will continue to have patience, and allow the Spirit to do His work of convicting my daughter of sin, righteousness and judgement, without trying to rush the process.

Most of all, I will do all that I can to NOT give her a false sense of security.  I hope she does indeed get saved at an early age, even before her next birthday.  But if she turns out to be a prodigal, I will continue to preach the Gospel to her, continue to help her see the wickedness of her heart (the same wickedness that is in my heart), and her need for forgiveness.  When and if she is regenerated, the Spirit will provide assurance, and fruit in her life will provide outward evidence of an inner change.  It won’t be a certain prayer or a certain phrase, but rather the work of a sovereign God changing her heart, granting her the gift of repentance and of faith.

For 10 more reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart, read this short article.

I’ve been watching a documentary called “Babies” that I got from Netflix.  It follows four newborns during their first year of life, in four different locations: Nigeria, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco.

It is fascinating to see the pampered American and Japanese baby attend baby music classes, in contrast to the Nigerian baby who is often seen playing in the dirt with rocks, sticks and such.  To see the diaper-less societies, and the just about naked society.  The city babies and the as remote as you can possibly get babies.

But the among all the differences shown in culture, there is one striking similarity that runs through each story….the universality of sin, even in the youngest of people.

The documentary opens with two adorable Nigerian babies, ever-so-slightly older siblings of the newborn, playing side by side.  The younger turns to the oldest and, unprovoked, decides to bite.  The oldest, in return, gives the younger a firm wallop on the head.

Later on you see the Mongolian baby sitting, doing nothing, with his older sibling repeatedly hitting him with a shirt, as the baby fusses in disapproval.

The Japanese baby throws an all out temper tantrum in frustration as she plays with a toy in her toy room.

I am certain the American baby is due for some sort of fit, I just haven’t gotten that far in the documentary yet.

Sin has no language barrier.  It touches the old and young alike.  It reaches from the cities to the most remote stretches of land in far away places.  No culture and no color is exempt.  There is no place to hide, because sin isn’t some outside force that impedes upon us, but rather an inner reality that exists in each and every one of us.  We can escape sin because sin is part of the package.  From the day we are formed we are filled with this disease called sin.

Thankfully, we do have a Refuge.  His name is Jesus Christ.  Through faith and repentance, we can unload our burden and guilt of sin upon Him, as He joyfully endures our punishment in order to redeem us and make us right with God.

Just as sin knows no barrier, neither does the Gospel.  From the city to the most remote parts of the earth, everyone who is breathing is in need of the saving grace offered only through Christ.  Are we doing enough to bring that Good News to the ends of the earth?

I feel I need to start with a disclaimer:  I use the title of today’s post with much hesitancy, because while we strive for godliness, we fall short each and every day.  Nevertheless, a true Christian family is distinguishable from the world.

I took my kids to have breakfast at their Nana’s (my mom) restaurant last week.  I  was surprised to learn that one of the waitresses was pregnant, expecting the new arrival very shortly.  She is the girlfriend of my cousin, and a former coworker of my husband, when he helped my mom get her place up and going the first few months.  Clearly out of the loop, I had no idea she was pregnant.

We left breakfast, and my brain was swimming with thoughts.  Firstly, just how out of the loop I am…how was this not mentioned at some point.  But I digress.

I am the only Christian in my family.  My mom’s dad was a faithful Lutheran, although I do not know whether he was a believer. Whatever faith he had, it was not transferred to the next generation.  My cousin grew up in a very ungodly home, with a lot of drama inside that household.  My heart has often gone out for him and his brothers, as well as my uncle.  Many prayers have been raised before the Throne of our King for their salvation.

So when I heard of the expected child, my brain was full of thoughts, asking again and again, ‘what can I do to reach them?’

I decided on a rather unorthodox baby gift, but an absolute necessity for parenting…a Bible.

During the few months my husband worked at the restaurant, my cousin’s girlfriend saw me and my kids often.  She saw the interaction between myself and the girls (Alexander wasn’t born yet), and between the girl.  On more than one occasion she commented on their behavior, how well they shared, etc.  Clearly, she didn’t see the times they threw temper tantrums, or had attitudes, but she saw that something was different.  During one of our visits she may a joking comment about hiring us (my husband and I) to raise her kids when she has them.

The credibility that was established then would now be used by God as an opportunity to share the Gospel.

So here we are today, with her and my cousin expecting their first child any day.  My cousin comes from a broken family;( I do not know about her background).  I could not think of a better gift than to tell her ‘my secret.’  How is it that we have respectful, well-behaved children?  It certainly isn’t any special talent innate to me but rather the grace of God, having changed me on the inside, impacting the way our family operates.

I left the restaurant travailing for them that day, and the next, while getting and delivering the Bible.  My prayer has been that God would open their hearts, that our visible testimony would soften their hearts enough to, 1. read the Word, and 2. receive it with repentance and faith.  That upon them, they would change the legacy that has been passed down to them.  That they would stand on the Rock of Christ, the first in their families, altering the trajectory of their offspring.  That they would break the pattern of broken households, and even turn their family and friends to the Lord through the living testimony that they produce with their expected son.

Would you pray for them as well?

We live in a townhouse community that is well-maintained.  We like it here, enjoy the amenities and appreciate how well-kept it is.  One of the rules in the community is that there is no street parking.  Everyone has their own garage and driveway, and there are a number of guest parking spots throughout, but you cannot park beside the sidewalk.

When we just had the 1 car, this was never an issue. But with 2 cars, we don’t quite fit.  Our garage is half filled with storage (that in itself is a funny trend these days, maybe worthy of its own post), so both cars need to go in the driveway.  They kinda fit, but Pablo’s car hangs into the street a little.  So he usually parks down a few houses, in the guest parking section.

Well, last weekend he came home from work around 10pm, and all the guest spots were taken.  He leaves in the morning at 5am, so for those 7 hours when most of the world is asleep anyway, he left the car beside the sidewalk.  I’m sure you can guess what happened.

In the morning, no car…it was towed.

When he came back in to tell me, and to let me know that he would be taking the other car, I immediately began defending and justifying his actions, chalking it up to ‘being unfair.’

You see, our neighbors are CONSTANTLY parking in the street.  It drives me nuts!  On both sides.  I go out for a walk with the kids, and I’m surrounded by cars and trucks.  And this, even when their driveways have room, and multiple guest spots are available.  I don’t know exactly what I find so frustrating about it, but in part it’s that they were breaking the rules and getting away with it. (or so I thought)

So when Pablo’s car got towed, late a night (who really noticed!?) when there were no extra spots, it was unfair, right?

I tried to keep my thoughts to myself, as we did break the rules (even though it was unfair) because I didn’t want to create in Abigail a disregard or disrespect for rules.

We got in touch with the tow company, and spoke to him about recovering our car.  I asked him about how often he tows in our community.  I have never seen a tow truck come through in the 5+ months we’ve lived here.  And my neighbors had never been towed, and they really deserved it. This man was kind enough (I’d be kind too if I was about to get $185) and told me that they do come through at random times, and also respond to calls about parking.  He had received a number of calls that night and towed a number of vehicles.  He also informed me that my neighbors had been towed recently, two different neighbors.  This made me feel better.

But as I reflected on this I realized how I had been trying to justify myself based upon being ‘not as bad’ as my neighbors.  They were ‘more deserving’ of being towed than we were.  I spend half the morning fuming over the injustice, but realize there was no injustice.  We broke the rule, and we were caught.  Just because my neighbors got away with it more often, doesn’t take away my offense.

What a parallel to the way the world looks at sin, the way I used to look at sin.  When confronted with my violations of God’s Holy Law.  I turned and looked at my neighbor, and trying to justify myself, said, ‘but I’m not as bad as her.’  And, ‘she really deserves to be punished, she does this and that, I only do these ‘little’ things.’

What I was reminded of over the weekend was that I will stand before God, alone.  There is no sliding scale.  He does not grade on a curve.  He will hold out his standards, and it is strictly a pass/fail scenario – and one wrong answer, one ‘little’ sin results in a failing grade.  God will not care if I was better than that other sinner, because He hates any and all sin.  He will not look upon what I find to be a smaller sin with joy, because it’s not a severe as that BIG sin over there.  No, I will be judged for what I have done and have not done.

The difference here is that in God’s economy, there is forgiveness.

You see, I’m sure there are some folks in our little community here that have followed this rule, and have refrained from parking in the street.  But all of us have broken God’s laws.  We parked in the street, and left $185 poorer.  There would be no forgiveness of that debt, unless someone paid that debt for us.

I have broken God’s laws, have you?  Have you lied?  Stolen anything, regardless of its value?  Lusted after someone?  Harbored hate in your heart? (God equates that with murder).

And while I should rightfully receive His ‘fine’, His punishment, someone has paid that debt for me.

You can know who that was, and how to receive that forgiveness too.  I would love to hear about it if you do!!

I always loved the slogan for Secret deodorant – ‘strong enough for a man, Ph balanced for a woman.’  Well, here is the Gospel in less than 25 words, it is ‘profound enough for adults but simple enough for children.’

We would all do well to teach this to our kids and sing this to ourselves every day.  It is part of my kids bedtime routine.  How quickly I like to forget my sin, and the amazing kindness of my Savior.

I have often wondered about the experiences of pediatric nurses and doctors.  Seeing kids all day, every day, surely they must have some interesting stories to tell of some totally out of control children.  In the short time frame that a child is in the office, can these medical folks see the well-trained children from the poorly trained ones?  Is it obvious? Or is it too short a time frame to really notice behavior problems.  Well, today I got my answer.

My son had his 1-year doctor appointment today.  As usual, I had all three of my kids in-tote.  We were led into the exam room where the nurse did her best to engage my girls in some small talk, which, depending on their mood, may get you no response, or may get you more feedback than you had hoped for.  She commented to the girls how good they were behaving, and then she commented, half to them, half to me, ‘I bet mom runs a tight ship at home’ too which I replied, ‘yes I do’.

She has been a nurse for some time, so I asked her if she has seen a decline in behavior over the years.  I got a big, ‘OH YEAH’ response.  She went on to tell me how, after all these years, she can usually tell children who are disciplined and those who aren’t.  There are some kids who come into the office, and practically tear the place apart, while mom or dad just sit there and do nothing.  From her experience, there is no difference between younger moms and older moms, it’s simply an overall decline in the discipline of children.

That got me to thinking, as I go about the mundane daily tasks of being a mother, including the tireless efforts to train and correct my children, maybe there is an effect that extends beyond the walls of my home.  While I am certainly charged with the proper training of the children for their sake, it’s more than that.  It’s for the Gospel sake.  What if, part of my witness to the world, brining light to the darkness, is having children who do not wreak havoc everywhere they go.  Who sit (relatively) quietly, and respectfully in the doctor’s office.  Who obey when they are called, both at home, but also in public.

There have been many instances when I am waiting on a line somewhere, and my girls are entertaining themselves just to the side of the line.  Maybe folks comes stand behind us, or something else happens, when it no longer seems appropriate to have them to the side, and I call them over to stand quietly next to me.  Most of the time, they come quickly, and without complaint, as I expect.  When this happens, I’ll often hear a lady look, and comment to whomever she is with, ‘look, they listen so well.’  Could this be part of my Gospel witness to the world.  Part of what it means to be set apart?

Disclaimer: make no mistake, by no means do I think my children are perfect!  And I’m sure the next time we are out in public they will throw a big hissy fit over something just to remind me that they are not perfect – and it wouldn’t be the first time.

Disclaimer 2: I am also not saying that every well-behaved child is from a Christian family, and every poorly behaved child is not.  I am an example of that:  I was not raised in a Christian home, yet my brothers and I were outwardly good, respectful and polite.