BETA

Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women

Archive for August, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

29 August, 2007

 IRRESISTABLE GRACE

 How would you describe the twelve disciples? Those supposed on again, off again followers of Christ?  Well, they were a rather rag tag bunch of men who seemed hungry for God, but were continually entangled in their own fears, doubt, duplicity, vanity, spiritual dullness, and peer competition.  In a word, they were us.  Perhaps you can identify with me when I feel like the freshman punter who is called on to the field to save the football game in the last 10 seconds.  More than life he wants to succeed, and please his beloved coach.  As the ball is kicked you can observe the anticipation on the coachs face. Then there are a couple of eternal seconds of not knowing. As the ball misses the goal posts the coachs agonizing disappointment is in evidence as his body goes limp with the defeat. How apt is Pauls description of me: What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.  (Rom. 7:15 Msg)

 Heres the bomb shell:  While you and I are stuck in our muck, wallowing around in our struggle between victory and defeat; between the ideal and our reality; between love for God and self-disgust, Jesus eagerly desires our fellowship; our intimacy. Hours before the cross, Christ makes detailed preparations for his motley crew of 12 to join him in his last meal. Get this: After washing their feet, (Jn. 14:1-17) he tells them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer  (Lk. 22:15) At this supper, the Master shares the fact that one of them is plotting to betray him.  The twelve jump all over it. Who is this low life among us? And then they began arguing about who once Jesus is out of the picture is the greatest among them. That is, his replacement. Were observing a power struggle here. (Luke 22:21-24) And he eagerly wants to fellowship with them? The answer is yes, all the while knowing that in hours they will all run away like cowards and deny him.  Such grace is incomprehensible.

 My friend, I dont know about your struggles with sin. I surely know mine: Attitudes that are downright ugly. Lusts that would prove embarrassing if put on a public screen.  Shall I go on about my indomitable pride?  My fears? My hair trigger capability of explosive anger? A writer years ago spoke of our secret, inner habitation of dragons.  I have them and I suspect you do too.  Jesus knows all about them and still eagerly desires our intimate fellowship.

 I am reminded of Don Quixotes love for an immoral woman, Dulcinea del Tobosco who finds it unfathomable that he would take her as his lady.  While she sees herself as she really is, he sees her as his beautiful lady. Similarly,  Jesus loves us and sees us as his bride.  Pure and holy. Christ like. Paul hit it on the head in stating, Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.  (Rom. 5:20) Personally, I am compelled to keep returning to that kind of love.  To Jesus who is the embodiment of irresistible grace.  As the disciples put it, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (Jn. 6:68)

 QUESTION:  Today, are you responding to the Masters irresistible grace? Are you allowing him to wash your feet and dine with you in spite of the fact that he knows you from the center to the outer edge?  He knows that one day you and I again will, in all probability, miss the 35 yard field goal. And you know what?  It wont change his love for us one iota.  And that my friend is the personification of irresistible grace.

 You were his enemies and hated him and were separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends Christ has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are standing there before him with nothing left against you–nothing left that he could even chide you for; the only condition is that you fully believe the Truth, standing in it steadfast and firm, strong in the Lord, convinced of the Good News that Jesus died for you, and never shifting from trusting him to save you.  (Col. 1:21-23 Living; selected)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

22 August, 2007

FIVE WAYS WE FAIL TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE THE GOSPEL

Jesus told Peter and Andrew, "Come, follow meand I will make you fishers of men." (Matt. 4:19)  Now fishing is an art form. You have to know the fish and how they think. You have to get into their head and outsmart them. That is, you have to catch them. I suppose you could drop dynamite into a lake and kill all the fish and get them that way. But thats not fishing.  I wonder if some of our attempts to get folks into the Kingdom of God are more like dynamiting people than catching them. 

Have you ever seen a book entitled, Principles of Evangelism from the Life of Jesus. I doubt it.  You know why? Because his approach was never the same.  He came near to people with great sensitivity and creativity.  As you read the Gospels there are times you want to scream, Jesus, tell him! What are you waiting for!  You are going to miss your chance!

Jesus, the all sovereign, all knowing God moved with grace and perfect timing with each individual or group, giving out just the right amount of truth in the most engaging manner.  It seems, by way of contrast, that many of us live with a sense of guilt that somehow we have to hammer people with the Gospel, or spew Scripture at them, or arm wrestle them to attend our church.  Not so Jesus. For him, evangelism was a natural process that flowed out of the focus and rhythm of his daily life. 

Let me propose five ways we error in our evangelism:+

Not taking the time to understand how a person learns; how a person processes information. If we took the time to sincerely listen to people in order to understand how they think and feel, then perhaps we could present the truth of Christ to them in a captivating manner that would improve our effectiveness in bringing them to Christ.  Ever wonder why God gave us two ears and one mouth?  How about if we listened twice as much as we talked? He who answers before listening– that is his folly and his shame…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  (Pro. 18:13; Jms. 1:19)

Not making the effort to understand what motivates a person:  Years ago a young wannabe salesman in a pyramid scheme invited me to lunch to sell me his snake oil. Five minutes into the meal, without a clue as to who I was, he gave his pitch as to all the things I could experience if I bought his product.  You know, traveling, getting the sail boat, etc., etc.  I was old enough to be his dad, and had already experienced most everything he was shoving at me. Actually, I was trying to simplify my life. He was pitching what he was dreaming about. Are we guilty of doing the same with people in trying to get the Gospel to them?  People are motivated to surrender to Christ when they see him as the answer to their deepest needs.  To the woman at the well Jesus said, Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirstnot ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.  The woman said, Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!" (Jn. 4:13-15 NLT)

Not earning the right to be heard:  Have you and I been there for our lost friends when they needed us the most? Do they know we care? Our next door neighbor has terminal cancer with perhaps 6 12 months to live. We are having him over for dinner, offering to help in whatever way he needs us, etc.  We have gone slowly in presenting the Gospel.  Well get to it, but we are easing into it with him.  After a year or so of just loving him and being there for him, especially when his wife died, he is responding beautifully to us. Well get the Gospel to him, but hopefully in Gods timing –  not according to our nervous schedule.

Not using a fresh, thoughtful approach: That is, using a canned approach, like one size fits all. I am sure a canned approach is better than nothing. God will use it. But why dont we learn how to move beyond the plastic water wings level of props?  Notice Pauls instructions on artfully presenting the Gospel:  Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and effective so that you will have the right answer for everyoneThe Lord’s servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people.  They should gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will believe the truth.  (Col. 4:4,5; 2 Tim. 2:24,25 NLT)

Not breaking the language barrier: That is, using Christianese; religious terms that fail to communicate the truth to a secularized mind. We need to understand, in a measure at least, how the lost think in order to communicate the truth to them through their paradigm. We also need to be real in not sounding like a stained glass window. As Richard Prior put it to Gene Wilder in the movie Silver Streak, Hey, baby, ya gotta get down! In other words, Hey Bro, can ya talk to me in my lingo? Here is St. Paul again, Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. (Col. 2:8 Msg)

+ Appreciation to Nate Merza for the ideas of this  Facts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

15 August, 2007

 EVER WORRY ABOUT WHETHER YOU WILL FINISH THE RACE WELL?

We are all observing believers around us who are throwing over the faith; Christian leaders who are caught living doubles lives. And, if we are honest, we see our own daily struggle with inner corruption and may well have our doubts as to whether we will finish well! Take heart my fellow traveler in Gods promises: God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back againGod has said, I will never fail you.  I will never forsake you."  (Phil. 1:6b; Heb. 13:8 NLT) Understand that there are practical steps you can take to cooperate with God to insure that you live victoriously and joyfully during the days of your sojourn.  For example:

Make the pursuit of knowing Christ your first priority:  Everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  (Phil. 3:8b – NLT; Jer. 29:13)

Comprehend and rest in the grace of God:  Be strong with the special favor God gives you in Christ JesusHe has not punished us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west.  (2 Tim. 2:1b; Psa. 103:10-12 – NLT) (See Heb. 4:9-11)

Deal with sins and other debilitating issues:  Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. (Heb. 12:1) (See Psa. 32:1-5; Pro. 28:13; Gal. 6:7, 8; 1 Tim. 5:24)

Live a life of transparency, accountability and fellowship:  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effectiveAs iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens anotherAnd let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (Jms. 5:16; Pro. 27:17; Heb. 10:24, 25) (See I Jn. 1:7) 

Deal biblically with the sexual area of life: It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (I Thess. 4:3-7)  (See Matt. 5:27-30; Gal. 5:16; 2 Tim. 2:22; I Pet. 2:11)

Grasp Gods sovereignty and grace in responding Biblically to bitterness, disappointment and disillusionment:  The Lord Almighty has sworn, Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will standAnd we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  (Isa. 14:24; Rom. 8:28-30) (See Heb. 12:14, 15)

Handle  finances in a biblical mannerUnless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?  (Luke 16:10,11) (See Deut. 8:17,18; Prov. 6:1-5; I Tim. 6:6-10)

 

Live a life of disciplined priorities:  Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (I Cor. 9:24-27) (See 1 Tim. 4:7; 2 Pet. 1:5-8)

 

Live a life of sacrifice for the cause of Christ rather than a life of ease: For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (I Cor. 5:14, 15) (See Lk. 9:23, 24; Phil. 2:17)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

8 August, 2007

IS PROSPERITY AND SUFFERING FOR CHRIST AN OXYMORON?

There may exist a confusing dilemma for the follower of Christ who is experiencing the blessing of God on his life. How is he to understand the material blessing of God with Christs call to deny himself, forsake all and follow Him? (Lk. 14:26-33) How many men and women have I observed who love Christ and are highly talented in their profession or business. In utilizing their God given gifts and talents it certainly appears that He has chosen to prosper them and their families. And with that blessing comes a certain relief from some of lifes pain. Release, for example, from chronic financial pressure, the privilege of travel, perhaps a lovely home, quality education for their children, top grade medical care, etc.) But the very blessing of God, inappropriately handled can also have a numbing effect on ones inner life and thus dwarf spiritual growth.  It also carries with it the potential of anesthetizing and removing us from the struggles of the vast majority.

 Yet God promised Israel His material blessing if they diligently obeyed Him:  If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land–your grain, new wine and oil–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young. The Lord will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you. You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.  (Deut. 7:12-16) (See Deut. 5:29, 33; 6:24; Josh. 1:6-9)

 In seeming juxtaposition to these promised blessings is Jesus call on us to a life of selfless service. Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  (Lk. 9:23) If we choose to become involved in Gods great enterprise of winning the lost and discipling the saved (Matt. 28:19,20), we can be sure that it will involve suffering.  Consider Gods statement to Ananias regarding Paul at the time of his conversion and calling: I will show him [Paul] how much he must suffer for my name." (Act. 9:16) In Colossians 1:24 Paul speaks of filling up in his flesh, what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.  What does this mean? Certainly Christs work was finished at the cross (Jn. 19:30; Heb. 10:14; Rom. 5:19).  John Piper+ suggests that what is lacking is not a deficiency in the efficacy or worth in terms of what was accomplished at Calvary, but the fact that His work is not known or embraced by people across the globe.  By choosing to take that message to others we complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. And by virtue of that choice, we can count on suffering for Christ.  "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." (Rom. 8:36)  (See I Cor. 4:9-13; 15:31; 2 Cor. 4:10, 11; 11:23-26; 2 Tim. 3:12)

 Is there a contradiction here between Gods promised blessings and His call to take up the cross? I dont think so. I would suggest that if God chooses to bless and prosper us, we are not to live with a false sense of guilt as we enjoy His bounty. Rather, we are to balance His abundance with the responsibility that comes with privilege:  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be askedCommand those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (Lk. 12:48; I Tim. 6:17-19)  (See Matt. 25:14-28; Lk. 16:10-12)

 The sage comments of the renowned Christian journalist Malcom Muggeridge may prove insightful: Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbothe result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it to banal or trivial to be endurable.  This of course is what the cross [of Christ] signifies, and it is the cross more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.++

 QUESTION:  If you are experiencing Gods material blessing, how well are you handling it? Are you able to enjoy it without a false sense of guilt? Or has it, by chance, eroded your commitment to follow Christ, whatever the cost or suffering?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

TEN PRINCIPLES OF PERSONAL EVANGELISM?+

Sharing your faith effectively with others is among one of the most challenging experiences you will encounter as a disciple of Christ.  How to proceed? Hopefully, the following Ten Principles will instruct and encourage you in this important area of your walk with God:

#1  Ask people if you can pray for them:  Instead of trying to turn a conversation toward God, simply ask people, Can I pray for you? Surprisingly, many people open up, which in turn provides further opportunities to share the Gospel.

#2  Be yourself:  You dont have to have the answer to every question.  You can say, I dont know, but give me a week, and Ill get back to you. It is ok to be limited.  You dont have to be a super evangelist, or The Bible Answer Man.

#3  Be prepared:  Master a simple, clear presentation of the Gospel.  Learn to respond to peoples objections to Christianity.  Every believer can share what Christ has done for him or her.  Sharing a prepared, brief and well-stated personal testimony is one of the most powerful tools you can have.

#4  Overcome nervousness:  Many have found that when you ask permission to share, people are usually open. Each person needs to develop his own style. The more you share, the more natural it will become. Initially, it may be awkward. You will just have to work through the rough period until you develop your style.  If we want to share your faith, we must be willing to take a risk.

#5  Pray:  Ask God to give you a special love for your lost friends and associates.  Ask God to give you wisdom and a sense of timing as to what to share and when.

#6  Look for where God is already working:  Ask God to bring people into your path who are open and searching for Him. As you engage in conversation, pepper your speech with references to your faith and then watch for signs of interest. If a person isnt open, dont push it.

#7  Be intentional:  Despite our different giftedness, we all have a responsibility to share our faith. Perhaps the best way to do this is by intentionally developing friendships we hope to share with. The longer we know the Lord, the more our sphere of influence tends to decrease as far as the people who havent heard the Gospel yet.  Thus we need to make the effort to go out of our way to cultivate genuine relationships with unbelievers.

#8  Listen, love and respect:  Learn to focus on loving people rather than just getting results.  Think of being part of a process of lovingly sharing the Good News in a way that draws people toward Christ, instead of pushing them away.  We need to approach people with love and compassion.  If they sense we care for them, they will be more willing to listen.

#9  Be patientThe Kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up day by day and the seed sprouts and grows how he himself does not know.  (Mk. 4:26,27)

#10 Be available:  Sharing the eternal truths of the Gospel requires a willingness to sacrifice time and comfort.  Perhaps our prayer would be, God, give me one soul for you this year.

Make the most of your chances to tell others the Good News. Be wise in all your contacts with them. Let your conversation be gracious as well as sensible, for then you will have the right answer for everyone. God’s people must not be quarrelsome; they must be gentle, patient teachers of those who are wrong. Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them, they are more likely, with God’s help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true. Then they will come to their senses and escape from Satan’s trap of slavery to sin, which he uses to catch them whenever he likes, and then they can begin doing the will of God…  (Col. 4:5,6; 2 Tim. 2:24-26 Living)

+ Adapted from an article in the Biola Connection, Fall 2004, pages 9 14