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Ordinary Attempts – Everyday Evangelism

Everyday Evangelism 2When you hear the word “choice”, what is the first thing you think about?

Do you think about the gift of choice that Jesus has given to you and me?

How do you share this gift – a relationship with God – with someone you barely know?

In the Great Commission, Jesus urges us to “make disciples of all nations”; but when and where would be the right time to do just that?  Leonard Buhler, President of Power to Change, shares how ordinary circumstances can be transformed into wonderful opportunities to share the hope of Christ that is in you.

Take the next step:

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to come across to others not as religious so much as real. Help me make being Your disciple look inviting.
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Ordinary Attempts – Conversation Lighter

Everyday Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today” Luke 19:5

Bonus Reading: Luke 19:1-9

A man in black, covered with tattoos, and reeking of cigarette smoke entered our rental store. While I checked his movie back in, he asked me an unusual question: “What kind of Zippo do you have?” (Zippo is a popular brand of cigarette lighter that comes with different designs.)

I told him I didn’t have one but was eager to see his. His had a family of four seated around a table—all skeletons. “That’s how I see things,” he said; “we’re all just waiting to die.”

“My take on it,” I responded, “is that God has more for us in this life.”

Instead of darting for the door, he opened up: “I just got out of prison after 16 years for attempted murder. ‘Doing my own thing’ is all I’ve ever known. I let my son do ‘his own thing,’ and he just dropped out of school.”

“I might have ended like that,” I replied, “if someone hadn’t come alongside to help me through some tough times. That’s one reason I’m a Christian, to help others find more in this life.”

“I never had that in my life,” he said. “Can you help my son? Could he come to your church sometime?” I said I’d be glad to hook up with him and give him a ride to church.

—Chris from Ohio, cited in a.k.a. “Lost”

My Response: Who do I know that might open up in response to a sympathetic listening ear?

Thought to Apply: The world is far more ready to receive the gospel than Christians are to hand it out.—George W. Peters (missions professor)

Adapted from a.k.a. “Lost” (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to come across to others not as religious so much as real. Help me make being Your disciple look inviting.

Communist Officials in China Harassing, Arresting Christians on a Regular Basis

Here is an update from Susan Wright about ongoing persecution of Christians by the Chinese government.


I’ve been speaking for some time about how blessed Christians in the United States are. We are free to gather and worship with no worry or governmental interference.

I’ve also said that if the greatest attack on the American church is a coffee shop putting “Happy Holidays” on a cup, rather than “Merry Christmas,” then we have nothing to stress about.

We are not oppressed.

And yes, I do realize that leftists and humanists in this nation often attempt to challenge Christianity’s place in the public square, through lawsuits, shaming, and other misguided machinations. That is to their detriment.

They know not what they do.

Recent court cases have affirmed the First Amendment right of Christians. We have options. We can walk into a church any time the doors are open and pray. Nobody blinks an eye.

We can organize public rallies and prayer meetings, to pray for our communities and our nation. We can do this and there is no chance of government officials coming to take us away in chains. We’re not being pressured to sign on with a state-approved “religion.”

We’re not China.

The Christian Post is reporting that a Christian church in Guangzhou, Guangdong was the target of government harassment, recently, when thirty members of China’s Communist government broke in and levied heavy fines against the church for “illegally gathering.” The pastor of the church was also arrested in the incident.

“20-30 government officials broke in (to Bible Reformed Church) while I was delivering my sermon and asked us to stop gathering. They also ordered us to submit our ID cards,” Pastor Huang Xiaoning told ChinaAid, describing the June 10 incident.

Communist authorities are arguing that the building used for worship violated Article 41 of the Regulations on Religious Affairs, namely that it was not registered with the state.

Huang and three others were held and interrogated. The church was also fined what amounts to $7,685.45 in American currency.

Many Chinese Christians choose to meet in underground “house” churches, as they attempt to worship without fear of being bullied by the overreach of the Chinese government.

These are people hungry for the Word of God, so they risk it.

Pastor Huang went on to say that the Communist authorities have tried for years to crack down on his congregation, in order to pressure them to join up with the state-authorized “Three-Self Churches” network.

Another name for the Three-Self Church network is the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). It is a network of about 60,000 churches, and given its principles, is no actual Christian church, at all, but allegiance to the Communist Party and China above anything else.

The “Three-self” portion consists of “self-governance,” “self-propagation,” and “self-support.”

Western influences are rejected. The rules associated with the church are absolutely anti-Christian, as well.

For instance, the Communist Party determines who can preach and how many people can be baptized each year.

Also, preaching the resurrection or return of Jesus is forbidden. Preaching against religions that deny the deity of Christ is forbidden. Preaching against abortion is forbidden. There is no teaching that atheist Communists who die go to Hell, or that Communists are kept from Heaven. Printing Bibles is forbidden. Evangelizing is forbidden.

Government officials, teachers, police officers, and children are forbidden to be Christian.

That is the Three-Self Church network.

Pastor Huang spoke further.

“I’ve been a pastor for nearly 20 years,” Huang explained.

“I don’t [own] a car or a house. I don’t owe anything. A while ago [people] asked me, ‘Pastor Huang, aren’t you afraid of being fined?’ I answered, ‘No, I don’t have any money for them to confiscate.’ They also asked, “Aren’t you afraid of being imprisoned?’ I said that I never feared imprisonment, since I never even feared death.”

This is just what it is to be a Christian in China. Open Doors USA, a watch group that monitors Christian persecution in the world, as well as providing support for the world’s persecuted believers, has China listed as #43 in the top 50 worst persecutors of the faithful.

North Korea holds the #1 position, and has for several decades. Not surprisingly, just as it is with China, Communism and atheism are the factors behind the persecution.

In May, a pastor was detained and 200 Christians were taken away by authorities while attempting to hold a worship service in Chengdu, China, in memory of the 70,000 or so people who died during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

As The New York Times reported at the time, Protestant pastor Wang Yi and his Autumn Rain Blessing Church saw their service for the victims shut down, with officials stifling “any unapproved commemorations” of the tragedy.

Other pastors, such as Pastor Yang Hua of Living Stone Church, who was released earlier this month, have suffered torture and say they were falsely imprisoned for years.

When you weigh out our current troubles with those of nations under true persecution, there really is no comparison.

Pray for the persecuted church.

 

 

102 Lines from Hymns of Faith to Help You through Tough Times

Here, courtesy of Jonathan Aigner, are portions of 102 hymns that can help you through tough times:

  1. Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
    though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see.
  2. Underneath me, all around me,
    is the current of Thy love;
  3. I bind unto myself today
    the power of God to hold and lead,
    God’s eye to watch, God’s mighty to stay,
    God’s ear to hearken to my need,
    the wisdom of my God to teach,
    God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward,
    the word of God to give me speech,
    God’s heavenly host to be my guard.
  4. And from morn to set of sun,
    through the church the song goes on.
  5. All praise we would render;
    O help us to see
    ’tis only the splendor
    of light hideth thee!
  6. Frail children of dust,
    and feeble as frail,
    in thee do we trust,
    nor find thee to fail;
    thy mercies, how tender,
    how firm to the end,
    our Maker, Defender,
    Redeemer, and Friend.
  7. Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
    pilgrim through this barren land.
    I am week, but thou art mighty.
    Hold me with thy powerful hand.
  8. And you, most gentle sister death,
    waiting to hush our final breath:
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
    Since Christ our light has pierced your gloom,
    fair is the night that leads us home.
    Sing praises! Alleluia!
  9. See, the streams of living waters,
    springing from eternal love,
    well supply thy sons and daughters
    and all fear of want remove.
    Who can faint while such a river
    ever flows, their thirst to assuage!
    Grace, so like the Lord the giver,
    never fails from age to age.
  10. By thine own eternal Spirit
    rule in all our hearts alone;
    by thine all-sufficient merit
    raise us to thy glorious throne.
  11. Holy Jesus, every day
    keep us in the narrow way;
    and when earthly things are past,
    bring our ransomed souls at last
    where they need no star to guide,
    where no clouds thy glory hide.
  12. I looked to Jesus, and I found
    in him my star, my sun;
    and in that light of life I’ll walk
    till traveling days are done.
  13. Here might I stay and sing,
    no story so divine:
    never was love, dear King,
    never was grief like thine.
  14. In the cross of Christ I glory,
    towering o’er the wrecks of time;
    all the light of sacred story
    gathers round its head sublime.
  15. And though this world, with devils filled,
    should threaten to undo us,
    we will not fear, for God hath willed
    his truth to triumph through us.
  16. Was it for crimes that I have done
    he groaned upon the tree?
    Amazing pity, Grace unknown!
    And love beyond degree.
  17. O Love that wilt not let me go,
    I rest my weary soul in thee;
    I give thee back the life I owe,
    that in thine ocean depths its flow
    may richer, fuller be.
  18. What wondrous love is this,
    O my soul, O my soul,
    what wondrous love is this,
    O my soul!
    What wondrous love is this
    that caused the Lord of bliss
    to bear the dreadful curse
    for my soul, for my soul,
    to bear the dreadful curse
    for my soul!
  19. Therefore, kind Jesus,
    since I cannot pay thee,
    I do adore thee,
    and will ever pray thee,
    think on thy pity
    and thy love unswerving,
    not my deserving.
  20. What language shall I borrow
    to thank thee, dearest friend,
    for this thy dying sorrow,
    thy pity without end?
  21. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    that were a present far too small;
    love so amazing, so divine,
    demands my soul, my life, my all.
  22. No more we doubt thee,
    glorious Prince of life!
    Life is naught without thee;
    aid us in our strife.
  23. Love drowned in death, shall never die.
  24. In our end is our beginning;
    in our time, infinity;
    in our doubt there is believing:
    in our life, eternity.
    In our death, a resurrection;
    at the last, a victory,
    unrevealed until its season,
    something God alone can see.
  25. Alleluia! Bread of angels,
    here on earth our food, our stay;
    Alleluia! here the sinful
    flee to you from day to day.
    Intercessor, friend of sinners,
    earth’s redeemer, hear our plea
    where the songs of all the sinless
    sweep across the crystal sea.
  26. The peace of God, it is no peace,
    But strife closed in the sod,
    Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing –
    The marvelous peace of God.
  27. At the name of Jesus
    every knee shall bow,
    every tongue confess him
    King of glory now;
    To the Father’s pleasure
    we should call him Lord;
    who from the beginning
    was the mighty Word.
  28. Blessings abound where’er he reigns;
    The prisoners leap to loose their chains;
    the weary find eternal rest,
    and all who suffer want are blest.
  29. Crown him the Lord of years,
    the potentate of time:
    creator of the rolling spheres,
    ineffably sublime.
  30. Lead on, O King eternal,
    till sins fierce war shall cease,
    and holiness shall whisper
    the sweet amen of peace;
    for not with swords’ loud clashing,
    nor roll of stirring drums;
    with deeds of love and mercy
    the heavenly kingdom comes.
  31. The Spirit and the gifts are ours
    through him who with us sideth.
  32. Ascended on high,
    almighty to save,
    he still remains nigh;
    his presence we have.
  33. Save us from weak resignation
    the the evils we deplore.
    Let the gift of thy salvation
    be our glory evermore.
  34. Yet she on earth hath union
    with God, the Three in One,
    and mystic sweet communion
    with those whose rest is won:
    O happy ones and holy!
    Lord, give us grace that we,
    like them, the meek and lowly,
    on high may dwell with thee.
  35. And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
    steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
    and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  36. The cup of water given for you
    still holds the freshness of your grace;
    yet long those multitudes to view
    the sweet compassion of your face.
  37. His kingdom cannot fail;
    he rules o’er earth and heaven;
    the keys of death and hell
    are to our Jesus given.
  38. Finish then thy new creation;
    pure and spotless let us be;
    let us see thy great salvation
    perfectly restored in thee:
    changed from glory into glory,
    till in heaven we take our place,
    till we cast our crowns before thee,
    lost in wonder, love, and praise.
  39. In him there is no darkness at all.
    The night and the day are both alike.
    The lamb is the light of the city of God.
    Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
  40. O Light that followest all my way,
    I yield my flickering torch to thee;
    my heart restores its borrowed ray,
    that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
    may brighter, fairer be.
  41. All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
  42. Know that the Lord is God indeed;
    without our aid he did us make;
    we are his folk; he doth us feed,
    and for his sheep he doth us take.
  43. Christ is made the sure foundation,
    Christ the head and cornerstone,
    chosen of the Lord and precious,
    binding all the church in one;
    holy Zion’s help forever,
    and our confidence alone.
  44. Lord of all, of church and kingdom,
    in an age of change and doubt
    keep us faithful to the gospel;
    help us work your purpose out.
  45. The powers of death have done their worst,
    but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
    let shouts of holy joy outburst.
    Alleluia!
  46. Lord Jesus, think on me,
    that, when this life is past,
    I may the eternal brightness see,
    and share thy joy at last.
  47. In you alone, O God, we hope,
    and not in our own merit.
    We rest our fears in your good word;
    uphold our fainting spirit.
    Your promised mercy is my fort,
    my comfort, and my strong support;
    I wait for it with patience.
  48. Thought the nations rage from age to age,
    we remember who holds us fast:
    God’s mercy must deliver us
    from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
  49. O ye heights of heaven, adore him.
    Angel hosts, his praises sing.
    Powers, dominions, bow before him,
    and extol our God and King.
  50. Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
    and still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
    O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
    for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.
  51. But if, forgetful, we should find
    your joke is hard to bear;
    if worldly pressures fray the mind
    and love itself cannot unwind
    its tangles skein of care:
    our inward life repair.
  52. For the love of God is broader
    than the measures of the mind.
    And the heart of the Eternal
    is most wonderfully kind.
  53. Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
    more than all in thee I find.
  54. “Fear not, I am with thee,
    O be not dismayed,
    for I am thy God,
    and will still give thee aid;
    I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,
    and cause thee to stand,
    upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
  55. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    prone to leave the God I love;
    here’s my heart; O take and seal it;
    seal it for thy courts above.
  56. Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;
    thou savest those that on thee call;
    to them that seek thee thou art good,
    to them that find thee, all in all.
  57. Jesus, source of lasting pleasure,
    truest friend and dearest treasure,
    peace beyond all understanding,
    joy into all life expanding:
  58. O let me feel you near me! The world is ever near:
    I see the sights that dazzle; the tempting sounds I hear.
  59. He speaks, and listening to his voice
    new life the dead receive;
    the mournful, broken hearts rejoice;
    the humble poor believe.
  60. For us he rose from death again;
    for us he went on high to reign;
    for us he sent the Spirit here
    to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
  61. Father-like, he tends and spares us;
    Well our feeble frame he knows.
  62. Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
    that in thy strength we evermore endure.
  63. God never yet forsook my need
    the soul secured by trust indeed.
  64. O Joy that seekest me through pain,
    I cannot close my heart to thee;
    I trace the rainbow through the rain,
    and feel the promise is not vail
    that morn shall tearless be.
  65. O hope of every contrite heart,
    O joy of all the meek,
    to those who fall, how kind thou art!
    How good to those who seek!
  66. Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
    robed in the blooming garb of spring.
    Jesus is fairer; Jesus is purer,
    who makes the woeful heart to sing.
  67. And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
    when utmost evil strove against the light?
    Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:
    Alleluia!
  68. O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
    with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
    and keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed,
    and free us from all ills in this world and the next.
  69. The Lord is never far away,
    but, through all grief distressing,
    an ever-present help and stay,
    our peace and joy and blessing.
  70. Lord, I my vows to you renew.
    Disperse my sins as morning dew;
    guard my first springs of thought and will,
    and with yourself my spirit fill.
  71. Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
    his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
  72. O Lord, with each returning morn,
    your image to our heart is born;
    O may we ever clearly view
    our Savior and our God in you.
  73. Does sadness fill my mind?
    A solace here I find:
    may Jesus Christ be praised!
    Or fades my earthly bliss?
    My comfort still is this:
    may Jesus Christ be praised!
  74. O may my soul on thee repose,
    and with sweet sleep mine eyelids close.
    Refresh my strength, for thine own sake,
    to serve thee well when I awake.
  75. So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never,
    like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
  76. He lives to silence all my fears,
    He lives to wipe away my tears,
    He lives to calm my troubled heart,
    He lives all blessings to impart.
  77. Beneath the shadow of thy throne
    thy saints have dwelt secure;
    sufficient is thine arm alone,
    and our defense is sure.
  78. Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh.
    Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
    to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh.
    Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
  79. So help me in my unbelief
    and let my life be true:
    feet firmly planted on the earth,
    my sights set high on you.
  80. And we believe thy word,
    though dim our faith may be;
    whate’er we do for thine, O Lord,
    we do it unto thee.
  81. In our joys and in our sorrows,
    days of toil and hours of ease,
    still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
    “Christian, love me more than these.”
  82. O let me hear you speaking in accents clear and still,
    above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self – will;
  83. The dearest idol I have known,
    whate’er that idol be,
    help me to tear it from thy throne,
    and worship only thee.
  84. Lord, let your Spirit meet us here
    to mend the body, mind, and soul,
    to disentangle peace from pain,
    and make your broken people whole.
  85. Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
    yet will I fear none ill,
    for thou art with me; and thy rod
    and staff me comfort still.
  86. When I walk through the shades of death
    your presence is my stay;
  87. Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
    but yet in love he sought me,
    and on his shoulder gently laid,
    and home, rejoicing, brought me.
  88. If thou but trust in God to guide thee,
    with hopeful heart through all thy ways,
    he will give strength, whate’er betide thee,
    to bear thee through the evil days.
  89. And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
    with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
    we take it thankfully and without trembling,
    out of so good and so beloved a hand.
  90. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
    your death has brought us life eternally.
  91. What joy to know, when life is past,
    the Lord we love is first and last,
    the end and the beginning!
  92. When life’s dark maze I tread
    and griefs around me spread,
    be thou my guide;
    bid darkness turn to day;
    wipe sorrow’s tears away;
    nor let me ever stray from thee aside.
  93. O Cross that liftest up my head,
    I dare not ask to fly from thee;
    I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
    and from the ground there blossoms red
    life that shall endless be.
  94. Through the storm, through the night,
    lead me on to the light.
  95. When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
    Lies silent in the grave,
    Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
    I’ll sing Thy power to save.
  96. Christ is alive! No longer bound
    to distant years in Palestine,
    but saving, healing, here and now,
    and touching every place and time.
  97. Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
    the silent Word is pleading.
  98. He lives and grants me daily breath;
    He lives and I shall conquer death;
  99. This is my Father’s world,
    O, let me ne’er forget
    that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the ruler yet.
  100. Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit,
    dead in the tomb with Christ our King;
    one with his rising, freed and forgiven,
    thankfully now God’s praises we sing.
  101. And Lord, haste the day, when my faith shall be sight.
  102. Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side.

Which ones did we miss?

Ordinary Attempts – Who Jesus Misses Most

Everyday Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: “Heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” Luke 15:7

Bonus Reading:  Luke 15:1-7

I wanted the people in my church to want to be with “lost” people, not out of a sense of duty, but of adventure and partnership with God. I wanted them to love people who didn’t know Jesus, not to be mad at them for not wanting to come to church. I wanted to change our perception of those we typically treat as outsiders. I hoped that people in the congregation would experiment with finding new ways of connecting with them. I wanted Christians to blur the lines between “us” and “them” the same way Jesus did.

I had a problem more of perception than of motivation. I needed to help Christians reimagine who they were trying to connect with. We needed to overhaul how Christians perceive non-Christians. So my congregation and I decided to rename those we wanted to connect with. We tried out all sorts of new terms to substitute for the lost. The one that proved the “stickiest” was missing persons.

When you change their name, you change how you feel about them. Since in reality we do what we feel, not what we think, this small change proves to be very helpful in getting all of us back into the game of nudging people across the starting line toward Jesus.

—Jim Henderson in a.k.a. “Lost”

My Response: I’ll ask God to forgive me for assuming that I’m superior to “the lost.”

Thought to Apply: Missing people aren’t bad; they’re just not where they’re supposed to be.—Brian McLaren (pastor)

Adapted from a.k.a. “Lost” (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to come across to others not as religious so much as real. Help me make being Your disciple look inviting.

Ordinary Attempts – Fitting Invitation

Everyday Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: As Jesus was going down the road, he saw Matthew sitting at his tax-collection booth. “Come, be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. Matthew 9:9

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 9:9-13

My wife and I went shopping on a Saturday night. While Barb was trying on dresses, I struck up a conversation with the salesclerk. I noticed she was from Latin America, so I began asking questions about her home country. One question led to another, and I found out this was a second job for her. Her real job was as a sales manager for a large hotel. It turned out that she was divorced and her son spent the weekends with his dad, so she found this department store job to keep her occupied weekends.

She’s working a second job to kill her loneliness, I thought. I should invite her to church. When I did, I found out that several of her friends had already invited her to our church. She said, “There’s something there for me!” I gave her my business card, and later my wife and I stopped by the store to see her again.

Connecting with this woman was as simple as asking questions, listening to her answers, and sensing a need. Finding the people Jesus misses most involves doing the most ordinary thing you can do: Just be your authentic, spiritual self.

—Jim Henderson in a.k.a. “Lost”

My Response: Could I naturally invite a person I’ve come to know to visit my church—or to know Jesus?

Thought to Apply: Most people are brought to faith in Christ not by argument for it but by exposure to it.—Sam Shoemaker (minister & cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous)

Adapted from a.k.a. “Lost” (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to come across to others not as religious so much as real. Help me make being Your disciple look inviting.

Ordinary Attempts – Checkout Check

Everyday Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” … The woman was surprised. John 4:7,9

Bonus Reading:  John 4:3-14

I was in the checkout line at the grocery store, and the clerk was a fast worker. I realized that I’d hardly have time to ask her how she was doing. Then I noticed she was wearing a button that said, “We want to adopt.” This isn’t something most people would readily advertise to hundreds of complete strangers.

As the other customers were dropping their items on the conveyor belt, I looked at the checker and said, “I have some friends who’ve adopted. I’ll pray for you.” She seemed genuinely touched that I noticed her. That was it. I wanted to let her know that God cared about her and was proud of her courage, vulnerability, and selflessness.

I didn’t “share the gospel” with her, but I did share Jesus, the gospel creator. I wasn’t brave, bold, or smooth. I simply handed God the five loaves and two fish of my life and trusted Him to turn it into something significant for that young woman.

God only asks us to give Him what we already have. It might take a little work to identify what that is, but we already have what we need to help move others closer to Him. The problem is we don’t think that what we have is enough.

—Jim Henderson in a.k.a “Lost”

My Response: Do I agree that Jim shared Jesus? Why or why not?

Thought to Apply: Christianity isn’t, and never has been, about finding the right combination of words! It is about encountering the living, loving God.—Alistar McGrath (British theologian)

Adapted from a.k.a. “Lost” (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to come across to others not as religious so much as real. Help me make being Your disciple look inviting.

Ordinary Attempts – Being Yourself Is Okay

Everyday Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”  – John 6:9

Bonus Reading:  John 6:1-13

You don’t need special skills or experience to make an Ordinary Attempt. You just have to be aware and available. It’s an attempt, not an accomplishment, so no extra credit is awarded for succeeding, no demerits given for failing. Ordinary Attempts are nothing more than free attention giveaways.

People crave attention. When we pay attention to people because we want to nudge them toward Jesus, it becomes their connecting bridge to God. Best of all, instead of asking them for their time, attention, and interest—we give them our time, attention, and interest. We give them a small taste of Jesus’ desire to attend to them.

Christians are the freest people on earth. Our past, present, and future are completely secure through the love of Jesus. We’ve nothing to lose. We can risk, attempt, fail—and still go to heaven.

When it comes to evangelism, we can be our ordinary selves, and it turns out to be good enough. All Jesus needs are the five loaves and two fish of our lives—something we already have. Rather than trying to escape the ordinary, we should exploit it and attempt something small for God, something ordinary.

—Jim Henderson in a.k.a. “Lost”

My Response: What “small attempt” could I make to nudge someone toward Jesus?

Adapted from a.k.a. “Lost” (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to come across to others not as religious so much as real. Help me make being Your disciple look inviting.

Ordinary Attempts – A Fresh Approach

Everyday Evangelism 2Who Said It…Jim Henderson

Jim Henderson has been a Christian for more than three decades. One of his earliest Christian memories was being taken out to “go witnessing.” He says that he’s been trying to recover ever since.

Jim is passionately committed to normalizing evangelism for ordinary Christians. In 2000, Jim co-founded Off the Map to help move that idea forward. Before that he led the Servant Evangelism movement at the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What He Said…A Fresh Approach

I resigned from witnessing in 1996. Traditional evangelism isn’t normal. It’s a formalized program, a structured presentation, a memorized script. It works for extroverts, those with the gift of evangelism, and the few born to be salespeople. But that leaves us ordinary types out of the game. We have to work up a lot of nerve just to do it. So most Christians only do evangelism about once a year.

Along with many people in the church I was leading, we decided to do something doable and less threatening. We wouldn’t memorize anything, follow a script, or write down a carefully prepared speech. Instead, we decided to count all the small attempts we made to connect with people in our community. We could still be ourselves, but just live with a more intentional focus on others. We’d try everyday things, such as asking questions, listening, giving away our attention, and praying behind people’s backs. We called these everyday efforts Ordinary Attempts.

Adapted from a.k.a. “Lost” (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:   Lord, I want to come across to others not as religious so much as real.  Help me make being Your disciple look inviting.

Bind Us Together – Christian Unity

Christian UnityUlterior motives cause us to honor our bosses so they’ll reward us, our employees so they’ll work harder, the wealthy so they’ll contribute to our cause, and the powerful so they’ll use their power for and not against us.

In this passage, Paul urges us to honor people on a different basis—because they’re created in God’s image, because they’re our brothers and sisters in Christ, and because they have a unique contribution to make to His church.

Interact with God’s Word:  Romans 12:9-18

  1. What makes affection genuine (vv. 9-10)?
  2. What makes it phony?
  3. In what practical ways (v. 13) did Paul suggest first-century believers could care for each other?
  4. What suggestions could you add to fit the twenty-first century?
  5. What attitudes does Paul commend (vv. 15-16) for living in harmony with other believers?
  6. What part of living in peace with everyone (vv. 17-18) can you influence?
  7. What part depends on the other person?

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God for genuine love that will motivate you to make the concentrated effort that real personal involvement demands.

Romans 12:9-18

9 Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

11 Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and always be prayerful.

13 When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.

14 If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.

15 When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.

Prayer for the Week: Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

What Churches Need to Know About a New Donation Scam

The following information is kindly provided by Mike Batts, managing partner of Batts, Morrison, Wales & Lee.


A very kind but anxious fellow named Tom calls your finance office and informs your team that he just realized he accidentally submitted a donation to your organization in the amount of $5,000. He meant for it to be $50. He pleads for an immediate refund of the difference, since he is on a fixed income and a $5,000 charge to his account would create a terrible hardship for him. Your team wants to help the poor chap immediately. You check the records for your online gifts and sure enough, there it is: an online ACH gift from Tom, a new donor, in the amount of $5,000. You quickly come to Tom’s rescue and issue a refund through the ACH system to him in the amount of $4,950. Now that you’ve saved the day, you can move on to more mundane things.

You issued a refund for $4,950 of a $5,000 contribution you never actually received.

But two days later, you get a notice from your bank that the original $5,000 gift from Tom was rejected due to insufficient funds in his account. So, his original gift of $5,000 is debited from your organization’s account as a chargeback. You try to call Tom and the number is no longer a working number. After you think about it for a couple of minutes, the reality begins to sink in…you got scammed. You issued a refund for $4,950 of a $5,000 contribution you never actually received.

The scenario described above is happening with increasing frequency to nonprofit organizations across the United States.

Fraudsters attempt to steal funds by taking advantage of the lag time associated with bank processing of payments from deposit accounts (that is, the time between the date the transaction was made and the date it clears the banking system).

What to do

Refund requests for contributions made should ring alarm bells.

It is true that if a donor accidentally gave more than he/she intended, a nonprofit organization may have a moral duty (if not a legal one) to rectify the situation—but only if it was genuinely an accident and only if the organization ensures that it is not the victim of a scam in the process.

The organization should never issue a refund for an allegedly erroneous contribution until the organization ensures that the funds originally given have fully cleared the banking system and are settled. Simple awareness and adhering to such a policy can prevent an organization from being flimflammed.

 

Bind Us Together – Subbing Dilemma

Christian UnityKey Bible Verse: Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Romans 12:10

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:9-18

Junior high coach Steve Heck made certain all of his boys saw action each game. Still, one became discouraged and was close to quitting because he felt he was getting shorted on playing time.

Coach Heck took the problem to the rest of the squad. “What do you think about Travis?” he asked the other players. “Am I being unfair to him?”

Various players spoke up that they thought Travis was a good kid, that he really tried hard, and deserved more floor time. “Okay, guys, you’ve got to help me out here,” said Heck. “Who wants to give up some of your playing time”

After a few moments, Brian spoke up, “Coach, I wouldn’t mind sitting the bench for a minute or so.”

“Yeah, me too,” chimed in another player. Even some players who saw limited action themselves were willing to pledge 30 seconds of their time. The unselfish actions of these young men made them a stronger team.

Imagine you were Travis. How would it make you feel to know your teammates thought enough of you to give up some of their own playing time? How much harder must he have cheered for them when he was on the bench—and vice versa!

—R. McKenzie Fisher in Lessons from the Coaches

My Response: I’ll figure out a way to give a Christian brother a lift in the week ahead.

Thought to Apply: Together we discover that we’re a single body, that we belong to each other, and that God has called us to be a source of life for each other.—Jean Vanier

Adapted from Lessons from the Coaches (New Leaf, 1997)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

Bind Us Together – Peace Breaker or Broker?

Christian UnityKey Bible Verse: Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Romans 12:18

Bonus Reading: Philemon 1-25

First-century businessman Philemon may have treated his servant Onesimus in ways that fractured their relationship. Or maybe Onesimus simply longed to run his own life. Whatever the case, Paul urged Philemon in Philemon 1-25 to restore their broken relationship.

Some people do things that break the peace. If we’ve seen our peacemaking efforts collapse, we may wonder, Why should I expend a lot of effort trying to make peace between people who aren’t interested?

Two reasons:

  • First, “as members of one body you are called to live in peace” (Colossians 3:15).

 

God has made peace with those who are His children, and deeply desires that they shouldn’t be known as contentious people, but as peacemakers. This is reason enough to expend the energy.

Romans 12:18 recognizes that some won’t respond to our peacemaking overtures. Even Jesus didn’t succeed with those totally opposed to Him; but that didn’t deter Him. His responsibility was to reach out. They were responsible for their own failure to respond.

—Stuart Briscoe in The One Year Book of Devotions for Men

My Response: What overture do I need to make to breach a strained relationship?

Thought to Apply: I have never known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people are divided. —Dwight L. Moody (evangelist)

Adapted from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men (Tyndale, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

Should the Church View Homosexuality Like Divorce?

As part of our ongoing discussion regarding this issue in preparation for the upcoming UMC General Conference in February 2019, here is an insightful article by Russell Moore discussing one aspect of the conversation.


Whenever an evangelical denomination disfellowships a church due to compromise on the issue of homosexuality, I usually hear critics complain that such action is hypocritical.  Don’t most conservative denominations, after all, welcome members who have been divorced into the fellowship?  Why do evangelicals single out one sexual teaching over another?  Couples divorce, sometimes remarry others, and yet are welcomed within the congregation.  We don’t necessarily affirm this as good, but we receive these people with mercy and grace.  Why not, the argument goes, do the same with homosexuality?

Should the Church View Homosexuality Like Divorce?

The charge of hypocrisy is valid in some respects. I’ve argued for years and repeatedly that many evangelical churches have been slow-motion sexual revolutionaries, embracing elements of the sexual revolution 20 or 30 years behind the rest of the culture. This is to our shame, and the divorce culture is the number-one indicator of this capitulation. The preaching on divorce has been muted and hesitating all too often in our midst. Sometimes this is due to what the Bible calls “fear of man,” ministers and leaders afraid of angering divorced people (or their relatives) in power in congregations. Sometimes it’s due to the fact that divorce simply seems all too normal in this culture; it doesn’t shock us anymore.

A recovery of a Christian ethic of marriage will mean repentance, and a strong commitment by churches to courageously say, where applicable, what John the Baptist put his head on a platter to say to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” In that sense, the charge is correct.

But divorce and remarriage is not, beyond that, applicable to the same-sex marriage debate. First of all, there are arguably some circumstances where divorce and remarriage are biblically permitted. Most evangelical Christians acknowledge that sexual immorality can dissolve a marital union, and that innocent party is then free to remarry (Matt. 5:32). The same is true, for most, for abandonment (1 Cor. 7:11-15). If the church did what we ought, our divorce rate would be astoundingly lowered, since vast numbers of divorces do not fit into these categories. Still, we acknowledge that the category of a remarried person after divorce does not, on its face, indicate sin.

The second issue, though, is what repentance looks like in these cases. Take the worst-case scenario of an unbiblically divorced and remarried couple. Suppose this couple repents of their sin and ask to be received, or welcomed back, into the church. What does repentance look like for them? They have, in this scenario, committed an adulterous act (Matt. 5:32-33). Do they repent of this adultery by doing the same sinful action again, abandoning and divorcing one another? No. In most cases, the church recognizes that they should acknowledge their past sin and resolve to be faithful from now on to one another. Why is this the case? It’s because their marriages may have been sinfully entered into, but they are, in fact, marriages.

Jesus redemptively exposed the sin of the Samaritan woman at the well by noting that the man she was living with was not her husband. “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (Jn. 4:18). It could be that her husbands all died successively, but not necessarily. Christians are forbidden to marry non-Christians. This does not mean, though, that these are not marriages, or that, after repentance, these marriages are ongoing sins. Instead, the Scripture commands a repentance that looks like fidelity to that unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-17; 1 Pet. 3:1-2).

Even if these marriages were entered into sinfully in the first place, they are in fact marriages because they signify the Christ/church bond of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:22-31), embedded in God’s creation design of male and female together (Mk. 10:6-9).
Same-sex relationships do not reflect that cosmic mystery, and thus by their very nature signify something other than the gospel. The question of what repentance looks like in this case is to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), which means to cease such sexual activity in obedience to Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). A state or church decree of these relationships as marital do not make them so.

We have much to repent for in the accommodation to a divorce culture in our churches. And if we do not articulate an alternative gospel vision of the definition of marriage, we will see the same wreckage we’ve seen on so many churches’ capitulation on the permanence of marriage. But our attitude should not be that so many have shirked their churchly responsibility in some things, so let’s then shirk our responsibilities in everything. That would be the equivalent of someone saying, “Since I have had lust in my heart, which Jesus identified as root adultery, I should go ahead and have an affair,” or, “Since I am angry with you, which Jesus identified as springing from a spirit of murder, I should go ahead and kill you.”

Instead, our response ought to be a vision of marriage defined by the gospel, embodied in local congregations. This means preaching with both truth and grace, with accountability for entering marriages and, by the discipline of the church, for keeping those vows. We don’t remedy our past sins by adding new ones.

 

 

Bind Us Together – Polar Brothers

Christian UnityKey Bible Verse: He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. Ephesians 2:14

Bonus Reading: Acts 6:1-6

Long-haired, bearded Gilles and clean-shaven Doug were polar opposites. Doug, a Republican from a semi-rural California town, was the son of a worker in a nuclear defense lab. Gilles, the son of a pastor who’d been a radical activist, grew up in Africa and felt anything but patriotic toward the U.S.

When they began working together, Gilles and Doug didn’t trust each other or respect the other’s convictions. But we agreed together that God had put them on the same ministry team and just might be at work in their relationship. After four years of much work, forgiveness, and growing love, at Gilles’s wedding, Doug stood with him as best man.

Jesus called people with very different backgrounds into relationship with Him and each other. Matthew collected taxes for the Romans; Simon the Zealot was committed to overthrowing the Romans. Jesus called both into His group of twelve, demonstrating that what bound them together was much greater than the differences that otherwise would have kept them apart. As the gospel takes root in people’s lives, ethnic, social, political, and gender-based walls begin to come down.

—Richard Lamb in The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends

My Response: How is our shared faith helping me relate to a “polar opposite” brother?

Thought to Apply: If we don’t show love to one another, the world has a right to question whether Christianity is true.—Francis Schaeffer (scholar, founder of L’Abri)

Adapted from The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends (InterVarsity, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

Bind Us Together – Intertwined

Christian UnityKey Bible Verse: How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony! Psalm 133:1

Bonus Reading: Philippians 1:30-2:4

We can’t live without other people. A study of 7,000 people in Alameda, California, revealed that people with few close contacts tended to die sooner than those who saw their friends regularly—a finding that held up even after adjustments for smoking and poor health histories.

We need others. But we can’t live easily with other people. Herein lies much of the difficulty in being human.

Whereas most trees have a root structure that corresponds roughly in size and shape to the pattern of their branches, redwoods have extremely shallow roots. They are able to stay standing, even in severe storms, because their roots intertwine; the trees hold each other and create a secure foundation. This is a nice image of how we should support and strengthen one another.

But people are more complicated than redwoods. Sometimes the roots of others are too fragile or rotted to help us; sometimes our own roots are too short to reach those of the nearest tree. Sometimes other trees fall on top of us. We’re caught in a paradox: we need other people to keep upright, but those very people make it difficult.

—Donald McCullough in The Consolations of Imperfection

My Response: What up or down side of interdependence am I experiencing just now?

Thought to Apply: Only as we join with others different from us who share a common commitment to Jesus, can we know the completeness of His body.—Bob Snyder

Adapted from The Consolations of Imperfection (Brazos, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

Bind Us Together – Identity Clash

Christian UnityKey Bible Verse: Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother. Mark 3:35

Bonus Reading:  John 20:17-18

I went to a football game in my hometown of Houston, Texas, back before the Houston Oilers defected to Tennessee as the Titans. They were playing the Oakland Raiders in the Astrodome. That day I was seated in the middle of the biggest bunch of loud-mouth drunks I’d ever seen at a sports event. It practically made me ashamed to be an American.

Three weeks before I’d been on a mission trip to Russia—just one month after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. I was with so many Baptists who wanted to worship in this little church building that they were holding six services on Sunday. And people were still standing outside in the snow with the windows open so they could hear the sermon. (We all had communion with a common cup. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such hygienic intimacy with so many people!)

I was acutely aware that I’d been more at home with my Russian brothers and sisters in Christ in the nation of our former sworn enemy than I was sitting in a football stadium about 15 blocks from the house where I grew up with people who didn’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Christians are blood brothers and sisters with a common Father.

—Richard Land in Real Homeland Security

My Response: Who do I feel most at home with, and why?

Adapted from Real Homeland Security (Broadman & Holman, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

Bind Us Together – Dissonance Resolved

Christian UnityWho Said It…Steven Fry

Steven Fry has recorded four Christian worship albums, including the Dove Award-nominated We Are Called. He authored the key prayer song for the Promise Keepers “Stand in the Gap” assembly in Washington, D.C.

Steve is also a conference speaker and author. He’s the president of Messenger Fellowship, a network of churches and leaders seeking to model ministry that is spiritually fresh while maintaining biblical integrity.

He lives in Brentwood, Tennessee, with his wife, Nancy, and their three children.

What He Said…Dissonance Resolved

The linkage between unity (practically expressed in forgiving, encouraging, and being patient with each other) and the Lord’s presence is critical. At a conference for pastors, I witnessed how unity prepares the way for worship. For a couple of days, I’d sensed an undercurrent of tension. I eventually realized that rifts had surfaced between the planning team and the two worship leaders.

On the second night, one worship leader deferred to the other—in the middle of the set—by inviting her to lead worship for the rest of the evening. The atmosphere of the gathering promptly changed. I sensed a dramatic easing of tension. The rest of the conference was marked by a sense of holy exhilaration—the stuff that defines the kind of life God desires to give. Worshiping God had tenderized that worship leader to his need for humility. By humbling himself, he created a context in which the Holy Spirit could unify hearts and impart life.

Adapted from Discipleship Journal (11-12/02)

Prayer for the Week:  Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

Curse or Gift? – Overwhelmed

OverwhelmedPsalm 90 would be Psalm 1 if Israel’s hymnbook were arranged chronologically.

It may strike us as strange that its author, Moses, who lived to be 120, should write about the shortness of human life. But even a long life is limited when contrasted with God’s eternal nature.

Here is a perspective on time that has stood up to its test.

Interact with God’s Word

Psalm 90:10-17

  1. Taking Moses’ figure of 80 years to be a normal life span, what proportion of your earthly life is left?
  2. What of eternal significance do you want to see happen in the life segment that remains to you?
  3. Would this qualify as growing in wisdom (v. 12)?
  4. What small step could you take toward that purpose today?
  5. What do you need to savor if you hope to “sing for joy” to the end of your life (v. 14)?
  6. How can your work be successful and merit God’s approval (vv. 12, 16-17)?

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to help you focus your discretionary energies on pursuits that reflect His permanence and your eternal home.

Psalm 90:10-17

10 Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we are gone. 11 Who can comprehend the power of your anger? Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve. 12 Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.

13 O LORD, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. 15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good.

16 Let us see your miracles again; let our children see your glory at work. 17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

United Methodists gather at Grove City to find unity as showdown looms on gay issues

Excerpts from the Monday, June 11, 2018 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:


A showdown is set for February 2019, when United Methodist delegates from throughout the world meet in St. Louis in a rare special convention. They will vote on a compromise their bishops are presenting.

The bishops’ so-called “One Church Plan” would remove long-standing language from the church’s Book of Discipline that bans “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from ordination. It would instead give Methodists in the U.S. a local option on such questions.

Under the proposal, recommended by an overwhelming vote of the worldwide denomination’s bishops, each pastor in the American church could decide whether to preside at a same-sex wedding; each congregation could decide whether to host one; each ​board of ministry could decide whether to ​recommend an openly gay person ​for ordination; and churches or congregations conflicted on the issue wouldn’t be forced to take a side, according to a summary presented by conference Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi.

The overseas ​jurisdictions of the church​ ​would be able set their own rules​ based on their own cultural contexts​.​ These include large and typically conservative churches in Africa, where in some countries homosexual activity is illegal.​

Western Pennsylvania clergy already have engaged in various dialogue sessions that give a preview of what’s at stake…

In interviews before and during the conference, local Methodists agreed the church will face change of some kind in February 2019.
Efforts to repeal the current discipline have repeatedly failed at the once-every-four-year General Conventions by increasingly firm margins, largely on the strength of the large numbers of delegates from conservative African churches.

But some liberal U.S. conferences are installing openly gay pastors and one bishop in defiance of church law.

Those supporting the current language in the Book of Discipline say it reflects the church’s traditional understanding of the Bible…

Peter Smith: petersmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

Annual conferences mixed on bishops’ plan

By Heather Hahn
June 15, 2018 | UMNS

After singing “And Are We Yet Alive,” a number of U.S. annual conferences have weighed in on how The United Methodist Church might live in the future.

Various annual conferences have voted on resolutions related to the Council of Bishops recommendation for a way forward through the denomination’s potentially church-splitting divisions over homosexuality.

In May, a majority of United Methodist bishops recommended what they call the One Church Model.

Some conferences have endorsed that plan, which would leave questions of the ordination of LGBTQ clergy up to annual conferences and same-gender marriage up to local churches. Others have called for stronger enforcement of the denomination’s current prohibitions against same-gender weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.

The resolutions are aspirational. Ultimately, decisions about the denomination’s direction will be in the hands of the 864 lay and clergy delegates — elected by annual conferences — to attend the special General Conference in 2019.

The U.S. annual conference season is still very much in full swing with more votes to come. Here is a brief overview of some of the actions thus far.

More on annual conferences

Annual conferences are yearly, regional gatherings around the globe that combine United Methodist worship and business. They celebrate the licensing, commissioning and ordination of new clergy and as well as clergy retirements.

United Methodist News Service is posting annual conference reports as we receive them.

See reports.

At least three annual conference sessions — Baltimore-Washington, Northern Illinois and Michigan — approved resolutions that support the One Church Model.

In Michigan, the vote for a “Call for Unity in Diversity” was overwhelming and brought together United Methodists across the theological spectrum, said the Rev. Melanie Carey, a General Conference delegate who presented the resolution.

“In our families, we don’t agree with everybody,” she said. “The church is like a giant family. We don’t agree, but we still get together. Sometimes in families, people don’t talk to each other or they break apart. But we’re hoping we’ll be able to work it out.”

The North Alabama Conference voted against a similar resolution on unity by a written vote of 412 no to 240 yes.

The Holston Conference substituted a One Church Model endorsement with a motion calling on its General Conference delegation to study the upcoming bishops’ report and subsequently set up listening sessions around the conference ahead of the 2019 session.

The New York Conference, which encompasses United Methodists in the greater New York City area and western Connecticut, reaffirmed its longtime stance that the denomination should remove language excluding LGBTQ individuals from the life of the church. The resolution also urges General Conference delegates to consider “the marginalized in any proposed changes in church structure.”

The conference — as permitted by the denomination’s Book of Discipline — also elected a new slate of eight delegates and eight reserves to the special General Conference. Of the 16-member delegation, seven are LGBTQ, 11 are people of color, 10 are women and five are immigrants. Some of the straight delegates elected identify as LGBTQ allies.

The high number of LGBTQ United Methodists was by design, said Dorothee Benz, who is openly gay and will be a lay delegate in 2019.

“At the very center of this effort was our conviction that we must do whatever we can to rectify the exclusion of LGBTQI people not just from equal standing in the church but from even being in the conversation,” she said. The initials stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex.

The Upper New York Conference voted against two resolutions — one urging the end of all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and another urging a four-book study that advocates a traditionalist approach to sexual ethics and celibacy for gay people.

The conference did approve a resolution urging the General Council on Finance and Administration to add a “non-binary” column to the denomination’s membership statistical reports to allow the reporting of members who do not identify as male or female.

Other conferences are calling for an alternative to the bishops’ recommendation.

The South Georgia Conference approved a resolution urging affirmation of “the present standards of our Discipline” with added accountability when the Discipline is violated.

The South Carolina Conference also passed a resolution affirming the current language in the Discipline.

The Peninsula-Delaware Conference, similarly, amended a resolution that called for “openness to diverse perspectives in matters of human sexuality” to instead “maintain the current language” in the Discipline concerning matters of human sexuality.

At the same conference, Chelsea Spyres announced she was withdrawing from appointment as a licensed local pastor as long as LGBTQ individuals are barred from ordination.

For those who want to maintain the church’s prohibitions, the Rev. Rob Renfroe promised a traditionalist plan will be on the table at the special General Conference. Renfroe is the president of Good News, an unofficial advocacy group that seeks to strengthen enforcement of church laws on homosexuality.

At a luncheon with likeminded United Methodists in the Texas Conference, Renfroe declared he and other traditionalists would defeat the One Church Model at General Conference.

He also urged bishops who support that model to leave The United Methodist Church.

“Admit you no longer have the moral authority to lead this church,” he said. “And if you want to lead others out to something other than The United Methodist Church, we will bless you as you go.”

The bishops plan to make their report to General Conference public after it is translated into the main languages in which the church does business — English, French, Kiswahili and Portuguese. The deadline to submit legislation to the special General Conference is July 8.

The U.S. annual conference season will continue through the end of June with more annual conference meetings planned around the globe before the special General Conference.

Delegates often take annual conference actions into consideration, but they are not obligated to reflect the opinions of those who elected them. The church’s Judicial Council has stated that delegates must vote “as their conscience dictates” for what is good for the church of Jesus Christ.

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

Curse or Gift? – Hurry Sickness

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. … Let us do our best to enter that place of rest.  – Hebrews 4:9, 11

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 4:1-11

Not long after moving to Chicago, I called a wise friend to ask for some spiritual direction. I described the pace of life in the church I then served, which tended to move at a fast clip. I also told him about our rhythms of family life: we were in the van-driving, soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him about the condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy.

Long pause.

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.

Another long pause.

“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” I told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now, what else is there?” I had so many things to do, and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.

Another long pause.

“There is nothing else,” he said. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

I’ve concluded that my well-being depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls.

—John Ortberg in LeadershipJournal.net

My Response: What might a breathless lifestyle be robbing me of?

Thought to Apply: Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.—Fred Mitchell (British missionary leader)

– Adapted from LeadershipJournal.net

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

UMC – “The Way Forward” in 4 Pictures

Here is a quick summary of the three options under the UMC’s Way Forward in photos, courtesy of Joseph Richmond:

 

 

Curse or Gift? – Clockwatchers Anonymous

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night … God gives rest to his loved ones.  – Psalm 127:2

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 90:10-17

About five years ago I stopped wearing a watch for the simple reason that my preoccupation with it was turning me into a time legalist. Everything I did—like meeting with someone for lunch—took on significance based on how much time I spent doing it. I began breaking up the day not by blocks of hours, but by minutes and sometimes even seconds (I could brush my teeth in 22!).

Time—not God—was the fixation of my life. Sure, I was never late for appointments, but I wasn’t much fun attending them either, as they all seemed like unforgiving deadlines to me. Megan was glad when we got time together, but I was always thinking about the rest of my schedule and had trouble really enjoying those moments. None of this was healthy, and I finally recognized that I needed to stop the cycle.

I still don’t wear a watch, but I do check periodically on the handheld iPAQ I carry around. Since I took a break from always and easily glancing at my watch to see how late, early, or right on time I was, my perspective has changed. Now I try to consciously decide to use time as the gift it is rather than the curse I’d made it to be.

—Craig Dunham in TwentySomeone

My Response: I’ll recall a slice of time that has become a treasured gift.

Thought to Apply: There is more to life than increasing its speed. —Mohandas Gandhi (Indian nationalist &spiritual leader)

Adapted from TwentySomeone (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Why Same-Sex Acts Got the Death Penalty in OT, but Not Today

Here is an important article by Tim Keller summarizing why some Old Testament laws (e.g., moral regulations) still apply and why other OT laws (e.g., ceremonial cleanliness and sacrifice laws) no longer apply following Christ’s resurrection.


I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.”

What I hear most often is, “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t they just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”

It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First of all, let’s be clear that it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality.

The New Testament has plenty to say about it as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that (v. 12), persons should abstain from marriage and from sex.

However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the OT that are no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this.

Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament:

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices that were to be offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshippers could approach a holy God.

As part of that sacrificial system, there was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them (cf. 1 Samuel 15:21-22; Psalm 50:12-15; 51:17; Hosea 6:6). When Christ appeared, he declared all foods ‘clean’ (Mark 7:19) and he ignored the Old Testament clean laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

But the reason is made clear.

When he died on the cross, the veil in the temple was ripped through, showing that the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its clean laws had been done away with. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us “clean.”

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray ‘in Jesus’ name,’ we ‘have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19).

It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we were to continue to follow the ceremonial laws.

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament.

Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live.

The moral law is an outline of God’s own character—his integrity, love and faithfulness. And so all the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethics of the Old Testament are restated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11).

If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments.

Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament, things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament, the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments.

The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1ff and 2 Corinthians 2:7-11).

Why this change?

Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense.

Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed.

Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties.

It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities.

If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense and is perfectly consistent with its premise. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus was the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything.

But the one thing you can’t really say in fairness is that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to accept the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question: “Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

 

 

UMC – Human Sexuality – Recent Developments

In light of the speed of recent developments that will determine the future of the United Methodist Church, here is a quick summary of where we started, where we are now, and where we might be going before the special General Conference convenes in February 2019.

Background

Within The United Methodist Church, there is deep disagreement about human sexuality, among other issues.

This disagreement reached a boiling point during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, where a motion was passed to form a special commission to deal with our disagreement on human sexuality, and all legislation related to this topic was thereby tabled.  A thirty-two member commission, consisting of people from a wide variety of theological and ethical positions, formed and met over the past two years.

They have brought three models forward:

  • One is a “Traditionalist” model meant to hold ordained clergy accountable to our current denominational standards.
  • A second is a variation of the local option, now called the “One Church Model.”  It would remove our current language around human sexuality from the Book of Discipline and would move the authority for ethical decision making on these matters to the local church and the annual conference.
  • A third model would divide the UMC into  at least two large branches with distinct ethical standards regarding human sexuality.

The bishops’ plan of action, then, was to receive the report and subsequently draft its own report for the 2019 special session of the General Conference.  The General Conference delegates would then have the option of taking up the bishops’ report for legislative action.  (This is an extraordinary way for our decision-making processes to proceed, since our practice is for bishops to preside over legislation, rather than to pursue a legislative agenda themselves.)

As part of their report, the Council of Bishops plans to recommend the “One Church Model”, but to include the traditionalist and multi-branch plans as part of the report’s “historical narrative.”  There has been some confusion about what this means.  Would the bishops make all three models available for legislative action, or only the “One Church Model”?  Apparently there was disagreement even within the Council on this matter.

There was also the question of what legislation, besides the bishops’ report, could be submitted to the special session. According to the official announcement from the Council of Bishops, “The purpose of this special session of the General Conference shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”

The Council of Bishops then asked the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision regarding the kinds of legislation could be properly submitted.  The purpose of this request was to restrict legislation and focus on the bishops’ recommended plan of action, the “One Church Model”.

The Judicial Council, however, has ruled that a wider array of petitions could be submitted than the bishops’ request would have allowed.  In other words, the Judicial Council ruled that petitions to this special General Conference session “may be filed by any organization, clergy member, and lay member of the United Methodist Church, as long as the business proposed to be transacted in such petition is in harmony with the purpose stated in the call.”  The General Conference itself will have to decide whether a given petition is “in harmony” with the conference’s called purpose.

This ruling resulted in all manner of reactions ranging from elation to fury.

Summary

  1. United Methodists disagree over human sexuality.
  2. The General Conference mandated the formation of the Commission on a Way Forward to deal with our disagreement and avoid a division of the UMC.
  3. The Council of Bishops received a report from the Commission, and plans to submit its own report.
  4. The report of the Council of Bishops will be available for legislative action.
  5. The Council of Bishops is recommending the local option (“One Church Model”).
  6. The Judicial Council ruled that the General Conference will deal with a wider range of legislation than the Council of Bishops would have wished.

Recent Developments

What seems to have been largely overlooked in the wake of this recent Judicial Council decision is footnote 6.

Specifically, the third paragraph of footnote 6 seems to indicate that the stated purpose of the called General Conference is out of order.  As mentioned above, according to the stated call for the special session of the General Conference, its purpose “shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”

According to the Judicial Council, however,

There is nothing in the proceedings of the 2016 General Conference suggesting that the Commission on a Way Forward was supposed to submit its recommendations to the Council of Bishops.  Similarly, there is no evidence in the legislative debate prior to the vote on the motion indicating that the Council of Bishops would develop specific legislative proposals based on the recommendations of the Commission and present them to the called special session of the General Conference.

In other words, this footnote states that the 2016 General Conference did not mandate that the Commission submit a recommendation to the Council of Bishops, nor did it empower the Council of Bishops to bring a report for legislative consideration by the special session of the General Conference. 

This changes things considerably, so we might now anticipate that the bishops will revise the call in keeping with the Judicial Council’s decision.

Curse or Gift? – A Time for Everything

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.  – Psalm 90:12

Bonus Reading1 Timothy 4:7-10

Kids will wait forever to practice, start their homework, or clean their rooms. We adults are much the same. Calls and letters go unanswered, repairs go unmade. We intend to do them “when I feel like it” or “when I have to.” Since those times come erratically, today’s molehill quietly grows into tomorrow’s stressful mountain.

Our responsibilities cease flowing uncontrollably when we grab a calendar and assign them a time. Set a time to assign time blocks for the coming week. Remember, the anchor of your schedule is your quiet centers: your Lord, your wife, your family. In the spaces left around those centers, courageously assign time blocks to your other known commitments. Deciding in advance eliminates the stress of those predictable tasks chasing you until they catch you.

I found it frustrating at first to commit to a regular dinnertime at home. I preferred an open-ended day, unaware of the uncertainty I was causing my family. Finally realizing that there’ll always be one more thing to do, I set a boundary on my office day. The family makes its plans around my commitment now. And I’m starting to enjoy the predictability.

—Ron Hutchcraft in Living Peacefully in a Stressful World

My Response: How am I taking charge of the predictable sector of my time?

Thought to Apply: Procrastination is the thief of time.—Mr. Micawber (in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield)

Adapted from Living Peacefully in a Stressful World (Discovery, 1985, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Just for Fun – An Organist’s LAST JOB!

 

 

Curse or Gift? – Spread Too Thin?

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: The man won’t rest until he has followed through on this. He will settle it today.  – Ruth 3:18

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 21:28-31a

All of us want to be liked. But saying “yes” to everyone who asks for your help is dangerous. If you make a commitment to do something, your integrity and reputation are on the line. You should work diligently to fulfill your promise, finishing the project on time, and doing a quality job. That won’t happen if you’ve made so many other promises and commitments that your “to do” list exceeds the memory capacity in your handheld computer.

If you’re overcommitted, you probably lack the ability to say “no.” Perhaps you don’t want to disappoint each friend who makes a request of you. But you aren’t doing your friend any favor if your busy schedule forces you to miss the deadline or do a slipshod job. If that’s likely to happen, you’ll do your friend a favor if you decline the request.

Overcommitting yourself isn’t fair to the members of your immediate family, and your closest friends, either. You’re in crisis mode all of the time. Everything is an emergency. You’re always running behind schedule. You have no leisure time, and everything you do is rushed. That’s no way to live.

So don’t take on more than you can handle. Learn when to say “no.”

—Bruce Bickel & Stan Jantz in Simple Matters

My Response: When have I said no to protect a vital yes?

Thought to Apply: The really idle man gets nowhere. The perpetually busy man does not get much further.—William Heneage Ogilvie (British surgeon)

Adapted from Simple Matters (Promise Press, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Curse or Gift? – Go! Go! Go!

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: Oh, how I wish I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest!   – Psalm 55:6

Bonus Reading:  Mark 3:20-21; 6:31-32

My good friend Ken once got pneumonia from staying up too late, getting up too early, teaching all day, writing and directing a musical all evening, and generally forgetting that he was human. Ken told me later that his sickness was the best thing that could have happened to him because he needed and wanted a break but didn’t know how to schedule one for himself. God did it for him, with a week-long stay in the hospital, complete with hospital food. Now he’s better at slowing down every now and then, but he still has a way to go. So do the rest of us.

Because so many things seem more urgent than they really are, it’s difficult to make the choice to read, write, and reflect—three keys to slowing down the pace of our lives. Our culture promotes the idea of working like crazy and then taking a short but intense vacation (which calls for another vacation we seldom get to take).

If those of us in our twenties do manage to slow down, work hard but less, pace ourselves, and make time for other things, we may not be received too well by those above us who “paid their dues” to the same exhausting system.

—Craig Dunham in TwentySomeone

My Response: When in my life am I overloaded?

Adapted from TwentySomeone (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Curse or Gift? – What’s Blocking Your View of Jesus?

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: Fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.  Hebrews 12:2

Bonus Reading:  Mark 3:20-21, 6:31-32

My brain has a muffin top. It’s not visible to the naked eye, but I’m sure high-tech medical equipment could reveal my brain is spilling over with too much information: facts, ideas, concepts, future books, trivia, minutiae, and useless thoughts. And moments with Jesus.

The less crowded my brain, the more those moments with Him stand out. Did I just write that? Did I just admit it to myself? Should I take a more minimalist approach to what’s stored in my brain so the Jesus moments have room to shine? That was rhetorical.

What does the Bible say is the secret to successfully maneuvering the labyrinth called life? “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.”

Like a woman–not that I would know–who can’t see her feet for the excess around her middle, it’s hard to fix my eyes on Jesus with excess in the way. So, I’ll discard this thought, and that one, and that whole file full over there, so I can maintain better eye contact with Jesus.

I’ll purge my overloaded brain circuits of the broken bits of information that don’t connect to anything else or that block my view like fog which prevents me from seeing more than the street below, even though I paid for an oceanfront room.

It’s the Jesus moments that keep me going, that infuse meaning into what I’m muddling through. Time to do some brain purging.

—Cynthia Ruchti, in Mornings with Jesus

My Response: Dumping information isn’t as easy as pushing a Delete button on a computer. What works for you? Time alone in a retreat setting? A hike through the woods or along a beach? A virtual “ceremony” surrendering unnecessary though ts to Him? Try one of those brain and stress purges today.

Adapted from Mornings with Jesus (Guideposts, 2014)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

What Are Your Favorite Hymns?

Hymns are sung in traditional worship because we need the grounding, the shaping, and the “rootedness” that it brings us, while looking for new and creative ways to express our Christian story.  Because it reminds us of what has already been done in Christ, and what one day will be.  These are things that all worshipers need, regardless of our own preferences.

But one byproduct of historic Christian worship is that, through active participation and repetition, it helps our faith become a part of us.  Most of us who grew up with hymns undoubtedly have some that are our favorites, usually those in which we have found meaning, instruction, solace, and encouragement.  Many of us learned these hymns as a kid, and it’s nothing but a benefit to us to have them in our hearts and heads as we go through the seasons of life.

One of the main problems with the current commercial repertoire is that it’s not created to last.  By its own definition, contemporary worship has little use for anything that isn’t current and that doesn’t produce a limbic response.

Even the few hymn texts that remain are usually restrung into a pop performance piece.  It becomes a bit like striking a match.  It’s exciting for an instant, but then it’s gone, and we’re left to try and recreate it.

When we choose songs to sing in worship, we ought to be doing so with an eye toward lighting a candle, a lasting flame that will stay with us.

When we ask for your favorite hymns, we’re really asking for a deeper answer.  We’re not looking as much for the hymns that give you a strong sentimental connection.

We want to know which hymns are the ones that stick with you throughout the seasons of your life, nurturing the flame of Christ’s gospel inside your heart.

Below are some popular hymns, in no particular order.  We want to know yours, as well.  Give us your own top ten, even if in no particular order.  If you can’t come up with ten, make it five, or even three.

We’ll be checking the comments on this post, along with any we can view on Facebook, as well!

God Is Here!

Fred Pratt Green, 1979; rev. 1988 (ABBOT’S LEIGH)

Lord of all, of church and kingdom,
In an age of change and doubt
Keep us faithful to the gospel;
Help us work your purpose out.

Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know

Johann C. Schwedler, 1741; trans. Benjamin Hall Kennedy, 1863 (HENDON)

This is that great thing I know;
this delights and stirs me so:
faith in Him who died to save,
Him who triumphed o’er the grave,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

Attr. Ignaz Franz, c. 1774; trans. Clarence Alphonsus Walworth, 1858 (GROSSER GOTT)

Lo! the apostolic train,
Join thy sacred name to hallow;
Prophets swell the glad refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow,
And from morn till set of sun,
Through the church the song goes on.

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Charles Wesley, 1747 (BLAENWERN, also BEECHER, HYFRYDOL)

Finish then thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Martin Luther, 1529; trans. Frederick Henry Hedge, 1852 (EIN’ FESTE BURG)

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever.

Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above

Johann Jacob Schuetz, 1675; trans. Frances Elizabeth Cox, 1864 (MIT FREUDEN ZART)

Sing praise to God who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love,
The God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled,
And every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

There Is a Fountain

William Cowper, 1772

When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.

Thine Is the Glory

Edmond Louis Budry, 1884; trans. R. Birch Hoyle, 1923

No more we doubt thee,
Glorious Prince of life!
Life is naught without thee;
Aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors
Through thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan
To thy home above.

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 5th c. (DIVINUM MYSTERIUM)

O, that birth forever blessed
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!

Reginald Heber, 1827 (NICAEA)

Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see.

 

 

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When Asking Beats Telling – Everyday Evangelism

Everyday EvangelismTrained as a rabbi, Paul was taught to think about God and life through a style of debate still used today in Jewish training schools called “yeshivas.”

This “pulpil” method responds to questions with other questions.  Acts 17 is the chapter that most fully describes how Paul engaged in the give-and-take of “rabbinic evangelism” in synagogues, and then exported it to Gentile communities.

Interact with God’s Word

Acts 17:1-5, 16-20, 32-34

  1. What verbs (vv. 2-3) describe how Paul functioned during his synagogue visits?
  2. Does this sound to you more like a sermon or a Q and A session?
  3. What points do you think prompted the most lively discussions in Thessalonica?
  4. Which issues today need the most debate?
  5. What kind of responses (vv. 4-5) did the interactions with Paul produce?
  6. How and with whom did Paul interact in Athens (vv. 17-18)?
  7. What kinds of reaction were there to Paul’s discussion with the Council of Philosophers?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for a growing confidence in the gospel that will allow you to casually engage in give and take about it.

Acts 17:1-5, 16-20, 32-34

1 Now Paul and Silas traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he interpreted the Scriptures to the people. 3 He was explaining and proving the prophecies about the sufferings of the Messiah and his rising from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.”4 Some who listened were persuaded and became converts, including a large number of godly Greek men and also many important women of the city. 5 But the Jewish leaders were jealous, so they gathered some worthless fellows from the streets to form a mob and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd.

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to debate with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. 18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “This babbler has picked up some strange ideas.” Others said, “He’s pushing some foreign religion.” 19 Then they took him to the Council of Philosophers.[a] “Come and tell us more about this new religion,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather startling things, and we want to know what it’s all about.”

32 When they heard Paul speak of the resurrection of a person who had been dead, some laughed, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.”33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them,34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Council, a woman named Damaris, and others.

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Dental “Dialogue”

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.  – Proverbs 18:13

Bonus Reading: Isaiah 1:18-20

The waiting-room sign warns, “Blessed are those who engage in lively conversation with the helplessly mute, for they shall be called dentists.”

My dentist drives me crazy! He asks really thought-provoking questions right as he puts sharp, pointed objects into my mouth. “So, what’s the real solution for the Palestinian problem?” Or, “Aren’t all religions basically the same?” I want to respond, but my attempts are muffled by his hands in my mouth and that noisy suction thing.

I wonder if some of our evangelistic conversations sound like interactions between my dentist and me. One side posits a question, not really expecting an answer or listening for a response. The other side sits frustrated, not really getting to answer or expecting to be heard.

Scripture admonishes us to always be ready to explain our Christian hope (1 Peter 3:15). But doing so requires listening in order to know when and what we’re being asked. Listening primes the pump, opening hearts to accept conviction of sin, establishing common ground for further dialogue, or giving insight to felt needs.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: I’ll listen-out a friend, connecting and clarifying without interjecting my own thoughts, so he’ll know I’m hearing him accurately.

Thought to Apply: If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.—Dale Carnegie (writer & speaker)

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Gospel-paving Questions

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse:  As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. Acts 16:14

Bonus Reading:  Acts 17:1-5a, 16-20, 32-34

A pastor urged his congregation to open the door to evangelism by challenging the prevailing slogans of our day. “The next time someone at work says, ‘Image is everything,'” he told them, “Respond, ‘No, it’s not! The glory of God is everything!'”

I agree with his theology. But a better response would be a puzzled look and “Really?” After getting the coworker’s attention, you could add “What do you think is everything? What would you say is the most foundational thing in life?”

When your cousin asks, “Why are you so narrow-minded as to believe that all Buddhists are going to hell?” don’t indignantly quote, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Ask her, “What have you found about Buddhism that convinces you that its adherents are worthy of heaven?”

When your neighbor asks, “Why do you think that Jesus was more than just a good moral teacher?” don’t take out your Lord-liar-lunatic diagram just yet. Ask her, “What makes you think that Jesus was a good teacher? Have you read a lot of His teachings? Which messages impress you the most about Jesus’ teaching ability? What would you say was Jesus’ main message?”

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: Who is someone with whom I could have this kind of give and take?

Thought to Apply: More and more we should hold back our answer, and with a question, pave the way to receptivity. —Randy Newman

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Wake-up Questions

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God.  – 2 Corinthians 10:5

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 10:3-5

When people say things that, given some thought, don’t add up, we must help them see the fallacy of their statements. A good way is a one-word question: “Really?”

When people say, “I think all religions are the same,” We could respond with “Really?”

After they begin to awaken, we can elaborate by asking, “Do you really think your religion is the same as all others?  How about the religion that led people to kill themselves when they saw the Hale-Bop comet?  They thought that it was going to take them to heaven.  Do you really think their religion is the same as yours?”  The ensuing discussion could explore which religions are ridiculous, which credible.

When people say, “I think all people are basically good,” we could respond with, “Really? Does that include Osama Bin Laden? Or the boys who killed their classmates at Columbine High School?” If they’ll concede that they didn’t mean all, it’s worth exploring where the lines are drawn between good, not so good, pretty bad, and downright evil.

This waking process might hurt. So say the word really with as little sarcasm in your voice as possible.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: An illogical belief a friend must question before he can receive the gospel is …

Thought to Apply: Confronting a prospect with unpleasant truths doesn’t work in sales, but it is essential in evangelism.—Randy Newman

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Reflecting the Heat Back

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: Let me ask you a question first … . Did John’s baptism come from heaven, or was it merely human?  – Luke 20:3-4

Bonus Reading:  Luke 20:1-8

At a dorm-room Bible study, the host’s antagonistic roommate showed up—along with a handful of likeminded friends. “I suppose you think all those sincere followers of other religions are going to hell!” said one, more as an attack than a sincere inquiry.

“Do you believe in hell?” I responded.

After a puzzled silence, he said, “No. I don’t believe in hell. I think it’s ridiculous.”

Echoing his word choice, I said, “Then why are you asking me such a ridiculous question?” I wanted him to honestly examine the assumptions behind his question. His face indicated that he was considering issues of judgment and God’s righteousness for the first time in his life.

Another guy chimed in, “I do believe in hell. Do you think everyone who disagrees with you is going there?”

I asked, “Do you think anyone goes there? Is Hitler in hell?”

“Of course, Hitler’s in hell.”

“How do you think God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? Does He grade on a curve?”

From there, the discussion turned civil, and serious interaction about God’s holiness, people’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ atoning work ensued.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: Do I really need to know all the answers to represent the gospel?

Thought to Apply: Learn what questions non–Christians are asking (some indirectly), and what to ask to move the conversation in a Christ–ward direction.—Randy Newman

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Beyond Take It or Leave It

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: When they handed him the coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”   – Matthew 22:19-20

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 12:9-13

I usually answer non-believers’ questions with a question because I’ve grown tired of having my answers rejected.

At times I’ve responded to questions with biblically accurate, logically sound, epistemologically watertight answers, only to see questioners shrug their shoulders. My answers, it seemed, only further confirmed their opinion that Christians are simpletons. My answers had hardened them in their unbelief rather than softened them toward faith.

I realized that, instead of moving people closer to a salvation decision, an answer can push them further away. Rather than engaging their minds or urging them to consider an alternative perspective, an answer can give them ammunition for future attacks against the gospel.

So I started answering questions with questions, with far better results. Answering with a question brings to the surface the questioner’s assumptions. It also takes the pressure off you—the one being asked—and puts it on the one doing the asking. Shifting the burden is important because as long as we’re on the defensive, the questioners aren’t really wrestling with issues. They’re just watching us squirm.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: Have I pictured witnessing as a monologue or a dialogue?  Why?

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Hold That Answer

Everyday EvangelismWho Said It…Randy Newman

Randy Newman—not the famous singer/songwriter—has served with Campus Crusade for Christ for more than 20 years, relating to students on college campuses. He also teaches a seminar every week at the Pentagon for Campus Crusade’s Christian Embassy.

His book, Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004), is designed to help believers deal with objections to the gospel in an engaging manner.

What He Said…Hold that Answer

Because I’m Jewish, I grew up with dialogues that went like this:

Randy: “How’s the weather down there?”

Granny Belle: “How could the weather be in Florida in the middle of July?”

Or …

Randy: “So, how have you been?”

Uncle Nat: “Why do you ask?”

Or …

Randy: “How’s your family?”

Aunt Vivian: “Compared to whom?”

So that may explain why I think this way, responding to questions with questions. I’d like to think, though, that it’s because I’m following the example of Jesus.

Try reading through the four Gospels to see how the Rabbi answered the questions put to Him. A clear, concise, direct answer was a rarity. Answering a question with a question was the norm.

A rich man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do to get eternal life?” (Mark 10:17-18). What a great setup for a clear, concise gospel presentation! But how did Jesus respond? He posed a question, “Why do you call me good?

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

High-Profile Turnarounds – Through God’s Eyes

CelebritiesWe all become aware of the vices and virtues of people in the public eye. But God doesn’t view them as special cases.

Just like us, they become Christians through His unmerited favor—not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service.

They are, however, specially visible examples of the way He transforms lives. That is the focus of this Scripture passage.

Interact with God’s Word:  Ephesians 2:1-10

  1. What does verse 1 tell you about the original status of “all of us”?
  2. What do verses 2-3a tell you about the natural condition of “all of us”?
  3. Why were “all of us” under God’s anger (v. 3b)?
  4. What does Paul say (vv.4-8a) God did to liberate us from our hopeless predicament?
  5. What else is implied in “all he had done for us through Christ Jesus” (v. 7)?
  6. What is it that you “can’t take credit for” (v. 8)? Doing good things? Believing?
  7. In what ways are you God’s “masterpiece” (v. 10)?

Spend Time in Prayer: Thank God for making you “examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness.”

Ephesians 2:1-10

1 Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. 2 You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much,5 that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)6 for he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms—all because we are one with Christ Jesus.

7 And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus. 8 God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – “W” for Wild

George W. BushKey Bible Verse: Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2

The sweaty man I used to watch outdistance his bodyguards jogging at the ballpark and fumble his way through a press conference was born into a privileged family and spent the first part of his life acting like the world owed him an existence. Arrogant and irresponsible, he lived large and partied hard. In business, he was a moderate success, but his first foray into public life was a resounding failure. He worried his parents, worried his wife, and worried his friends. There were times when alcohol got in the way of both life and love. And then one day around the age of 40, this man grew up.

A few years later, someone asked George W. Bush who his hero was. Without hesitation, he answered, “Jesus Christ.” There was a lot of snickering over that answer in the next few days, and speculation that he was simply trying to score a few points with his audience. What many people failed to notice or didn’t take seriously was what he said immediately after his confession—”because he changed my life.”

Everyone who knew Bush back in his wild days will tell you that his life is truly changed. His confession was guileless because he really meant it.

—Jody Dean in Finding God in the Evening News

My Response: Who do you know whose life has been radically changed by Jesus?

Thought to Apply: Once I was dead . . . and now I am alive. And the difference is Jesus.—Walter Brueggemann

Adapted from Finding God in the Evening News (Revell, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1