Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Some thoughts on evangelism in the church today.

Yesterday I went to a seminar session with Dennis Pethers along with a heap of other Baptist Pastors to investigate this idea of 'Turning a Community Contact into a Faith Conversation'.

As a pastor I find the majority of my interactions throughout the week are with other Christians so I see the importance of being able to effectively talk about my faith with the few community contacts I have.  It's very easy for me to concentrate on teaching 'my people' and overlook everyone else.  I wonder if this comes from one of the initial points Dennis made yesterday.  That our churches these days seem to have a 'come to us' attitude instead of a 'go to them' one.

Even with a 'come to us' attitude are we doing a good job? Dennis shared about his first experiences of church as a 19 year old who had encountered Jesus through the Word and a workmate (and was trying to find his place a a follower of Christ in the church), and he didn't get most of what happened inside the church building.  I look at how we do things and wonder how people would feel if they had never experienced church before. In many cases I think they'd be at least confused, if not completely freaked out by some of the things we do.  So even though we think others outside the church should come and see what we do to be affected by the Gospel, I am scared that those few who actually do come get chased off by our own focus on the rites of our Christianity.

Yet when we do get outside our walls, off out to engage the community, what does it look like? Another point I resonated with Dennis on yesterday is this concept Christians have of evangelism today... it is still very much thought of as persuading someone to make a decision.  "...will you follow Christ?" "...will you give your life to Jesus?" "...can you accept that Jesus died on the cross for you?"  They are all pointed questions hammering a decision onto someone who may not have actually encountered Jesus - so doesn't understand exactly who He is.

All that made me wonder how we can be more effectual in evangelism.  How does the notion of a 'faith conversation' compare to giving a tract and forcing a decision onto someone?  It just so happens I am preaching Ephesians 4 this week, and my study on that passage seems to relate.  As pastor I feel I am called to fill the lives of my people up with the Gospel - have them so connected to it, that their lives are immersed in Christ so they become the catalyst for ministry in the church.  Church is no longer 'come and see' but the people, full of the Gospel, 'go to them'.  The Church isn't a building, or even a gathering, but it is the people of God who are out in the community.  In schools, universities, shopping centres, workplaces, retirement homes... everywhere. That's the Church, and those people aren't laying down decision making opportunities, but are talking about what God is doing in their life, mentioning teaching and revelation they may receive on Sunday, describing God moving through a ministry they are involved in Friday night, essentially giving examples of Christ's work in His people to those who don't know Him, because in that way they are introduced to Jesus first - and that should make understanding what He did more deeply effecting, leading to more people giving their lives to Christ.

I think the days of standing on a corner with a Gospel tract, or preaching to strangers in the mall are finished. The main reason is that the underlying connotation of our society is no longer Bible based - 40 years ago even those who didn't have a faith, understood what the Bible was... knew the stories... realised that in some capacity the foundation of society was based on Biblical principles.  These days however that is certainly not the case.  We have this post-modern idea that truth is relative.  Each can find their own and there is no absolute truth - persisting with a decision persuasion doesn't work in this culture because people will simply decide 'no' and find their 'own truth'.

Today we need to illustrate an experience of who Jesus is, how He effects lives, how He is really the only true foundation.  That happens by going out, not staying in. It happens by living that experience on our Sunday mornings so if someone does happen to come in they aren't turned off by the socially awkward things we do. It happens by realising the church building isn't the centre of the community, but as a group we can spread into the entirety of our community as proceed to illustrate the Creator of the world to those who have no understanding of Him whatsoever.

Monday, 29 July 2013

A profound prayer...

Finished preaching the first 3 chapters of Ephesians last night.  The chapter ends with this amazing piece of Scripture.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:14-21, ESV)
I think I need to make this my prayer for my church... my prayer for my family... my prayer for my friends... the teens I've ministered too... new Christians I encounter... and even for me.

May God make this real for you as well.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Blown away by God's creation (yet again)

Check out this photo

Indonesian photographer Penkdix Palme, 27, captured the moment this tiny tree frog sheltered from the rain in his neighbour's back garden in the city of Jember in East Java, Indonesia.  
The tiny amphibian clung to the stem for around 30 minutes while wind and rain lashed at his precious shelter. The five centimetre frog appeared even to angle the makeshift umbrella towards the direction of the fierce downpour. 

Full Article Here

I always stop and worship when I see something in creation which marvels me about my Creator. How cool is this! Natural instinct is a God created thing, and His invisible qualities are here for us all to see, even in a tiny frog!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Serving the Local Church

Here's my Thought of the Week which I wrote for the church bulletin last Sunday.
“For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
(Matthew 25:29)

We know the parable of the talents. A master gives three different servants different amounts of wealth. With that wealth two use it to generate more wealth but one simply hides it and presents the same amount back to the master when he returns. He is called a wicked servant, what wealth he has is taken and given to another.

Teaching on this parable usually concludes with the idea that our faith equips us with the wealth of the Gospel and we are to go out and produce more wealth by spreading faith. Each servant began with a certain amount and it increased… just like faith increases as we share the Gospel. But it was those who took their initial amount and worked well with it who received more—their responsibility became greater after they had demonstrated their commitment to the work.

That’s why I feel our local church community is so important. It’s our initial working ground—the place we can take the initial wealth of our faith and put it into action. We don’t ask people to get involved at dBay Baptist because we just want to put people to work, or provide a cosy environment for us all… but we do it because it provides an opportunity for people to work well with the faith they have received. If you’re wanting to change the world for the Gospel, that’s great, but if you’re not working well with the initial portion of the wealth you've received then it’s unlikely the Master will give out more. Let’s all strive to be like the servant with 5 talents, not the servant with 1.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Be alive... don't turn to death.

Mark Driscoll tweeted this today.

"A Christian who sins because Jesus "has to" forgive is like a husband who cheats because his wife promised to love him no matter what."

Puts it in a stark reality doesn't it? So many times I hear young people say "I'll do what I want because God forgives me", but the hurt it causes just doesn't seem to compute.

We're studying Ephesians at the moment, and this week as we look at Ephesians 2 we'll see that not only are we IN CHRIST but we are ALIVE IN CHRIST.  It's pretty simply really... sin = death and Jesus = life.  That means that if you are alive in Christ then any sin is lingering death inside you... not a pretty picture!  Just like a wife (who may continue to love no matter what) is deeply hurt and damaged by an unfaithful husband... so God deeply grieves our sin, even though his love and forgiveness is eternal.

Don't cheat on God.

How does your life today impact your Creator?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Living Holy.

Where's the balance of remaining holy and taking ourselves way too seriously.

Just over the past few days I've either read on Facebook or blogs, or experienced myself people who have both been too flippant with their lifestyle and moved away from the holiness that comes through faith in Jesus, or on the other scale are so rigidly adherent to what they've read in the Bible that they appear to have lost contact with the world around them.

In some cases I see the point to both sides... in both cases I see the craziness of their actions too.

Is there a happy middle road?

What does a Gospel centred life really look like? Is it totally unrestricted... is it disciplined and rigid?

I try and be generous in all things and take most things as a shade of grey and not black and white.  In different situations I might come up with completely different answers for the same questions... I wonder if that's the right way to go about it sometimes though?

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Where it all starts and ends...

Without the gospel we hate ourselves instead of our sin.
~Tim Keller

In everything I do I look for a Gospel impact or influence. From preaching to hanging out with teenagers on a Friday night.  The key to EVERYTHING is the Gospel, we just have to find out how!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A heart for service.

How can you expect God to entrust and empower you for world mission if you don't show that you can serve the local church?"

We were doing a bit of a TeenStreet wrap up last Sunday Night, it had been a great time of reflecting and celebrating and I was just finishing off the night by going through our daily declarations we'd made on camp.  We were talking about "May your Kingdom come THROUGH ME" and the idea of us following God's plan allows His name to be glorified - "Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven." (Matt 6:9-10).

As we talked about mission and the big things people want to do for God I was dwelling on where I was, where I'd been and how I have gotten here and this quote from above came from my lips.  The culture of today is one of fame - the desperate desire to be great, to be famous to do the big things... and I wonder if our Christian culture can be a little like this too?  The idea of overseas mission, or big youth events draw people who want to serve... but should they be serving if we hardly ever see them at church during the rest of the year?  I feel people can be drawn to big things not because they are serving God but because they are meeting their own personal need for 'feeling good' (this idea that serving does make us feel good, we become passionate about it because we feel good but maybe we loose the real meaning of service)

I know for myself I've had to pull back many times, because I have pursued things in the name of service but suddenly realised I was doing them either for something to name drop or put on my resume... or just because it made me feel good to do it.

Those with real hearts for service serve everywhere, and constantly.  I was challenged by the thought and in turn challenged my youth that serving in the church isn't a 'to-do list' thing, or a 'see I'm a good person' thing; instead it is a sign we're totally sold out to God, and we'll do what He says, whether that means washing dishes after morning tea of a Sunday morning, or going to Africa to work in an orphanage.  In my experience it is the ones who are willing to serve anywhere who are used by God in great ways - because He knows their heart.

Amazing growth for TeenStreet.

I mentioned in the last post that we've had four years of TeenStreet now.  Sarah, a member of the communications team, posted this to Instagram the other day. The top photo is the group shot from the first camp in 2010, the bottom is our group shot from this year.

God has worked in such amazing ways. I look at that photo and simply must worship God for the impact his has on young lives, for the plan He has for youth in Qld, and for the provision He has provided to allow us to work with Him the way we have.

What an incredible God we have!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The impact of influence.

We've had four TeenStreets now.  That's four years I've had the opportunity to work with Duzie. Dan and Suzie Potter (or 'Duzie') pioneered the original TeenStreet idea in Europe and have taken it all over the world.  From the USA they travel all year inputting into the lives of teens worldwide, and we've been blessed to have them as key parts of our communications team at TeenStreet Qld each year.

I've really enjoyed getting to know this amazing couple, and learning more from their passion for youth. This year though I was greatly impacted by Dan's nature.  Over the week I slowly put it together in my mind and realised it was an infectious joy which Dan seemed to constantly deliver to anyone around him.  This photo captures it so well (plus I think it was as I took this photo I finally realised the influence Dan was having on me and its impact).

From short, friendly interactions to watching him communicate to the teens in the main meeting I was greatly impacted this week.  I felt Dan's joy encourage me to go out and be like him, to take my eyes off the event of TeenStreet and to see the individual teens and how my own joy and encouragement could impact them.

The very reason it could impact teens is because of the source of Dan's joy.  That source is Jesus. That is where I found my source for joy, it was merely being exampled by Dan in the way he acted and showed Jesus' joy to others.  I know Dan would want the glory to go to Jesus... I want the glory to go to Jesus, but I think there is a place to thank people for being a good example of Jesus (The Kingdom comes THROUGH US right...).

So thank you Dan.

New Identity - Ephesians...

Evening sermon series starting this Sunday at dBay Baptist:

We are part of God’s eternal plan. What an amazing truth, and one which the Apostle Paul made sure the church in Ephesus grasped completely. These new believers would have experienced the excitement of new faith, but in this letter Paul gives them a greater insight into their new identity as God’s holy people, the faithful in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:1).

Identity is the one thing we are all searching to find – who are we really? We cause ourselves the biggest heartache when we fail to understand who we really are. All people are created to be part of God’s eternal plan, all of our identities should be found in Jesus. Yet the majority of the world is searching elsewhere, and even Christians struggle with the issue of identity.

When we believe in Jesus, in his sacrificial work to save us and the new life He give us, then we are given a new identity. Ephesians will help us discover the depth of that identity, the unity it brings and the enduring life which grows from it.

Monday, 8 July 2013

TeenStreet twenty13

It's an amazing privilege to be part of a movement changing the lives of teenagers. Last week's TeenStreet camp was one of the most incredible experiences I've had.  Most have heard the stories either via Facebook or at dBay Baptist over the weekend so I thought I'd just share a little of my own role on camp, and how it effected me personally.

This year I must admit I was searching for a role - I didn't quite know where I'd fit into the team and so left myself available to do anything.  And anything is about what I did.  My major role was heading the service team, being their go-to person and also looking after their pastoral care.  I ran devotions each day and led the group in prayer as we held up the groups of teens during their NET times.  I also did a lot of equipment logistics, moving chairs, organising batteries and just making sure each 'event' had the equipment it needed. We had a set video team but realised no one was taking photographs for the website so I filled in there as well. I took 600 photos over the week with many making it onto the TeenStreet webpage and Facebook page.  I was asked to be a judge of the Memory Verse Competition, and then with a small mix up ended up being the face of the entire comp and having to get up in front of everyone every night and presenting the best verses of the day (what an honour to get myself up there with Dan and Sam hey!!).  Add to all this some chappy work and even some drumming and I found myself very busy over the week.  In most cases it was behind the scenes stuff, which is very different from what I do week to week at dBay, and though at times I felt God has called me to bigger things I did feel He'd uniquely equipped me for all I needed to do last week.

Seeing young people come to a realisation of their dependence on God was what I was there for... it's what I live for!!! So this week boosted me in what I feel my call and ministry is.  I had to really think intentionally how to switch from my organising role to a relationship building role with the teens (it would have been easy for me to go the week without connecting with any teens by just simply focusing on my job).  I made an effort to walk to line of teens waiting for meals, just to talk and chat with them.  I also made sure some meals I went and sat among the teens or Gap year guys just so I could interact socially with them. I played volleyball, threw frisbee and stopped to encourage any teen or leader I saw along the way.  It was important for me, because by the end of the week I felt I'd had tangible connections with people as well as organising a great event.

Because in the end it is those relationships, and not the event, which are important. Through relationship with the teens we could point to the most important relationship, that between us and God.  Through friendship and trust we could introduce dependence, forgiveness and grace. I feel so humbled to be part of the team that was able to bring this to 250+ teens last week. I am looking forward to doubling that number next year!
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