Pastor Tim Piland shared an excellent message from Matthew 28:19-20 this past Sunday at Nansemond River Baptist Church. I love to listen to Pastor Tim share; he is biblical, passionate, and relevant. I like to tell people that he’s 65 going on 20. He has the energy and passion of a young man with the wisdom and wit of a seasoned veteran. I think he has a faint hint of Jimmy Stewart in his voice as well .
In any case, Tim made a comment (I think I’ve heard similar comments before) about sharing the gospel:
The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; it is a relationship to be shared.
I grew up learning all the methods of evangelism (E.E., Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, Steps to Peace with God, F.A.I.T.H., etc.). As I’ve grown (a little) older I’ve found methods to be helpful but often inadequate. Each person is different and, therefore, every time I share my faith it sounds a little different. The content must always be biblical but the method of organization and communication is often ad hoc.
More important than the method, however, is the relationship. We must build relationships with people that can bear the weight of the gospel. The message of sin and salvation is heavy stuff and casual conversations rarely offer the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. Talking about football and the weather is hardly a natural segue to the magnitude of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Too often fervent evangelists see people as converts to be won. I am reminded of Kevin Roose’s experience at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University chronicled in the book Unlikely Disciple:
When I told the Liberty students at Thomas Road that I hadn’t accepted Christ as my savior, the entire dynamic of the conversation changed. It began to feel distant and rehearsed, like a pitch for Ginsu knives.
People are unique and interesting and the gospel is not formulaic. Different people have different objections and hangups to the gospel. I know that I value authenticity and honesty much more than a polished presentation.
Whitney and I just returned from a nice vacation. The whole experience was relaxing. I genuinely love spending time with Whitney. Hours in the car are simply fun as we talk about life. There were a lot of important questions asked, as well as a lot of laughter. I hope to share more pictures of our time in Savannah, GA and Orlando, FL over the next couple of days.
Either way, it is good to be home. I am particularly excited about worship with our church family here in VA. As is our habit, while out of town we visited another church unannounced. We just dropped in to study the Bible and meet some new brothers and sisters. Our time of worship was a little disheartening.
We walked into a gorgeous building in the heart of downtown last Sunday, a beautiful fall day. A nice gentleman greeted us at the door. When we stepped inside the foyer the building was eerily quiet. As we walked into the “sanctuary” I noticed an ornate, traditional room with finely crafted columns and embellished windows. I imagine it could hold 1,000 or so people. Sadly, as I looked at the room in front of me, most of the pews were roped off and I saw maybe 50 people spread out around the massive chamber. I know numbers are of little significance but in the middle of a bustling southern city, the one place I expected to find life, was filled with a listless and deteriorating faith community.
The service was standard fare: a few songs, a mediocre performance sermon and we left. There was no community. There was no life.
There are lessons to be learned about stewardship, resources, buildings, property, and institutions. I think the central thing I was challenged by was the need for a church to be a center for missionary activity. The church must go into the community. In the case of this church, they had built impressive resources and a massive institution but the community which they were called to impact with the gospel was left unaffected.
Sunday I taught an overview of the small book of Jonah. We looked at the role and shape of Jonah among the minor prophets. In the antihero of Jonah, I tried to demonstrate the love of God for the nations.
To the very end of the story Jonah never embraced God’s call. In the words of VeggieTales: “Jonah was a prophet and he never really got it.” Jonah, the seemingly good news prophet ends up being the bad guy.
His selfishness, nationalism, and pride prevented him initially from obeying God and ultimately from enjoying the love and mercy that God extended to the Ninevites. Jonah didn’t want God to show mercy on his enemies.
Jonah was not willing to sacrifice his reputation, comfort, or life for the story and glory of God. The call to go is bigger than my reputation, my comfort, and even my life.
In conversation with one of the pastors at my church I was reminded of the importance of seeing God for who he really is and myself for what I really am. It is so easy (like Jonah) to think that God must act the way I want him to. He must love who I love and punish who I hate. Just like Jonah fostered an us versus them mentality between the Israelites and Ninevites, I often foster an us versus them mentality. With the recent anniversary of 9/11 I am reminded how many Christians still view Islam as the enemy.
I am reminded that our power and hope is in the gospel. It can break any chain of Islam. As a Christian I am called to demonstrate the scandalous love of Christ.
In 2004, five Southern Baptist Missionaries were serving in Mosul, Iraq (geographically analogous to ancient Ninevah). They had moved to Iraq to share the glory of the gospel with the Iraqi people and serve them by researching opportunities to provide clean water. The five missionaries (Larry and Jean Elliott, David and Carrie McDonnall, and Karen Watson) were ambushed by gunmen. Carrie McDonnall was the only survivor. Prior to leaving for Iraq, Karen Watson had written a letter to be read upon her death. She knew the risk of going to such a difficult place.
I wasn’t called to a place. I was called to Him,” she wrote. “To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory was my reward, His glory is my reward.”
Anticipating her death may cause others to question the need for the humanitarian work in Iraq to continue, Watson clearly said one of the most important things is to “preserve the work. Keep sending missionaries out. Keep raising up fine young pastors.”
In making a few requests for a funeral service, Watson said to keep it simple and preach the Gospel. “Be bold and preach the life saving, life changing, forever eternal GOSPEL. Give glory and honor to our Father,” she wrote.
Watson quoted The Missionary Heart, which says in part, “Risk more than some think is safe,” a line that resonates with the endeavor she undertook in a war-torn country. She listed some of her favorite passages of Scripture, including 2 Corinthians 15:5, which says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Another was Romans 15:20, which says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” In closing, Watson wrote, “There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him.”
Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.
In my discussions with Bryan Barley (see “Disciples Who Make Disciples“), he shared the way his faith community was defining their mission. If you have been involved in any American churchianity you have come across the unhealthy view of missions as “over there.” You know, the missionary comes to your church with their overhead projector, slideshow, and indigenous outfit to share about what it means to be a missionary.
The Biblical reality is that all Christians are full-time missionaries. Most are full-time paid missionaries who get their pay from some occupation not related to their faith (i.e., schoolteacher, lawyer, nurse, etc.). Many Christians see missionaries as the super-Christians who are uniquely called to dedicate their lives to sharing the gospel to a particular group of people (usually in a foreign context). The reality is that all Christians are called to dedicate their lives to sharing the gospel with a particular group of people. Some of us (far more of us than have actually gone) are called to go to the lost nations of the world. However, in the modern world many of the nations have come to America. My most effective years of “mission” where when I was a student at William and Mary (“Bill and the Babe” as we alums call it). Many college campuses are a sampling of various “people groups” from across the nation and the globe. The nations have literally come to your back door!
Those of us who have been on short-term mission trips are used to the “assignment” when we go. In fact, one of the reasons “mission trips” are so successful is the clear focus on the assignment of going and telling others about the gospel. On such trips one has a clear task. If all of us are really full-time missionaries, why don’t we think in such clear terms daily?
Vocational missionaries use the language of “people groups” to describe unique pockets of culture they are trying to infiltrate with the gospel. Who are your people groups and what are you trying to do to reach them? In college my people groups where my coworkers at The Coffeehouse, my hallmates in the dorm, and my colleagues in the classroom. In seminary my people groups where my coworkers, the regulars at the dog park, and my neighbors in the apartment complex. Now, my people groups are the teenagers of North Suffolk, the employees of the places I frequently visit (i.e., barber, barista, grocery store clerk), and my neighbors.
Who are your people groups?
What are you doing to reach them with the gospel?
Recently my friend Bryan Barley came to our church here in Suffolk, VA. He was sharing with our elders on Tuesday night and with the larger congregation on Wednesday. Bryan and I have been friends for a few years now and I have always enjoyed the way he can challenge me in a Biblical and gentle way. I genuinely feel that he is a friend that sharpens me and nudges me toward faithfulness.
It was fun to hang out with Bryan as we talked about the gospel, theology, ministry, and life. We mixed in a some sports, comedy, and ridiculous religious broadcasting to top it off.
If you are unaware of the journey that Bryan and his family are undertaking you should check out their church. They are moving to Denver, CO in January of 2011 to plant a gospel-centered community right in the middle of the city. Rarely have I found a church planter as gifted, thoughtful, teachable, and faithful as Bryan.
It was refreshing to be around Bryan because he thinks the way all Christians should be thinking — like a missionary. Nothing is off limits. Every strategy, relationship, and plan is tested against the Scriptures for the purpose of sharing the gospel with the nations.
Bryan shared many insightful things about missions, urban ministry, church planting, community, and mission. One thing he mentioned has continued to haunt me: as Christians we do a lot of different things when are really called to do only one thing and do it well — we are to be disciples that make disciples.
As Christians it is easy to get distracted by buildings, staff, programs, strategies, fads, events, budgets, and more. The will of God, however, is simple — go and make disciples. Go to the nations. Go to the neighborhoods. Go to the cities. Go to the companies. Go to the schools. GO!
Among all the things (some of them good and some of them bad) that I am doing, am I doing the one thing I am called by God to do?
When I saw this video I was both convicted and encouraged. Convicted that I am not doing more to obey the call of God and share the gospel with all people; encouraged because God is at work in the world and He has invited me to join Him in that work.
Our church, led by our Jeff Walton (our Children’s Pastor and one of our elders), has been partnering with Creekside Elementary School for the past year. At the beginning of the year the small groups at NRBC provided 60 bags full of school supplies to children in need. Throughout the year the church has provided one-on-one mentors and helped with various school activities. At the recent Creekside Carnival our church provided volunteers as well as various equipment (e.g., snow cone machine, popcorn machine, etc.).
I am so excited that the community sees the value of partnering with our church and I am even more excited that the members of NRBC are intentionally investing in the community. The relationships that have been built in Suffolk, VA will provide meaningful opportunities to demonstrate and explain the good news of the love of Jesus.
This summer I am teaching the young adults at Nansemond River Baptist Church about the “Mission of God” (Missio Dei for those of you who enjoy dead languages). After a brief introduction discussing a Biblical Theology of mission (don’t worry, if “teenagers” can learn trigonometry they can learn Biblical Theology) we are spending the next few weeks in the beautiful book of Jonah. The other night I taught through the first chapter of Jonah.
I don’t want to reproduce the entire discussion but God has really been working in my heart as I study this book. Here are a few takeaways from Jonah 1.
1. Jonah was a faithful prophet as long as God acted like he expected. Jonah, in this story, is not just running away from serving God, he’s running away from serving God where it is hard. This is a hard lesson for me to learn. Jonah hated the Ninevites; they are the sworn enemies of his people. For Jonah, the Ninevites did not deserve a chance to repent. He was nervous that God might actually save them. The questions I ask myself are sometimes hard to answer: Where is it hard for me to serve God? Who are the people that I feel don’t deserve the love and forgiveness of God? Do I value my national loyalties more than the souls of the lost persons around the world? Are their groups of people who I don’t want to hear the gospel? Would I go to a hard place like Iran, Iraq or Indonesia to share the gospel or am I content to see these people die and spend eternity in hell?
2. God sent, pursued, and saved His messenger but the messenger was never the point, it was always about the message.
3. The point of Jonah is not about a whale, it’s about the God of the whale. It’s about a God who rescued a messenger so He could rescue an entire people. The story of Jonah is not about how much God loved Jonah, though He surely did; it’s about how much He loved the Ninevites. The book of Jonah is about an upside-down God showing love and compassion to the last people on earth anyone ever expected.
4. God does not just want to save you, He wants to use you. When God confronts you with the needs of the world around you, it’s not just about Him pursuing you; He is pursuing the lost world through you. When God calls you it is because He loves the world. When He rescues you it is so that you might bring rescue to the world!
If you are a Christian, you are not your own. Christ has bought you at a price of his own death. You now belong doubly to God: He made you, and he bought you. That means your life is not your own. It is God’s. Therefore, the Bible says, “Glorify God in your body.” God made you for this. He bought you for this. This is the meaning of your life
John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life