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.
I have some friends whose functional savior is romance. They love the emotional porn that is evidenced in popular series such as Twilight. Romantic comedies form their picture of male-female relationships. They write Facebook posts saying that they “can’t live without” such-and-such a person. They give other people the place in their lives reserved only for Jesus. They want so badly to have unconditional love and acceptance from another person. Only God can love completely and unconditionally. Putting that kind of hope in another person will only lead to disappointment. In fact, it’s not fair to the other person. No person can love you like Jesus.
Here are two of the most helpful exegetical exercises that have informed me about the church and its purposes. I would suggest you take the time to engage in these activities.
1. Look up every instance of the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia, church, gathering, assembly, congregation, etc.) in the New Testament. Read the context of each use. The result will be a more healthy understanding of the Bible’s use of church. To understand what a church must do you must understand what a church is. In my mind being precedes doing.
2. In regard to the “community of faith,” each Christian should look up, read, and meditate on the “one another” passages of the New Testament.
Some of the more important preliminary conclusions at which I arrived when I first did this activity?
1. The overwhelming emphasis in the New Testament is on the physical, visible, local church. To say it another way, every Christian is a member of the “body of Christ,” but that body is manifested in a particular place and time.
2. Christians need each other to become more like Christ. There is no place in the Bible for “Lone-Ranger” Christianity. The community of believers is essential for sanctification and edification.
3. The church is the place not only to proclaim the gospel, but (more importantly), to demonstrate the effects of a gospel-changed life. In today’s culture, especially, an authentic demonstration of the gospel is often more important than a precise articulation of the gospel.
As a lifelong resident of Hampton Roads, VA, I have always preferred the scenery of the water (e.g., beaches, rivers, creeks, bays, etc.). Recently I was going through some pictures of my summer in Denver, CO (2004) and was feeling nostalgic for the ice-covered mountains. Denver was such a great city. Some of my friends are planning a move to Denver to plant a church (check out their awesome website). I really enjoyed my time in Denver. It was a very progressive city that had all the accoutrements of a metropolis with the community and charm of a small town. The people were friendly, interesting, and active. While downtown, our team worked with at-risk children, Hispanic immigrants, and the surprisingly large homeless population.
One of the highlights from that summer was a camping trip we took to Rocky Mountain National Park (led by the illustrious and uber-talented James Tealy). During that time I tried my hand at the National Geographic videographer thing… below is a video compiled from that camping trip.
It is disconcerting to be vulnerable on the “interweb.” I am about to share my marital woes with millions of my closest friends. Here goes anyway…
I’ve been thinking a lot about idolatry and my own life. I have a lot of idols (e.g., sports, dreams, job, popularity, friends, etc.). The most dangerous idol I have recently discovered is the one God has called me to love more than myself — my wife.
In my haste to love and adore my wife (which I most certainly do), I have put a lot of expectations on her. I noticed recently that I started to get very terse with my wife when she let me down in even the smallest ways. Their are a myriad of reasons why this is the wrong way to act (e.g., she is the most talented and loving person I know, I act like a jerk way more than she does, she demonstrates sacrifice toward me every day, etc.).
Here is one way that Donald Miller explained it recently:
I realized that for years I’d thought of love as something that would complete me, make all my troubles go away. I worshiped at the alter of romantic completion. And it had cost me, plenty of times. And it had cost most of the girls I’d dated, too, because I wanted them to be something they couldn’t be. it’s too much pressure to put on a person.
That is so true. Only God can handle the “pressure” of demonstrating perfect love. The application of this sentiment is what hit me the hardest. Here is how Miller finished his thought:
I think that’s why so many couples fight, because they want their partners to validate them and affirm them, and if they don’t get that, they feel as though they’re going to die. And so they lash out. But it’s a terrible thing to wake up and realize the person you just finished crucifying didn’t turn out to be Jesus.