Evangelism through the church community

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This was originally posted at the North Carolina Baptist Convention’s website, and at the Biblical Recorder. I am leading a breakout session on this topic next week at the REVEAL: Disciple-making Conference.

As church leaders, we all desire to lead evangelistic churches. Proclaiming the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ is central to our ministry and our faithfulness to the mission of God. In my experience, there are two primary strategies for evangelism in the modern American Church. It would seem that local churches lean heavily toward event-based evangelism or a more individualistic approach to evangelism.

In event-based evangelism the idea is, “get the unbelievers to the church event so they will hear the gospel and prayerfully be saved.” The problem is, many church events like this tend to attract Christians from other churches rather than unbelievers. While people should hear the gospel at a church event, they shouldn’t have to come to a church event in order to hear the gospel. Simply put, we should not become dependent on an event to reach the lost.

The individualist approach tends to promote an evangelism that is primarily undertaken in isolation. In other words, individuals are sent out like lone rangers to share the gospel by themselves. Certainly, individuals should present the gospel when the opportunity arises. However, an evangelism strategy that primarily depends on individuals has the potential to crush our people under the burden of carrying out the mission of God on their own.

While there are benefits to both strategies, as we see, there are also a few drawbacks. Something seems missing if these are the only two ways we train our people for evangelism. What if we started to think of evangelism as something that is done in the context of community?

In my experience, it is becoming more and more the case that people are attracted to biblical, Christian community before they are open to the biblical, Christian message. Skeptics need to see the power of the gospel lived out in the context of a Kingdom community.

In other words, Christian proclamation makes the gospel audible, but we also need a corporate witness to make the implications of the gospel visible. The local church “examples” the power of the gospel to those around them. The world should look at the Church and see the gospel interpreted in every day.

Our loving commitment to one another despite our differences and our grace toward one another’s failures are a beautiful testimony to the gospel. True gospel fellowship within the local body transcends the barriers of race, sex, class and education, creating a community bound by the gospel alone.

With this in mind, introducing people into the Church community as a relational network becomes an important part of our being a faithful presence in the world around us.

Now, our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe. Isn’t this what Jesus said in John 13? “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The ongoing witness of a church community is much more powerful than a one-time event. The collective witness of a church family is much more widespread than the impact of one individual.

A Christmas Devotion

simeon holding baby jesus 2One of my favorite accounts surrounding the birth of Christ involved a man named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. During his life, the Holy Spirit promised him that he would not see death until he had seen the savior of the world.

In Luke 2, Simeon was lead by the Spirit into the temple. At the same time, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple. It was forty days after his birth, and he was brought to the temple for circumcision as it was custom according to the law. Luke 2:28 tells us that Simeon took infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said;

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

What a moving moment! As Alexander Schmemann once noted, Simeon had waited his whole life for this moment. Up until this point he was restless, longing for the comfort and salvation of his people. And then, at last, the Christ child was handed to him.

In that moment, he held the life of the world in his arms.

Let us remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. In the birth of Jesus, God delivered on His ancient promise to provide salvation from sin, and eternal life over death.

May we all stop today and thank God that He is a promise keeping God. The Christ child that was held in the arms of Simeon, is the same Christ that would sacrifice his life in order to deliver sinners into the loving arms of a Holy God.

The SBC, Pastors, and Politics

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I was recently interviewed by Christine Wicker for an article titled “Younger Southern Baptists seek a less partisan approach to political engagement”. The piece was originally posted at RNS and The Washington Post picked it up soon after. Here is one quote:

Like a lot of Southern Baptists who are struggling to keep believers and attract new ones, Capps would like to see a “convictional kindness,” an approach that’s more winsome than confrontational.

“This generation is not going to be known for standing outside abortion clinics with picket signs,” he said. “I want us to be the generation that says, ‘We will adopt these children or we’ll stand beside you and help you raise those children.’”

You can read the whole thing here or here. I am thankful for the opportunity to contribute!

I Am The Resurrection And The Life

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This is an excerpt from the sermon I preached this past Sunday at Fairview Baptist Church. You can listen to the whole thing here.

When C.S. Lewis’s wife Joy Davidman died, he picked up his pen as a way to process the pain of death in the book A Grief Observed. One of the most profound comments that Lewis made in his observation was that “No one ever told me that grief feels so much like fear”.

It seems that we all face this fear of death. Death is the greatest problem facing the human race. Death is the one thing that no one has lived to tell about. For this reason, I think Jesus’ claim to be “the resurrection and the life” is one of the most profound and powerful statements concerning His identity.

As we pick up in this narrative, Jesus is well on his way to Jerusalem, knowing that when he arrives he will face the cross. The religious leaders have their search lights out for Jesus, and he is not far away, and the shadow of the cross is in His sights. In this progression toward His own death, Jesus proclaims:

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever.

Note that Jesus doesn’t just give life – He is life. Here is another way to think about it – everything would go on in a similar fashion of you or I were to die. It is not so with Jesus. His life is the necessary life and the source of all other life. Eternal life is so closely tied to Jesus that it is embodied in him and can be found only in relationship to him.

Therefore Jesus words, “believe in me” implies personal trust in Christ, Therefore, genuine faith in Christ is the only thing that brings people into true life. Jesus is literally saying, I am life. I am your only hope. Look to me, life, to find eternal life. Do you believe this? This is the most important question you will ever face.

Let’s return to C.S. Lewis. One of this most moving pieces he ever wrote was not published on paper or in books, but on the headstone of his beloved wife.

Like cast off clothes was left behind In ashes, yet with hope that she Re-born from holy poverty, In Lenten lands, hereafter may Resume them on her Easter day.

There is coming an Easter day for you and I. Jesus will call out for everyone that has believed in Him to come forth. Knowing that Jesus has power over death gives us the confidence that we will not face the full horror of death. This also gives us the confidence to face any enemy or fear. This puts our greatest problems of this life in perspective.

There is no sin too great. There is no circumstance too dark. There is no sorrow too deep, or no situation too bleak. If Jesus has power over death, can we not trust him with ten thousand other cares in this life? Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Jesus will never face death, ever.

A Time To Speak

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Today, December 16th, a panel of Christian leaders will gather at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee to discuss race, the church, and what we can do from here. The Lorraine Motel is a significant location for this event. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed at the Lorraine Motel. Today, it is the National Civil Rights Museum in the United States and will be the host for this event.

Here’s a brief explanation from the event’s organizer, Pastor Bryan Loritts:

“We want to boldy declare there is hope…The grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown has left many in our nation angry, saddened and hopeless…The fact that such heart-wrenching decisions have taken place some 50 years after the civil rights movement have left the children of those who marched in such places as Birmingham and Selma wondering if justice has not only been delayed, but has she finally and permanently been denied.”

A number of well-known Christian leaders will aim to bring their wisdom and love for the gospel in this discussion panel. As Ed Stetzer has said, “We want to listen well, dialogue on the issues, and point to Jesus.” Here are the pastors and leaders slated to take part in this discussion:

  • Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis
  • Trillia Newbell, writer and author
  • Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas-Fort Worth
  • Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis
  • Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia
  • John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary
  • Thabiti Anyabwile, assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
  • Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas
  • Albert Tate, pastor of Fellowship Monrovia in Monrovia, California
  • Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina

The event is not open to the public, due to our location and our limited time there, but anyone can watch online on Tuesday afternoon from 4pm to 6pm CT (5pm to 7pm ET). It is expected to be widely viewed and discussed – so join in. The discussion will be honest and Christlike, and the hope of the panelists is that the viewers will benefit from their time together.

Click here to visit the website. 

The Powerful Story of a Christmas Truce

Perhaps you have heard the story from Stanley Weintraub’s book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce?

In December of 1914 something amazing happened along the Western front during World War 1. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began exchanging Christmas songs across the trenches. Essentially, they were battling each other with season’s greetings, at some points individual soldiers walked across enemy lines bearing Christmas gifts. On Christmas eve and Christmas day both sides agreed to a truce, an unofficial cease fire. These enemy war units ventured into what they called “no mans land”, neutral territory, to share their rations of food and sing Christmas carols together.

What a beautiful picture. Enemy troops coming together under the banner of Christmas. Coming together in peace to celebrate with one another. Just a small taste of what’s to come when Christ returns. As Isaiah 2:4 reads:

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

In a world of chaos and war, where the effects of sin ripple through our lives and our lands – we all long for peace. And every now and then, we catch a glimpse of what is to come.

What is the Meaning of Work?

Here is my latest sermon in our series on Ecclesiastes at The Fellowship

On Reading Books

Al Mohler recently published a helpful article titled “Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books“. Dr. Mohler establishes good guidelines to energize your reading life.

1. Maintain regular reading projects. Mohler strategically reads in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature.

2. Work through major sections of Scripture. Mohler constantly reads works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies as he works through books of the Bible.

3. Read all the titles written by some authors. “Identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development.”

4. Get some big sets and read them through. “Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set…You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.”

5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. Mohler allows some time each day, when possible, for enjoyable/recreational reading.

6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. “Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled…learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.”

Read the whole thing here.

New Book: Michael Kelley’s “Boring”

My friend and co-worker (and fellow fruit flavored candy lover) Michael Kelley has written an extremely helpful book titled Boring. Not only is Michael a good writer, he is also a good thinker. He applies these two God given gifts to challenge our perceptions of everyday average life.

“What if we are looking so hard for these grandiose experiences of significance that we are missing the opportunities for significance right in front of us,” he writes. “What if there is no such thing as ordinary when you follow an extraordinary God?” (8)

In Boring, Michael seeks to reorient the reader to this important and often neglected truth. Too many of us fear that our lives will be ordinary. However, for the Christian, an ordinary life is a paralyzing myth. If you are a follower of Christ – you are the child of a God that is anything but ordinary. The God of the Bible is the God who created, sustains, and providentially directs all things – including the seemingly mundane details of your life. This is not an abstract theological truth that has no impact on your daily activities, but should shape every aspect of your life.

boring-michael-kelleyThe problem is that too many of us miss what God is doing in the valley, because we are longing for the mountain top experience. However, all of us know that the majority of the Christian life is lived in the valley. According to Kelley, “…The truth is that we will all spend 90 percent of our time here on earth just doing life. Just being ordinary.” So, the heart of the problem is not with the routines of life, but with our understanding and expectations of them. Kelley argues that we should reorient our thinking to see the profound nature of our extraordinary God, and how that impacts the activities of daily life.

“What if God actually doesn’t want you to escape from the ordinary, but to find signifi­cance and meaning inside of it?”

The question isn’t whether or not God is present and active; the question is just how aware we are of that presence and activity.

“This greater reality is happening right in the middle of the ordinary people, singing in their off-key kind of way, trying to wrangle their ornery children. In the middle of the mundane there is something of cosmic significance going on…A regular life isn’t just a series of physical times and moment strung together; it’s a progression of being formed into the image of Jesus…Because an extraordinary and active God is there, constantly working, there is no such thing as ordinary anymore.”

Pick up this book and read. Prayerfully, Michael will show you how to see every relationship, every act of kindness, and every moment for what it is: a part of God’s exciting plan for your life.

Together for Adoption: “Why is Your Mommy White?”

The Ministry of Together for Adoption 

Laura and I are so grateful for the ministry of Together for Adoption. Several years ago we attended the national conference in Franklin, TN, while waiting to adopt our son Solomon. If you have adopted, are in the process of adopting, or praying about adopting I would encourage you to attend the Together for Adoption National Conference on October 4-5 at Southern Seminary. If you do attend, prepare to be inspired and equipped for adoption, foster care and global orphan ministry. Here are the details.

Six rich general sessions. Sixty tool-gathering workshops. One breathtaking Story.

In the Bible, Adoption is a story-word. God’s work of adoption within the world is a story that encompasses all of human history, from its pre-temporal beginnings when God predestined us to “adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3-6) to the eventual renewal of all creation (Romans 8:23)—the Day when everything sad comes untrue. From the Apostle Paul’s perspective, Adoption is the redemptive Story that changes everything for us and the fatherless.

Alongside the six rich plenary sessions, our national conference will provide more than sixty tool-gathering workshops led by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, Dr. Randy Stinson, Johnny Carr, Dr. Jon Bergeron, Gerrit Dawson, Susan Hillis, Elizabeth Styffe, and many other global leaders.

Together for Adoption National Conference Details

General Session Topics

  1. The Story Gone Wrong (Mike Reeves, author of Delighting in the Trinity)
  2. Stories of the Fatherless (Dr. Sharen Ford, Manager of Colorado State’s Permanency Services Unit)
  3. The Story Re-Written (Dan Cruver)
  4. Our Lives Re-Written (Mike Reeves)
  5. Stories of the Fatherless Re-Written (Vermon Pierre)
  6. When Everything Sad Comes Untrue (Scotty Smith)

8 Breakout Session Tracks

  1. Stories about Beginning the Adoption Journey (Pre­-Adoption)
  2. Stories from Experienced Adoptive Families (Post-Adoption)
  3. Stories from Experienced Adoptive Families with Special Needs
  4. Stories about Foster Care within Families
  5. Stories about the Orphan Crisis from Experienced Organizations
  6. Stories about Financing your Adoption Journey
  7. Stories about Developing Ministries for Adoption/Orphan Care Movement
  8. Stories about God’s Work through the Theology of Adoption

Download the PDF version of the Breakout Sessions listed according to their Story-Tracks.

See the conference schedule.