Friday, 1 July 2022

CLOSING THE DEAL

 

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

 

WHAT IS EVANGELISM?

As a young Christian I soon developed a burden for the lost. I began street-witnessing in Geelong as a teenager, going out every Friday night to hand out gospel tracts. Around 1984 I travelled around Australia street-preaching. As the call of God on my life became clearer I knew that I had to undertake formal theological training. It was during this phase when I enrolled in an evangelism course that I discovered that “What is evangelism?” was not a straight forward question. Was evangelism just preaching the gospel? Could this preaching really be considered evangelism if the gospel was not presented very clearly? Could it be considered evangelism is no-one ever came to Christ as a result? Did it necessarily involve preaching?

I even came across scholars who argued that evangelism could be done without preaching or even inviting people to turn to Christ. These scholars would cite Francis of Assisi whom they claim had said, “Everywhere you go, preach the gospel—and if you have to—use words!” (I have since discovered that Francis said nothing of the sort!) While there is merit to letting our light shine by doing good deeds that help others (Mat. 5:16) as a means to reach out to them, it was not what Christ taught was the means for sharing the gospel. God has ordained that the gospel necessarily involves the use of words. In fact, we might consider our charitable works as pre-evangelism.

 

WHAT IS PRE-EVANGELISM?

In Christ’s parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-9) He described four types of people: those whose hearts were either – hardened like a well-worn path, full of rocks, riddled with thorns, or well-cultivated good soil. How do we turn a hardened-hearted person into a well-cultivated-hearted person? While there’s no magic formula, it at least involves being courteous, kind, and generous (note 1Peter 2:122Cor. 8:219:13Phil. 2:15Titus 2:8Mat. 5:16). It often also involves patiently answering objections and questions (1Peter 3:15) which is referred to as apologetics (which means giving answers). And perhaps the most challenging of all, undoing the hurt caused by hypocritical Christians by re-building trust so that a person can distinguish the message of Christ from the person who claimed to follow Christ but did not do it sincerely. Unless we cultivate a person’s heart by a clear demonstration of our love for and commitment to Christ, we will never be able to close the deal in persuading a person to turn from sin and turn to the Saviour.

WHY EVANGELISM?

Based on the Parable of the Sower, evangelism can result in someone accepting or rejecting Christ’s offer to bear their sin, guilt and shame and mediate for them to adopted by God the Father as child of God with full inheritance rights. For a long time I wondered why God would bother using His redeemed people as His messengers of this infinitely valuable offer. After all, I had reasoned, wouldn’t people be more inclined to accept this offer if God Himself appeared to them to make this offer? Sadly, I have since discovered, God Himself did appear and make this offer to people—but He was still rejected by them (Jn. 1:10-11)! I eventually came to realise that God in His wisdom has ordained that this offer of salvation must be accepted with humility which requires that it is delivered by another frail but redeemed human being.

God created mankind as His image bearers who enjoy certain divine prerogatives including the ability to choose whether we will be loyal to Him or not. This unfortunately was why mankind originally fell from innocence into the bondage and deception of sin. But the wages of serving sin as your master is eternal condemnation and irrevocable separation from God (Rom. 6:23Rev. 20:12-15). Yet God has ordained that it is in the proclamation of the gospel (the good news which announces the means by which a person can be redeemed from their slavery to sin) that a person can be saved from their sins and set free from a life of bondage to Satan. God implores all people to turn to Him to satisfy the deep thirst of their soul—but He necessarily uses His humble people to summon people to turn to Him and to call them to repentance and to close the deal by accepting His offer now.

WE WORK AS AN EVANGELISM TEAM AS A CHURCH

We can all contribute to the evangelism of our friends, neighbours, family or work colleagues. Our consistent, authentic, sincere following of Christ is foundational to this. Our acts of selfless kindness, the hallmark of a true follower of Christ, can begin the work of softening a hard heart which may lead them to Christ as their Saviour. Our contribution might also be our invitation to our friend or family member to come and hear the gospel in a church service or special evangelistic meeting. The person who accepts this offer may experience a warm welcome from the members of the church’s congregation that their heart is deeply touched. Our combined prayers for those who do not yet know Christ can result in extraordinary miracles of conversions is another way we can support each other in evangelism. But our evangelism ultimately must be proclaimed with an appeal for people to turn from their devotion to their sin, to being fully devoted to Christ. Only then, will they have accepted God’s gracious offer of mercy can we say that we have now closed the deal and successfully evangelised.  In the closing verses of the Bible

What’s holding you back from turning to the Saviour to receive His offer of forgiveness for your sins? Will you receive Christ as your Lord and Saviour? If you were to die now, would you have the assurance that you would enjoy peace with God for eternity? Will you now ask God to forgive you and have His way in your life? These are all questions to be asked to close the deal in evangelism. What’s the “deal”? The deal is what has often been described as The Great Exchange. We exchange our brokenness and shame for God’s forgiveness and a new life as His son or daughter. It’s that simple. It starts by accepting the truth. It then causes us to ask God for His gift of salvation. It results in us accepting His offer and living a life of gratitude toward God for what He has done by sending His Son to die in our place, rise from the dead for our redemption, and ascend back to the Father to secure our inheritance with Him. C.S. Lewis concluded Mere Christianity with these deal closing words:

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871But there must be a real giving up of the self…The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life…But look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
MERE CHRISTIANITY, pages 226-227

Amen.


Your Pastor,

Andrew

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Friday, 24 June 2022

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

 


The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build a moody church.

¶ Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

 There are three things essential for any Christian to have in their spiritual foundation with Christ as their cornerstone (Acts 4:11Eph. 2:20). Firstly, a devotion to know, understand, and apply God’s Word. Secondly, a devotion to prayer – to know, obey, and love God. Thirdly, a devotion to a Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, Word-based, church. The enemy of our soul continually seeks to undermine each of these foundational sources of our spiritual strength. This undermining is nearly always done subtly and barely without the believer even noticing what is happening.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.
First Peter 5:8-9a


THE ROLE OF FAITH FOR A CHRISTIAN

The Apostle Peter told the young Christians of Bithynia to “stand firm in your faith” (1Pet. 5:9a). Some critics of Christianity assert that faith is “believing things that are not true.” You either have facts or you must have faith, they claim. But this is not true. Faith, including the Christian faith, is not mere wishful or fanciful thinking. As if J.M. Barry’s famous line from Peter Pan – “I do believe in fairies” – could ever make the existence of fairies reasonable.
Faith is always grounded in reasonable evidence. Faith is trusting that evidence. Life is therefore not possible without faith. We have faith that the road we have driven over hundreds of times – or on the road we have never driven over but others have driven over hundreds of times – will not collapse under us as we drive over it. We have faith that when we sit on our favourite chair it will hold us. This functional faith is grounded in good reasons and so is Christian faith.
The Apostle Paul described Christian faith as being based on facts and good evidence – particularly for the physical resurrection of Jesus the Christ. If Christ was not raised from the dead then there is no salvation from sin for anyone. If this was the case, then life itself would be meaningless (“vain”). This is how he stated it:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
First Corinthians 15:13-17

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, that if someone was not persuaded by the evidence for Christ and His resurrection, then they should not accept Christianity:

“Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in.”
Mere Christianity 2017 (1942), pg. 140

Perhaps surprisingly, C.S. Lewis states that even the person who has become convinced by the evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian message is still susceptible to fall away if something separates them from the three essential faith-sustainers. You would be forgiven for thinking that he is referring to the devil. After all, Lewis was very aware of the devil and his schemes to undermine the believer’s faith because he wrote a book about it, The Screwtape Letters. But he is not talking about the devil’s direct attacks as the most dangerous peril to be faced. Rather, Lewis describes our moods as our greatest peril to being established and flourishing in our faith in Christ.

But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true.

Lewis was not dismissing the inevitable doubts that creep into a believer’s mind. He wrote, “Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments when a mere mood rises up against it ” (140). He goes on to say that the way to tame our moods so that the enemy can not exploit them, is to tame them by disciplining them in the three essentials for the Christian journey: God’s Word, godly praying, and commitment to God’s House.

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes…That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

This is why a commitment to attending church is essential for maintaining a vibrant faith in Christ. Is it necessary for a Christian to attend church? When we understand just how influential our moods are to our walk with Christ, we might phrase this question differently. How does neglecting church effect our mood to continue in the three essentials for Christian growth? Lewis states:

“The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life.”
Pg. 141

For any church to grow and be healthy, it needs members who have learned to tame their moods, which Lewis describes as telling them “where to get off”! He states in very straightforward language why the believer needs to tell their mood to get used to the idea that they would now be going to church, rain, hail, or shine. “We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed” (141). 


A MOODY CHURCH

A church is comprised of those believers who have tamed their moods to delight in the things that Christ says are good for their souls. It is in the regular devotion to God’s Word that we are reminded of the truth. It is in regular devotion to praying that we are reminded of God’s presence. It is in regular devotion to church that we, encouraged by our worship, the ordinances of communion and baptism, and the ministry of God’s preached word that we are taught and encouraged in our understanding of and walk with Christ. This is what I mean by building a moody church. (And I apologise to all my brothers and sisters in Chicago who already attend “Moody Church” in honour of the great evangelist D.L. Moody.)

¶ Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:13-18

Your Pastor,





Andrew


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Friday, 17 June 2022

PRAYING PRAYERS

 PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

¶ Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1

WHAT IS PRAYER?

Put simply, prayer is talking to God. It can be done by speaking audibly to God. It can be done silently. It can be done in writing. For those who do not understand what prayer is, it is – at least what they think is – a way to make God do what they want. While it is true that we can submit our requests to God in prayer (Phil. 4:6), true prayer actually begins by submitting ourselves to God first (Rom. 12:1). The person who begins to pray by telling God what to do is bound to be disappointed with God when they eventually discover that it is God who wants to tell them what to do! Perhaps this is why “unanswered prayers” is offered as one of the main reasons why atheists do not believe in God (even though it reveals the gravitational pull on every human soul to seek and connect with God).

Prayer is a mystery. Why does the all-powerful Supreme Being invite us, His creatures, to have direct access to Him through prayer? This is astounding! But even more astounding is that He invites us to share in His government over our world through prayer to Him! Notice the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer:

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:9-10

It is almost like the parent who has not only provided their growing child with a comfortable bedroom in a comfortable family home that they can call (and to some extent, make – by their decorations and furnishings) their own, who then must ask their child for permission to enter. Even after they have told their child to tidy their room, the parent still enters after their child has left for school and does the last of the tidying up that their child didn’t notice (and still doesn’t even afterwards). There are times of course, when the child may be overwhelmed by the task to tidy their room. In those moments they may call out to their father, “Can you help me?” I sometimes see this as being like our prayers to God. He has given us our lives; He has given us our world; He has told us to keep them tidy; and, there are times when it is just too overwhelming to do it. It is in these times that we call out to Him for help. And just as our earthly parents love to help their children, our heavenly Father loves to help His children who call out to Him for help. 

Our prayers express our trust in God. When we pray to God we are acknowledging our dependence upon Him. The highest prayers we can pray sound very similar to the highest prayers ever prayed which were recorded by the Gospel writers, Matthew (Matt. 26:39) and Luke, who recorded what Christ prayed just prior to Him entering into His suffering for the sins of the world:

[Jesus knelt down] saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

This is the greatest example of a prayer ever prayed. It models exactly what prayer is about – 

  1. surrender to God “not My will” (this is the essence of worship); 
  2. trust in God “but Your will be done”;
  3. talking to God “Father…”; and 
  4. then submitting a request to God “remove this cup [of suffering] from Me.”

 

HOW NOT TO PRAY

Jesus taught His followers how not to pray. 

¶ “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.¶ “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Matthew 6:5-7

Praying is talking to our heavenly Father. It is not done merely to impress others. Jesus called this type of praying hypocritical. It is not a matter of having the right words, more words, long words, or even many words. Our praying should come from our hearts to God. Because praying is firstly an act of our surrender to God, we do not pray with a tone of telling God what He must do or how He is to do it. When we pray, we are not talking to the devil or any evil spirit – we keep addressing our heavenly Father when we pray. And when we are praying we are addressing the Only One who declares and decrees what will be, therefore we do not declare to the air what things must happen or how they are to happen.

 

PRAYING LIKE JESUS

Jesus praying.Jesus spent time by Himself and prayed for certain people. This is remarkable. Jesus told Peter that He had been praying for him that his faith would not fail and that after he had been restored he would be able to strengthen his fellow disciples (Luke 22:32). How much more then, should we be praying for one another? When Jesus reached the tomb of His dead friend Lazarus, His praying for this moment had all been done. Thus, His prayer before raising Lazarus from dead was remarkably short:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.”When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11:41-44

It’s also amazing to me that as well as Jesus praying for Peter – and each of His other disciples (John 17:9-11) – He also prayed for all future believers yet-to-be-born!

¶ “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.
John 12:20-21

This tells me that I can pray for my great great great grand-children who are yet to be born to love God and walk after Him with all their heart. It also tells me that I can pray for our church family who, in two or three or four hundred years time, will be a witness to their community just as we are being a witness to ours now.

And He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.
Luke 10:2

Jesus often spent time on His own praying (Luke 5:166:129:1811:122:41). He prayed for the will of God to be done and taught His disciples to do the same (Matt. 6:10). Perhaps this may mean that praying to God does something profound to us in the process. Quite possibly, praying for God’s will to be accomplished in the earth transforms our hearts and minds to be conformed to God’s will in the process. If this is the case then it might be worth our while examining the prayers that were prayed in the Bible – particularly by Jesus and His apostles as recorded in the New Testament epistles. By praying these prayers we may also become conformed to them and discover two beautiful things. Firstly, our hearts enter a rest with our Saviour even in the midst of any turmoil we may be encountering. This is what we see Jesus doing in Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed. Secondly, our souls find peace with God as we openly and transparently commune our petitions to Him and ask our Daddy to join us in our moments of overwhelming mess to help us to clean up what we could never manage on our own. This is why we should pray these prayers. Let’s pray.

Your Pastor,

Andrew

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