Monday, March 22, 2010

Hurry, Pull the Shades!

Saturday morning, a bright and sunny spring day. It's after 10:00, but you yawn as you look out the window and sip your coffee - still in your pajamas, the pattern of lines embossed on the right side of your face by your bedspread just starting fade in the late morning light. A sudden knock at the door shatters the comfortable solitude of your kitchen table. You peek through the living room from around the corner and your palms break into a sweat as you spot two young men in crisp white shirts, paired with spotless black slacks and ties and set off by shiny black name-tags. Oh, no! Did they see me? Shhhh! turn down the TV! Maybe if I just pretend I'm not here, they'll go away.

Has that scene ever played itself out in your home? As I sit here red-faced, I must admit it has played out in mine - and more than once. As I drove home from visiting my parents the other day, I listened to a recording my Dad gave me of a sermon preached in his church almost 40 years ago by the late Dr. Walter Martin - the original Bible Answer Man. You see, the pastor of my parent's Southern California church, concerned by the weakening influence of the Gospel in his community as the Age of Aquarius swept over the nation, resolved that the truth of the Gospel would not be allowed to quietly evaporate in his community without a fight. He arranged to have Dr. Martin be the guest speaker in a week-long series of seminars at the church, all targeting fundamental Christian apologetics and the equipping of believers for evangelism.

As I listened to Dr. Martin's description of the culture of the day and the issues facing the Church, I was amazed when my Dad told me that I was hearing a sermon preached back in 1972! Dr. Martin didn't pull any punches, when it comes to the duty of Christians: The "work" of every Christian, first and foremost, is to believe in Christ, unconditionally:

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:28-29)

Beyond this, every Christian is commanded to share the gospel:

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32 - NASB)

Not only are we commanded to share the gospel, but to be prepared to defend it:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
(1 Peter 3:15-16)

As Dr. Martin relayed a sad account of a woman who proudly described her strategy for dealing with Jehovah's Witness who come to the door - "I pull the shades, lock the door, and pretend I'm not home," he reflected on what a sad commentary that is for an evangelical church that once thundered with so much authority that hardly anyone dared ignore it. He proposed, rightly, that the Christians of today are simply not equipped to defend the gospel. We know what we believe, but we don't know why we believe it. The only way find out is to go back to school. And the only school we need is gathering dust on the top shelves of our bookcases.

As Dr. Martin took his audience through a defense of the concept of the Trinity, I thought to myself, "Hey, this isn't that hard. I could do this!" I can, and so can you. All we need is to do our homework.

One final thought I would leave you with: God isn't interested so much in winning arguments as He is in saving souls. And each and every person we meet is a person Christ died to save.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Can You Spare a Glass of Water?

A friend of mine recently returned from a mission trip overseas. It was a short trip - only about 10 days, but definitely perspective-changing and even life-changing for my friend. The funny thing is, the single most memorable event for my friend happened, not in the mission field, but in the airplane on the first day of the trip! In fact, God began speaking to my friend in a way he never expected before the plane's wheels even left the ground. It happened something like this:

As the time for the mission began to draw near, my friend began in intense study of the message he felt God was calling him to bring to the pastors, elders, and churchgoers in the country he would be visiting. He had learned of the trip rather late, resolved to go, and had spent at least 40 hours over the previous week in direct study for the trip In spite of his efforts, he still felt woefully unprepared for what the trip might bring.

A tall man, my friend had purposely reserved a bulkhead seat on the plane, to give him room to stretch out. As the crew began their preflight preparations, my friend settled into his seat, determined to make the most of the eight-hour flight in last-minute study for the trip. As my friend settled in for the ride, one of the neighboring passengers tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me. I hate to do this to you, but we've agreed to switch seats with a young couple so their family can sit together. Would you mind letting us out?" Great, my friend thought, as he looked up and saw his new neighbors. They had a baby. So much for studying.

My friend immediately noticed something else about the family: They were very obviously middle-eastern. In a post-911 world, you can imagine what thoughts might go through an American's head, sitting on a plane next to a middle-eastern family. My friend had a couple of those thoughts, even pausing to text another friend, joking about "being ready for anything." As the plane took off, my friend brought out his notebook and Bible, determined to study in spite of crying babies or any other distractions.

"Excuse me," an accented voice politely asked, "is that a Bible?"
"Why yes, it is," my friend replied.
"And are you a Christian?"
"Yes. yes, I am."
"I was raised Muslim all my life, and I've never really understood Christianity. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

My friend was thunderstruck, and immediately shamed by the thoughts he had entertained during the preflight preparations. "Of course," he replied. My friend began talking with the young couple , taking them through the story of creation, the history of Israel, all the way through the New Testament, explaining Christ in the context of creation, original sin, and the law. At one point, so engrossed in the discussion that she didn't want to miss a thing, the young woman moved out of her seat and sat on the floor near my friend. Before my friend knew it, seven hours had gone by and it was time to land. Now, I would love to tell you that the young couple accepted Christ as their Lord on the spot, but it didn't happen that way. They did, however, graciously thank my friend, telling him that Christianity made much more sense to them now. They also asked if it might be possible to come see my friend and visit his church. My friend was completely humbled by the experience, as was I, when I heard the story. Two things struck me about my friend's account:

1. There are people out there who are literally thirsty for the Word. Thirsty enough to sit raptly listening to it for seven hours - on the floor, if need be. It shames me to think that sometimes I am itching to get out of my pew at church after just 45 minutes. My friend was so engrossed in his need to prepare for his mission, that he almost missed the mission field in front of him: "I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?" He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 25:43-45).

2. God's will will be done, sometimes with our joyful participation, sometimes in spite of our own misguided efforts. In the grip of the lesson God was patiently teaching him, my friend abandoned his carefully planned sermons the first day of the trip. As the Lord chastised my friend for his pride and haughtiness, my friend realized that what God was showing him was something we all need to hear. Listen to the words Christ spoke to the lukewarm church, the church at Laodicea, a church that had given up living the Christian in favor of playing the Christian: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (Revelation 3:15-19). Words we all need to hear.