This week’s Reading Between The Lines.
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Abraham is fearful in Genesis 15.
He’s fearful when life has gone well.
He’s fearful when life has gone badly.
He’s fearful when he’s unsure whether life will go well or badly.
At every turn the Word of the LORD meets him to overwhelm those fears with fresh promises of Himself.
Fear is when life overwhelms us
Faith is when Christ overwhelms us.
LISTEN to hear how Christ overwhelms our fears with more of Himself
I’ve just been asked my thoughts on evangelistic events. Four things spring to mind:
1. If an event is basically a social mixer so that Christians and non-Christians rub shoulders there is a problem here. And the problem goes deeper than the fact that the gospel may be sidelined on the night of the event. The problem is that Christians often don’t socialise with non-Christians unless there’s an evangelistic/pre-evangelistic event put on by church. In other words, they don’t feel able to get out into the big bad world and enjoy life with non-Christians until or unless their Christian leaders give them explicit permission. That’s a big issue in church life. And maybe less events (of all kinds) would actually free people to do more evangelism.
2. I often find that Sunday mornings are the easiest events to invite people to. Other events which we hope might be stepping-stones can be equally, if not more, off-putting to non-Christians. You’d be surprised how many people might be up for giving church a go. Remember Sunday is where the action is!
3. Having said all this, I definitely still believe in events. Because the gospel is an event. And conversion is an event. Sometimes, when people talk about evangelism, they speak in terms of “processes” – they tell you the number of times someone needs to hear the gospel before they’ll convert, they’ll big up the importance of building trust and doing life and loving on people. The thing is, conversion is crossing from death to life. And an event at which Christ is offered and unbelievers are confronted actually mirrors the nature of the gospel we claim to believe. Such events bring people to the event they must consider. So events can be very good ways of serving what we say we believe.
4. If you are going to put on an event, work backwards from the end result you want. If you want folks trusting in Jesus then you better give good time and space to the gospel message. And that better be undistracted time and space. When you work backwards from there you might find yourself designing quite a different event. If you simply want Christians and non-Christians mixing, having a good time and gently leading people on to ‘the next thing’, then, fine, put on a pub quiz and have a 5 minute talk before the results are announced. But if you want people to really consider Christ then clear a space for a talk in undistracted space. I prefer interview testimonies followed by a talk or a ‘meal with a message’, but whatever you do, begin at the end. Imagine the talk you want your friends to hear. Imagine what you want to happen as the speaker draws to a close. Now work backwards.
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If you had been here my brother would not have died.
If you’d tried.
Were you otherwise occupied? Hands tied?
Or did you hide? Maybe biding your time? For what?
A deeper challenge, a grander entrance, a brighter glory, a better story?
“The nick of time” is a good story.
That would do.
11th hour, you’d come through.
Midnight you were due.
Now it’s half past two.
Where were you?
If you had been here he would not have died.
You were meant to ride on your white horse, enter the fray, the dragon slay, save the day.
Did you hear us pray?
Did you want it this way?
If you had been here to stop him dying…
Why are you crying?
You’re meant to be death-defying,
now you’re sighing at the tomb, decrying mortal ruin.
Why in God’s name are you queueing for the same?
You’re commander in chief, we demanded relief, but you landed beneath all our sorrows and grief.
Now it’s you on your knees empty-handed, bequeathing us none of our pleas.
Is this what you chose? To bring only tears? We’ve got plenty of those!
Why are you here?
You say: “To draw near.”
Then you sink like a stone past the brink of the chasm we desperately fear.
In darkness enfolded, our terrors you shouldered, while pierced by the nails and the spear.
You have been here.
You’ve stooped far below all depths that we know, engulfed in our weeping and woe.
Submerged in the grave, then risen to save, upending assumptions we’d made.
If you had been here,
the way that we’d prayed,
we’d only succeed in sorrow delayed.
We’d only evade the reaper for now,
But soon we would bow,
Soon we’d be ploughed in the ground, with no-one to plead.
through you, death’s a gardener and we are the seed.
And this is the path Resurrection decreed.
If you will be here,
drawing near, that will do.
For now to know you in your grace we can face what is true.
“As in Adam the world dies, so in Christ all WILL arise.”
When you appear – and my brother too -
When you wipe away tears,
when darkness clears,
when mourning has cheered
and joy swallows fear.
Through all our years,
here’s how we’ll cope,
this our sure hope:
You will be here.
Last month I was helping out with a number of student missions. One mainstay of the university mission is a “lunch bar.” The Christian Union provides free food, there’s a talk (often with a provocative title) and then the speaker fields questions.
I was not the lunchtime speaker at the last mission I helped with so I got to sit in the audience and watch. What I learnt at those lunch bars has stayed with me because it has implications that go far beyond the student world. Here’s how it unfolded…
The talk titles for this mission were fairly provocative and the Q&A session was facilitated by a roving mic which the questioners held to command the room. Those two facts led to an interesting and perhaps predictable dynamic. Only certain people have the confidence to take the mic and therefore if it’s a particularly hot topic, you are in for a spicy 10-15 minutes at the end.
What happened pretty much every day was that we had a number of Christians from the CU, a number of guests of those Christians, some randoms who came for the food and some randoms who came for the hot topic. We then heard an excellent talk which tried to honour the question but which was basically a presentation of Jesus in 20 heart-warming minutes. Then the questions came. Invariably those who self-identified as unbelieving took the mic first and asked pointed questions. Every now and again a genuine enquirer was brave enough to ask a question on topic, but not often. And by the time our hour was up, we’d gotten well and truly off the beaten track into the realm of “Old Testament genocide” or some other subject equally far from the set topic.
Once the official time was up though the temperature in the room cooled significantly. We would turn to our neighbour and almost invariably their reaction to the event was:
“Hadn’t thought about any of that before.”
“My granddad died last month and it’s made me wonder.”
After every lunch bar we’d have sensational conversations – about the John’s Gospels given out, about the talk, about random “religious questions” they’d always wanted to ask. Very little mention was made about the Q&A and if there was conversation about it, the number one impression they got was how the speaker reacted to the angry questioners. Very few could even remember what was said, even though it was just minutes earlier.
And here’s what I’ve been thinking ever since: Don’t be cowed by the angry questioner with the mic. He doesn’t speak for the room and “refuting” him isn’t the goal. We can try to respond thoughtfully sure. But our deeper goal is to engage graciously and our ultimate priority does not lie with the mockers. They sneered in the Areopagus (Acts 17) and they will sneer today. So what? Paul preached, some sneered, some believed, Paul moved on. Let the sneerers take the hindmost.
How often are we intimidated by those who have the microphone – those who speak loudest in the media – those who set themselves up as spokespeople for the culture? We could spend all our time fretting about the messages that dominate the airwaves. We could waste our days wishing to wrest the mic from others or fantasizing about how we might refute them publicly with devastating smack-downs. Or we could just get on and preach the gospel, ignore the sneers – they will always come – and engage our neighbours who just aren’t where the sneerers are at.
Don’t be deceived – the guy on the mic does not speak for the room. Those in the media do not speak for your friends. Preach the gospel, turn to your neighbour and let’s engage those conversations – the fields are still white for harvest.