“Evangelism” by Mack Stiles

This book was refreshing and simple, and the average reader can read it in less than 2 hours. It was as though Mack had observed all the ways evangelical churches often misunderstand the church’s role in evangelism and then measured these against the biblical emphasis on what the local church actually is and does. Mack’s simple layout and explanations of evangelistic methodology from the Scriptures was very easy to follow.

Anyone reading the book would have difficulty disagreeing with Mack’s direct and sensible statements about the local church. Additionally, I found Mack’s examples and stories compelling. I am not normally a story-guy, usually skipping past these in order to get straight to an author’s arguments, but I found myself celebrating God’s grace in each of these accounts of regular church members living in step with the gospel.

Mack’s basic premise might be highlighted by his statement,

“In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church. We’ve already seen that church practices are a witness in and of themselves. Certainly the church supports and prays for outreach and evangelistic opportunities, but the church’s role is not to run programs. The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism (pg. 65-66).”

Mack articulates elsewhere what the church is and does (p. 70), and I think this might be the very backbone of the book and the culture of evangelism Mack urges throughout. The humble approach Mack took with this book and the sincere application of biblical concepts (church, evangelism, discipleship, etc.) makes this resource fantastic for church leaders and members alike.

I have absolutely no negative critique for this book. It was to the point, heartfelt, thoroughly biblical, compelling, and inspiring. I appreciated Mack’s no-assumption policy with Christianity and his exemplary-ambassador model of evangelistic efforts.

As I mentioned above, Mack’s definition of a local church was extremely helpful. No matter what someone believes about this definition, often the practices of local churches convey something much different. One question Mack forces the reader to consider is, “What is the biblical definition of a local church, and how does this argue for the inclusion of certain practices and the exclusion of others?”

Many churches seem to think that the local church is responsible to create a whole slew of programs and structures by which the members of a given church can feel a sense of engaging their community for the sake of Christ. In effect, however, these programs are much more likely to insulate Christians from the community around them rather than facilitate evangelistic efforts.

Vacation Bible School, outreach events, church excursions, concerts, campus expansions, gymnasiums, coffee shops, community groups, home groups, upward sports programs, and a host of other things seem much more likely to segregate Christians from the outside world rather than create inroads to meet the world with the gospel. Obviously, there can be some examples of things like these encouraging Christian engagement with the world, but a broader observation is what I am making here.

In my own local church context, I have tried to simply let dying programs die and avoid putting anything else in their place. I have also urged my congregation to see themselves as ambassadors for Christ, and I have tried to model gospel conversations for those with whom I spend time during the week. I haven’t done as good of a job at some of the things Mack mentioned, but I plan to remedy this as best as I can.

May God create a culture of evangelism among FBC Diana, and may God help me to be a better example among my church family and in my community.

See this book on Amazon by CLICKING HERE

Paradoxical Christian Growth

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples… These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn. 15:8, 11).

The Christian life is a paradoxical combination of simultaneous striving and resting. Anyone who has ever set out to live in light of Christ’s commands can testify to this enigmatic and exhausting and enlivening experience. On the one hand, the Christian hears the warnings and calls to strive. We are to strive for holiness, for godliness, and for righteousness. In all these, we hear the ultimate call to abide or remain steadfastly in Christ.

On the other hand, the Christian hears the promises of God, in which the Christian may rest. God promises to give life, adopt as sons, lavishly bless all those from among the world. In all these, we hear the ultimate promise that God graciously unites believing sinners to Christ.

While the Bible never explains the mechanics of this relationship, the Bible commonly implores sinners everywhere to rest in the joy-filled promises of God in Christ and to strive to abide in this marvelous Savior. For, God the Father glorifies Himself in the fruit-bearing, in the joy-possessing, and in the persevering of true disciples.

May God help us to both rest in and strive to abide in Christ today.

Loving God and Keeping His Words

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deut. 6:5-6).

Love from the heart may sound like the theme of a Valentine’s Day card, but there is much more for us to consider in such a phrase. It is the expression of love, the authentic and tangible reality of love, in focus here. After all, God directly follows His command to love Him with a command to intimately know and apply His words.

What does it mean for any human to love God? It may mean more, but it certainly means no less than giving God – especially His words – attention and affection. Don’t we listen carefully to the wise words of a loving friend? Don’t we read kind and thoughtful notes from our spouse with great care? In the absence of someone’s presence, we cherish and attend their words. However, God is present with us in and through His words.

God’s words are more than mere instructions; His words are life-giving, healing, invigorating, and enlightening. God’s words are perfect, sure, right, and true; they are clean, pure, desirable, and rewarding (Ps. 19). In God’s words, we may find God Himself (Jn. 1:14-18), and we may gain the great joy of genuine love for the God who made and sustains us by His word (Heb. 1:1-3).

Discerning Truth

Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together” (Numbers 16:11).

Traditions are important to us, whether we know it or not. Traditions are those beliefs and practices that have been handed down to us from those who have gone before. At their best, traditions keep us from stepping too far outside of the boundaries that maintain our stability and order. However, traditions can sometimes give us only an illusion of stability and order without the reality of such things.

Traditions are only as good as the truths which undergird them. If our traditions are based on sound and solid truths from the Bible, then they will be a help and benefit to us. Therefore, it is vitally important that we make an effort to think about the basis or foundation of our beliefs and practices. We must discern truth (i.e. try to objectively evaluate our traditions in light of God’s word) in order to ensure that we are submitting to our good and wise God, rather than rebelling against Him.

If we believe or do something that merely feels right or seems right, then we may find ourselves gathered against the Lord. This would certainly be disastrous. If, however, we ultimately hold to the Scriptures and live according to God’s word, then we will enjoy the blessings of God.

May God help us to be a discerning people, finding our confidence chiefly in the God who gave us His authoritative words – the Holy Scripture.

A Muslim & A Christian discuss belief

From my earliest days as a Christian, when I began to follow Christ out of a personal commitment (due to God’s regenerative work upon my heart and mind), I have enjoyed learning about the doctrines of Christianity. My study of Christian doctrines was and is accompanied by (and largely facilitated by) learning the history of doctrinal development and expression.

Bible-believing Christians have always believed the same foundational things (though great differences have existed in regard to secondary and tertiary doctrines), but they have articulated them in different ways and argued for them against different opponents over time. Whatever else might come from the exchange of ideas, one would be hard-pressed to argue that healthy and thoughtful debate doesn’t benefit everyone in search for genuine truth.

I am a convictional, Bible-believing Christian. I mean to say that I am a kind of 21stcentury fundamentalist. I believe in the virgin birth of Christ, His divinity, His physical death and resurrection, and the exclusive nature of His offering of grace to guilty sinners. These beliefs (among others) compel me to engage those who believe differently with thoughtful arguments and patient dialogue. I do not want to merely build a bunker and survive with like-minded separatists.

To that end, I recently had a conversation with Zahir, a self-proclaimed Ahmadiyya Muslim. His views do not represent the beliefs of all Muslims, just as mine do not represent all Christians. But the exchange was (I think) an honest and helpful dialogue about important beliefs, which form the overall worldviews we each possess.

What follows is part of the phone exchange between me and Zahir. I don’t know Zahir outside of our 3-hour interaction as transcribed below, but I pray that our dialogue might continue and that God might use it to benefit us both. I am making this a public post in order that the exchange might benefit others as well.

Note: Admittedly, the transcript below is from my (Marc) perspective, but I checked each of my recordings of Zahir’s answers with him to ensure an accurate record of his thoughts.

What religion do you associate yourself with?

Zahir: Zahir is an Ahmadiyya Muslim (a brand of Sunni Islam), which is possibly the newest sect of 73 different sects of Islam. Ahmadiyya Muslims understand themselves to be going back to the original sources and teachings (though, of course, Sunni and Shia Muslims disagree). Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the self-proclaimed Messiah in modern times, and his teaching is carried forward by the Ahmadiyya Muslims by the phrase, “Love for all, hate for none.”

Marc: I am a Christian, but I should clarify that label. I understand myself to be in line with historical Christianity that would trace its lineage from the earliest days of the first century – to the teachings and practices of the prophets and Apostles. While there have been many misapplications of Christian belief and practice, I generally find my Christian heritage coming down from those Middle Eastern and Hellenistic Christians who subscribed to the Apostle’s Creed (circa 200 C.E.) and the Church Councils of Nicaea (325 C.E.) and Constantinople (381 C.E.).

From there, I would claim the side of the West at the schism of 1054 C.E., though I do not necessarily endorse the battles or wars that were fought in the name of Christendom. These roots are deep and nourishing for me, but I most easily associate myself with the Protestant church tradition, which began in the 1500s. The Reformers (such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli) understood themselves to be going back to the sources (namely the Bible) for Christian belief and practice. Of the many Protestant denominations, which share this basic heritage, I gladly join with the Southern Baptists (founded in 1845 in the USA, but now has adherents in many countries).

When and how did you become an adherent to that religion?

Zahir: Zahir was born and raised as an Ahmadiyya Muslim, but at an early age Zahir was encouraged to explore spirituality and religious texts (including the Bible and the Quran). Zahir’s father was a very spiritual man, and he was a leader in the home and the community. Through personal study and experiences, Zahir has come to believe a sort of amalgamation of religious teachings, but he claims to be a true Ahmadiyya Muslim.

Marc: My father left my mother when I was young, but my mother taught me some of the basic beliefs of Christianity. She is joined with a different branch of the Protestant churches, the Assemblies of God, but I did not decide to follow Jesus Christ for myself (become a true convert to Christianity) until I was away from home at 19 years old. I was alone in my college dorm room, reading the Bible, when I believed the gospel (the story about Jesus) and trusted in Jesus Christ as my God and Savior.

What would you say are the top 2-3 benefits you get from participating in your religion?

Zahir: One: Zahir claims a direct connection with the creator, without intermediary, including guidance and direction. God is more of a reality to Zahir than his own parents. Dreams of prophets have played a major role in Zahir’s religious experience. Two: Zahir has a relationship with God’s creation. He feels closer to creation and other humans, a connectedness through his religious beliefs.

Marc: Christians may answer this question quite differently if asked, but I believe the top benefits of Christian believers are as follows: (1) gracious favor from God; (2) knowledge of the nature and character of God; and (3) intimacy with God. Christians know, like everyone else, that we are not as morally good as we should be. Christians also know that God is holy and that He will judge all disobedience and immorality.

In the Bible, we learn that God has demonstrated grace towards guilty people by sending His Son (Jesus Christ) to live obediently, die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt of those who would trust Him, and conquer death so that those who trust Him could hope to do the same. Christians know that God should judge them for being guilty, but the Bible teaches us that God offers gracious favor to those who will hear His words and believe and obey.

Once a person believes the gospel (the story about Jesus, as I expressed above), he or she is then a Christian. The Christian who reads the Bible can learn much about who God is and what He is like. As the Christian learns about God, he or she also learns much about himself or herself. The exploration of what and who God is provides both intellectual and emotional stimulation beyond compare.

Moreover, the Christian who studies and applies the Bible’s teaching to everyday life will discover that God Himself becomes known. It is hard to explain here, but the Christian who seeks God in the Bible and lives according to God’s precepts in life somehow comes to know an intimate relationship with God Himself. The Bible teaches that this is the doing of God’s Spirit who comes to live with and in those who believe and follow God’s words.

What does your religion teach about other religions? Are other religions valuable? Are they bad?

Zahir: “There is not a place or people on earth to whom a messenger has not come.” Muhammad is the latest in a long line of prophets, and Zahir believes that even Socrates and Buddha are valuable prophets. Therefore, all religions have value, but some of the modern forms are corrupted. God created all religions for diversity, not for infighting.

Marc: Here again, you will likely get many different answers from different Christians. I will answer by saying that the Bible teaches that God cares very much about how humans live, how humans worship, and what humans think about God. The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself in nature and in the special revelation of the Bible itself. In nature, we may learn much about God, and this includes deductive and experiential reasoning within ourselves.

Therefore, various religions may have some (even many) things in common, because what can be known about God in nature is plain to all who observe it. However, any approach to living, worshiping, or thinking about God that is contrary to or aberrant from what the Bible teaches about such things is not good. The Bible teaches that all humans deserve dignity, respect, and even love; therefore, religious tolerance is perfectly in keeping with Christian belief and practice. But any religious system that would seek to dissuade someone from the clear teaching of the Bible is not to be followed.

What does your religion teach about the afterlife?

Zahir: When a soul is freed from the shell of the human body, it is like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The soul/spirit endures an intermediate stage before the final judgment, and all souls (good or bad) get a taste of a lesser paradise or lesser hell. This state lasts for an undefined period of time that does not necessarily have a direct correlation with the time experienced on earth. All people will have the opportunity to turn to God during this intermediate state. Hell is not eternal, but a place of cleansing, making one ready to enter paradise. Eventually, all people will be in paradise… “even Satan himself.”

Belief in God and doing good are the only necessary prerequisites to entering paradise. Intentionality is the only important matter for judgment so God will judge people according to the light or understanding they had on earth. Zahir seemed to believe that very few people would fit into the category of intentionally wicked people who had any form of judgment to come in the afterlife.

Marc: The Bible teaches that all humans will eventually face God and be judged for all that they thought, spoke, and did in this world. Those who live wicked lives, disobeying God’s laws, will be judged as guilty and suffer the penalty of God’s eternal wrath. Of course, as I said above, Christians know that all humans are guilty of disobeying God’s law, but the hope of the Christian is the gracious favor of God. As I said, Jesus Christ lived a perfectly obedient life, He died under God’s judgment (not because He was guilty, but as a substitute for all who would trust and follow Him), and He conquered death in order to demonstrate that He could do the same for those who believe or trust in Him.

The promise of God is that all those who believe or trust in Jesus will pass from judgment to peace and life everlasting. Despite their guilt, those who believe will avoid God’s judgment because it has already been poured out on Jesus Christ in their place. Therefore, in the afterlife, Christians will enjoy a new creation without the presence of wickedness or evil, in which God Himself will abide with humanity in gracious blessing and peace forever.

What does your religion teach about your purpose in the world or your responsibility to other people?

Zahir: Our primary reason for existence is to recognize God, to meet God, and to unify with God – represent God in the world. The person must overcome individualistic thinking, taking on the “color of the Holy Spirit.” Every person must treat creation with love and respect, looking for beauty and good in the world. Everyone and everything in creation is to be treated as an extension of God Himself. The protection of personal religious freedom and practice is paramount, and Zahir repeatedly affirmed the value of all beliefs from all religions.

Marc: The Bible teaches that Christians must show love for all people, especially for other Christians. The Christian is responsible to live in community and fellowship with other Christians, learning to follow God more faithfully and to love one another more honestly and meaningfully (such as sharing material resources, depending on one another in times of difficulty, and distributing the various responsibilities of life among one another).

The Christian is also responsible to meet the needs of those in his or her broader community (Christian and non-Christian alike) as he or she is able. In many ways, the Christian is to show love for neighbor (such as teaching, maintaining social order, developing healthcare resources and efforts, cultivating food, manufacturing clothing and shelter, and a host of other things) by living as a productive member of society for the benefit of all people. Additionally, the Christian is to show love for neighbor by helping those with some deficiency of a human good (such as food, water, clothing, shelter, companionship, education, social capital and/or the ability to maintain any of these).

Some Concluding Thoughts

I have always enjoyed thoughtful dialogue with those with whom I disagree. Zahir and I discussed more than the questions above, and the topics ranged from biblical textual criticism to the Trinity and substitutionary atonement to personal sinful desire. Zahir was a pleasant and thoughtful dialogue partner, but he and I obviously disagreed at some major points of theology, Christology, soteriology, and hamartiology.

Love One Another

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”(Jn. 13:34).

In poetry, music, theater, movies, novels, and history itself, any observant person can see that humans are obsessed with love. Love intrigues us, it compels us, and it befuddles us. Just as people are fascinated by love, so too people are often unable to define or explain love in any genuinely coherent way. We talk about love as though it were an irresistible feeling, a fleeting charm, and an unbreakable bond. And yet, each of these descriptions contradicts the others.

Like many meaningful concepts in life, God’s word speaks clearly as to the nature and expression of love. But we are often so preoccupied with fantasy that we are unable to consider the beauty and glory of reality. Jesus Himself is offered as the exemplary loving person, and He calls His disciples to love as He did and does.

Far from the romantic imagery of teenaged longings, true and genuine love is robust, textured, and panoramic. Furthermore, there is one place on the planet where God has designed Christ-like love to take its truly expansive shape. In the context of the local church, Christians display the kind of sacrificial, persevering, gracious, radical, and inspiring love that Christ both exemplifies and empowers.

Light in the Darkness

“I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he… Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”(Jn. 13:19, 21).

In Jesus’ final hours, we see Him troubled by the darkness surrounding Him. One of His closest friends betrayed Him unto death, and the devil himself takes on a personal assaulting role. Jesus seems utterly alone and victimized as the night intensifies.

However, Jesus is not merely a passive sufferer. No, right in the midst of this deepest darkness, Christ makes Himself known as the God of light. Moreover, God is revealed in Christ as the truly sovereign ruler of all – even the darkness.

We see the God of the Bible as one who is greater than we ever knew and more awesome than we could have imagined. His power and might extend far past the boundaries we often envision in our finite assumptions. To the watchful eye, God shows His brilliant light in the midst of darkness. For He is the God who forms light and creates darkness, and He is the God who has promised that darkness will one day be no more.