evangelism

Taking the Gospel to Gay Friends

When I wrote my blog at the beginning of December regarding my previous sin of homosexuality, and my many year’s long cover-up, I did so in order to begin a process of healing and honesty between myself, and those I am close to.  For years I had been less than truthful, and I wanted that to change.  I knew that this would be an emotional rollercoaster for me, so by putting it in writing I could work though the emotions and tell my story, while still getting it out to the people who I had not told the truth to.  I had stood before several churches in order to give my testimony (including as I was being voted for as a deacon of my church) and had not told the full truth.  I had also been through an interview process at a church where I held back on my story.  I believed (and still do) that a public lie, required a public truth.

I could never have imagined what would happen with my story.  The day before my post, my total readership was just a handful, and by sharing it on Facebook I could share my story with everyone I knew, and move on.  I thought some people might talk about it, but outside of my very small bubble, nobody would really care.  If anything I might be able to minister more effectively in my local church context, but nothing beyond that.  God had other plans.

My story has spread far wider than I could have possibly imagined.  People all around the world have read my story and many have contacted me to offer prayer and encouragement.  Others though have come from a different position.  One of pain.

They have contacted me because they are hurting due to a previous sin in their lives, and are looking for direction, or simply someone to finally talk to about their hidden sin.  Others have a family member, or friend, who has come out as gay and are wanting advice on how to reach that person, and a few others have contacted me just to let me know they hate me for one reason or another.

I have been touched by people’s trust of me, and their willingness to show their deepest secrets to me.  It is an honor to pray with someone who is desperately seeking the Face of God.  I never could have imagined being used by God in this way, but it is an honor for God to use me in order to help others hurting from a pain I know all too well.  I am always willing to talk, or listen, or weep alongside those who need it.

Most of these questions are deeply personal, and require a one to one response.  There is one, though, that has shown up many times, which I have found many in the church struggle with.  It is the question of how to share the Gospel with their homosexual friend/son/daughter/cousin/parent etc.

Although I understand why this question is asked, I believe it is a fundamentally flawed question.  The people searching for the answer do so out of love for a loved one (or even for those whom they do not know, yet love), but they are missing a proper understanding on what is going on.

What if we instead asked, “How should I reach a liar with the Gospel?”  Or “My friend is a Gossip and I want to get the Gospel to her.  How would I do that?”

These scenarios are silly, but they are the same as the question of the homosexual.  It comes down to a fundamental understanding that all sin is sin.  That all sinners stand equal before the Throne of God, and that the only way to have a restored relationship with God is through the Gospel message.

The way you reach the homosexual does not change simply because the manifestation of sin in their life looks different.

With all of that being said, here are a few tips I have picked up over the years that may be helpful in these situations.

First, see past the self-labeled identity of ‘homosexual’.  See this person as a friend, family member, coworker, or whatever relationship they are to you.  See them for their hopes and dreams.  Seem them for their kindness and pain.  See them for all that they are, and do not let what they do in the bedroom become the box in which you place them.

Second, be open to listening to them as a friend.  Be the ear that they can talk to.  So many people in the community have been deeply hurt in their encounters with “Christians”.  For them, they have no idea if you really are like Fred Phelps or not.  Show them through your willingness to talk, and listen, that you are not like those who are setting out to harm.  Letting them see through your love for them that there should be no fear that you carry a “God hates fags” poster board in your trunk.

Although you may not be able to relate to the one facet of their life, you might be surprised to find out that you can relate deeply on many other issues and struggles.

Next, remember that few have been argued out of homosexuality.  Even if they could, that is not your goal.  You are to point them to Christ.  You are to share the Gospel with them.  As they saying goes, introduce them to Christ, not heterosexuality.  Healing only comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Once the discussion turns to homosexuality (which it usually will) there is no need to try to become the expert on the subject.  If you know the answer, and can say it with love and grace, give the answer.  If you do not know the answer, tell them so and offer to get the answer (then actually get it).  Perhaps offer to do a Bible study together where the two of you study and see what God has to say.  Don’t just focus on studying one sin, though, study John (or another book) together.  Dig in and let the Word of God lead the conversation.

Mostly, though, simply show love and grace in your conversation, and life.  Treat them like you would want to be treated.  Be a reflection of the love of God on your friend’s life, and be patient.  Christ’s love was so unconditional that it was revolutionary.  He dined with people, and spoke with people, and touched people, which no religious leaders at the time would even draw close to.    Show that kind of love.

The key lies in the question.  When asking how to reach one with the Gospel, we need to remember that it is all about the Gospel.  Whatever sin is in a person’s life, it is secondary to the Gospel message.  If a man came into the emergency following a nasty car crash, and was bleeding profusely, yelling about whose fault the crash was, would the dr. stop and argue about the crash?  Of course not.  The crash is a secondary issue to the life of the person.  Once the life has been saved, the secondary issues can be looked at.  This is in no way different.  Whatever the sin in a person’s life is, it is secondary to the eternal value of the soul of the person.  We first give attention to the soul, and if the soul is healed, only then do we begin to worry about the flesh.

Evangelism is not my Gifting

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Over the years I have heard countless people use some form of the line of “Evangelism is not my Gifting” when explaining why they are not involved with evangelism, or have not shared the Gospel recently (or at all).  It is used as the ultimate ‘get out of jail free’ card when the topic of evangelism is brought up and most of the time it works.  It gives immediate evidence that the topic is off limits, and the person making the claim has little wish to discuss their further involvement in evangelistic ministries.  The conversation can move on to other, more comfortable subjects, and evangelism falls away from the conversation entirely.

Does this claim line up with Scripture, though?  Can we honestly say that we have no evangelistic gifting while maintaining a Biblical view of things?

Looking to Scripture, being a Christian goes hand in hand with sharing the Gospel message.  Even in times when sharing the Gospel came with great risk evangelizing was standard practice.  In Acts 8:4 we see that scattered church “evangelizing” everywhere they went.  From the beginning we see that to be a follower of Christ is to be a “fisher of men” (Mark 1:17).  Sharing the Gospel and being a Christian go hand in hand like Kool-Aide and sugar.

It appears that our modern church has allowed evangelism to become consider a giftedness to be practiced by some as opposed to spiritual discipline for all as the Bible shows it to be.  Imagine if people made the same statements in regards to other spiritual disciplines.

“Praying is not my giftedness.  It is best that I leave prayer up to those who God has gifted to do so.”

“God didn’t gift me to read the Bible, but I can encourage those who He did.”

“I would love to tithe but sadly God has gifted me in other areas.”

Because we as a church have allowed evangelism to be considered a giftedness great numbers of laborers have never stepped foot on the field in obedience to the Great Commission.  By calling evangelism a giftedness we are actively working against the prayer in Luke 10:2.

If we correctly understand evangelism as a spiritual discipline though we can begin to take steps to better equip ourselves, and those we serve, to better pursue evangelism.  We can seek accountability with others in this area, just as we do in prayer and reading.  We can encourage each other to be faithful knowing that everyone has the same task before them.  We can work to make this a priority in our lives, just as we do for other important areas.

Understanding the role of evangelism as a spiritual discipline also helps us to better understand the gift of the Evangelist mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12.  We know that God has raised up men in the church who He has called and gifted in this area so that the charge can be led.  Just as God gave the pastor/teacher to the church, he gave the evangelist to reach outside of the church and equip others to do the same.

J. W. Willard

Teaching them all things

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“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” Amen.

Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew 28:19-20 has long been used by much of the church as the drum beat for world missions. Although there are 4 other Great Commission passages, these two verses are more widely used in church than the others (at least in my experience).  The clarity of the message leaves little wiggle room in understanding what is needed to be done.  We are to take the Gospel to the whole world, baptize those who respond with faith to the message, and teach them.

I have read this verse countless times, heard hundreds of sermons on it, and have even preached it myself, and yet today as I looked to this passage something I had not considered before came to mind.

A great deal of ink has been used working to have a greater understanding of what “Go therefore” means, and how it should be applied to the life of the church. Pastors have preached to and pleaded with congregations to obey this Great Commission.  Further ink has been used in regards to teaching, and baptism.  What do these look like, and how do we practice them.  And yet through all of the years, today I realized that I have never seen the teachings of the Great Commission brought fully together.

If the Great Commission calls us to make disciples (win disciples would be a better translation of μαθητευω, but that is for a different post) and it also calls us to teach them, should not we be teaching them to make disciples?  Does the text not demand that the teaching of evangelism must happen?

Methodology of evangelism aside, it appears clear that in order to fulfill the Great Commission one must not only be practicing personal evangelism, but one must also be teaching personal evangelism. If we truly believe that Scripture must be read and taught from its context, there appears to be no way to separate evangelism and teaching.  In fact, immediate context would show that in the teaching of all things evangelism would be at the forefront of things to teach.  The command to evangelize exists inside the same statement as the command to teach all that has been commanded.

So today it hit me, can we call ourselves a Great Commission church if we are not teaching on personal evangelism? Can we call ourselves a Great Commission church if we are not teaching that every disciple of Christ must evangelize in some way?

Matthew 28:19-20 seems to point out that the answer to that question is ‘no’. If we are to follow this command the practice and teaching of evangelism needs to be at the forefront of what we do.  It cannot be a token thing done by some of the church in backrooms once in a great while.  The practice AND teaching of evangelism needs to be front and center.

J. W. Willard

The Power of a Testimony

Many of us spend our lives surrounded by “Christians”.  We go to church with them, we go to school with them, and we even work alongside them.  How do we know they are Christians though?  How do we know they have been bought with the blood of Christ?  How do we know they have confessed with their mouth, and believed in their heart?  Speaking for myself I have to admit that many times I just assume.

Each Sunday I shake hands with many people that I know for a fact are saved, but I also shake hands and talk to people who I don’t know for certain.  I have no idea where they are at spiritually.  They are in church with me (some of them have been for years), though, so I assume that they are in Christ.  Assume being the key word.

Perhaps I am shaking hands with an unbeliever, or a person who has never truly understood what Christ did.  They look pretty, and sound pretty, but if we got down to it perhaps they are coming to church to stay on God’s good side in order to get into heaven.  Those “Christians” at work and school, maybe the same is true of them.  Perhaps some of the Christians we know are simply not saved.

Even though it may be true that we are walking around with some people who are not actually saved, we can’t walk around assuming that the entire church is unsaved, and try to convert all of the Saints.  That would be ridiculousness.  Most of them are.  Yet we have to get to those who are not, in order to tell them what Christ has done for them.  We have to warn them of the coming judgment.

How do we go about doing this though?  How do we go about finding the evangelism opportunities amongst our Christian friends, church family, coworkers, and acquaintances?  How do we transition to a Gospel conversation in situations like this, without driving crazy the majority who know Christ personally?

I have never really known the answer to this, until it struck me today.

We need to share testimonies.

You know.  That amazing story about how God rescued a sinner such as yourself.  The most important moment of your life.  Others have one of those as well, and it’s the most amazing moment of their lives.

Why do we not share these stories with each other more often?  Why do we not ask each other about theirs?  It’s the most amazing moment of our lives, and yet if someone asked me about the testimonies of even those I consider my closest friends, I have to admit that I don’t know them.  For some crazy reason the story has never come up.

If we asked each other the story behind their salvation more often, not only would we knit better friendships with those around us, we would also have the chance to find those who have no story.  The ones who have no idea what you are talking about.  The ones who live in the midst of messengers of Christ, that have never received the message.

And it’s such an easy question.  ‘Could you tell me about the miracle that happened in your life when the God of the universe reached into your heart and changed it forever?’   What a simple question.  Step back and wait though, the answer will blow you away.  I have heard hundreds of salvation stories in my life, and they never get old.  Never.

I plan to start asking to hear more of them.  Perhaps God will use me to reach people so they can have their own story along the way.  If nothing else though, I will get to hear about how God worked some of the greatest miracles!  I will get to celebrate the reason that Christ came to this earth.  To save sinners such as us, so that we can tell others what an amazing miracle He did in our lives.

Naked in the Cold

This morning I woke up and began to prepare to take the kids to the bus stop for school.  I looked at the thermometer and noticed that it was a brisk 16 degrees, and the wind was blowing strong.  According to the news the wind-chill was in the single digits.  Needless to say, it was cold.

In order to go out to the bus stop, even for just a few minutes I put on my thickest coat, my hat with ear flaps and my gloves.  I took every effort to remain warm.  I had my children do the same.  We prepared for the weather that was outside the door.

I never would have thought to go into the cold world naked.  I may not be the smartest man in the world, but I know that going naked into the cold would never work.  If I had, though, I would have rushed back inside almost instantaneously and it would be a long time before I went out again.

You may find this entire line of thought silly, but for most of us this is exactly how we approach Evangelism.  We do little to prepare ourselves during our day to day life, and in a moment of conviction we venture into the cold world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are unprepared for the weather outside the door.

We of course know a couple of verses, and maybe (or maybe not) we say a short prayer before going out, and we can stumble our way though the Gospel message.  If anything deeper than that is required we do not have the tools to engage.  In many ways this is like going into a driving snow storm in shorts and a T-Shirt.  We have some clothes on, but we have not taken the time to fully dress for the weather.

It is little wonder that most Christians share the Gospel quickly and run back inside, regretting going out in the first place.  The cold was so great, and they were so unprepared, it will take them a long time to get the guts to go back out.  If they go back out at all.

Who can blame them though?  If I ran outside naked I wouldn’t go back out either.  In fact, I have to applaud the effort since I know the guts it took to do so were great.  Very few Christians even make it that far.

What would happen though if the Christian daily spent time in deep Bible intake (not just skim reading for mileage), and prayer?   The Christian would then venture into the cold world with a far greater covering.  The depth of the Christians spiritual growth would be the coat, pants, hat, and gloves.  They would be better prepared for the cold world that awaits them.

This doesn’t happen quickly or easily though.  Unlike bundling up for the cold these must be put on over time and they grow in thickness and effectiveness as the Christian grows in the Lord.  The longer the Christian truly practices Scripture intake and deep prayer the better prepared he/she will be for evangelism.  It may still be cold outside, and it probably will still be uncomfortable, but unlike for the naked Christian the job will be possible.

When evangelism is hard, and seems like an impossible task perhaps the Christian should not think that evangelism is too hard.  Perhaps they should consider their devotional life to see if they are practicing it as they should, or even practicing it at all.

We have been commanded to venture into the cold.  We better make sure we are prepared to do so…

J.W. Willard

A Fool for Christ’s sake

As I was going about my errands today I crossed the path of a familiar sight on the streets of many cities this time of year.  People dressed cheaply as the Statue of Liberty, dancing upon street corners, twirling signs, and waving manicly at passing cars hoping to entice others to enter the Liberty Tax office and have their taxes done.  A better way to describe this might be, people being paid almost nothing to dance on street corners in the freezing cold looking like fools. 

As I watched this young man twirl and wave I wondered to myself who would do such a thing.  Who would put aside all pride in order to act in such a way?  Who would do it on a street corner for all to see?  Who would be willing to act this foolish?

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It was at this point that the words of the Apostle Paul come to mind in 1 Corinthians 4:10 when he tells the church that “we are fools for Christ’s sake”.  We are to be so different from the world around us that it would appear as foolishness.

Lest we think that this is an isolated idea the apostle makes several other mentions of the foolishness of not only who we as Christians should be but of the message we preach as perceived by the world around us.

  • “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
  • “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)

As I look into the church today I see very little of this foolishness.  The Gospel is of course the same in true Bible preaching churches and it is still foolishness to the world around us.  The Christians who have entrusted this message though appear far from foolish.  In fact, most Christians I know, myself included, are hard to distinguish from the world.  We are ‘good’, moral people in appearance but no different than the ‘good’ lost people around us.  We, as individuals, are no longer boldly proclaiming the message and doing whatever it takes to see others saved.

My prayer is that we would no longer be chameleons to the world, but instead our words and our actions would make us stand out.  I pray that we would boldly proclaim the Gospel to the world in every way possible.  That we would truly be fools for Christ’s sake.

Of course, a note must be inserted here that we are not to be ridiculous simply for the sake of being so.  We should not do foolish things simply to look foolish.  We should instead focus on being unashamedly, and boldly proclaiming Christ’s message to the world, despite what people may think of us for doing so.  We should not worry what the neighbors, or the family, or the friends will think.  We just do our job to be faithful to the Great Commission.

The church needs to stop blending in as pedestrians walking along the street of life.  Instead we need to take our cue from the Liberty Tax man and do whatever we can to entice as many people to safety inside.  There is no hope apart from the Gospel, and we have been entrusted with that message.  Let’s get foolish and proclaim it!

J.W. Willard