Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why Does the Left Hand Know What the Right Hand is Doing?

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
Jesus, in Matthew 6:1-4

This blog post has been something I've been thinking about for a long time. I had a dear brother in the Lord come to me, asking me about this verse, in light of this ministry, things like this blog, and talking to others about what we're doing in witnessing. That conversation blessed me so much, because I think few people in the body of Christ are willing to go to a brother and say, "I see this in your life, but the Scripture says that. Can you help me to see what's going on? Because I care about you."

I've been thinking about this passage in light of what God has called me to do for a long time, actually. And I feel it's important to address it.

When I was a person who didn't give a thought about God, living my life and just doing my own thing, God used a kiwi named Ray Comfort, and a teaching called Hell's Best Kept Secret to save me from an eternity of Hell, apart from Him forever.

In Hell's Best Kept Secret, Ray talked directly to my conscience, in a way that no one had ever done before. Growing up Catholic, I was familiar with the 10 Commandments. I wasn't familiar, though, with the fact that God is Holy, and demands perfection in word, thought and deed. As Ray walked me through the commandments, I had to admit that I was a liar, a theif, and a blasphemer. God sees the heart, so in His eyes, I'm an adulterer because I've lusted. I'm a murderer because of the intentions of my heart when I call someone a bonehead or a moron. In short, I was guilty as sin, and for the first time in my life, I knew that if God gave me justice, I would end up in Hell.

It's at that point that the cross made sense to me. Jesus said, "It is finished." He stepped into my courtroom and paid my fine - a legal transaction that allowed God to be both just in punishing my sins and merciful because Jesus paid the price in my place. I don't remember the exact day, but on that day I was born again. I was given a new heart, with new desires to please God, worship God, read His Word, and live for Him and enjoy Him.

As I began to grow in the Lord and discover the works He had prepared for me to do, I discovered that He had gifted me with certain gifts and motivations, just like He has done with everyone who's a member of His body. My motivation for ministry is exhortation, and specifically evangelism. Everyone is called to evangelize, but God has called me to a life of preaching the Gospel. I have no doubt.

In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul talks about gifts He's given to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The job of these people, in relation to the body of Christ, is to equip Christians for ministry. In the words of my pastor, "If God has called you to do something, you can do nothing else."

He has clearly called me to be an evangelist, and He has affirmed that calling many times. Even when I sat on my duff for years and did nothing for the Lord, I knew what God has called me to do. Am I the most eloquent person in Lafayette? Certainly not. Do I have all the answers? No way. In fact, I hate starting conversations with total strangers. Dread it. Sometimes, like yesterday, I even get the shakes at the thought of it. But God has called me to be an evangelist, and I can do nothing else. I can run, but like Jonah, God will catch me and have His way. So why bother running?

Which finally brings me to the point of this blog. Now, we've begun recording our conversations. A fair question is: didn't Jesus say to do your ministry in secret? Why does everyone need to know how "spiritual" you are by witnessing? Shouldn't you just do it unto the Lord, and get your reward from Him, instead of seeking the praises of men?

In this passage (when you read it in context), Jesus is addressing a heart issue of spiritual pride. Now, only God knows my true motivation. If I'm announcing my ministry so that everyone thinks I'm a super spiritual dude, than I have my reward. At the judgment seat of Christ, my motives will be clear for all to see.

Jesus is warning against doing ministry to be seen by men so that they will praise you for your efforts.

So what is my motivation, then?

To equip the body of Christ, in the same way that I have been (and continue to be) equipped.

You see, not everyone is called to spend their Saturday talking to strangers about eternity. But every Christian knows someone that needs the Gospel. And they will not hear without a preacher, no matter how winsome your character, holy your life, or joyful your heart is. Your life is not the Gospel. Your life ADORNS the Gospel.

I was equipped to share my faith by watching videos like these and listening to people like Mark Cahill, Ray Comfort (, Kirk Cameron (witnessing to gang members here), and Todd Friel articulate theirs. Instead of telling me how I should do it, they showed me how it works in real life conversations with real people.

So maybe, by listening to our conversations, someone will hear an answer, or a question, or something that answers an objection they've faced that challenges their faith. Or maybe it helps someone to understand how to clearly articulate the Gospel.

You think most Christians can clearly articulate the Gospel? Here's a challenge: ask 5 Christians you respect this question: "I've got a knife in my back. I've got 3 minutes to live. Tell me what I must do to be saved." If your experience is like mine, when you ask this question, you'll be surprised at how few people can clearly articulate their faith.

Maybe a question I answer is the question that's been burning on your heart. Or maybe it's a question your best friend asks you. Or your mom, or your husband or wife, or your kids, or someone else you care deeply about, and our conversations equip you with help in that area.

I don't have all the answers. I sometimes stammer and stutter, and don't know what to say. I sometimes even make a fool out of myself.

But I learned (and continue to learn) how to share my faith through practice (getting into as many conversations as I can) and through listening to witnessing conversations from others.

Mark Cahill tells a story in "One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven" about a prostitute he picked up. He paid her for 15 minutes of her time, and drove around sharing the Gospel with her, then dropped her back off at the same spot.

Question: Does she need the Gospel?

Another question: what would most of the Christian church think about what He did?

Another question: What does Jesus think about what He did?

I want people to be encouraged to share their faith. I want people to know how to articulate their faith. I want people to know that there are answers to the tough questions. I want people to know that if I can do it, you can share your faith too.

That's why I do this. And if I lose some reward in Heaven, but one person is encouraged to be bold for Jesus Christ, it's worth it to me. I want to encourage, equip, and stir up the body of Christ to share their faith.

The only horn I want to toot is Jesus Christ. I have nothing to offer except my Jesus. But I want to point people to Him any way I can.

I can guarantee you this: I will make mistakes. I won't do it perfectly. Critique these conversations if it helps you to learn something. But I learned from hearing others share their faith.

My motivation is making Jesus known, and helping others to make Jesus known.

It's what I've been called to do. I can do nothing else.

Edited to Add: At the beginning of Mark Cahill's video (linked above), he says something important that I want to echo: You don't have to do it the way I do it. I do this to give you a couple pointers or ideas that will help you in your witnessing. Well said, and I felt it was important to add that here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fishing Report: Mitch's Problem and Our Problem

It was a rare Sunday fishing trip on August 1, as we headed out for a rare late afternoon trip to speak with folks about eternity. We normally go on Saturday mornings, so it was hard to know what to expect.

We went to the local park we usually go to, and there was hardly anyone there. Not surprising, since the heat index was about 108 degrees. We did, however, find a nice gentleman to speak with.

His name is Mitch, and he's 82 years old. He lost his wife 4 years ago, and has COPD. The biggest challenge with Mitch was getting him to care about eternal things. Each conversation is surprising and different in its own way. Here's a man who's no doubt facing eternity very soon, and his fate will be sealed for all eternity. Yet no amount of pleading, explaining, or illustrating could get him to care. Nathan presented the Gospel to him, but he really didn't care. I'm not sure it mattered a lot what we could've done.

Charlie and I had a bit of a different mindset. We wanted to plead with this man until he had some feeling of concern, or leave him to think about it. After the conversation, we had a long talk about, basically, our biggest problem - getting on the same page.

The closest we came to a solution - so that 3 people aren't dragging the conversation in 3 different directions - is to resolve to each take a conversation while the other 2 prayed and kept (mostly) silent. At this point, time was short, so we were off to find some more fish. The next conversation was mine.

As it turns out, we approached 2 people who go to a local church here in town (the same church as our frisbee golfers last time). They said they were Christians. I told them, "OK, I'm putting you on the spot. I've got 3 minutes to live, I've got a knife i my back. What must I do to be saved?"

For 30 seconds, they him-hawed nervously, fumbling for the words, not knowing how to respond.

"I've go 2 and a half minutes left! What must I do? Hurry!" I challenged.
Surprisingly, they could both clearly articulate the Gospel (sort of). I asked them when was the last time they shared the Gospel with someone. They both could relay an encounter with someone they've witnessed to in the last couple months, and I think we all left very encouraged.

Time was running out. It was time to get a fish for Nathan. Unfortunately, the person we approached didn't want any part of a spiritual conversation, and time was up.

But Nathan's chance was only 6 short days away. Hopefully, you'll get to hear those conversations from today for yourself. I'm off to try to make that happen.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jesus, What Were you Thinking???

I ran across a book called "Questioning Evangelism" by Randy Newman. In it, he talks about something I've been thinking about for a long time. Sometimes (often), it's better to ask questions than to give answers.

He talks about a study he did (maybe I'll do this when I have more time) where he wrote down all the times in Scripture Jesus was asked a question (on the left of the page). On the right, he wrote how Jesus responded. More often than not, he answered the person with a question.

Matthew 19 is a perfect example. The rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" In the words of John Piper: "Jesus would have failed personal evangelism class in almost every Bible college and seminary I know." This guy was ripe for the Gospel. Right? He was sincerely seeking. He knew Jesus had the answer, even. Did Jesus say, "Repeat after me, and if you mean it from your heart, and really mean it, and sincerely mean it, you'll be saved"?


"Why do you call me good?"

Jesus blew it! At least, according to virtually every evangelism book I've read.

The guy walked away with nothing. No closer to eternal life. Nothing.

Jesus corrected his understanding of good: "No one is good but God." Jesus, what are you doing? You're going to blow the most perfect evangelistic opportunity possible! NOOOOOOOO!

Jesus continued: "Keep the commandments." He gave the ruler a few commandments. Don't murder. Don't commit adultery. Love your neighbor as yourself.

"I've done all that already," the ruler said (New Jesse translation), excited that he was already good enough to get his ticket to Heaven.

Jesus said, "One thing you lack. Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come and follow me." The rich young ruler said he'd loved his neighbor as himself, but he was lying. He had not kept any of the commandments.

Neither have you.

Perhaps you've said some prayer in your life, or had some emotional experience. I've talked with quite a few Mormons who have a burning in their bosom about truth. Guess what? Their understanding of good is flawed.

Jesus didn't chase after the guy. He didn't beg him to come to the chili cookoff at church. He didn't establish an ongoing relationship with the fellow, whereby the ruler can see joy and peace emanating from Jesus, so that he'd ask Him about the hope that lies within Him. He even turned the ruler away with nothing, when he was the perfect "sinner's prayer" candidate.

Unless your understanding of what is good is correct, you, too, will be turned away with nothing. If you're relying on an experience you've had in the past, or anything else (baptism, church membership, good works) then you need to understand that God's wrath abides upon you at this very moment, and if you die right now, you'll end up in Hell for all eternity, the just punishment for a life of rebellion against a Holy God who's given you life, taste buds to taste great food, eyes to see beautiful sunsets and waterfalls, everyone you love and who loves you, and every other good gift you enjoy.

But Hell is not God's will for you. He came down to Earth, died on a cross, taking the punishment you and I deserve upon Himself. No one ever taught like this man. Read the Gospels. His teachings have a ring of truth and authority. No one ever lived like this man, perfect in word, thought and deed - to the point where those who WANTED to find fault with Him could bring no charge of wrongdoing against Him. No one ever died like this man, loving and forgiving His enemies. And He rose from the dead, defeating death. He was seen by over 500 people, most of whom laid down their lives in brutal deaths because of one reason: their claim to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Many die for a lie. But who would knowingly die for a lie? They died because they wouldn't deny what they had seen with their eyes and touched with their hands - the resurrected Jesus Christ (1 John 1).

If this is true, and it is, then you and I have a big problem if we die in our sins. But to all who repent (turn around and head the other direction) and embrace by faith Jesus' death on the cross as payment for our sins, God grants us forgiveness, eternal life, and joy unspeakable because He has defeated death. He gives us a new heart with new desires to please Him instead of filling our flesh with junk that will kill us. Jesus calls this being "born again," and without this, no one will see the kingdom of God, no matter what you believe.

Jesus turned the ruler away, because the ruler was resting in his own goodness to get right with God. He answered questions with questions. He corrected his understanding of good. When the ruler wasn't willing to repent, Jesus sent him away with nothing.