“You Will Be My Witnesses”: Five Truths About Witnessing From the Book of Acts

lionWhen I was in college and a young believer, one of the first Christian books I read was Bill Bright’s Witnessing without FearIt was a helpful introduction to evangelism and the call of disciples to be witnesses for Jesus. Just beginning to understand what it meant to follow Christ and make disciples, this book helped immensely to be a ‘witness’ for Christ. Today, I’m still thankful for that book.

Recently, as I read through Acts, the theme of witnessing came to the fore again. And how could it not?

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to empower them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Indeed, “witnessing” is something more than a spiritual discipline or a Tuesday night activity. It is the very essence of who we are as Christians. But what does that mean? And how exactly are we to speak about Jesus?

“Witness” and “Witnessing” in Acts

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to see how the apostles “witnessed” to Jesus in the book of Acts. After Jesus’ identifies his followers as his witnesses in Acts 1:8, Luke uses the word μάρτυς 12 more times to describe the witness-bearing of the early church (1:8, 22; 2:32, 40; 3:15; 4:33; 13:31; 14:3, 17; 22:5, 20, 15; 26:16). (He also uses the verb μαρτύρομαι twice, 20:26; 26:22).

From observing how this word is used we can begin to sketch what a faithful witness might look like. While a whole theology of witnessing could be written from Acts and the rest of the New Testament (e.g., see Allison Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness), let me suggest five truths about witnessing from the book of Acts. Continue reading

Talking Like Jesus: Six Ways to Hold Out Truth in a Hostile World

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200In our day public speech about Jesus is becoming more and more costly. For instance, the state of Georgia has requested the sermons of Dr. Eric Walsh, a lay pastor and public health expert, who was fired from the Department of Public Health over (it seems) his religious beliefs. What is going on?

On the one hand, we are watching a sea change in our country. The religious liberty conferred on us by our founding fathers and established in the Bill of Rights is being taken away.  On the other hand, we are witnessing in our country what Jesus said would happen to his followers: we are hated by the world, because the world hates him.

In other words, American Christians are experiencing, for the first time in generations, what other disciples have experienced for centuries—verbal and even violent opposition to the truth of God’s Word. Such enemy fire makes speaking up for Christ difficult, if not dangerous. Yet, such resistance may also be the very means by which Christians can show what it means to follow Christ—bearing witness to Christ through our own afflictions. But to bear faithful witness, we need our minds to be renewed by God’s Word.

Learning from Jesus

The Gospel of John shows Jesus in constant conversation with the Pharisees whose anger towards him ultimately nailed him to a cross. As John records, they questioned him, debated him, and sought to arrest him long before they succeeded in ending his earthly ministry. Still, as the beloved disciple records, Jesus constantly responded with wisdom, grace, and truth. While John’s goal in presenting these dialogues is to testify that Jesus is the Christ whom we should trust and obey (John 20:31), his recordings also show us how Jesus spoke to those who accused and opposed us. If we are going to continue to bear witness for Christ amidst enemy fire, we must learn what such speech looks like.

If silence is not an option for a follower of Christ, and it is not (see Matthew 10:32–33; Acts 1:8), how can we learn to wear our cross and speak on his behalf with boldness and wisdom? If the gospel is our message, what is the manner in which we proclaim it? How does Scripture teach us and Jesus model for us such engagement with the world?

Those are questions we should be asking, and one place we find an answer is in John 7. Continue reading

Gospel-Centered Leadership: The Reward of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12–18)

sermon photo

In 1 Corinthians 9:12–18 Paul turns his full attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the first twelve verses of the chapter, Paul recalls the “rights” he has to receive support, rights he will gladly forsake in verses 12, 15, 18 in order to preach the gospel free of charge. As Paul continues to give a personal example of how to give up rights for the sake of serving others, he speaks of (preaching) the gospel seven times in seven verses.

Accordingly, this week’s sermon asks two questions:

  1. What is the gospel?
  2. What do we do with the gospel?

Nothing is more important that knowing and rightly responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, take time to listen to the sermon or read the notes. The discussion questions and related resources listed below can also help you better understand and trust, treasure, and talk about the gospel. Continue reading

Are You Equipped? Announcing OBC’s EQUIP Conference (Sept 23–25)

equip . . . to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ . . .”– Ephesians 4:12 –

In the 1980s edutainment games were coming of age and infiltrating American schools. Leading the way was a game called Oregon Trail. Perhaps you remember playing the game, shooting Buffalo, fording rivers, and fighting off dysentery. In truth, for most 20th and 21st century children such rugged adventures are things of the past, experienced only in pixels and museums.

In our modern world, it can seem that such explorations ended generations ago. Like our entertainment-oriented education strategies, our world tells children and adults that free time is best spent playing, gaming, or escaping the hard edges of life by conjuring up some fantasy world.

The Bible, however, confronts us with a different reality, one far more adventurous and exciting than anything created by Pixar, Pokemon, or a Carnival pleasure cruise. It calls us to scour the earth, making disciples from every nation teaching them to obey all that God has commanded us.

This is God’s great calling—to follow Christ as eager disciples and lead others to know him through our various stations of life. This is why God made us (to glorify him); this is humanity’s greatest task (to increase his glory by multiplying children who reflect his image). This was Jesus’ final word, to follow him in the world’s greatest commission (Matthew 28:18–20).

But how? Continue reading

Enlarging Our Missions Footprint

feet

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation,who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
– Isaiah 52:7 –

 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel.
For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
– Romans 10:14–17–

Imagine a child who is growing into adulthood. Each year she grows taller, stronger, wiser. Only with this child, her feet never grow any larger. While her arms and legs gain length and strength, the foundation of her body, the feet, disables her from running, jumping, playing as she’d like. Because she doesn’t have adequate support for her growing body, her feet become misshapen and debilitating for a healthy life.

Speaking metaphorically, Isaiah 52:7 extols the beautiful feet of those who bring good news. In context, Isaiah 52 is a prophecy that recalls the enslavement of Israel (“You were sold for nothing,” v. 3) and the greater salvation that God is going to bring. Isaiah tells the people of Israel to rejoice in the happy news of their salvation (v. 8), for the Lord has revealed “his holy arm” and promises to lead Israel on a new exodus (vv. 10–12). In context, Isaiah 52 sets up the announcement of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who will deliver all God’s sheep—the elect from Israel and the nations—from the very sins that led them into exile. It’s in this context that the good news is brought.

In the New Testament, Paul picks up the same imagery. When speaking of the gospel going from the Jews to all the nations (Romans 10), he quotes Isaiah 52:7, explaining that the beautiful feet “preach the good news,” i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ. In context, Paul inquires how the nations will hear the good news of salvation, unless men and women proclaim the gospel. “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

Romans 10 is one of the most forceful passages in the Bible for the call of Christians and especially churches to engage in missions. From Acts 13 on, the pattern of missionary activity is for churches to recognize gifted servants whom they can send out to deliver the good news to those who have not heard it. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are called by the Spirit and commissioned by the church to take the gospel throughout the Mediterranean. Ever since, “New Testament churches” have followed their pattern—raising up, sending out, and supporting missionaries.

In other words, “beautiful feet” do not come by accident. They are cultivated in and sent out by local churches. Continue reading

For His Name’s Sake: Why the Church Must Do More Than Local Evangelism

worldThere is a popular argument that persists among American evangelicals that prioritizes domestic evangelism over against international missions. Often it is put in the form of a handful of questions:

  • “Why should we spend our time reaching the lost overseas when there are so many lost in our community?”
  • Or, “Why spend our money on foreign missions when there are millions nearby who need to hear the gospel?”
  • Or, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to focus on the lost here?”

On the surface such an argument may sound plausible, even effectively evangelistic. It certainly appeals to the pragmatic. But examined by the Scriptures, it will not hold. For Scripture does not simply speak of evangelism in commercial terms—finding the fastest way to sell the gospel to the most number of people. Regularly, it speaks of the advance of the kingdom crossing boundaries, reaching nations, and extending the glory of God to the ends of the earth. In fact, the glory of God depends not only on the vastness of redemption, but its variety. Therefore, for those who care about God’s glory should also care deeply about reaching the nations.

Continue reading

Eleven Questions to Facilitate Hospitality Evangelism

foodIn our post-Christian age, evangelistic Christians (a redundant statement, if ever there was one) must learn to love their neighbors through means of proactive hospitality. A few years ago I wrote about the subject of evangelism and hospitality (here and here). Today, let me list 11 questions that might help facilitate conversation that goes beyond the weather and sports. Moving from the generic to the more evangelistic, these personal questions may help us to engage others with meaningful questions that move towards the most important subjects of life. Continue reading

Confronting the Ingrown Church

pewsShortly after I stepped down as pastor this year, I came across an illuminating and deeply convicting book by C. John (“Jack”) Miller that addressed so many of the issues in my church—and in so many churches like ours.

The book is entitled Outgrowing the Ingrown Churchand though it is a little dated (1986), it gets at the heart of the problem that many American churches are facing—an unhealthy self-centeredness that undermines the missionary impulse of Christ’s church. While the whole book is worth reading, the opening section (“Where Missionary Life Begins”) was most helpful for me. In those two chapters, Miller outlines the deadly symptoms of the ingrown church. The rest of the book aims at remedying that introversion through means of fresh faith, radical repentance, and active, prayerful, outward ministry.

Let me lay out some of the symptoms of the ingrown church. If they look similar to what you’ve experienced in your church, pick up this little book and begin to work through it with the leaders in your church. Continue reading

Believing and Belonging: Which is the Source for True Fellowship?

fellowsThe next time you read through the books of Acts, underline every time you find the word “believe.” At the same time, circle every time you find a mention of the Scriptures, the word, or preaching. What you will soon discover is how radically committed the New Testament church was to proclaiming the Word of God and calling for belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everywhere the apostles went they proclaimed the Word. Empowered by the Spirit, they were called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Indeed, filled with the Spirit they fulfilled their calling of proclaiming the Word (Acts 4:31). As a result, in just a few short decades churches were planted all over the Mediterranean. And within three centuries, the early church would become the dominant world religion. Continue reading

The Doctrine of Creation: A Necessary Part of Our Worship and Evangelism

auroraCould it be that Christ-centered Christians can all too easily forget that the God of the cross is also the God of creation?

Not long ago I was visiting with some church leaders and the topic of transgender persons came up. While a number of good strategies were mentioned about sharing the gospel with them (and all people who sinfully rejected God’s moral norms for their sex lives) there were questions about what is wrong with a man desiring to be a woman, or the reverse. “Which verse does a transgender person violate?” was the question.

The short answer (and this again goes for all persons) is “all of them.” In Adam, all of us are guilty before our maker (Rom 5:12, 18–19). By nature, we are inveterate rebels. We don’t need a verse addressing our specific manifestation of sin, although there are plenty. The whole Bible speaks to the sinful condition of mankind—transgender persons included. Just read Romans 1:18–32 or Albert Mohler’s insightful “Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis.” Sexual morality is far more than keeping all the laws.

But specific answers aside, I think there is a larger need in evangelical churches—namely, the remembrance that we do not worship God as Redeemer only, but also as Creator. In fact, in biblical revelation he is first Creator first, then Redeemer. And even in redemption, the goal is new creation—personal (2 Cor 5:17) and cosmic (Matt 19:28; Revelation 21–22).

In sharing the gospel, we must not forget that sin is not just law-breaking; it is anything that opposes or deviates from God’s created design. But we will only remember this doctrine of creation, if we give ourselves to worship God as Creator.

And for that reason, I offer give you six ways God’s creation should move you to worship and evangelize. Continue reading