A Biblical Evangelist: The Fifth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

On Sunday night, the church I am interim, Calvary Baptist (Seymour, IN), looked at what it means to be a “Biblical Evangelist” according to Thabiti Anyabwile’s helpful study What is a Healthy Church Member?  During our time together, I suggested five ways to live out a life of intentional evangelism.  In addition to memorizing an evangelistic tract and /or a series verses that outlines the gospel, consider the following steps of towards evangelistic fervency:

1. Community Evangelism.  Pray for a different ‘lost’ family member, friend, co-worker each day of the week.  Then, invite someone to church each week.  Imagine, under God, what your church would look like if every member of your household of faith took seriously these two practices–praying daily and inviting weekly.  Coupled with the faithful preaching and teaching of the gospel at your church, this exercise could bear much, much fruit.

2. Spontaneous Evangelism.  In Colossians 4:3, Paul says, “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”  Paul not only preached boldly, he prayed dependently and recruited others to pray with him and for him, so that God would open doors for evangelistic witness.  In my own life, earnest prayers like this have regularly been answered with God-ordained encounters to bear witness for Christ.  The problem is not God’s faithfulness to answer such prayers, but my weakness to keep praying for more opportunities.  May we learn to pray unceasinlgy with Paul for open doors to spontaneous evangelism.

3. Lifestyle Evangelism.  The Great Commission instructs us that “as we go” (participle) we are to “make disciples” (imperative).  Put in one word, evangelism should be our “lifestyle.”  There are dozens of ways to do this.  Let me suggest four: (1) live a life that leads to “Why”–as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, live a life that causes others to ask you about the hope you have in Jesus; (2) get to know people by asking questions that will lead to more informed and more specific applications of the gospel, ask God to give you a heart for people and look for ways to interject Christ into daily conversation; (3) perform ‘strategic’ acts of kindness that will show the love of Christ and that instigate conversations about Jesus; and (4) commit yourself to being a regular and recruiting participant in your church’s evangelistic programs– don’t miss the joy of joining others in your church as they share Christ in your local context.

4. Thoughtful Evangelism.  Growth in anything requires time, persistence, and studied contemplation.  This is true for evangelism.  So, if you are serious about wanting to grow as a biblical evangelist, let me suggest a handful of helpful resources

  • Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is the first book I would recommend, as it provides an excellent discussion of what the gospel is and how to go about telling others the simple, and yet eternally signficant, message of forgiveness and hope.
  • Robert Colemen, The Master Plan of Evangelism examines the life of Jesus and shows how the best evangelists are disciple-makers.  This book has been formative in my understanding of ministry, especially in the idea of spiritual multiplication.
  • J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is an excellent theological inquiry into the relationship between God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to share the gospel with all people.

5. Discipled Evangelism.  Finally, there is no better way to grow as a “biblical evangelist” than to “do evangelism!”  And there is no better way to do that then to find a friend or older member in your church and learn from them and with them.  Timothy, Titus, Silas, and others co-labored with the Apostle Paul and learned first hand how to boldly share their faith, so too we should link arms with others in the church to grow in evangelism.  This co-laboring strengthens relations within the body and maximizes the effectiveness of the church’s witness.   If your church does not have such a ministry team, perhaps you, in coordination with your pastor, could help implement such an evangelistic unit.

In truth, evangelism is not something that we can do in the strength of our flesh.  Most of us experience great feelings of defeat whenever we think of evangelism, and yet this is one of God’s clearest instructions for us, to go and make disciples, sharing the good news with all the nations.  In fact, the Holy Spirit has been given to us for just such a ministry (Acts 1:8), and it is only as we join in what the Spirit of Christ is doing in the world that our joy is complete (cf. 1 John 1:1-4).  So, this week, let me encouage you to take hold of one of these action steps and to go forward with boldness and conviction to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.   You won’t be disappointed that you did.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Looking for the Kingdom of God in the Book of Ezekiel

When was the last time you preached Ezekiel?  Not from Ezekiel, but Ezekiel.  Not Ezekiel 16 and God’s graphic castigation of Israel’s spiritual whoredom; not Ezekiel 36 and the promise of a renewed heart and a clean spirit; not Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones; I mean Ezekiel, the whole thing? 

If you did decide to preach Ezekiel, where would you try it out?  Would it be a trial run in a Sunday School class?  Would it be at youth lock-in–you’ve got to be there all night anyways?  Would it be to a group of eager seminarians?  Or would it be at one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention?

This weekend, a good friend of mine, Grant Gaines, had the opportunity to preach to Bellevue Baptist Church (Memphis, TN), and he delivered an outstanding message. Challenging BBC to see the kingdom of God, he preached the whole book of  entitled: “Looking for the Kingdom: The Message of Ezekiel.”

His three points were: There is Sin to be Punished, chapters 1-24; There is an Enemy to be Defeated, chapters 25-32; and There is a Kingdom to be Established, chapters 33-48.  His faithful message exemplifies canonical preaching, biblical theology, and a Christocentric hermeneutic.  I encourage you to listen to it yourself, to consider his example, and to look for the kingdom–and if you have the chance: Preach Ezekiel! 

For more examples of preaching the Bible book-by-book, see Mark Dever’s The Message of the Old Teastament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept .

May we all be unashamed to preach Christ from every verse, chapter, and book of God’s inspired Word.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Creative Power of the God’s Word

When God’s people hear about God and what he requires, they will respond.

– Mark Dever

Meditate on this quotation with me for a minute, and consider the creative power of God contained in his life-giving, faith-inspiring, soul-saving Word.

“When” – in the fullness of time God sent his son (Gal. 4:4), and at just the right time God sends his Word to us on the lips of faithful saints.

“God’s people” – when the elect of God hear the Word of God, the power of God converts them and they are saved.  “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock,” Jesus says in John 10:26, for if you did believe you would prove to be sheep.  The good news of the gospel is that all that God intended to save, he in fact does save, and he does so as His word comes to them.  This is a missions imperative.  “I have many in this city who are my people,” God says to Paul (Acts 18:10), and the same is true for us (cf. John 10:16).

“hear” – The gospel comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), and this hearing comes by the general and prolific call of the gospel.

“about God” – This is the good news.  We know God in and through and because and by way of Jesus Christ.  As we proclaim Christ and him crucified, we make known the love and justice of God.

“and what he requires” – This reflects both the law which leads us to cry out for mercy and the instruction necessary for believers to live lives pleasing to God.  Either way, God’s requirements are not left hazy for those who have the Word. 

“they” – The gospel is for the masses.  This plural reflects the countless millions who have not heard the name of Jesus, and the millions who have.  The gospel creates new covenant communities, and it nevers accomplishes salvation apart from drawing people into fellowship with one another (cf. Heb. 10:24-25; 1 John 1:5-8).

“will” – Positively, absolutely, the gospel will accomplish all that was intended to do (Is. 55:8-9).  It is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16) and it effectually calls men and women to faith and effectively converts them from wrath-deserving enemies to reconciled children.  It will save and it will upbuild the church wherever it goes.

“respond” – The gospel requires a response of repentance and faith.  Nothing more, nothing less.  This response is singular event with lasting and life-changing effects.

Perhaps, in writing this sentence, Mark Dever did not pause to consider each word like this, but he could have.  God’s omnipotent Word calls dead souls from the grave to new creation lives filled with good works.  Likewise, God’s word creates and shapes the church.  May we never forget the potency of the Spirit-breathed Scriptures and may lay everything aside to participate in carrying this message across the street and all over the world.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

reMARK’s on the Church

Reading Mark Dever’s section on the church in A Theology for the Church, I came across a couple stimulating quotations.  One about the already-but-not yet marks of a true church by Donald Bloesch, another from Robert Reymond about the mark of true church being found in its connection with the apostle message, and finally one from Mark Dever himself that displays the power of the Word to form and reform the church.  Consider them with me: 

One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic: Already and Not Yet

The church is already one, but it must become more visibly one…in faith and practice.  The church is alread holy in its sources and foundation, but it must stirve to produce fruits of holiness in its sojourn in the world.  The church is already catholic [i.e. universal], but it must seek a fuller measure of catholicity by assimilating the valid protests against church abuse…into its own life.  The church is already apostolic, but it must become more consciously apostolic by allowing the gospel to reform and sometime even overturn its time-honored rites and interpretations” (Donald Bloesch, The Church [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002], 103; quoted by Mark Dever, “The Church” in Theology for the Church, edited by D. Akin [Nashville: B & H Academic, 2007], 778).

The Continuity of the Church: Dependent on the Ink of the Word and not on the Trail of Blood

“Just as the true seed of Abraham are those who walk in the faith of Abraham, irrespective of lineal descent, so also the apostolic church is one which walks in the faith of the apostles, irrespective of ‘unbroken succession'” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998], 844; quoted by Mark Dever, “The Church,” 778).

This has implications for Catholic theology and for those Baptists who depend upon the trail of blood for the legitimacy of their church.  Mark Dever continues the thought, focusing on the presence of the Word as the demarcation of a true church.

The physical continuity of a line of pastor-elders back to Christ’s apostles is insignificant compared to the continuity between the teaching in churches today and the teaching of the apostles…God’s people in Scripture are created by God’s revelation of himself (cf. Gen. 1:30; 3:7; 3:15; 12:1-3; Ex. 3:4; Ex. 20; Ezek. 37)…The right preaching of the Word of God that creates the church is not only the Word from God; it is the Word about God [i.e. the Gospel of Jesus Christ]… When God’s people hear about God and what he requires, they will respond (Dever, “The Church,” 778, 780).

May our churches be built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ and the steady foundation of the apostles and prophets teaching (cf. Eph. 2:20).

Sex tells…the Gospel !?

Everyone knows that sex sells, but not everyone is equally well informed that sex also tells.   Indeed, for covenant-keeping married couples, sex tells the story of the Triune God who, though different from us, desires to be united with us.   Amazingly, God has ordained that within the matrix of marriage, covenant partners are privy to the delicacies of God’s unconditional, everlasting, and all-consuming love.  By divine design, marital love is analogous to God’s love for his people, so that all those who participate in this blessed union of souls (i.e. monogamous, heterosexual marriage) find a flesh and blood illustation of  God’s lovingkindness and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The result is that within marriage, sex uniquely discloses an epic of God’s sacrificial love and covenantal faithfulness.  For instance, as a man honors his wife by delighting in her frailities and imperfections, he expresses the love of Christ; just as when a respectful wife gladly receives the off-balanced advances of her repentant husband, she reflects the obedient enthusiam of the Spirit-filled church.   In this is the mystery of Christ and the church, because after all, the passionate death of God’s son was enacted for the express purpose of purchasing of his beloved bride (John 3:16; Ephesians 5:33).   Consequently, Christian marriages that endeavor to show the love of God to one another in sexual intimacy, beam forth with radiance and bear witness to the cosmic reality of Christ and his church.   Though this is probably not the first thing young couples think about on their honeymoon, perhaps it should be.

Mark Dever makes this bold connection between human sexuality and divine glory in his essay on the Puritan’s view on sex.  Rather than subscribing to a dour, disenchanted view of sexuality and marriage, the biblically-saturated Puritans, delighted in sexuality for the purpose of glorifying God’s goodness and extolling his Good News.  We can learn much from the example of these heavenly-minded saints.  Dever writes:

We need to re-couple sex and the glory of God as part of our evangelism.  When we use another person for money or for a one-night stand, when we use pornography, we de-couple sex from its intended purpose.  Whenever we use other people to achieve our own gratification and ends, we idolize ourselves and out appetites.  However, God set up good sex as part of evangelism.  That does not mean we practice evangelistic dating, let alone evangelistic mating.  It means that the sexual intimacy of marriage helps our spouse to love God, it helps us understand how Christ loves the church, and it builds a marriage that is distinct from unfaithful and non-Christian marriages. 

[Richard] Baxter writes, “When Husband and Wife take pleasure in each other, it uniteth them in duty, it helpeth them with ease to do the work, and bear their burdens; and is not the least part of the comfort of the married state” (The Christian Directory, 522).  In short, sex within marriage helps display the Christian gospel by teaching us how to love and how we are loved by One who is different than Ourselves–by God himself  (Mark Dever, “Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes?  The Puritans on Sex” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ [Crossway: 2005], 264).

Sex as part of evangelism.”  When was the last time you heard that as a church growth strategy?  Certainly, all things that God created good have the potential to elicit praise and to point people to Christ.  Sex should no different.   Upheld in its dignified and holy place, sex ought to be a means by which Christ and his church are made known.   This is certainly true within marriage, and as Christians hold out a model of pure and lovely sexuality in a world that trashes the beauty of this creation, they offer to those who have ears to hear a message that points people to Christ.

It seems then that we can learn much from pure, holy, and protected sex within marriage.  Amazingly, we can even learn about the gospel!  And unlike the vulgar knowledge of sex gained in a high school locker room or the backseat of a car, this knowledge opens the eyes of our heart to see the lovingkindness of the creator of this marvelous gift.  Moreover, it demonstrates his love to us and charges us to make his grace and glory known by keeping our covenant commitments of marriage and to keep his precious gift of sexuality pure.  In this way the gospel is advanced and the love of the kingdom is made manifest.  May we learn from our Puritan heritage, and learn to delight in our spouses for the sake of our marriages and for the sake of the gospel.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Weekend Websites: Audio Resources from Desiring God and 9 Marks

One of the most edifying activities that I have engaged in since becoming a Christian has been listening to sermons, biographies, and interviews while driving, working at home, or doing monotonous computer work.  When I was a church janitor in Chattanooga, TN, I would often and repeatedly listen to John Piper’s expository messages as I vacuumed the church.  On many solitary cross-country drives, Dr. Piper was again my tour guide.  He introduced me to so many heroes of the faith through his yearly biographical messages from his pastor’s conference.  His voice still reverberates in my mind, even today, as I think about his inspiring messages on Spurgeon, Brainerd, Luther, Owen, Paton, Calvin, and others.  

More recently, I have begun listening to the Mark Dever’s audio interviews.  I await with anticipation the first day of every month, when 9 Marks Ministries (typically) releases new interviews with pastors, theologians, and church leaders.  These  engaging and lively conversations have clarified my thinking on many theological and ecclesial matters and they always rekindle my desire to serve the Christ’s church.  My favorite interview is definitely C.J. Mahaney’s interview with Mark Dever.  If you know anything about C.J., you can understand why.  If you are experienicng any kind of depression in life or ministry, this interview will surely lift your soul.  (In the spirit of these interviews, I even attempted to conduct one myself at SBTS with Dr. Jonathan Pennington, in an interview sponsored by the Theology School Council at Southern Seminary).

With all that said, I commend these two resources as this weekend’s website(s): Desiring God’s biographies and 9 Marks interviews.  These treasure troves are filled with wisdom and they are conducted in a format that I have found can be received and enjoyed in a variety of settings.  Unlike sermons, I can listen to them while doing a variety of things.  For me, sermons take much more effort to process and apply, and so they require a healthy measure of reflection and repentance.  These audio other audio formats–biography and interview– may at times call for such response, but typically they are more readily processible as you go about your daily affairs–mindlessly working on the computer, driving, having dominion over your home (i.e. chores), or vacuuming the church.  I have benefitted immensely from these audio resources, and I hope you will do the same.  In a world that beckons us to be conformed to its standards, meditating on these edifying conversations can be a salubrious antidote to its corrupting effects and a tremedous means of spiritual and ministerial growth.  I hope you will join me in listening.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss