Archive for the ‘evangelism’ Tag

Billy Graham Got An Upgrade   2 comments

Image result for billy grahamThis morning as I drove to work, the news was filled with the “tragedy” that Billy Graham, the evangelist, had died at 99 years of age. “Oh, so sad,” one commentator said.

No! Billy Graham got an upgrade. He’s no longer living in this messy world with pain and lies and evil. He’s with God — a relationship he worked to sustain partially for 85 years is now his fully.

Enjoy the next eternity of life, Billy. My husband and got to hear you preach once, in Anchorage, in 1984. The thing I remember about that crusade was a story you told about a man who said he was “just a pastor” and how you responded that there was “no such thing as just a pastor”. You went on to say that while you accepted your calling as an evangelist, one of the things you regretted was that it meant you couldn’t be a pastor, which you actually considered a higher calling. Since I hadn’t grown up listening to you and really didn’t know you all that well, I was amazed by your humility.

If there is a tragedy in you passing, it is that future generations will not get to hear you preach in person … this side of the veil anyway. We face a world that could use your wisdom. But you’re beyond that now, and I’m sure well-shed of this life.


Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.
My home is in Heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.

Choices   Leave a comment

Life is full of choices. This morning, I chose to get out of bed and go to work. I could have called in sick, but I chose not to lie. My husband truly enjoys the many choices of coffee we have today – hazelnut, mocha and Sumatran are favorites of his. When I see my neighbor do I ask him about the yelling I heard from his house last night or do I avert my eyes and comment about the weather?

Thereforebecause we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people, but we are well known to Godand I hope we are well known to your consciences too. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you againbut are giving you an opportunity to be proud of usso that you may be able to answer those who take pride in  outward appearance and not in what is in the heart. For if we are out of our mindsit is for Godif we are of sound mindit is for you. 2 Corinthians 5:11-13

Image result for image of ambassadors for christOur priorities shape how we make such choices. What is truly important to us comes through in what we do and don’t do, what we say and don’t say. Motivations and heart desires drive and define our priorities and, in turn, our decision-making.

In 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, Paul discusses a fundamental, overriding priority for every Christian: being an ambassador for Christ. An ambassador is one who represents another — an emissary. US ambassadors to foreign nations go with a commission from the US President. They will speak in his place and represent his beliefs. What they say will come with his stamp of approval.

Every believer in Christ serves as an ambassador for Christ, for good or for ill. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says that God makes His appeal through believers. Thus, what we say should align with what Christ would say. What we do should align with what He would do.

In this passage, Paul provides three motivations that shaped his prioritization of the role of being an ambassador for Christ.

First, Paul said that he knew the fear of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11). Paul was aware that he once walked in darkness. The knowledge of God’s light in his innermost heart caused Paul to proclaim Christ as Lord and himself as a servant for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthian 4:5-6). Paul knew fearing the Lord centers on submission to Christ and he persuaded others to do just that.

What did Paul seek to persuade the Corinthians to? We don’t know exactky, but in light of his preceding reference to the judgment of the Christian worker, it is not too improbable to suppose he was talking about the judgment of the non-Christian. Although it really wasn’t that long ago since “hellfire and brimstone” preaching was an evangelical staple, judgment is an uncomfortable subject in most Christian circles today. Nowadays we tend to shy away from the topic, but a substantial part of Jesus’ preaching had to do with warning his audience of impending judgment. Peter pleaded with his audience to save themselves from “this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40). And mention of “the coming wrath” was a regular component of Paul’s evangelistic preaching (see Acts 17:31; 1 Thess 1:9-10).

Image result for image of ambassadors for christPaul held a healthy respect for Christ as judge and that  motivated Paul to discharge his ministry with integrity, a fact that is plain to God and would have been apparent to the Corinthians if they’d stopped and thought about it. While a person’s motives and intentions can be hidden from others, they cannot be hidden from God. Paul, however, made his ministry available to the scrutiny of all who would care to inspect it, including the Corinthians.

For the love of Christ controls ussince we have concluded this, that Christ died for alltherefore all have diedAnd he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Second, Paul said the love of Christ controlled or compelled him. Paul noted that since one man, Christ, died for all men, all men have thus died. Christ died for all those who live, that they might then live for Him and not for themselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The logic is simple: one righteous man dies for men dead in sin. All who respond to this news with repentance of sin and belief in this one man receive their lives back. How could we not then live for Christ’s sake and not our own?


Finally, Paul was motivated to be a faithful ambassador for Christ because this ministry came from God (2 Corinthians 5:18). The message that every believer is Christ’s ambassador did not originate with your college mentor. It did not originate with John Piper or Ravi Zacharius or whoever your favorite Bible teacher is.  The role of ambassador for Christ originates with the same God Who spoke the world into existence and sustains it by the power of His Word. There is no authority that can override this Authority.

The fear of the Lord, the love of Christ and the authority of God drove Paul to prioritize his role as an ambassador of Christ. Such a prioritization should characterize the life of every believer, for we are all ambassadors of Christ.


So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. Even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know him in that way any longer.  2 Corinthians 5:16

Although Jesus walked on this earth as a man and felt what we felt, we should never forget that He is God. This is what the Jesus-as-a-man-and-great-teacher crowd fail to understand. Jesus is God and He can work amazing works in mankind because He is our Creator.

So then, if anyone is in Christhe is a new creationwhat is old has passed away – lookwhat is new has comeAnd all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christand who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other wordsin Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s  trespasses against themand he has given us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:17-19

This touches on the area of Christian freedom. Paul said rightly employed Christian freedom prioritizes the glory of God and exaltation of Christ as opposed to selfish gain. Too often Christian freedom is equated with being able to watch certain movies and drink certain beverages. The central purpose of Christ setting people free is that they might enter His kingdom, be conformed to His image and glorify God. In shorthand: He died that we die to sin and live for God (Romans 6:10-11).

Therefore we are ambassadors for Christas though God were making His plea through usWe plead with you on Christ’s behalf“Be reconciled to God! God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for usso that in him we would become the righteousness of God 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

This reality did not simply make logical sense to Paul: it moved him. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul recounted the ways the love of Christ and how being an ambassador of Christ shaped his actions toward the church at Corinth. Through imprisonments, beatings and other afflictions, Paul was insistent in faithfully representing Christ. Paul concluded that the Corinthians believers are not restricted by him, but in their own affections.

The church at Corinth knew about the sacrifice of Christ, but it did not shape their lives. They were aware of His death on their behalf, but were not rightly moved to live on His behalf. We, God’s people, today are prone to respond to Christ’s sacrifice more like the Corinthians than like Paul.


Life is full of choices. But God does not leave us without direction for such choices. Instead, He gives us priorities that make the way clear. Every believer is Christ’s ambassador. Thus, everything we do and say reflects positively or negatively on Him.

In 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, Paul showed how the fear of the Lord, the love of Christ and the authority of God compelled him to prioritize his role as Christ’s ambassador. Let us pray that the Lord will give us the grace to respond in a like manner. Then perhaps we can faithfully represent Christ in the words we say, the things we do and the choices we make each day.


Sharing in Humility   Leave a comment

A friend of mine tells a story from when he was in high school. He was traveling with his father, a cop, on a commuter airline when a hijacker pulled a gun and demanded to be taken to Cuba (that was a thing in the 1970s.) Mark and his father were considering what they could do about this idiot when the stewardess talked him into allowing her to calm the passengers by plying them with alcohol. The hijacker agreed. Convinced that she was on his side, he turned his back on her and Mark watched as the stewardess turned from pouring wine into a passenger’s glass, kicked her shoes off, stepped up onto the edge of a seat and broke the bottle across the back of the hijacker’s head. Bleeding and dazed, he was pretty compliant as Mark and his dad disarmed and handcuffed him so he couldn’t cause anymore trouble. The news tried to paint them as the heroes, but they were clear that the stewardess who barely came up to Mark’s chin was the real hero.

Image result for image of humilitySometimes the most unlikely people use the most unusual means to protect and preserve others. I think that’s true of the preaching ministry of the local church. The ministry of preaching is conducted by unlikely people through an unusual means to protect and preserve God’s people.

Preaching Jesus Christ is one of the foundational tasks of the church. Few Christians will disagree that preaching is essential, offering up an internal “Amen,” followed immediately by a yawn will slip out, after which they tune out. Most of us don’t consider ourselves preachers, but the sobering reality is that God calls all of us to be preachers of Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:14).

In the opening chapter of 1Corinthians, Paul demonstrated that God deliberately chooses foolish and weak methods and messengers to shame those who are wise and strong. Then, Paul used himself as a prime example of foolishness and weakness.

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of powerso that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.   1Corinthians 2:1-4

Paul began by reminding the Corinthians how he did NOT preach. Paul had not dazzled his listeners with his rhetorical or philosophical prowess. He had simply proclaimed the truth about God.

This was certainly unusual in 1st-century Corinth. In Paul’s day, Greek orators followed certain well-established conventions when they entered a city. Great crowds flocked to hear them because they spoke in the style of traditional Greek rhetoric—with extensive quotations, literary allusions, and a refined style that made them seem brilliant, witty, charming, and entertaining.

Image result for image of humilityPaul utterly rejected this approach to preaching, although he could have done it himself. As a well-educated rabbi, he knew Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Trained at the feet of Gamaliel, he could hold his own in any argument. If Paul wanted to show off his intellect, he certainly knew how to do it. But he rejected that approach, instead proclaiming “the testimony of God.” The word “testimony” is a legal word that refers to something one presents in a court of law. Paul was conscious that God is a Judge. He was speaking in the presence of the Judge, presenting His witness (2 Timothy 4:1). He knew what the truth was and announced it boldly. Paul didn’t preach his testimony about God. Instead, he preached God’s testimony about God (“the testimony”). His message came from God, not himself.

For many today “proclaiming” is a bad word. They say, “Don’t preach to me!” Many preachers, afraid of being thought arrogant, avoid talking about preaching. They prefer to think of what they do as “sharing.” They’re making suggestions, offering their opinion. That’s arrogance. My opinions are no better than yours and, frankly, neither are my pastors or even Paul’s. My pastor is not and Paul wasn’t declaring their opinions.They were declaring God’s very words (see 1 Petet 4:11a).

Preaching isn’t just for pastors. You too can preach with authority to people in your life. I was a Sunday School teacher for about 15 years, leading a weekly Bible study for the church’s teenagers. I simply taught through books of the Bible with the goal of seeing those young people grow in Christ. Here in Fairbanks, there is a women’s Bible study during the lunch hour that people from all over town flock to. Whether we believe it or not, there are people who are looking for a man or woman to preach God’s Word with authority. For a while, Brad used to lead a Bible study in his truck at a construction site. You can preach wherever God has placed you to serve Him, if you’re willing to answer His call and proclaim His testimony.

In 2:2, Paul explained why he preached as he did: For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  The word translated “I decided” means Paul made a conscious choice to do things a certain way. He didn’t fall into it by chance or by force of habit. Paul preached as he did because he chose to do it that way. That same choice confronts every Christian messenger. It’s so easy to be sidetracked by good and worthwhile things. We can preach about social issues, the political debates of our day, the crisis in the Middle East, or the decline of the family. We can tackle Bible prophecy or we can major on predestination or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is a place for all those things, but that place is never at the center. For Paul the choice was clear: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He started there and that became the center of his preaching, every other truth could be arranged around it. But Jesus must be in the middle of all things and all other topics must be properly related to Him.

This verse cannot be taken absolutely, as if the only doctrine Paul taught on was the crucifixion, but refers to its centrality in his preaching. It is not enough for us to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was, but the world largely believes that already. And it is not enough to say that He came down from heaven. Many already believe that. It’s not even enough to say that He was born of a virgin. We must go all the way and declare that God Himself came down to earth in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must say that when He died on the cross, He paid the ultimate penalty to deliver us from our sins.

We live in an information saturated age where we can follow thousands of channels for secular information, but if you want to know how to be right with God, how to have your sins forgiven, and how to go to heaven, you need the message Paul preached:

Jesus Christ and Him crucified

Note that Paul used the perfect tense here for “crucified” (also 1Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 3:1), which suggests that his focus was not as much on the historical event of the cross but on its ongoing effect for those who believe in Jesus. This event provided us with personal justification, redemption, and sanctification (1:30). The death of Jesus Christ covers everything. Jesus is the one person that fixes everything!

To give people what they need sometimes means you must not give them what they want. Most parents learn this early on. When your daughter is sick she may want another cookie, but what she needs is the medicine the doctor prescribed. If you love her you’ll give her what she needs, not what she wants. The same is true as we speak to others about Christ. They may want to hear other things, but we must tell them about Jesus, for He alone can save them. We have to stay on topic.

Paul used his own personal example again. “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of powerso that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Paul did not come to Corinth with any degree of self-confidence, but “in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.”

Corinth was a hard city for a minister. Paul’s reception there had discouraged him to the point that preaching was difficult. He responded to the local hostility in a totally human fashion, which I personally find encouraging. Like Paul, we live and serve in a difficult society. We want to serve Christ and speak up for Him but sometimes it can be downright scary. But God doesn’t give us the option to be silent. Even when we find ourselves tongue-tied or just plain forget what we were supposed to say, we must strive to proclaim the gospel.

Paul was all about the power of the Spirit. In 2:5, Paul explained that the power of God is the word of the cross (1:18). What a striking contrast—the wisdom of men versus the power of God! If you build on one, you cannot have the other. Paul’s concern throughout this passage is self-reliance. It’s not that he didn’t want us to preach to the best of our ability. He just didn’t want us to rely on our own gifts and strength.

To be foolish preachers for Christ, we 21st-century Christians need the following:

Pray for a prepared heart. Ask the Lord to supply you with opportunities to proclaim His Word. Pray for boldness to be willing to walk through an open door (Colossians 4:3). Pray that those you speak to will be receptive.

Meditate on Scripture. As you read God’s Word, ask the Lord to speak to you. Pray for insights into the text. Think about this Scripture continually. Let the Word sit, soak, and simmer in you. This will ensure that you are always prepared (1 Pet 3:15).

Listen to people. When we listen to people’s hurts we can learn a lot. Often the felt needs of people will well up sermons within us. God will actually bring a Scripture passage to mind that we can share.

Focus on the essentials. Don’t get lost in the minutia of theological details. Instead, focus on the testimony of God and Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul says that the power is in the gospel. Make sure that you keep the main thing the main thing.

Messiness   Leave a comment

This is part of a series. Check it out.

The pursuit of holiness has prevented many of us from ending it in places we would not have enjoyed, but have you ever considered that it might also lead you to keep some pretty bad company?

Jesus, as God in human flesh, is our example for holiness. His life serves as the best measuring rod for what divine holiness looks like when reflected in humanity. His critics called him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19) and Jesus wore that badge proudly.

So what are we to do with a God-man who associated with the most blatant nonbelievers of his day?

I can hear Christian friends saying now “B-b-but, He was God Almighty.”

Yes, I completely agree, but hear me out. When Jesus hung out with unbelievers He was not just going with the flow of society. He wasn’t looking for a good time, a buzz, an opportunity to defy convention, or to grow His reputation. There was no passivity in Jesus’ approach to friendship evangelism. He was there on a mission to the unbelieving household or the party. He was activity seeking the salvation  of the sinners who were right there in front of Him. Associating with unbelievers was part of a strategic plan to call for repentance.


Scandalously, [Jesus] associates with the notoriously wicked, but he is willing to feast with the scrupulous religious leaders as well. Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners reflects his willingness to associate with them at an intimate level, but not merely for the sake of defying convention or enjoying a party. In each case various textual clues, if not explicit statements, demonstrate that Christ is indeed calling them to repentance and summoning them to become his followers. Craig Blomberg, Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals with Sinners (page 167)

Yes, Jesus hung out with sinners, but He didn’t coddle sin. He was getting close enough to confront their unbelief in exactly the ways they needed to receive that confrontation. When Jesus engaged sinners (Mark 2:15, Luke 7:37-38), He was honest in naming them as sinners (Mark 2:17, Luke 7:47-48) and He also made it clear that it was for their sake that He came. The man known as “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19) also, in the very next verse (Matthew 11:20) “denounced the cities that did not repent.”

His close proximity to sinners doesn’t mean he’s coddling sin, but that he’s getting close enough to confront unbelief with precision and grace. When he engages sinners (Mark 2:15; Luke 7:37–38), he’s honest that he sees them as such (Mark 2:17; Luke 7:47–48), and that it’s precisely for their sake that he has come. The man known as “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19) is said, in the next verse, to “denounce the cities [that] did not repent” (Matthew 11:20).

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, 29  a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors 30  and sinners!’ 31  But wisdom is vindicated 32  by her deeds.” 

Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent.

Jesus exhibits a “contagious holiness,” Blomberg called it. “Jesus discloses not one instance of fearing contamination, whether moral or ritual, by associating with the wicked or impure. Rather, he believes that his purity can rub off on them, and he hopes that his magnanimity toward them will lead them to heed his calls to discipleship” (page 167).

Having your purity “rub off” on nonbelievers isn’t automatic, and won’t come from passivity and nonchalance. It requires sustained intentionality to connect with nonbelievers where they are and, with God’s help, point them toward saving belief in Jesus. The power to clearly and explicitly share the gospel, and to gently but firmly call for change, won’t come from the worldly desire to nestle up to sin. It must come from holiness — that sense that you belong to God first and foremost and that you will obey Him rather than the world no matter what.

But Jesus was God incarnate, perfect, sinless God-man, so — yes, He could go it alone in His earthly ministry, though He often had His disciples with Him. We shouldn’t try to storm the gates of hell alone. Jesus sent His disciples out in twos (Luke 10:1). We should not that, use caution for our own sake, and proceed with accountability.

The apostle Paul acknowledged “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33. We can’t say we weren’t warned. However, we should not miss the evangelical guidance that infuses the same letter.

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters,since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy,or an idolater, or verbally abusiveor a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

We’ve look at this before — about the required reaction of the churches when they find Christians openly sinning and we may come back to this, but Paul was clear here that Christians are to associate with non-Christian sinners. Don’t confuse the requirement to separate from an openly sinful “brother” with a summons to stay away from the lost. We call them “lost” because we hope they’ll be found and it is our job to provide them with illumination to find that path. In an increasingly post-Christian culture, non-Christians aren’t likely to be “found” without someone risking some reputation to take the gospel to them in uncomfortable ways and inconvenient places.

There is a vast difference between someone who confesses Christ and continues to embrace sin and someone living in sin who has not yet confessed Christ and we are told by the apostles to put ourselves in potentially dangerous situations in hope of rescuing the lost.

How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news.” Romans 10:14-15

Maybe the call to holiness has kept you from eating with the tax collectors and sinners of your town, and in certain circumstances, that may be necessary for your own good. On the other hand, eating with tax collectors and sinners could be the very thing we’re called to do more often.

Christian holiness is not the avoidance of darkness at all costs. It includes going into the darkness, letting our Light shine without compromise, and bringing people back from the darkness by the power of God.

Sent   1 comment

This is part of a series. Check it out.

My look at politics in the run-up to the March primaries does not mean I’ve lost sight of my main topic. I’m still looking at how Christianity ought to interact with the world.

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus prays to his Father in John 17:14-19:

I have given them your word (or message), and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world (or “because they are not of the world”),  just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe (protect them)  from the evil oneThey do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. Set them apart (consecrate or sanctify)  in the truth; your word is truth. (Jesus had already introduced the idea of practicing the truth in John 8:32)  Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart. (see John 10:36, Exodus 40-13, Leviticus 8:30 and 2 Chronicles 5:11 for more discussion).

In a real sense Christians are aliens in this world. Accepting Christ’s salvation sets us apart from the rest of humanity. We are no longer dead in sin, but made alive through Christ. That changes how we see the world and it should very much change how we interact with the world. If it doesn’t, we may need to go back and look at that time when we “accepted” Christ’s salvation. Did we … really?

Jesus was pretty clear here that He doesn’t not want His followers to be “of the world”. He wasn’t and we should follow His example.

But Jesus was equally clear that He wasn’t asking God to take His disciples out of the world. He prayed for them to be “sent” into the world.

In a very real sense, we are not of this world, but we have been sent into this world with a mission to the world. In other words, we can’t disassociate from this world. While it is not our job to save the world (that is far too God-like for our puny humanity), we are ordered by the Great Commission to do certain things in God’s name. We are sent into the world on mission to advance the advance the gospel through disciplemaking.

Jesus’s true followers have not only been crucified to the world, but also raised to new life and sent back in to point the way to freedom for others. We’ve been rescued from the darkness and given the Light not merely to flee the darkness, but to guide our steps as we go back into the world to rescue others.

Illustrated Man   1 comment

This is part of a series. Check it out!


So lest we think that I’m perfect, I’m going to tell a tale on myself and I hope I’ll make you laugh while I’m proving a point about obscuritism in the Christian faith.


Brad and I love to go to Chena Hot Springs, a natural hot springs near Fairbanks that has been developed into a resort. The last time we were there, I had the opportunity to obscure the Christian faith with some cultural baggage of my own … but I didn’t … accidentally.


I was sitting in the hot tub when a man came out of the dressing room who deserved the title of Illustrated Man. You know the type. He was covered in tattoos. I consider tattooing to be a form of self-mutilation. I don’t have any and I don’t get why anyone would want to have one. If there’s an image you especially love, put it on a t-shirt and wear it. If you love it a lot, have multiple t-shirts made. Tattoos are painful and while they’re no longer exactly permanent, they aren’t easily removed. They also are implicated in some auto-immune disorders and, since my dad had psoriasis, tattoos are a dumb idea for me. I just don’t get the entire fad.

This guy’s tattoos were artistically lovely, by the way. Really nice colors and well-drawn images. But my brain was silently judging him as he sat down on the edge of the hot tub. The water was particularly hot that night as CHS is a variable spring and it took him several minutes to acclimate to slide into the water. This gave me an opportunity to actually look at his tattoos and be corrected by God just a little bit.

Every image — and he had many — was Biblically-based. He had Daniel in the lions’ den, the three amigos in the fiery furnace with the angel, Paul the apostle holding the cloaks at Stephen’s murder, then blinded on the road to Damacus, being stoned outside of Lystra, preaching on Mars Hill …. I didn’t mean to stare, but I couldn’t help myself.

So, just as I was working up the courage to ask him about his ink, a college student came over to do just that. This kid had tattoos too, but they weren’t nearly so uplifting. The Illustrated Man then shared the gospel with this kid using his ink. I sat in awe, judging myself, as I listened to him. According to Brad, the two exchanged phone numbers in the locker room and the Illustrated Man was going to take the kid to church on Sunday.

So, I’m still not going to run out to get a tattoo or three and I still hope my family members don’t either, but it was a lesson in obscuritism for me.

My cultural bias is against tattoos, but God apparently doesn’t care and this guy is using his ink as a means for evangelism. Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our positions based on what God is trying to teach … which does not mean we should go so far to the other direction that we enter into syncretism.

Culture of Evangelism   1 comment

This is part of a series. Check it out.

Evangelical Christianity used to mean Christianity that reached out and evangelized the world around the churches.

I believe in evangelism. Evangelism lies at the heart of all missionary activity. Which why it is important that we do evangelism right.

Embedded image permalinkI’m not a professional missionary. I have a life here in Fairbanks and I don’t really want to go somewhere else to live. I don’t think God has called me to full-time professional evangelism or missionary work. I do think God has called all Christians to be ministers for Christ in our world and to obey the Great Commission, which is all about evangelism.

I’ve done some short-term mission trips. I’ve gone to a couple of foreign countries and a lot of Alaskan villages. I know some people who do the short-term mission trips all the time and I know some people who reject the concept altogether.

Evangelism done badly—by the wrong people in the wrong way at the wrong time—can be detrimental, no matter how well-intentioned. Yet, there is absolutely no question that Christians must evangelize and that commission from Jesus may have some of us considering cross-cultural evangelism.

Alaska is the most ethnically diverse state in the United, by the way, so I’ve had opportunity to view multicultural evangelism in many guises. Basically, here we don’t have a language barrier, but there are all sorts of cultural barriers.

Understanding culture is key. The logical presentation of the gospel presented as the “Four Spiritual Laws” works well for conceptual, linear thinkers in the West, but does not necessarily work with intuitional thinkers in the East or concrete relational thinkers in Latin America. In working with the foreign-born in my church I learned that eastern thinkers believe that nothing worth proving can be proved. On a mission trip to Columbia, I learned that my passable Spanish was of less importance than my ability to tell stories to illustrate ideas. Although I do not speak German, a mission trip there showed that my forays into logic were more important than my ability to speak the language, primarily because most Germans speak English better than I speak Spanish. Among Alaskan Natives knowing things like sitting at the corner of a table, not talking for long periods of time, and not looking an elder in the eye have allowed me to share the gospel with folks in the villages. Effective evangelism is contextual evangelism. While the message does not change, (Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord), the methodology of doing evangelism must change from culture to culture. Jesus Christ is still Savior and Lord, but how I communicate that must change depending on who I talk to.

Relationships are built on trust and relationship opens channels of communication. Without relationship and the resultant trust it is difficult to evangelize effectively. Building cross-cultural relationships take time and that’s one of the problems with short-term missions. You can’t build trust with another person until they feel like they have been accepted by you and they feel you value them as human beings. After trust is established, there is a greater likelihood that people will share important information. The relationship between persons defines communication and is, therefore, the most important part of the process.

Which is why I am a supporter of long-term missionaries. Nothing speaks so loudly for Christ as Paul mending tents in the Corinthian marketplace. I couldn’t build any relationships with the people I met in Colombia. I hope I acquitted Christ’s gospel well during my 10-days there, but I doubt that was really a long enough time, so I have to hope the long-term missionaries who were our hosts and the native Christians who were already there could water any seeds I managed to plant. I can go back year after year to a Native village and establish friendships, especially in this age of email where we can stay in touch during the months I’m not there. Maybe the day will come when more missionaries will return to the Alaskan bush to evangelize, but truthfully, if the Alaskan villages are to see a second great awakening, the work will likely need to be done by Native folks who accepted Christ back then and are now finally realizing that it is on them to reach their own culture.

But it is also on americanized Christians to recognize and accept that Native Christianity may not look exactly like American Christianity. It may have a lot more dancing in it … inside the churches (gasp)… and songs might be in Koyokon Athabaskan rather than English and maybe they’ll meeting in living rooms around the woodstove rather than in a red-painted building with a cross. Will we be able to accept that version of Christianity as valid within that cultural context? If Raven takes on an Aslan-like quality in the stories instead of being the Trickster will he have a place in the Native Christian churches?

I don’t know, but I do know that cultural context is critical to Christianity because God deals with Christians as individuals and individuals live within a culture. Just as I bristle when my Wendat cousins try to tell me that I shouldn’t do certain things because I am an Indian and not a white person (I’m both!), I bristle when Christians say I shouldn’t dance the Indian dances because it is not “Christian”. Sometimes, some dances are dishonoring to Christ and I don’t participate. Sometimes it’s telling a story of an ancient hunt that doesn’t invoke pagan gods and I participate. The stories of Turtle can be tricky because Turtle can be viewed as a god or simply as the earth. I am capable of judging what is acceptable to my Savior far more than some white person who doesn’t understand my culture.

On the other hand … sometimes we go too far in wrapping Christianity in culture. Watch for the continuation of this series.


Building Bridges   4 comments

This is part of a series. Check it out.

Presenting the gospel in a cultural context does some wonderful things.

Lottie Moon-1.jpgMany of the Chinese Christians I know mention Charlotte Diggs Moon as the reason they are Christians today. Of course, none of them knew her personally, but her example as a missionary in China shines in the house churches of the persecuted Chinese Christian faith.

Lottie Moon was born to affluent and staunchly Baptist parents on a tobacco plantation in Virginia in 1840.

The Moon family valued education, and at age fourteen Lottie went to school at Baptist-affiliated schools in Virginia. In 1861 Moon received one of the first Master of Arts degrees awarded to a woman by a southern institution. She spoke Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish, was fluent at reading Hebrew and would later become a fluent Chinese speaker.

Although educated females in the mid-19th century generally had few career opportunities, her older sister Orianna became a physician and served as a Confederate Army doctor during the Civil War. Lottie helped her mother maintain the family estate during the war, and afterward began a teaching career at various female academies throughout the south. She was an avid church member who worked in local charities.

To the family’s surprise, Lottie’s younger sister Edmonia accepted a call to go to North China as a missionary in 1872. Lottie soon felt called to follow her sister to China. On July 7, 1873, the Foreign Mission Board officially appointed 32-year-old Lottie as a missionary to China.

Lottie joined her sister Edmonia at the North China Mission Station in the treaty port of Dengzhou, in Shandong, and began her ministry by teaching in a boys school. She admitted in her letters to feeling racially superior to the Chinese during those early months. While accompanying some of the seasoned missionary wives on “country visits” to outlying villages, Lottie discovered her passion for direct evangelism. Most mission work at that time was done by married men, but the wives of some of the Baptist missionaries had discovered that only women could reach Chinese women.

Lottie soon became frustrated with teaching school, convinced that her talent was being wasted, that she could be better put to use in evangelism and church planting. She had come to China to “go out among the millions” as an evangelist, only to find herself relegated to teaching a school of 40 children.

In 1885, at the age of 45, Moon gave up teaching and moved into the interior to evangelize full-time in the areas of P’ingtu and Hwangshien. She adopted Chinese dress and customs and evangelized in the Chinese language. Hundreds came to know Jesus as their Savior. Lottie distinguished from those who joined the church because they liked something of Christian culture and those who exhibited transformed lives. Going house to house and village to village, she introduced women and children to the gospel and sometimes she had opportunity to “preach/teach” to mixed-gender audiences. Yeah, Southern Baptist women do not “preach”, but they are allowed to “teach” wherever the Lord guides them.

Continuing a prolific writing campaign, Moon’s letters and articles poignantly described the life of a missionary and pleaded the “desperate need” for more missionaries, which the poorly funded board could not provide. She encouraged Southern Baptist women to organize mission societies in the local churches to help support additional missionary candidates, and to consider coming themselves. Many of her letters appeared as articles in denominational publications. Then, in 1887, Moon wrote to the Foreign Mission Journal and proposed that the week before Christmas be established as a time of giving to foreign missions. Catching her vision, Southern Baptist women organized local Women’s Missionary Societies and Sunbeam Bands for children to promote missions and collect funds to support missions. The Woman’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, was also established. The first “Christmas offering for missions” in 1888 collected over $3,315, enough to send three new missionaries to China.

Throughout her missionary career, Moon faced plague, famine, revolution, and war. The First Sino-Japanese War (1894), the Boxer Rebellion (1900) and the Chinese Nationalist uprising (which overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1911) all profoundly affected mission work. Famine and disease took their toll. When Moon returned from her second furlough in 1904, she was deeply struck by the suffering of the people who were literally starving to death all around her. She pleaded for more money and more resources, but the mission board was heavily in debt and could send nothing. Mission salaries were voluntarily cut. Unknown to her fellow missionaries, Moon shared her personal finances and food with anyone in need around her, severely affecting both her physical and mental health. In 1912, the diminutive Moon only weighed 50 pounds. Alarmed, fellow missionaries arranged for her to be sent back home to the United States with a missionary companion. However, Moon died en route at the age of 72, on December 24, 1912, in the harbor of Kobe, Japan.

Moon is the only Southern Baptist missionary that I know of who is honored an Episcopalian feast day.

Lottie Moon has come to personify the missionary spirit for Southern Baptists and many other Christian organizations. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Missions has raised a total of $1.5 billion for missions since 1888, and finances half the entire Southern Baptist missions budget every year, all of it going overseas to support missionaries in the field rather than stateside salaries (those are paid out of other resources). There is no secular charity that even comes close to that sort of stewardship of donated dollars.

But these pale in comparison to the great achievement Lottie accomplished for the Lord. Her efforts at contextual evangelism had a wide-ranging impact in China, so that many evangelical Christians there trace their spiritual ancestry to one of those she led to the Lord. Because of her emphasis on transformed lives rather than cultural hegemony, the Christian churches in China survived concerted efforts to eliminate them.

Could she have been as effective dressed in a hoop skirt and bonnet speaking English?

Context is Critical   3 comments

God Is Nowhere

God Is Now Here

Exact same letters written with a slight change, but the context changes the whole meaning.

We’re looking at Christianity in the context of culture and why it’s okay to allow culture to influence Christianity … to a point.

The scholar Paul Hiebert suggested there are four levels of contextualization.

The no contextualization approach understands the Christian faith as something that is not a part of human culture; it rejects the notion that culture shapes how one receives and practices Christianity.

The minimal contextualization approach acknowledges the differences existing between cultures, but it tries to limit cultural adaptation as much as possible. Under this model, missionaries might translate the Bible into a foreign language but will likely arrange new church plants in a fashion similar to the churches in their home country. This would be the example in the movie Hawaii where the pastor has learned to build a church that won’t fall down under the wind’s onslaught, but his converts now dress in heavy black suits and hoop skirts.

Uncritical contextualization tends to prioritize culture over the Gospel. It minimizes the eternal truths found in Scripture in order to emphasize cultural convictions and practices. These folks mean to bring European thoughts and society to native cultures and tend not to care if people know Christ so long so they give their money to the church and act like good “Christian” people.

Critical contextualization seeks a balanced approach. In the words of Hiebert, in critical contextualization the Bible is seen as divine revelation, not simply as humanly constructed beliefs. In contextualization the heart of the gospel must be kept as it is encoded in forms that are understood by the people, without making the gospel captive to the context. This is an ongoing process of embodying the gospel in an ever-changing world. Here cultures are seen as both good and evil, not simply as neutral vehicles for understanding the world. No culture is absolute or privileged. All cultures and their members need Christ’s redemptive message.

Out of all of these approaches, contemporary Christians should prefer critical contextualization. This approach preserves the truths found in the Gospel while also taking into account cultural differences.

There are many different ways to do this, but what I have seen working here in Alaska and on the short term mission trips I’ve taken is that when examining a culture, Christians must decide what parts to accept, what parts to reject, and what parts to redeem for Christ. That is a broad assessment tool that will allow Christians to contend for the faith as they contextualize the Gospel message.

The goal is to create gospel-centered churches filled with indigenous people who think of Jesus Christ as their God, not as a foreign deity. When they do things, they do them unto the Lord, meeting the needs of their culture, worshipping in patterns they understand, functioning as a body of believer in indigenous structures.

Contextualization is an important component of effective Gospel ministry.

Though this indigenized church might look radically different from a church in a different culture, it can be a faithful ambassador of the Gospel within its own cultural context.

And, yet, we must always be careful to not allow culture to overwhelm the gospel message.

This is part of a series. Check it out

Cultural Dance   16 comments

My discussion of Christmas got me thinking about how Christianity works itself out in a cultural context.

Contextualization is sometimes a controversial topic, but it remains a critical component in communicating the gospel effectively. The New Testament and the history of Christian missions display the need for healthy contextualization.

Contextualization involves an attempt to present the Gospel in a culturally relevant way. For this reason, any discussions about contextualization are connected to discussions about the nature of human culture.

Culture is the common ideas, feelings and values that guide community and personal behavior, that organize and regulate what a group thinks, feels and does about God, the world and humanity. It explains why the Sawi people of Irian Jaya regard betrayal as a virtue, which Americans see it as a vice. …The closest New Testament approximately to culture is kosmos (world), but only when it refers to language-bound, organized human life (I Corinthians 14:10) or the sin-contaminated system of values, traditions, and social structures of which we are a part (John 17:11) – The Evangelical Dictionary of Missions

There is nothing inherently evil about culture. Like most human inventions, it is a composite of good and evil values, customs, beliefs, creations, vocations, and behaviors that characterize a particular people in a particular place. Some cultures are more brutal than others, but might still have redeeming qualities while other cultures are more praiseworthy except for where they are not.

Unfortunately, not all evangelicals understand culture in this manner. Some evangelicals mistakenly believe that Scripture’s warnings against the world, the kosmos, are warnings against culture itself. This isn’t true. All people are fashioned in the image of God and are recipients of common grace. This means that we should expect to find some positive features present in every culture, even non-Christian cultures. At the same time, every person has sinned, and we should expect to find some negative features present in every culture. Instead of shunning culture completely, we should instead engage culture with care and discernment. We should also hit pause for a moment and realize that evangelical American Christians live within the context of their own culture that is also a human-defined construct.

We cannot avoid discussions about culture because all people live in a culture of some sort. There is no neutral position. None of us stand in a cultural vacuum where we can make objective pronouncements on the cultures of others. All people, whether they realize it or not, are shaped by the culture in which they live.

I had a recent discussion with someone on social media about culture. His contention was that we should reject our culture and stand outside of it. He defined culture along the lines of bacteria. I think this fellow does not understand that his rejection of the concept of a culture is itself an influence from his culture. For about 40 years, since the Hippy era, Americans have been told that our culture is banal and worthless and that we will find much more significance in the cultures of other countries. That is a message born in American culture and is therefore a cultural message. Culture shapes everything we do and believe, often without our direct knowledge.

Culture even shapes a person’s reception of the Christian faith. Andrew Walls has written well on this issue:

No one ever meets universal Christianity in itself: we only ever meet Christianity in a local form and that means a historically, culturally conditioned form. We need not fear this; when God became man he became historically, cultural conditioned man in a particular time and place. What he became, we need not fear to be. There is nothing wrong in having local forms of Christianity–provided that we remember that they are local.

Walls does not suggest that the Christian Gospel is merely the product of a particular culture or that it is only “true” in particular cultures. The teachings of Christianity remain objectively true in all times and in all places. Walls merely argues that we receive the truths of Christianity wrapped in the baggage of a particular cultural context. We humans are not eternal, timeless and a-cultural. Some of the ways we worship, how we present eternal truths, and how we live in and relate to society must be considered because we live in a culture.

A failure to understand this point can actually lead to a form of cultural arrogance where a person might begin to believe that his culture’s way of practicing Christianity is the only way to practice Christianity. This attitude would be unhelpful to the gospel because it tries to force a distant culture onto potential converts as if it were the gospel.

The process of contextualization takes these facts about culture into account by presenting the unchanging truths of the gospel within the unique and changing contexts of cultures and worldviews.

Contextualization works as a tool to enable an understanding of what it means that Jesus Christ is authentically experienced in each and every human situation. While the human condition and the gospel remain the same, people have different worldviews which in turn impact how they interpret themselves and the world.

Scripture supports for this concept of contextualization. Jesus lived His earthly life in Palestine as a first-century Jew. He entered the culture of His day and “was so thoroughly a part of His culture that, when being betrayed by Judas, He had to be identified by a kiss. His captors could not tell Him from other Jewish males hanging around in the first century gardens. Jesus’ ministry operated within a specific cultural context.

Paul’s ministry also reveals the need for contextualization. Paul intentionally addressed his Jewish listeners one way but addressed pagan philosophers differently. When he addressed Jews, Paul began with Scripture. When he addressed Gentiles, he began with general revelation. The focus of Paul’s sermons remained the same—the Gospel, but he shifted his presentation of the Gospel to fit the worldviews of his listeners.

Contextualization is simply about sharing the Gospel well. Those who deliberately practice the process of contextualization desire to share the Gospel in ways that is most relevant to the culture they are addressing.

 Watch for the series

Cultural Dance (this article)

Gospel in Obscurity

Context is Critical

How Then Should We Live?

Jerusalem Council

Instructional Letter

Building Bridges

Culture of Evangelism

Look out for Black Ice

 Make a Choice

Recognizing the World

All That is In the World

Illustrated Man

How Do You Know the Difference?




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