Friday, 26 October 2012

Are you a typical Christian Stereotype?

Do you find that when you share your faith in Jesus Christ that some people already have an image in their minds of what Christians are really like? Do they have a ‘Christian Stereotype’ fixed in their minds?

It is true that some Christians can come across as:

·        Intolerant of other religions
·        Judgemental of others
·        Anti gay
·        Dogmatic and intolerant of others’ opinions
·        Hypocrites

There are a number of Scriptures that I could use regarding this subject, but here are just two.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” John 3:17-18

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

How do we communicate with people of other religions, gay people, and people who are totally anti religion without coming across as a ‘Christian Stereotype’? It is a challenge –when we share Jesus we need to demonstrate His love first and foremost. It is absolutely essential that we do not come across as judgemental or with a condemnatory attitude.

A very good friend of mine has described me as ‘dogmatic’ on occasion because I hold firmly to my beliefs. We cannot compromise the message of the Gospel in any way, even if we know that it may not be received well. It is vital that we show the love of God in our exchanges with people.

Last night I was asked a challenging question. It was this: “I like to think that my father is in heaven waiting for me; I know that he wasn’t a Christian, but he was a good man. Do you believe that he is heaven?”

I asked a couple of questions and discovered that the man had some knowledge of church as he went to Sunday school as a child. Also he had been ill for a period before he died, so I explained that many people call on the Lord in situations like that, which gave me an opportunity to explain about the parable of the Vineyard owner in Matthew 20: 2-16, who hired labourers at different times of the day, but paid them all the same wages irrespective of how long they had worked.

Key Point: Take people back to scripture because that is what opens the hardest of hearts

We need to take people to scripture where possible because that is what opens their hearts to the truth. It is a living and powerful Word and I have seen it change the hardest of hearts.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

When asked if there are many roads to God, I always explain that it would be nice to believe that but then go through scriptures that clearly show that “many roads” are not the case. Using scriptures like John 14: 6 to explain that the only way to God is through His Son Jesus Christ, and that all other roads lead to the wrong destination.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7: 13-14

I was asked once if I hated homosexuals because I was a Christian. My reply was that I didn’t hate anyone in anyway at all and said that God is the same way. He loves people more than anyone ever could. In fact He loves them so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for them. What greater demonstration of love could anyone show? The truth of the matter is that God doesn’t hate the sinner; rather He hates the sin itself.

Let’s remind ourselves that we need to live out our lives so that the people who watch us do not see us as hypocrites. Our Christian walk speaks volumes about us, long before we have the chance to start quoting scripture!

Also try not to get into the “you are wrong” type of exchanges. Instead, let people know that you appreciate what they have to say. Then, in love, tell them the truth. The Holy Spirit will be with you.

Tell the truth in love…it’s the only way.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Relevant Gospel

Whilst preparing a message to preach next Sunday I paused to consider the relevance of the Gospel in society today and how we as individuals go about making it known. I believe that it is indisputably still relevant!  The Bible has been described as a manual for life, a road map showing the way in which we should go. These are good descriptions.

The word relevant simply means to relate to a matter at hand. While I was preparing my Sunday message I read this scripture by the Apostle Paul, which clearly demonstrated that he knew how to make a subject relevant in his letter to the Corinthians.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27

Paul was talking about the Christian life we lead and the goal of eternity with The Lord. He used the example of the Isthmian games, that were held in the area every two years, as the Corinthians would have seen the relevance immediately. Everyone knew about them and many people had probably been to Corinth to watch them.

The question is then, how do we make the Gospel relevant to the people we witness to? How can we explain it in simple terms so that our listeners immediately understand the context?

This subject has been one of great debate over recent years. Some people believe that you should leave the word alone and let it do its work, while some others want to amend it so that it can be brought up to date. I believe that we, like Paul, must be on the lookout for opportunities where we can share the good news.

When I went through evangelism training, as students we had to be ready to share the good news at any time. In lessons our lecturers would have a bag full of items that they would use like a lucky dip bag.  They would put their hand in, grab an item and throw it to a student, who would catch it and immediately have to relate the item to sharing the good news.

In the same way we should be able to do that with situations that come up from time to time. Over the years I have used news events and the like as a doorway to share the Gospel. Whatever subject was brought up by work colleagues, friends or family, I could use it to share the message, creating an opportunity.

Key Point: Be watchful and ready, because there will be plenty of opportunities for you to present the Gospel in a way that is relevant

Below are a few examples. These are just ideas  which  you can adapt to situations that arise in your own life.

Wars, Famine etc: I would get involved in the discussion with people for a while and then make or point or ask a question to the group like “Did  you know that the Bible talked about things happening like this when Jesus was on the earth?”  I would get asked questions like “Where does it say that then?”

The question opened the door to share the scripture in Matthew 24: 6 You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”

Evil and greed in the world: There have been many times over the years where I have got into discussions about subjects like this. It is a great opportunity to sow seeds. I would often say “We shouldn’t be surprised about this happening really” and would then be asked “Why

I would then explain 2 Timothy 3: 2:  “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

Doesn’t everyone go to heaven, aren’t there many roads to God?: Occasionally a “Biggy” like this would present itself. Sometimes people would discuss the matter of eternity and going to heaven.

When this happened I would patiently listen, ask questions along the lines of “Oh that’s interesting, why do you believe that?” Invariably in a group of people there would be a range of views given as to why they believed that they would end up in heaven. People would explain their reasoning about receiving eternal life.

Where the opportunity was right I would say something like “Well, although I have heard what you have all said about the subject, it seems you are not CERTAIN that your belief that you will go to heaven will truly work. Rather you are HOPING it will”.  

I would go on to say “I base my beliefs on one thing, the word of God. The Bible clearly states………..”.  I could use a number of scriptures here, such as John 14: 6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Sometimes what I said fell on deaf ears, other times I was able to discuss the gospel, sometimes I was able to share my story of salvation and on other occasions I was able to lead a person to Christ.

We must be ready and willing, being prepared to share the truth in love. God will back you up. He always does and He always will.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Is the Gospel simply black and white?

Is the Gospel black and white? It is a simple enough question to ask, isn’t it? What do you think? Is your answer an immediate yes or no, or are you having to think about the question?

How does your belief in the clarity of the Gospel affect the urgency and way that you share it? Have you ever found it difficult to deal with questions surrounding eternity, heaven and hell?  Is the Gospel a turn or burn message that was preached years ago and heard of so little today?

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” Matthew 7:13

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Matthew 25: 31-46

If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you will know I believe that the Bible is very clear in what it says about ‘being in Christ’ compared to not believing and accepting Him as Lord and Saviour.

I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that you go and start telling people that they are destined for hell. My point is that we should present the Gospel with clarity, and not be afraid to speak plainly when required.

My first pastor for 16 years had a major effect on my life during those years. He taught me very much, challenged me, pushed me and even irritated me sometimes. An outstanding part of his character was that he was always very clear when it came to the Gospel message and from his ministry and my own study I have developed very similar beliefs about doctrine.

On one occasion a person who had been attending our church for a while told my pastor that they wanted to try a different fellowship. He was disappointed to hear this and asked why the person felt that way. I will never forget the person’s reply. They said, “Oh, the stuff that you preach is too black and white for me”.

I remember thinking, “Too black and white! Do you really want the matter of your eternal destiny to be a grey area?” People need to understand that the only way to God is through His Son. There is no other way. It is a fact that cannot be watered down. It is through Jesus and Jesus only!

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14: 6

So then how do we answer the “Am I going to Hell” question and other difficult ones like it?

I suppose you could be direct and answer “Yes”, if you knew that the person you were in conversation with had not received Christ as Saviour. I believe that if you did that on a regular basis, you would have very short conversations with people while witnessing.

Whenever I am asked a question like that I tend to deal with it in a way is not offensive. When asked about Hell and other similar questions I try to answer saying something like, “That is a great question and probably the best way to answer it would be to tell you what the Bible says about it”.

Key Point: Never be tempted to compromise the message so that it becomes more palatable.

I would then go through something like the Roman road scriptures and explain them in simple, easy to understand terms. Sometimes you will need to be sensitive, while at other times you will need to be quite direct. The Holy Spirit will guide you if you seek Him. But never be tempted to compromise the message so that it becomes more palatable for your listener.

I have covered the Roman Road before in previous blogs, but just as a reminder the scriptures are:

Romans 3: 23:For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 6: 23: "The wages of sin is death..."

Romans 6: 23:"But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Romans 5: 8: "God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!"

Romans 10: 13: "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved!"

Romans 10: 9-10: "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

Jesus talked more about Hell that He did about Heaven. He is our model and example to follow. He was the ultimate evangelist, so that should answer any questions we have about harder to deal with areas such as this.

I have had debates with people on this subject and have then asked them, “Do you believe that you know a better way of answering difficult questions like this than Jesus did”?

On the other hand I have met people who have a great desire to share Jesus, but all they seem to talk about is hell and damnation. We need to share the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus and what He accomplished for us on the cross. As we witness people must see the love of Jesus in us.

We must also be prepared to give straight answers when asked the difficult questions. People respect honesty, especially when you answer in love.