Do you have a message to share?

mic2Do you have a message to share? Is it the kind of word that puts fire in your belly? Do you wake up early wanting to spread this news to others? Is it unthinkable that you would keep it to yourself? I’m interested in the things that drive us, the messages that inspire us, and the passions that lead us to speak.

Having spent 16 seasons with the Brumbies in Canberra, I know what it is to live and breath rugby. While some shake their heads in bewilderment, others will argue and proclaim all season. Monday morning experts, as they say, who can dissect with precision, diagnose every detail, and deliver the answers with ease. For some it’s almost a cult that draws in every detail of their lives. For others, it’s on the nose, they’ve had enough, and they don’t want to hear another word.

I’ve experienced many passions shaping the conversations of my friends. During my final years in Canberra, I was engulfed in a world of cycling. My last ride was back in 2010, with the Brumbies, riding on back trails from Canberra to Kosi. Not so much post-cancer and never with the passion I see today. So many around me living and breathing bikes. Road bikes, mountain bikes, trails, single tracks, races, teams, 24 hour events, new bikes, never enough bikes, roof racks, brakes, gears, frames, wheels, bikes on weekends, rides to the coast, rides back again, early morning rides, late night rides, lighting systems, carb loading, hydration strategies, friends, coffee shops, overseas trips, getting the wife and kids involved… on and on it went. Passion, drive, energy, and Strava. Barely a conversation went by without hearing the gospel of cycling.

And now it’s surfing. My town runs on it. Short boards, long boards, SUPs (not really), comps, clubs, drinks, friends, early mornings, every Sunday, tradies, oldies, wet suits, shark alerts, rips, tides, banks, and reefs. Being accepted means joining the club, rising early, donning the suit, paddling out, watching, waiting, commentating, tracking the weather, following the swell. Do you surf? You should? Get yourself a board. You can borrow mine. Just get on board. The gospel of surfing is very compelling.

But I long to hear another gospel. A transcendent gospel. A gospel for all. A gospel beyond the tribalism of rugby, beyond the addictions of cycling and surfing, coffee or wine. I long to hear a gospel of depth and purpose and significance and meaning and life. Deep life, enduring life, life beyond trivia, life beyond material prosperity, life beyond health and fashion and money and security. I long to hear of a gospel of forgiveness, a fresh start, transformation, altruism, generosity, love for people, grace, friendship, encouragement and hope. I long to hear more about the loving almighty creator. I long to hear more about his intersecting with life, intervening in life, interupting life. I long to hear more of his coming, his living, his struggles, his actions, his extraordinary works, his deep compassion, his healing touch, his wise teaching, his passion for justice, his provocative preaching, his prophetic pronouncements, his predictions of the future. I long to hear people speak of his death and resurrection, his humility and sacrifice, his glory and power. I long to hear the gospel of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the King, the Lord, the Saviour, the Son of God, the giver of life.

So speak. Share your gospel. Speak from your heart. Communicate what gets you up in the morning. Commend the very message that puts steel in your spine. Offer that word that fuels your tanks. Persuade people about what matters really matter most. Give people quality news, true news, gripping news, compelling news. Share your hope of life. And do it with clarity, and passion, and conviction, with integrity.

But don’t pontificate. Don’t pretend you have it all together. Don’t push a set of rules called religion. Share the gospel of grace. Speak of the relationship, not the rituals. And don’t talk over others. Don’t shout down your opposition. Listen, ask, respond, speak, clarify, encourage, answer, explore, commend, persuade.

Our world needs a true gospel. If you’ve got a message to share, then let’s hear it.

Outreach and the artist

outreach_artistI’m not an artist. I don’t play a musical instrument, my paintings haven’t progressed from primary school, I’m not much into acting, and no one would pay to hear me sing. But the author Con Campbell is an artist. More importantly he loves artists, and that’s what this book is about. Outreach and the artist expresses two of Con’s passions: (1) a desire for Christians to use the arts to reach out to others; and (2) a desire for Christians to engage with artist subcultures largely isolated from Christian faith. Con writes as a practitioner on both fronts. He is a highly acclaimed jazz saxophonist who has uses his craft to help communicate with others about Jesus and he keeps well connected with other artists, seeking to persuade them to take Jesus seriously.

This book is well written and easy to read. I read most of it yesterday while walking into town and back (while trying to avoid the pedestrian casualty list). There are many strengths to this book that I appreciate. Firstly, Con explains very clearly the content of the good news and how people actually become followers of Jesus. There is no watering down of the Christian message to make it more palatable for an edgy post-modern audience. He is clear that one only becomes a Christian by putting their trust in Jesus and that this is a non-negotiable. He doesn’t claim more for his or others’ art forms than they are able to deliver. No one is going to understand the good news of Jesus simply by being amazed by a painting or swept up in a beautiful piece of music. This may be an experience that God uses to stimulate their interest in  the creative God. It might lead them to enquire about the faith of the artist. It may provide a hearing for the artist to explain what they believe. But art, in and of itself, is not going to save people.

Secondly, Con is able to straddle the divide between the church and the arts. He is a highly gifted Bible scholar, teacher, theologian, writer and ministry practitioner. He is also respected as an artistic performer in the field of jazz. He knows how churches think and fail to think, and he understands the world in which the performing artist lives. Con has sought to bridge the divide in a number of ways.

He has performed over 250 jazz gigs with churches and Christian groups, with the aim of creating a relaxed and comfortable context for speaking about Jesus. I’ve witnessed a number of these gigs and love the way Con moves from introducing us to the forms of jazz to sharing his enthusiasm about Jesus. The freedom of the jazz musician to express himself within the groove, leads to Con explaining how Jesus is the groove that gives us real freedom to live.

He also helps churches to consider how their often rigid and judgmental attitudes serve to alienate many alternative types from their midst. The lifestyle of the artist is very different to the 9 to 5 office worker. Days or weeks can be spent just seeking inspiration, or reworking an idea. Productivity may seem non-existent. Thousands of hours can be ‘wasted’ or spent ‘indulging’ in practise, with little to show for it. Con challenges us to see things afresh. If we appreciate the craft of an elite artist, musician, or athlete, then we must also appreciate how many years of effort go into getting there. Most musicians work late nights and weekends. They recover by sleeping in. This doesn’t mean they are lazy. Churches are urged to think more empathetically about connecting with people who have very different lifestyles.

Thirdly, having been one who lived for the god of music, Con understands first hand many of the barriers to artists coming to trust in Jesus. He saw the idolatry in his own heart. He’d taken God’s good gift of creativity and ignored the Creator who gave it to him. Con understands the difficulties for artists whose life and being has been tied up with their craft. There is much for them to lose, but far more to be gained. Con shares how he recognised that he must give up his jazz to worship God instead, but then how God opened more doors than he could ever imagine to enjoy jazz and use it to serve God.

This book also contains a number of interviews with Christian artists. There are musicians, painters, actors. They speak of their appreciation of the arts, what they love, how they’ve struggled as Christians in this subculture, the various ministries they’ve been able to be involved in as artists, and what each believes to be the biggest barriers for artists coming to trust in Jesus.

I really loved this little book. For mine it’s an excellent example of living out the attitude we see in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

I would highly recommend this book to all Christian artists. I think it will help them to reflect on how they can appreciate the gifts and blessings that God has given them, and encourage them to use their opportunities to honour God.

I would also encourage pastors and leaders in church to read this book. It helps us to think about what’s needed to connect with people we’re just not reaching. It also contains some excellent advice on utilising the arts to make Christ known.

Thanks Con.

Promoting the gospel in growth groups

swiss_army_knifeGrowth groups can have a tendency to focus inwardly upon themselves. Or should we say, the people in growth groups can become attached to their groups, so that the group gets all the bulk of their attention. This might be hard to believe when you first join up with a bunch of strangers, but as we get involved in each others’ lives, we can grow attached to each other. Of itself this is good, but if it leads to the neglect of others outside the group then we have a problem. Sometimes this can manifest itself with a prioritising of the group over the rest of church. But it can also mean that we forget about the needs of people outside church altogether.

centrifugalI didn’t do much physics at school, but my novice understanding is that growth groups therefore have a centripetal tendency. We tend to become preoccupied with what’s going on inside the group. If so, then I suggest we also encourage a centrifugal interest among the members of our groups. We want to be concerned for what’s happening on the outside, and we want to be preparing people in our groups to live and speak as followers of Jesus outside the group.

We don’t want growth groups to be holy huddles or simply emotional support groups. They are growth groups. We want to see the members of our groups growing together in Christian maturity. This will mean following the mission of Jesus, who came to seek and to save those who are lost. It will involve promoting the gospel of Jesus in our daily lives and it will move us to prayer.

There are many ways that growth groups can focus on promoting the gospel. We’ll explore a few:

1. Prayer

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Paul asked the churches to support him in prayer. He had the responsibility of preaching Christ to the nations and he needed God’s help and people’s partnership in prayer. We can also support others in their proclamation of Jesus. Pray for the preachers and evangelists in our churches. Pray for others who are entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of making Christ known. Pray for those who are under much public scrutiny. Pray for people who are using different media, who are writing books and blogs, producing audio, video and TV, to proclaim Christ. Pray that they will be faithful, engaging, and bring honour to God. If our church supports global partners (or missionaries), or has sent people to plant new churches, then let’s uphold them in prayer.

Let’s also pray for one another in our groups, that we will live godly lives and show the difference that a relationship with Jesus can make. Pray for opportunities to do good to others and to bring blessing into people’s lives. Pray that God will open doors for us to give a reason for the hope that we have. Ask God to help us do this with gentleness and respect to others.

Maybe your group could pray for particular people outside the group. Friends of the members, family, workmates, neighbours, people we’re keen to see come to know Jesus. If your group breaks into 2s or 3s to pray, then you could pray more specifically and personally.

2. Living out the implications of the gospel during the week

People notice how we live. It matters! Who’s going to pay attention to someone who tells them that being a Christian can change their life, if they’re known by everyone as the office gossip, a liar and a cheat? Titus 2 gives us gospel motives and purpose for living lives of integrity and grace…

5 … so that no one will malign the word of God.

8 … so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

10 … so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

For this reason our Bible studies should be focused on producing fruit in people’s lives. Application shouldn’t simply be tacked on when we allow enough time. It’s the whole purpose of the study. Transformed lives is what we are seeking. Not so that we can pat ourselves on the back, but for the glory of God and the welfare of others.

We should make time to get to know the members of our groups. What are their lives like? Who do they live with? What’s goes on in their workplace? What courses are they studying? Do they have any kids? What do they find tough? Who do they hang out with? What temptations do they face? Where do they think they are most on show? Let’s use our time together in growth groups to encourage one another, as it says in Hebrews 10:24-25:

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

3. Celebrate our God-given differences

The beauty of a church and a growth group is that they’re made up of different people. We’re united in the gospel of Jesus, but we have different gifts, personalities, experiences, opportunities. God has designed it this way so that we recognise the benefits of working together. When it comes to promoting the gospel, it’s important that we don’t spend the whole time making each other feel inadequate. Perhaps John spent a recent plane trip talking with his fellow passengers about why he’s a Christian. That doesn’t mean that everyone else should be doing the same thing. Some people can’t afford plane trips! Seriously, others will be too shy to ever contemplate such a thing. Some will be better communicators than others. We’re all wired differently and we should celebrate this, rather than judging one another.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:15-18)

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be nudging each other along or encouraging each other to grow and change. We must. But let’s encourage transformation into the image of Christ, rather than calling everyone to conform to a particular stereotype. How many Ned Flanders do we really need!?

4. Work on a gospel project together

Perhaps your growth group could work on a project to promote the gospel. This could be an event that you each invite people to. They tend to work best when the members of the group are connected with similar people. If everyone lived in the same community, perhaps they could each invite their neighbours. Parents of the kids in the same school or sporting team could arrange an event for other parents. A group meeting in the same workplace could invite their colleagues to something in a lunch hour or after work. A common ethnic group could promote an event in their community. A common interest group could connect with others in their network. A group of people living in the same university residence have special opportunities to promote the gospel together.

Their are all sorts of events that could be used in promoting the gospel. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve participated in…

  • A Question & Answer event where someone answers people’s questions about Christianity. People invite friends, put on a good meal or refreshments, invite a speaker, or a panel of speakers, to answer questions. It’s very important people know clearly what they’re being invited to come to. No surprises. And don’t let the Christians dominate discussion!
  • An fun activity followed by short refreshments and a brief talk. If everyone is into mountain biking, perhaps go for a ride, come back for a BBQ, and have someone share why being a Christian is so important to them. Our group once held a wine tasting event at a local winery, after which I spoke about the one who turned water into wine!
  • A God party! You’ve heard of Tupperware and Nutrimetics parties. It’s the same idea with a few differences. The good stuff is all free. A friend of mine promoted this idea by encouraging people to take advantage of an excellent opportunity to discuss the often neglected, but important, topic of God. Heaps of people came.
  • A home brew evening. We have a few clever blokes in our church who make their own. They got together, put on a demo, and invited Pat Alexander (The bloke who wrote I’d love to have a beer with Duncan for Slim Dusty) to speak about the two most influential men in his life – Jesus and Duncan!
  • Use the collective imaginations of the people in the group to come up with your own ideas!

5. Training together

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. ( 1 Peter 3:15-16)

If someone was to ask you how you became a Christian, or what makes a Christian different to a Jew, a Hindu, or a Jehovah’s Witness, what would you say? If they asked why you go to church, or whether you pray, or what’s so important about Jesus, would you have an answer? If someone enquired why you have an eternal hope in the face of death… do you know what you want to say? The Apostles, Peter and Paul, both call us to be prepared to answer those who want to know what it’s all about. We’re encouraged to be willing and able to speak to others about what we believe.

Willingness flows from confidence in the gospel, trusting in God to be at work, and that he can use our lives and words to impact others. It’s easy to be embarrassed, or even ashamed, of the perceived weakness of our message. We need to be regularly reminded that the truth about Jesus can change people’s lives for good and forever. Ability comes from knowing what we believe and knowing people, and connecting the two in practice. Growth groups are a great environment to build confidence in God’s word and how it changes people.

A group can take incidental opportunities for equipping each other in sharing what we believe. Maybe we’re telling the group about a conversation we had at work where Christianity came up. The group could brainstorm how we might have handled it well or how we could improve. An idea might arise out of the Bible study that helps us to explain an aspect of our faith to enquirers. It’s good to highlight and reinforce these things. The Bible passage might intersect with some issues that are preventing people from taking God seriously, and the group could discuss how to over come this. People could talk together about how God has relevance to issues that we deal with day to day, so as to be better prepared when opportunities arise.

There can also be formal opportunities for training in gospel communication. If the church is providing courses or one-on-one mentoring, the leader might encourage people to participate (even if it means skipping the group for a few weeks). Maybe the growth group could set aside a few weeks from the regular studies to focus on some area of training.

6. Are people who aren’t Christian invited?

I think the short answer is “Why not?” Why wouldn’t we welcome anyone who wants to join with us, look at the Bible together, enter into life together. We don’t put bouncers on the door at church, so why would we close the doors to our groups? It could offer a wonderful opportunity to build genuine relationships and promote real discussion that will help someone come to a decision to follow Jesus.

It is important for the group to be of a common understanding of what the group is about, who it’s for and how it functions. Let everyone discuss their hopes and expectations. If you are a group of Christians, and then someone who isn’t persuaded joins with you, it will change the dynamics considerably. Not a bad thing, but we need to work with the changes. You might need to talk about whether your particular group is the best context for a friend who’s not a Christian, or whether another group might be better. If your church has special groups for those who are looking into Christianity, perhaps it would be better to go with your friend to that group for a while. Think about whether they’d be more comfortable talking things through with you, just sitting anonymously in church, joining in with the group, or something else entirely.

Remember we are talking about GROWTH groups. Our desire is to be growing followers of Jesus, through people coming to faith in Jesus Christ and growing together into maturity.

Further reading
Colin Marshall, Growth Groups, chapter 9
John Chapman, Know and tell the Gospel
Kel & Barbara Richards, Hospitality Evangelism
Dave Thurston, Making friends for life
John Dickson, Promoting the Gospel
Steve Timmis & Tim Chester, The Gospel-centered Church

Marks of the messenger

MarksI’ve been complimented a few times in the past 24 hours for writing this book. Given that I’m thought to have written it, I thought I should read it at least. Why the compliments and the confusion? Well, yesterday I attended the AFES National Staff Conference, where I gave the opening address. Before the talk, Mack Stiles was interviewed about his work in Dubai and then I was interviewed about my experiences over the past year. During my interview, Richard Chin realised that he’d forgotten to plug Mack’s book. He held it up, said how good it was, and that Don Carson had said: “I do not think I have ever read a book on evangelism that makes me more eager to pass it on than this one – better, that makes me more eager to evangelize than this one.”

What Richard said, and what people thought he’d said, differ slightly. Read the next two sentences out loud…

Mack has written this book…
Macca’s written this book…

You can see or at least hear the reason why people were mistaken!

Now that I have read Marks of the MessengerI can say that I’d be very happy to have written it. Not just getting the royalties, or the accolades from the back cover, or it being my first book – but for what it says! It’s a book that encourages people to know Jesus, to live for Jesus, and to speak up for Jesus. Some books on evangelism make me cringe as they focus on methods and strategies for marketing the message and impacting zillions of people. This book is about being authentic as a follower of Jesus. These are the things that should mark a messenger of the good news about Jesus.

I had in mind to summarise many of the excellent ideas in this book but, as I neared the final pages, I discovered that Mack has done this for us. He distills the previous chapters into what he calls A Manifesto for Healthy Evangelism (p112-113). But let me offer a quick description of the main points of this book.

  1. You can’t really share the breaking news of Jesus Christ unless you have a genuine relationship with him. This means acknowledging that Jesus has authority over your life and putting your complete trust in him. As you trust him, so you trust his words of life and desire to share this with others.
  2. It’s important to know the gospel well. Don’t mess with it by adding bits you like or subtracting bits you don’t like. If you mess with it, then it will be no benefit to anyone.
  3. The gospel can be lost in three generations. If one generation accepts it, then the next assumes it, then the next confuses it, then the next will have lost it. So keep the gospel at the heart of every thing you do and say in your life and ministry.
  4. The first application of our understanding of the gospel is not necessarily to share our faith, but to live a gospel-centered life. (p112) The gospel should influence every nook and cranny of our lives. It helps us to remember our sins and failings, enables us to resolve conflicts, shapes our parenting, and so much more. Our lives should look like the message of grace we share.
  5. God calls us to love people by meeting their needs. Some people are lonely, some are hungry, some are oppressed. We are called to love them. All people are in need of forgiveness, and God calls us to love them in this need also. This may involve many things, but at the heart it will mean letting them know about Jesus.
  6. Before people can put their trust in Jesus and turn to him as their Lord, they need to understand what this means and how it happens. There’s no point in people making meaningless responses. What’s required is genuine, reasonable, change of heart, and this will result in changed lives.
  7. We’re called to be bold – not to fear people, or to be ashamed of the message, or fearful of being rejected. So let’s pray that our fear of people will be replaced by reverent fear of God.
  8. The love of God is so different to corrosive, wordly views of love. God’s love changes people and builds extraordinary communities. Jesus said that people would know we are Christians by the love we have for one another. As we apply this in our lives, it becomes the greatest image of the gospel we offer the world.
  9. As we speak the gospel to those who don’t know the gospel, we cycle through three foundational challenges in our minds: Do I know the gospel? Do I live the gospel? Do I speak the gospel? (p113)

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Mack over the past few years as we’ve met at this conference. This morning we talked together, shared our lives together, wept together, and prayed together. Mack’s enthusiasm for people to know the truth about Jesus is infectious, in a positive way. You know he’s not going through the motions, because where he lives and works there’s absolutely no point pretending to be a Christian. It’d be stupid and dangerous. Mack knows Jesus personally and his great passion is that others will also come to know him. You know, that’s what God wants too! Marks of the Messenger will help you to be a part of this happening.

A strange urge

I’ve developed a strange urge this year. It hits me every time I see someone smoking. I feel like going over to them and asking them to give up – to quit. I’m seriously tempted to take off my shirt, show them the scars on my side, and let them know that lung cancer is no fun at all (even though mine isn’t from smoking). But you know what? I don’t! I just turn away and keep on going. The problem is I’m gutless!

I have another urge, a deeper urge. Every time one of my friends shows a disinterest in God or dismisses Christianity, I feel like pleading with them check it out – to reconsider. I want to point to the scars on Jesus’ hands, the wounds in his side, and let them know that God offers each of us a fresh start because of Jesus’ crucifixion. The consequences of rejecting God are serious, but I want to speak of the love of God, his offer of forgiveness, and his promise of life beyond death. But you guessed it! Too often I say nothing at all. I just ignore the issue and continue as though it doesn’t really matter. Let me apologise for being gutless! Seriously, let’s talk.

Telling the truth in your 80s

John Chapman is as bold as brass when it comes to telling the truth. He knows that when you’re 82 it’s not too smart to keep putting things off. Especially the things that really matter. Life’s too short. There’s no point in pretending. And certainly not with the people you deeply care about. So he just tells it like it is, and he gets away with it. Addressing a bunch of oldies in his retirement home he says…

I can see there are a lot of snow-capped mountains and barren peaks here today. Now put your hand up if you think you’ll be alive in 10 years … what about 5 years? … if you’re not right with God, and you’ve only got 3 years to go, wouldn’t you make that a high priority? I would, if I were you!

Chappo has been a follower of Jesus since his teens and he’s learned a great deal over the years. In a recent interview, at an AFES student workers conference, he shared at length about his experiences as a Christian. It’s a long interview (86 minutes) but it’s full of priceless gems of encouragement amidst his trademark story telling and humour. The topics cover such areas as being a Christian at school, connecting with people in country towns, his experiences with the 1959 Billy Graham crusade, how to become a better preacher, communicating about Jesus Christ on university campuses, getting organised with prayer, the struggles of growing old, why heaven will be so much better, and more.

A particular highlight for me was hearing about Chappo’s commitment to praying for other people. (It occurs between 54 and 60 minutes into the video.) He explained how 6 weeks of hospitalisation over Christmas gave him more opportunities to pray. He described his strategies for prayer that include his photographic prayer diary, his daily lists, his 9 day cycle, and his special prayers for people in need. He mentioned that he prays for his ‘oncology patient’ friends, including myself, each time he gets up to go to the toilet at night. I feel very privileged to be on this exclusive prayer list! Furthermore, Fiona and I were so encouraged to hear Chappo share how he also prays for our youngest son, and how they’ve been writing to each other and found this mutually encouraging. God bless you brother!

Do yourself a favour. Skip that meaningless forensic pathology television show, or that B grade multi-repeat movie, or that footy game you were planning to watch… and listen to Chappo get fired up about what’s really important. Click here to watch.