Apologetics, Christianity, Evangelism, God, Uncategorized

The Defense Is Ready: Taking The Gospel To The People

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for your hope. Do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

Posted on Twitter by @Skylarblue54

Dear friends,

As Christians, we have all encountered people who have wanted to know more about the hope the lies within us at one time or another, so we must be ready in season or out of season to make a defense of the Gospel. As the initial Scripture portion from Peter’s first letter tells us, there is a right way to do this (use gentleness and respect). I write this by way of reminder for those who want to give a defense of the Gospel and are also involved with evangelism. Apologetics and evangelism work in tandem, so I may use the terms interchangeably in this writing. According to Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who believe, it is the power of God (1: 18, also Rom 1: 16). God uses the foolishness of the message preached to save souls, but in order for the Gospel to keep its power, it must be handled correctly.

Think of the Gospel as a medicine. Whenever you get a prescription from your doctor, you can’t just take your medicine any way you please. The doctor gives specific instructions about dosage, how often to take medication, and what things to avoid so you won’t have a drug interaction problem and so that you will get the maximum benefit. The message of evangelism and the work of apologetics are like God’s prescription for the people we minister to; it makes the power of God available for salvation. We are like residents learning under the Great Physician, and so in order to effectively minister to our patients, we must not vary from His instructions. There are some things we should keep in mind.

The Gospel message must be kept pure and complete to keep its power

In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus identifies Himself as the Bread of Life; He said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. This was a hard saying for many of the disciples, and many of them no longer walked with Him after this (v 66). Jesus didn’t customize the Gospel by telling the audience what they wanted to hear. He was concerned that the people get the whole counsel of God, even if it offended them and caused them to turn away.

 
It is an unfortunate fact that today some people customize the Gospel in order to keep the numbers up. They add or subtract from the Gospel to make it more palatable for the masses. One well-known televangelist has customized the Gospel by never mentioning Hell. He justified this by saying there is enough negativity in the world already without adding “Hell” to it. Others have customized the Gospel by exchanging grace for works, denying Jesus as the only way to the Father, claiming Jesus is really Michael the Archangel, denying that Jesus rose from the dead, etc. People who customize the Gospel covet followers who will seek after them (as well as buy their books, attend their conferences, etc.), not the Lord. This has been going on a long time; even as the ink was drying on Paul’s epistles false brethren were altering and customizing the Gospel:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1: 6-7, NASB)

 
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a messenger or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has already come. (2 Thess 2: 1-2, NASB)

 
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead? (1 Cor 15: 12, NASB)

In order for the Gospel to keep the power God intended it to have, it must be kept pure with no additions or subtractions. Customizing the Gospel creates another gospel, and if God didn’t build it, it won’t save the hearers. Keep the Gospel pure when you defend it and when you evangelize, then the power God intended it to have will flow through it and minister to those in need of a physician; it won’t return void, but will accomplish the will of the Father.

When defending the Gospel, keep it spiritual

As an evangelist/apologist, you will encounter all kinds of people seeking answers about anything under the sun. When unbelievers ask about your faith, it’s very important that you don’t try to persuade them with natural, worldly wisdom. If people don’t believe the testimony of the Scriptures, which has the power to bring salvation, will they be persuaded by a natural argument based on worldly wisdom? If they won’t listen to the spiritual, will the natural persuade them? Of course not. It is written “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside” (1 Cor 1: 19, NASB), so natural means of persuasion have no place here. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; this means we cannot expect spiritual fruit using worldly methods, which Paul called clever speech (1 Cor 1: 17). If we could persuade people with our own powers of persuasion, we could boast before God about our works, but that cannot be because it’s by His doing that we are in Christ (1 Cor 1: 30). Think about this, did Peter know Jesus was the Son of God because of a clever argument, or because he had a spiritual revelation (Matt 16:16-17)?

Apologists must keep their defense rooted in the spiritual and allow the Holy Spirit to persuade the people and open their eyes; only He can do this. Keep the focus on the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel. You may not be able to answer questions that require specialized knowledge (e.g. evolution, philosophy), but you can talk about the One who gave life to us all.

Love

I have seen many Twitter threads in which a person is talking about matters of faith, but their language is just as coarse and brutal as an unbeliever. That should not be. Can salt water and fresh water be drawn from the same well? Of course not! As we were reminded in 1 Peter 3: 15, we must be respectful and gentle when giving an answer for the hope that lies within us. We must not allow ourselves to get drawn into quarrels and foolish arguments about words and useless speculations that just end up ruining the hearers. If the conversation degenerates into name calling and quarreling, do not trade insult for insult. If you do, you are acting from the natural man and the end of that road isn’t eternal life. Keep the following advice in mind:

And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2: 24-26, NASB)

 

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4: 29, NASB)

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. (Matt 5: 9, NASB)

 

You have heard it said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5: 43-45)

Show kindness and the way of love in words and deeds. When love is present in the Gospel presentation/defense, it is the ingredient that sets the Gospel apart from all other narratives. Without love, the Gospel sounds like a clanging symbol and a noisy gong. People won’t care about your faith or what you know unless they know how much you care.

The Great Physician is the one who writes the prescription instructions for how the Gospel is to be administered so it doesn’t lose any of its saltiness or saving power. We are His residents, and we are responsible to administer it to those under our care. If His instructions aren’t followed correctly, the patient won’t respond as well, and their condition will even get worse. Do we want to be like the physicians who tried to help the woman with the issue of blood? Keep the Gospel pure, keep your message spiritual, and show them love.

Elul 18, 5776

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Christianity, current events, morality

Will someone help Phoebe? A reminder to love and support all of those who labor among us

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

Romans 16:1-2 (ESV)

The prophet Malachi asked the question “Will a man rob God?” This has been brought up countless times when the call to receive tithes and offerings goes out at church gatherings.  It is an important question concerning tithes and offerings, but there is more to robbing God than this. What do I mean? Tithes and offerings are not limited to what gets put in the offering basket. We also rob God when we dishonor our brothers and sisters, send them away empty, and we do not do good to those to whom it is due.

I wish I could say that the church makes Christianity real by showing the world the love we have for one another, but actual experience paints a different picture. Often times I have seen brothers and sisters in need roughly treated by the church. The church even goes on the offensive against needy brothers and sisters by passing the blame to them: “you wouldn’t be going through this if you were in God’s will.” Sometime the church offers “helpful” advice when they say: “just get a job,” “a man who doesn’t support his family is worse than an unbeliever,” and “didn’t Paul work to supply his needs?” People end up feeling worse when they hear such things instead of being encouraged, and it can also excuse the church from supplying the needs of needy members of the body. When the world sees that this is how we treat our own, they turn away from the truth. Mahatma Gandhi once said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These things ought not to be.

There are two types of people I have in mind when I speak of needy brothers and sisters. On the one hand, brothers and sisters have become needy due to circumstances beyond their control. An example of this are those have lost employment and are no longer able to support themselves. On the other hand, there are those who have become needy in answer to the call of God. They have given up everything to be obedient to the call of God; these are modern day Levites who go wherever God calls them and whose sole support comes from the people of God. Both of these groups have a legitimate claim to be supported by the church, but in practice, those who suffer involuntary need receive better treatment than those who voluntarily give up everything to obey God.

There is a simple explanation for this. People who become needy involuntarily are respected because their circumstances are not their fault. They were working and self-supporting until they lost employment. They are actively seeking employment again; they just need help until they can get back on their feet. Because they are regarded as truly in need, this makes it easy and respectable to justify doing good for them. Modern day Levites have a tougher time getting support. Because they voluntarily walked away from worldly work and possessions, their need for support is regarded with a degree of suspicion: “Why don’t you just get a job? Didn’t Paul work? Who is your pastor, and why isn’t anyone supporting you?” And the list goes on with many such variations. Such questions seek to undermine the legitimate need modern day Levites have for support from the church. They have even accused of using full time ministry as an excuse to live off the labor of others since they aren’t doing “real” work; this distortion makes it much harder to justify doing good to them. After all, no one wants to support someone who just wants a free ride. Many times in the church it’s the Martha types who get respect and sympathy because they are working (or trying to), but the Mary types are still disdained for wanting to devote themselves to the Lord (Luke 10: 38-42).

Before we dismiss the needs of our modern day Levites, let’s use the light of God’s word to examine the legitimacy of the needs of modern day Levites. If Scripture shows that modern day Levites still walk the Earth today, then we must answer some questions: Does God still call people to give up everything and follow Him? If so, what is our obligation toward them?

Does God still call people to give up everything and follow Him?

Yes. The call to give up everything is explicit in the call to discipleship (Matt 10: 37-39). We cannot love anything more than the Lord Yeshua and still be His disciple, so we must acknowledge that everything belongs to Him, and that He is free to do whatever He wants with it. The shemitah year (which we are now in) reminds us about this because it is a recurring reminder that everything belongs to God. That means we are not owners of anything; we are just stewards entrusted by God to manage His possessions. We must never hold on to anything like it belongs to us. Chuck Swindoll said it very well when he said “hold on to the things you love with loose fingers, because if you don’t, it’s going to hurt when God takes them away.”

God does not always call us away from our vocation. Sometimes He keeps us in our present circumstances as a witness to others on the job or in your neighborhood. He may also want you to use some of the income he provides for you to support others in ministry. But sometimes He does call us away, as when Peter, Andrew, James, and John walked away from the family and their livelihood in the fishing business for something better (Matt 4: 18-22). So what is our obligation to the ex-fishermen among us?

Our obligation to modern day Levites

Since modern day Levites are called by the Lord into full time service, they are entitled to receive their living from their service. Paul wrote that “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” Gal 6:6 (ESV) and “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” 1 Cor 9:11 (ESV). That means we have an obligation to supply their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs so that they will be fully equipped and lack nothing. This is where we must do something to make our support real, not just pray about it (James 2: 14-16).

Physical needs

We must support out modern day Levites so their physical needs are supplied; this can be food, shelter, expenses, or clothing. I have heard the objection that if God is their supplier, then He will supply everything supernaturally. This does not align with Scripture, and this becomes apparent if we use the ministry of Yeshua as a case in point. It is true that Yeshua did multiply loaves and fishes to feed thousands of people, but His ministry was still supported by everyday people:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their [private] means.

Luke 8:1-3 (ESV)

The Lord’s ministry depended on the contributions of the people to supply physical needs, and if His ministry was supplied this way, then we must also supply our modern day Levites from the resources God blesses us with.

Spiritual and emotional needs

We often look to our modern day Levites to supply comfort, exhortation, teaching, intercession, love, healing, and ministry, but we often forget they also need the same thing. When the enemy attacks and brings setbacks and discouragement, the encouragement our modern day Levite needs comes from the body of believers. When we make mistakes, we still need to confess our faults to each other and bind up each other’s wounds. In short, we need to bear our burdens with one another, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

We must also be particularly vigilant to protect our modern day Levites in the physical and spiritual realms. Just because they are ministering for God doesn’t mean the Adversary leaves them alone. On the contrary, they are often the target of much worse attacks than the rest of us in God’s army. They are uniquely gifted, equipped, and called forerunners in God’s army, and the enemy would love to knock them out of the fight. As such, we must intercede and cover them with prayer; this binds up the enemy so that he doesn’t interfere with their ministry. Don’t forget the power that effective and fervent prayer has (James 5:  16-18). We must also be ready to make a stand with our modern day Levites because some attacks are in the physical realm. Slander, accusations, and all kinds of mistreatment and abuse are often directed at our modern day Levites, and when these things happen we must be prepared to stand up as their defenders and advocates. Do not forget the strength that comes in numbers (Eccl 4: 9-12).

Go all the way when you support the modern day Levites

Don’t give our modern day Levites halfhearted support (in military terms, don’t half step). What I mean is this: Anyone can provide a meal or a coat, but just doing so doesn’t mean the need is fulfilled. Anyone can provide a meal or a coat without any emotional attachment, but doing this is the same as a clanging symbol (1 Cor 13: 1-3). What good does it do to get a meal without the chance to share your heart and connect over the meal? There is a huge difference between receiving a meal from a heart filled with love, and a meal without love. Modern day Levites need all the benefits and encouragement that comes from love (as we all do). This is better, but I want to go one step further and show my brothers and sisters a more excellent way.

Encouraging a modern day Levite over a meal is good, but such encounters are transitory and infrequent. A more excellent way is to provide long term intervention and loving support. If you have an extra room and want to donate the space to support a modern day Levite, that is well and good. But I repeat the same thing here I said about meals: do it in love. I have seen a modern day Levite be provided with a living space at different houses, but no love to go with it. This made the spiritual atmosphere toxic and even adversarial instead of holy and sanctified. The result of these arrangements was conflict, strife, and suffering in the physical and grieving the Holy Spirit in the spiritual. This is unacceptable behavior for those who call Yeshua Lord and it must stop. A modern day Levite needs a safe place to land after a day of ministry to be refreshed, and this is provided with a long term commitment to supply a living space (physical support) and love (spiritual and emotional support) for as long as God assigns that Levite to labor in your area. A long term commitment of love and support is the most excellent way, and this means bonding with another person like they are your family (which they are). I encourage everyone who has the resources to do so to sow into this work. Think of it this way: If you obeyed God’s call and left everything behind, how would you want others to minister to you? Please remember the modern day Levites among us who gave up everything to obey God’s call and honor the Lord Yeshua in them by helping them with whatever they have need of. You will be blessed!

A word of warning

I have gone to great lengths to show that modern day Levites need our support, but what happens when they are ignored and roughly treated? Consider this:

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Matt 25:41-46 (ESV)

Withholding good from those to whom it is due is sin, so I ask again: Will a man rob God?

Be encouraged, my beloved!

January 1, 2015

Tevet 10, 5775

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Uncategorized

Do not be disqualified by foolishness: A wise virgin’s guide Part 2

There is a detail about the ten virgins’ parable that needs to be examined. The second verse tells us that “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” Matt 25:2 (ESV). This verse reveals that there were two distinct groups; this is important even if it doesn’t get talked about a lot. Groups are important parts of all our lives. The most important group believers can belong to is the body of Christ. We are by nature social beings; it is part of our human nature to want to belong to a group. The desire to be part of a group can be very powerful, and there are two principle reasons for this.

A group creates an atmosphere of acceptance. This acceptance is based on some kind of common ground that the group members share. When we interact with these people, we can exchange thoughts and ideas without sounding out of place. We can open our hearts with someone who knows what it’s like to go through what we are experiencing, and who can say “I have been there.” If the shared experience is especially strong, one might even say “it’s like we have known each other our whole lives.” The saying that “birds of a feather flock together” is true. A group of people who share life’s trials have agreement and harmony; this creates an atmosphere of acceptance (especially if love is involved) that has a very powerful appeal.

A group can also create a sense of security. It is much easier for a person to weather a storm knowing others are there to help, and they are not alone in this. There really is strength in numbers, and Solomon tells us:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Eccl 4:9-12 (ESV)

We can even see this in nature itself. Animals that stay in the herd are safe from attack. It’s the stranglers and loners who are vulnerable to predators. Safety can be a compelling reason to be a part of a group as well; there is a great comfort in knowing that someone is watching your back. Now you may ask, what does all this have to do with the parable of the ten virgins?

Craving the acceptance of the wrong group (or person) can come at the expense of your eternal life. When I said that the desire to be in a group can be powerful, I meant that as a warning because it is powerful.  Wise virgins take note! I believe the strongest example of this can be found with Solomon, who was one of the wisest men ever to live. Solomon knew the Scriptures, and what they said would happen if he married foreign women. Solomon followed God, but he also loved foreign women who followed their own gods. Solomon could not have any common ground with his wives without compromise. Even though Solomon was very wise, he did not listen to wisdom when it came to marriage:

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.

1 Kings 11:1-2 (ESV)

Notice that last line. Solomon craved love and acceptance from the foreign women he married, but people cannot walk together unless they are in agreement. He had a choice to make. Either he should follow God with all his heart, or he must compromise and turn away from God. Here is what happened:

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

1 Kings 11:4-8 (ESV)

If a man as wise as Solomon can fall, we should not underestimate the power of love and acceptance to persuade us to turn us away from the Living God. It is always tragic to hear about people who have gotten into abusive relationships, lost money in a romantic scam, or joined cults because they thought these things would give them the love and acceptance they were looking for. We can avoid this trap by remembering the counsel of God: Examine everything under the light of God’s word. For those who will heed this, it will save them from many sorrows.

In this case, the first thing we need to do is define what love really is. If we know what true love is and what its qualities and characteristics are, we can spot the counterfeits. This is what Paul tells us about love:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Cor 13:4-7 (ESV)

Let’s compare this with the deal Solomon got from his foreign wives. The price for their love was accepting their gods and rejecting the one true God. This cannot be true love because it insisted on its own way. Solomon’s wives never wanted to serve the Lord God (Cf. Ruth 1: 16-17); they insisted on having their own way and worshipping their own gods (Strike one). Worshipping other gods was also a direct violation of the first commandment. This is wrongdoing of the highest order, but the love his wives had rejoiced in this. Rejoicing in wrongdoing is not evidence of true love (strike two).  True love is enduring. It doesn’t present a list of conditions that must be met before it is bestowed. Solomon’s wives offered a conditional love; it would only be given in exchange for meeting its requirements (strike three). This cursory examination shows that Solomon was not being offered true love, but a counterfeit. This brings us back to the virgins.

As I mentioned at first, there were two groups. The foolish group was careless, compromising, and negligent, and given the case of Solomon, it follows that some of the foolish virgins were once in the wise camp. There was something about foolishness that persuaded these once wise virgins to embrace it. Foolishness can be very persuasive in areas we are vulnerable in. For example, if we have had a childhood in which the parents withheld love, or only showed love under certain conditions, we will want to find the love and acceptance we didn’t get somewhere else. If we have had a life where we never felt secure, then we will try to find that security somewhere. Foolishness offers deceptive imitations to satisfy our needs, but since these imitations do not originate from God, they do not have the divine power to affect a cure. They will never be the healing balm we need; they can only bring ruin.

Foolishness has a sweet and pleasant taste at first; it can even be like intoxication. This is deceptive because only later does the taste become bitter, but by that time a person has ingested large amounts of foolishness and the weeds that choke out the word have been sown. The heart becomes hard, and this makes a spiritual recovery doubtful. Foolishness truly has a season when it feels pleasant and enjoyable, but it lasts just long enough for the hook to be set. If Solomon perceived the bitterness immediately, would he have continued? Given Solomon’s case, there are two things we should watch out for: We should never underestimate the power of our need for love, acceptance, and security to draw away into foolishness, and we should never overestimate our power to resist. In other words, we should take the warnings of Scripture seriously:

The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.

Prov 9:13-18 (ESV)

We should always try to help people recover from the grip of foolishness, but if you are trying to help someone who has been persuaded that “stolen water is sweet,” remember this warning: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” Gal 6:1 (ESV). Watch out that your efforts to help don’t end up snaring you. Don’t become a casualty!

Wise virgins, stay in your group. What kind of people do you associate with? Do they rejoice in the truth? Do they insist on their own way? Are they telling you to stock up on oil while the markets are still open? Or are they saying there is no need to get all radical, there’s plenty of time and the wait for the Bridegroom won’t be that long anyway? The time is getting short, and the Lord will soon return for His people. Do not stop meeting together and encouraging one another while it is still called today. Build each other up and pray for one another. Do not turn away from wisdom:

And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.  Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.  Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.

Prov 8:32-36 (ESV)

Take care, my beloved.

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