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Saturday, July 25, 2009

EVANGELISM: How Do We Evangelize?

Bryan Stone, a professor at Boston University School of Theology, in his book, Evangelism After Christendom, (BrazosPress, 2007), relates a line from a recent advertisement brochure for a church ladies function: "An environment of mutual respect is maintained in which members may freely share beliefs and differences without fear of disparagement or evangelization."

He adds, "To evangelize means literally to offer "good news", or a "welcomed message.” Isaiah 52: 7 celebrates the bringer of such good news:

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."

If evangelism means sharing "good news", how did it become bad news in our culture? How did the feet of the evangelists get to be so ugly?

Former professor of New Testament and Preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Fred Craddock, once went to a victory celebration party following a Georgia football game. The party was held in a wealthy suburban section of Atlanta, with a splendidly restored Victorian style home with a high vaulted ceiling. There were about thirty to thirty-five people present whose ages ranged from thirty to fifty. Everyone was dressed up in clothing that said, “How about them dogs?” Dr. Craddock and his wife entered the house and didn’t know anyone there other than the couple with whom they attended the game. They met the hostess, who was putting out trays and sandwiches and drinks.

Then, a woman who was overly dressed, too bejeweled to have just returned from a football game, stood up and took center stage. “I think we should all sing the doxology!” She exclaimed. And before they had a chance to vote on it, she began to sing. A few people, Dr. Craddock observed, joined in and sang with gusto. Most folks studied their shoelaces; a few hummed along. Others looked for a place to set down their drink as if they didn’t think they should hold it during the doxology. Dr. Craddock acknowledged that he felt a little awkward.

When they finished singing, the woman said, mostly to the men, “You can talk all you want to about the running of Herschel Walker, but it was Jesus who gave us the victory.” Somebody asked, “Do you believe that?” “Of course I do,” she replied. “Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I’ll give it.” And I said, “Jesus, I want us to win more than anything in the world.” And we won! And I’m not ashamed of the gospel. I’m not ashamed to say it anywhere, because Jesus said, “Shout it from the housetops.”

By that time, Dr. Craddock and some others had moved into the kitchen. They could still hear her talking, and one of the men looked at Dr. Craddock and asked, “Do you think that woman is drunk?” “Well, I don’t know,” Dr. Craddock responded, we just moved to Georgia last year!” The hostess had come into the kitchen and was refilling a tray. The guests had become very silent. “If that woman doesn’t shut her mouth,” the hostess said, “she going to ruin my party!” Then, Dr. Craddock said that before he knew it, he had said something and didn’t know why he did. He asked the Hostess, “Are you a Christian?” She said, “yes, but I don’t believe in just shouting it everywhere and to everyone.” (From Authentic Evangelism, by William Tuck (Judson Press, 2002).

That talkative woman at a football party is a picture of the problem we have with trying to do evangelism in today’s world. While some of us are shouting what we believe in the living room, others are whispering about what they don’t want to hear in the kitchen. Is there any way around this quandary? I think there is.

When Jesus left this earth, he told his disciples: “You shall be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). I find it quite interesting that Jesus did not say you “ought” to witness, but he said "You shall be witnesses." The world is watching the church whether we want them to or not. They are watching, but what are they seeing? Do they see the difference faith makes in our lives? Do they see how we build community together as a church or how we use our resources to reach out to others in need? Do they see anything that makes them want to stay in the living room with us, rather than only whispering about us in the kitchen?

I believe our greatest challenge in evangelism today is not, “How Do we Witness," but it is to answer the more obvious question: Can Jesus get a witness through us?

Friday, July 24, 2009

WORSHIP: Why Should You Worship God?

In the next six blogs I want to catch up on the theme I’ve been preaching on these days: Doing Church on Purpose. Much has been written about the Purpose Driven Church or about the broader idea that a church must have a clear sense of mission in order to thrive as a congregation. So, let’s think about the first primary purpose of the church: Worship.

Why should you come to worship on any given Sunday? There are so many other things you can do with your time, aren’t there? There are family outings, needed rest time, children’s sports, or many other leisurely activities that can demand our time. Why worship? Does God need our worship or do we? Have you ever considered what can go wrong in your life when you cease to be faithful in worship?

Consider this. Too much news coverage has been given to the recent death of pop star Michael Jackson. I’m really not that interested in him as a music icon, as much as I’m interested in him as a human being. One bit of news surfacing recently was about the Jackson family being Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW). Since Michael’s death, his children have been taken regularly to participate in worship at a JW Kingdom Hall. Though I have reservations about specific teachings of JW’s, what moved me was the report that Michael Jackson once commented how ‘real’ and ‘at peace’ he felt when he recently visited his faith community again.

Here is a very important reason human beings need to worship. You can even see it in the tragic, premature death of Michael Jackson: There is a ground of reality that we all need to build our life upon or we can become lost. We can become lost, even in our own skin. Who hasn’t observed a person who loses their sense of community and connectedness? Who hasn’t watched as a married couple become embroiled in expressing hate for each other rather than love? And who hasn’t watch as a family is broken apart over a will or a church loses its sense of fellowship over some lesser issue? We all have a need to find and keep the right focus or life can very quickly get out of sorts.

In our Baptist congregations we have made much of the concept of how lost people need Jesus as their personal savior. This teaching is based upon a beautiful biblical image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Jesus’ own parable about the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one lost sheep. I hope we never lose this beautiful image of what it means to be lost in the world or what it means to be found by a loving, seeking, caring Shepherd. But what we haven’t spoken enough about is how lost any of us can become when we fail to keep ourselves grounded and focused in God.

Even in our own skin and even in our own beliefs, we can lose our way if we lose the vision of the God who is our source, our compass and our ultimate destiny. He is not only the redeeming God who has saved us from our sins in the past, but he also has the power to help spare us from the sins of the future; from ourselves, and from all the darkness, the destitution and the self-destruction that can come to life without a focused sense of reality and stability. As Isaiah 26:3 promises about God: "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You." Keeping our mind and our focus on him, and not in only in ourselves, nor any kind of lesser distraction which may become destructive; this is why we must worship.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Welcome to Blogville at Windsor's Crossroads.

This is my first blog site. It's about time, don't you think? I've been writing newsletter articles for many years as a pastor and a missionary, but now it's time to move into the brave new world of internet blogging.

I hope to use this blog to communicate my ideas, thoughts, prayers and pastoral writings with the "connected" church members of both Zion and Flat Rock Baptist churches who make up the Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership, located in northern Iredell and western Yadkin counties and beyond.

It is my wonderful priviledge to be the pastor of these two historic churches since July of 2007. If you are visiting this website as someone who lives in the area and you are unaffiliated with a church, I would like to invite you to join with us for the Worship of God either at Zion Baptist at 9:45 am or at Flat Rock at 11:00 am each Sunday. There is nothing more important for your spiritual, emotional or mental health, than to connect yourself with the loving, graceful, forgiving God who "inhabits the praise of His people". It is the mission of the partnership of our churches to Exalt Jesus Christ as Lord (Worship), Evangelize others to know him as Savior (Evangelism), and to Encourage believers (Fellowship) to become Equipped (Discipleship), and Empowered (Ministry) disciples who Engage (Missionary) their neighbors and the world with faith, hope and love...and "the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Feel free to comment on the ideas which are posted in these blogs. I will work to update this blog regularly and to post ideas from sermon topics, biblical studies, or other theological or pastoral conerns. Your imput will help guide and shape my thoughts and bring shared dialogue to the singular monologue.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Joey Tomlin