Tag Archives: Christian evangelism

Why Must Christians Suffer?

Why do I share Christ in my writing and in conversations with people who claim that God does not exist? I do it “to complete what is lacking in the affliction of Christ” (Colossians1:24). Christ’s suffering is completely sufficient to rescue every person from sin and death, but it is an incomplete sacrifice until every person has heard the good news. When I share the good news, I enter into the completion of Christ’s suffering by assuring that it is made available to everyone. I may suffer, because I do this work, and to suffer for sharing the faith is normal. I do not seek to suffer, but the suffering that befalls me because I am sharing the good news of Christ is as normal as the working of the law of gravity. My suffering is not redemptive, but when I suffer because I share Christ, I am join the church around the world in bringing the redemptive suffering of Christ for all people to its completion, its natural ultimate purpose.

We American Christians truly believe that Christ suffered for us in order for us to be comfortable. The most common thread in Christian devotional writing is that real Christians feel good about thems elves and fulfill all their dreams. We believe that suffering is an occasional intrusion in our lives designed to make us stronger, a spiritual workout plan that will make us look better to God and man. This attitude is an outrageous perversion of God’s truth. In the words of John Piper, “God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.” God never meant for us to think that being a Christian meant improved self-esteem.

Many American Christians feel that Christians are threatened by the Obama administration in many different ways. Some Christians interpret Donald Trump’s victory as an answer to prayer, and they predict that Christians will be more free to act like Christians under his administration. This prediction may even come true.

If so, wise Christians will not take it as the end of Christian suffering for the faith in the USA. That would not be God’s purpose for us. We may have been granted a reprieve, a temporary truce in the battle for the kingdom of God that will allow us to catch our breath. We may wish one another “Merry Christmas” without looking around to see who is taking offense. Nevertheless, our suffering is not complete until “the world [is] filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters that cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 KJV).

I am glad that Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency. I truly believe that it will not be as difficult to speak and act our faith under the Trump administration as it would have been under a Clinton administration. Nevertheless, I do not think Christians should assume that every barrier to Christian faith and life has now disappeared. The cultural forces which gave Clinton more popular votes than Trump received are not going anywhere. The culture classifies many behaviors that are integral elements of the Christian life as ”extreme,” and powerful groups in both government and culture will continue to attempt to suppress behaviors such as public prayer, evangelism, and display of Christian symbols, to name a few. While the Constitutional design of our government may have “saved the day,” the forces of opposition to Christ and his followers are not diminished by a Trump victory. Like any foe who feels cornered, the forces that resist Christ and his message will only become more aggressive under what they perceive to be adversity. It remains to be seen what the attitude of government under Donald Trump will be toward Christians, but his election will not reduce the cultural pressure to suppress Christianity.

When we experience that cultural pressure, we must respond as Jesus did. When confronted by the choice between suffering and testimony, we must not allow ourselves to believe that a loving God would not permit his beloved children to suffer. Such a notion is promoted by secular thinkers as an argument against the existence of God. God does not promise to spare us from suffering. He only promises to go with us though our suffering. Christ suffered abandonment on the cross, but we will not be abandoned. His grace sustains us, as it sustained the apostle Paul. Paul asked for relief, and God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Suffering is not fun. It does not make us feel good about ourselves. However, when we suffer as Christ did, and when we experience his grace in the midst of our suffering,  Paul says that we participate in the completion of Christ’s suffering. We must recognize that our suffering is in the plan of God for the salvation and blessing of all people, because “God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.”

Pray for America, that Christ’s redemptive suffering may bring her people to salvation. Pray for Christ’s body on earth to be made ready to complete the afflictions of Christ as we share the good news in word and deed.

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Is It Christ-like to Boycott Businesses for Their Politics?

I love Christmas, and I once boycotted my employer’s “Holiday” sweatshirts, because the company refused to provide any that said “Merry Christmas.” I like to wear a button that says, “Please wish me Merry Christmas.” I make a point of saying “Merry Christmas” to servers and cashiers who have obviously been instructed not to mention Christmas. I have my own agenda at Christmas, but I would never boycott a store or mall that refused to acknowledge Christmas.

Jesus is not about commerce, even though he expects that Christians will engage in it right along with everyone else. Actually, Jesus often spoke of various aspects of the business world, but always in the context of ethical practices and moral values. He never told his followers to refuse to do business with anyone who challenged his teachings. In fact, the content of the New Testament suggests to me that we do business with everyone in order that our Christian testimony may be manifest in our dealings for Christ’s glory, not for our own political agenda. Hence, I do not confuse commercial choices with worship options at church.

In fact, when I encounter a business that acts as if there were no such thing as Christmas, I want to go inside and brighten things up a bit. I like to tell clerks that I am shopping for Christmas gifts, because I teach my children about the gifts the wise men brought. Even if the clerks giggle, or if they frown, or if they look quizzical as if they do not know what I mean, I still like to make it clear that the birth of Jesus is the reason I celebrate at this time of year. I very well know that people of other religions and of no religion at all have their reasons for celebrating or for being a Grinch. Still, in this instance, I believe that I have just as much right to say, “I’m looking for the perfect sweater for my teen daughter for Christmas morning,” as I have to say, “I hope I can find the right scarf to accessorize my mother-in-law’s favorite dress for her birthday.” Nobody really cares about my mother-in-law’s birthday except our family, and some people would say that nobody cares about Jesus except Christians. Well, in a store that sells items that might be gifts, I think that I can mention Christmas and my reasons for celebrating it.

I do not think Jesus wants us to be annoying about his birthday. I do think Jesus wants everyone to know about him. There are all sorts of ways to say just about anything. I try to be creative and genuine in whatever I say. I do not plan all the words ahead of time, although I do think about them. I rely on Jesus’s promise to the disciples that whenever they were on trial for their faith, the Holy Spirit would give them the words. I rely on that promise during the Christmas season and during the rest of the year as well. The promise is for all times.

Therefore, the question is whether to boycott Starbucks for promoting homosexual behavior, or whether to boycott Target for refusing to specify gender in children’s clothing, or whether to boycott the anchor store at my local mall for refusing to use the word Christmas anywhere on its premises. Is a boycott the best way to let people know how you feel? What does your boycott say to these businesses?

My response to this sort of behavior by businesses is to say that the dark places of the world are the places where Christ’s light needs to shine. Take the name of Jesus into the dark corners of businesses everywhere. Take his love. Take his grace and forgiveness. Speak the name of Jesus in the midst of Satan’s strongholds and watch the fire spread.

Do not let Satan take control inside the businesses of the world and claim them as bombproof bunkers where God cannot penetrate. Open the doors and bring in the light. Be a flaming tongue and pierce the gates of hell or the doorways of business operations where Christ has been ejected. At the very least, wish everyone “Merry Christmas.” Who knows what else you may have the opportunity to say?

 

Championing Religious Liberty is not Equivalent to Testimony to Christ

In the book Infidel author Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about a time in her life when she was sufficiently enthusiastic in her commitment to Islam that she and her friends became evangelistic. They attempted to lead some Christians to convert to Islam. At the time Ayaan was under the influence of a female teacher of Islam who must have been charismatic. Ayaan calls her Sister Aziza.

Unlike other teachers of Islam who convinced Ayaan over a lifetime that Christians simply need to submit to Islam, Sister Aziza convinced her students the it was their duty to convert Christians. It reminded me of my own childhood, when I first began to worry that my unsaved friends would go to hell. Sister Aziza convinced her students that non-Muslims were destined for hell, and it was the duty of Muslims to lead them away from this fate.

It is the first time, actually the only time, I have ever heard of Muslim evangelism. So far in my life, Muslims have appeared to be uninterested in saving people from hell. They have appeared to be very assertive about converting to Islam, but not because of hell. Rather, the Muslims I have seen actively telling Christians to convert are doing so by threatening the Christians with death if they refuse.

Ayaan, however, and her friends, dutifully made the effort to convert their Christian classmates. To my surprise, the Christian classmates did not respond as I expected. I thought the Christians would tell the Muslim children about Jesus and explain what Jesus did for all people. Instead, the Christian children simply asserted their right to believe something other than Islam. Ayaan writes that the Christian children responded saying, “How would you feel if I tried to make you a Christian?” That seems like a very un-Christian response, since it equates Christian evangelism with forceful conversion, and the equation is being stated by a Christian. If Christians consider that sharing Jesus with people is an attempt to force anyone to do anything, those Christians have a truly skewed view of their own faith.

Ayaan continues by saying that the Christian children “said their parents had taught them about Jesus just as mine had taught me about the Prophet Muhammad, and I should respect their beliefs.” Respect for one another’s beliefs is a prime element of a definition of religious liberty. The assertion of religious liberty is the proper response to efforts at forced conversion or efforts to prevent Christian expression or worship. It seems like a poor response to an evangelistic effort. Without judging either the children or their parents or the teachings of their churches, I nevertheless do not intend to mimic that strategy when someone attempts to convert me to some other faith.

In today’s combative cultural landscape, it is easy to feel that tamping down conflict is the first priority. It is easy to feel that every difference of opinion is intended to initiate conflict and to show a critical attitude toward other opinions. When people feel that way, they often back away from expression of their own convictions. This consideration may have been at the root of parental teaching to the Christian children. While I agree with people who seek to prevent conflict, I do not see that as a legitimate reason to suppress a Christian testimony, especially in the circumstances Ayaan described. Those Muslim children were acting with the best of intentions toward their Christian friends, and it seems to me that the Christian friends missed a great chance to say, “We love you as much as you love us, and we want to share Jesus with you as much as you want to share Muhammad with us.” I obviously do not know what would have happened next, but I do know that throughout the book, I grieved that this author sought all her life for the blessings Jesus gives, but nobody shared them with her. She is not dead, so there is still hope. I pray Ayaan will meet someone who will share Jesus with integrity and touch her heart.

My grief for Ayaan fuels greater concern for all the people I meet. When I am standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, there are usually people in front of me and behind me, as well as a checker, and maybe a bagger, too, whose faith convictions are unknown to me. For some time I have made it a practice to pray silently for all of them, and to watch for any opportunity to testify to Jesus. Sometimes I express a blessing to the checker or to people in line if the opportunity arises. Sometimes I ask the checker how I can pray for him or her. I do make a habit of reading name tags, and I even ask them to uncover the tags when I can’t read them. I say things like, “Judy, may the peace of Christ be with you.” Or I say, “Ed, how can I pray for you?”

I do these things, because I want the thought of Christ to be in their heads, and because I pray that someone with a closer connection will be able to share Jesus with them.

In various sorts of conversations, online or in person, I do encounter people who want to change my mind about many things. So far, nobody has tried to convert me to Islam, but people do try to convert me to support for same-sex marriage or to sympathy for rioters who burn their own towns. When this happens, I cannot reply to such efforts with a demand that the people stop talking to me and show respect for my point of view by not sharing their own. Maybe that kind of response would tamp down the edginess that sometimes develops. Maybe. But I don’t think that is what Jesus would do, and I don’t do it. I state my faith principles, and I do it with a view to sharing the love of Jesus as part of the statement.

Sometimes real anger erupts as a response to my statements. Jesus had the same experience. Think of all the times he approached people possessed by demons and the demons shouted, “I know who you are! What are you doing here?” Satan and his demons still act in and among people. I don’t think a plea for religious liberty will even slow down the work of Satan in the hearts of human beings. I do believe the name of Christ puts makes demons afraid. I think I can promise my readers that if a Muslim ever approaches me to save me from hell, I will reciprocate with a testimony to Christ, not a speech on religious liberty.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Quotations taken from Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, © 2007, New York: Simon&Schuster, pp 83 and 86

Why Inviting Someone to Church is not the Same Thing as Evangelism

“If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

http://news.msn.com/us/atheist-mega-churches-take-root-across-us-world

These words were not spoken by a Christian pastor. They were, in fact, not spoken by a Christian. These are the words of Sanderson Jones, a British stand-up comic who happens to be an atheist. These words explain why he and his entertaining partner, Pippa Evans, are holding “church” for atheists in the US and Australia, taking up collections during the “fellowship” hour after “church,” in an effort to spark a movement for atheists that includes “church” every Sunday.

Sadly, the words very neatly define what many people believe church attendance means, and it is the reason that our secular culture and our secular government do not fear the existence of church buildings and church organizations that meet for worship. What the culture and the government fears is what happens when Christians burst out of the church building and start acting like Christians everywhere else.

The culture and the government are aghast when a Christian refuses to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, because a Christian knows from biblical teaching that a same-sex couple engaging in sex is an abomination in God’s eyes and that God calls Christians to refrain from approving or participating in sin. When Christian employers refuse to buy insurance packages including as covered services procedures and medications the Christian understands to be sin, the culture and the government accuse the Christian of bad citizenship, rather like the accusation made against first century Christians who refused to worship the emperor of Rome. When Christians advocate starting public meetings and ceremonies with prayer, the culture and the government think the Christians are asking for special privileges.

The culture and the government don’t much like Christians who act like Christians outside the worship sanctuary.

The obverse of worship in the sanctuary is evangelism in the streets. In case you don’t have the definition of obverse on the tip of your tongue, obverse means “the side of a coin or medal that has the more important design on it.” Many Christians believe that “going to church” is synonymous with “being a Christian.” It is not. Going to church is important to Christians, but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing for a Christian is knowing Christ. Everything else grows out of that relationship. Therefore, sharing Christ anywhere and everywhere is the obverse design of Christianity, while worship in the sanctuary is the reverse side.

This is why inviting people to church is not the definition of evangelism. A non-Christian who visits a church worship service will be exposed to the gospel and meet a lot of happy Christians. He (or she) may even respond to the Holy Spirit and receive Christ in the course of a worship service, but that is not the definition of evangelism; it is a subset of evangelism for someone to meet Christ because he was invited to a worship service. If Christians want to bring many people to meet Christ, they will need to do things other than invite people to visit a worship service. In fact, the statement made at the head of this post was made by an atheist who had just visited a worship service. He did not take Christ into his heart while in the worship service. Rather, he heard the prodding of Satan saying, “Isn’t this fun! Wouldn’t it be even more fun if they didn’t keep harping on the God thing?”

I’m not a good evangelist. I want to be. I have always felt completely inadequate to be an evangelist, actually. I have tried in the past to make it be enough that I invited people to church. In the world I see changing around me, I know that such invitations have limited value, especially if atheists are now offering the option to “go to church” without being bothered to recognize that they are sinful, without being asked to submit to the sovereignty of God, without being called to dethrone Self and put Christ on the throne of their hearts.

I have a lot to learn about being an evangelist. I pray I am a fast learner. The world needs more churches, but it only needs more churches that meet God’s definition of a church, not the atheist definition of a church. The world needs more Christians to burst out of their churches and start acting like “little Christs” in the streets.