Yesterday, five of us went to Maltby Full Life Church to attend the ‘Christian Life & Witness Course’ organised by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as part of the preparations for the Franklin Graham tour later this year. This was another opportunity to think about what it means to live as a Christian and how best to share the good news of Jesus Christ with other people.
Jesus gave His disciples the command to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Matt 28:19) The course was divided into three parts: the effective Christian life, our Christian witness and follow-up.
The Effective Christian Life
Our lives as Christian rely on God’s presence with us always (Matt 28:20), God’s Spirit working in us (to fill us, to cleanse us, to bring us into step with God), God’s Word (which we need to hear, read, study, memorise and meditate upon) and God’s power. There are many stumbling-blocks along the way (for we are in a spiritual battle), often connected with our misunderstanding adversities and the battle with our sinful, selfish nature, but our lives need to be the ‘living letters’ which others can read. (2 Cor 3:1-3)
Our Christian Witness
We were encouraged to think of witness as being about 3 stories: the story of the person we are talking to, which deserves careful listening; our story (giving testimony to what God has done in our lives) and God’s story (what He has done through Jesus Christ to save us and bring peace and life to all people.) Witness cannot be something that is forced on people, but is the natural outworking of our relationships and conversations.
The tract ‘Steps To Peace With God’ is also a useful tool in sharing the gospel, for it focuses on God’s purpose, our problem (sin), God’s remedy (the cross) and our response. We all need to realise that a response is required, though we must also understand it can take a long time for people to fully understand the gospel and decide to follow Jesus.
One of the things we can all do at all times is to pray for people who are not yet Christians. We can pray for open doors (so that we have opportunities to speak with them about spiritual truths), for open hearts (that will be responsive to God’s word) and for open mouths (so that we speak God’s word! (Ps 51:15)
One of the objections to evangelistic meeetings is ‘what happens to people who make a commitment to Christ after the evangelist has gone?’ Franklin Graham is working closely with local churches and local Christians will be involved in counselling those who do make commitments to Christ and trying to connect them with local churches. The best follow-up, of course, comes when people are personally invited to the meetings by Christians who will be willing to continue their everyday relationship with these people. 1 Thessalonians shows us Paul’s commitment not simply to founding a church but to caring for the people who had become Christians. He describes himself as a mother (1 Thess 2:6-8) and prayed constantly for these people (1 Thess 1:2-3). He sent Timothy to check on their well-being (1 Thess 3:2) and wrote letters (most of our New Testament is a result of those letters!) and visited them. We need to be prepared to spend time with new Christians, helping them to read and understand the Bible and welcoming them into God’s family. In effect, this means sharing our whole lives with them, which is a challenge!
We would encourage everyone to think about these things and to ask God for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with those around us – our family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and everyone with whom we come into contact! We need to realise the urgency of our task and be whole-heartedly committed to fulfilling the Great Commission!
Anger is not always hot and explosive; there are those whose anger is manifested in coldness. I know someone whose reaction when angry is to cease talking to the one who has angered him; he becomes resentful and his anger is manifested in what is known as the ‘cold shoulder’. Resentment is a festering sore, anger in the deep freeze, so to speak. The Bible tells us that bitter roots cause trouble and defile many people (Heb 12:15). Job commented that ‘resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.’ (Job 5:2)
Resentment is defined as ‘a bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.’ We can’t necessarily stop unfair treatment. What we can do, however, is control our response to it. We can choose to let go of resentment because ultimately we trust God to right wrongs and sort things out on our behalf. Joseph is a classic example of someone who could have lived in resentment at the way he had been treated: his brothers envied him and sold him into slavery; he was imprisoned unjustly and forgotten about by those he had helped. Yet instead of holding on to resentment, he chose to trust God to bring about restoration, which God did in His own time.
When we let go of resentment, we allow God to mould our hearts into trustful obedience.
Most of our anger is connected to ourselves. James warns us that ‘human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.’ (James 1:19) It is right to be angry on behalf of the oppressed, to fight for justice and fairness and to oppose injustice and corruption, but more often than not, our anger is fuelled by a sense of personal hurt and damage. We lash out at others because we feel threatened or humiliated and we blow up because we are personally wounded.
This kind of anger damages us (often causing physical illnesses) and others (who may feel they cannot be honest with us because they fear our explosive reactions.) It wrecks relationships and leaves people at odds with each other. Paul warns us not to sin when we are angry and gives us good advice: ‘Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.’ (Eph 4:26) Letting go of anger is important; seeking reconciliation with those we have hurt is also important.
Many people feel their anger is justified and therefore want to hold on to it. It gives them a sense of importance and a feeling of righteousness. There is, however, greater freedom in letting go of anger and learning the better way of love.
One of the most important lessons we can learn is that we are valuable and important to God (we are made in His image and He sent His only Son to save us), but we are not the centre of the universe. That place belongs to God alone. We need to eschew a false sense of self-importance which puts us at the centre of life in order to allow God to have first place.
The ability to laugh at oneself and not take oneself too seriously is hugely important in learning to eschew a wrong sense of self. So much of our lives is spent worrying about things and fretting about how others see us, how we will get on in life and how we will manage. When we realise how much God loves us, we are freed from the need to be in control, the need to manipulate and the need to be number one.
Over this Lenten period, we will be looking at things we should eschew and things we should embrace. To eschew means to abstain from something, to deliberately avoid doing something. To embrace means to hold something close, to accept something enthusiastically. There are always two sides to a life of faith: things we must let go of in order to receive God’s good gifts. Jesus said, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.’ (Mark 8:34-35)
It’s hard for us to accept this teaching, for it cuts at our selfishness and self-centred approach to life, but Jesus often spoke in radical terms: ‘if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.’ (Matt 18:9) We need to take our spiritual walk seriously and understand that there has to be a letting go of the old as well as an embracing of new attitudes. The writer to the Hebrews said, ‘let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.’ (Heb 12:1) and goes on to urge us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ (Heb 12:1-2) We need to both eschew and embrace if we are to grow spiritually.
Lent is the season before Easter, the 40 days preceding our celebration of Jesus’s death and resurrection. It’s traditionally a time of reflection and renunciation as we prepare our hearts for the greatest revelation of love and power the world has ever known.
Many focus on ‘giving up’ foods or bad habits for Lent. Any form of self-denial can be helpful to people who generally indulge themselves far too easily. It can be helpful to practise self-control in specific measurable ways. What is more challenging, however, is giving up these aspects of our character which are holding us back spiritually or learning to grow spiritual fruit which will last. We want more than the ‘quick fix’ of short-term renunciation; we are looking for long-term transformation (see 2 Cor 3:18).
Over these forty days, let’s take a good hard look at the kind of people God wants us to be and to seek to grow in grace and a knowledge of the Lord Jesus. (2 Pet 3:18)