baby

Circumcision Saturday – What are your thoughts?

I received this question after teaching of about the Sign of the Covenant. An interesting way to look at it.

What do you think?

Please tell me is you think i’m pressing the bible text with these thoughts. I think the Holy Spirit was impressing upon me that 1) Abraham was, in circumcision, making himself a living sacrifice in that in response to God’s directive he and his chosen people were offering themselves to the covenant promise wholeheartedly. They were self-purifying before there was a sacrificial system, but using their personal body as a foreshadowing of what Jesus would later do. Abraham was preparing himself to beget God’s chosen seed in Isaac. And he and his household were in faith and deed commiting an act in belief that set them apart as God’s chosen. I realize that Jesus was the first and only man to offer His body to God to show personal dedication to the will of God, and the initiation of the New Covanant started as a response to that (Heb. 5,10,16-20, esp. 20). Do you think circumcision could be an OT foreshadowing of Jesus offering His body to establish God’s chosen people?

thinking

10 things on my mind this week…

1. Blessed to hold the hand of and pray with a sister about to step from this life to the next after a battle with an aggressive cancer. Her words to me, “I want to live.” You will, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, let not your heart be troubled.

2. Like eating Greek far more than reading Greek. Prepositions, participles, imperfect, active, indicative, third person singular… O my (or perhaps ομαι, which would of course be a deponent ending). Not sure just how well I’m getting it, but Greek class is mind bending. So wish I would have paid more attention in high school English class.

3. Find it interesting that it’s “wrong” to write an article in a public venue (i.e. blog) that can be openly challenged, but it’s perfectly acceptable to privately circulate a dozen page+ letter among ones peers and associates condemning and falsely labeling them, without their knowledge.

If someone has issue with something I’ve said or written they can comment here, email me, find me on Facebook, twitter, google+ or call my office.

4. Amazed by the spiritual insights gleaned from (1) raising Ethan, Addie & Eva, and (2) pruning the grape vine in my backyard.

5. So blessed by my mom and my wife as I approach Mother’s Day.

6. Intrigued by President Obama’s non-evolutionary “leap” to supporting gay marriage this week.

7. Thankful for the men God has put in my life that challenge me to be a better follower of God, husband to my wife, father to my kids and pastor of Cross Connection Escondido.

8. Excited by the several projects I’m collaborating on in multiple spheres. Am regularly blown away that I get to do what I get to do.

9. Consistently surprised by the graciousness of people to bless me and my family in very tangible ways that express their genuine love for us.

10. Praying for wisdom in unearthing and implementing a new paradigm in Christ honoring community for CCEsco.

small-vs-large

Big Church, Small Church = Same Church

As many of you know, I am a blogging veteran. It dawned on me recently that I have been blogging for over 10 years at this point. But is also interesting is that I find myself interacting on them less and less (although ironically, this article is on a blog). Why? Well because I have little bandwidth these days for incessant arguments. When I think about some of the most common arguments about church on blogs (whether ministry-minded blogs like CrossConnection or other Christian blogs), it is the church size preference argument. Most of the arguing, as I have thought about it, is actually from people who prefer smaller churches and then vilify larger churches. Although I don’t know of any larger church pastor starting a blog argument over church size, it is far to common to hear a mega church pastor speak down about a smaller church. I once stood in horror as a large church pastor asked a faithful brother of a smaller church, “How is your little work going?”. The work of God in salvation and in His people is never little. It is always huge.

But, for me, I feel that I have a unique vantage point on this because of how the Lord has led me. I have been involved pastorally in 4 churches (3 as the church-planter and senior pastor). The three churches I planted were turned over to other pastors with less than 100 people. Now I pastor a very large church. Here’s what I have learned. Simply stated, the church is the church. Whether large or small, the church is the people of God together in community. Every church is flawed in some way, yet being grown up into her head, Jesus. All churches have budget problems, building (or lack thereof) issues, committed members and folks who just come and go. On every level, the church is the church.

This was brought into stark focus for me recently as someone asked me how it was to teach at a large church. I said simply, it’s exactly the same, just more people hear the message at one time. I haven’t changed, the only difference is that now, if I look to the left or the right when I’m teaching, I’ll see myself amplified on jumbo screens (a terrifying sight). I still study the same, deliver it the same, pray that God uses it the same. After service, just like in a smaller body, some folks head for the doors and other folks want to spend time and talk. There are all the same people issues. In any church, large or small, most people have 10 truly close friends. That doesn’t change. A large church is not any less intimate than a smaller church. Why? Because intimacy is a heart issue not a size issue. Again, it’s all the same church.

So why do I write this? Well maybe it is my hope that people will be okay with simply stating their preference for church size and dynamics instead of seeking to justify the preference by vilifying the other side. I also say this because as a church planter and smaller church pastor, I also tried to vilify larger churches. It don’t think I did it maliciously. I did it naively. But my experience has taught me that the church is the church, no matter how many people are gathered together. We are all one big family in Jesus. I, for one, am grateful for that.

motivation

MOTIVATION AND MISSION

Recently I’ve been reconvicted all over again on the issue of motive in mission.  I’m not generally one of those guys who struggles to have joy in ministry.  My problem is that I don’t always do ministry from a place of having joy in enough of the right things.  I love studying the Word, preaching the Word, training up leaders, designing discipleship processes, and so on.  My joy can terminate on those things in and of themselves.  It isn’t inherently wrong to enjoy those kinds of things.  But I need to do what I do in response to more than the joy I experience over performing those functions alone.  What is the great motive from which all my activities should flow?  How about love for God and love for people!  Take it from the Bible:

 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This [is] the first commandment. And the second, like [it, is] this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

 There it is!  Love for God and people must be the motive for everything I do.  If my motive for doing what I do isn’t love for God and people (even if my activities are amoral) they are of no credit to me in the perspective of God.  My problem is that I can enjoy building systems, preaching sermons, counseling people, and raising up leaders, while thinking and feeling next to nothing for God or people.  I simply enjoy the processes inherently.

So let’s be honest with ourselves today.  God knows the truth already, so hiding is of no value.  Why are excited to preach that message this week?  Why are you looking forward to that meeting with those leaders?  Why are you looking forward to that upcoming ministry opportunity?  Why are you buzzing with zeal on the inside over expanding the scope of your mission?  Is the foundational motive of your mission love for God and people, and the knowledge that these other things merely facilitate the expression and expansion of that love?  Or is the foundational motive of your mission and activities simply an enjoyment of the processes, roles, and opportunities themselves?

Let’s take a love test.  If the verses were expressing your motive for mission, how would Mark 12:30-31 read?  Would it be, “My motivation for the mission comes from loving the ministry my God (processes, sermon, study, counseling, opportunities, prestige) with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul.  And I don’t think much of my neighbor, but I love myself.”?  Or would it read, “My motivation for the mission comes from actually loving THE LORD MY GOD and MY NEIGHBOR as myself.”?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Respond appropriately.

wheat

Organic vs. Artificial

I was a little disturbed this week to find that my favorite cereal had genetic soybean in it instead of all natural soy. It was even more disturbing to find that the cereal company that I thought was grass roots was in fact a concoction of the conglomerate Kellog. When we find out something isn’t real but instead artificial it leaves us with bad taste in our mouth, kind of like Pepsi Next, all the bad stuff diet plus none of the taste of the real thing. But I digress.

Churches can be artificial as well. They have the appearance of being real but in fact they are full of artificial fillers. I don’t want to make this post about the personality of the church but about how our churches grow. Does your church grow organically or artificially? What I mean by that is does your church grow by transfer growth or by salvations and baptisms?

I have been convicted of this lately because to be honest my church is around 85% transfer growth. I understand that and for awhile have accepted that but something has been growing inside of me for more organic growth in our church. I want to see our church grow by reaching the unchurched and dechurched. Our staff has been in conversations about this since the beginning of the year on how best to do that.

On one hand a big demographic in our area are single ladies in their 60’s & 70’s who golf twice a week at the country club. On the other hand our little Village is packed full of families barely squeaking by financially and exhausted from running their kids all over kingdom come for sports activities that are a big part of the reason they are so strapped. So how do you reach them when they would rather sleep in on Sunday then drag the family to church?

I don’t have any answers for you in this post but instead I hope to open up a discussion on how churches can be more organic in their communities. Let’s be honest people who are saved and disciple in your church have a tendency to stay longer, be more patient, and less demanding. We are taking steps to reach the lost and hurting in our area. We are not sure how that will end up looking but I know we are at the stage of wanting to try more.

Monologue & Dialogue

BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION: Monologue or Dialogue?

Natural Extremists

We are prone to extremes.  One issue we tend to go to one extreme or the other on in the church is that of biblical learning.  On the one hand, there are those who are committed to preaching the Bible in the form of monologue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible, they envision a lone preacher standing before a crowd, delivering a studied and crafted sermon in the power of the Holy Spirit, spitting presuppositions and propositional truth.

On the other hand, there are those who are committed to learning the Bible through sharing and dialogue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible they picture a group of friends sitting down together to share how the Bible impacts them personally.  They see themselves sitting with friends over lattes in a coffee shop, or over dinner in a home, informally discussing what a portion of scripture means to each person in the group.   They value the contributions and interpretations of each person who is present.

I’ve seen some people who are so committed to teaching and preaching the Bible in monologue, that they are skeptical of any kind of sharing context where multiple people contribute opinions and perspectives on the meaning or relevance of the Bible.  Still I’ve seen other people who are so committed to the truth that “God can and wants to speak through all believers” come to a place where there is no room in their thinking for monologue preaching, or designated pastors who serve as primary Bible communicators for a specific community of believers.

Both/And

My contention is that both extremes are wrong, and that this is one of many areas Christians need to have a Both/And way of thinking.  I believe the reasons the monologue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical, and that the reasons the dialogue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical as well.  I believe that helpful leaders will help those entrusted to them by God to see the value and place of both monologue and dialogue in growing the church in the knowledge of God through His Word.

A Small Case for Monologue

1 Corinthians 12:29- “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?”  These are rhetorical questions in context.  The apostle Paul is arguing for the unity of the body through the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Because we all have different gifts, we all need each other.  God has designed the body to be dependent upon Him by being codependent upon what He’s doing in each other.  Not all have a Spirit-given gifting to teach God’s truth in the same way, or at the same level.

Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  Each of the gifts described here are Bible communicating gifts at their core.  Apostles preach the gospel and plant churches.  Evangelists major in preaching the gospel and equipping Christians to do effectively do the same.  Prophets have a teaching ministry that is trans-movement/denomination, and a ministry which applies biblical truth to timely issues under the spontaneous leading and enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Pastors and teachers give biblical counsel and didactic instruction of the Word to God’s people.  But four times we are told that only “some” are given by God to perform these functions in the ways these men do.  Only “some” are to build the body in these particular ways.

1 Timothy 3:2 tells us that an overseer must be “able to teach.”  This is not a requirement for deacons.  This implies a unique teaching ministry for those called to serve as the governing body of the church.  We can add to this verse 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’”  The Bible is to be our method for determining how to think about these issues.  That’s why Paul built his case from “Scripture.”  And what Scripture demands, according to Paul, is that some of the governing leadership work hard at teaching the Bible more than any other Christian or leader in the church.  Their job is so important that they are to be paid to fulfill that role as they do it well.

We could go on, but these texts amply demonstrate that God intends there to be monologue-style Bible preaching and teaching in the church.  He has not gifted all to teach the same way.  He does not gift all to deduce the meaning of Scripture the same way.  Specifically, men who are called to be the leader of the leaders in the church are Spirit-gifted to preach the Word, and be the doctrine-setting authority in the local church.

A Small Case for Dialogue

But I’m not just for monologue in the church, but for dialogue as well, and so is the Bible.

Colossians 3:16- “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  This exhortation was given to all the members of the Colossian church.  They were all to play a part in “teaching and admonishing one another.”

Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  If there are a couple verses that support the idea of believers encouraging each other in small group community over lattes, these are them.  Considerately stirring each other up to love God and people, and serve God people as we “gather,” is the job of “us” as believers, not just “me” as a pastor.

Conclusion

Preaching the word in monologue is biblical and necessary.  If a Spirit-gifted man isn’t at the helm, preaching the Bible faithfully in collaboration with other Spirit-given leaders in the local church community, heresy abounds, and the church becomes a pool of ignorance.  Men who are specifically called to fill such a “leader of the leaders” function are not allowed to function in their gift.  Frankly, some need to repent of their radical commitment to the autonomy of the individual in the church.  Some would reduce the church to a leaderless weak state in the name of all believers being “equal” and “usable by God.”  We are all equal.  God does use us all.  But the question is how does God use us?  For some, they are called to be primary teachers and preachers in the church in ways others are not.  Let them do their job for the health of the church and the glory of God.

Additionally, God really can and does speak through every believer.  God wants to display how He has changed His kids through sharing in dialogue in small group type contexts and house churches.   The Holy Spirit wants to manifest Himself, and His edifying work, through every Christian.  This means that while pastors need to uncompromisingly engage in the monologue preaching of God’s Word with authority, they also need to help the local church develop contexts of dialogue and sharing.  We need to get over our need to control everything that is thought and said, and remember that Jesus is the real senior pastor of His people.  To be sure, you are His instrument in a unique way when it comes to teaching His truth.  But the goal of your ministry is to enable the body to do “the work of the ministry” which includes “teaching and admonishing one another” without you standing over peoples shoulder all the time.  As pastor James Macdonald said recently, “The biblical picture isn’t that the pastor ministers to the body, but that the body ministers to the body.”

So, pastors, lets preach the Word like crazy, and take no guff for doing our God-given job.  But let’s also make sure we don’t quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do by not developing and encouraging contexts of sharing, where each member of the body of Christ can have a voice and be used.  I don’t do this perfectly, but I’m working on it.  Join me.

musicprayer

Music During Prayer

One of the men in the church I serve mentioned something to me that I had never thought of before.  He said that music played during prayer distracted and confused him.  Whether it was the keyboards lightly played or a guitar quietly picked, it was distracting to his focus upon and attention to the prayer.  And he wasn’t speaking of music poorly played.  In fact, the better the ability of the guitarist or keyboardist, the more distracting it can be.  He wasn’t sure if he was to listen to the music or the prayer.  He wasn’t sure if the leadership wanted him to meditate to the music or participate in the prayer.

Music well done is hard to ignore and music poorly done is difficult to bracket out.

Was he to be engaged in the prayer or was he to be enjoying the music?

My first reaction (in myself) to his comment (and it was a comment, not a complaint), was that we can multi-task, it’s no big deal.  We can enjoy the sweetness of the music and follow the rhythm of the prayer and amen its requests and affirmations both at the same time.  But as I thought about it, I had to be honest with myself and admit that I, too, find myself distracted by music played during prayer.  I listen more to the music than I do to the prayer.  I find myself commenting to myself about the music during prayer: “O, that’s nice.”  Or, “That sure is repetitive.”  Or, “I bet he’s bored.”

Again, my first reaction in myself to my friends’ comment about music during prayer had to do with multi-tasking.  But should we multitask in prayer?  Isn’t prayer task enough?  What’s the purpose of music during prayer anyway?  If it’s to set a mood, for me, the mood of the moment easily overshadows the prayer of the moment.  The mood the music creates can crowd out the plea of the prayer.

The music makes it a more emotional moment, but I am not convinced it makes it a more spiritual moment.

In fact, for some people, it can distract them from the spirituality of the moment.  This is obviously part of a larger conversation about substituting emotion for spirit – something that is easy to fall into – and a dynamic we should look into.

I’m sure many would make the argument that since prayer is the continuation of worship, and since the worship songs are carried on the wings of music, the prayer can use the same musical updraft that’s been created.  Maybe.  I don’t know.   With worship songs, the words and music and melody and rhythm are woven and knit together – they are parts of a whole.  In thinking of one you think of the other.   Not so with prayer.

What do you think?  I know that with the great need that billions have of knowing Christ and the mind-boggling social and environmental needs of our planet, music during prayer isn’t a burning question, but it is a relevant one.  I haven’t reached any firm decision – I’m boldly planting my feet on both sides of the fence!  I know that for some, music and prayer go together like peanut butter and jam.  To think of a musically unadorned prayer is like a bride without her wedding dress on her wedding day – an unspeakable tragedy.  What about you – have you thought of this before?  Have you thought through this before?  Chime in.

body-mind-spirit2

Spiritually Fit, but Physically Flabby?

Extremes describe my life.  I have often said, “I wasn’t given the gift of moderation..and anything worth doing is worth over doing!”  Over the last 10 years I transitioned from the life of a Navy SEAL to the life of a pastor.  There have been many positives with this transition, but one negative snuck up on me–the decline of my physical fitness.  When it comes to fitness, I can hardly think of two extremes more polarizing that the fitness level of your average Navy SEAL to the of your average Southern Baptist pastor!  Unfortunately, about 6 months ago, I was feeling like I felt into the later category and I was miserable.

There are many who seem to quote 1 Timothy 4:8, “…for bodily discipline is only of little profit…” as a justification for poor physical fitness.  I think the average application of this passage is a little off.  First, the context of this passage was written during a time when life required to work physically hard in contrast the the sedentary life of many today.  Second, this passage does say bodily discipline has profit!

The area of physical fitness, or general health, may be one of the first things to go for the average church-planter or pastor.  Many have suffered medically for slacking in this area.  Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, and many others suffered a major health crisis early in their journeys of pastoring that required them to make a radical change in order for them to run the race for the long term.  Their hard lessons resonated with me.  I felt like I was heading down that path and it would only be a matter of time before I suffered the same problems.  I was feeling some of the side effects of the pastor’s life–free floating anxiety, difficulty focusing, discouragement, and difficulty sleeping well.

My health surfaced through an unusual circumstance.  As a chaplain I serve with a SWAT team and one particular morning in July I found myself playing a bad guy.  The SEAL in me came out, but my body failed me.  I ended up with some bruised ribs.  It was extremely painful.  I hurt bad–Vicodin bad.  A few nights later my cell phone batter died and the phone beeped.  It was about 3am and I jumped up…thinking there was a SWAT call out.  I moaned in agony jumping up only to sigh with disappointment to discover that it was only a dead battery.  My wife did not find this amusing.  She said something like, “Really?  You want to respond to a SWAT call out right now?”  The answer seems obvious to me.  She however thought it was time for me to start hitting the gym as she gracefully reminded me that I was no longer a 25 year-old SEAL, but was a much older pastor.  Her point was well made…I knew I needed to get more faithful at the gym.

Long story short, I was blessed with a membership to a CrossFit gym in my community a few months after this incident.  I have been disciplined in working out since then 3-5 times per week.  I have been sore for much of the last six months, but I feel so much better as a whole.  By getting back into a regular exercise routine my stress levels are down, my ability to focus is much better, and I am just in an all around better mood!  It is funny how so often the thing we need to do is actually the thing we put off.  I am so thankful for this opportunity that was given to me and I see now how bad my health had become-right under my nose.

This is a simple thought, but giving time to physical exercise daily is critical for for pastors over the long haul of their life.  Our calling places unique demands on us.  These demands often require  much of our time…legitimately so.  Our personal health is an area that requires our attention if we desire to go the distance in our calling.  I encourage my brothers to cut out time for their physical fitness.  You’ll be glad you did. What things have helped, or hurt, you in your attempts to stay healthy?

 

slowdown

Intentionally Limiting…

I love living in the day and age in which we live. We have immediate access to information and I love information! Let’s be honest, I am an information junkie. Growing up in a heavily technological age and then with the internet coming onto the scene, I feel that I have lived my entire life on information overload.

God has been doing much in my heart and life lately. Things like quietness, solitude and simplicity have been at the fore of my heart and mind. I find God is continually simplifying and refining my life. But as God has been stirring my heart for simplicity, I have begun to realize something about all of this information. When you have access to everything, you end up being an inch deep and mile wide. Let me explain it to you. Back in times before there was unlimited access to information, people got to go down deep with just a few things. Instead of scavenging everywhere in unlimited fields, people knew one field very well. Today it is not so. For most people (including myself), we have such access to information that we rarely ever connect to the ethos of few things. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not making a moral judgment about this. Instead I am trying to articulate that the sword cuts both ways, in some ways amazing and in other ways limiting.

Let me give you some personal examples. When I first got into listening to jazz, I owned 3 jazz albums (Miles Davis – Kind of Blue, John Coltrane – A Love Supreme & Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard). I listened to those albums over and over and over again for the better part of a year. Even to this day, I can sing many of the solos on every one of these albums. I soaked myself in them and they became part of who I am. But then the world of unlimited music kicked in. Before I knew it, I owned thousands of albums. I grazed in each field but never truly got to know any of those fields nor internalized the music.

Fast forward to my conversion. I had a Bible and I devoured it. Someone gave me a copy of JI Packer’s Knowing God and Andrew Murray’s Humility (I think they were trying to tell me something ;-). I devoured those books. Read them over and over and over again. But in the same way, ultimately the world of Christian books opened to me. Now thousands of titles later (in print, e-book, and on various computer programs), I find myself an inch deep and a mile wide with everything. I imagine that many of you are like me. You get a new book (or album), you read a bit of it and then you never finish it. You get going, you get distracted reading something else and then you put it down.

So I decided to take action and intentionally limit my reading. I decided that I was going to focus on a few authors for the entire year. I decided that I was going to spend an entire year with Eugene Peterson, Abraham Heschel, Henri Nouwen and John Stott. I have to be honest, it has been a total blast! I feel like I am soaking in these men’s writings in a much more special way than just grazing. By making an intentional decision to soak rather than graze, I find myself being shaped in new and different ways.

So my question would be this, “If you were to chose four authors to focus on this year, who would they be and why?” I’m not saying your ‘Desert Island Authors’. But those who would be nourishing your soul specifically right now and why. I am also assuming that you would be reading the Word of God.

Blessings

St-Paul-Preaching-in-Athens

PREACHING FOR DECISIONS

To Preach or Be Personable

As I survey the landscape of much of Christian ministry, it seems clear that the preferred evangelistic method of the day is to be relational, and missional.  For many, the days of preaching the gospel openly to a crowd (at church or anywhere) and calling for people to believe then and there isn’t effective or necessary.  Instead, people say what we need is to focus singularly on making long-term friendships with people who don’t know Jesus, and evangelize them through acts of service and conversation in the context of our friendship.

Let me be clear up front about the fact that I’m all for missional living!  I’m all for relational evangelism.  I’m all for organic witnessing.  But I think that our current obsession with the missional/relational approach to evangelism is only half of the portrait of biblical evangelism.  I believe that as we engage in the one-to-one relational evangelistic mission, we must not ignore or despise the place of preaching to crowds, and calling for decisions.  We need a both/and approach.

I come from a theological and philosophical background which promoted skepticism about calling people to respond to the gospel on the spot in a public way.  This is partly due to the abuses sometimes seen in the ministries of so-called evangelists.  But nut-jobs aside, I can remember hearing godly men give legitimate invitations to believe the gospel, and criticizing them.  I thought that it seemed like emotionalism, and lacking in emphasis on discipleship.

 Encountering Invitations in Acts

Today I give public invitations for people to believe the gospel and be saved every week at the church I serve.  I’m in a very different spot than I used to be on the issue of invitations.  What ultimately brought me to where I am today on this was surveying the points of appeal that are recorded in the Book of Acts.  As I set out to try and get a biblical perspective on invitations I had two questions: 1. Are on-the-spot invitations to believe biblical at all? 2. What is the primary thing offered to unbelievers for believing in Jesus in the appeals recorded in the Bible?

What I discovered in my survey of Acts were numerous points of appeal where the apostles called their hearers to respond to the gospel in faith right then and there.  Secondly, I discovered that the main benefit of believing in Jesus that the apostles offered to people publically was the forgiveness of sins.  It wasn’t a better life now or even a personal relationship with God (though of course the latter of these is not wrong).  The primary thing they promised people for believing in the gospel was forgiveness.  This makes sense considering Jesus’ declaration that the Holy Spirit is right now on a mission convicting the entire world of sin, and failure to believe in Christ. (See John 16:7-11)

A good example of this is seen in Acts 2:38 and 40: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the promise of the Holy Spirit…And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’”

Peter believed in calling people to make an immediate, public profession of faith in Jesus.  He believed in having them demonstrate that profession of faith with action (baptism).  He offered forgiveness to all who heeded him.  He didn’t do so casually or briefly, but with many words exhorted them to be saved!  This same kind of process permeates the testimony of the book of Acts.  On your own time consider the following passages: Acts 2:38-40; 3:19 and 26; 10:42-43; 11:14 and 21; 13:38-39;14:21; 16:3-34; 17:30-34; 18:4-8; 19:4-5; 26:17-18 and 28-29; 28:23-24.

 Objections to Decisions

For various reasons people object to any kind of public appeal to immediately believe in the gospel.  For some their reason is theological.  I’ve heard some from strict Calvinistic backgrounds object to such an appeal on the basis that it is God who makes the decision.  If you believe a person has to be born-again before they believe, there’s no cause for passionate appeals to respond to Jesus right now!  God will take care of their response in His time, so just relax.  They believe it to be miss-leading to tell people to believe.  In response I’d point out that Peter disagrees, if you consider his appeal in Acts 2 alone.  Whatever theology drove him there, he was perfectly content to make passionate, persuasive pleas for people to believe in Jesus right now for salvation, and get baptized.

Others object to appeals for decisions on the basis of emotionalism.  To be sure, some evangelists are simply able to stir emotions and get professions whether they preach the gospel or not.  But this doesn’t mean its wrong to be emotional when you preach the real gospel.  I would contend that if you believe people will spend eternity in hell without trusting in Christ, you’d better be a little passionate and emotional when you call them to faith!  If you’re not, I wonder where your hearts at, and how much you believe the gospel you preach.  I heard Pastor Pedro Garcia tell a story about a question he was asked at the end of an evangelistic service he preached.   At the closing of the service a man inquired, “Are you always this passionate when you call people to receive Christ?”  What was Pedro’s emblazoned response?  “How can we not be!”  Some of us need to ask that question.

 Objections to Common Methods

Still others are bothered by methods utilized to give people a chance to express faith in Christ publically.  We’ve all heard the “Now with every head bowed and every eye closed, if you want to receive Christ just raise your hand up, and I’ll pray for you” approach.  I used to criticize it heavily, and others like it.  Now I even use it sometimes.  Why?  The truth is that the most biblical way to call people to faith in the gospel is to call them to believe, and then call them to demonstrate that belief by getting baptized right away.

As a church meeting in a school, our baptismal is an inflatable portable hot tub originally designed for camping!  So I can’t call people to believe and get baptized at every service.  When we do baptisms we do them open invitation style, and its always beautiful to see how God uniquely blesses the call to believe and be baptized with conversions.  On the other weeks, I figure that giving people some practical way to respond is better than giving them none.  So sometimes I ask them to raise their hands as a symbol of appeal for God to save them in light of the gospel.  Sometimes we just invite them to come pray with us after the service if God’s spoken to their heart.  I find God blesses the offering of a variety of opportunities for people to publically express the faith of their hearts.  What I know is we see people come to Christ in our services when we give them practical ways to express faith way more often than we did when we weren’t offering methods like this.  It also helps us see who God’s been working in so we can follow-up with them.

The funny thing I’ve found is that most who criticize people who use methods other than baptism to immediately demonstrate new faith in Christ don’t call for immediate decisions followed by baptism either.  They don’t really call for belief at all.  When you consider the biblical record, to me, the burden of proof is on them.

How About You?

Do you ever make an appeal for an immediate response of faith to the gospel?  Why or why not?  What practical methods do you use to encourage people to demonstrate their heart’s response of faith to the gospel?  Do you think your theology or practice in this area promotes or hinders you and your church from experiencing the blessing of seeing people come to faith in Jesus the moment they hear the gospel?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!