Saturday, March 3, 2018

On the Very Words of the Bible: Experiencing God's Holy Presence in the Midst of Conversation!

In the past several weeks of evangelism we have encountered the special presence of God entering evangelism conversations when the Bible has been opened. These past two Thursdays I have partnered in initiative evangelism with a Midwestern student named D. J.
On both Thursdays something similar happened. I engaged a person in a gospel conversation. Typical questions came off my tongue:
  • “Have you heard about Jesus?”
  • “What do you think of Jesus?”
  • “Has there been a time in your life when you have asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins?”
  • “Could you tell me about it?”
  • “Has the Lord given you a local church that you attend?”

Moving from these questions conversations either proceeded toward Jesus and the gospel or came to an end. My goal is threefold:
  1. To understand if the person has a genuine relationship with Christ.
  2. To seek out if the person has a hearing of faith as it relates to the Word of God.
  3. To discern the person’s readiness for repentance and faith.

Something noteworthy happened these past two weeks. When I was at the point of concluding a conversation that was becoming unfruitful, D. J. asked a question:
  • “Can I show you something in the Bible?”

In both cases the individual said, “Yes!” Thereupon, D. J. opened his Bible and showed them a verse that he had discerned would be helpful for the person to hear in light of the former conversation. And in both cases, it happened—God came down on the conversation!
It was as if God Himself had stepped down onto the street beside us.
The focus shifted from my words, from the gospel tract, and from any of my conversational attempts, to the words in the Bible itself. In both cases conviction came down upon the listeners. They suddenly became attentive and submissive to the words of God’s Word. It was beautiful to see!
We experienced this with Wilma two Thursdays ago. She had indicated that she had a relationship with Christ, but the conversation was going nowhere. D. J., however, showed her 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
The Holy Spirit came down and anointed those words, and we felt the presence of God. Wilma received D. J.’s admonition from God’s Word and he prayed for her.
We met A J. this past Thursday. Seeing that we were Christians, A. J. was aggressively asking us for money. D. J. opened his Bible to James 2 and read:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:18-19.
After D. J. read verse 18, A. J. said, “That’s what I’m talking about!” But D. J. kept reading. Verse 19 contained the warning. D. J. showed him that the important thing was not just believing, but living out that belief. A. J. was immediately humbled by the words of the Word of God. He said, “Now that’s true! I know that’s true!” Apparently, God revealed to A. J. that he was not living out the faith that he claimed. His immediate humility was remarkable. We prayed for him on the street outside the liquor store.
In both cases, in the hallway of an apartment building and outside a liquor store, God’s presence came down. When the Bible was opened and the words of God were read, His presence was definitely felt.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham's Legacy (1918-2018)

As a child I remember seeing the photos of Billy Graham on the covers of D├ęcision, the French edition of Decision Magazine in our living room. Later my father joined the Board of Trustees of the Billy Graham Association, a position he held until his death in 2009. In the 1980s Billy Graham would call our home once or twice a year to ask my father for advice on pertinent issues.
From 1997 to 2001 I researched and wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on Billy Graham’s theology of evangelism. It was during these times of gathering books, articles, and sermons that I began to grasp the worldwide impact of this man. It is amazing to consider how God could use the determination, calling, and giftedness of one man who preached his first revival in Palatka, Florida in 1937.
It is hard to capture the overall impact of Billy Graham. Likely more people heard the biblical gospel emitted by his vocal cords than any other living human. Dr. Graham was aggressive in using the latest communicative technology to preach the gospel. It is very likely that the verbal spiritual impact of Graham may only be exceeded by the words on the pages of the millions of Bibles printed by the many Bible societies of the world.
When considering the legacy of Billy Graham, five highlights come to mind.
  • Moral Uprightness

In 1937, it is said that the Graham team gathered at the peach farm of Cliff Barrow’s father. Graham asked them to consider all the ways that evangelists had fallen in the past. They came up with a list of four pitfalls:
  1. Sexual Immorality
  2. Exaggerating Numbers
  3. Speaking Negatively of the Lord’s Anointed
  4. Financial Indiscretion

As Graham’s ministry is considered from the hindsight of 80 years, God protected this man and his evangelism team from any of these pitfalls. What an example and legacy to God’s faithfulness!
  • Gospel Focus

Graham’s ministry did not drift from a focus on the ministry of the gospel. When some of his contemporaries drifted from a biblical priority, Graham did not. Others in his early entourage shifted into social ministry. Not Graham. He continued preaching a biblical gospel far into his 80 years of evangelism ministry.
  • Evangelistic Priority

Hand-in-hand with an emphasis on a ministry of the gospel is the evangelistic priority of Billy Graham. His priority remained the spiritual needs of those to whom he was called. While his organization began to support humanitarian ministry after 1975, the greater majority of the funding sent to the Billy Graham Association supported spiritual ministry.
  • Cooperative Agenda

Cooperation between Bible-believing Christians became an enthusiastic focus of Graham crusades. His love for God’s people in various denominations provides an ongoing legacy that Graham championed. While ecumenism may be considered a concern in Graham’s ministry, Graham wanted to focus on love over doctrinal particularities.
  • Biblical Basis

Perhaps the most important legacy of Graham was the often repeated statement in his preaching, “The Bible says…” Beginning from his early ministry, Graham would punctuate his sermons with citations of the Bible. “The Word of God says…” “The Bible says…” No one who heard Graham could be unsure that his source of authority and his source of power in preaching was the Bible.
Perhaps this last legacy is his greatest legacy. Graham preached with an undaunted commitment to the authority and power of the Bible. As we mourn the passing of Billy Graham today, may there be many who follow his example of an unashamed commitment to the Word of God.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Young, Restless, and Reformed: How God Used an End-Around

The benefits or deficits of being an evangelist are (1) Taking things at face-value and (2) Going directly to the point. These are, in fact, commendable qualities, as taught in both Old and New Testaments. Honesty and integrity are pillars of obedience of the Bible. Hedging and dishonesty are strongly discouraged in Scripture.
For this reason, my approach to teaching and leading evangelism was the “up the middle” approach. Using terminology from American football, the “up the middle” approach implies attacking the opponent directly. Just saying it like it is: “This is what the Bible teaches, and this is what we must do in obedience to the Bible!”
This approach did have some success with some students. But others found either practical or exegetical reasons why they did not have to submit to biblical evangelism. On the academic side are arguments like:
  • The culture of the 1st Century is so foreign to our cultural practices—its methods would never relate to our contemporary culture;
  • The biblical methodology of evangelism is so sparse, it was never intended to communicate a practice of evangelism;
  • There is so much variety in the biblical practice of evangelism, from that we see that we need to parse contemporary culture to learn how best to communicate the gospel.

From the pragmatic side come arguments like:
  • Aggressive evangelism makes most Christians uncomfortable!
  • Biblical Evangelism isn’t effective and it doesn’t work!
  • And, citing Joseph Aldrich’s Life-Style Evangelism, “Many are being kept from making an effective decision because of bad experiences with a zealous but insensitive witness.”

While this wave of Lifestyle and Relationship Evangelism from the 1970s and 1980s still garners significant clout, a crosswind began blowing against its monopolistic practices. At first the new wave did not come from a competing methodology. It came from a renewed interest in right doctrine.
Enter the Young, Restless, and Reformed
Initiated by John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries and similar coalescing movements, a new doctrinal wind was blowing among the Young, Restless, and Reformed (so called by Collin Hansen in 2006). R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, and many others in the 1980s and 1990s were struggling against the growing secularization within Christian doctrine and practice. Yet the doctrinal wave that they nurtured resulted in a broader impact.
As high schoolers and collegiates were being challenged to think doctrinally, foundational to this thinking were sound approaches to interpreting and applying the Bible. Young minds became interested in Arthur Pink, John Owen, John Calvin, and Martin Luther. They started reading the Puritans. As Millennials read these men, they assimilated their interpretive methods. They began absorbing their polemical arguments. The worm had turned.
Rather than being antagonistic to biblical evangelism, these young students became eager to understand and follow biblical precedent. They grew open to an evangelism that was exegetically sound and doctrinally driven.
Enter Church Planting
Church planting was the initial phase of obedience for these Young, Restless, and Reformed. They eagerly gravitated toward “Doing Hard Things.” Their hearts were passionate to submit to the lordship of Christ. The Acts 29 church planting movement exhibited the wind of the Holy Spirit sweeping across a whole generation of young Christians discipled by their Reformed forefathers.
No Place Left Behind
A second wind began blowing not long after the church planting push. The No Place Left Behind movement captured part of this second wind of missional fervor.
As a professor of evangelism, it was a wave that I had not previously experienced in my lifetime. Here were groupings of radical young 20-something Christians aggressively sharing the gospel and training others to do so. They were intentionally knocking on doors looking for “Houses of Peace.” They were self-motivated. It was exciting to see!
I was struck by this in 2016 when I brought several carloads of students for street evangelism to Kansas City’s Northeast side. They were interns from a local church plant. We decided to get out of our cars and meet at a nearby intersection for prayer. Before we arrived at that corner, a random car stopped on the street next to us, and a Midwestern student called out and said, “What are you guys doing here?” We told him we were planning to do some street evangelism. “Amen,” he said, “Can we join you? We have been looking for houses of peace in this area.” Apparently, they were part of an undercurrent of evangelistic activity from the No Place Left Behind movement in Kansas City.
The two students joined us, and we had a great time of evangelism together. As we gathered at the end of the evening for prayer, it crossed my mind that something really special was happening.

Yes, sometimes God uses an “end around.” He began by moving an entire generation to honor His Word. And He did so using the pens and voices of people like Spurgeon, the Puritans, and the Protestant Reformers. All I can say is, “Thank you, Lord!”