Archive | February, 2012

The Strategy of Distraction

24 Feb

Patton. Napoleon. Caesar. Alexander. Great warriors are remembered not for the size of their armies, but for the use which they made of them. Their excellence stemmed not from their power, but from their strategies. It was their careful, studied knowledge of their enemies: their strengths and their weaknesses, which gave these men the edge that they needed to win. And the same holds true for us today.

One of the single most important keys to effective evangelism is an understanding of our enemy: who he is, how he operates and why. Without this knowledge, we cannot hope to gain ground. Perhaps, this is why God took such pains to tell us about our enemy in his Word. The Apostle Paul states in Ephesians 6:12 that:

“…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

In short, our battle is not waged against a physical enemy, but a Spiritual one. That this presents a difficulty for corporal (bodily) beings is not to be questioned. It always has been (and probably always will be) easier to throw a punch, fire a pistol, or drop a bomb than it is to contend with an enemy which we cannot see. It shouldn’t be surprising then, that one of Satan’s primary strategies in the war for souls is to refocus our attentions on a more “concrete” adversary. And sometimes the “enemy” he chooses isn’t who we’d expect!
Jesus told us (in a somewhat different context) in Mark 3:25 that:

“If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Knowing this, Satan’s first approach nearly every time is to entice Christians to fight each other, drawing their attention to issues concerning the lack of Sanctification (Christ-like behavior) in other believers, details of “minor” doctrines (those which may be important to an Orthodox view of Scripture, but which have no bearing upon Salvation), or administrative programs within the body (such as the organization of the Sunday School department or the music to be played during morning service). By disrupting the unity of the body, he shifts the focus of believers away from the ultimate goal of presenting God’s message of Salvation to the lost… and the battle is over before it has even begun.
For this cause, Paul tells Titus to warn the believers on Crete to:

“… avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (Titus 3:9)

Instead, we are to:

“[Fix] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Only by understanding Satan’s strategy and endeavoring to preserve the unity of the body by keeping our focus on Christ will we ever be capable of accomplishing the mission He has given us!

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“Just the Facts, Ma’am. Just the Facts”

17 Feb

I probably don’t have to tell you that our emotions have a tremendous effect upon our ability to efficiently share the Gospel message… or that our ability (or inability) to keep them in check can have an enormous impact on the nature and direction of our dialogues. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have emotions; just that we allow God to master them instead of allowing them to master us.

Perhaps you’ve seen a few reruns of the old crime drama “Dragnet”. The main character was a straight-talking detective by the name of Joe Friday. His catchphrase from one episode to the next was, “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” It was a good slogan for a cop seeking the truth about a crime, but it’s also a good slogan for a Christian seeking to share the truth of the Gospel with a world that’s been victimized by evil.

In today’s society, we tend to avoid topics like politics and religion because discussions in these veins can become heated and even confrontational – often in just a matter of seconds. Before you know what’s hit you, two semi-mature people are yelling and name-calling and for no apparent reason other than that they disagree! So what makes these topics such hot-spots for many in our society? The answer is emotion.

If I were to ask you to name the top five factors that define who you are as a human being, you’d probably put Jesus at the top of that list. Strangely enough, many other people (even atheists – though they may not know it) feel just as strongly that their religious views make them who they are. The result of this is that if you even appear to be attacking those views, many people will take it as an assault on them as a moral person or even on their rights to a basic human existence. It’s this emotion that can turn a civil discussion in your school or company cafeteria into an anger-laden food fight. One of the best things you can learn to do when it comes to sharing the Good News about Jesus is to emotionally disconnect from what you’re saying.

I found a good trial ground for this disconnect several years ago while volunteering at the local museum. The directors had brought in a very informative display about the history of the Bible. It began with the origins of writing and ended with the translation of the Hebrew and Greek into King James English. It was a “facts-only” display based upon secular scholarship. All of the museum volunteers were told that if we had our own religious interpretations of this material, it was fine… but that we weren’t to be sharing those interpretations with the visitors. Our job was simply to present the facts and let those visitors decide how to interpret them for themselves.

Now I confess that I went into the situation hoping to have some opportunities to share the truth about Jesus with the other museum volunteers. What I didn’t expect was that I would have some very good opportunities to share the same truth with several of the museum’s patrons as well. How did this happen without my breaking the rules set forth by the exhibit’s director? I simply presented the facts.

This tactic was particularly useful when I worked the portion of the museum that covered the Council of Nicea. Many people today believe that the Emperor Constantine called the council because he didn’t approve of all the divergent teachings amongst those who called themselves “Christian”. It was in the Empire’s best interests to unite these sects under a common system of belief… so the council was formed. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

I had several interesting opportunities to address the fact that the Christians who met at the council didn’t always agree on minor doctrinal issues, but that an overwhelming majority did agree on the major ones. Of course this statement led to questions about the key doctrines of Christianity and I suddenly had an open door to give a “just the facts” presentation of the Salvation Message – never once even hinting that this was what I, myself, believed. I actually watched one couple change their views about Christianity while standing right there with me! And all I did was unemotionally present the facts.

Now, I can hear you saying, “That’s great, but how do you emotionally disconnect during a discussion with a close friend who already does know what you believe. Won’t it sound like a memorized speech?” May it never be! We aren’t talking about ignoring feelings or experience, just keeping our emotions in check. In fact, often times in personal encounters it’s your own experience as a follower of Christ that will help that friend/classmate/co-worker/family member truly connect with the Gospel message. The item at issue here is not what you share, but how you do the sharing.

Let the facts speak for themselves and don’t get drug into the emotional quagmire created by attacks on your Savior. God can defend Himself – you’re just His messenger.

It Isn’t About How Much You Know

10 Feb

This may come as a surprise, but preschoolers are often better evangelists than the rest of us.  Why?  Because they don’t know enough to think that sharing the Good News of God’s Grace is about “knowing enough”.  It’s easy (especially as we get older) to get caught up in the idea that you have to understand the details of every Biblical doctrine before you can effectively share the Gospel, but this simply isn’t true.  While having a grasp of apologetics (the organized defense of the faith) can be helpful, it certainly isn’t necessary!  All God needs are people who know Him and are willing to do what He tells them.  Christ, himself, said in Matthew 10:19-20:

“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.  For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

God just wants willing hearts that are ready to love.

That said, one of our greatest fears about sharing the Gospel can now be put to rest:  You can’t blow it! In my opinion, this is the single most important thing to keep in mind.  I can’t recall the number of times I’ve shared the Gospel and have then spent hours afterwards wondering if I’d said the right thing! Was my reply perfectly worded?  Did I make the nuances of the doctrine clear?  Should I have stated my position more adamantly?

In reality, I was wasting my time.  If God gives you the words to say and if it’s not up to you to make converts, then it’s impossible for you to blow it!  I’ve seen God do amazing things to make up for my own deficiencies and He will do the same for you! So relax, let go, and let God.

If you still find that sometimes your knees knock together and your palms sweat, that’s okay.  It happens to seasoned veterans too.  Maybe it’s God’s way of reminding us that He’s the engineer and that we’re just the tools He uses.

Several years ago, a teenage friend who had never shared the Gospel with anyone informed me that she had a friend who she couldn’t imagine being in Heaven without.  Over two months, we had many conversations about evangelism.  Then, one day she told me that God had revealed to her that it was time to make her faith known.  “I told my friend that I was a Christian and what it was all about and she was like totally cool about it!” Her face beamed with enthusiasm.

All of this just goes to prove that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the judgment that there is something more important: the eternal destiny of a lost soul.  God is with you and He won’t let you down!

Winning the Debate, Losing Souls

3 Feb

While we’re on the topic, evangelism isn’t about getting people to see things our way.  In fact, the most effective evangelism is oftentimes the result of our knowing where to focus our arguments and when to hold our tongue.  This can be difficult, especially if you enjoy a good debate as much as I do.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3,4, the Apostle Paul says:

“I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

The only things that anyone needs to accept in order to be saved is that he is a sinner and can do nothing to become right with God again – but that Christ can and will fix that problem if he will only place his faith in Him.  That’s it.  Nothing more.  No strings attached.

Now, I can hear you asking, “Can it really be that simple?  Is that really everything?  You mean that a person doesn’t have to believe that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God or that the world really was created in seven literal days?  A new Christian doesn’t need to be able to explain the trinity or the historic basis for Christ’s atoning death?!”  Nope.  That’s what theologians call “nonessential doctrine”, i.e., things that are important, but which don’t play an actual role in Salvation.  It’s as silly to expect someone to accept or understand all of these things right off as it is to expect someone in a first grade math class to be able to perform advanced calculus.  John 14:26 says:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

God gave us the Holy Spirit to help us discern right doctrine.  If someone is a Christian, God will eventually bring them around to the Truth on these matters… and on everything else.  He doesn’t need us to do that for Him and He most certainly doesn’t need us trying to make an understanding of nonessential doctrine a condition of Salvation!

My mother used to tell me that the best way to evangelize was to “bring it back to Jesus”.  And she was right.  Doctrine is important, but it doesn’t mean a thing if the people debating it don’t already have a relationship with Christ: you can win the debate on any number of Bible-related issues and still lose a soul.  If we want to evangelize effectively, we need to keep our focus on what matters: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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