Sunday, August 19, 2007

How Evangelism Now 2?

In my previous blog I purposefully left out one utterly pivotal dimension; namely, the corporate witness of the local church. We tend to think individually about evangelism; us telling others one to one the gospel, or one person preaching to a crowd etc. This is all good and has its place; but, the corporate witness of the body of the Christ is an indispensable element of evangelism in any age and context.

We are the body of Christ and collectively, as we express our humanity and faith with the Spirit flowing through our veins (metaphorically), Christ witnesses through us to the world. None of us is Christ, but collectively we are to be Christ to the world. Some will be more evangelistic than others. But as a unit we demonstrate Christ to the world.

Jesus said this when he called for his followers to love one another and declared, 'by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another' (Jn 13:35). Our unity, love, compassion, care for each other, provision for the needy, the fruit of the Spirit expressed etc, is a living witness to the love of Christ. Our good works on behalf of others in need, our concern to be God's healing and providing hands, will demonstrate to the world of the love of God. Our unified witness, as we worship God in unity, with passion, in spirit and truth, is a declaration that God is true and exists. Our non-judgementalism, our friendship with sinners and our living out of the gospel, declares to the world that there is a God and calls people to believe.

To me one of our greatest problems is our lack of unity, judgementalism, denominationalism, doctrinal disagreements, election-arrogance, ethical self-righteousness and moralising are a real problem. Black tshirt parades, obsessions with matters sexual, failure to live out the social justice and transformation sides of the gospel; all combine to give mixed messages to the world.

We need to be dedicated with all our beings to live out the injunctions of Christ in local churches which are community transforming, merciful, gracious, accepting and unified around the love of Christ. A church like this can really impact a community. Our intrusions into the media need to be very thoughtful and very constructive and non-judgemenal. We need to remove any notions of church-state alliance and Christendom and work with love, mercy, justice and grace.

Perhaps this is our biggest challenge. The Roman Empire was taken over by the love, mercy and unified witness of Christians who had no alliance with the state, but got on with the task of imitation Christ in good works, unity and truth. It is time for us to do the same.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How Evangelism Now?

So the above blogs establish, at least for me, that evangelism is an utter imperative. Essential to being Christian is the call to share the faith with all humanity. God's purpose is that all live in eternal relationship with him. Those of us who have found him are to pass on the story to others, speak the gospel, proclaim the gospel, so that others can join us in God's family and experience the joy and wonder of living eternally with God.

The question is how? How today? This is where it gets a little tricky.

There are some things that I think we can take into account:

1. Pray: God has covenanted to answer prayers. When we ask him for his power, his leading, increased effectiveness etc, he answers. Luke records how the first disciples, after being told to stop preaching the message, prayed passionately for more passion for the task and for God to do wonders among the lost. The room was shaken and the result was unbelievable fellowship, passionate proclamation, people converted and amazing signs and wonders (check out Acts 4-5). Paul kept asking for people to pray for his mission knowing that the mission relied totally on the power of God (see 1 Thess 3; Col 4; Eph 6:18 etc). So we need to pray and pray specifically for God's leading, power and empowerment of the message.

2. Be Spirit-led: Prayer is not just about asking, but about listening and responding. We need to shut up in prayer and listen and respond. God wants to save the world more than we can ever imagine. He will direct us to responsive people, show us the right approaches to take, open up the opportunities that he wants us to take etc. Again the early Christians knew this. Almost every evangelistic situation was engineered by God and not by human ideas or strategy. Pentecost set up the first sermon (check out Acts 2-3), the healing of the disabled beggar the second (Acts 3), persecution in many cases (Acts 4-5; 7-8) etc. Philip was Spirit-led, God leading him to the Ethiopian to share the faith and see him saved (Acts 8). Paul and Barnabas' mission was inspired by the Spirit in worship (Acts 13:1-2). Paul's Macedonian mission came about because of a dream and being told NOT to preach in Pontus and Bythinia (Acts 16). Paul's proclamation in Rome came about because he was imprisoned and sent there (Acts 22-28). If we are prayerful and responsive to the Spirit and situations the Spirit engineers, God will direct our situation and the opportunities will come as we seek the Spirit. He will tell us not to do some things and to do others as he did for Paul. He will cause situations to occur that open up the possibility of sharing. We do not need to push situations, alienate people with our pushing of the message, unnecessarily offend. God will open up the situation if we are prayerful and Spirit-led.

3. Know the message. We have to know the message. Peter and Paul both reinforce this (1 Pet 3:15; Col 4:5-6). We need to be able to explain the Christian message to another person in a way that is clear, appropriate, non-dogmatic, sensitive. Another way of saying it is; we need to know the story. We need to practice telling it. We need to know our own story, our testimony and be able to weave it together with the gospel message. It needs to be so natural to us that it comes out of us in a most natural, relational way.

4. Live the message. There is nothing worse than a Christian who is full of talk but whose life does not reflect the love and authenticity of Christ. We need to allow the Spirit to consume us that our lives are full of the fruit of the Spirit (see Gal 6; 1 Cor 13). We need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I am not talking about a purile life, soft and pathetic in its attempt to be ever positive in a fake Barney like way. I am talking about being real, being authentic, being who we are, but full of grace. Perhaps that is the key word, grace. Full of generosity, mercy, openness; not full of judgement and pseudo-Christian arrogance.

5. Be out there among them. How can we lead non-Christians to Christ when we do not hang out with them but live in a holy Christian world 24/7. We need to be in the world where we fit, interacting with the lost, working with them, playing sport with them; and as we do, we bring God to them through our lives. We are God's agents for the transformation of the world, for sowing love and light, for sharing the faith authentically as a natural part of lives totally sold out for God.

6. Know them deeply. True evangelism is relational and based on our deep care and commitment to others. We need to recognise in others that they too are image bearers, recipients of God's love, who God cares about and wants to save. We should not see them as the enemy but seek to be their friends. Jesus hung with sinners who would not fit most of our churches. So we need to get out of the enclave and be among such people, accepting them, and as led by the Spirit and through our own fragmented attempts to live out Christ's injunctions, be among them as Jesus was. He never compromised the gospel or himself as he did so, but he remained among them, and they loved him because he was their friend. We must be the friends of sinners.

7. Know their world. We need to be observers of our world, reading it, gaining ever increasing understanding of what motivates people, what ideals they aspire to, what moves them, what makes them tick. As we do we need to translate the gospel into their world at their points of concern and interest, bringing the gospel in their language, telling the story in a way that challenges them to know that there is a much better way. Paul did this, concerned to be a Jew to Jews and a Greek to Greeks. We do not compromise the core of the message, but allowing the story to be shaped in its form by the context we are in, and bringing it to bear on the things that matter for today's world. The 'unknown god' of Acts 17 is a great biblical example. Here Paul picks up a concept from the Athenian culture and tells the story around this idea. Paul used metaphors from his world like justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification etc in telling the story. John used the idea of logos. We need to be real with this culture.

8. Do the gospel. Christians debate the relationship between social justice/action and sharing the message. We do both. We are God's hands and feet to bring God's shalom to the world, to work to see God's purposes for this world brought closer. Sharing the faith must be set in the context of Christians working for good, for justice, caring for the poor and needy, reaching out with love to the hurting, healing etc. Without this dimension, our message becomes an isolated bleep in a world of noise that has no effect. The world is saying, 'show us Christ' not just tell us about him. We should be at the cutting edge of ecology, science, art, music, IT as well, as we show the deep wonderful creativity of God. Jesus said of the poor, 'you feed them'! We are to be God's agents to remove poverty and challenge injustice.

9. Use the right methods for today. We need to think deeply about the way we do evangelism. In the world of Paul etc, public speaking, letter and personal relationships through family and community were the primary mode of proclamation of any message. Hence we see them going around preaching publically, communicating through letter and spreading the message through community and family networks. In non-technological contexts public proclamation and community and family networks remains the primary media for communication. The message was fresh and never heard, meaning that there was novelty and excitement in the message, it never having been heard before.

In a context like NZ things are different. Now the primary networks are not as strongly family which are to a large extent fragmented but friendship and social networks. These networks remain a critical point of evangelisation. This requires a strategy of love, relationships and very sensitive sharing of the faith set in the context of mutual relationships where both parties are honoured and respected in their perspectives.

Public proclamation is no longer a primary means of communication. It has been superseded by communication through radio, TV, the internet and the print media. We Christians need to use these well, sharing the message through these avenues. I am not so much talking about 'Christian' radio stations or TV shows, although these done well could be useful and have a purpose in strengthening the saved. Rather, I am talking about Christian sensitive and thoughtful proclamation through secular media. Christian broadcasting association work at Easter and Christmas are excellent examples, where the Christian message can reach the lost. TV shows need to be far cleverer than evangelists utilising the old forms of proclamation, but through creative shows like those formed by Rob Harley. Movies which bring the story to the culture need to be made. Books that make it onto the bookshelfs of secular bookshops like the Kiwi Bible etc. Songs that subvert through Christian musicians are another way of reaching this world. Then there is the internet! Unfortunately we cannot control it, but it does give opportunity for the message to be proclaimed.

Older methods may not be the best way anymore. Knocking on doors leads to instant rejection as people are utterly suspicious of anyone who intrudes into their space and who seeks to 'sell them' something. Approaching strangers with the gospel is similarly a risky venture. Public proclamation can work if it is done brilliantly with catchy attractive music, drama, humour and skill. It needs to be positive and attractive rather than judgemental. It can't be naff in a world that is sophisticated. If it is not attractive, it can have the reverse effect of putting people off the faith.

So we need to do evangelism, but do so in a culturally relevant and holistic way. Not that we will all get it right and enthusiastic Christians will do all sorts of things to try and share the faith. Paul is helpful here. He delighted in Christ being proclaimed even where people's motives were all over the place (Phil 1:12-18). I think we should encourage anyone who dares to go out and have a go. We need to help them so that they do it really well and positively. We need to train them so that they do it in ways that are culturally appropriate and so that we do not cause unnecessary offence. The truth is that the gospel is offensive enough without our stupidity thrown in. Whether we get it right or not, we can trust in the message's power to do what God wants even where the efforts are not perfect. But we need to do our best to do it well.

Go for it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why Evangelism 8?

So far I have looked at the explicit text to determine whether 'we' are to do evangelism. The evidence to me is overwhelming; essential to Christianity is the imperative to share the gospel with the lost. This is seen in the sweep of the OT narrative, the ministry and teaching of Christ, the ministry of the first Christians through Acts and Epistles.

There are also theological strands that come together to reinforce this point:
1. Fall, sin, death and eternal destiny: it is clear through the NT that Christ, Paul and the other apostles worked from the premise that the Fall of humanity in Gen 3 led to all humanity being separated from God, under sin, facing physical death, and eternal destruction. There is only one solution in the bible given, Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection is God's solution to the problem of the Fall. He was without sin and died resolving the problem. He reconciles us to God. He redeems us. Through his death we are declared righteous if we believe. He is the saviour of the world. All humanity outside of Christ is lost, facing not only physical death, but separated from a pure perfect God in their sinfulness. The exact nature of eternal destruction is not clear, it could be a form of annihilation or some eternal existence apart from God. Either way, those who do not know God are lost. This reality screams out to all of us who have found salvation in Christ that we must do EVERYTHING we can in word, deed and attitude to see people drawn to Christ. While there are people who are separated from God we MUST be concerned for their salvation! How can we not be?

2. The selfless essence of the faith: Christianity is about selfless living for the needs of others. This is demonstrated in a God who did not need to create but chose to because he wanted volitional creatures to love and walk in relationship with. This selfless God is seen through OT as time after time he intervened for his people Israel (Judges, Exodus, restoration from exile). This despite their terrible failures. The ultimate demonstration of this is Christ who left his pre-existence glory to become human, experience the totality of human pain and suffering, die on a cross refusing to use coercive force in his own defence, and then rose from the dead. He remains human, God in a human body for eternity to save us! Selflessness involves deeply caring for others at their deepest point of need. The deepest point of need is one's eternal destiny. Selfless concern for others will involve us utterly sacrificing ourselves for the needs of others in this world leading us to care for the poor and needy. Even more it will lead us to care for the needs of others who are lost eternally if they do not hear and experience the message of Christ.

So we are to be evangelistically inclined. We are to look on those who we mingle with from the world and we are to meditate upon them, their destiny, their need, the horror of what they face. We are to focus our hearts on them, pray for them, show them love, share the faith, do good works that demonstrate that we care. We may face death and ridicule. We may be laughed at. We may be as the first Christians were, thrown into prison, beaten, burnt alive, cut in half, crucified, murdered... but this cannot deter us as it did not deter them. We must share the message with whole lives given over to God!

Why Evangelism 7?

When we hit the other epistles there is not a great deal of mention of evangelism. Peter tells his recipients in the churches of Asia in 1 Pet 3:15 that they are to be prepared to answer the enquiries of unbelievers. This is what some call apologetic evangelism, responding to the questions of seekers. The sentiment is the same as Col 4:5-6 where the believer is to know how to answer the questions posed to them. This presupposes a readiness to preach the gospel when the opportunity arises (cf. Eph 6:15). That believers are the recipients of evangelism is found in references to those who came and preached to the recipients of Hebrews (Heb 4:2, 6; 1 Pet 1:25; 1 Jn 1:1-3). This suggests that the process will go on although this is not directly expressed.

Jude 23 is one of the clearest expressions of evangelism. Jude encourages his recipients to be merciful to those who doubt, those who are struggling in the faith. He then encourages believers to 'snatch others from the fire and save them' which is an expression encouraging evangelism. 'The fire' here is the 'punishment of eternal fire' referred to earlier in Jude 7. Thus believers are to be motivated to share the gospel in attitude, word and deed to the lost to seek to see them saved from the torment of eternal destruction.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why Evangelism 6?

Then we come to the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Undoubtedly Paul was utterly motivated to preach the gospel. Luke tells us in the accounts of his conversion (Acts 9, 22, 26) as does Paul himself in Gal 1:15-16 that he received a call to take the message of God's salvation to the non-Jewish world (the Gentiles) when he was converted. He was seriously devoted to this task, declaring that he deserved God's curse ('woe to me') if he did not fulfill his commission to do so (1 Cor 9:16). He felt an incredible internal obligation to preach the gospel to all peoples (see Rom 1:14).

There are a number of evidences that Paul envisaged others working in the same business of sharing the gospel with the lost.

Firstly, he saw the gospel as the means by which people found salvation i.e. for people to be saved, they must hear the gospel, which is God's power for salvation (see Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18; Eph 6:17; Eph 1:13-14). So, the gospel must be preached for people to be saved. This is seen in the rhetorical questions of Rom 10:14-17 where the questions indicate this.

Secondly, his understanding of the gospel itself demands that it be preached. He clearly saw humanity split into two groups, the saved and the lost; those in Christ or in Adam. Those who are not in Christ will experience eternal destruction rather than the eternal life God intends for all humanity. Thus the gospel must be preached so that people have the opportunity to be saved.

Thirdly, his missionary strategy demonstrates his concern to preach the gospel to all nations. Beginning in Jerusalem he first went north into Syria and Cilicia (Acts 9-12). He set up his base in Syrian Antioch for the evangelisation of the world of the Gentiles. On his first missionary journey he went west into South Galatia with the Gospel (Acts 13-14). After the Jerusalem Council in which he and the other Christian leaders resolved the issue of whether the new converts needed to be circumcised and adhere to the Mosaic law; he went west again. His intention was to go to the regions of Asia but was directed further west to Greece; Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 16-18). He then returned to Antioch and set out on a third journey going to those places he missed on his second journey in Asia and also collecting money for the poor famine-stricken Jerusalem Christians (Acts 19-21). He wanted then to go west to Rome and onto Spain (Rom 15:24-33). We know he made it to Rome but are unsure if he got to Spain. This all indicates a geographic strategy to go through the main centres of the Roman world and beyond with the gospel. We should take up his passion to take the gospel to virgin territory, that all can hear it, and so be saved. He was probably motivated by Jesus' declaration that the end will come with the task of taking the gospel to all nations was complete (cf. Mk 13:10; Mt 14:14).

Fourthly, his desire was that the churches he planted would continue the work. We see this in a number of ways.

* First, we see churches active in preaching. The Thessalonians took the gospel through Macedonia and Achaia, the word of the Lord resounding forth from them through the region (1 Thess 1:6-8).

* Second in Philippians we read of a group of co-workers who worked in Philippi to evangelise the town and area including 2 women Euodia and Syntyche, a man Clement, and other's unnamed. We can include in this Epaphroditus (2:25), an apostle of the church.

* Third he urges the Philippians to contend for the faith of the gospel in the face of pagan opposition and persecution (1:27), to hold forth the word of life (2:16a), to resolve their conflict and witness in unity.

* Fourth he urges the Colossians to ensure their logos is seasoned with salt, prepared to answer enquiry. Logos here is not general speech as many translations, but proclamation as in the previous verses (4:1-6).

* Fifthly, he urges his converts to imitate him. In Phil 4:9 they are to imitate everything he has taught them and demonstrated to them, no doubt including evangelism (see Acts 16; Phil 4:2-3; 1 Thess 2:1-2). He urges the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. Christ of course was a preacher of the gospel! Paul too in 1 Cor 9:15-22 has described his own passion and commitment to cultural relevance in preaching. His purpose is to save the lost (1 Cor 10:31-33). Believers too are to do everything they can to ensure others are saved including sharing the faith with them!

* Sixth, he wanted Christians to share the gospel in the face of opposition. There is no retreatism when the going gets tough or the gospel is resisted. Rather, like Christ (Phil 2:5-11) and he himself (Phil 1:6-7, 12-13; 2 Thess 2:1-2), they are to press on, sharing the faith despite imprisonment, rejection, persecution, death!

* Seventh, we see his attitude to what happens when others are inspired to share the faith in Phil 1:12-14. He is in prison in Rome and the gospel is spreading through soldiers and city. Some of the Roman believers are excited to preach the gospel as he does. Some are actually poorly motivated seeking to cause his suffering! Others are rightly motivated. Yet Paul doesn't care, he is simple thrilled that the gospel is preached!

* Eighth, we see his passion for evangelism in that two of the elements of Christian armoury are evangelistically inclined. The shoes of the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace indicates a preparedness to preach the gospel at all times. Notably this is the only aspect of the armour devoted to movement i.e. mission lies at the focus of the movement of Christian life. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. The only attacking weapon is the rhema of God, the word proclaimed. This involves evangelistic, apologetic and teaching proclamation.

* Ninth Paul's theology of church leadership in Ephesians 4:11-16 speaks of Christian leaders equipping others for works of ministry. Thus the apostle and evangelist trains the others to do the work of evangelism, to speak the truth in love, to see the church built up. The other Christian leaders, the pastors and teachers, do the same of course so that the body lives the full range of Christian ministry.

* Tenth, Luke's record of Paul speaks of his equipping of others for mission. In chapter 13 after the Psidian Antiochian sermon, many come to Christ, and the whole region hears the gospel. In 19:9-10 in the lecture hall of Tyrannus Paul teaches his new converts and these new disciples take the gospel through the whole of Asia in two years. One of these undoubtedly was Epaphras who planted the church in Colossae (Col 1:6).

So all in all it is clear that Paul wanted others to evangelise. His ministry was not a one man show or even a one-team show. He preached and equipped others to preach. He wanted others to take up the mission as he has done and see the gospel spread.

Of course he also believed in spiritual gifts and so some would be more inclined to evangelism than others through the empowering of the Spirit. However, all were to be motivated as he was to see others come to Christ and remain in Christ, cared for, loved, discipled and nurtured in the faith. He wanted the body of Christ built up in numbers and in maturity. Each of us is to express the faith authentically, according to our gifts, with love, through whole lives given over to Christ, in unity; works, attitude and words designed led by the Spirit to draw people to Christ.

World U19 Lacrosse Champs

The World Women's U19 Lacrosse Champs were completed today. USA won the final comprehensively, beating Australia 18-3. The bronze was a surprise with England toppling Canada 9-8.

NZ came in 10th of 11th which sounds unimpressive, but in fact was a brilliant effort. NZ lost all but one game, beating Germany in the play-off for 10th and 11th (8-6), their first win, after losing by 1 to Germany in the first round (10-11). They were competitive in every game, unlucky not to beat the Czech Republic after having 22 shots on goal to 11 but being thwarted by the brilliant Czech goalie.

It was an impressive effort all up when one considers that NZ is new to the sport, this being their first U19 effort after debuting at the senior worlds in 2005. There are also a number of quality players at home who could not make the trip because of injury, other sporting commitments or cost. Of course such trips are not funded, each player spending $6000 for the trip!

The top NZ team would have potentially been top 6. Impressive for NZ were the McLain sisters Lauren and Kate, Gracie Keown, Sonja Yaw, Susie Clephane, Laura Rensford, Ariana Simmonds and Kelly Leaper. Some will no doubt score US scholarships. Way to go girls!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why Evangelism 5?

So then we hit the sequel to Luke, Acts. I like to call Acts, Luke 2 to illustrate that it is really a continuation of the same story on a fresh scroll. Acts is built around evangelism expressed in 1:8 in which Jesus tells the first disciples that they are to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Spirit which will empower them to be witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The story that unfolds speaks of this happening; chapters 1-8:4 centring on witness in Jerusalem; chapters 8-9 on the spread of the gospel through Judea and Samaria; 10-28 speaking of the spread of the gospel into the Gentile world and all the way to Rome.

Acts is especially important because Luke tells us how the disciples sought to live out the injunctions of Christ which are found in his first volume, Luke. We see from the first that evangelism was a priority which was not to be sacrificed at any cost. For them it was a non-negotiable element of being Christian. This is seen at a number of points.

Firstly, after Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter preaches the gospel as a response to the crowd's incomprehension at their behaviour. This is the first of a number of sermons in Acts, all of which speak of Jesus as saviour, messiah and Lord and the importance of response to him. On this occasion in chapter 2 3000 people are baptised.

Secondly, after the healing of the disabled beggar at the temple, in Acts 3-4 Peter again preaches, this time in the temple courts. This excites the interest of the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin. They forbid Peter and John from preaching the message. Their commitment to evangelism is seen in their refusal to desist from preaching, they seeing preaching the gospel as imperative and 'obedience to God' (4:19).

Thirdly, this commitment is seen in their response to being told to stop proclaiming Christ. Rather than ceasing, they gather together and pray for God to do wonderful miracles through them and to empower them to preach the gospel (4:29). This is a powerful statement of their belief that they could not stop preaching but had to do so. The prayer leads to the wonderful fellowship of the Jerusalem community, miracles on the streets and further preaching of the message.

The fourth demonstration of their commitment is seen in what follows. The Sanhedrin again take them into custody. They are miraculously freed commanded by an angel to preach, again indicating the importance of the task. The Sanhedrin again take them into custody and but for the intervention of Gamaliel, would have put them to death. Instead they are released after a terrible flogging and again told to stop. They refuse and return to their preaching continuing to preach day after day in the temple and in homes. Despite the threat on their lives, they remained unflinching in their determination to preach the message.

Fifthly, we see their commitment to evangelism in the appointment of the 7 to care for the Grecian widows in 6:1-6. The reason for their appointment is in part to allow the leaders of the church to focus on their priorities; prayer and the ministry of the word i.e. teaching and preaching. The impact of the selection of the seven is that they continue to pray and minister through the word and many more become Christians including some priests (6:7).

This passion for evangelism continues in the Seven, a sixth example of their commitment to the task. This is important because it shows that the ministry was not confined to the Apostles but was part of the ministry of 7 administrators. Two in particular demonstrate this passion, Stephen and Philip. Stephen began debating with Grecian Jews challenging them to see that Jesus is the Messiah. This leads to him being brought before the Sanhedrin. His response is to preach to them and this time he is not released, but is stoned to death (Acts 7). This leads to a terrible outbreak of persecution through Saul and the whole church is scattered (8:1-4). What follows is continued proclamation from the scattered Christians. Firstly, Philip, who goes to Samaria to preach the gospel with amazing effect of miracles, conversion and baptisms (8:5-. Secondly, others go to Antioch to preach the gospel there to the Gentiles where many become Christians (11:19-21).

The eighth example is the ministry to the Gentiles. It is not clear where it begins; Antioch or in Cornelius. Either way, we see Peter take the Gospel under the direction of the Spirit to Cornelius' family. They are spontaneously baptised in the Spirit as he is preaching and this launches the mission to the Gentiles. The conversion of Paul and his call to be apostle to the Gentiles sets the mission off. We read in chapter 9, 13-28 of his uncompromising commitment to the task. Despite facing terrible opposition, riots, imprisonment, floggings, fall-outs with others (Barnabas and John Mark) and ultimately a trip to Rome to face Caesar, Paul continues to preach the gospel seeking converts to the faith.

The evidence of Acts is that evangelism is a non-negotiable priority for the first Christians. It is clearly essential to their understanding of mission. They refused to compromise this in the face of potential death or in the case of Stephen and James, actual death. Even when in prison they preached through singing and praying (Acts 16). They clearly took Jesus at his word and sought to see others come to Christ. They spoke the Gospel as well as lived it. They were dedicated with great courage to the spread of the faith.

So as with all the evidence in the earlier blogs on this subject from the OT and the Gospels, we are to carry on this task. We are to prioritise evangelism. We are to be dedicated to the task despite opposition, persecution and suffering. We are to see it as central to our mission. The purpose of the Spirit in Acts is empowering for this task.

Cross Country Champs

Tributes to the winners at the NZ Cross Country champs in Wingatui Dunedin on the weekend. Of note were the senior winners including Edwin Henshaw and Maria Akkeson from Auckland.

The race of the day was the M19 race with Dominic Channon winning by 2 seconds from Matthew Mildenhall with Terefe Ejigu only 1 second back! 3 across the line in 4 seconds is one heaven of a finish. The W19 race was won well by Ruth Croft from Haley Green and Katie Wright from Auckland. Katie is recovering from glandular fever, so this was a special effort.

Esther Keown won the W16 race from Nicki McFadzien and Hannah Newbould. This was Esther's first national cross country title in schools or provincial after podium finishes in 5 previous races. She has recovered from a lay off with a hip injury so it was a special win. Nicki and Hannah remain very consistent, Nicki having 2 seconds this year at schools and provincials.

Promising Margot Gibson ran the W14 race. It would have been interesting if she had run the W16 race as she beat Esther in Christchurch at the schools race earlier in the year. However, Esther was recovering from injury at that point.

The quality of the fields was a bit down in the W19 and 16 races without Kelsey Patterson, Camille Buscombe, Olivia Burne, Hannah Morgan and others there.

Hopefully the fields will be stronger next year

Why Evangelism 4?

There is more to be said concerning Jesus in this blog. If we are to do evangelism, then we will find that Jesus not only did evangelism, but that he encouraged his disciples to do the same. Furthermore, there would be evidence that he wanted evangelism from believers in the post-apostolic era.

The first set of data then is what Jesus said concerning evangelism to others.

It is clear that he did ask his followers to take on the task. This is seen at a number of points.

At the call of the first disciples in Mk 1:16-20 which is retold by Matthew in Mt 4:18-22 the call included the statement that Peter, Andrew, James and John would fish for people. This means a shift of vocation from literal fishing to netting humans for the kingdom i.e. evangelism. In Luke's account of the call in Lk 5:1-11 of Peter the same emphasis is seen. Just as the disciples in this story take in an enormous yeild of fish from the deep water, the disciples will take in an enormous yield of human followers for Christ; this is reflected in Luke II (Acts) where the numbers of converts are staggering (e.g. 3000 in 2:41; 5000 in 4:4).

All three Synoptic Gospels (Mt 10, Mk 6, Lk 9) record the sending of the disciples in pairs to do a mission training trip. This involved going in pairs without financial support and preaching the message, healing the sick etc. They preached repentance, 'the kingdom of God is near' (i.e. the king is here). Thus they were trained and equiped to preach the message. In Lk 10 there is a further account of a larger group of 70 or 72 going out to preach the message. In each occasion their was a strong effect; especially Lk 10 where the disciples were amazed at what happened and Satan was defeated through their ministry.

Then we come to the post-resurrection period. A dominant issue in the Synoptic accounts is evangelism or mission to the world. In Matthew's account the disciples are told to go and make disciples and teaching them the full range of Jesus' teaching. This is a commission that includes evangelism, the first dimension of making disciples. Clearly the job includes more including baptism of the new converts and training them up to be full disciples through learning Jesus' teaching. The teaching is beautifully summarised in Matthew's Gospel i.e. learn this stuff and do it! New disciples are to be called as Peter, James, Andrew and John were called, to be fishers of people. They are to be trained through going on short-term mission journeys and hanging out with more experienced disciples who have learnt. It is a handing on of the baton type ministry.

Mark in 16:15-20 has a commission in the longer ending. I discuss the longer ending in an earlier blog if you have a look. I suggest that although it may not be original to the text, it is certainly still an early witness and to be taken seriously historically. It includes going and preaching the gospel and the promise of signs.

More important is the commission in Lk 24:46 where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses, empowered by the Spirit, giving testimony to Jesus, calling people to repent and experience forgiveness in Christ. This again necessarily involves evangelism.

John in 20:21 has a commission whereby Jesus breathes on his disciples, giving them his Spirit as God breathed life into Adam in Genesis, and sending them as he had been sent himself. How had Jesus been sent? He had been sent by God from heaven as the pre-existent logos (word) and Son to redeem his fallen world corrupted by the forces of darkness. He preached and healed to save the lost through faith and so receive eternal life. Thus the disciples were commissioned by the resurrected Christ to do the same.

Jesus also linked his return to the completion of the task. In Mk 13:10 the gospel will be preached to all nations. In Mt 14:14 it will be preached to all nations before the end will come. Thus, the task is to get the message to every living person and every nation that all may know that Jesus has come and God's salvation is here. Incidentally, Mk 13:10 is very important in light of the probability that the longer ending is not original. It shows that there is a commission in Mark even if it is not specified. Then there is the story of the anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary of Bethany. Jesus in the Mt and Mk accounts (Mk 14:9; Mt 26:13) states that this story will be told throughout the world i.e. as we evangelise we will tell this story and many others.

It is clear from these accounts that Jesus wanted his followers to do evangelism. It is core business for us to share the faith. It is a non-negotiable. There are regular promises of persecution and struggle, but this is not to deter us.

So, it is patently clear from the Lord's teaching that believers are to do evangelism. There is no specification that only some are to do evangelism. It appears core to discipleship. It is the core and crux of mission which involves whole lives given over to God, demonstrated love, care for the needy and marginalised, social transformation, praying for people and seeing the power of God released, working for good in every part of the world to see God's Kingdom come. But at its heart is the sharing of the message so that people will be saved.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rugby Part 3

Yet more of rugby's problems spring to mind.

15. The absence of free to air broadcasts: another problem is that lack of rugby on free to air. Some would bemoan this and say that if you are serious you would get sky. Well it is $64/month to get sky. That is a lot for a family like ours with three teenagers with all the costs and the costs of life. Currently what is there is on Prime and not all get it and if your place is like ours, the reception sux. For rugby to hold NZ's interest it must be the sport of the people, available to all, free. A slight delay is not an issue if that keeps Sky happy. But it has to be there, for people to view. This has the effect of people losing touch with the game. The teams of full of names they do not know. The shift from Super 14 to NPC becomes confusing for the fringe supporters and other interests take that place. Knowing the players, knowing the teams are basics.
16. Night rugby: night rugby is supposed to enhance crowds, but does it? In the middle of winter at Jade Stadium? Is that the best option. What about rugby with the winter sun on the backs at 2.30 on a Saturday. It has always produced the best rugby. Again we have broken from tradition and we are paying the price to keep the corporates happy.

Violence against kids, consistency, abortion!

I agree entirely with the rising chorus against violence against children now with the recent problems with baby Nia etc. It is time for NZ to get its act together. We need to see children as precious, to be loved and nurtured, treated with gentleness and not harshly. We need to educate people to know how to raise children. We need to promote programs which give parents training. We need greater support for families and parents.

But again the outcry raises questions for me in terms of consistency. In May I blogged about abortion and again I find myself getting annoyed that people want to rise up and stop the beating of children yet we kill 17,000 children a year in the womb! People cry out against this on the basis that children are defenceless and need our protection and love; it is a child's inalienable right to be raised with love and never the victim of violence. Yet, we continue to kill them when they are at their most defenseless in the womb of their mother.

The justifications are appalling, the child is not yet human and it is a woman's right to do so. This is bizzare, we place the rights of the child without choice and any chance of caring for itself below the rights of a volitional adult with options. So when is a baby human? At what point? One can argue that before a child can walk or talk it is not fully human, perhaps we should be prepared to kill them at this point. Common sense tells us that at the meeting of sperm and ovary the child begins life. It is growing and developing and unless something intervenes, will grow to maturity.

I want to see us cherish children from conception. The child in the woman's womb deserves to be loved, raised in safety, protected, provided for with good nutrition etc (no smoking, no drinking of alcohol etc). The child after birth too should be raised with good nutrition, gentle yet firm love and discipline, ideally two parents, a male and female or at least a single parent who loves the child unconditionally, a good education and the opportunity to make something of their life.

So let's get consistent. Let's love children as Jesus loved children! They are fully human, made in the image of God, to be loved, nurtured and cherished!

Why Evangelism 3?

I am of the view that the practice of Christ lays the foundation for the practice of the church. We are the body of Christ through whom Christ by his imparted Spirit works to continue and complete the ministry he began in incarnate form. So it is essential to consider Jesus' ministry.

Interestingly the accounts of Jesus begin with the witness of the proclaiming prophet John the Baptist who in the prophetic tradition of Israel proclaimed God's impending salvation. There it is again, the divine dabar or logos proclaimed to humanity. He pointed his people to Jesus. That is evangelism. I love his statement; 'I must decrease, he must increase'; that says it all!

Jesus is baptised by John, receives a fresh empowering of the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit into the desert to be tested. He wins the battle proclaiming the Word of God to Satan to defeat him.

He then is propelled by the Spirit into ministry. His ministry as I see it involved four dimensions: calling all people to work with him and to community as God intended it, healing the hearts and bodies and restoring to God's community those who came to him with the power of God through word and touch, providing for the poor and needy and preaching the gospel of salvation i.e. the Kingdom (or as John puts it, eternal life).

His intention to preach the gospel as essential to his ministry is seen at the end of Mark 1 where Jesus refused the request to stay in Capernaum after the healing meeting at Peter's mother-in-law's house. Why? Because he had to preach the gospel through the other towns.

He stood in the line of prophets, preaching knowing that his message would harden. He called for repentance and total obedience to God. He called for people to recognise the arrival of the Kingdom and King and to turn from all allegiences to placing first priority of the matters of the Kingdom.

His mission was confined to Israel as he said on several occasions.

Hence evangelism was pivotal to Christ's ministry. We cannot separate it from the other dimensions of calling, healing and providing, but it is pivotal. We cannot separate this proclamation from a whole life as a proclamation i.e. he is not just a preacher of the word, he is the Word, God with us, God made flesh, creator come to his fallen world to save it! But, we cannot downplay this dimension.

His methodology was creative and confrontational. He used parables, a range of simple yet brilliant stories to speak of the love of God and the nature and call of the Kingdom. He challenged those who resisted his ministry directly, calling for them to recognise the coming of God and embrace the King and Kingdom. John tells us more about his proclamation with long discourses in which he used a dynamic array of metaphors to describe himself; all of which called for the Jews to recognise that their Messiah had come (e.g. Vine, Bread of Life, Gate, Shepherd etc).

He encountered people in a deeply personal way, meeting them where they were at. Take Nicodemus in Jn 3, the women at the well in Jn 4, the rich ruler in Mk 10, the woman who anointed his feet in Lk 7 and so on. Each encounter is different. Each calls the person from where they are at relationally to turn to God. I love Mark's editorial note concerning the rich ruler, 'He looked at him and loved him'. For me this is God at work in this world; he looks at us and loves us. Remember this was a bloke who oppressed the poor with his lifestyle! Yet, he is loved!

So Jesus did evangelism and it was I believe the dominant motif of his life. His mission statements in Lk 4:16-20 and 19:10 along with his expressed intentions to preach (e.g. Mk 1:38) and mission summary statements telling us that he preached (e.g. Mt 4; 9) state emphatically that if we are the body of Christ, we are in this business too.

So, if we just work from Jesus' practice and mission self-conception and apply this to our lives today, it is patently clear that we are to preach the gospel as God's people. There is much more to be said though so... wait there's more!

Why Evangelism 2?

The whole issue of evangelism begins in the OT with the premise that we are created in the image of God. While this means more than just this, it definitely means we are made for relationship with God. The kind of relationship that is one of love, best understood perhaps by the parent-child analogy; in an ideal sense. Then this relationship was ruptured through the fall of Adam and Eve that brought corruption and fragmentation. Our relationship with God was marred and we need redemption.

From this point on humanity needed saving. The whole story of the OT is the first part of God's great plan to restore that broken relationship built on the call of Abraham, the establishment of the people of Israel as his people, and the up's and down's of their relationship with God based on the Sinai covenant. The call of Abraham concerned not only his family, but the whole of the world, all nations blessed through him.

This suggests from the beginning that mission is utterly central to the faith. God is seeking relationship with every living person in all nations, an eternal relationship of love and shalom.
Hence, we are to do everything we can to ensure that this occurs. God's business is our business.
It is interesting to reflect on the issue of the people of Israel's relationship with God. Their story is one of ups and downs, falling in and out of relationship with God; of faithfulness and idolatry. Take the Judges cycle for example; Israel would be delivered by a judge, live in peace for a period, fall back into idolatry and sin, experience trouble at the hands of enemies, and another judge would rise up and declare the call of God on the people and drive out the enemies. In the monarchy it was the prophets who continually called Israel back declaring God's word to Israel.
The prophets to me prefigure the ministry of evangelism. They called the people of God to their foundational event of salvation (the Exodus) and called people back into relationship with God. They warned Israel of the consequences of their sin (exile, enemies, material improvision etc). They promised blessings for them if they repented.

Their foundational means of calling people was through the divine dabar, the word of God. It was the word that brought creation to bear ex nihilo. It was the divine dabar that proclaimed the coming salvation through the Exodus from Egypt. It was the divine dabar that established the covenant on Mt Sinai. It was the word of God that called Israel again and again back to God. It was the divine word of God that declared the hope of a Messiah who would be God's agent of salvation. And not just to Israel, but his light to the nations, taking God's salvation and shalom to all peoples that the original intention of God for humanity and his world can be restored.

Hence, the proclamation of the word and human salvation in terms of relationship with God lie at the heart of the history of God's dealings with his people. It is no surprise then that as we turn to the ministry of Christ, the apostles and evangelists that this notion of the divine word (dabar, logos) carries over; God achieves his purposes through the declaration of his word by this authorised agents. So the OT suggests, yes 'we' have to declare the divine dabar of God so that all humanity across all nations will hear the divine word of God and potentially be saved. It remains to look through the NT to work this through.


Rugby Part 2

More on rugby crowds and the problem with rugby.
12. Violence, feminisation and injuries: another issue for rugby generally is the injury toll and physical challenge of the game. This is a turn off to many moderns in an urban western situation. Women in particular often do not want their kids to play the game. While the game has been cleaned up it is still essentially physical and confrontational and this is a turn off for many.
13. Disappointment: the failure of recent AB rugby teams at world cups has not helped the image of rugby. Loyal fans will die for the game but the fringers find it tougher and tougher to support a team that blows it.
14. Disillusionment with professionalism as it is playing out in NZ rugby: I cannot see why the ABs have to be rested for tournaments, have weeks off, reconditioning bla bla bla. We need to get into the real world of professional sport and realise that being a professional athlete will involve a long season of earning one's money. It is a job. What other profession takes the approach rugby it taking? European soccer, rugby, the NRL, the AFL, the American sporting scene involves people playing week in and week out. It may win us a world cup but it is devastating to the game to rest players as we are doing. It is a luxury that has to end. The World Cup and internationals are just another event in the cycle of the sporting treadmill and NZ rugby needs to harden up and face the professional reality. Anyway, I am not sure it is better preparation for world cups etc to not play and wander around a gym bulking up! We lost the last world cup after resting the AB's from the NPC and perhaps this is the problem. We beat SA brilliantly in the quarters. Then faced the Aussies and we were flat, so flat it was shocking! Was it because we were not match hardened. Whereas the English who had played a huge number of games were hard and fronted magnificently for three games in a row; they were used to it! I hope France is not the same; I will not be surprised if it is. I for one have had enough of players bleating about how hard it is; how tough it is; how long the season is. I played club rugby for Pakuranga in the 80's and I would have given anything to have the opportunity these guys have. HARDEN UP, get out there and play. Oh, I have to go to work now. Need to recondition, but, oh, the boss won't let me...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The problem with rugby

The discussions of the last few days relate to the crowd sizes at rugby games which are down on previous seasons. I am not surprised at all. I think that there are good reasons for the decline in interest in many urban centres
1. The Stop Start Nature of the Game: The scrums continually collapse. The break down is a constant disaster. Time is continually wasted with line outs, scrum resets, discussions between the ref and players, TMO decisions, discussions between refs and lines men, injuries upon injuries. The game must be sped up with far less time spent fluffing around with line out calls, injuries etc.
2. The Congestion of the Game: Rugby players are faster, fitter, stronger and able to last longer with contemporary fitness models. Yet the fields are the same size, the number of players the same, and the game is a 22 man game rather than a 15 man game. The game used to break open due to fatigue but can not do so with two even fit teams. The fields could be enlargened, the number of players reduced or the replacement rules changed to ensure that the game breaks open.
3. Other Options: There are now a lot of other things for people to do and games to play. Rugby does not hold exclusive pride of place. There are any number of sports from soccer, to lacrosse, to dancing etc. Not to mention that many people live a sedentary life anyway and don't play anything.
4. Life's busyness: Life is incredibly busy now and time is precious. One does what one has to do and to heck with the rest. Rugby is one of those options for discretionary time and it is quite a hassle to get there what with traffic, walking there, queuing etc.
5. TV Coverage: Why go to a game when you are incredibly busy when you can hit a switch and watch it live with replays, the fridge handy, in the warmth of the house etc? While it is not the same as live, in terms of time it is often a better use of the time to take the time to watch the game without all the extras around it. I mean one has to leave at 5ish to watch a 7.30 game and then is not home until 10ish.
6. Cost: it is rather expensive to go to a game especially if there are a few of you and you want to watch from the stand. Watching the game on TV for the rugby addict involves the purchase of Sky already and then throw in the cost of watching the game with a drink and something to eat thrown in and it all adds up!
7. A loss of traditional affiliations and season length etc: the development of professional rugby has led to a season that runs from Feb-Nov with followers of the game moving from Super 14, to club, to All Blacks to provincial affiliation. It all gets confusing. Regions do not capture the imagination as much as provinces. Then there is the shift back to provinces. It would be better to have one long good provincial competition and internationals rather than shifting from one to the other (go the NRL way etc). Through these constant changes the NZRFU and SANZAR organisations have torn the heart out of NZ traditional rugby allegiances.
8. The lost of top players overseas: the erosion of NZ talent is sad as the cream of NZ's players are going overseas leaving the NPC as a second rate competition in the shadow of the Super 14 and internationals.
9. Boredom at the same old same old: each year it is the Tri Nations, NZ, SA and Aus. When we get an international team here from Europe it is normally second rate. We need France A, Lions, England especially here on tours. We need SA and Aussie touring and playing the traditional rivals of provinces. We need to have the tri-Nations every two years and not in world cup year. We need tours!
10. Global sporting options: We are spoiled for choice now. We can follow league, rugby, soccer, baseball, grid iron, cricket, basketball etc here and overseas. There are vocational opportunities all over the world through USA colleges etc. The world has changed. Rugby does not dominate anymore and never will again. There are swags of other sports like hockey, triathlon, athletics, swimming etc for people to try out. It is now culturally OK to play anything unlike the earlier days when rugby was the only 'real sport'.
11. Constant law changes: while rugby wants to sort its act out it tries new rules every year or five. Compare that to soccer which has the same game now and for years. We need to settle on the game we want it to be and LEAVE it. Let is go through the ebs and flows. It needs to be radically simplified and LEFT.

When one adds all the above up, then it is obvious why rugby is losing the battle for support. It is the way it is and we better get used to it. They can simplify the season, bring back allegiances, make the game flow and open up again and this will help. But it won't fix it all. It is a consumers world and the consumers will decide. Whatever, those who rule the sport better get a move on because a glorious new world awaits us rugby fans.