You DO NOT have the right to remain silent

For criminal suspects, remaining silent is a right and usually a prudent defense strategy.

For believers, remaining silent is disobedience.

When Jesus was brought to “trial” before the religious leaders (Mark 14:53-72), he could have kept silent and as contrived as testimony against him was, it was insufficient to convict him. Yet he boldly testified, anyway, despite the desire and intent of those leaders to murder him.

Peter, on the other hand, should have kept silent. It would have been better than the timid, self-serving witness he gave, which was actually false. Instead, he should have given true testimony to his identification with Christ. While Jesus gave bold testimony before those who would kill him, the cross-examination of a servant girl was too much for Peter.

Peter had very recently insisted he would never abandon Jesus (pride), had fallen asleep in the garden (sloth), had opted for safe observation when Jesus was in danger (cowardice), and benefited from the world’s comforts in warming himself by the fire (worldliness…Mark records this for us twice).

Each day we are faced with the decision to either give bold testimony to Jesus, who saved us, who has called us to bear witness to his gospel, and who has sent us out to do so. Yet common sins such as those that overtook Peter also tempt us to remain silent when we should speak.

We suppose that we are immune to falling (“I would never do that”…”I can’t believe he did that”). Or, we allow other demands on our time and energy, such as work, and kids’ schedules and hobbies to leave us sluggish, so that we become “spiritual sleepwalkers.” Or, we follow kingdom activity “from a distance,” observing how conversations about truth and about the gospel and about Jesus go so that we can join in if things looks good, but also so that we can maintain plausible deniability if they go wrong (“I’m not one of those weirdos!”). Or, we allow our affinity for creature comforts to make us hesitate to offer bold testimony as we contemplate whether it’s worth being cold to be faithful to Christ.

Several things are true about us and our confession: 1) separation from Christ weakens our witness; 2) capitulation to sin dampens our resolve, and 3) focus on ourselves taints our testimony.

Jesus saves us and calls us not to remain silent, but to proclaim him. We have opportunity every day.

Christian Witness in the Public Arena: Tebow v. Warner

Much has been made — in both the secular and religious media — about Tim Tebow’s Christian witness as a professional football player.

Tebow is certainly not the first professing Christian to play pro ball, but much more attention is being paid to him. Other Christian pro football players — such as Kurt Warner — have commented on whether Tebow’s method of acknowledging his faith is appropriate, or the most effective way to teach others about Christ.

Since the time he first came to national attention as a Florida Gator, Tebow has certainly acknowledged his faith — promoted it, even — in various ways: Bible verses etched into his eye black; fingers raised heavenward after big plays; and announcing his thanks to Jesus Christ in post-game pressers.

I do not know how Tim Tebow behaves outside confines of the football field or away from the glare of the Kleig lights, so I am making no statement about the sincerity of his profession: I have no reason to doubt it. The question is whether — as Warner suggests — Tebow’s method is the most conducive to witnessing Christ. Warner has said, in effect, that Tebow should “tone it down” in public and allow his exemplary life to form his public testimony.

One concern intimated by Warner’s comments is just how common such “public professions” are: how many movie stars feign thanks to Jesus at the Oscars podium and live like the Devil at the after-party?

There is a sense in which the circumstance of Tebow’s public forum limits his proclamation simply to his identification with Christ. Brief television coverage of his on-field acknowledgements — whether scripture references or gesticulation — and limited time before the cameras after a game by nature prevent a thorough statement of the gospel. These “sound bite opportunities” provide little means of explaining man’s need and God’s provision. They, do, obviously, serve to confirm that Tebow publicly identifies with Christ.

Which is, to be sure, much more than other professing Christians seem willing to do.

Yet is this method counter-productive? And, even if Tebow were able to work in to a public sound bite a minimalist expression of the biblical gospel, such as Creation/Fall/Redemption, should he?

Before we too quickly jump to should a resounding “Yes!”, consider the implications. What about the Christian television or movie actor who receives an award? The Christian country music singer who performs a concert? The Christian district attorney being interviewed about a high-profile case? The congressman giving a press conference about an important bill?

It might, all things considered, be prudent to take such opportunities to speak truth to large, perhaps even national or worldwide audiences. Such things should be left to the conscience of each believe and how the Holy Spirit leads him.

The point that believers should consider — and I think that Kurt Warner might have been making — is that it is problematic to proclaim “Repent and believe the gospel!” amidst the hoopla and fanfare of winning a professional football game. If believers in public positions, such as Tim Tebow is, choose to speak about their faith in such situations, what sort of statement is appropriate and faithful to the biblical gospel?

Been told “go to hell”?

A recent sermon had addressed Jesus’ admonition to amputate even apparently indispensable body parts in order to enter life and the kingdom rather then go to hell with an intact physique (Mark 9:42-50). We were discussing in Small Group an illustration from the sermon: that all our cultural expressions and figures of speech regarding hell reveal a universal awareness of retribution and contain kernels of truth about the awful reality of hell.

For instance, even the atheist and God-denier will — when angry enough — tell his enemy to “go to hell,” revealing the thought that that person who has wronged him is so bad that the only appropriate punishment is eternity in perdition.

One of our group members — an international student — described his difficulty in understanding American “curses” such as “go to hell.” A friend had given him a crash course in those American insults that he should be aware of, and she asked him if he were offended about that particular insult.

“No! I’m happy!”

We were, of course, shocked to hear him say this, largely because in the South such a request is usually met with fisticuffs and challenges to parentage (this describes the deacons’ meeting; finance committees are more violent).

“When someone tells me to ‘go to hell’, I am happy, because I am not going there!” he explained. “And I tell them that though I may be worthy of hell, Jesus Christ has saved me from it, and once I have told them why I am not going to hell, I can ask them about where they are going.”

We enjoyed a good belly laugh at the picture of one demanding “go to hell!” while the other responds “no, I am not going there.” But there is no doubt that we had been schooled in how a believer takes every opportunity — even personal insult — to speak truth.

Must God make “good” from “bad”?

The destruction of natural disasters and the exceeding malevolence of human behavior that cause loss of life inevitably raise questions regarding the role of God in them. The outbreak of tornadoes in Alabama and other southern states proves no exception.

Unfortunately, a common response is to turn to books such as When Bad Things Happen to Good People. This is unfortunate because while there are certainly bad things, in God’s economy there are no “good people.”

In tornadoes and the destruction they cause we see the stark reality of how powerful the world is, and how powerful the God who created it, and how weak and helpless we are in the face of such power. Scripture teaches that death — and all the sickness, accidents, and disasters that cause it — are the result of the sin of man. The world groans until God relieves it of its agony, and we suffer the consequences of its groaning.

Scripture also teaches that there are none who are good. There are none righteous. All our righteousness — all our “good things” that justify us before God — are as filthy rags to God (picture used women’s menstrual products). In such condition we all are deserving only of the wrath of God.

It should be no surprise, then, that people die. In fact, all of human history supports the conclusion that people die. Whether we die in our 80s in the comfort of our own bed, or in a car crash at the hands of a drunk driver, or in a tornado when the wall of our house falls on us, we can expect that our physical bodies will die. What should be the surprise to us — sinful people who deserve nothing but the wrath of God — is that God hasn’t already killed us.

The surprise is not that some die, but that any live.

Our inclination in response to such disasters is to soften the impact of what they teach by speaking of God “making something good of this.” We suppose that God’s role — whatever it might be — in such death and destruction is somehow made alright if he brings some “good” from it.

But God need not make good from bad. Not in the normal sense of “good.”

Jesus encountered the same question regarding disasters. Some people had been killed by Pilate and some had died when a tower fell on them (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus anticipates the question we all ask: “do you suppose that these…were worse offenders” than others? As we like to put it, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?, and the underlying assumption that either those who die in disasters are particularly bad or that God is powerless or evil.

Jesus said that those who died in progroms or falling towers were no worse than anyone else. In other words, everyone is equally bad. All people are equally sinful and equally deserving of “bad things.” Jesus did not explain the role of God, or why the tower fell on these and not others standing ten feet away, or assure his listeners that God would bring “good” from the tragedies.

He did, however, issue a warning.

He used the occasion of natural disasters and human tragedy to say “unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” Death is always at your door. You do not know when your life will be required of you. All men are equally deserving of death, so turn from sin and put your trust in God who alone gives eternal life in Christ. The surprise is that God permits repentance, and that he accepts those who do, in Christ.

Human tragedy is the cause of real human grief. Disasters give rise to the human duty to help restore people and alleviate suffering.

Yet still, repent, and believe the gospel.

“Doing it all” to share gospel blessings

Most believers and even many unbelievers with a modicum of biblical familiarity might recognize the apostle Paul’s famous proclamation that “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

In current evangelical circles Paul’s example is applied to the concept of “contextualization” — just how far a believer may go in looking like the people in a culture in order to gain audience with them, and prayerfully, win them to Christ. It is also appealed to in discussions about “stumbling blocks” — just how far mature believers may go in exercising their liberty in Christ when an immature believer with a weak conscience sees that liberty and is offended.

Neither of those will be addressed here.

This is because in the next verse Paul says “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23, ESV). Other versions translate Paul’s reasons as: “that I may become a partner in its benefits” (HCSB); “that I may become a fellower partaker in it” (NASB); that Paul may “share in its blessings” (NLT).

But hasn’t Paul already experienced the blessings of the gospel? At this point, he has already been converted, received special instruction from Jesus himself, and the fruit of his ministry has confirmed the operation of the Spirit within him. Why does he “do all” this — forego payment, give up rights, become all things to all people — in order to “share with them in its blessings”?

What Paul describes here is a gospel that is not individualistic. He proclaims a faith that is not private. Paul describes a faith and a gospel that blesses its adherents in part because it is shared; part of the blessing of the gospel message is that once I am saved I am privileged to tell the gospel to others and play a part in bringing them to faith in Christ. The blessings Paul describes here are the joy of seeing others see the manifold excellence of the Savior and the thrill of witnessing the gospel as the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17).

There is an element here of Paul’s joy in simply increasing the number of people with whom he shares the status of joint-heirs with Christ. Paul does what he does in order to have a bigger faith family.

But the emphasis seems to be that the believer receives blessing in telling others the gospel, and in seeing them come to faith. And this blessing, this joy, is such that it motivates us to drastic, self-less, other-oriented action in order to participate in it.

Acts 1:8 versus the Great Commission

Jerry Rankin recently posed the proposition that Acts 1:8 has been distorted in our evangelistic efforts. This passage, in which the risen Christ tells his disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”, is referenced by Rankin in light of the Acts 1:8 Challenge.

Acts 1:8 is employed by some as a directive for evangelistic efforts, urging churches to concentrate their evangelistic efforts in all of the “spheres” of missions cited in the passage: each church should be engaged in missions in its Jerusalem, in its Judea, in its Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Rankin proposes that some churches consider this to be a sequential directive, causing them to engage in “their Jerusalem” and stop there. The idea that a church accomplishes evangelism in one “sphere,” then works on the next, is the distortion Rankin decries.

This emphasis and the chatter surrounding it is indicative of an apparent shift of focus in evangelism and missions. It seems relatively recent that Acts 1:8 has been adopted as a rallying cry of world missions, almost supplanting its long-time predecessor, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

Some will respond that there is no such “shift,” but that Acts 1:8 is simply a continuation of the charge given in the Great Commission, adding vital instructions for disciples hoping to accomplish the witness of the gospel to the nations.

However, there is a huge difference between Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. The Great Commission is directive, while Acts 1:8 is descriptive. That is, Matthew 28:18-20 lays out the command and Acts 1:8 lays out the consequence. Acts 1:8 is a results passage: it is, in effect, the Great Conclusion to the Great Commission.

Note, for instance, the direction of action in Acts 1:1-11. Christ presented himself alive to the disciples, appearing to them and speaking to them (1:3). Jesus ordered the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise: they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:4-5). The disciples would receive power, the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would be his witnesses (1:8).

All the action is being done to the disciples. The focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do. In other words, the action in Acts 1:8 is passive. The disciples are told what they will receive and what they will be. In contrast, Jesus’ charge to disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 is active: go, make disciples, baptize, teach.

Acts 1:8 is a great promise of what will happen when the Holy Spirit empowers and works through followers of Christ. But using the promise of what we will be (witnesses) as the instruction on what we should do may be less helpful than is supposed. For example, what does it mean to “be a witness”? Neither Acts 1:8 nor the passage in which is sits tells us, so for that we must turn to the gospels and other commands issued by Christ (Acts 1:2 refers to these “commands”). In those, we are told to go, make disciples, baptize, teach (Matthew 28:18-20), proclaim the gospel (Mark 16:15), proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47), and “feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17).

There is certainly a direct, unequivocal command from Jesus himself to be about the business of proclaiming the gospel to all nations until he returns. But that command is in the Great Commission. The danger of using the Great Conclusion as our missions and evangelism strategy is that it omits these other positive commands, most significantly, the command to “make disciples.” It is, after all, much easier to “be a witness” than to “make a disciple.”

Taking the natural import of these passages together, we find that when we act under the authority of Christ and in his abiding presence through the Holy Spirit, we receive power to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and baptize and teach those disciples. As the Spirit works this increase of the Word through us, we serve as a testimony to the nations that Jesus has risen in power, that his work on earth continues through his disciples, and the authority and power for this work is through the Holy Spirit and the word.

The significant thing for Christ-followers is not that we are to engage in certain “spheres” – because invariably the spheres don’t cover all areas – but that we, empowered by the Holy Spirit that Christ gives, are to make disciples of all nations.

We Don’t Care Enough to Witness

Internet Monk wrote an article recently about the state of evangelism in the church, especially the Southern Baptist Convention. In it he points out that for all our efforts as a denomination, the canned presentations, training programs, “sure-fire” evangelism tools and the rest have been, at best, fruitless, and at worst, less a reflection of biblical disciple-making and more a demonstration of how various methodologies to present the truth can morph into badly designed marketing schemes, product placements, and used car pitches.

In my thirty-three years as a card-carrying member of the local Baptist congregation, and by extenuation, of the Southern Baptist Convention, I haven’t grown enough fingers and toes to count the number of different “solutions” there have been to the problem of personal evangelism (the problem being that persons don’t evangelize). Throw in the “Four Spiritual Laws” and other offerings by denominations and para-church groups other than the SBC, and the number of potential failures becomes exponential.

Not that there is anything wrong with trying. We have at least recognized for years that the average church member does not talk about his faith, at least to those who don’t already have it. All of these plans are attempts to address that issue.

I recall one summer when I learned, among other things, to evangelize “cold turkey”: to simply walk up to a total stranger and share the gospel. No one responded favorably to me, probably because I didn’t really care about anyone I spoke to. All I was concerned about was not getting pummeled with my own gospel tract and telling my disciple leader I had fulfilled my obligation. Don’t judge me just yet…you have likely done the same thing.

So I have been thinking about why these gospel-presentation-programs (“faith-in-a-box”) don’t seem to work, and why they don’t seem to result in lasting converts. It seems to come down to two things: 1) we don’t practice evangelizing our captive audience, and 2) we don’t love people.

Captive Audience. Who is this captive audience for the church? Why, our children and our congregations, that’s who. How many hapless souls have trudged through yet another faith-in-a-box program guaranteed to fire up their evangelistic fervor and to result in hordes of teeming disciples, when they have yet to even share the gospel with their own children? And what does it say to our little darlings that mom and dad are sticking them with a babysitter or in the nursery again to go visit strangers and share the gospel, when they haven’t taken the time to explain it to their own kids?

Believe me, it is tough to explain spiritual truth to the ones who are around you the most, the ones who see you curse when you slam your finger in the door, see you blow your top when you find soggy cereal in your armchair, or see you treat your spouse like a doormat. And it’s even tougher when parents don’t understand spiritual truth themselves. But if parents are able to consistently talk to their kids about spiritual matters, at every age, in every circumstance, day in and day out, then those parents will be able to talk about spiritual matters with anyone they come across.

But why, you say, do we need to evangelize our congregations? Evidence shows that perhaps as much as fifty percent of the average congregation is not saved. (Thom Rainer has several books that treat this subject, which is where this figure comes from. See, e.g., Simple Church and Essential Church; George Barna also has some telling statistics.) Too much of our programming in churches assumes that everyone present is saved, and they just need to be told how to live well. But for one who has not heard the gospel, who does not understand it, or who has not been enlightened by God, ‘living well’ translates to a salvation by works. Besides, even believers who have heard the gospel and who have been converted still need to hear the gospel, which is both the power of salvation and the power of sanctification. Our congregations need evangelizing just as much as the ‘sinners’ do.

Loving People. “Love” has become such a manipulated concept that it is almost meaningless to speak of loving people. Today “love” means you don’t criticize, don’t correct, don’t discipline, that you always say “I’m fine”, always agree, and never remove that creepy smile from your face. But biblical love is something entirely different.

One thing we frequently miss when we, as Christians, speak of “loving people,” is that to do so we must, first, SEE people. For most of us, customarily our day is filled with nameless others constantly making life difficult. Other motorists cut us off and make us late. Cashiers are slow and give the wrong change. Pedestrians smell and take up the whole sidewalk. Even other believers get our parking spot, sit in our pew, and threaten our standing in the church.

It is an amazing phenomenon that when you go through your day with your head down, avoiding glances, only looking up and around long enough to swipe your credit card at the gas pump or the checkout lane, no one speaks to you. In fact, you don’t even ‘see’ other people, but only impediments to your speedy return home to watch American Idol. Yet when we actually consider the people we encounter as people, look them in the eye, and have a genuine interest in them, even if only for the brief minutes that we are putting our groceries on the conveyor belt, people will tell you all manner of things about themselves. It is these things that people will tell you about themselves that give us opportunity to be interested in them, to speak truth into their situation, and, if appropriate, to share the gospel to that one in whom we have only just recently developed genuine interest.

Where to start? How about our neighbors. They are not simply the ones on the other side of your privacy fence, whose guests block your driveway, whose dog goes in your yard, whose teenager blasts music and plays basketball in the driveway too late, or who you hope doesn’t discover that it was you that took his newspaper that time. Our neighbors are the ones who see us leave for church every Sunday – and possibly on Wednesday – and who wonder why we have never invited them, or even introduced ourselves, or discussed important matters of the world over – or through – that privacy fence. Our neighbors wonder why we are so willing to discuss our golf handicap, stock tips, gas prices, parenting problems, and football scores but never mention what should be the most important aspect of our lives.

So, ‘cold turkey’ evangelism and canned presentations of the gospel can be beneficial, sometimes. But the primary reason that they usually are not is that the recipients know that the one peddling the gospel product to them is only interested in the sale. Instead, when we actually ‘see’ people around us, and are genuinely interested in them, we might actually love them in the way that recognizes their spiritual plight and prompts us to share with them the truth of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.