Purposeful Evangelism

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you’ll probably remember my post from November ’09 entitled “Maroon 5 and College Ministry.” I talked about how even though I’m around college students multiple times a week, the ones I know and spend my time with are ones who already mostly know Jesus. And it’s amazing – I’m getting to be an incredible part of the process of their becoming more like Christ and it’s definitely the thing I most love to do.

We all play lots of roles, you know. We’re sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, friends, coworkers, teammates. But the one I find that brings the most contentment in my life is the role of leader/mentor/teacher. The Gathering; however, no longer feels like something I just do or a role that I play – instead, it’s more of who I am. And increasingly I want evangelism to feel like such a part of my heart that I can’t separate it from who I am.

I went to the SHAPE workshop at Frontline Tysons last fall and while most of the things we covered were things I had already known, I did learn something significant about myself – one of my spiritual gifts is the gift of evangelism.

I had absolutely no idea and wouldn’t have ever guessed that about myself. I definitely questioned it for several weeks following the workshop. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys street evangelism, which is what I first think of when I think of evangelism (although I love overseas missions and have done a lot of street evangelism in that setting). I’ve participated in youth group discipleship trips where we were challenged to go share the Gospel in Panera, the mall, and local boutiques. I did it. I could do it again… but it’s definitely not something I feel comfortable doing.

So, ever since October I’ve been asking myself how I can begin to really utilize this gift of evangelism. I want to wield it well – the last thing I want is to be like one of servants that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 – they squander their talents and end up losing everything they were given.

Todd’s recent message to Frontline on January 24th really helped a lot – everyone in the congregation was given a bookmark and encouraged to identify “ten points of impact” – ten people in their lives that they want to influence and pray for and witness to. I was immediately able to list 12, but God asked me to do something bigger. The more I read the New Testament, study the early church, and explore different philosophies of ministry, the more I realize that we’re ALL called to evangelism – not just those of us who have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Our lives are meant to be lived constantly in pursuit of God and the people He loves… and we have to be intentional.

I started praying and asking God for ideas and new ways that I could purposefully pursue the lost… especially college students since so much of my heart is tied up in leading them to Christ. And as I started looking for ways to get to know and serve people outside my sphere of influence, God gave me several incredible ideas!
I challenge you to do the same – expand your sphere of influence! Pray and begin to look for ways to open your life up to people who aren’t believers… establish relationships and begin to plant seeds! After all, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

We’ve been given so much.

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Thoughts from a snow day

I find out a lot about myself when I look at how I spend my time. I typed something in a conversation the other day that hit me pretty hard once I looked at it again. I said, “Sleep always trumps food. Wait no, sleep trumps everything except God.” And then I realized that all too often, even sleep trumps God in my life. And then… when I take a deeper look I realize how much pride I struggle with… the idea that I’m somewhat in control is probably one of the hardest things for me to let go of. I find that I let it go and then somewhere between there and here, I’ve unknowingly picked it back up again. It determines how I behave, how I spend my time, and where I place my trust.

Pride. Sin. They keep me from God. I know that He’s completely sovereign… that He holds my life in His hands, allows each breath I take to provide oxygen to my lungs and has all of the hairs on my head numbered, but so often I question His timing, His plan, and the path I’m walking down.

Change. There’s very little I hate more than change. Especially if it’s life-altering. I recognize also, that change is good and that without change we die… but these recognitions don’t make it any easier to make the leap. I find that when I’m faced with it I begin to shut down on the inside… I tell myself it’s ok, that I’m ok, and that the distrust is merely preparation for the inevitable losses that will occur.

I’ve been this way my whole life. I’ve never been able to dive head first off of a diving board or do a cartwheel. And I think it’s because I’ve always been too worried about protecting myself – as if I could add even a second to the days I’ve been allotted (Psalm 31:15, 139:16).

Fear is a lack of faith. And its sin. We so clearly see that in the life of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter’s an ordinary guy who displays extraordinary faith at different points in Scripture – He leaves his job to follow Jesus at just His words, “follow Me” (Matt. 4:18-19), walks on water out to meet Jesus at the word “come” (Matt. 14:28-29), and understands who Jesus really is before many other people do (Matt. 16:16, Mark 8:29). However, Peter is so often reactionary and easily swayed instead of unmovable in his faith. He starts to sink when he is distracted by the wind and the waves (Matt. 14:30), he cuts off a soldier’s ear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:51), and then swears he never knew Him when he’s associated with Christ later (Matt. 26:69-75).

All of this to say: I find myself feeling a lot like Peter today. I feel like sometimes I wake up to the fact that I’m walking across water and I can’t make it on my own – I will certainly drown unless saved by grace. These times, the times when I recognize how very much I need Jesus – the times when my total insufficiency comes to light and all of my pride is exposed – this is how He keeps me close. In His overwhelming goodness, He walks me through change often so that my own heart is exposed and I’m forced to come to terms with the fear residing there. Without the grace of God, I’d be off always doing my own thing… forcing doors that aren’t supposed to open and clinging to things that I should gracefully let go of.

Ryan shared Acts 16:6-10 with me the other day:

“6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down lto Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul3 had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

The message here is great and I love the way he put it: “They kept moving. God closed doors. They changed directions. God closed doors. They went a different way. God showed them what they were to do.”

I was also reminded of Matthew 6:25-34 today:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?7 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, jeven Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I’m learning to leap. I’m learning to let go. I’m learning to trust completely, all over again. All because of this truth: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)”

Character Close Up: Mary, the mother of Jesus

Happy New Year! It’s a new year and I haven’t blogged in far too long, so I have a lot of writing to catch up on. Although I haven’t done the customary “New Year’s post” yet, I want to jump right into a series of posts I’ve been thinking of writing on different people seen in Scripture who embody character traits I want to develop in my own life this year. I think it’s a good way to set a path for spiritual growth this year and I hope that the Lord will cultivate the strength of character in me that I see in these men and women of the Bible.

This holiday season I found myself thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, a lot. Maybe it’s because Dad always reads Luke 2 before we open our gifts on Christmas morning. Or maybe it’s because every time I encounter her in Scripture, I see a young woman with inexplicable faith in the face of impossibility and unfailing trust in the word of the Lord. She’s obviously favored by the Lord and entrusted with a precious gift – the Savior of all mankind – to carry, give birth to, and raise in the ways of the Lord. And she doesn’t balk. She doesn’t run from change. She isn’t embittered by the responsibility given her or the sacrifice required. She does question (thankfully, because if I had to stop questioning everything, I’d probably fail miserably) – but at the word of the angel, she’s willing to lay down her plans, dreams, reputation, and even her relationship with Joseph to be obedient. She was always willing to follow (she understands spiritual leadership) – she left her home and followed Joseph to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-5), then Egypt (Matthew 2:13), and then to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23).

Just thinking about that gives me chills. I honestly can’t imagine being called to do such a thing. At the same time, we’re each called to follow the Holy Spirit, and while we won’t be asked to raise the King, it’s likely that we’ll each, at some point in our lives, be asked to the do impossible (at least in the natural realm). And when asked, I want to respond as Mary did. As believers we’re all called to do exactly as she did – Jesus himself said so in Matthew 10:37-39 –

“37 If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (emphasis mine).

Two of my favorite verses about Mary are found in Luke.

Luke 1:38 “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Luke 2:19 “but Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Thankfully, Mary wasn’t perfect. She questioned Gabriel (Luke 1:34), was upset with Jesus when he wandered off as a child (Luke 2:48), demanded the attention of Jesus while he was busy ministering (Luke 8:19), asked Jesus to perform a miracle just because a wedding ran out of wine (John 2:3), and probably was a typical woman in many ways. Despite this, her life is an incredible example of one lived in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Three things I think I can learn from Mary are 1.) to be available to be used by God (and to hold everything in life – even my life itself – with open hands by remaining willing to give up everything at any time), 2.) to be responsive and obedient to the Holy Spirit, and 3.) to firmly hold onto God’s promises.

Vision and Expectation

Lon’s Solomon’s message on Sunday was all about vision and expecting God to do great things. He talked about William Carey and his statement – “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” According to Lon, expectation is rooted in a person’s credibility and power.  The main point of the sermon was that “because of God’s boundless power and His proven faithfulness, we can have unlimited expectations of what God can do […] and to approach life in any other way is an insult to the Almighty God.” You can find the full sermon (entitled “Expect Great Things From God, Attempt Great Things For God – Part 1”) here: http://www.mbclive.org/

Josh and I talked on Sunday about how much we love vision messages – maybe because we’re both so visionary and have the tendency to look way out and dream really big. Almost daily one of us makes statements that begin like this: “When I run…” or “If I ever am in charge of or have the opportunity to lead…” But I think last night I realized that sometimes even I don’t dream big enough, I don’t expect enough. Last night, when I found myself surprised by God drawing someone to Himself via very non-traditional means, I also found myself disapointed in my own faith. I want to be in a place where I’m constantly amazed by God, but never surprised at His almighty power and absolutely incredible faithfulness. And even though I don’t always expect enough, that’s one of the things I LOVE about God – that sometimes He sweeps us off our feet by His grace and shows us to what lengths He will go to pursue one single individual.

If I’m going to be in ministry, even as a part-time volunteer, such expectation and faith needs to be standard, even baseline, in my heart. Especially since my long-term goal is to be in full-time ministry in the next few years. It’s understandable to be in a state of constant amazement and wonder at the greatness of our God, but we must also expect Him to intervene in our lives, change us, draw us closer to Him, and to be shaped into His image.

Jesus had such incredible expectation, in relation to the Father, that He submitted to the Father’s will and suffered on the cross (Matt. 26-27). I know I’ve previously discussed how expectations can limit and stifle… however, when expectations are placed on the God of the universe… our faith grows and we begin to dream big dreams and believe big things about the God we serve. For all of the ways that sometimes a relationship with God resembles our earthly relationships, this area is completely different. In a relationship with God, expectations EXPAND our lives and our love for Christ. He wants to be expected to keep His promises and to show Himself to be who He is – the God in whom we live and breathe and have our being (Acts 17:28). It’s a truly beautiful thing.