Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adventures in Evangelism

Wow! I can't believe it's been 45 days since my last post! Oh well - here goes! Better late than never. 

I am committing myself to posting on, at least, a biweekly basis in the future. My goal is to do weekly updates, but I will commit in the beginning to - at least - biweekly ones. A good friend and supporter of ours commented recently on a frivolous e-mail I sent out to all of our ministry partners (financial supporters) and e-letter recipients . . . that he would much prefer to get ministry news from us rather than seemingly irrelevant e-mails. As the recent presidential election approached, he had also asked to not receive any more e-mails questioning the moral qualifications and standards of one of the candidates (Guess who!) in the interest of receiving more ministry info. Although I like to influence people - in a positive way, of course - via what I consider to be relevant e-mails, I have heard his "cry" and will give more attention to his request via weekly and biweekly posts, based on e-mails I will send out to my list.

You know, when you haven't made a commitment to update people regularly on how God is using you, several things can (and in my case, do) happen. First, you forget the details. At an age when, as my mother calls them, "senior moments" are becoming more and more frequent, I realize I cannot afford not to record what has happened as close to the events as possible. Of course, it helps to have a wife with a tremendous capacity to remember details, but I need to tell her those details first for her to be able to remember them, right? But, the safest route is to write them down.

Another result of not updating people regularly, thus forcing one to record those updates regularly, is that an opportunity is lost to bless regularly the people who most deserve to know what's going on: those who have made a commitment to invest regularly in your ministry.

One more thing that happens as a result of not updating people regularly on your ministry is that you forget what God has done! As I read the Old and New Testaments, I see narrative texts. Why has God chosen to not just give us commands and leave it at that? I believe it is because these accounts are meant to be a perpetual reminder of how He worked in and through His people. They served as a reminder to those in and through whom He had worked, not to mention to future generations. These accounts are more than simple stories. They were put there to motivate us to continue in our faithfulness to a miracle-working God!

Okay, so enough introduction. Let's get down to business. Let's talk about Adventures in Evangelism! Amen!

Campus Evangelism
Several encounters come to mind as I reflect back on my campus evangelism over this past semester. In this post I will highlight only one, saving the others for future posts - assuming my memory won't fail me!

Each week I meet individually - outside of our group times, of course - with at least eight of the nine guys I'm discipling, representing 3 different universities here in the Greater Rio de Janeiro area. One of those guys is Eric, a third-year Law School student at one of Brazil's most prestigious Law Schools (note: One can enter Law School right out of high school here, as in most other countries around the world. The same goes for Med School!). Eric also uses Ray Comfort's The Evidence Bible, and I've noticed its influence on him when we're sharing our faith together.

On this particular occasion, we got talking to two freshmen - a guy and a girl. It turned out the girl was from out of state and had a Protestant church upbringing. A girl involved in our ministry by the name of Francine "just happened" to come by, so we introduced her to the freshman and I believe they are meeting regularly for bible study/discipleship now.

The guy was a whole other story! He proudly stated that he was a Spiritist (Brazil is the largest Spiritist nation in the world. Spiritism promotes reincarnation, self-redemption, good works and contact with the spirits of dead relatives.). He took issue with the Christian assertion that a a loving God would send people to hell who had never had a chance to come to Jesus. I assured him that God would never send anyone to hell for not having heard of Jesus. He would send them to hell because they had sinned and broken His laws. He tried to argue his point more, but seemed somewhat satisfied when I told him about the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), that God has sent his followers into all the world to preach the gospel. Then I tried to "turn the tables" on him and told him that we were not just concerned about those who had never heard of Christ, but we were concerned about his soul too. He smiled and said we needn't worry about him, that he was "okay." I asked, "Really?" He tried to justify himself, affirming that God was a loving, forgiving God. 

I reminded him that his wishful thinking regarding Jesus - that He only emphasized love and forgiveness - was not based on the Gospel accounts. I told him that the Gospels only mention God's love for humanity in 6 verses, while mentioning His wrath, coming judgement, hell and condemnation in 163 verses! In other words, this latter subject is apparently of great concern to God. It should be to us as well. In fact, the Book of Acts, which gives us various examples of the Early Church's first evangelistic sermons, does not mention God's love once! It's something worth thinking about.

Upon seeing that he had no biblical basis for his erroneous view of God, the student began to take issue with the trustworthiness of the New Testament. When I pointed out to him that his motivation for questioning the veracity of the Bible was rooted in his desire to flee its implications, he returned to his earlier argument about his view of Jesus being different and that he just couldn't accept another view. As he left for class, I reminded him that if his view was wrong, he was going to pay dearly for all eternity. He flashed a nervous smile over his shoulder and entered his classroom. 

Now, some might say I had totally blown it! Think about it! I didn't try to convince him that Jesus offered, as one well-known pastor promises, "Your Best Life Now!" I didn't "close the sale" by trying to get him to "invite Jesus into his heart" at the end of our conversation! I didn't emphasize God's love! Oops!

What I did do was try to plough up the rocky soil of his heart in order to sow the seed of the gospel. As a preacher/friend of mine by the name of Michael Venyah puts it:

Remember James 4:6: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. If you needed to build a garden for starving people, in a place where the ground was concrete, gently working the ground would do no good; you would need to use a backhoe and a jackhammer and exert force in order to break up the hard ground. But to plant the garden in soft soil, you wouldn’t need a backhoe and jackhammer, just a spade, seed and water, which you could use gently. The Holy Ghost preached hard through me because, as the hearts of all the sinners listening were hardened through their choice to stay in sin, He was resisting them. But, after being cut to the heart by the hard Holy Ghost preaching, when that young man chose to humble himself, the Spirit of God presented grace.

So, sometimes we need to be confrontational even in our personal evangelism. God wants His truth to penetrate hearts, but those hearts need to be softened by means of God's ordained tool: His Law - and the consequences of breaking it. This is the biblical way, not to mention the way of evangelists throughout the centuries. Somehow the Church decided to try to improve on God's way in the 20th Century, only emphasizing God's love vs. God's holiness and justice. What we see today is something like 80%+ of Americans claiming to be born-again Christians! There is no way! This is the product of what Ray Comfort calls modern evangelism. May we return to our roots, the roots of biblical evangelism! Amen!

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