Running the Race

Running has been good for me these last few days. It’s given me an opportunity to let my mind wander and to reflect on one or two things that people have been saying at church. I’m also supposed to be praying. But I go for long runs, honest. I have time for both. So I suffer from mental drift when I pray. But at least it’s godly mental drift!

One of the things that’s come up of late has been the issue of assurance. It’s come about because as we’ve pressed people to engage with AP4L, to get involved in inviting friends and speaking about the gospel they’ve been brought face to face with their unwillingness to do so. Inevitably people have responded to that in a number of ways. Not all of them constructively.

I think the feeling has been that I’ve reduced the Christian life to being involved in AP4L. And by encouraging people to get involved and challenging them when they’re not, they’ve felt that I’m undermining their confidence that they’re Christian. If I’m saying that a Christian should do these things and they’re not doing them then you can see how they might think that.

But consider this illustration to see whether it sheds any light on the issue. It came to me whilst running; I was heavily oxygen deprived so it may not be right on the money!

If I claim to be a runner what would you expect? You’d expect to see me running. Not all the time but some of the time, at least. If I’ve never run then my claim to be a runner sounds pretty hollow, doesn’t it? If I haven’t run in a while does that mean I’ve stopped being a runner? Not necessarily, it probably means that I need someone to give me the encouragement to get back in habit. Does the fact that I own running kit make me a runner? No. Does the fact that I belong to a running club make me a runner? No. If I claim to be a runner I ought to run. Runners run. And if I’m part of a running club the guys in charge ought to encourage me to run. If they don’t you’d wonder what they were doing.

In the same way Christians speak about the hope that they have (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus promsied us his Spirit so that we’d be equipped to turn to Christ, live for Christ and speak about Christ. Christians follow Christ and therefore we testify to him. It comes with the territory.

But increasingly I’m finding that people are troubled by the ‘ought’ of the Christian life. They have an idea of the Christian life in which the second half of Paul’s epistles should be left out. It’s all about what God has done for us in Christ and it’s not what we do in response. That’s overstating it a little. But that’s the sense of it.  The idea that there are obligations placed upon us as we follow Christ is something that people think undermines grace. Grace has become the ‘catch all’ term for God’s acceptance of us whatever we’re like. I want to defend that. God’s grace does mean that we receive what we don’t deserve; namely eternal acceptance through Christ’s imputed righteousness (Romans 8:1). But God’s grace is not only limited to saving us, by his grace he changes us. In Titus 1:1 Paul teaches that the knowledge of the truth will lead to godliness. God’s not done with us at conversion. He wants to sanctify us to become like his son.

So how can we get past this apparent impasse?

Let’s be clear on what I’m not saying.

  • I’m not saying that being a Christian and doing evangelism are the same thing.
  • I’m not saying that doing evangelism makes you a Christian.
  • I’m not saying that if we stop doing evangelism we’ve stopped being a Christian.
  • I’m not saying that if we don’t want to do evangelism that we can’t be a Christian.

But I am saying this.

  • I am saying that being a Christian involves doing evangelism.
  • I am saying that doing evangelism is one of the evidences that we are Christian.
  • I am saying that if we’re not doing any evangelism that we need encouragement to get back in the game.

Pauls’ instructions in Colossians 4:5&6 are pretty clear. I’ve blogged on them a while ago. There’s an exepctation of obedience there. We should make the most of every opportunity. We should make sure that our conversations are salty and distinctive. And if we don’t we’re being disobedient. And that’s one of the many sins for which Christ had to die. Does it mean that I’m no longer acceptable to God, no. My acceptability before God depends not on my performance but on Christ’s righteousness. But does that mean that God’s not disappointed, no. But he’s not going to kick me out of the family. It’s like this;

Rufus is one of my sons and I love him to bits. There’s no doubt about that. But he can be disobedient, no really! When he is, I’m disappointed. And I communicate that. He’s not stopped being my son but he feels my displeasure at his behaviour. Being a Perkins carries an obligation. There are certain family rules. There’s no disobedience, no dishonesty and no direspect. You can’t become a Perkins if you keep those rules, you’ve got to be a part of the family. But once you’re in the family, by birth, those are the ways that we operate. So there are things that are expected of him.

It’s the same in the Christian life. We don’t become part of the family by keeping the rules. But now that we’re in the family there are ‘rules’. There’s a Christian way of life that we’re to live; it’s called discipleship. And it’s what Jesus called us to in Mark 8:31-38.

If we’re unwilling to be involved in evangelism that raises some questions. But I don’t think that anyone is saying that. They just feel guilty for not doing what’s ‘expected’ of them. And that would be the staff’s fault for pressing the obligation upon them, I suspect. But what would people have us do? We recognise that none of us is what we should be. None of us is living the Christian life that we should be. But we’re here and we’re paid to help one another become more like Christ and to mature in our godliness. And so we want to lovingly encourage everyone, at whatever age and stage, to make progress in their Christian life. We can be better and with God’s help we will be.

13 thoughts on “Running the Race

  1. Phil C March 19, 2010 / 1:53 pm

    The distinction between evangelism to “get into heaven”, and evangelism as a sign of our membership of God’s family, is really helpful. “He’s not going to kick me out of the family” – that’s good to hear!

    But if the problem is a lack of desire to tell people about Jesus, how do we encourage that desire? I want to get to that point where I feel as instinctively enthusiastic and unashamed about Jesus as I am about good cheese or a good film. Is the best approach to my situation to say “act like you have that instinct anyway”?

  2. theurbanpastor March 19, 2010 / 2:22 pm

    Thanks Phil
    Let me say a couple of things in response

    1. We shouldn’t wait to do the right thing until we feel like doing the right thing! ‘I’m sorry Constable, I just didn’t feel like obeying the Law!’ That won’t get me far. In the moral realm we need to do teh right thing, in the right way and for the right reasons. You’re right to say that we shouldn’t neglect one area. But we don’t wait until all three are in place before doing the right thing, do we? We’d never do that with our children. I’m worried that too many of us hide behind the heart issue as an excuse for not being engaged in evangelism. If it’s cowardice let’s come out and say it. If it’s weariness at being shot at by hostile friends, let’s say so. If it’s embarassment at belonging to Christ, let’s say so. If it’s fear at not knowing what to say, let’s say so. Whatever it is, let’s say so. All of those things are normal. We all feel them no matter how long we’ve been a Christian.

    2. We mustn’t neglect the heart motivation for doing something, that’s right. We wouldn’t do that with our children, would we? They might do the right thing but their motives could be very far from being wholly healthy! The issue of motive is important. Our motives for evangelism are multi-factoral aren’t they? Just off the top of my head, I could think of these

    a. the desire to see others saved – if I don’t talk to them, who will and how will they be saved from hell for heaven

    b. the glory of God – he is being mistreated by many in his creation and that’s wrong we should treat him with honour, respect and love

    c. the response of obedience – God requires us to obey him as sons and daughters obey their Father

    d. the love of Christ – he works in us to give us a love for him and a love for others, that desire may be small but if we’re Christian it’s there and we need to strengthen it and fan it into flame

    Lots of Christians, if not all, need lots of help and encouragement to get involved in speaking about Christ and we need to be committed to doing that. But we need people to be committed to wanting that help.

    perks

    I think 2 Corinthians 5 is helpful on motives for evangelism.

    • Phil C March 19, 2010 / 3:58 pm

      I think it cuts to the problem when you say that it’s too easy for us to use this heart issue as an excuse not to tell people about Jesus. But isn’t that like saying “we use the heart issue as an excuse not to deal with the heart issue”? How do we break out of that cycle? How do we break the back of our reluctance without resorting to teaching the law?

      I want to say more about this but in the middle of P4L isn’t the time! I am a bit confused about how to think about these questions.

      • theurbanpastor March 19, 2010 / 6:46 pm

        Hi Phil

        Let me be clear.

        We need to do evangelism. Period. No argument. And I know that you agree with that. We mustn’t ever frame this debate in such a way that evangelism, like any other form of godliness, is an optional extra in the Christian life. You haven’t, I’m just making it plain. This is a non-negotaible given of teh Christian life. Of course what our own evangelistic lives look like will be as different as we are different. I’m not Rico Tice, Pete Woodcock or Billy Graham and so my missional existence will be differently shaped to theirs.

        The heart issue is crucially important. There’s so much value in thinking through our motives. Because we only ever end up doing what we want to do. And so if we don’t want to do something we won’t do it. It’s important to see why we want to do things. What are the reasons and motives that are driving me not to evangelise. Those are multi factoral, as I’ve argued. They’ll be different for different people. And only the individual and God know the real reasons. He’s not fooled, though we may be.

        We need to ask ourselves some evaluative questions
        why don’t I feel like evangelising?
        what do I fear that means I’m keeping quiet?
        what do I love which means that I’m keeping quiet?
        what’s wrong with those things?

        Idolatry will play a part in our decisions and behaviour. And so we need to root those out, name them, shame them, ridicule them and replace them; with Christ.

        In all of this we proceed not in our own strength. The same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead is at work is us to change us. It’s not the law that effects change but the Spirit in our hearts in fulfilment of the promises of teh New Covenant (Jer 31, Ezek 36). We fight our sinful nature which loves our idols with the Sprit’s help; it’s the Galatians 5 stuff about being led by the Spirit into conflict with our sinful nature. The Christian life is a fight and when it’s not it means we’ve made peace with sin. We’ve run up the white flag and come to negotiated settlement with our sinful nature so that we can peacefully co-exist. But the Spirit wants a scrap. He wants to detroy our sinful nature and he won’t rest until we’re back in the fight. We have to make a decision of the will and commit to that fight. To do that we need to be convinced in our head that what we’re talking about here is true. And when we’re deeply convinced our hearts will change what they love and value and we’ll find it easy to change our wills and do the right thing.

        Hope that’s helpful in making a start in thinking these things through.

        perks

        PS I’ve recomended Thomas Chalmer’s ‘Expulsive Power of a a New Affection’, haven’t I?

      • Phil C March 20, 2010 / 12:25 am

        Thanks perks. I agree with you, and these posts are helping me to think this through. I think my questions are about your final point, and how we get there:

        “…when we’re deeply convinced our hearts will change what they love and value and we’ll find it easy to change our wills and do the right thing.”

        That’s what I want! Perhaps I am naive to think that if we put all our efforts into that, everything else – including an overwhelming desire to tell people about Jesus – will follow.

        You did recommend Thomas Chalmers’ sermon. It’s great!

  3. Lauri March 19, 2010 / 3:19 pm

    Perks, I’m not sure that this post deals with one of the perceived problems you articulated (and to some extent conflate) at the beginning of the blog post, namely why participate in apFOURl specifically and not necessarily just about evangelism in general.

    Your answer seems to be concerned with the second issue more than saying why apFOURlife is the right way (for everybody) to go about evangelizing. I don’t for one second buy that just because its being put on that its a necessity to be involved with the whole thing unreservedly. (have not read your other post on Saturday yet)

    I don’t count myself as having the problem you describe but I simply would not invite my more post modern cynical friends to any of the events that where put on this week. Film nights, dinner parties with discussions, friendship evangelism, these are what I can be involved in and what I will be involved in.

    We invited our neighbor to one of the events (Lennox) because she is a scientist and a Hindu (What an interesting combo!) but the other events, having somebody stand up and speak to the crowd… thats not where my other friends are at. Music on Saturday is another example… Why did we decide to have music?

    • theurbanpastor March 19, 2010 / 6:25 pm

      Good strident non-conformist stuff Lauri, wouldn’t have expected anything less! You and others like you hold me to account and force me to be clearer, good on yer!

      Let me clarify one or two things

      i. involvement in AP4L is a subset of evangelism, it’s not the way to be involved in evangelism but it is a way to be involved evangelistically – it’s what we do one week of the year.

      ii. nowhere do I argue that AP4L is the right way for everyone to go about evangelising

      it’s events based and people will come to different events for different reasons;

      they came to the science evening to hear an expert on a subject that few of us could deal with as well; if we think that we can do better than John Lennox then fine – we can have that conversation over dinner, or in a pub with our friend, but most of us aren’t that good!

      they came to the men’s curry night because they like curry and value their friendship with those who invited them and the thought of an after dinner speaker wasn’t awful

      they’ll come tomorrow night partly because the issue is their issue and partly because they value their friendship with those who invited them and partly because they’re intrigued by Christianity and are keen to learn more

      essentially this week’s approach is attractional rather than missional but I advocate a both-and rather than an either-or approach to these things; I think the popularity of the past three events shows that there’s still a place for the event in our evangelistic strategy

      iii. most young Christians , and especially independently minded young men, need to learn to play team – AP4L is team evangelism – it’s the church together helping one another, and helping other churches, to be involved in reaching people for Christ. Friendship evangelism is one way. But it’s not the only way. There’s not a whole load of it in the Bible, is there?! These events and the promotion that we’ve done of them has brought in new people, some have coem through friendships others haven’t – we need all hands on deck manning the events, pitching up to the events, inviting their friends to events and praying for the events. It’s called playing team. And it’s something that we have to learn.

      Those who ‘opt out’ of events need to think through the discouraging effect that can have on others. I love it when others at church meet my friends and talk to them. They may have come with me and they may want to talk with me. But other Christians can have a powerful effect and they may be able to ask the ‘hard’ questions that I sometimes struggle to ask.

      iv. it’s great that the other ‘events’ like film nights, like supper parties are happening and so on – I’m a big fan, as you know, and we need to keep those going

      on music – the congregational stuff is simply because we want non-Christians to feel and to see in action the depths of our convictions as well as music being a form of word ministry through which the Spirit can bring new life – to which we’re all committed, whichever evangelistic approach we take!

      blessing bro

      perks

      • Lauri Moyle March 20, 2010 / 1:37 pm

        Thanks Perks. I agree on every point. And I hope I have not discouraged anybody from being invoved in apFOURL. If I have done that then I am very sorry indeed.

        But I think there might be some people who feel undue preasure to bring people to events. And might have good reasons not to. I did feel that preasure, but my friends are not the type of people who care about an argument for God based on a debate about science, would not really fit into a big event situation because some are introverts and dont like croweds, like beautiful things and would, like me feel a bit out of place in a gym hall. In some cases, asking people who would not “fit” in could do more damage than good if they came, but that is an asumption I cannot back up, but for one case, which was from personal experience.

        Absolutely both/and. Absolutely there are people who will benefit and I am absolutely behind the work and passion that has gone into the week.

        The band will play great tunes and I am so behind their willness to sacrifice the time to practice and put on a great show…

  4. Pete Matthew March 19, 2010 / 6:23 pm

    Lauri,

    At one level I agree with you. We need events that are tailored to our specific group of friends. We know what buttons they’ll respond to. So keep on with that.

    The thing is with the film nights and lots of friendship evangelism stuff is that we point towards the gospel message, we don’t actually proclaim that message. At any of the film nights has the life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus been mentioned? I’ve not been so it may well have been. That is the message that will save people, that is the message that God will use to open blind eyes to the truth. There is a danger we discuss issues of religion and ethics without ever getting to the gospel.

    But one of the things that worries me slightly is our propensity to say ‘no’ on behalf of our friends without actually inviting them. You say you would ‘simply not invite any of your post-modern friends to any of the events’. Why make the decision for them? Why not let them say no rather than assuming they won’t come? Becasue after all it’s not down to our debating skills that will convince someone to become a Christian, it’s down to God revealing himself to them. Some of them may actually have said ‘yes’. Therefore, of course let’s use our wisdom and put on events that will be attractive to our mates, but let’s not preclude people from hearing the gospel because we think a particular event isn’t there thing. Let them say ‘no’, don’t make the decision for them.

    • Lauri Moyle March 20, 2010 / 1:48 pm

      I proclaim the gospel message Pete. I really do. I did it with our neighbour the night after the science talk because Karma came up… And another thing here. Dinners with my friends are not “events.” That sort of mindset is far to functional to me.

      I agree that those dangers you mention exist.

      In relation to the answer about inviting friends. Further above I answer Perks about the danger of puting somebody in an uncomfortable possition. I once asked a friend to come to an event. She came away feeling like she was being “recruted.” That hurt my friendship and it hurt future oportunities that would have been more approrpiate for her as a postmodern. So, no mate, let me be a big boy and alow me room to say no on behalf of my friends, despite being young.

      God isn’t dependant on me. Yes I should not stifle the spirit of truth in me because of fear, shame, idolotry and sin.

      Absolutely invite people if you think that they are likely to appreciate the event. If they do not see the merit in the outcome and are not hurt by it, fine. Not perfect but ok. Be aware though that there are people who will be pushed away from faith in Jesus because of “events” and that is my point. (Is the lead singer of Cold Play one such example?) That freedom needs to exist.

      • Lauri Moyle March 20, 2010 / 2:50 pm

        Also, I would have loved to help at the Women’s International Night, as some men did, I didn’t know that was an option. I might have even come and helped you set up Saturday’s event if I knew that was an option and you needed me there.

        It’s also not about not participating. We have participated, we have prayed, we have invited people that we think are appropriate to invite to a particular event. I don’t want to be labelled as somebody who is somehow against apFOURl, or against big events. I’m not.

        All I am asking is for us to leave room for unknown unknowns and for a legitimacy of personality and character that is much broader than fits the narrowness of our current church projects.

        I know you know this, but it’s perhaps good as a reminded: Perks and you are not managers of a company; we are a family of which you are the head. We cannot measure successes by attendance, size of events, leaflets handed out, noise made in a park picnic, energy expended on social activity, or social action etc We can only measure real success by faithfulness and love that we show each other and more importantly God. We doo do that, but it is possible that the other more quantifiable measures become too important and are assumed to be the measure of out corporate commitment to evangelism.

      • Pete Matthew March 21, 2010 / 12:19 am

        Lauri,

        Very quickly, becasue I need to go to bed(!), let me say that I don’t doubt for a moment that you share your gospel with those you meet. And if I my post suggested that I’m sorry, it was unintenitonal. My point was that we can be quite quick to say an event wont suit our friends. Of course that can at times be the right call (i agree with you that we need to use our God given common sense). But, sometime I think it is because we don;t really believe the power of God through his gospel to change peoples lives. Ultimately, by the way we ‘do’ evangelism we think our involvement and discernment and skill is more important. We wouldn’t express that, but our evangelistic lifestyle show that. And yes I’m very guilty of this too.

  5. Andy March 20, 2010 / 1:31 am

    Some fantastic stuff being bounced around here dealing with issues that speak right to the heart of our Christian identity. I have been saved by Christ, my salvation is assured and I live by grace but what does that look like, what are the outward signs of what has gone on inside.

    I can only speak from my personal feelings and thoughts over this last week. I empathise with a post a couple of days ago in that this week has been like starting a rusty car that has sat in the rain and been neglected: its been painful, its shone a light on my life but its ultimately been rewarding and worthwhile. Big mission events like AP4L can never stand on their own and as as such are a reflection of the state of our personal evangelism. AP4L stands on the shoulders of the film nights, dialogue suppers, social action projects which in turn are and extension of our personal evangelism and the saltiness of our lives and that is born out of a understanding of Gods purpose for creation and an overwhelming joy that comes from the grace and assurance we have through Christ’s death on the cross and the relationship with God that that allows.

    So for me when my flesh recoils at the idea of AP4L its because I haven’t laid the laid the grass roots, I haven’t been open about my faith, I haven’t been nailing my colours to the mast and got out of the comfort zone in my conversations with my friends. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve steered the conversation from that slightly more controversial, maybe not so socially acceptable view and maintained that image of being cultured and open to everyones views but not really standing for anything myself: luke warm. So I know that when I pitch up with an invite to to AP4L they’re going to look at me like, ‘huh?’ And even worse as Pete says, I don’t even give them a chance to say that because I decide that’s going to be their response so I don’t even try.

    But why do we need AP4L, why can’t we just stick to the friendship evangelism and the conversations around the bar after work. While we live in a post modern society that shuns authority and imposed views, my voice is but one of a myriad of competing ideas and theories around the coffee table and I think people do still look for a learned voice, an expert in the fields they aren’t familiar with as John Lennox said. They might reject authority figures but I think there’s still a need for them to hear from the experts whether that be a Mathematician, a Bishop or a Pastor. I also believe that the argument for playing team and presenting a corporate identity as a Church is important. The church shouldn’t be invisible, only accessible to those who’ve come through the friendship evangelism route, it should be visible and at the centre of the community and putting on big events like AP4L and the carol service is part of that and as a member I am part of it.

    Furthermore, I need the encouragement. I need the drum to be banged by those at the front to help me get back in the game, I need Christian brothers around me to spur me on because I am weak and I don’t do what I want to do. And to often my reaction is guilt and shame and then anger at those banging the drum for exposing me but when I take the time to examine myself more often than not I find my personal evangelism lacking, my life flavourless and I know I need to remind myself of what Christ has done for me and of Gods plan for humanity for eternity so that the joy and desire for Christ to be known might underpin everything I think, say and do.

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