“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Mel Wild

CC BY-NC, alkimista85, Flickr

CC BY-NC, alkimista85, Flickr

This post is the fifth and final one in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Mel Wild, writer of In My Father’s House, reflects on the following quote by American pastor A.W. Tozer.

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”

A.W. Tozer is hitting on something profound here: What should faith really look like in our lives? What determines our thankfulness to God? The implication is we generally prefer to live by a substandard faith—according to what we can see, hear, touch, taste, or feel in our current experience—and praise God only for realized blessings.

But if our faith is what is already realized tangibly, is it really faith anymore?

True faith simply believes what God says about things, even when it seems untrue or contradicts our current experience. It’s not a blind faith either; instead, it’s aligning our thoughts with the concrete reality of what God believes. This requires trust in the One who is doing the promising.

God seems to think that all of his promises to us are “yes” and “amen” (2 Cor. 1:20), whether we’ve realized these blessings or not.

The Eyes of Faith

Purer faith is seeing things through heaven’s eyes rather than from the ground view of our circumstances. This is why Paul is always reminding us to set our minds on “things above” where our real selves reside—with Christ seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1-3). True praise that really pleases God is based in this kind of faith (Heb.11:6); in fact, there really is no other kind.

We tend to default to our earthbound thinking, which is subject to all kinds of not-so-good things. In our spiritual ignorance, we erroneously call that the real world. But if we’re going to let the tail wag the dog on faith, so to speak, putting our experience before believing God’s promises, then we will never live a consistently thankful life, let alone a faith-filled one. It will be a life driven by circumstantial winds and waves, possibly ending up shipwrecked on the rocks of what we have interpreted to be unfortunate happenstance.

Receiving God’s Promises

Here are some points that will help us stay in faith for those unrealized promises.

  • First, consider that believing always precedes receiving. New territory in the Spirit must be accessed by faith. There is no other way to grow into areas we currently have no grid for. The forward motion our life needs is propelled by our faith.
  • Second, remember that whatever we focus on gets bigger. We all focus on something, good or bad. So where is your focus this thanks-giving season? Are you focusing on God’s goodness or your experience?
  • Third, God’s timing is oftentimes not our timing. So always remember that “he who has begun a good work in you is faithful to complete it” (Ph. 1:6).
  • Fourth, ask yourself if your unmet expectations are God’s expectations. Realign your thoughts with his thoughts and lay all your burdens on him. Feel his smile and open your heart to the warm embrace of the Father’s heart.
  • Finally, remember that a thankful heart is a joyful heart at rest in God, content wherever it may find itself (Ph. 4:11). It’s always time to praise God for his goodness. Don’t let the enemy dis-appoint you from your fruit-bearing destiny as a co-heir with Christ. Look up! You are seated with him far above all the things that weigh you down. You’re an eagle, not a turkey!

Let’s determine this Thanksgiving season that we’re going to believe God and cultivate a lifestyle of faith with gratitude for all that God has done and is going to do, even if he decides to do it in a way we don’t expect. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Read more by Mel on his blog In My Father’s House.

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“Thanks” Series—Post by Michael Stephens

CC BY-NC, Jason-Morrison, Flickr

(See where the tree grows!)
CC BY-NC, Jason-Morrison, Flickr

This post is the fourth in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Today I reflect on the following quote by British author and intellectual C.S. Lewis.

“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

These words make me think of others I’ve spoken—“Why complain when you can be thankful?” I’m a million light-years from Lewis’s brilliance, but I think together we’re onto something here: life is chockfull of occasions to show gratitude.

Eco sustainability teaches the principle of zero waste in nature. No matter the debris or pollution, nature eventually recycles it into use again. Our lives possess that same characteristic because we have every chance to turn all our good and bad instances into moments of gratitude to the Lord. Lewis draws us into the heart of this concept and, in simple fashion, explains why it can be so.

For the Good and the Bad

“If it is good, because it is good,” Lewis says—not merely that we have everything we could wish for, which is nice, but also for the essential goodness that has entered our lives. The adopted boy taken out of the system has drastically more to be thankful for than the fineness of the clothes, toys, food, and vacations he now enjoys. Instead his deepest gratitude springs from one thing: his being chosen.

Lewis continues: “if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” If you hear Lewis saying we ought to be thankful for bad fortune, you’re hearing incorrectly. We cannot be thankful for disease and violence and poverty and destruction, all things that break God’s heart. But we can be thankful because they are catalysts.

Misfortune offers us a chance to develop in our lives virtue that we might otherwise never experience; and that virtue grants the Lord more control in us and with us. This is spiritual wealth that glorifies God and that, in some unknown way, accrues and awaits us in the life to come.

Moreover, what Lewis conveys of bad fortune rings resoundingly with hope: we should take trouble itself as a cue that better lies just ahead of us. Whether in this life or the next, our present experience is dissolving into something astonishingly wonderful.

God’s Design for Us

Thus, complaints have little hope of thriving when we grasp that every moment is a chance to be grateful to God. The apostle Paul trumps Lewis and me when he says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18). The will of God is his desire and design for our lives; Paul identifies part of it as a life brimming with gratitude.

On this Thanksgiving Day we raise a toast in praise to the God who has entangled our lives in an intricate win-win situation. His grace makes our good sweeter and helps us transform our misfortune into wealth. He is the author of all good and the Eternal Victor over every dark power. May he who is our every advantage be glorified this Thanksgiving and we remain always grateful.

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Kevin Daniel

CC BY-NC, Cascadian Farm, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Cascadian Farm, Flickr

This post is the third in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Kevin Daniel, writer of The Number Kevin, reflects on the following quote by Christian thinker and apologist G.K. Chesterton.

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before I open a book, and before sketching, painting, swimming, walking, playing, dancing and before I dip the pen in the ink.”

I’ve never truly understood the concept of themed holidays. Really, if you need a day off, just take it. Are you theming your weekends as well? Weird. I have a friend whose favorite holiday is Flag Day. And I love that. It’s his way of calling out everybody’s crap, I think—“Hey, man. Happy Flag Day!”

Thanksgiving is especially bizarre. Let’s say aliens land on Earth; they’re from Jupiter…yeah, Jupiter. It also happens to be Thanksgiving. And, for kicks and giggles, let’s suppose they speak and understand English. Go ahead. Explain Thanksgiving to them.

“Every November we gather and cook a turkey. We watch the Lions and the Cowboys and eat way too much. Then, when mom bravely shuts off the TV, we’re forced to share what we’re thankful for, all under the guise that some meal was had between friendly ‘ingines’ and disease-ridden Pilgrims. Later, they all killed each other. We do it because we’re thankful.”

What?

Really, what drives me crazy—yes, this criticism includes me—is the idea that thankfulness requires a holiday at all. Instead, a special thought: thankfulness requires a push.

Thanks, eh Million?

My favorite part of prayer is the thankfulness section. I often find myself speechless in the presence of God and all I can utter is thanks. I guess that’s okay. Faith is pretty abstract at times; however, gratitude is tangible: the air I breathe, the food I eat, the woman I share a bed with every night. It’s all gravy, man.

Side-note: Did the phrase “It’s all gravy” come from Thanksgiving?

Side Side-note: Maybe my trend of thankfulness in prayer is just a shallow attempt to make up for my many years of cold, youthful, unilateral prayer requests.

Whenever I feel selfish or owed to, I remind myself how foolish I’m being. I/you/we am/are not owed anything. We are graciously given life. God didn’t need us. He can accomplish whatever he wants without us. Yet he loved us enough to breathe life into our lungs. So here I am—and you. I don’t really understand it, but love only works if you can’t put it into words. That’s my theory, at least.

‘Grace’ to the Finish

Michael sent me a quote a few weeks ago—the one at the top—and I think it’s wonderful. Go ahead. Read it again; I’ll wait.

Beautiful, right? I agree. The times I exist in a constant state of thankfulness are the times I am most in tune with God…funny how that works. By focusing on the deeds of others or the gifts from God, we inadvertently kill any pride or selfishness lingering in our hearts. It’s not always easy. Lucky for us, there is plenty to be thankful for, plenty of practice.

I’d like to add a couple “say grace” items to G.K Chesterton’s list, if I may: lattes, pumpkin pie, Netflix, fresh snowfall; The Avett Brother’s I and Love and You; that chapter that knocks you off your chair and involuntarily keeps you reading; sleeping in.

Side-note: I live in Upstate New York. The weather has dropped and the wind is blustery. I have to walk to a bus stop to get to campus. The other day I could barely feel my fingers, but I was extremely happy to have fingers.

Where do you look for God? The Bible is a great place to start. He’s in there, for sure. I read it and I’m thankful for it. But the Bible does not contain all of God. The Bible is not God’s horcrux.

These days I find God is everywhere. He’s with me and is a part of everything I do. He’s in the people I meet, those I bless and those who bless me. You can call it the Spirit or the Holy Ghost or whatever. I’m not concerned with labels. But he’s with me.

Here’s another quote. I think it connects well…from a song called “Every Thought a Thought of You” by mewithoutYou. I really like it:

“You wear a thin disguise, O, Light inside my brother’s eyes.”

I’m thankful today that God is with us, with me and with you…even the aliens on Jupiter. Enjoy your turkey, friends. God bless.

Read more by Kevin on his blog The Number Kevin

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Chris Hendrix

CC BY-NC, @DartmoorGiant, Flickr

CC BY-NC, @DartmoorGiant, Flickr

This post is the second in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Chris Hendrix, writer of Devotions By Chris, reflects on the following quote by early American theologian Albert Barnes.

“We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”

As things in my life went downhill ten years ago, my brother helped me to keep things in perspective. Over the course of a few months, an employee of mine, her husband, and child died in a crash; I got pulled into a legal fight for the remaining child; my wife had an affair while I was distracted by the legal battle; she then left me for the other man; and my business went under and I filed for bankruptcy.

While having a pity party one day, my brother looked me in the eye and said, “Believe it or not, someone else has it worse than you do. You can be thankful you’re not them.” No sooner than his words hit my ear, they pierced my heart. I had been feeling like my life was worse than what Job had experienced; the truth was my life wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

When my thoughts of pity changed, my perspective changed. I quit trying to find others to feel sorry for me and started finding reasons to be thankful. My situation hadn’t changed; in fact, it got worse. Instead, what changed when I decided to become thankful was how I saw myself in the storm I was in and the purpose of the storm.

Not a Victim

Instead of asking “Why me, God?” I began to ask “What am I to learn from this?” Being thankful changed me from being a victim to a student. Even in my darkest hour God had something to show me and was desperately trying to get my attention. I had been stubbornly ignoring his call and living how I wanted to live. I had ignored his gentle warnings and signals to change how I was living; now his attempts at getting my attention grew louder and louder. God wasn’t content to let me live my life my way; he wanted me to live it his way. I’m thankful now that he didn’t leave me in the life I was living.

The theologian Albert Barnes said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” In my life I’ve always remembered that someone has it worse than anything I will ever face. I am thankful when I think about that. When times are tough and life isn’t going the way I think it should or I feel I’ve been dealt a bad hand, I no longer pretend I’m the victim. I know now that even when things appear bad or like they can’t get worse, God is there in the storm with me. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me. He’s enduring it with me and wants to use the experience for his glory.

An Attitude of Gratitude

If you’re in the middle of a storm and you feel like things can’t be worse, I challenge you to find something to be thankful for. Are you still breathing? Then you have something to be thankful for. Your life isn’t over. God can rebuild it from the ruins where you are now.

Lose the victim mentality and become a student of what God wants to show you. To change your perspective you have to change your mindset. A changed mindset begins with a thankful heart. Things may not get better right away, but being thankful will give you a purpose in hard times. That purpose, combined with a thankful heart, will pull you through.

Read more by Chris on his blog Devotions By Chris.

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Stephen Chan

CC BY NC-SA, C Jill Reed, Foter

CC BY-SA, C Jill Reed, Foter

This post is the first in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Stephen Chan, writer of Faith Comes From Hearing, reflects on the following quote by German theologian Meister Eckhart.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

There is a lot that can be said about prayer. The Bible encourages us to “never stop praying” (1 Thess. 5:17). Yet if we know the heart of God and trust that his plan for us is good (Jer. 29:11), it can be tempting to ask why we need to pray at all. Jesus himself said, “…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8).

Perhaps all we need to say to God is “thank you”—for what he has done and in anticipation of what he will do. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Is it really enough?

Sincere Thanks

Saying “thank you” is not an act to be taken lightly; too often we toss these words around when we don’t mean them.

  • Thanksgiving should be sincere. If gratitude has to be compelled, it ceases to be sincere and takes on an opposite meaning. God never insisted we thank him—in the same way he never forces us to love him. He loves us and blesses us with or without our reciprocation, although our love and praise is what he enjoys and desires. Jesus asked of the lepers, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). Clearly, we can receive blessings without showing appreciation.
  • Thanksgiving should glorify God, not us. Sometimes our expressions of thanks are thinly veiled “self-praises” that brag about our accomplishments—“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). Jesus recognizes this for what it is—self-glorification—and he warns against it. We offer thanks to God from a position of humility because we know that we can do nothing without him (John 15:5).
  • Thanksgiving should focus on God, not his blessings. If we were to offer thanks only for the good things in life, we are really withholding thanks from God until we receive something that pleases us. That would be disrespectful and impudent! But if we are going to be joyful in trouble as James suggests (1:2), we need to remember the first point above: thanksgiving should be sincere! Do we possess the attitude of Job, or David, who in the midst of persecution by Saul, wrote, “My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!” (Ps. 57:7).

Unending Prayers

Although the Father knows our needs before we ask him, he is pleased with our petitions. When we bring our prayers before him…

  • It shows we trust him. When Saul died and the way was clear for David to be king, David didn’t rush back to his hometown to claim the throne. Instead, he sought God’s advice: “‘Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?’ ‘Yes,’ the Lord replied” (2 Sam. 2:1). When we pray and seek God, we show that we trust his advice, his plan, and his timing.
  • It shows we depend on him. When the Philistines tried to capture David, David asked the Lord, “‘Should I go out to fight the Philistines?’…The Lord replied to David, ‘Yes, go ahead. I will certainly hand them over to you’” (1 Chr. 14:10). Wisely, David didn’t want to fight the Philistines if God wasn’t on his side. He knew that victory only came from God. By asking God if he would hand the Philistines over to him, David showed that he depended on God.
  • It allows God to reciprocate in love. When my son was born, my wife and I both worked jobs. We desperately needed someone who could watch the baby when we returned to work. We checked newspaper ads, asked friends, and searched across town for someone who could help. When we acted on our own, we found closed doors; but when we prayed, God opened the door of the Muslim family who lived across the hall from our apartment. They happily agreed to care for our son, which started a 15-year friendship between our families that continues today.

Prayer with Thanksgiving

Each verse in Psalm 136 contains a reason to thank God. Yet if you read between the lines, you will see the real reason why we can thank God repeated again and again—“his faithful love endures forever.”

Although we have good reasons to thank God and be “thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), it would be a strange relationship if all we said to God was “thank you.” Prayer deepens our relationship with the Father. It shows our dependency on him, our trust in him, and keeps us in a position of humility before him.

So let’s continue to humbly but confidently go to the Father with our prayers because “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Read more by Stephen on his blog Faith Comes From Hearing

The “Thanks” Series

CC BY-NC, restlesswaynex, Flickr

CC BY-NC, restlesswaynex, Flickr

The ‘Mike’ is observing Thanksgiving week with the “Thanks” Series, articles of reflection written by four guest contributors. Each writer will share his thoughts on an inspirational quote about thankfulness by a notable Christian. I’d like to introduce you to my guests.

Stephen Chan is the writer of Faith Comes from Hearing. I enjoy Stephen’s very Bible-centered, matter-of-fact way about living for God. Stephen is strong in the word and his writing is valuable Bible study. He will share reflections on a quote made by 14th century German theologian Eckhart Meister: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Chris Hendrix is the writer of Devotions by Chris. Passion for God and honesty characterize Chris’s writing, which also strives to encourage those who have experienced hardship in life. Chris will share reflections on a quote by 19th century American theologian Albert Barnes: “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”

Kevin Daniel is the writer of The Number Kevin. If you enjoy humor mixed in with your faith, then you’ll appreciate Kevin and his crafty and offbeat writing style. But he’s no lightweight. He writes insightfully and speaks up on the matters that need to be heard. Kevin will share reflections on a quote by early 20th century thinker and apologist G.K. Chesterton: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before I open a book, and before sketching, painting, swimming, walking, playing, dancing and before I dip the pen in the ink.”

Mel Wild is the writer of In My Father’s House. Grace and intimacy with God are themes that strongly characterize Mel’s writing, which I find refreshing and spurring one toward godliness. Mel is a pastor and a long walk with God and experience in ministry inform his articles. He will share reflections on a quote by 20th century pastor A.W. Tozer: “Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”

I will share reflections on a quote by 20th century apologist and intellectual C.S. Lewis: “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

I hope you’ll return each day this week to read what these writers have to share on thankfulness, in their lives and in general.

Have a blessed and…Happy Thanksgiving.

Simply the Bee’s Knees!

CC BY NC-ND, Roger Smith, Flickr

CC BY NC-ND, Roger Smith, Flickr

This summer I cleared away years of brush in my sister’s backyard. It was good physical work and there were many lessons I learned about myself and God. From this time I want to share with you a special moment that encouraged me.

The yard is large and forested and gently slopes toward a dry creek bed. After cutting my way to the very back, working along the bank, I encountered a thriving underground yellow jacket nest in the side of the hill, which concerned me. I have heard stories of adults and children being severely injured and killed by the wasps as a result of ground vibrations unnerving the colony. I was working with a garden rake and a heavy cutter mattock razing everything above- and belowground.

Being slightly perfectionist with my work, the nest complicated things. I wanted the entire hill cleared just like the rest I had done. I got close and took a long look: the wasps busily entered and exited the burrow at several openings paying me little attention.

Later, still tinkering around the nest, I sensed that I had crossed the line and provoked them. Their behavior changed and a few started flying at me, pelleting my clothing. I was in work gear, so I knew I couldn’t be stung. But one wily little feller surprised me, managing to get beneath my glove and sting me on the bottom of my wrist. It was my fault, although he had to die for it.

I had spent too much time on the nest. Since it was near quitting time, I let the sting be the last word on the matter. I’d deal with it the next day.

I went out the next morning and immediately checked the nest. To my astonishment, an animal had come along sometime in the interim and bored out the entire colony! Nothing was left of it. A few wasps would come around looking for it, but there was only a hole there now.

I couldn’t believe it. I had no doubt that it was a gift from the Lord. He knew how concerned I was about it and providentially sent that animal along to do its natural thing to help me out.

It is little things like this that reassure me of the Lord’s great care for us and regard to answer before we’ve called for help.

The Parable of the Laborers

CC BY-NC, kewing, Flickr

CC BY-NC, kewing, Flickr

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

*Portion of an exegetical paper I wrote on the topic.*

The parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-16 is part of Matthew’s gospel of the kingdom. Matthew is the only writer who tells the story, which places its composition around A.D. 63 and for the benefit of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. The details of the parable would have been very familiar to Jesus’s audience. Brad Young offers a sitz im leben perspective (on-scene contextualization):

The setting assumes the difficult economic conditions of first-century Israel. Many day laborers are standing in the market hoping to be hired for a day job. The original audience could readily identify with these workers and their real-life situation…Day laborers were on the bottom end of the economic structure. They received minimal wages for sporadic work. As the primary wage earners, they had to support their families by the odd jobs they could acquire for day service. During the time of harvest, the situation improved as landowners needed additional day laborers to harvest the crops on time.

One noticeable aspect of this parable is that at its outset the householder, not his steward, works from early morning to late evening to acquire laborers. This would have been an immediate signal to the listening crowd that their normal worldview was about to be challenged.

The parable can be divided into three acts: Act One, the hirelings (vs. 1-7); Act Two, the payments (vs. 8-11); and Act Three, the dialogue between the owner and the grumbling workers (vs. 11-15).

It is obvious that the parable involves economic details. The only condition imposed on the workers is proper work for a day’s wage. This was the denarius, a silver coin that meant a usual day’s pay. The parable, however, should not be used to imply any message about economic arrangements in society, a proposition not obvious in the illustration.

Moreover, the owner’s pay arrangement is simply impossible in the developed world and modern economy. Business leaders and workers would spurn the idea.

A Hard Pill to Swallow

The workers are recruited throughout the day and are finally called in to be paid. This is where the parable does what it is characteristically known for, which is setting up listeners for a surprise. The owner starts by paying the laborers who have worked the least amount of time first—and they receive just as much as those who have toiled all day in the heat.

The first-comers are begrudged. When confronted the owner explains that he had kept his word and had also decided to be gracious to those who had come later. Donahue says:

“If the reader too quickly identifies the owner as God and is unwilling to experience the same feelings as those who worked all day, the challenge of the parable loses its force. Hardly any parable in the Gospels seems to upset the basic structure of an orderly society as does this one…The constant complaint in our society about welfare is proof that popular morality operates according to the principle of ‘equal work for equal pay.'”

The laborers who had been fortunate enough to receive work in the morning should have rejoiced at the generosity of the owner.

Still, one significant limitation of the parable needs to be pointed out. Those who labored all day earn their day’s wage by their work; but Jesus did not believe that anyone earns a place in the kingdom by his or her work. It should be understood that parabolic language should not be pressed too far.

God’s Undeserved Favor

What is the message of the parable? It is first a parable of the kingdom by which Jesus illustrates the incredible grace of God. It drives a wedge between two ways of thinking about Christian life and one’s relationship with God.

The first mindset centers on human goodness and the ability to earn one’s way into the kingdom. But a problem arises here because distinctions are easily and often made between those whose length of service and fervor for the kingdom are exemplary and those who have less to show. The simple standards of justice and the ranking of time and effort determine degrees of worth.

The second way of thinking ventures much deeper into the gospel to show us that God’s way with us makes no distinctions between us. Each of us are accepted and loved by him, and we are saved not due to any efforts we make but purely as a result of his grace. It is that “God loves us not because we are lovable, but because God is loving in a radical way.”

This is the gospel. Borsch says, “We either ‘take what belongs to us and go’—a way of living that cuts us off from true fellowship with God and others—or we receive from God what he has graciously chosen to give.”

Credits: Borsch, Frederick Houk. Many Things In Parables: Extravagant Story of New Community. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988./Donahue, John R. The Gospel in Parable. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988/Young, Brad H. Jesus The Jewish Theologian. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995

How We Engage the Lost

CC BY-NC-ND, [phil h], Foter

CC BY-NC-ND, [phil h], Foter

The Holy Spirit awakens sinner’s hearts to God, but he employs the righteous in bringing them to Christ. It would be easy to say God needs none of us and can save those who choose him independent of us—then sit back and do nothing. Yes, he could but he has obligated himself to need our help, to use sheep to produce new sheep.

And then I wonder… Is it possible for me to cause an awakened soul to reject God—and before you discard the notion, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic, The Cost of Discipleship, warns us about the danger of offering “cheap grace” to sinners that converts them but strands them inside salvation’s gate without suggestion of further discipleship.

If the quality of our teaching and preaching can inhibit spiritual growth, could it not also be possible that we or our presentation of Christ turn some away from Jesus except the Holy Spirit rescues them? Conceivably yes and it’s a sobering thought. We possess a grave responsibility laboring with God for the lost, and it should cause us to examine our lives, beliefs, and spiritual competence.

Jude on Evangelism

The final verses of Jude convey some remarkably rich and practical wisdom about how to approach the lost: “And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives” (vs. 22-23, NLT).

According to Jude, a one-size-fits-all evangelistic approach doesn’t work, and he’s right. Many of us grew up in the “fire and brimstone” days and in either-you’re-in-or-you’re-out folds. And I’m not knocking these people and this heritage because, well, it’s still holiness or hell.

But I also understand that times have drastically evolved. Speaking the “unchanging gospel to an ever-changing world” is different from what it was just twenty years ago, and it’s something we really need to think about more deeply, especially as it relates to our methods, involvement, creativity, and content.

Seekers and Scorners

Jude shows us three types of people we will encounter in evangelism. The first are those with doubts or whose faith wavers. I’ll call them seekers, although they may or may not be in search of God. These people will hear the gospel without resistance and may be searching for spiritual significance. They sometimes have weighty questions about life, personal significance, spirituality, and philosophy, which deserve to be heard and answered well.

Jude explains that we should be gentle and patient with this kind. In fact, some may need coaxing out of timidity and to be loved or shown truth and led away from false teaching. They are not yet entrenched in doctrine or vices that would cause them to fight the gospel or regard the church with disdain. Show these individuals compassion.

The second type of people, whom I’ll call scorners, is the opposite. Their sinful hearts are proud and resistant to the gospel, perhaps antagonistic. The patience and wooing that characterize converting the seeker is impossible with the scorner. Jude explains that this kind must be rescued from their own ignorance.

Although we must never frighten people into a decision for God (and certainly no genuine decision), scorners must be warned and shown how their sin and defiance offends the Lord. They have no clue that they are walking off a precipice into hell and must be mercifully yanked away from destruction…snatched from the fire.

Keep Yourself Untainted

The third type of people I will call the shameless. The implication from Jude is that these folk have lived in an unrestrained, or licentious, way. Jude’s instruction is to again show mercy, but he includes a warning to the laborer about the extent of the mission with these individuals. It should not involve one’s enticement to or participation in a person’s sin or with that person. We should genuinely love one while hating the ravaging effects of their sin, yet we must never cross the line and defile ourselves.

It is easiest to minister to people with whom we once associated because we understand their lifestyle and can access them. But ministry to our old friends and acquaintances is prohibited if it provokes the slightest temptation.

“Becoming all things to all people” has become cliché these days; however, we must also be careful for our own souls. Satan is devious and Christians can be taken advantage of by him. Yet we should not deceive ourselves and think we’re resistant to old habits when we’re not.

We would do well to heed Jude’s advice. Honestly, his counsel is basic and the least we must do to prove any acumen with the gospel. We can only better assist the Holy Spirit given the many tactics working to stop people’s salvation.

Read Reflections on Evangelism for a detailed treatment of the subject.