Monday, June 25, 2018

The Gift of Witnessing

Enemies of Evangelism 3

giftcertThe concept of spiritual gifts is a scriptural one. But like any other spiritual concept if it is held out of balance, or is misunderstood the corresponding misapplication of it is harmful.

The basic premise here is that God has gifted every person with at least one particular talent or strength. I am not speaking here of the gifts He has given to all humanity – His Son, an available salvation, the faith to believe in Him, etc. – but rather the idea that God has given you a unique ability to serve Him in a way that is different than the person across the room. Likewise, they have some unique ability to serve Him, a giftedness that you probably do not have.

This teaching is implied in the Scriptural passages regarding the talents. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability. (Matthew 25.15) Strictly speaking, this refers to money, but we see that He gave out a different number to each, and the whole idea was tied to their capability.
This concept is more than just implied, however, in the Word of God. It is explicitly stated.

I Corinthians 12.1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

I Corinthians 12.4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Romans 12. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;
8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Tony Robbins
Understanding this then, two corollaries flow from the concept of spiritual gifts. First, we should yield them for His use primarily rather than our own. Forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (I Corinthians 14.12) It is not wrong to use them in my own life, but if I do not use them for Him then they are wasted on me. Did you ever watch Tony Robbins or Jay Leno and marvel at their ability to hold a crowd in the palm of their hand? And yet they have taken those gifts and used them solely for their own purposes. That is the definition of a wasted life.

Second, a wise Christian will actively develop his gifts so as to get the most out of them for the cause of Christ as he possibly can. Let us say that you have the gift of administration. You can skate by on what you instinctively do well, or you can study up how to be better and then work at it. The latter is strongly implied in the parable of the talents.

Earlier I referenced holding an unbalanced position on spiritual gifts. What do I mean? It is unbalanced, for example, to become obsessed with them, and in my experience there are a number of churches that make this exact mistake. They major not on the use of their gifts but on discussion about them. Other churches become unbalanced by emphasizing the lesser gifts over the more important gifts. Into this category I would put the entire charismatic movement. So would the Apostle Paul.

I Cor 12.28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Still others make the mistake of confusing the effective exercise of their spiritual gifts with spirituality itself. The most carnal church in Scripture was the church at Corinth and yet Paul told them, Ye come behind in no gift. (I Corinthians 1.7) Just because I can thrill a crowd with my singing or am a fantastic deacon and helper to my pastor does not make me spiritual. I must still live a life of holiness abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

There is, however, yet one more mistaken approach to spiritual gifts I would like to mention, namely this: the idea that witnessing to the lost is one of them. This subtle yet powerful attack on soul winning removes the responsibility laid upon all Christians to actively witness. Instead, it places such a burden only on the shoulders of those so gifted. In the process, it allows everyone else to justify their lack of witnessing under the guise of Scripture.

In practical terms it looks like this: “Pastor, you know I just do not have the gift that you have. I will be happy to serve by working in the nursery instead.” Now I am not criticizing or belittling serving in a church nursery. What I am saying is that doing so as a soothing balm for your lack of personal evangelism under the guise of not being gifted for witnessing is lousy.

Command KeyHere is the point – soul winning is not a gift; it is a command.

There are two main passages usually cited in discussions of spiritual gifts. I have given them both above. In I Corinthians 12 there are ten specific gifts mentioned: apostle, prophet, teacher, wisdom, knowledge, faith, miracles, healing, tongues, and interpretation. In Romans 12 there are seven listed: preaching, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, ruling, and mercy. Notice, please, what neither passage mentions. Right. Evangelism, witnessing, soul winning, whatever term you want to use, it is conspicuously absent.

“But, Pastor Brennan, faith and giving are listed as spiritual gifts and they are also commanded in Scripture.” Okay. I will not quarrel with you. And that has nothing to do with the position that witnessing is something I am somehow mysteriously gifted for but you are not. What I am commanded to do, with a helpful gifting or without, is to take the Gospel to every creature that I possibly can. Will some be better at it than others? Naturally, supernaturally, and developmentally. But just because some will do it better than others does not mean those others have a scriptural out for not doing it.

Are you breathing?

Go ahead, I will wait a moment while you check.


Then you need to understand you have a God-given obligation to tell sinners about Jesus Christ. Period.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fruit, Souls or Not?

Enemies of Evangelism 2

One of the devil’s favorite ways to attack evangelism is to explain it away. In other words, he establishes some incorrect understanding, some doctrinal misperception that when followed pulls the rug out from underneath our high necessity to preach the Gospel. Such is the case with today’s post.

One of the primary words in the New Testament representative of soul winning is the word “fruit”. We find frequent reference to it in one of the primary passages in Scripture that emphasize witnessing, John 15. Take a moment and read it with the understanding that “fruit” references the souls of men and you will see this emphasis clearly.

John 15. 1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit (does not win souls) he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit (wins souls), he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (more souls)
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit (win souls) of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit (many souls): for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit (reach many souls); so shall ye be my disciples.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit (win souls), and that your fruit should remain (that those souls would grow in grace): that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

The anti-evangelism theologian, however, will say that fruit this nowhere represented in Scripture as the souls of men, and the word “fruit” in John 15 only refers to the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, righteousness, and truth. (Galatians 5.22, Ephesians 5.9) The anti-evangelism theologian says, “Well, where is evangelism or witnessing or soul winning listed in the fruit of the Spirit?” The only possible reply to that question is that it is not. Take a moment and go back through that passage just above and substitute love, joy, and peace for everywhere I have written souls and you will see how dramatically it changes the interpretation of the passage.

Now, I do not argue for one moment that such an interpretation is invalid. I do not believe it is invalid. “Fruit” can be the fruit of the Spirit, and I think there is much to be gained in our understanding if we approach John 15 that way. I do take issue, however, with the idea that “fruit” in this passage ONLY refers to the fruit of the Spirit. I believe with all my heart that “fruit” in this passage also refers to the souls of men. It is that interpretation I wish to argue for in this post, and to do that we are going to look at a lot of Scripture. If that bores you, I am sure I have already lost you so I shall plunge ahead fearlessly at this point.

Right off the bat I would show you the obvious connection in Proverbs 11.30. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Oh, sorry, I forgot we are not allowed to use that verse in reference to evangelism since it is in the Old Testament. <insert eye roll emoticon here> Ok, New Testament then...

The phrase “beareth fruit” found in John 15.2 is only found in one other place in the New Testament. Sound hermeneutics would tell you that to establish an unsure meaning you examine other places that phrase is used. We find it in Matthew 13. But he that received seed into good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. The context shows us Jesus telling the parable of the sower.

Matthew 13.3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

th (1)Now here the anti-evangelism theologue has a problem. If fruit in the New Testament is ONLY referring to the fruit of the Spirit you have a terrible time with this parable. The sower must of necessity be the Holy Spirit. The seed must be, what, miniature spiritual graces? The ground is a heart that is sometimes receptive to conviction and other times is not. The graces rise up, then wither, some scorched by fire, some with no root, some result in a tremendous number of fruits. Which is puzzling since “fruit of the Spirit” is singular, and in any case only eleven are listed in Scripture.

Let us come back to the context of Matthew 13 and hear our Lord’s own interpretation.

18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

How can “fruit” in the New Testament ONLY be the fruit of the Spirit if said fruit is often called “he”, and given a large number (exceeding the fruit of the Spirit), in a verse that finds the only other time the phrase is used outside of John 15? The only possible reply to that question is that it is not. “Fruit” here in Matthew 13 clearly refers to the souls of men, and “beareth fruit” explicitly ties it in with John 15.

Not only that, but Matthew 13 contains a second parable about fruit which is tied by word usage, context, audience, and timing to the first parable.

8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

“Brought forth fruit” is only used two times in the Bible, both in the same chapter, both in parables about fruit. Would it then be a stretch to think that there are obvious similarities between the first parable about fruit in Matthew 13 and the next one? No – the “fruit” of the first one is the “fruit” of the second one.

24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time wheat grain-3of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

The anti-evangelism theologian is having even more difficulty here than he did with the first parable. If fruit in the New Testament is ONLY the fruit of the Spirit then this parable must mean that a mixture of good and bad is allowed to grow in the Christian’s life until the final judgment. But that is clearly not so.

36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Without partiality, Matthew 13 shows us that “fruit” means the souls of men. The “beareth fruit” of Matthew 13 connects this interpretation with the “beareth fruit” of John 15. Ergo, there is to be a huge emphasis in the life of the Christian on reaching others with the Gospel.

Do not let theologians intimidate you out of a simple belief in a heavy New Testament emphasis on soul winning.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Lest Satan Should Get an Advantage

Enemies of Evangelism 1

Satan is brilliant. He is also more motivated than us, more 1948-03_wiles_of_the_devil.jpg__700x320_q95experienced than us, and stronger than us. Thus, it is that Scripture instructs us to keep our heads on a swivel, so to speak, alert for the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6.11) I write this not to make you afraid, but as Paul says in a similar passage to warn us lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. (II Corinthians 2.10)

He cannot take away our salvation, but he can and does seek to limit our effectiveness for Christ. He ambushed David with lust via Bathsheba and pride in numbering Israel. He filled Ananias’ heart with pride and greed and caused him to lie his way into an early grave. Using the tool of fear he provoked Peter to deny his Lord, and that after Jesus had clearly warned him, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. (Luke 22.31) None of these men lost their salvation but in all of them Satan clearly gained quite an advantage over them.

I do not like to talk about Satan. It seems to me that in so doing I am giving him attention he should not have, and building him up in the minds of the saints. But I cannot allow that concern to prevent me from discussing him. He is mentioned dozens of times in Scripture. He is obviously a personality of great power actively opposed in every way to God and His work. And just as obviously, though we have no need to be afraid of him (I John 4.4), we do have a scripturally mandated need to be aware of how he works. Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that he didn’t exist.” I cannot allow him to do so in my life or ministry.

In so saying, I should make it clear that I am not attempting to write here a series on spiritual warfare. Such a series would be beneficial, I am sure, but this series is more narrowly aimed. I intend to discuss how Satan works in attacking the tremendously important area of soul winning, witnessing, and evangelism. I have been attending church for 45 years, paying close attention for 31 of those, and pastoring for 21 of them. I have, over the years, been exposed closely to dozens of churches. In my experience there are four exceptionally difficult things to get church members to do – give sacrificially, dress modestly, do personal evangelism, and pray. It seems to me like the devil fights tooth and nail on these four points.

Harpies in the Wood of Suicides
Illustration for Dante's Inferno
Gustave Dore, 1861
Turning our attention specifically to evangelism, why? Let me attempt to furnish an answer or two. First, he does so because soul winning directly and immediately impacts the population of Heaven and hell. The psalmist tells us, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9.17) If he can decrease an individual’s or a church’s witnessing fervor he can keep people out of Heaven and in hell.

Second, he does so because in so doing he can attack the main purpose of Christ’s work and the main purpose of the church’s existence. The Apostle John in his great introduction of Jesus Christ said, And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1.5) The devil fears a praying Christian and a praying church more than he does an evangelistic one, but a Christian or a church that is not witnessing is not much of a problem for him. Such a church gathers together and preaches, literally, to the choir. No matter what they know of and study of the Word, even in depth, and no matter how honest, good, kind, humble, and faithful they are, their light is only shining in the light. Such a Christian and such a church, no matter how good they are at living, is not fulfilling the purpose for which they were created. Reaching the lost is why Jesus came. (Luke 19.10) Reaching the lost was His last and greatest command to us. (Mark 16.15) No matter what other good we are doing, if we are not doing this we are not achieving the purpose for which He came, and the purpose for which Christ saved us, personally and corporately.

Third, the devil attacks witnessing because in so doing he indirectly yet powerfully impacts the spiritual vigor of a church. The healthiest church in the New Testament was the one found in the early chapters of the book of Acts. Not coincidentally, it was also perhaps the most evangelistic church. If all a church does is focus on soul winning it becomes unbalanced. Sadly, I have seen that a time or two. But a church that does not focus on soul winning at all becomes spiritually anemic, and I have even more sadly seen that dozens of times. Every great church has several things in common, and first and foremost they are churches with a great burden and effort to preach Christ to the lost.

I liken soul winning in this respect to physical exercise. The ministry as a vocation is a curious combination of high stress and low activity. Throw into the mix our Baptist propensity for potlucks and unhealthy, overweight preaches become par for the course. One of the ways I fight that in my life is a three letter word that starts with g and ends with m. Either I go several times a week or I will die both broke and young. Exercise gets my muscles working and my blood moving. Its results continue on even after I get off the elliptical or step away from the weights. It makes me happier, healthier, and stronger. It makes me feel better. It helps me to avoid Dumbbells-PNG-Picsickness and to recover more quickly when I do get sick. It will help me live longer. It positively impacts not just the specific muscle groups I worked but my entire body, even my mental and emotional health as well.

That last paragraph is what soul winning does for a church. The devil knows that better than I do, and he expands great effort to prevent it from happening.

How does he do all of this? The entirety of this series will be an attempt to answer that question but let me give you this taste now. The devil uses a two pronged attack in two different areas. One prong is doctrinal, the other practical. Doctrinally, the statement orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy is a good one. Correct believing leads to correct living. Likewise, incorrect believing leads to incorrect living. The devil has a number of faulty doctrines that he gets people and churches to embrace, and when they do the practical result is that their soul winning is severely undermined if not eliminated. We will examine a number of these doctrines over the next couple of months. Some you may know, others may surprise you. Some are held deeply by people you respect and love. Some are held correctly when they are balanced, but held unbalanced they become damaging to the effort to build a soul winning mindset and emphasis. All of them, however, that I will mention directly impact soul winning negatively in my experience.

The second prong of attack is practical. There are certain ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are prevalent in many people and churches the result of which is a decrease in witnessing fervor. We will deal with some of these as well.

This two pronged attack – doctrinal and practical – is aimed in two different areas: personally and corporately. If you are not a personal soul winner he will try to prevent you from starting. If you are, he will seek to get you to stop what you have started. If your church is not a soul winning church he will try to prevent it from becoming one. If it is, he will work like the devil, so to speak, to get your church’s witnessing program and emphasis to die.

This series of posts, as with most of my blog writing, first came to life as a set of lessons I taught in my own church. Frankly, as a pastor, I want to make sure that soul winning stays front and center in my church. Jack Hyles used to say, “The devil is after the fruit trees”, and he was right. What I am giving my life to build on the corner of George and Lavergne in Chicago is a fruit tree. The devil is going to come after that hammer and tongs. It well behooves me as a pastor to pay attention, to, in Christ’s parlance, watch and pray. And I suspect it would well behoove you as well.

Why should we be concerned? Lest Satan should get an advantage of us. How ought we go about that? For we are not ignorant of his devices.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Marriage Is...

I have finished my series on grace. I will begin a new series next week. As has become my custom, in the week between series I like to publish something else I have written, some stand alone piece. Sometimes this is poetry, sometimes prose. Today is a bit of both. The year Mandy and I got married the subject of marriage occupied my mind very much, naturally. We were married in December of that year. A few weeks prior to our wedding I sat down and wrote a description of what I believed marriage to be, went to Kinko's, had five copies printed and framed, and gave them to my siblings and parents on Christmas Day. Nearly twenty years later I find these descriptions truer then ever. Here then is what I think marriage is.

Marriage is the knitting of two souls into one blanket that keeps out the chill of life.
Marriage is the exchanging of loneliness for the richness of companionship.
Marriage is independence becoming dependent.
Marriage is having two carry the burden meant for one.
Marriage is multiplying your joy while dividing your sorrow.
Marriage is not the absence of disagreement but the presence of compromise.
Marriage is trust given and trust returned.
Marriage is the pooling of resources and the evaporation of selfishness.
Marriage is God’s plan for a wonderful life.
Marriage is the best of both worlds.
Marriage is a foretaste of glory divine.
Marriage is hard work.
Marriage is having someone to read the map while you drive.
Marriage is the poetry of two entwined lives melding into one.
Marriage is the combination of strength and beauty.
Marriage is apologizing, not because you are wrong, but because you hurt the love of your life.
Marriage is trading McDonald’s for a delicious meal.
Marriage is the multiplying of love with the addition of wrinkles.
Marriage is the creating of two smiles where there had been none.
Marriage is the acceptance of responsibility and the abdication of foolishness.
Marriage is always having someone to button the back of your dress.
Marriage is always having someone to pick the lint off your suit.
Marriage is coming home to a kiss instead of an empty house.

Marriage is having someone care how you feel, what you think, and where you are.
Marriage is finally being allowed to use mistletoe for its intended purpose.
Marriage is two nuts becoming a single tree.
Marriage is the joining of souls in twin bodies.
Marriage is the discovery and exploration of the fascinating world that is the other gender.
Marriage is the union of similar differences.
Marriage is the bringing of Heaven to Earth.
Marriage is not an experiment, but a commitment.
Marriage is sometimes leading and sometimes following, but always loving.
Marriage is the utter revocation of others and the utter acceptance of one.
Marriage is the anchor around which successful lives navigate.
Marriage is the lifelong opportunity of living for someone else.
Marriage is giving yourself away unconditionally.
Marriage is not the spice of life but rather the main course.
Marriage is not the ignoring of flaws but the acceptance of the flawed one.
Marriage is the greatest test of character in the world.
Marriage is fun.
Marriage is sadly becoming old-fashioned.
Marriage is Christianity in work clothes.
Marriage is the completion of two incomplete people.
Marriage is privilege accompanied by responsibility.
Marriage is not fifty fifty but hundred hundred.
Marriage is rewarding.
Marriage is the most important earthly decision of our lives.
Marriage is for better for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do you part.
Marriage is learning to enjoy shopping because of who you are with.
Marriage is learning to enjoy football because of who you are with.
Marriage is being convinced you got the best of the catch.
Marriage is doing all you can to be the best of the catch.
Marriage is the proper balance of needs and wants, namely you want to give them whatever they need.
Marriage is two walking together because they are agreed.
Marriage is growing old along with me; the best is yet to be.
Marriage is the weave that keeps the fabric of our society from unraveling.
Marriage is having someone to pat you on the back instead of breaking your arm doing it yourself.
Marriage is adding a rose to the thorns of life.
Marriage is an obligation of delight.
Marriage is the cornerstone upon which civilization rests.
Marriage is a good life's work.
Marriage is the other half of yourself.
Marriage is forever.

-by Tom Brennan
Christmas, 1999