We Persuade Others

The Book of Acts makes clear there is no single way to share the gospel. Peter preaches to a massive crowd during Pentecost (Acts 2). Philip discusses Isaiah privately with a royal eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8). Paul reasons with both Jew and Gentile in the synagogue and marketplace of Athens (Acts 17).

Also absent from the Book of Acts are the raising of hands, altar calls, signing of decision cards or repeating of prayers that often accompany evangelism today. In fact, the only outward pattern is that people were baptized shortly after professing faith in Christ.

If the Bible has no quick formula, no one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism, we should be careful not to either. That’s the main point of chapter one of Mack Stiles’ book Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.

Last December, I said I’d read a chapter a week and blog through Stile’s book. Well, that lasted for about one week. But now I’m finally starting up again. And I promise I’ll finish this time! If you have a copy of the book, will you pick it up and read along with me?

In his Introduction, Mack Stiles championed the idea of a “culture of evangelism” where the church will see evangelism more as a way of life than a specific program or event in the church. Now, in chapter one, he tackles the meaning of evangelism itself.

“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade” (p. 26).

I like short definitions, and they don’t get much shorter than this. Stile’s definition of evangelism has four key ingredients:

Teach. That is, use words. Building friendships with unbelievers and being an example to them is great, but it is not enough. We must also speak to them. Lost people need to hear the message of the gospel. This may happen on a Sunday morning at church. But often, it’s in everyday conversation over a cup of coffee, in the break room, on the golf coarse, in the McDonald’s playland, or even better, reading through a gospel together. This is one reason I’ve chosen to preach next through the Gospel of Mark. Because I want our people to own this book. I want us to know it backward and forward. To be so familiar with Mark and so in love with Jesus that we’ll feel comfortable leading other people through it.

The Gospel. This is what we are to teach. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that the gospel — or good news — is “of first importance,” consisting of this simple message: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Do you believe this? Are you praying and looking for opportunities to share it? Mack gives a really helpful outline to use in our gospel conversations: God. Man. Christ. Response. I use this a lot in my own preaching and evangelism. But “the particular outline you use doesn’t matter as long as you teach the message people must know to be reconciled with God” (p. 34).

Aim. This part of the definition reminds us to share with urgency and compassion. People will spend eternity in heaven or hell, depending on how they respond to this message.

To Persuade. To “persuade” means to win over, to attract, to convince. We have a duty to use all the powers of truth, emotion, logic, image, and story, to move a person to a different point of view and subsequent action. We are not to argue. We are not to force. We are persuade. If the word persuade makes you fidgety, sounding just a little too Arminian, just remember it is a biblical word. Paul says, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). Stiles encourages us to adopt the word, with an important caveat: “I find the word persuade helpful, as it guards us from error: we persuade, but we do not manipulate; we persuade, but we are not the ones who bring about repentance or conversion. Of course, we long to see people converted because we understand that conversion is required for them to become Christians. But true conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 36). “Conversion,” he goes on, “isn’t merely a good feeling. It’s not just a change of mind…It’s born out of repentance and faith, and its fruit is a changed life” (p. 37).

This first chapter is a great reminder to differentiate between biblical evangelism and outward rituals, with a goal to persuade people of the truth of the gospel.

Question: How can we take measures so our persuasion will not turn into manipulation? Click here to leave a comment.

The Teacher I Want to Be

Teacher TrainingThis spring, I visited our local Lifeway store scouting for teacher training materials and was immediately excited when I saw The Teacher I Want to Be on the shelf.  I can now say this is some of the best material out there on how to study and teach the Bible.

The course is six 30-minute videos taught by Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. Dr. Akin is a sharp thinker who sat under the late Howard Hendricks, one of the greatest Bible teachers God has given His church. Here’s the outline:


Lesson 1 Foundation: How Do I Get Started?
Lesson 2 Observation: What Do I See?
Lesson 3 Interpretation: What Does It Mean?


Lesson 4 Application: How Does It Work in Real Life?
Lesson 5 Presentation: How Do I Put It All Together?
Lesson 6 Proclamation: How Do I Communicate Effectively?

I really wish every church leader and curriculum writer could attend this course. It would eliminate a lot of the common errors of Bible Study like taking verses out of context, missing the main point, or sharing “opinions” on a passage.

Some may feel intimidated by the depth of Dr. Akin’s lectures, but I’ve found that with ample time for interaction and practice exercises between each session, the content will become very practical and keep people’s attention span. I would rather go a little too deep and risk people missing something than stay shallow and omit any of these principles.

The course is most beneficial when facilitated by an experienced Bible teacher or pastor, making comments and answering questions along the way. For example, after Session 3, I shared a step-by-step process for preparing my own lessons and how to get the most out of pre-made curriculum. After Session 4, I introduced a helpful tool I use called the Application Pyramid.

The six lessons are flexible and can be viewed in a variety of ways. You could do a one-day workshop, or three Saturday morning workshops (we’re doing one per month over the summer), or six consecutive Sunday morning classes. Be creative! The course also comes with a set of CDs for people to listen in their car, and 10-minute supplemental videos for recurrent training throughout the year.

This is an outstanding product by Lifeway that I hope will help many teachers “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

You can buy individual student workbooks through Amazon. But for the entire DVD teaching kit, go to Lifeway or Christianbook.com.

Question: Are you a teacher? What training materials have you found most helpful? Click here to leave a comment.

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God Weeps at Racism

9477101872_d4d4659227_bRacism is a serious problem in our country, and seems to be on the rise. Last year’s riots in Ferguson and Wednesday night’s shooting in Charleston are only two of the latest examples.

Sadly, many acts of white supremacy, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and anti-Semitism throughout history have been done in the name of religion. But make no mistake, these are not reflective of Jesus Christ. They are nothing less than the work of Satan, our great enemy.

Like modern terrorists, Satan does not play by the rules. Nothing is sacred. No tactics are off limits. There is no level that Satan will not stoop if it will promote his cause. He may disguise himself in a Christian uniform, wearing crosses or (mis)quoting Scripture, but these ruthless tactics and evil goals are trademarks of the adversary.

The biblical view of racism is simple — it is sin. It’s a direct result of human pride and rebellion against God. All people are created equal in dignity and value, regardless of the color of their skin.

Genesis 1:27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 

Note that all people descended from Adam and Eve, and thus all people are made in His image. To call any race “inferior” or “superior” is to attack God Himself, who is the giver of life and created everyone equal.

God weeps at racism. It is an attack on His very nature, and an attack on His most prized possession — men and women created in His image.

We see this played out in John 4, where Jesus approaches a Samaritan woman at the well and asks her for a drink of water – a big no-no. Even the woman is shocked: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?!” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans) (John 4:9)

Jesus responds by brushing aside any racial stigma and going to her deeper need: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

This woman has some serious sin problems, but being a Samaritan is not one of them. Jesus points out she’s been divorced five times, and is now living in adultery (John 4:17-18). He exposes her sin, then offers hope.

By the end of the passage, this woman drinks of the living water, a reference to faith in Jesus Christ and having her spiritual thirst satisfied in Christ who alone can give eternal life. She runs to tell her friends, and they too believe, celebrating, “this is indeed the Savior of the world!” (John 4:42).

All of us should examine our hearts and probe for early signs of the cancer of racism. Do we make assumptions about a person’s intelligence, ability, or income because of their gender or ethnicity? If we board a plane and discover our seat is next to a black person, or Hispanic, or Arab, would we treat them with any less respect? Do we smirk at marriages that are inter-racial? Do we use racial slurs or insensitive words? Is our concept of Jesus that He is a white, Anglo Saxon? Are we indifferent to the lack of diversity in our churches? Do we ignore the painful discrimination that others have faced in the past or present? All of these are ungodly symptoms of pride.

Make no mistake. Racism is never advocated in Scripture. It is a sin from the pit of hell, and one that can only be fought with the message of love found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Photo credit: Cool Revolution

Are Christians a Bunch of Hypocrites?

maskAre Christians a bunch of hypocrites? The story of Josh Duggar makes you wonder.

Let’s look briefly at what happened. A teenage boy, hormones raging, caves under temptation and molests several girls. He later admits his guilt to his parents, seeks reconciliation, undergoes counseling, and asks Jesus to forgive him and change his life. Now an adult, he devotes his time to promoting morality and discouraging others from repeating his mistakes. That’s the situation as I understand it.

Josh’s behavior as an adolescent was reprehensible. It was a stupid, selfish thing to do. Jesus condemns just the thought of lust, let alone touching a girl intimately before marriage (Matthew 5:27-30). No confession can erase the harm done to those girls. It is a regret Josh will carry the rest of his life.

But one look at God’s law reveals we are not so different. We may not be guilty of Josh’s specific sin, but if God were to play back a single day of our lives, there’d be more than enough evidence to prove we too have transgressed his law and deserve judgment. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

The good news is that God didn’t leave us in that sin. He sent his Son Jesus, the only one capable of living perfectly. Jesus obeyed God’s law down to the smallest point, then died on the cross to be punished as though he had committed our sins. Three days later, he defeated death and rose again. All who look to Jesus and repent of their sin can be forgiven and washed clean. Yes, even that one really dirty stain you’re afraid someone will discover. He can wipe it clean and give you a fresh start.

Christianity is not a religion for good people. It’s a religion for bad people who need mercy. Josh Duggar qualifies. So do I, and so do you.

So back to the original question. Are Christians a bunch of hypocrites? Sadly, some people in the name of Christianity point their finger at others while harboring secret sin of their own. They may fool others temporarily, but they never fool God.

A genuine Christian, on the other hand, says, “I’m not yet what I should be, but I’m not what I was. I am a work in progress, a sinner saved by grace, and Jesus can save you too.” That is not hypocrisy. That is honesty.

Is it hypocritical for a cancer survivor to raise money to fight cancer? Of course not. They’ve been healed and want that cure available to others. In the same way, Christians are survivors of a disease called sin. We’ve found the cure in Jesus, and want others to find it too.

This article first appeared in the Miniser’s Message of our local newspaper, the Hi-Desert Star. 

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Photo credit: Mykl Roventine

How to Answer the Marriage Question

WeddingLater this month, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule whether same sex marriage is a constitutional right, or if it’s an issue for each state to resolve on their own.

Either way, we can expect traditional marriage and gender identity to remain under attack, and for Christians to be increasingly marginalized.

Many celebrate this as progress — the civil rights movement of our generation. But those of us familiar with the Bible notice a chilling similarity to Romans 1.

If they haven’t already, be assured people will soon ask what you think about all this. Are you “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”? (1 Pet. 3:15).

Let me encourage you in your conversations ahead to speak the truth in love, focusing on these points:

  • Only God’s vote counts. It is not about my opinion or your opinion. Marriage is not shaped by personal preference or public consensus. God created marriage, and has always declared it to be one man and one woman. Period. (Genesis 1-2)
  • We love homosexuals. They are people like us — created in God’s image, needful of God’s grace. They deserve our respect and compassion, not hatred. They are not the enemy; Satan is (1 Peter 5:8). We gladly work alongside them, live next to them, and share our community with them. But that doesn’t mean we condone their behavior or affirm their concept of “identity.”
  • Homosexuality is sin. The Bible is clear that those who practice homosexuality will not enter the kingdom of God. The same is true of adultery, fornication, theft, drunkenness, anger, etc.. We do not hand-pick some sins as bigger than other sins. All sin is offensive to God, and we confess all of us are sinners in need of God’s grace. Thankfully, God offers cleansing and new life through His Son Jesus! (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

All of these are important points, which may be appropriate in different contexts. But do ask God for courage to speak the truth in love when given the opportunity.

I am constantly encouraged by 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which lists homosexuality right along several other sins and reminds us that “such were some of you.” God is rich in mercy, eager to save and transform any who will call upon His name.

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My Prayer for America

PrayerOn Thurday, May 7, several churches in our community gathered for the National Day of Prayer. We prayed for our nation, our educators, our social workers, and our youth. Here’s what I prayed for the United States of America…

Our Great, Eternal God, Heaven is your throne, and the earth is your footstool. We bow at your feet now to cry out for our nation. O Lord, show your mercy.

Our nation’s greatest threat is not ISIS or Iran or racism or drought. It is forgetting the God who made us.

Our nation’s greatest need is not a stronger economy or a revised education plan or universal healthcare. It is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD…the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.

We pray for the spread of the gospel in America. You are the Lord of the harvest. Now send out laborers into your field. Strengthen your church, empower our faith. Let your word be preached, and let that word fall on good soil. The gospel alone has the power to transform our society.

We pray for holiness in America. Your great goal is not to make us comfortable, but to make us holy. So purify your church. Empower us to be salt and light in an increasingly dark world. Let us not shrink back from proclaiming the excellency of Christ, the only name that will save.

We pray for liberty in America. If it be your will, O Lord, preserve our religious liberty. You change times and seasons; you remove kings and set up kings; you give wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.

Guide our President, our legislators, and our Supreme Court to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the Lord. But we thank you that no matter what decisions are made in Washington or Sacramento, your gospel cannot be stopped.

We pray these things not only for America, but for all around the world. We pray for the persecuted church all around the world — for those who are not just facing lawsuits or risking tax exemption, but who are laying down their lives to stand for Christ.

In the Upper Room, you reminded your disciples that “In this world, we will have tribulation. But take heart; for you have overcome the world.” Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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Photo credit: Bob Whaley

Nine Steps to Discover Your Church’s Health

ID-100283221A friend of mine shepherds a small church, and by small, I mean less than 50. They’ve faced some unavoidable changes recently, and he asked me if I have any advice for doing a Church Evaluation. Think of it as a healthy church check-up. Here’s what I told him…


I agree this is a strategic time to take a step back and evaluate the ministry. I can’t say I have one particular evaluation method, but here are some steps I would recommend…

  1. Listen to Lance Quinn’s message “Small Church, Big Impact” from the 2014 Shepherd’s Conference. It will get you pumped and give you a general direction to move in.
  2. Read the book The Trellis and the Vine or the shorter booklet Mission Minded to understand the mission of the church and its main components of evangelism and discipleship, with a focus on people (not programs). Using the Great Commission as a starting point, you want to personalize your own mission statement. The one I came up for our church is, “Our mission is to magnify Christ by making disciples with truth and love.” I’ve seen other churches use missions statements like, “We exist to glorify God through our worship, work, and witness,” or “We are disciples making disciples.” Pray, be creative, and make it your own.
  3. After step 2, make a list of every program/ministry in your church and ask, how does this ministry fit uniquely within our mission? Where are there gaps? Where is there overlap? Where do we see gospel growth? Where do we see stagnancy or decline?
  4. On your own or with one or two men in the church, do a SWOT Analysis – What are the church’s Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats? Brainstorm and be brutally honest with one another.
  5. Make a list of everyone who has joined or left the church in the past three years. Why do you think they joined? Why do you think they left? This may indicate some of the strengths/weaknesses of your church, or at least tell you something about your church culture (e.g. economy, demographics, lifestyle, etc.).
  6. Church Discipleship is inextricably linked to family discipleship. How is the health of your families? What could you do to improve this? (e.g. men being spiritual leaders at home, families worshipping/serving/praying together).
  7. From conversations you’ve had with people in the community who do not attend your church, do you have any sense why? Is there anything you could do to better serve/accommodate them while staying faithful to your doctrine and mission?
  8. Consider doing a demographic study of your area and ask, what are we doing to effectively reach this area for Christ? If a new church were to be planted here, what would it look like? What prevents us from being that kind of church now?
  9. Consider an all-church survey. I’m not completely sold on demographics and church surveys, but sometimes helpful ideas do come out of them, and can give you a finger on the pulse of the congregation. I think people appreciate being asked for their input. Take all the results and put them into a spreadsheet to discover any trends, common problems, interests, etc.

Even small changes can be difficult in a small church, but I think it becomes easier as you love the people, earn their trust, make changes slowly (often on a “trial” basis first), and trumpet the cause of your mission (the reason why we need to change).

Photo credit: Free Digital Photos

A Critical Need for California Southern Baptists

PalmsToday’s post is a guest post by Jason Blankenship, pastor of Ojai Valley Baptist Church in Ojai and Chairman of the CSBC Committee on Board Nominations. This article first appeared in our SBC state newspaper back in December 2014 and explains a critical need for more people to nominate leaders to our boards.


I have been blessed to see the involvement of younger leaders in our cooperative efforts to reach California for Christ.

Those efforts resulted in 104 new churches added to the California Southern Baptist Convention in 2013. Serving together has also resulted in 11,520 professions of faith in Christ directly through CSBC ministries in 2013.

Why should I be involved in the Cooperative Program? Churches are being planted and souls are being saved. As our next generation desires to participate in forging California’s future, understanding our process is important. I’d like to explain the process we undertake to fill our 40-member Executive Board and how your part is vital.

California has been divided into nine regions. These regions compose the 40-member board. Each region seats from three to six members depending on the church population of each regain: 25 percent of the board must be composed of laypeople. The selection of candidates comes from a nomination process.

You know someone who you think would serve our state well so you submit their name either online or by mail. When we receive your nomination, we mail that candidate a packet for them to complete and return, which is the same process for seeking candidates for our committees as well as for the California Baptist Foundation and California Baptist University boards.

Each year, the Committee on Board Nominations reviews the groups’ needs and makes selections from the returned resumes.

All that might sound straightforward, but due to this process, some confusion can be created. Let’s say you submit a name from your area, and then your Director of Missions (DOM) gets a call from our committee asking for recommendations because we “have none” from the region he’s in. What happened to your recommendation? Because the regions do not follow associational lines, there’s a chance your DOM is being asked for a seat in a different region. You might have also recommended a pastor, while the open seat to fill is a layperson.

Executive Board members serve a four-year term with the opportunity to serve another four years, which means there might not be a seat open for your nominee for that year’s needs.

This process has served the Convention since the mid 1990’s, but here’s a new problem: fifteen years ago, we were receiving more than 200 nominations for board and committee needs, but this last year we received fewer than 20.

This is where your part is vital. We need you to send in nominations. Please take a moment and submit a name of someone you think would serve us well. Together, we can do far more than we can alone.

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Photo credit: Thomas Lefebvre

Today, You Will Be With Me in Paradise

7 Sayings from the Cross Screen

Every year on Good Friday, we gather with other local evangelical churches in the Morongo Basin to celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful display of our unity around the Lord Jesus.

It’s also become an annual tradition at this service for seven of us pastors to each preach a five minute sermon (!) on one of the seven sayings of Jesus or “words of the cross.” Here’s my sermon from today’s service. It just might be my shortest sermon ever!

We’ve just heard the prayer of our Great High Priest Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And almost immediately, the Father answers that prayer – at least in the case of one sinner there at Golgotha.

Jesus’ second word of the cross is also found in the Gospel of Luke, just a few verses down from the first word. You can see it in Luke 23:43. Jesus says to the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” We could call this the “Word of Assurance.”

Earlier, in verse 32, we are told that two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Jesus. Matt. 27 says they were “robbers.” The Greek word lestes suggests these were not common thieves, but violent men, with much blood on their hands. It is the same word used over in Luke 10, in the story of the Good Samaritan, where a man “fell among robbers” and was stripped and beaten, and then they ran away.

These two men surrounding Jesus were bandits. Revolutionaries. Even terrorists. They spent their lives disturbing the peace and trying to overthrow the Roman government. They were likely part of Barabbas’ gang, the ringleader who should have been hanging between them.

Both thieves join the crowd in mocking Jesus, but then, miraculously, God removes the scales from one of their eyes. One thief suddenly has a change of heart. Instead of continuing in his derision, he turns and scolds his insolent friend, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40-41).

With that, the thief turns to Jesus and pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

Jesus’ reply contains a wonderful promise. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” He says, in effect, “I will not merely remember you on some distant day, when I come back to rule over my earthly kingdom. I will do better than that. I will remember you TODAY, and gather you together with me in heaven.”

Jesus does not say, “Let’s climb down off these crosses and have a baptism service right here. Then you can be saved.” He doesn’t say, “Oh, if only you’d done more good works. More church attendance. More tithing. Then I would let you into my heaven.” He doesn’t say, “For your sins, you will suffer one hundred years in purgatory. Then I will think about letting you in.”

No, He says, “Today, you will be with me.” Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. So wonderful is this promise that Jesus must re-assure the man, “Truly, I say to you.”

I know of a man who once set fire to a church, then years later was led to Christ and invited to church by a friend. When the new convert asked what church it was, the friend told him, and the man’s face went pale. “I can’t go there! That’s the church I burnt down years ago!” But after further coaxing, the former arson did go to that church, and the people warmly welcomed him. The man even publicly repented and was baptized in front of the whole congregation. That is a picture of grace.

In this word of the cross, we are encouraged that God can save the worst of sinners. And that is very good news, for that means he can save me! And he can save you!

God delights to save the wicked. There is no sheep who has wandered so far that our Good Shepherd cannot track him down and save him. There is no storm in life so great that our Lord cannot speak a word and still the wind. There is no spiritual disease in our soul so drastic that our Great Physician cannot heal.

Porn addicts. Perverts. Meth users. Child molesters. Homosexuals. Heretics. Rebellious teenagers. Religious hypocrites. Drunk drivers. Dirty politicians. Atheists. Arsons. God delights to save such people and transform them by His grace. To put his “abundant mercy” on display for all to see.

Friends, never give up praying for your loved ones and looking for opportunities to sow the seed of the gospel. It is never too late, as long as God gives them life and breath. At any moment, God could awaken them to their sorry state. And surrender their life to Christ. It could just be, that God is planning to perform another miracle and save a sinner, just like the thief on the cross.

Photo credit: Rob Gros