How great is our commission?

Recently at our staff meetings we have been talking about evangelism. My confession to you is how abysmally infrequent my efforts to share the gospel have been since becoming a resident at The Austin Stone. Through various mind-hoops I jumped to rationalize my lack of faithfulness to talk about Jesus.

“All of my co-workers are believers; who else could I share with?”

“My job is to write Sunday school lessons; surely that counts as sharing the gospel.”

“No one will listen anyway; it’s weird to just approach strangers.”

My excuses were numerous and some might sound familiar to you, but all of them fall down when held to the standard given in scripture. What I find particularly interesting is how often we cite The Great Commission as being Matthew 28:19-20, skipping over the preceding verses. To do so, in my experience, strips the passage of much context.

For starters, verse 17 tells us that some of the disciples still had doubts. If the very men who were among the first to see the resurrected body of Christ still had doubts, is it any wonder that we often doubt our calling as well? It comes as no surprise to me that we struggle to share when I read this verse, but luckily, Jesus had planned for their doubt.

Verse 18 has Jesus speaking to His followers, but He doesn’t start right out with a command, but rather with a reminder: “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me.” What a statement! There is no single thing in all of creation over which Jesus has no authority. There is no person to whom Christ’s commands do not apply. There is no event that can occur without the knowledge or permission of Christ. There is no place in the physical or spiritual realm in which Christ does not have jurisdiction.

On the one hand, this verse serves to rebuke the excuses we may contrive by telling us that we are compelled to obey Christ. However, it does more than just that; it also speaks into our fears and doubts, just as it spoke into the doubts of the disciples, and comforts us with knowledge of who Jesus is. His authority is limitless in scope and in scale, meaning that each encounter you could possibly have with an unbeliever is subject to His oversight.

Reading this passage in this new light should inspire us to shift our view of failure. We tend to view successful evangelism as an instance when a sinner hears the gospel, repents, and believes, and it is. However, when a sinner hears the gospel and refuses repentance and belief, that is success, too. The only failed evangelism comes from us forgetting who is sovereign over our relationships and interactions, and choosing not to preach the gospel at all.

Remembering Christ’s authority is primary, and combined with a secondary method to overcome the obstacles of evangelism can be very helpful. In addition to fixing your theology, it is always good to have a plan of what you can do with that better understanding of God. So, here are a few ideas that helped me rediscover my love of sharing the gospel.

Evangelism is a little like public speaking. It can be really scary, but it will be a lot scarier if you don’t know what you plan to say. Come up with questions you might ask a new friend to direct a conversation toward Christ. Practice asking them. Think about the layers of a person’s life (surface level likes and dislikes, deeper levels like family background, hopes and fears, and ultimately their belief about God) and think through ways you might be able bring those up in a conversation. However, keep in mind that…

Evangelism is NOT public speaking. Don’t just talk and talk and talk. What you have to tell the person you intend to share with is vitally important, but you need to take time to listen to them as well. In general, you are probably better off having a spiritual conversation than offering a spiritual presentation. A quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt captures this idea nicely: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,”

And my last little tip flows from the last. Everyone is a sinner, but not everyone sins the same way. Don’t get too caught up in what a person’s sin may be. A general rule of thumb is that our opinion of their sin doesn’t matter compared to their opinion of Christ. You will be much more winsome with the gospel if you focus on humanity’s brokenness before God than if you try to get a person to specify their personal brokenness.

And remember, our commission is more than good, it’s great.

Toasting the Bread of Life

I propose a toast to Jesus!

I’ve been reading through Exodus as part of a reading plan, and I was struck by my own tendency to mimic the infuriating behaviors of God’s chosen people. Namely, their seeming inability to trust God no matter how many times He proves Himself trustworthy.

The specific instance I read about today involved God giving very specific instructions concerning how much manna the people were to gather and the people giving God the equivalent of a very specific finger in response. Ok, maybe not quite that harsh (though an event that is that harsh is coming up, I know) but there is clearly a strong theme among the Hebrews of blatant disregard for God here. He promises them that He will meet their needs and care for them, and they basically take the stance of “no thanks God, we got this one!” The kicker, in my opinion, is this: they are doubting God’s daily provision while they are gathering God’s daily provision. In what universe does that make any sense at all?!

Apparently, in the universe I live in. In a sin-laden universe where our fallen nature consistently clouds our judgement and leads us astray. Let me set the scene for you: every morning I wake up to have time in the Word. Every morning I benefit from that time in the word. Somehow, inexplicably, every morning I find myself thinking things like “I read yesterday, that ought to be enough for now… I’ll just hit snoozzzzzzzzzzzz…”

Clearly I’ve adopted an attitude of disregard and distrust for God’s provision. Despite His proven track record of meeting me where I am and revealing Himself to me as I absorb scripture, and despite my proven track record of feeling spiritually underfed on the days I don’t read, I consistently wake up with a mindset of “I gathered enough scripture yesterday… I’ll pass on gathering more today.”

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 in Luke 4:4, reminding us that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Scripture (i.e. the word of God) reveals Jesus (i.e. the Word of God). The Word of God is also the Bread of Life. Exodus 16:18 tells us that those who gathered much manna had no excess; those who gathered little had no lack. A few verses later we learn that those who attempted to store up manna found it spoiled the next day. The Bread of Life, like the bread from heaven, cannot be gathered in excess and, although I can store up what I gather through meditation, I can’t expect my stores to sustain me indefinitely. No matter how much I take in today, I will find myself needing to gather more the next day and the next day and the next day…

So here’s to Jesus, the founder of our feast!

Whose hearts are completely His?

2 Chronicles 16:9a says “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

In the past 2-3 weeks I have seen my support percentage jump from around 25% to upwards of 70%. Some of this came from drastic budget cuts where I had to remind myself that my trust is in God, not in my own ability to save, but most came in the form of God providing generous people who are willing to be involved in the vision God’s given us, as the benefactors of both myself and the ministry I am going to join.

More so than ever before I feel the weakness of my own flesh weighing down my spirit; Even in the face of these incredible strides toward my financial support goals, I find ways to doubt God, doubt the call in my life, doubt His ability or willingness to provide. How can I be so fickle? How can God use me, fickle as am? Back and forth my mind and heart volley my confidence from the Lord, to myself, and back again!

It is encouraging to know that the Lord seeks to “strongly support” me if my heart is totally devoted to Him. More than anything, I am writing this post in hopes that you would be in prayer, asking God to capture my heart, asking Him to help my unbelief, so that my heart will be His only.

In the beginning… A Genesis story.

Ages after the Lord created the heavens and the earth and millennia since the Word, who was with God and was God, became flesh, my God continues scripting beginnings for His children. This is one such story.

Ever since the summer after my freshmen year at Texas A&M, God has been developing in me a desire to serve in vocational ministry. When I graduated, the doors that I believed I should walk through were shut, one by one, as God directed my steps to Dallas.

At first I was disappointed, a bit angry, and even distrustful of His purposes, but as I began to pray honestly and tell him about my fears and frustrations, He provided me with a growing sense of peace and patience. Soon I was plugging in to a church in Dallas (Watermark Community Church) serving with their children’s ministry, meeting weekly with a community group, and attending leadership training classes. I began to see how much maturing I needed to do, and how much of my own passions God needed to reveal to me.

Suddenly, it was the time of year when applications for ministry internships appear online. Much like last year, I applied with a sense of certainty and eagerness. And much like last year, the opportunities I most wanted slipped away. This time I was wiser for the ware. I knew God would direct me perfectly regardless of how closely my plans matched up with His. The next thing I knew, an old friend and former manager from my days rolling fatties (burritos, y’all…) contacted me about an opportunity that was God ordained in just about every sense of the phrase.

Brendan, I knew, had been interning with Austin Stone Community Church for the past two years, but due to busy schedules and different cities, we (to some extent) lost contact over the years since we forged our friendship in the fires of the Freebird’s grill. When he emailed and asked me what I was up to, it was more than a coincidence that I’d been looking for a job in children’s ministry and he’d just been invited to join up with Austin Stone as the West Campus Kid’s Director. I was excited, but also nervous. We scheduled time to talk, and soon I was filling out an application for a very unexpected opportunity.

When I visited Austin about a week later over the first weekend in June, I had already been informed that I was a bit late; most of the other interns had been interviewed and accepted and begun raising support. Before the interview, a multitude of anxieties settled in my heart. What if I wasn’t accepted and had to continue working a job that I find asinine and boring? What if I was accepted and couldn’t raise support fast enough? What would I do without my community group? Would the amazing girl I’d just started dating be willing to “do long distance”? What would my family think about me leaving Dallas again? As I shared these insecurities with Brendan and also with Stephanie (see “amazing girl I’d just started dating” above) and submitting them to the Lord (by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, of course) I truly did have waves of peace flow over me to guard my heart and my mind.

A few days (and hundreds of prayers) later, I was listening to a voicemail from Brendan inviting me to join their team as a Level 1 intern! I accepted almost immediately, and now the adventure has begun!

I’m starting this blog to share the vision God has placed in my heart and to communicate what I am learning, what I am doing, and how I am growing as I pursue this calling.

Stay tuned! This is the first of many posts, and I am hoping that those of you reading it will be blessed by seeing how God is humbling me and rebuilding me to be more and more like Christ.