The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Evangelism (Page 1 of 2)

“Packaging” the Good News of Christ

In the marketing world, packaging is the “science, art, and technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use.”

I am sometimes hesitant to apply business principles and metaphors to the church, because I think that can lead to unhealthy practices, but in this case, the parallel easily applies. When it comes to evangelism or sharing our faith with others, all Christians, consciously or otherwise, take part in the process of packaging. We store our beliefs in a certain “package” which we can then share with others.

Unfortunately, on the whole, I think Christians have a major problem with packaging, and often fall into one of two problem areas:

The Not-So-Good News Package

Honestly, I think some Christians don’t want the Kingdom of God to be as large or expansive as God Himself does. Of course, they will affirm that God loves all people and that Christ died for all, but by their actions they suggest that God’s grace is really only intended for the good, moral, “churchy” people. And so, perhaps to reinforce this idea, or to make the inherently appealing Good News a little less appealing, they wrap it up in a package of arrogance, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy.

And sure enough, people of the world—those who are lost in sin and desperately need what the church is “selling”—take one look at the Not-So-Good News package and easily decide it’s not for them.

The “Better” News Package

Some Christians have just the opposite problem though. Unlike the first group, they really, really want everyone to hear the Good News and accept the grace that God offers, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But here’s the problem: Jesus and his disciples actually taught a lot of demanding, exclusive, hard-to-obey ideas, and a lot of the people in the world (and in the church!) don’t want to follow those teachings. So these good-hearted people, wanting to be as appealing to as many people as possible, water down the teachings of Jesus here and there and leave out some of the most objectionable material.

And for some people in the world, this Better News package (“better” because it involves little moral correction or personal sacrifice) looks really good, but when they buy it, they end up settling for a substitute rather than the real thing (which, when you think about it, isn’t good news after all).

The Solution

If we want to be faithful Christians, we need to avoid either extreme. To put it another way, Jesus was characterized by grace and truth (John 1.14), and so our presentation of the gospel should be too. The Not-So-Good News package emphasizes truth at the expense of grace, while the “Better” News package emphasizes grace at the expense of truth. Neither of these alternatives are acceptable. Instead, we need to “package” the Good News as Jesus Himself did—with grace and mercy and love, but also with clear teaching on the personal sacrifice required by real discipleship.

Some people will look at that package and snatch it up immediately, while others will leave it on the shelf. But that shouldn’t surprise us—they did the same thing with Jesus. Ultimately, as a follower of Jesus, it is not my task to present Christianity in a way that tastes good to others. Rather, it is my task to present it faithfully, and let others decide if they want to swallow it or spit it out.

Destroying the Works of Satan

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at a youth rally and my topic was the purpose of the church. I talked about how the church is God’s vehicle for saving the world today (through the preaching of the gospel), for influencing the world and trying to make it a better place (through service), and equipping Christians for those first two tasks (through education and discipleship).

And those are all pretty standard ideas—we hear about those things a lot when we talk about what the church should do. But the church has another important purpose that is often neglected in such discussions: the mission of the church is to oppose and destroy the works of Satan.

In 1 John 3.8, John said that Jesus came to earth so that “He might destroy the works of the devil.” In Ephesians 6.12, Paul says that our struggle as Christians is not against flesh and blood, but against the forces of darkness.

These verses make it clear that as the church, we are a part of a spiritual battle against Satan and his influence. Moral corruption and sin are the works of the Devil (and we focus on things like that a lot),  but so are things like disease, starvation, poverty, terrorism, and racism.

When you look at all the sad and messed up stuff that happens in our world—do you think God likes that stuff? Of course not! Children starving to death in the developing world, or innocent people being killed because of racial wars, or bombs going off at marathon finish lines—those are works of Satan, and when we take part in efforts to fight against those things, we are fulfilling the purpose of the church in opposing and destroying the works of the Devil.

To me, realizing that when we fight against evil, we’re part of a cosmic struggle and are fighting against Satan himself gives us a whole new level of motivation for doing it. The decisions we make each and every day are important because we have the opportunity to stand up against evil.

A cosmic struggle against evil: think about that the next time one of your friends tells a racist joke—are you going to sit there and laugh at the works of Satan, or realizing that God loves all people regardless of race and that racism comes from Satan, are you going to speak up and put a stop to it?

Or the next time you have an opportunity to give to people, maybe people living on the other side of the world who have less than you do—are you going to be willing to use what you have to fight against the works of Satan like poverty and starvation, or are you going to hold onto those things so you can continue to pursue the idolatry of the “American dream”?

Studies show that a whole bunch of teens leave the church after high school, and I think a big reason for that is because it just doesn’t seem like the work of the church is all that important. After all, if we narrow down what church is to only a couple hours of activity a week, of course its importance is going to be diminished. But when we realize the cosmic nature of the struggle we are involved in—saving the world, serving the world, training Christians to do those things, and opposing the works of Satan—we see that the church is absolutely a cause worth giving our lives to.

Pity for Those Who Do Not Know: The Story of Jonah, Part 3

If you’re coming late to the party, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

So far, we’ve seen that Jonah was pretty mixed up about what was important—he valued a plant which provided him with shade more than he valued the lives of the people of the great city of Nineveh. We’ve also seen that as the people of God, we can get similarly mixed up.

God’s response to Jonah at the end of chapter 4 is an attempt to correct Jonah’s perspective on things. He says,

“You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from the left, and also much cattle?”

God tries to get Jonah to see how He pities the people of Nineveh. A lot of time we have a negative connotation with the word “pity”, but it really just means to feel sorrow over someone else’s condition (The New American Standard Bible says “compassion”; The NIV uses “concern”). God points out how ridiculous it is that Jonah felt sorrow over the death of the plant, but feels no concern at all over the 120,000 people of Nineveh “who do not know their right hand from their left”—basically, people who don’t even realize how bad of a spiritual condition they are in.

It’s interesting—the Book of Jonah ends with God’s question. We don’t get to hear how Jonah responded; we don’t get to see if he corrected his attitude. But really, that makes sense, because the Book of Jonah isn’t really about Jonah—it’s about God…and God’s concern for all people…and God letting His people know about how much He is concerned for all people! So it makes sense that the book ends with God sharing that concern with Jonah.

It is our understanding of God’s pity for the lost—His feeling of sorrow for their condition—that can provoke a similar sense of concern in us. You know, a large part of Jonah’s problem was that he didn’t understand the value of the Ninevites. To him, they were worthless, less deserving of his concern than a plant which sprung up overnight.

What about us? Do we understand the value of those who are lost?

Most of my readers know that I am a huge baseball fan, and when I was younger, one of my favorite hobbies was collecting baseball cards. I would spend most of my allowance buying packs of cards, I would collect and trade for my favorite players, and I would spend a lot of time looking at and organizing my cards.

Another thing I would do with my baseball cards was try to figure out how much they were worth. They would put out price guides every month that would supposedly tell you the value of each card. I remember I would look up my cards and I would take them and brag about it to my dad: “Look Dad, this card is worth $2; this one is worth $5; this one is really rare—it’s worth $30!”

My dad was never impressed with my claims though, and I remember that he would always look at me and say:

“Son, that card is only worth what someone will pay for it.”

You know, that definition of value makes a lot of sense to me. And if the value of something is determined by what someone will pay for it, God made it abundantly clear for once and for all that the lost are worth more to Him than anything—because He paid for them with the death of Jesus on the cross.

That price was paid even for folks whom we don’t like very much, people who make us uncomfortable, or people who have hurt us in some way.

That price puts all of the distractions in our lives—the other things that seem so important to us—into perspective.

As I said at the beginning of this series, I’m really not a big fan of Jonah, because he reminds me too much of myself:

  • I’m not always eager to do what God wants me to do…
  • I make the mistake of thinking that I am somehow more worthy of God’s grace than someone else…
  • I get distracted by unimportant things and forgetting the value of the souls around me…

Maybe some of you can understand where I’m coming from.

Fortunately, the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love with the Ninevites is also that same way with me. Fortunately, that same God decided that my soul was worth enough for Jesus to come and die for it.

Pity for Those Who Do Not Know: The Story of Jonah, Part 2

In Part 1, we summarized the story of Jonah and noted that Jonah’s attitude toward his mission was very disappointing and not what we would expect from a prophet of God. Jonah was all mixed up about what was important.

But then I think: what about us?

There are over 7 billion people in the world today. Christianity is the world’s largest religion (though not the fastest-growing) with a little over 2 billion adherents. Now, even if we could take that number at face value, that means there are over 5 billion people—16 times the population of the United States—who don’t claim to have a relationship with Christ at all.

And of the 2 billion who claim to be Christians, a lot of those are people that you work with and go to school with and see everyday—people who say they are Christians, but who make no real attempt to be obedient to what God says in his Word. For them Christianity is not something that affects their daily lives, but is rather a box that they check on a census survey. We know that the number of real, faithful Christians is much, much smaller.

It is staggering when you realize just how many people in our world need a relationship with Jesus Christ.

And yet, for the vast majority of us, we hear those statistics, and perhaps we think things like, “That’s too bad” or “What a tragedy” or “I really should do something about that”, but that’s all we do. Why is that?

Maybe there are some people who we just aren’t concerned about. We talked about how the Ninevites were the enemies of Jonah and his people and how this affected his view of them. What about us? You might not have enemies in your life in a classic sense, but you certainly have people who you don’t care for as much. What about your boss at work who treats you unfairly and acts like a jerk? How motivated are you to share Jesus with that person? Or the person at school with a bad reputation, or perhaps the unpopular kid that no one likes—how likely are you to talk about your faith with that person? Let’s be honest—there are some people that we just don’t care about very much!

Maybe our culture has made us feel bad about sharing the Good News of Jesus. In a postmodern culture where people argue that there’s no such thing as absolute truth and that one person’s beliefs are just as valid as another’s, evangelism has almost become a dirty word. People who share their beliefs with others are regarded as pushy, nosy, Bible-thumpers. We’ve all heard the jokes about religious groups who go door to door to spread their faith—we don’t want people making jokes like that about us! It’s actually reached the point that most churches have to have a special Invite-a-Friend Day in order for their members to make much of an effort to reach out to others—what’s up with that? Do people have less of a need to hear the Gospel at other times? Or are we just so impacted by our culture that it takes a special occasion for us to work up the courage?

Maybe we get so distracted by other things that we just forget. You know, Jonah was so concerned about the precious plant that grew up over his head and gave him shade that he didn’t really have enough concern left over for the people of Nineveh! We as a people are so busy; we have so many things going on in our lives that it’s easy for us to get distracted and lose perspective. When we’re so concerned about issues going on at work, or our squabbles with our spouses, or our children’s athletic careers, how can we have concern left over for those who are lost?

As the people of God, I think we can get mixed up too. Just like Jonah was.

Pity for Those Who Do Not Know: The Story of Jonah, Part 1

Jonah is not one of my favorite characters in the Bible, and I think it’s because he reminds me too much of myself.

The story of Jonah is a familiar one—it’s a story that many of us have known since childhood when we learned it in Sunday School.

God calls Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites, but Jonah doesn’t want to, so instead he goes down to Joppa and hops on a boat bound for Tarshish in the other direction. Of course, the boat has trouble at sea, the sailors become afraid and go and wake up Jonah, who was taking a nap, and implore him to cry out to his God. Then they decide to cast lots to see whose fault it is that this storm has come upon them, and the lot falls to Jonah. Jonah confesses that he is running from Jehovah, the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. At this point, the men become terrified and they ask Jonah what they should do in order to make the sea quiet down. He tells them that they should throw him overboard into the sea, and after the men unsuccessfully attempt to row back to the land, they reluctantly throw Jonah overboard.

Then comes the most famous part of the story, where God appoints a great fish to come and swallow Jonah, and Jonah is stuck inside the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. There, Jonah prays to the Lord, and then God has the fish spit Jonah up on dry land.

And from there, Jonah goes to Nineveh, and preaches to the city, and the people believe him! They begin to fast and put on sackcloth and the king of Nineveh covers himself in sackcloth, sits in ashes, and commands that no man or beast be allowed to eat or drink. And when God sees the repentance of the Ninevites, He decides not to destroy them after all.

And you know, in Sunday School, that’s where we tend to stop…with a happy ending.

But that’s not the ending, and Jonah isn’t happy at all. Rather than being happy that his preaching has led to the repentance of the Ninevites and has saved them from destruction, he is angry—“exceedingly angry” the Scripture says.

So he prays to the LORD and says, “This is why I ran away in the first place, because I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in love…I knew you would forgive them!” Then Jonah goes on to say that he is so upset that he would rather die than live.

And God asks Jonah an interesting question: “Do you do well to be angry?” And obviously, it’s the sort of question that isn’t meant to be answered, but is supposed to make Jonah think.

You know, people have wondered why this seems to make Jonah so angry. We know from 2 Kings 14 that Jonah was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and Assyria (of which Nineveh was the capital city) was a long-standing enemy of Israel. In fact, it would ultimately be Assyria who conquered Israel in 722 BC. So it makes some sense that Jonah would be hesitant for the Ninevites—his enemies—to be saved. He didn’t think they deserved it.

At this point, Jonah goes outside the city and makes a little booth for himself there so he can watch and see what happens. Perhaps he wanted to see if the Ninevites would remain faithful in their repentance or if they would turn back to evil and maybe God would still punish them. And while he is there watching, God appoints a plant to grow up over Jonah, so that it provided him with shade and made him comfortable. Scripture says that Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.

But then the next day, God has a worm come to attack the plant so that it withered, and then a scorching east wind comes and beats upon the head of Jonah and Jonah is miserable again. Once again he tells God that it would be better for him to die than live, and once again God asks him a question: “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

And all of this language brings into clear comparison Jonah’s reactions to the salvation of Nineveh and the destruction of the plant:

  • Jonah was “exceedingly angry” about the salvation of Nineveh, but “exceedingly glad” about the appearance of the plant.
  • Both when the city was spared and when the plant withered, Jonah was so upset that he said it would be better for him to die than to live.
  • And after both episodes, God tried to get him to reflect on his attitude by asking him if he did well to be angry.

And this second time, Jonah answers the question, belligerently stating that he does do well to be angry, angry enough to die! The plant shaded him from the sun; its value is clear to him. But the Ninevites, on the other hand, why would God want to save them? They’re worthless!

What a disappointing attitude for a prophet of God to have!

Jonah is mixed up.

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