Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Keeping Christ in Christmas As An Evangelist

**First published in The Evangelist, December 2010

It would seem that the mission to keep the Lord Jesus Christ the center of the upcoming Christmas season should not be a big deal. After all, we are all about Jesus Christ: we walk with Him, love Him, serve Him and preach Him. If anyone should be able to focus on the Lord this time of year it ought to be us. Right?

But let’s be honest for a moment: we are flesh. We are weak. As I was reminded recently, our biggest problem is not the “world out there” that is in opposition to all that Christmas means. Our biggest problem is not corporate America that bans Christ from the word “Christmas” or the local town council that bans nativity scenes from the town square. Our biggest problem is us. My biggest problem is me. I sin.

 I spend too much money on Christmas presents. I spend more time reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol rather than Gospel accounts of the Lord’s birth. I get pulled into the fuzzy emotionalism, the sentimentality, and the nostalgia that this culture (aka “the world”) sugar coats this holy-day with. Christmas becomes, for me, too much about It’s a Wonderful Life and too little about the advent of God made flesh as He began His victory march to Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday and His return. Christmas becomes about big elaborate feasts with family rather than the Lord’s table (after all, what are we celebrating this time of year if it is not the fact symbolized by the bread: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?). If you are like me, we put our theology on the shelf this time of year and end up looking more like Joel Osteen living our best lives now rather than the Lord who calls us to come and die.

 How do we keep Christ in Christmas as evangelists? Not by protesting the actions of a post-modern world that does post-modern things. Not by succumbing to a materialistic world that is driven by marketing. We can only do it if we purposefully covenant to meditate on the theological meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and then do something about those meditations. In other words, apply that meditation to your evangelism.


Meditation is a dangerous word in our culture. New Age practices like TM, yoga, and centering are what most people think of when they read the word “meditation”. In short, the world says meditation is the act of emptying your mind, either as a stress reliever or as a channel to discovering some new, previously undiscovered truth. The Biblical conception of meditation is far different: in fact, it is the opposite. Biblical meditation focuses on filling the mind with the revealed truth of the Word of God.

The Puritans had a unique way of doing this. Joel Beeke writes of this in his excellent work, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004) in a chapter entitled “The Puritan Practice of Meditation”. He cites Thomas Watson who said, “A Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost” (79). How did they meditate? When they read the Scriptures, they asked questions of the text and (much to the chagrin of the Emergent Church) they answered them.

The memory is slippery. My slippery memory is what gets me into trouble this time of year. I am more apt to remember Christmases past with loved ones than the advent of the One who first loved me that I might love Him. This is where meditation comes in.

 You don’t have to be a theologian to do this; you might just be the average family. The other day my family was working on the church memory verse for the month. We were having some trouble memorizing it: “Great indeed we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).

 I realized that my kids did not understand the text, so we meditated on the text. We asked it some questions and looked to the Bible for the answers. Why is Jesus called the “mystery of godliness”? What does the word “mystery” mean? When was Jesus manifested in the flesh? How was He vindicated by the Spirit? When was He seen by angels? Who proclaimed (or proclaims) Him among the nations? What does the word “world” mean, and not mean, in this context? How was Jesus taken up in glory? What does glory mean?

 I’m not going to give you the answers to these questions, but we had a precious twenty minutes in the van talking about the Scriptures and the depth of this verse. After that, we all had an easier time of memorizing the verse. Why? We understood it and could follow the flow of the Spirit of God’s statement on Jesus. By the way, memorization should not be the rote repetition of words but it is meditation on the text.

 Christmas Meditations 

 When was the last Christmas season you spent asking questions of the texts that speak of Christ’s birth with your family? They have become such a part of our culture that the Charlie Brown Christmas Special includes part of Luke 2, quoted by Linus during the Christmas play! When I was pastoring, I used to dread Christmas because everyone was so familiar with the Gospel accounts. I would rather preach texts that people were not familiar with or that people did not “expect” me to preach.

Please let me encourage you to do this. Spend some time slowly going over Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 2:1-38 and ask many questions of the text. Use a study Bible and chase down the cross references; the Thompson Chain Reference Bible is especially helpful for this. Pray that the Lord would reveal Himself in a deeper way as you meditate on the Word of God.

But don’t limit yourself to the typical Christmas passages. Have you ever considered that John 1:1-18 is a “Christmas” passage? It is the doctrine of the incarnation; it is the theological side of what we celebrate this time of year. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Why is Jesus called “the Word”? What is His glory? How did the apostles see it? Will we ever see His manifest glory? How was it revealed at Christ’s birth? What is grace? Truth? How is His glory “full” of these two things?

We all want to guard our children against the heresies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. One important way to do that is to take advantage of Christmas time in order to teach them that Jesus’ existence did not begin in the manger. He is eternal God, the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. Meditate on the passages that deal with Jesus’ pre-existence. Passages such as Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1 are important texts to ask questions of.

Consider meditating on the Messianic prophecies; specifically, the prophecies that foretell the Lord’s birth. Passages such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2. Use your study Bible to see where the various details given in the Gospels of the Lord’s birth were prophesied and ask questions of those texts. It is equally important to look up the fulfillments to these texts in the New Testament to see how the Holy Spirit led the authors to view these texts as prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A word of encouragement to the overwhelmed: you don’t have to do all of this in one season. Perhaps this year you will focus on Luke 2 and Hebrews 1 and next year you will focus on John 1 and some of the Messianic prophecies. Split the verses up over the month of December. Spend some time preparing before you sit with your family so the time is guided and doesn’t ramble.

This is just an outline of a few ideas on what to meditate on this Christmas. Fill your mind with these Scriptures and lead your family to do the same. This practice is a protection against the materialism and pluralism of our culture.

Christmas Classics 

We all love great writing, great acting, and great music. Every year the major networks and cable stations replay the classic Christmas movies, some of them do marathon replayings of different movies. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” is a pop culture cliché because of the popularity of The Christmas Story (which ironically has nothing to do with Christmas). Most of us could name more than a dozen favorite Christmas classics.

 When it comes to meditation, reading books by human authors in no way compares to reading the Word of God. But as Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves should think so little of what He has revealed to others.”

But do you know the real Christmas classics? Most Christians are not familiar with Wilbur Smith’s three volume (reprinted as one volume) work Great Sermons on the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ. In the original edition, the first volume was dedicated to nothing but sermons on the Birth of Christ. Here you will find sermons by Charles Spurgeon, Alexander Whyte, Martin Luther, G. Campbell Morgan and others. There is real food for the soul here and will provide the street evangelist and open-air preacher with ideas for springboards in street preaching. Reading like this is a sure guard against sounding like every other street preacher.

 The same author wrote an interesting chapter in a book called Chats from a Minister’s Library called “Five Famous Poetic Interpretations of Our Lord’s Nativity”. Most of these many will be unfamiliar with, but this is our own loss. I am going to reproduce this article on my personal blog at since this book is out of print and hard to find. This kind of reading is different than sermon reading because now we enter into the realm of Christian literature. True literature, as opposed to the piles of slickly marketed Christian fiction in most Christian bookstores today.

While we are talking about books, may I ask you what is the greatest work on Jesus Christ you have ever read? Many of us have feet of shelf space devoted to the writings of Ray Comfort and other evangelistic trainers. But when was the last time you read something truly great on the person and work of Jesus? Sadly, most pastors are not even aware of some of the best books on the life of Christ and their Christology sections are notable by their absence. If I can recommend one to you, which has much material on the birth of our Lord, it is The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim. Edersheim was a brilliant Messianic Jewish believer of the late 19th century. This is a scholarly work, but is readable by those who are not used to reading theological works. Edersheim provides amazing background information from the Jewish traditional writings which help us understand much of what Jesus addressed in His teachings and sheds light on many of the actions of our Lord recorded in the Gospels. A study of his chapters on the birth of our Lord will give you a deep understanding of the issues from a Jewish Christian perspective.

Have you ever listened to Handel’s Messiah? This year, instead of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” why not get a copy of this and listen to it? There is a popular Youtube video circulating right now that shows the Philadelphia Opera Company singing the Hallelujah chorus in Macy’s to a pipe organ accompaniment. Most Christians who have seen this video have wept (including me) to see the deity of Christ proclaimed so beautifully and boldly in public. Listen to this and worship Christ in addition to your meditations from the Scriptures.

So we’ve gone from Scriptural meditations as a family to the realm of classic sermons, literature and in-depth Bible study. You have been able to train your mind to reject the tinsel and trappings of what corporate America wants you to think Christmas is to what it truly is: Jesus Christ. Now, as an evangelist, especially as an open-air preacher, you actually have something to say.

You see, too many of us go out onto the streets with stock sermons in tow, or nothing in particular to say. We go out and follow a presentation or we might read a text and then revert right back to our presentation. Do you think this is how George Whitefield or John Wesley prepared their open-air messages? Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you have nothing in your heart but countless ten minute Youtube clips from a favorite open-air preacher, you are going to sound like a countless ten minute Youtube clip from your favorite open-air preacher, complete with their inflections, mannerisms, and methods. Break out of that box.

 Christmas Application 

Now that your heart is full, what do you do as an evangelist this Christmas season? Since your heart is full of the great truths of the incarnation, preach those truths! Read John 1:1-18 in the open-air. Explain it. Go to the cross and preach the Cross as well as the manger. Preach Luke 2:11 and explain what Jesus came to save us from. Use the Christmas carols as a springboard and launch into the glories of Jesus Christ from your meditation and study.

Preach from a heart that is warmed to the truths of the incarnation and the Person of Jesus Christ and your preaching will be warm with the presence of the Holy Spirit. One of His works is to exalt the Person of Jesus. Do you want your preaching to be anointed? We all do. Then exalt Jesus this Christmas out of the overflow of your heart and watch the Spirit of God attend your preaching with Christ-exalting power (John 16:12-15).

Genius: The Movie

The latest creative outreach from Ray Comfort is coming December 8th.  Ray is a master at putting together high quality evangelistic tools that make people think and challenge the culture.  I hope that our ministry can play a small role in distributing these DVD's locally. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

President Obama & Persecution Complexes


Since President Obama won re-election as our nation's president, the chatter on Facebook has been somewhat amusing.  In response to that chatter, I posted the following status update:

"All of this talk about Christian persecution coming under four more years of Obama is amusing. The only Christians who get persecuted are those who: 1) share the gospel when the government says not to (check the Book of Acts) or 2) stand against evil when the majority are toeing the line (see the Book of Daniel). If you haven't already been doing these things when you had the freedom to do it,
what in the world makes you think you will do it when you don't have those freedoms? The government WILL NOT CARE if you keep the gospel inside of your church walls and only vote against evil. Every oppressive government has allowed churches to meet just as long as they keep their mouths shut (Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, China even has state controlled churches). If persecution is coming, don't worry, you won't see any of it just so long as your Christianity is limited to your church attendance."
I've been somewhat pleased to see this get reposted on Facebook.  I hope it goes fully viral and people think seriously about these statements because they reflect a reality that few in church leadership are willing to admit.  What we do in the church building is not impacting society because the church membership is not taking what they know outside of the four walls.  If they do, it is thickly masked under the guise of friendship evangelism which involves no real gospel proclamation in most cases (not all).   As long as this is the case, we cannot expect any persecution.  

The Cause

Many prominent evangelical leaders hold to a type of theology which emphasizes the "not yet" aspect of the Kingdom of God while ignoring the many Scriptures which say that Jesus Christ has always been King and His clear teaching that the Kingdom arrived in manifestation when He arrived.  They ignore the massive amount of Biblical data regarding the Sovereignty of God over ALL nations, not just Israel.  They minimize the work of the Kingdom to be a sort of theological "show and tell" where believers gather mainly to gain information in a semi-gnostic exercise where the things of the soul are good and everything in the physical realm is evil.  

As long as this thinking is prominent in evangelical churches, the idea of pending persecution is a sort of sadistic fantasy for those who hold it.  If you believe what the Bible says, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15) it will impact how you view the issues of our day.  Even more, it will deeply concern you that anyone rebels against King Jesus and it won't be enough to complain about it on Facebook or vote once every couple of years.    

An Example

For example, consider the issue of abortion.  

Many would say, "Well, yes, I am against abortion.  I think it is murder.  But what else can we expect from this world?  We know that when Jesus comes back that He will set all things right and until then, things will only get worse.  In fact, the worse it gets, the better off we are since it means that Jesus will come back sooner.  We're told to expect this so we should not be surprised.  Maranatha!  Come quickly!  In the meantime, I will vote pro-life."

The believer who holds to what the Bible says about the Kingdom would say, "Yes, I am against abortion.  It is murder.  This is rebellion against the Law of God.  Abortion must end.  It's not enough to be pro-life.  I must go intervene for the lives of the unborn and live out the Kingdom on this earth as one of the subjects of His Kingdom.  I must work to end abortion because that is my responsibility as a servant in His Kingdom.  While I do, the gospel goes with me and is proclaimed to every mother, father, and politician I meet in the process."  

Of course, there are those who hold to bad thinking who advocate for the unborn.  I don't mean to say that they don't exist.  But in most cases, they are not the product of their theology.  They are an exception and not a rule.
Since Kingdoms that are in force have laws, a Biblical understanding is logically consistent since the only Biblical ethic against the evil of abortion comes from the Old Testament.  There is no specific New Testament Scripture which speaks against abortion.  Yet many will say that we are under the New Covenant and not the Old, as if the Old Testament is suddenly irrelevant.  Nevertheless, it is the New Covenant which, referring to the Old Testament, says "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable..." (2 Tim. 3:16).  Therefore, it is right to fight to end abortion based on the Word of God. 

If you take all of this seriously, a sanctity of life Sunday isn't going to cut it.  Voting for pro-life presidents, congressmen, senators, and having Republican-appointed pro-life Supreme Court justices won't cut it (ever notice how having the majority in these positions has never overturned Roe v. Wade?).  The only thing that will pass muster will be a living out of true religion which advocates for the fatherless (the baby in the womb) and the widow (the mother at the clinic who doesn't have a man to provide for her) as outlined in James 1:27.  


Now you need to know this.  If you advocate for the unborn, here are some real outcomes.  These are outcomes that have been experienced by me or friends I have done abortion clinic ministry with. 
--Your name could end up on a "no fly" terrorist list.  
--You could be physically assaulted.  
--You could be hit by a car outside of a clinic.
--You could be falsely accused of sexual assault.  
--You could be questioned by the FBI because the abortionist has made a false charge stating that you plan on blowing up the clinic.  
--Your family could be threatened by the abortionist if you take them to the clinic to intervene (an abortionist in Fort Worth swerved his car at my family as we stood outside).  
--You could go to jail.
--You could be cited for criminal trespass if you mistakenly stray onto an inch of the clinic's property while protesting.  
--You most certainly will be cussed out, threatened, have the police called on you, called a terrorist, and more.
None of these things will happen if you are voting for pro-life candidates while reading the Left Behind series.  
What's my point?  This is what persecution looks like.   "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12)
The same thing is true in street evangelism, by the way.  My experiences there have included:
--Watching a dear friend be arrested while passing out tracts and falsely accused of public drunkenness. 
--Getting spit on by a drug addict.
--Getting punched in the side of the head.
--Ticketed for using an amplifier in spite of complying with the law.
--Threatened with arrest.
--Having my property destroyed by hecklers.
--"Christians" opposing the preaching of the gospel.
--Being drowned out by bag pipers.
--Being drowned out by gay pride activists.
--Watching gospel tracts get confiscated as "contraband" by the Secret Service and then testifying against them in Federal Court.


What else have I seen?

--Teenagers in tears repenting of their sins.
--Mothers coming out of clinics beaming with joy because they have chosen to have their babies.
--Praying with a repentant man in front of the hotel where he was planning his adultery.
--Seeing college students repent at a parade. 
--Seeing another college student repent and get grounded in a local church.
--Seeing Muslims listen closely to the gospel.
--Having dinner with a gay pride activist and sharing the gospel, beginning a relationship that has lasted a few years.
--The opportunity to preach the gospel to a gathering of Mormons at an LDS Training Institute and pursuing the friendship that brought that about.

Is it worth the first two lists to get the third?  I think so.  I think any reasonable person could see these as worthy outcomes.  But there is a price to pay and frankly, I don't think too many are willing.  Too often we are content to become miniature Bible scholars who love our knowledge and our comfort more than we love the Lord or people.
By the way, I would have seen NONE of these things if I limited my thinking about the Kingdom of God to four walls on a Sunday. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vote with Your Feet

The question has been brought up, and will be analyzed over the next four years and beyond, who is to blame for the re-election of President Obama? 

Well, the short answer is God.  He is Sovereign and He sets up kings and takes them down.  Read the Book of Daniel for an in-depth commentary on this truth.  This ought to cause us to tremble; God has given us one of the most inept presidents in history for a second term.  He supports homosexual marriage and the murder of every baby in the womb that Planned Parenthood can get their hands on.  The judgment of God continues to roll down on this nation. 

Todd Friel has come up with a pretty good diagram of what the problem really is.  It's just a crying shame that he didn't come up with this BEFORE the election.  If he had thought it through perhaps he would not have voted pragmatically for Mitt Romney (and encouraged his viewers to do the same).  Romney does not and cannot know the difference between good and evil since his worldview is patently false and he doesn't follow it anyway.

Yes, you heard it here.  Romney is not even a good Mormon in spite of the fact that the visitors center in Palmyra, NY for the Hill Cumorah quotes his wife in one of their displays.  A good Mormon would be pretty clear and consistent in his opposition over abortion in the one arena where it counts in politics: his record.  He would also be pretty clear in his opposition of homosexuality, which he is not.  This betrays the utter lack of principle that Romney has on the moral issues.  Nevertheless evangelicals, being the most gullible voting block in the history of the world, believe the cliched promises offered at election time rather than holding people accountable for their record.

Let me ask you a question.  I never saw a voting guide in this election based on Romney's record.  I wonder why?  

The Republican Party is completely clueless, which is why I left it in 2008.  They have not put up a seriously principled candidate since Ronald Reagan.  There is a war going on within the party between moderates (a la Romney) and social conservatives.  Unless the elites in the party make some kind of public statement involving sackcloth and ashes you can expect more of the same in 2016. 

In the next couple of years the Republican leadership will evaluate their strategy for 2016.  I wonder how they will determine who to put up?  There is only one thing that political strategists look at: statistics.  In other words, how did the party VOTE.  Those of you who voted for the "lesser of two evils" have almost guaranteed a similar moral dilemma in the next presidential election because the leadership has already seen that you are WILLING TO COMPROMISE YOUR PRINCIPLES IF THE ALTERNATIVE IS LIBERAL ENOUGH. They do not care about the conflicted consciences of conscientious Christians within the party.  They discovered what makes you tick in this election: panic and pragmatism. 

As an evangelical "conservative" bear in mind that you voted for a candidate who:

  • Invested (and thereby made money) in Stericycle, the company which services abortion clinics with the disposal of "medical waste" (baby corpses) across the nation.
  • Consistently upheld the "right to choose" in Massachusetts.  
  • Viewed the abortion issue as a non-presidential issue; he said it was a Supreme Court issue and thereby hoped to appeal to voters based on that.  
  • Has said vocally in 1994 and in August of 2012 that homosexuals should be admitted to the Boy Scouts
  • Came up with socialized health care in Massachusetts, providing a model for President Obama's version
Listen, we all make mistakes.  The problem is I'm not seeing anyone own up to them.  Repentance is the word of the day for evangelicals.  Repentance.   Repent for your compromised principles and for voting in a way that did not glorify God. 

Do you want to reform the Republican party?  You don't think that you have the power to do anything?  Do you want them to sit up and take notice?   Leave the party.  Vote with your feet.  Re-register as something else.  Now there is a statistic that will help the elites "get it." 

Two words: Constitution Party.