I took a listening test this week. No, it wasn’t a hearing test. My ears are fine. But I wanted to test my listening. The test was developed by Doug Pollock, author of the book, “God Space.” Pollock serves as an evangelist and chaplain but has equipped thousands of Christians to share their faith more effectively. He questions whether non-Christians in our society today have stopped listening to Christians because Christians have been such poor listeners. Ouch! Let me share what I learned.
Our life groups at Grace are a place where people can get to know others and be known by them. They’re small enough for discussion, prayer and encouragement. But our vision for the groups is to look for opportunities for neighbourhood-sized mission projects. Who can we serve in Jesus’ name? How can we reach out to people around us? How can we make Jesus known? They’re not easy questions to answer but they’re important ones to deal with if we’re going to be faithful to Jesus’ commission. Back in January, I contacted one of our missionaries, Darryl Dash, and asked if there were any ways that our life group might serve with them. That call led to our involvement in the Toronto Art Crawl in Liberty Village last Saturday. Let me share what I observed.
Last week, I attended the regional conference of The Fellowship. Sam Allberry, of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, spoke in four sessions on, “Jesus, Sexuality and The Good News of the Gospel.” About the same time that he began to investigate Jesus and the Bible, Sam began to realize that he was attracted to men. He ended up trusting Jesus and developed deeply held biblical convictions that led him to a life of celibacy. Now an Oxford-trained pastor and author of “Is God Anti-Gay?” he is often invited to speak at conferences and universities on issues related to Christian sexuality. Regularly speaking in front of people from the LGBT community, Sam has learned to not only articulate Scripture, but to do so with love, compassion and sensitivity. Let me share some of what I learned.
I was reading this week about the evangelistic zeal of the early church. It’s incredible to think how the movement spread. From a small group of discouraged followers at the time of Christ’s death, news of the resurrection and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit transformed Jesus’ followers and they brought the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth. Within 300 years, Christianity had been adopted as the official religion of Rome and there wasn’t a place in the empire that hadn’t felt its influence. The article spoke of how the early Christians were motivated by gratitude, responsibility and concern. Their gratitude stemmed from an overwhelming sense of how much Jesus had sacrificed for them. Their responsibility came from a clear conviction that Jesus had commissioned all of His followers to make disciples and be prepared to give a reason for their hope. And their concern came from a deep sense of compassion that people are lost without Jesus Christ. What strikes me is how different their mindset is from what we’re often tempted to think today. Four stark contrasts stand out to me.
It’s easy to conclude a person is hopeless to change. We often assume that people who aren’t like us would never listen to us. The story of Derek Black shows us, that’s not rue. If Derek could change, anyone can. And the steps that led to his transformation give us hints as to how we can be help effect change in our culture today.
When I lived in Japan, one afternoon, without warning, I got a hurried call from a church member. She was in the area with her daughter and wondered if they could stop by. I agreed and seconds later the door bell rang. They must have been in the parking lot already. I invited them in and we exchanged pleasantries. I had heard and prayed for her adult daughter but today was meeting her for the first time. I sensed that there was some urgency to the visit, but neither of them were giving me any clues as to what it might be. I introduced myself, I asked questions, but got little response. Was this just a social call? She shared about a health concern she was facing and I prayed for her. Finally, I asked whether I might read a portion of Scripture with them. It was one of those times where you take a chance, not knowing how the person will respond or what God might do.
This winter in the Learning Centre we did a series on outreach and evangelism based on a strategy developed by Dave Ferguson. We talked about the SPAM that fills up our in-boxes despite the fact that almost no one ever responds to it. Spammers keep sending out their junk e-mail because it costs so little and might reach a few. It’s possible to approach evangelism like a junk e-mail spammer: caring very little for the collateral damage as long as we get the message out.
For the final week of Black History Month, I wanted to introduce to you a man who was saved out of Islam and is now, among many other things, helping the church to share the Good News of the Gospel with Muslims. Thabiti Anyabwile grew up in North Carolina in the middle of the Bible belt but his family only attended church on special occasions. He never felt any strong desire for spiritual things until he was arrested in high school and had a wake-up call. He figured that church might be the place to go to get some sense knocked into you when you got in trouble, but when he went, he never ended up hearing the Good News.
December is a month when I’m focused on Christmas and the birth of Jesus. But last week I was invited to a seminar on the life of Muhammad. It was a reminder to me of the religious and cultural diversity of our city – and it impacts how we witness about Jesus. In the past with a Christian cultural majority, it was easy for Christians to ignore the beliefs of other people and simply share the Good News. Today, a subtler approach is needed. Let me explain how I responded to the Muslim invitation.
For me, Frozen is an almost perfect parable of the Gospel. The story begins with two sisters, Elsa and Anna, playing happily in a beautiful castle. It’s like paradise, until Elsa hurts her sister with her ice power. Until then they had played innocently but this one incident changes everything. Elsa is afraid of what’s inside her, she’s ashamed of what she’s done, and she’s afraid of hurting people again. We can relate to Elsa, not because we have ice power but because we each have a cold side to our heart and can hurt people with our words and our actions. Frozen, like the Bible, talks about how to deal with a frozen heart.