We are in incredibly challenging times. Our nation is divided. God’s Church is divided. We have failed to be faithful to the teachings of Christ. There are great injustices and inequities in our land. Violence is ongoing with threats of more coming. The COVID-19 pandemic continues with worldwide deaths passing 1 million and more than 200,000 lives lost in our nation. The wildfires rage in the west and hurricanes have battered states on the Gulf of Mexico. We have bitter division in our politics as the election draws near. It seems the only thing both parties agree upon is that the apocalypse will happen if the other party is elected.
In the midst of this, there is no shortage of voices who claim to have the answers, they quickly tell us which ones God favors and which side to be on. Dig deeper, don’t let others do your thinking for you. It is often more complex than some people make it out to be. In these times, we would do well to remember this story from the Bible.
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so." - Joshua 5:13-15
A friend told me this was the Biblical story that inspired President Abraham Lincoln’s famous response to the question about whether God was on his side during the Civil War . . . “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Lincoln was very familiar with the Bible and sought to lead with God’s truth and wisdom. There’s a very insightful article with wisdom for today written by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik on this topic, you can read it HERE.
In our nation we have Christian leaders calling for violence or failing to denounce it.They misrepresent God’s nature and tragically fail to understand how God’s Kingdom comes. I do not want to be overly dramatic, but I have been thinking of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. At the time Rwanda was one of the most “Christian” nations in Africa. However, because of centuries old divisions, injustices and strife, the tribal identities of Hutu and Tutsi carried more weight than their identities as followers of Jesus. In less than four months between half a million and a million were murdered in Rwanda.
Again, I don’t want to be an alarmist. I am praying for peace and justice as integral parts of God’s Kingdom to be established here and now on earth as they are in heaven. In the U.S.A. we love stories of “good violence” overcoming “bad violence.” From John Wayne and Clint Eastwood to James Bond and Marvel movies, we love it when the “good guy” crushes and destroys the bad guy. There is a time for this. World War II is a clear example. However, Jesus is radically different. Jesus overcomes evil not with force and violence, but with sacrificial love, laying down his life.
Friends, let’s be sure no matter what happens in these next few months that we seek to line up with Jesus on all things – being peacemakers, ministers of reconciliation, salt and light! And it’s a good idea every once in a while to take off our shoes and socks and remember it all belongs to Him. We’re on God’s ground, holy ground!
It’s been said that the two most difficult things about evangelism for Christians are: #1) Starting and #2) Stopping! A lot of Christians keep their faith to themselves for various reasons. However, our calling and joy is to abide in Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit gives us courage and boldness to share (John 15:5; Acts 4:31). If you aren’t active in sharing your faith with others, I encourage you to ask yourself, “Why?”
There are roots to hesitancy in sharing faith. If you can identify them, you can find the resources to overcome them. Remember, Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Matthew 4:19 NLT)! So, starting can be challenging, but God is with you and for you!
Then the stopping! You know what I mean. You’ve met people who share their faith and don’t come up for air! At some point you feel trapped because they have shifted into sermon mode. Dialogue is so much more effective and fun! Have a few questions ready so that the other person is invited into the conversation. “I’ve shared about my faith and I’m grateful for you listening. I’m curious, are a person of faith? I’d love to hear some of your story.” Then make sure you don’t interrupt them. Ask clarifying questions or encourage them to expound on some aspect of their story. If they have different views, don’t react negatively. Remember, the Holy Spirit goes ahead of us, is with us and goes after us. Don’t try to force a change. Try to sense how open they are and follow the leading of God’s Spirit. Remember, we are called to be witnesses, not prosecuting attorneys!
The Greatest Commandment is crucial in true faith sharing – Love God, love the person you’re sharing with. These two points are also crucial in effective faith sharing: #1) Don’t treat the person as a project! They are a unique human life created in God’s image. #2) Don’t reduce your witnessing to a formula or a technique. I’m not against having some specific points to share, but tune in to the relationship, where the person is hurting, broken or needy. Be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to share your own shortcomings and hurts in order to connect with them. Here are a few other questions I like to ask to get to know people and understand where they are: “Do you have a faith background? What is it and has it been played a positive role in your life?” “Do you think God is active in the world and, if so, how?” “What do you make of Jesus? Do you know his teachings and what do you think of them? Do you think he is the Son of God? God revealed in human form? Why or why not?”
As I get to know people who are not Christians, at some point I share with them that I’m betting my whole life that the greatest truth at the center of the universe is this: “God loves you, and the clear evidence is seen in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ!”
**I am available to train churches in evangelism and basic apologetics face to face or via Zoom.
I write with deep conviction and an urgency as I try to understand the times. God’s people, the Church, are to be ambassadors of Christ, to reflect the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Honestly, how do you think we are doing?
Evangelism is sharing Christ with others and calling people to faith and belief.. However, if we only call them to faith in Christ for the purpose of forgiveness and rescue, but fail to call them to obedience to Christ as Lord, we have failed greatly.
I’ve seen the rush to get people to "accept Christ" even when they know very little of what they are signing up for. Yes, we want everyone to know the love of God in Christ, but we cannot cheapen the message by minimizing the cost of discipleship. When we do, we get people who are Christian in name, but live in ways that are clearly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. This repels people. It repels unbelievers and even causes people in the Church to renounce their faith! God help us!
Jesus questions us all, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say (Luke 6:46)?” He follows this up with the story of two people building houses, one on a foundation of rock and the other on sand. The message is simple, if “disobedience and neglect” are the building blocks of our lives, they will crumble in the storms of life. If the foundation of our lives is loyalty and allegiance to Christ and all of his teachings, we’ll withstand the tempests that are sure to come. Let’s be found faithful!
In the U.S.A. right now, we are in multiple crises at the same time: the pandemic with the number of dead nearing 200,000; the ongoing struggle for racial justice with far too many wounded, suffering and dead; an economic crisis for many with desperation growing; and a political battle that’s raging with ratcheted up accusations, tensions and attacks every day. Please ask with me, are we as Jesus’ people reflecting His character, His grace and His truth into these crises? Are we offering help, offering hope, loving our neighbors and yes, loving our enemies? Do we know and proclaim that justice is an essential part of the Gospel (see Matthew 12:17-21)? These are not options for us to consider. If we follow Jesus, they are commands to be obeyed; and we obey not merely out of a sense of duty, but with joy knowing that our lives will please God and help manifest the Kingdom of God, which is coming “on earth as it is in heaven.”
In light of some recent failures among prominent Christian leaders, Melissa Stuebing, a friend of mine, posted an article. Her husband, David, called out an amazing quote, “There are men that would take on Christ’s name and none of His attributes.” Wow! This one made me think deeply. I believe many are well intentioned, but they drift from Jesus’ teachings, if they ever knew them. They pursue a righteous aim, but then endorse any method to get them there and become corrupt. In Dostoevsky’s "The Brothers Karamazov", we see a profound betrayal of Christ by the Church. The Grand Inquisitor believes he has found better methods than Christ’s teachings to get to the same end. It never works. We have to be vigilant, making sure we're not in error or deceived. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this was a danger to the Civil Rights Movement and spoke boldly, “I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”
Friends, remember “. . . our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20 NRSV)." Beware of the tribalism that can divide us. Remember the catastrophic lessons of tribalism within the “Christian culture” of Rwanda in 1994. Their loyalty to their tribe, whether Hutu or Tutsi, was greater than their loyalty to Christ. We must be sure of where our allegiance lies and who we will follow, in good times and bad. We are not only citizens of heaven, but ambassadors as well. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18 NIV)."
Have you ever been stung by a bee? Not a fun experience! Did you know that after a honey bee stings someone, it dies? They are giving their lives to protect the hive or to defend themselves. A couple of weeks ago, I visited Pastor Bob Weeks and his church, Verona UMC. I went to preach two recorded sermons. However, my visit was intentionally timed to include helping with a “honey harvest.” Yes, Verona UMC has about 250,000 employees living in their ten beehives! This “Honey Bee Ministry” helps to fund missions, while taking a pro-active role in caring for God’s creation.
Bees are fascinating and so helpful to us as they pollinate 80% of the world’s plants and more than 90 different food crops! Years ago, I actually had two of my own beehives. Helping with a honey harvest of 10 hives was a new and amazing experience. Pastor Bob’s expertise in beekeeping showed as he guided the team of volunteers. The bee suits are hot, to say the least, but they do keep you free from stings . . . worth it! We opened up the hives from the backside and then used smoke to break the communication of the bees and drive them deeper into the hives. We pulled out the frames to see if they were filled with honey or brood (larvae). We placed the frames in the honey extractor which spins the honey out – using centrifugal force. Then, we took them back and put them in the hive for the bees to fill again!
You all know that preachers are often looking for sermon illustrations. Here are some interesting ‘bee facts’ that didn’t make the cut for sermon material.
Friends, how amazing is it, that God by His Holy Spirit produces “fruit” in us so we can enjoy it, but there’s enough of it that others can have plenty too! Paul writes to the church in Galatia, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). He is saying as God’s Spirit dwells in you and you yield to the Holy Spirit, a different kind of photosynthesis takes place and we are changed to produce visible results! Make no mistake, the Christian life is a supernatural life! Our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)! This supernatural love, joy, peace, patience . . . all are received in relationship with the living God. Our lives are qualitatively better, because God dwells with us, but it’s not just for our benefit.
The Holy Spirit produces this ‘fruit’ in us for others to experience! Is this your experience? Is there joy in you that transcends your circumstances? Do you have a love from Christ that is even extended to “enemies?” In the chaos of the pandemic and all of the crises around us, is there the “peace that passes all understanding?” It is all available to you. I know in my life I often have to wrestle against my flesh and yield to God’s Spirit before I experience bearing “fruit.” In this way, God makes himself known in the world. The world will never be interested in a “religious version of itself.” As they see in us a quality of life that they are lacking, they become open to life in Christ!
Friend, please be aware, the situation is urgent. Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world, but if people reject him, they are choosing a Christ-less eternity. Let us live boldly, a life in the Holy Spirit! 20 centuries ago, the Apostle John wrote to the church:
“This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:13-14).
BY: ASHLEY KLINE
Abandoned, rejected, and lonely are a few words that describe my first semester at Virginia Wesleyan University, then known as Virginia Wesleyan College. Like many college freshmen, I struggled to discover where I belonged and sought refuge in all the wrong people, resulting in even greater loneliness and heartache. When at my lowest point, I was walking around campus with my hoodie pulled up to hide my face when suddenly and unexpectedly I remembered my mom’s voice in my head, urging me to go to the Chaplain’s Office. Before I began college my mom and I discussed that it would be a good idea to make a connection with the on-campus ministry. This is advice I refused to heed until this moment after walking other paths to no avail. I was out of options.
I was in need of a friend and a place of sincere comfort and guidance. I walked into the Chaplain’s Office distressed and thankful to find Greg West more than willing to take a break from whatever he was working on to hear my story and listen to what I was going through. Little did I know this was a fateful meeting that would change the course of my life forever.
I participated in youth group through a local church during high school but was more interested in making friends than hearing the Gospel. I thought of it more as a social club than anything else. I came to college without any real knowledge of who Jesus was except for the fact that he was a man who lived a long time ago, helped the poor, died on a cross, and was in some way associated with God. It wasn’t until I met Greg West that I learned the truth that Jesus is God and that he died on the cross so that we no longer have to bear the heavy burden of our sins. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Greg imparted these truths to me as well as told me I had a friend in God and that we are able to have a personal relationship with Him. Greg then told me that there was a family to be found in the ministry on campus.
As a result of that day I became involved in the on-campus ministry where I found a wonderful support system, and many people who are still my friends to this day. I began exploring faith and came to belief in Jesus. I added a religious studies major to my degree program. I had the pleasure of serving as Greg’s work-study in the Chaplain’s Office for more than 2 years. I graduated from VWU last year with the class of 2019 and am now pursuing a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary. I continue to work with Greg as the web designer for Life in His Name Ministries and am proud to still call Greg my friend and mentor.
If you are reading this and don't call yourself a Christian, I welcome you! Maybe you're seeking truth and considering the Christian faith. To you I say there is no shortage of 'bad examples' of Christians in our world. It seems the media prefers to highlight bad examples of Christians rather than those who are more Christ-like in their words and deeds. In addition to this, there are stereotypes of what the Christian faith is about: "It's just a list of rules," "following God would take all the fun out of life," "they are all hypocrites."
As a non-Christian, you might think, "Why would I want any part of that?" The underlying questions you are likely asking are: "Do I like the Christian faith?" "Do I like the Church?" Well, these questions seem to make sense, but I beg you to reconsider. These are the wrong questions! The question must be: "IS IT TRUE?" You see, the Christian faith is based on claims within human history, claims within a certain culture at a certain time in a certain place, and there is evidence to support these claims.
The central claim of the Christian faith is that the One who created the heavens and the earth, visited us in the form of a human life. Yes, we believe Jesus was the visible image of the invisible God! So, is it true? Did God come? Has God been revealed in a way we can clearly understand? The New Testament of the Bible declares a bold, "YES" to these questions.
So if you're considering, "Is it true?" I urge you to get all the resources you can and dig deep. Find trusted friends who can help you on the journey. I would be happy to provide you with resources so you can properly 'weigh the evidence.' Please reach out to me: Greg@lifeinhisname.net. A couple resources that are easily accessible are,
1) The Privileged Planet (documentary on Youtube)
2) The Case for Christ (movie or book)
3) The New Testament, of course! (eyewitness accounts of Jesus' life ministry, death and resurrection).
The Apostles did not have audio or video technology, but with their voices they proclaimed and with pen and paper they recorded, and they shout to us across the centuries, "God loves you" and"Jesus is Lord of all!"
I came to believe in Jesus as the unique Son of God when I was 22-years-old, and am forever grateful. I did not experience it as 'a blind leap into the dark.' Rather, it was 'a measured step into the light'. The Christian faith is reasonable, but reason alone isn't quite enough. It is a step of faith to believe and receive Jesus as the One who rescues you from your failures, and breathes new life into you, as you commit to following Him.
Our nation and the world have been shaken by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Yet, we were still reeling from the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia while he was jogging. There is a pattern. There is a history. There does not seem to be change. My college students of color do not feel safe. They do not feel free in this country that proclaims “Freedom.” The already dangerous divides in our country seem even greater now as we also see divisions in our churches. For all of us who name Jesus as Lord, we must search our hearts and study the Word of God to apply it. A passage I’ve been sharing to clearly show that Jesus is committed to justice on earth is a prophecy of the coming Messiah from Isaiah 42. It’s quoted in Matthew 12 with Jesus as the fulfillment.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching” Isaiah 42: 1-4 (NRSV).
Three times in these four verses we see the word ‘justice’; clearly Christ is committed to bringing and establishing justice here. Dr. John Oswalt notes that the Hebrew word here for justice is “mishpat.” Here is how he defines “mishpat:” “The life-giving order which exists when the creation is functioning in accordance with the design of its LORD.” So, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done here on earth as it is in heaven” is a cry for God’s justice, God’s “misphat.” So, if you say you follow Christ, but are not concerned about earthly justice, you've been deceived. When non-Christians see “Christians” who dismiss calls for justice, they want nothing to do with our faith – all because we’ve misrepresented Christ. Clearly, we all have a part to play in bringing justice and mercy into the world.
For the last 10 years I have had the privilege of shepherding college students as the Chaplain of Virginia Wesleyan University. In the last year, there has been a stirring in my spirit about new ministry. Here is my deepest conviction as I step out: God has called me into a different role within the body of Christ. I strongly considered and prayed about serving as a Pastor in a local church again. The guidance seemed very clear to me, that my calling and giftings best fit the role of missionary-evangelist. I am drawn to people who do not yet know Christ’s love. I am energized when I cross lines of culture, race, religion, worldview and language (if it’s Spanish ) in order to share Christ. My greatest joy is to see people experience the love of Jesus and his redeeming power. I do not want to miss this calling!
I will be appointed as a “Conference Evangelist” within the United Methodist Church as of July 1. Last semester, I wrapped up teaching my course: The Wesleyan Revival: Methodism for the fourth time at VWU. I embrace Wesleyan theology and methods but will gladly work with other churches. The Kingdom of God is our longing and pursuit! Evangelists in our culture often have a negative stereotype. Therefore, I want to be clear: I have no interest in big hair, Cadillacs or coercive appeals for money! My examples come from the Scriptures.
In Acts 8:26 – 40, Philip the Evangelist is led by the Holy Spirit to share Christ with the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch believes and is baptized, thus the church in Africa begins! In Acts 21:8, Philip is referred to as an evangelist.
This passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus outlines “The Five-Fold Ministry,”five clear leadership roles to equip or train God’s people for ministry.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Paul lays out a grand vision, that we would attain “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ!” Let it be, Lord! The church in this country has an abundance of pastors, the other roles seem lacking in numbers. In my role as evangelist, I will partner with local churches to help them become active, confident and effective in sharing the Good News of Jesus. We know that we must go to the people and share in coffee shops, homes, the marketplace and other settings. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples . . .” Plus, the cultural expectation that people will “go to church” is gone.