Always Be Prepared

Today is the start of the God’s Not Dead series at King’s Grant. There are six lesson in this series; here are my teaching notes and PowerPoint slides.

Introductory Questions:
Do you every feel intimidated when talking to someone who does not believe as you do about the existence of God or the reality of salvation through Jesus Christ? Why is that?

Let me introduce you to Josh Wheaton, a freshman college student who signed up for a philosophy class and discovers that the professor is a strong and opinionated atheist who sets some ground rules for the class. He asks everyone in the class to write out on a piece of paper the words: GOD IS DEAD. Josh is a believers and you can see the conflict as he refuses to sign the paper. He needs this class, he wants to be faithful to God… (Video Clip)

Slide4

This is the most important part of your witness, your own commitment to Christ. We must be completely submitted to him.
Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

When your heart is fully devoted to Jesus, it is a matter of discerning his will for your life, not just following our own feelings and opinions.

When Josh was told to sign that paper, his commitment to Christ meant the decision was already made. His girlfriend even tried to convince him to “sign the stupid paper.” He was tested to follow Christ or compromise on his beliefs.

Lord means, boss, the one in charge. When we don’t obey God’s Word, we are in danger of living hypocritical lives and becoming a stumbling block to others.

Slide5

This verse came up a few times in the film. It means that we must stand up and be identified as a believer, regardless of the consequences.

Josh’s decision to publically defend his faith was motived by this verse, Willie and Korie Robertson also brought up this verse when talking to a skeptical reporter.

Mina, (Professor Radisson’s girlfriend) was challenged by 2 Corinthians 6:14, to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. That Scripture is also clear on how to live our lives… we are called to obey God’s Word, not our feelings.

Imagine God’s church living out the truth and not just giving him lip service just on Sunday!

Slide6

We should always be ready to give reason for our hope. Of course, our testimony is always helpful; can we get it down to a quick two-minute testimony?

We may not be theologians but with a little effort to study and prepare See the diagrams below), we can help others find a true and fulfilling faith.

Josh didn’t start preparing with the challenge to teach the class, he was reading and studying since he was in junior high school (remember he met his girlfriend at a Christian concert six years before).

In his high school yearbook, he also referenced a quote from CS Lewis, “Only a real risk can test the quality of a belief.”

We get ready by learning the reasons to believe (the world God made, the complexity of living organisms, the sense of morality).

Atheists want to make us choose between faith and reason, yet the Christian faith is a rational belief system. Everyone’s faith is based on things that must be assumed. This is the essence of our worldview. When you believe there is nothing beyond nature, your worldview is called naturalism. If nature can’t explain it all, you view the world in a way that makes room for the supernatural.

Being ready forces us to have a basic understanding of the Bible and the Christian faith as a whole. The better you understand this truths, the easier you can explain them to someone else.

Slide7

Josh was challenged to defend his faith, but he did not act arrogantly or recklessly. He respectfully negotiated with the professor to have the class decide whether his defense of his faith was credible.

Wisdom is described as being more valuable than silver and gold.

As Josh was deciding on what to do, he went to the church to pray and seek guidance. He displayed wisdom by seeking counsel from his campus pastor, Dave, who reminded Josh about the importance of his witness to the class who might never go to church. Josh allowed the Bible to guide his feelings instead of his fears.

Slide8

In Josh’s first presentation, Professor Radisson asked him a question he could not answer. He was not defensive about his ignorance but simply said, “I don’t know.” We must not pretend to have all the answers to everyone’s questions.

You may not have a classroom situation to defend your faith, but you will enter into spiritual conversations with friends or random people you meet. Learning to ask good questions is more important than having the right answers. Some will be more open to the gospel when you show respect and value what they have to say.

Opposition: don’t take it personally. Who are they really opposing? Perhaps it is out of past bad experiences or misunderstandings. Kindness will diffuse someone in opposition more than emotional or intellectual arguments. A great question is, “How did you arrive at your beliefs?”

1 Peter 3:15 reminds us about gentleness and respect.

God honors our efforts as much as our successes. Don’t worry about falling short. Allow the Spirit to use us, depend on him to empower you to impact those around you.

Slide9

We CAN be both humble and confident at the same time. There is powerful evidence from science, history, and philosophy. Skeptics argue they can see no evidence for God in spite of what seems to be obvious and plain to those who believe (Romans 1:20).

People don’t doubt Christianity because the evidence points them away from reality, but they have chosen from the start to reject it. They filter everything they experience through the lens that God does not exist.

The Spirit gives us power and confidence (Acts 1:8).

Be confident in the change that God has done in your life. In the end, your personal testimony of God’s grace and mercy is more effective than all the theological debate in which you can engage.

Tools and Handouts:

Patterns-07-YourStory

Spiritual Markers in Your Life

Sometimes the circumstance is a decision-making situation, not so much between good and bad, but between good and best. I hope that we all will be able to pray this to God:

Lord, whatever I know to be your will, I will do it. Regardless of the cost and regardless of the adjustment, as best I know in my heart, I commit myself to follow your will ahead of time. Lord, no matter what that looks like, I will do it.

That is a tremendous prayer of submission. If you DON’T pray this way, you can never say, “Thy will be done” because you are really saying “Thy will be done as long as it doesn’t conflict with my will.” DO NOT proceed until you can honestly say, “Lord whatever you want, I will do it.”

Physical Markers and Spiritual Encounters:

Physical markers were often set up as a reminder of someone’s experience with God. At the crossing of the Jordan River, tribes set up a pile of stones as a reminder of what God had done for the people, and the fathers would pass these stories down to their children (Joshua 4:2-3, 6-7).

There are a number of people in the Old Testament worth studying when it comes to an encounter with God:

  1. Noah (Genesis 6-8)
  2. Abram (Genesis 12:1-8, 13:1-18)
  3. Isaac (Genesis 26:17-25)
  4. Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22, 35:1-7)
  5. Moses (Exodus 17:8-16, 24:1-11)
  6. Joshua (Joshua 3:5-4:9)
  7. Gideon (Judges 6:11-24)
  8. Samuel (1 Samuel 7:1-13)

I chose to look at Gideon since I attended a Gideon pastor appreciation lunch just this week. The Lord came to Gideon while he was working and called hm to a difficult task. He knew he was not up to the task of delivering God’s people from their enemies, but since he had this encounter with God, he set up a memorial and called it, “God is Peace” since he saw God and did not die.

Fathers passed on these stories of God’s activity to teach their children about God’s faithfulness and deeds. Every act builds upon the previous act, like a pile of stones. The stories are told and retold, then adding what God had done specifically for them. They rehearsed the stories to future generations would have a context of how God dealt with his people.  Each new step involved a person, and that person added his experiences to the story.

As we develop a spiritual inventory of stories, they are events that help us to recognize God’s movement in the past to help us prepare for God moving in the present and future. A spiritual marker identifies a time of transition, decision, or direction when I clearly know that God has guided me.

Personal Spiritual Markers:

God has been working in you since your birth, and we should recognize the events that have brought us to where we are now.

  1. G’Anne – In high school, I was interested in a girl who went to church and decided to go to church to be with her. I accepted Christ a year later.
  2. Scotty – I had decided to NOT go to college until my friend brought up the subject (after graduation) and said we could room together and get involved in the Baptist Student Union. I was accepted into college and met my wife at the BSU, and discovered my calling in life was into full-time Christian service.
  3. Bob – He was the campus minister who saw more in me than I saw in myself, and encouraged my to seek ways to grow spiritually, be obedient to God on campus, develop leadership skills and to consider seminary and Christian service.
  4. Kim – At college I met the love of my life and best friend. We have shared life and love for over 30 years. We embrace shared values, salvation in Christ, and commitment to him and each other. God has also called her into her own ministry, not just to be a pastor’s wife.
  5. Stephen – The birth of my son was the first time that God became a real person to me. It had been twelve years since I accepted the Lord; I finished college, then seminary, and then Kim and I were at our first church after seminary. Stephen came a month early and needed to be in the neonatal ICU, so with Kim in one hospital and Stephen in another, I was at a traffic light at about 9:00 one night, just leaving Kim, and on my way to see Stephen, on my way home when I cried out to God. I complained about the meaning of all this, what’s the point of the nine months, the anticipation, the preparation, the excitement, only to have my boy so near death. It was at that time that I heard the still small voice of God reassuring me that I was not alone. He said to me, “It’s going to be OK, I know what it’s like to lose a son.” I knew that no matter what happened to Stephen, Kim and I would still trust and follow God. We were not experiencing anything that God did not know about or experience himself. I named that place (like the Old Testament saints did) “God is my Peace” and “God is my Comfort” because it was that night I learned so much about the love that God has for me and my family. He loves Stephen more than I could ever love him!
  6. Allan – He was the pastor of our first church out of seminary, who was evangelistic and mission-minded. He left for the mission field and planted the seed of missions in our hearts.
  7. Don and Mickey – This couple challenged us to work in the area of home missions at the oceanfront, and to evaluate all that the world and the church had taught us and hold it up to the light of God’s Word. This was a very treasured time of ministry and relationships that laid a solid foundation for life-long ministry and walking with God.
  8. Zambia – It was in Zambia that I sensed the most satisfaction of being in God’s will, denying self and following God. The Great Commission was being realized in my life. The friends I made along the way are lasting and cherished relationships. I realized that I did not take the gospel to the Zambian people, but rather God was already at work there and I adjusted my life to join him in that work.
  9. Lemstone – As we left the mission field for a couple of reasons but our experience back home was difficult (I write about that a bit more in a previous post). God was silent. I could not find full-time employment in the ministry and felt abandoned by God and our denomination. The owners and employees of Lemstone Christian bookstore at the Galleria Mall (south of Birmingham) were praying for my family, and my employment, knowing that it meant I would leave the store. When I had the opportunity to interview in Richmond with the IMB’s Office of Mission Personnel, they called the employees off the floor and went to the stockroom and we prayed. They prayed earnestly for God to move in this situation. This was more than a workplace, it was the community of faith getting together to BE the church. To this day it was one of the most supportive work environments of which I have ever been a part.

I suppose that is enough storytelling for now, but the point is we should constantly watch for how God is moving, and notice the spiritual markers that outline and define our journey. All along the way I sensed that these were never decisions between good and bad, but between good and best. I was called to serve God and follow his lead whether I was on the field or serving in a church. He has called me to faithfulness to his will, purposes and his ways.

Faith Like Potatoes

Over a year ago I watched a film called Faith Like Potatoes. Weird title but a great film, based on a true story of a farmer turned preacher in South Africa.

Angus Buchan, a Zambian farmer of Scottish heritage, leaves his farm in the midst of political unrest and racially charged land travels south with his family to start a better life in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. With nothing more than a trailer on a patch of land, and help from his foreman, Simeon, the Buchan family struggles to settle in a new country. Faced with ever mounting challenges, hardships and personal turmoil, Angus quickly spirals down into a life consumed by anger, fear and destruction. This is a story that tells the moving life journey of a man who, like his potatoes, grows his faith, unseen until the harvest.

The Bible often brings up farming, for instance…

And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor (2 Timothy 2:6).

In this section, Paul brings up a farmer as one of three illustrations of a faithful minister of the gospel. The other two (soldier and athlete) probably sound more exciting. Although it’s not Paul’s intent, the truth is that a farmer leads quite an exciting life. He works one of the most dangerous careers a person can choose. Soldiers may face greater dangers from time to time, but a farmer lives and works between sky and earth every day. I recently discovered that in our time, farming outranks any other career in producing work-related injuries and death. Farming is not for dabblers, cowards, or the lazy. And farmers can teach us a lot about faith.

In comparison with athletics and soldiering, farming helps us understand the persistent and patient parts of faith. Action and results come fairly quickly for athletes and soldiers. Not for farmers. They place a seed in the ground and return to harvest the results, but it can be a long time between those two actions. Successful farmers know how to wait. They may not enjoy waiting; but they learn to do it. Waiting doesn’t usually mean doing nothing, but the hardest part of waiting is the waiting.

Farming comes up various times in scripture (sometimes the farmer represents God or the ministry of the gospel).

  1. Jesus used many farming situations in his parables (like Matthew 13:1-23).
  2. Paul discussed the parallels between farming and the development of believers (as in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9).

In 2 Timothy 2:6 we get to see ourselves as farmers. With that privilege comes responsibility. If we’re going to “enjoy the fruit” of our labors, then we better be “hardworking.” The farmer who is not hardworking will reap what he sows–little or nothing.

A wise farmer knows what he can’t do.

  1. He can’t put life in a seed.
  2. He can’t make it rain.
  3. He can’t force the seed to grow.

There’s much that’s out of his hands. But he does his part.

  1. He plants
  2. He waters
  3. He cultivates
  4. He waits

As believers, we plant seeds (acts of obedience to God) in one another’s lives. We deposit seeds (the gospel) in the lives of those who don’t know Christ. The actual results of these actions are in God’s hands. But we often get to be the first to enjoy those results because we’re there. If we recognize the way that we are farmers, we remember we’re in the field every day. Every moment becomes a new opportunity to persistently plant seeds and then patiently wait to see what God will do.

Application:

  1. Have you seen the film? It is well worth renting for your family movie night, and then discuss lessons seen in the film.
  2. How is your faith growing? Abundantly? Wonderful harvest? Bearing much fruit? Or is there a drought? Weeds springing up?
  3. What changes will you make to help cultivate your faith?
  4. How are you getting to know God better?
  5. What fruit do you see beginning to bud? Which fruit are ripe for harvest?
  6. What hired help do you need to farm better? To whom can you become accountable for your Christian growth and maturity?
  7. Can the Men of Steel help you to become a more productive farmer? (Next time we get together is April 30 at 7:30 am).

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