Is it possible to manipulate people into the kingdom?

“…and make disciples of all the nations….” (Matthew 28:18-20)

From where I sat as pastor, the deacon appeared to be brow-beating people into praying the sinner’s prayer with him, then accompanying him to church the following Sunday to make public this “commitment” and be baptized.  The whipped look on their faces told all one would ever need to know.

So, one Sunday I asked his most recent trophy, a sad-looking lady, “Do you really want to do this?  You know, you don’t have to be baptized if you don’t want to.”  She said quietly that this was her choice. So, we baptized her and never saw her again.

In time, we changed the way we received church members to make certain we were not simply baptizing someone’s converts but were actually making disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus did not send us to make converts or church members.  He did not command anyone to make decisions or pray a nice little prayer.  He did not commission us to talk people into walking an aisle or undergoing baptism or getting religious.

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Man is basically good. (Try saying that with a straight face.)

Checking into a company’s website, a pastor friend noticed their statement of values:  “We believe in the basic goodness of all people.”

He came away wondering what a person would have to do to convince himself of that misguided philosophy.

True, there is something inside us that wants to believe in the basic goodness of people. I suspect that’s part of our sinful nature, believing against all evidence to the contrary that we are all right and not in need of forgiveness or salvation. It’s a major strain in our sinful system to hold that all we need to do is release everyone from restraints and for preachers to quit laying guilt trips on us and all will be well.  “Imagine there’s no religion,” said John Lennon.  As though that were the problem.

Have you seen the news this morning? How many people were killed in your city last night by people who were resisting restraints and determining to have their own way?

Our Lord said, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children….” (Luke 11:13).  You are evil, but you still get some things right.  That’s what He said.

We are a mixture.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that 2 percent changes everything.

Insights on this subject popped up in two unlikely places:  a western novel and a biography of a longshoreman philosophy from over a half-century ago.

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Your story might make a great parable

This is for pastors.  The rest of you may listen in.

We have all had defining stories occur in our families and our personal lives that would make great teaching parables. Interesting stories in themselves, they also serve as vehicles to convey spiritual truths to our people.

I have three samples for you.  Whether you use them as parables–microcosms of spiritual lessons–or simply as sermon illustrations will be up to you.

First Parable:  Eugene Peterson, in his book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” gives one of his parables.

Dr. Peterson was in a hospital room, recovering from minor surgery on his nose which had been broken years earlier in a basketball game. The pain was great and he was in no mood for fellowship.

However, the young man in the next bed wanted to chat. Peterson brushed him off–his name was Kelly–but overheard him telling his visitors that evening that “the fellow in the next bed is a prizefighter. He got his nose broken in a championship fight.” Kelly proceeded to embellish it beyond that.

Later, after the company had left, Peterson told him what had actually happened and they got acquainted. When Kelly found out that Peterson was a pastor, he wanted nothing more to do with him and turned away.

The next morning, Kelly shook Peterson awake. His tonsillectomy was about to take place and he was panicking. “I want you to pray for me!” He did, and they wheeled him to surgery.

After he returned from surgery, Kelly kept ringing for the nurse. “I hurt. I can’t stand it. I’m going to die.”

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The ongoing, ever-living Christmas

I sat in the congregation listening to the Christmas sermon.  Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

The minister had selected one aspect of the Christmas story and read a text supporting it, then brought his sermon on that subject.  His points were properly related to the text and no doubt most people left the worship center satisfied they had been spiritually fed.  It was only later that something occurred to me, what was the missing ingredient in that morning’s service.

The worship leader and musicians and the pastor all drew our attention back to that night in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and they did a fair job of opening the text, explaining its message, and praising the Lord. But they omitted one major element as far as I could tell.

They forgot to give us the “so what” of the Christmas message.

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Let’s say you are considering becoming a Christian

You almost persuade me to become a Christian.  –Acts 26:28

Let’s say that’s you.

You’ve been seriously considering inviting Jesus Christ to become Lord of your life. It’s a big step and you’re taking your own good time dealing with it.

You know some things about Jesus and you find yourself drawn to Him.

You wonder what to do now, where to start.

Here are some suggestions…

One. Go to the primary source, not a secondary one.    A primary source is one that is close to the subject, that is the basis for what we know and believe. A secondary source is one written about the primary source.

Two.  In other words, read the Bible and not just books about the Bible. Start by reading the Four Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  These are the opening “books” of the New Testament, and give us all we know about His earthly life and ministry.  I suggest you read them again and again.  — You will find a lot of similarities.  Mark’s was the first one written, according to some of the earliest believers, at the dictation of the Apostle Peter.  But each gospel is different in interesting ways.  Read them several times.

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Jesus and only Jesus: Why is that so difficult?

Him we preach.  –Colossians 1:28

–No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there.  John 3:13.  How clear is that?  He is the One who knows.

–No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus.  John 14:6.  How clear is that?  He is our Mediator.

–No one can know God unless Jesus reveals Him to them.  Matthew 11:27.  How clear is that?  He is the Revealer.

–There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Only Jesus.  Acts 4:12.  How clear is that?  He is our Savior.

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God’s people: Always on duty

Paul to Timothy: “Be instant, in season and out of season.”  (2 Timothy 4:2) 

(I was in revival in the St. Louis area.  This was eight years ago.  Here is what I wrote….)

I met Sarah three mornings ago when she and three co-workers were having breakfast in the hotel where I was staying while in the St. Louis area for a revival.  The four of them were sharing a small table, obviously enjoying one another’s company. As they got up to leave, I called over to them. “Hey, do you guys have a minute?”

“I’m a cartoonist and I would love to draw you. It takes one minute and it’s free. Would you let me draw you?”

They mildly protested that they might be late for work, but they lingered and I sketched them, two guys and two girls. All in their early 20’s. All young and cool and looking good.

“We work at Buckle,” one said. I had no idea what that was.

“It’s a denim store in the mall. Right next to the food court. You ought to come by.”

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There are several good reasons not to believe

“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen…. By faith we understand….” (Hebrews 11:1ff)

There are good reasons not to believe in God, not to believe in Jesus, and not to believe in Holy Scripture.

A wise servant of the Lord will want to learn what they are and why people hold on to them. In doing so, he will better understand his own belief and will be able to respond to the questions/attacks of unbelievers.

This is far more important than the typical Christian realizes.

We cannot effectively counter the resistance of the unbeliever–whether he/she is a seeker, an agnostic, skeptic, atheist, or full blown antagonist–until we learn why they reject the heart of the message of the Christian faith.

Faith.  It starts with this and perhaps ends there also.

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Why your good sermon was so boring

Pastor, if you are like the rest of us, you’ve had this happen….

You brought a sermon on an important scriptural passage which you knew beyond a doubt was from the Lord.  You had a great time studying and praying for this sermon, and you knew this was cutting edge stuff. So, why was the sermon itself so poorly received?  Halfway through, you could sense the congregation’s collective minds wandering.  How could this happen?

Clearly, the problem could be any of a thousand things. But let me share a strong conviction on a primary reason your excellent sermon may have been so poorly received: You failed to lay the foundation for it.

That is to say, you preached the event without setting the stage and placing the context for it before the congregation.  For instance….

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Does your church have a gospel blimp?

The Gospel Blimp went through multiple printings and was turned into a movie to be shown in churches.

The blimp idea was born when a little cluster of friends from a conservative evangelical church enjoying a barbecue in George and Ethel’s back yard began discussing their next-door neighbors. Those folks clearly were unsaved since they were drinking beer and playing cards. Someone who knew them pointed out that they attend a liberal church, but only a few times a year. As a plane went by overhead, a fellow named Herm remarked that if that aircraft had been carrying a message such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” the lost neighbors would have received a witness since they also had glanced in its direction.

One thing led to another and the idea was birthed to buy a blimp and have it trail Scripture messages across the sky for citizens to read. They formed a non-profit, got themselves chartered, organized a board with officers, and made Herm, the fellow with the idea, its executive. Soon, Herm resigned his job and went full-time with International Gospel Blimps, Inc.

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