Street Vendor Gospel

I just got back from a family trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a wonderful city and my family and I always have a great time when we go. I highly recommend visiting Vegas if you have the opportunity.

The issue of a Christian family in big, bad Sin City is a different post for a different time. Instead, I’d rather speak to something I remember from my previous visit to Vegas.

Our last trip to Las Vegas was a few years ago. I was around 10 or 11, but I don’t remember much from the trip. However, there is one specific memory that still sticks out from our walk on Fremont Street.

fremont_street
Fremont Street Las Vegas, NV. (vegasexperience.com)

I remember my family and I walking down Fremont Street and
it
was
amazing
.

I was surrounded by vibrant lights and sounds. People speaking different languages were passing me by. Vendors selling everything from phone cases to watches were calling out to me and my family as we walked down the street. It was so exciting. This had to be past 9 p.m., which was super late for me as a 10 year old. I was living it up in the big city.

I soon noticed a man that was a little different from the rest. He was accosting every passerby, but wasn’t getting much of a response from anyone. He wasn’t coarse or rude, just loud and impersonal.

A sign was draped over his shoulders and his megaphone was piercing clearly through the roar of Fremont Street.

This guy’s sign focused more on Hell and eternity, rather than calling out sins, but you get the idea. We’ve all seen these people before. Despite all of his effort, this man didn’t draw anything more than a few disgusted looks and rolled eyes.

Our megaphoned crusader was attempting to tell people about the Gospel.  This 10 year old theological titan (ha.) didn’t hear any gross missteps or errors. None of his views seemed to be way out there…

But the Gospel wasn’t penetrating to a single heart. He was seen and heard by hundreds but didn’t reach anyone. What was the problem?

He was viewed as another vendor on the street. 

This guy with a sign and a megaphone didn’t seem to be making any friends, much less winning lives for Christ.

I felt terrible for this guy. I felt like he had missed something. The way to reach lives for Christ is through relationships, not shouting at them as they pass by. Jesus himself ate, drank, and partied with people so he could talk with them, not at them.

This street vendor presentation of the Gospel was cold and impersonal, which was exactly opposite of the strategy Jesus employed. Jesus met in people’s homes, went to their feasts, and met their children as he was reaching them.

Why though? Jesus already knew their hearts because he was sovereign God. He didn’t have to visit with them, or take the time to build a relationship. But he did. So what does that tell us?

Personal relationships are vital to sharing the Gospel.

If we are aiming to be disciples of Jesus that means interfacing with people the way that he did. Jesus did speak to thousands at a time, but he also took time with individuals.

Jesus built these relationships everywhere he went.  Just think back to a few people he met in his ministry.

Jesus met his first 4 disciples, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John at their workplace (Matt. 4:18-22).

He also went to people’s homes, like he did with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

Jesus met with people alone, like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-42).

He also met people in crowded places, like the lame man near the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15).

People have to know we truly care for them, or our pleas for salvation will only seem like another sales pitch. We have to learn a heart before winning it to Christ. So the obvious needs to be pointed out.

Strategies aimed at reaching everybody are sometimes great ways to reach nobody.

Huge campaigns and movements are definitely powerful tools, but arguably the best way for real, lasting growth of the Church is through personal relationships. The first century Church exploded because of their intentionality in relationships.

How does that look for us in 2015, though?

Take someone to lunch. Invite them to your home. Go with them to the doctor. Join them in their hobbies. Grab coffee before work. Take them to a movie. Go to their child’s ballgame. Spending quality time with someone nurtures a relationship that can easily turn into a witness of its own.

We are called to love people, and to love them well. Our message of love and acceptance has so much more authority when people experience it first hand in the way we treat them.

So I want to encourage you, Church. Intentionally build relationships with your eyes looking towards eternity. Love people in the way Christ did—personally. Beware of the Street Vendor Gospel. It can easily come across as casting stones, rather than sowing seeds.

 

Advertisements

Stress Part 3: What To Do When We Stress

And so we come to the 3rd and final part of our examination of stress.

In Part 1 we introduced our passage, defined stress, and also distinguished between good (eustress) and bad (distress) stress. In part 2 we looked at why a Christian stresses. We reminded ourselves that we are strangers in a fallen world that’ll experience troubles, but our heavenly home makes every bump along the way worth it. We also discovered that we succum to stress when we lose sight of the goal. Our focus should be set on leading others to Christ, not the temporary difficulties we face. 

Let’s recall our passage in Philippians chapter 4:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 
  2. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
  3. do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 
  4. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

We see now why we should not stress, but the fact is that we will still feel overwhelmed at times. What then? The Spirit knew we would feel this way, and gave Paul the remedy he writes for us.

So what do we do when we stress?
We pray. That sounds like a Sunday school answer but it’s the solution Paul gives in verse 6. We pray asking God to handle it and calm us. I’m reminded of the old hymn, What A Friend We Have In Jesus:

“O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!” 

God is transcendent above all of Creation, yet He is concerned with every detail of our lives. The same hands that scooped out oceans and carved out mountains are the same hands that hold you and me. This God that holds the heavens between His fingers and measures the oceans with the lines of His hands cares for you and me (Isaiah 40:12). This same great, awesome, magnificent, all-powerful God knows the hairs on my head. The Creator wants an intimate relationship with me. Isn’t that amazing? He cares when I’m stressed and distraught. He wants me to draw near to Him. That’s precisely what prayer is.

Paul also gives a stipulation in this remedy that we often miss. With thanksgiving. If we are sincere in our desire to embrace the Father, we will be thankful. We will see His grace and providence in every inch of our lives and be overwhelmed with gratitude and thankfulness.

So I want to encourage you, Church. When you’re torn in different directions by sinful worry and stress, remember to keep your home and your goal in perspective.

Realize you’ve won eternity thanks to Christ! You’re not of this world; your home is above. In the scope of eternity, what’s your little problem?

Remember to focus on Christ. Use the Advocate (Holy Spirit) and the assurance He brings to anchor yourself in reasonableness. It can solidfy your witness.

Pray. Pray. Pray. God cares. He wants to hear you. Be thankful that the creator of the universe listens to you and wants a relationship.

Thank you very much for reading, I pray you gained something from these posts.

Stress Part 2: Why Do We Stress When We Have A Savior?

Welcome to Part 2 of our look at stress. In Part 1 we introduced our passage, defined stress, and also distinguished between good (eustress) and bad (distress) stress. We’re focusing on the bad stress, since it’s the detrimental kind that hinders us.
Paul speaks to distress and anxiety in Philippians 4:4-7:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 
  2. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
  3. do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 
  4. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

We then ended by questioning our stress. Why does a Christian stress? Why do you stress?
I stressed over a busy Friday. I was frantically balancing responsibilities and it wore me down. I was overwhelmed.

But in the span of eternity, my little Friday was a fraction of the vapor that is my life. I’ve been given an eternity in paradise with my Savior. So why did I still get overcome with stress and worry?

1.We’re Strangers in This Fallen World

Stevin Curtis Chapman has a wonderful song called Long Way Home. He speaks to the struggle we face in this world, and how we’re just passing through. It really changes the whole perspective when focus on our real life staring after this one. It brings to mind this verse:

33. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Christ has overcome my stressful Friday, your financial hardships, your broken relationships, your sorrows, your heartbreak, the world. We have His blessed assurance and a peace that surpasses all understanding (verse 7). We can remain grounded because our Savior purchased our salvation and gave us a heavenly home. Thanks to Christ’s resurrection, our real life begins after this one ends.

The eternity in Heaven praising our savior is the perfect, complete reward. Paradise is a beautiful place where there’s no tears or heartache. We should be longing to get there! If we have this reward, every little bump on the journey there is negligible. Paul says in another letter that even death has lost its sting. Nothing that happens on Earth can deter us from our home. We can find comfort in what’s coming before us!

But it’s very important here that we make sure we’re practical. Paul draws attention to this in verse 5 where he speaks to our reasonableness:
5. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (Philippians 4:5)
We should not be too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. Rather, our blessed assurance and peace from God mentioned in verse 7 should anchor us in this life, to press towards our real home.

This fallen creation still ultimately points to its Creator, despite our misuse of every aspect of it. As Chrsitians we’re called to redeem creation. This saving grace of Christ and intimate relationship with God have serious implications for all areas of our life on Earth. Even the stressful ones. We can handle our stressful finances, relationships, responsibilities, obligations, and pressures in ways that glorify Christ and grow His kingdom.

Yes, stress and hardships are eminent. We will feel defeated. We will feel that all is lost. But our heavenly home awaits us, and we’re called to bring as many with us as we can. Press towards the mark of the high calling!

2. We Lose Sight of our Goal

If we shift the paradigm to realizing that we’re only passing through, we should be heavenly minded. That’s quite easy to say, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed by our life on Earth. Now this is a real physical place, and most of the time our stressors are reasonable.
Finances are necessary to life, relationships are our family, friends, and how we witness and lead others to Christ, work is how provide for our families. There are all valid endeavors that need to be attended to.

The problem is when these things tear at us and cripple us.

Paul’s use of this Greek word conveys our stress better than our English. He uses the word “merimnáō” which properly translates to being drawn in opposite directions or divided into parts. The context here suggests that Paul was harnessing its figurative interpretation: “to go to pieces” due to being pulled apart. Paul said like the force exerted by sinful anxiety that tears us into pieces.

And that’s exactly how it feels, doesn’t it? It feels like you’re being torn in a hundred different directions. It can feel like the life you’ve built is crumbling. You only see a thousand bricks instead of the building Christ can build from it.

This happens when we give the carnal issues more attention than we give Christ. We lose our focus on Christ. We see this here as Paul in verse 4 tells us to rejoice. He even tells us twice.
4. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
If we’re rejoicing in the Lord we’ll have Him on our minds and hearts, thus minimizing the temporary hiccups we’ll have in our life of praise.  We have to adjust to the bigger picture and its painter. If we fix our eyes on Jesus, the troubles of this life pale in comparison to His grace and beauty. Our focus should be on Christ and the guidance of the Spirit, not the flesh.

6. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6 ESV)

That’s easy to say and read, but it’s a little different applying it. When rent’s due and the bills come up and the fridge is empty and your mother is sick and your brakes go out and your world is crumbling down around you the last thing you wanna do is lead others Christ. I realize that’s my whole reason for being on Earth and all, but I’ve got to handle my business first before I have an awkward, uncomfortable conversation with someone.

When I compare my struggles to the cross, it can’t help but seem pointless. Christ has overcome this world and my little problems, and I have a home prepared for me in Heaven. Christ has overcome death, both the physical and spiritual. He’s calling me to be His messenger, and to bring others home. That has to be my focus, not stressing over the temporary complications of this life. Leading others to the salvation of Christ is the goal, and I cannot lose sight of it.

So why do we stress when we have a Savior?
Simple. Our perspective is wrong. We lose sight of our home and our mission. We are strangers in this fallen world that will face inevitable troubles, but our eternity in Heaven with our savior makes every one of those issues irrelevant.  On my journey to Heaven, I’m called to bring others with me. Leading others to Christ is the goal that outshines every possible problem I could ever have on Earth.

So I want to encourage you, Church. When you’re torn in different directions by sinful worry and stress, remember to keep your home and your goal in perspective.

Thank you for reading! I pray you’ll join me for part 3 where we’ll see how we should respond to stress.

Stress Part 1: Introducing Stress

I’m starting a 3 part series on stress, focusing on Philippians 4:4-7. March will be full of midterms, trip planning, and just the day to day grind, so it’ll be demanding… There will be plenty of stressful days. These posts will come out the first three weeks in March; it seems fitting. Stress is something I’ve been studying on my own, and I pray you’ll gain something from reading!

This first part is where we’ll lay the groundwork for the latter parts. To open up, I figured I’d describe my last really hectic day that drove me to study stress:

It’s Friday. This is crunch time. I have a Chemistry exam in the morning, and then have to turn in 2 applications by 5 o’clock. The first application is a 7 page form with a 2 minute “about me” video for a huge job on campus. The second is a scholarship with a 500 word response. I’ve got these irons in the fire, cooking like marshmallows to create a s’more of success and future opportunity. Once I pull it off, it’ll be smooth sailing on the financial storm surge of college.
But it’s falling apart. I don’t have anywhere near enough time to handle all of this. This stress wears me down and I’m a little irritable.

I finally turned in my last application online at 5:03 . I’m devastated. I missed a deadline. I huff and puff and hold my face in my hands and I quickly call the office to plead for more time. I can buy them lunch or mow their lawn or anything just so long as I get this application handled.

They don’t answer the phone of course. It’s 5:05, they left early for the weekend. I’m doomed. Hours of work are burning up like marshmallow in a campfire. My sails are torn, I’m gonna sink in the monetary tide and be eaten by a 23 foot debt shark. It ain’t gonna be pretty. Thousands of dollars are being shredded before me.

I let out a haggard breath and sink into my seat in defeat.
And then I get a call!
God provided and they said it was pending review and that all was well.

I was stressed to say the least. It was a draining day.

Stress 
Stress and even anxiety are things we all face in our lives. Different amounts at different times, but we all experience these things nonetheless. Even if you humbly characterize yourself as easy going and down to earth like I do, you’ve still experienced stress. Before college it was easier to be a little more hippy dippy and just stay chill, but in college I’ve found that work piles up faster than I can shovel it. 

We’re going to look at stress through a biblical lens. We’ll look at few passages, but we’ll hone in on Philippians 4:4-7.

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 
  2. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
  3. do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 
  4. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Merriam Webster defines “anxious” as feeling afraid or nervous especially about what may happen. It’s also a state characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind or brooding fear about some contingency.
That’s a bit wordy, but it’s pretty accurate for how we feel when we’re stressed, right? We feel like it’s all hitting the fan at once, like everything is weighing down on us, like the walls are burning down around us and we have a water gun full of gasoline. It can even feel like drowning or being eaten by shark (kind of?).

We’re all familiar with stress and anxiety, regardless of how often they overwhelm us. It’s definitely a real issue.
Stress and anxiety are closely related, so we’ll talk about them interchangeably as stress leads to anxiety and vice versa.

Is stress inherently evil?
It’s important to note that stress isn’t always bad, though. There’s “EUSTRESS“, which is good stress, and “DISTRESS“, which is bad stress.

Eustress (good stress) is a natural response that helps us in many ways. It helps us focus and meet deadlines. This good stress initiates actions that’d otherwise be left alone.
I’m stressing to some extent writing this post: checking my pitiful grammar, making sure it reads well, solidifying the ideas, trying to present them with concision, etc.
Eustress is helpful if you’re taking a test, for example. It helps you block out distractions and focus, work efficiently to manage your time well, and therefore make a good grade.

Good stress is a gift from God that helps us sharpen our senses and perform to the best of our ability.

But we usually think of stress negatively, don’t we? When we’re “stressed out” we’re experiencing distress.
In our testing example you’d be experiencing distress if you were frantically marking random answers, surrendering to failing the class, or crying.

Stress becomes a problem when it leads to anxiety, the very thing Paul said for us to avoid.

This Friday was the first really stressful day of the semester. I was definitely a dude in distress. I’ll have many more stressful days, and many more times I know God will show grace and providence. But I was still bogged down in the moment, and we all feel this way at times too.

We know stress is bad, but why do we do it? Why does a Christian stress?
Why do you stress? Have you ever had a breakdown due to stress? Does stress slowly wear you down? Let me know in the comments.

Look for Part 2 to be out in a week or so.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll join me for the next segment.

A Thought on Christians at College

The following is from my Facebook post from my first week of college. I shared it here because it’s just as relevant as it was my first week at college. This is something I have to constantly remind myself of. I hope you enjoy:

I’ve lived at college for right at a week now and have already overheard horror stories of overbearing, condescending Christians. “They think they can damn everyone with a different lifestyle straight to hell.” (That’s an actual quote) 

Let that NOT be said of us, myself definitely included. I’m called to love God first, then my neighbor next. (Mark 12:30&31) How can I lead them to the love of Christ when I become the mascot for hate?

Jesus never stood at a synagogue and wagged his finger at those who weren’t there.

Jesus met people where they were.He met people over food & drink, over a healed loved one, over a loving conversation. He did so with a heart of love, as I am called to: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 ESV)

Jesus also approached these people differently to reach them. He spoke to Pharisees about the Mosaic Law and their corruption of it. But when talking in large crowds he used parables of common objects like salt, light, sheep, rebellious sons, seeds, beggars, virgins, and Samaritans because everyone understood those images.

Paul modeled this perfectly, he talks to Jews about the law because it reaches them. But when speaking to Gentiles the law is useless. He understands and relates to others to lead them to Christ:                                                                                                                                                               “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23 ESV) 

Paul met people where they were, and I have to as well.

Jesus understood and related to people, that’s why his message was delivered with such sincerity and power. That’s why it was effective. I must learn a heart before I can help lead it closer to Christ.

So let me NEVER compromise or change the Gospel, but let me change how I deliver it. I should NEVER be brash, coarse, argumentative, pious, hateful, or condescending. I SHOULD be loving, understand, patient and Christ-like.

I challenge you to do the same.