Tag Archives: Evangelism

Quick review: 40 Rockets

40 Rockets40 Rockets by Craig Josling

“40 Rockets which, when translated, means 40 short and punchy tips on sharing the message of Jesus with people at work.” (With apologies to verses like John 1:42.)

Lots of good tips. And easy quick read, but not designed to be read quickly. Each tip is for thought and reflection. Preferably with someone else.

This is not a theology of the message of Jesus, nor of the reason to share Jesus’ gospel. It’s not a listing of all the blessings Jesus’ death for the world. This is not an academic treatise. But none of these things are a problem – for 40 Rockets does not aim to be any of these things.

So what is this book? Words from an experienced, but far from perfect, Christian to help us all do better at promoting the news of Jesus.

Here are some chapter headings to give a feel for the topics/rockets: Be convinced that the workplace is a great place to share Jesus; Be gracious in conversation; Don’t let work define your value; Memorize Romans 6:23; Give honest and sincere appreciation.

I’m thinking how to use this book, because it strikes me as totally usable. Some ideas:
* pair up, and have a 5 minute phone chat each week to discuss that week’s tip
* give a copy to every member of a Bible study group, spend a few minutes each week at the start of your group looking at that week’s rocket
* for two months of Sunday church, pick a rocket a week for someone to summarise
* include a rocket a week in the church bulletin
* read a chapter each day with housemates (in a share house, with family, whatever)
* read a chapter on the bus to work, and summarise it in an email for fellow believers in your business

Undoubtedly there are many more.

And I want to get on with using 40 Rockets when I am. From Matthia Media.

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The gospel in two points

The Christian announcement – the gospel – centres on Jesus. That’s the simple and joyful reality.

The Christian message also is beautiful and profound, open to expression in a rich variety of ways. After all, there are four New Testament gospels.

The simple complexity of Jesus’ truth means there are many, many great ways to speak truly about Jesus. I love that! And have a quick two point option to throw into the mix.

  1. We all judge Jesus as worthy of death
  2. God invites us to share his own view of Jesus, as Lord

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The events of Jesus’ life were remarkable: teaching, wonders, healing, gaining followers and enemies. Without doubt, Jesus’ impact came to its pinnacle in Easter week.

Jesus’ death at Easter was caused by … everybody.

Disciples abandoned Jesus or became traitor. Religious leaders condemned Jesus. The crowds who followed these leaders easily agreed to call for execution. And the world’s power, exemplified through Roman law, decided death was the only option for Jesus.

But God raised Jesus.

So now Jesus is alive. God’s view of Jesus has been established for all time: Jesus is the ruler of God’s people, and Lord of the world.

Thankfully, we can recant from our mis-judgement of Jesus. We can repent, and trust Jesus’ for forgiveness and new life.

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The biblical material I have in mind for this two point outline is mainly the preaching of Acts. Here are some of the verses from Acts, so you can test and see it this two point gospel is a fair summary.

Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.

let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by him this man is standing before you well.

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear

And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

[Testifying] that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.


The disgrace of Christian outreach

The whole Bible shows God’s concern for the whole world.

The first three quarters of the Bible maintain focus on one people: Israel. The final one quarter is where God’s word goes out to all, freely offered to all cultures, languages and people.

Why the difference? And what made the change? A short passage in Hebrews powerfully captures the switch. It tells me that God spent great effort establishing a system of imperfect honour so that he could trump this system with perfect disgrace.

Firstly, here’s some evidence for my first two paragraphs.

Whole Bible, whole world
Page one: God created the heavens and the earth. As Genesis continues, we run into those pesky family trees. We might find them tiresome, but they place the narrower Biblical story inside the story of ‘all people.’ When Abraham enters, his promised blessing is at once very personal and universal (see Genesis 12:1-3).

Abraham’s story narrows down again and again: it’s Isaac, not Ishmael; then it’s Jacob, not Esau. This narrow group of Hebrews dominates the limelight for the Old Testament. Even so, the world is linked to their fortunes. Israel is the Lord’s nation because the whole earth is his (Exodus 19:5). The glory days of Israel’s kingdom were a magnet for the whole world (1 Kings 10:23-25). Despite later sin and judgement, God promised a glorious future where the world would again make pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Micah 4:1-2).

Three quarters, one quarter
Despite this universal concern, most of the Bible covers relatively local events. We mostly stay in the land of Canaan, with the people of Israel. When the story goes outside of this (in the first 75%) there’s usually something wrong: drought, famine, judgement, military loss, … Jesus himself sent his disciples, but not to the Gentiles – they went on a Jewish-ears-only mission (Matthew 10:5).

It’s in the book of Acts that there is an explosive change. From Acts onwards, even Gentiles come to trust Jesus. Without having to become Jewish first! Gentiles who trust have exactly the same access to forgiveness as do Jews who trust. Hear the astonishment in the voice of Jewish Christians: ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’ (Acts 11:18). Inconceivable!

The time we live in now is marked by an astonishing reality: Gentiles listen to the word of salvation (Acts 28:28).

Imperfect honour, perfect disgrace
To understand this change, here’s that paragraph from the book of Hebrews.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Chapter 13, verses 10-13)

Hebrews engages with many details of the old covenant, including priesthood and sacrifice. The altar of sacrifice was to be pure, and to provide purification. The place of sacrifice had many exclusions in order to uphold its holiness (no priests outside the tribe of Levi, no high priest outside the family of Aaron, no high-priests in the temple without blood of sacrifice, …). This system rammed home the truth about God: he’s pure, perfect, clean, holy. This is why sacrificial blood was brought into the holy place, but the unclean carcass was taken outside the camp. Holiness inside, uncleanness outside.

The tabernacle (later temple) was to be honoured highly by God’s people. And when the system was in ideal operation … it was a failure. Blood of bulls and goats does not remove sin (Hebrews 10:4). The centre of honour to the Lord in Israel never worked. Hence: imperfect honour.

But Jesus 

Jesus changed things. Jesus’ death, the perfect sacrifice, occurred in disgrace. He died as an outsider, and died outside the city gates. His death was administered by the world (Romans), not by an appointed priest. This moment of unclean disgrace, however, is the very working of God to save. It is perfect disgrace.

A world of mission
So why, after Easter, do God’s people now actively seek the world? Why is mission normal, for those who trust Jesus?

Because of Jesus’ perfect disgrace. Jesus, on the cross, went to the world. Jesus went to the place most alienated from the Father. Jesus outside the city completed his journey of love. How do we trust Jesus? We trust by going to him in that place of disgrace. We find Jesus ‘outside the camp’, as Hebrews says, not cloistered and hidden behind holy walls. We do not withdraw – we go out and suffer reproach.

Christians should be willing to go public and to be open in precisely the place where we are not safe. (So many times I have been part of the opposite, a comfortable conversation with ‘insiders’ in which we gently mock ‘outsiders.’)

There are many ways to ‘go public’ as Christians. The most important and fundamental, it seems to me, is evangelism. When we ask people to change and to trust Jesus we are most open about our disgraceful beliefs. When we refrain from inviting Christian belief we are most likely to be hiding the disgrace of a crucified Christ.

And now, my idea for a short post has become longer than I usually write for this blog. There’s so much more to consider … Unexplored: what disgrace can look like in daily life; how Christians tend to sanctify avoiding disgrace despite following the crucified one; the difference between reproach and being insensitive. A ripe field for comments and discussion (hint, hint).

In short: mission is placing our disgraceful beliefs in public, because what we believe was the public disgrace of Jesus’ cross.



Apostle Peter – proselyte

A proselyte is a convert, someone who adopts a new faith or religious life. In the Bible, there are proselytes to Judaism (see Matthew 23:15, Acts 2:11). It must have been quite a commitment to make such a change. Whatever else it involved, we know that the men needed to be circumcised!

The word proselyte comes from a pretty standard, non-religious, Greek word (προσερχομαι, proserchomai). This verb can mean to move towards, or to cross over. This seems to be the sense of proselyte: he or she is someone who has ‘crossed over.’

The New Testament includes major early church arguments about how to receive forgiveness from Jesus. In particular, how can Gentiles receive the blessings of Christ? Since Jesus is the Jewish Christ, it might be that non-Jews must submit to the Jewish law to receive Christ’s benefits. Some argued that the process for non-Jews looks like this:

Pagan → Proselyte → Trust Jesus

This makes some sense. God spent centuries teaching the Jewish people to be distinct and remain faithful to the law he spoke to them. How could the Lord so quickly change things? Acts shows the early Christians struggling with this. A serious test is in chapter 10, when God speaks to the Roman centurion Cornelius.

As the scene unfolds, God surprises everyone. Cornelius does not have to become a proselyte. In contrast, it’s as if the apostle Peter himself becomes the proselyte.

Firstly, about Cornelius. Upon hearing the gospel, God pours out his Holy Spirit directly on the Gentiles (verse 44). And the Jewish believers reacted with amazement that the Spirit was ‘even for the Gentiles’ (verse 45). God’s actions show the true process for pagans to come to Jesus:

Pagan → Trust Jesus

But what about Peter? How could he be said to be a proselyte? I think this is because Peter is the one who crosses over. Cornelius physically remains in his place (Caesarea) and Peter is sent by God away from the house he’s in. In some perplexity, Peter states to Cornelius that Jews usually don’t make this kind of trip (Acts 10:28). When Peter says it is unlawful for a Jew ‘to visit anyone from another nation’ he uses the proselyte verb προσερχομαι (proserchomai). But God made him do it!

This moment is a huge change for Peter, for the church, and for the world. From this point onwards, those who trust the Lord are ever crossing over to invite all people to faith in Jesus. Peter goes to Cornelius. Paul and Barnabas go to Crete and Asia Minor. And no one ever need become Jewish before bowing before the Jewish Christ.

It’s not that Peter changed his beliefs. He still announced Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that Jesus judges and forgives (Acts 10:39-43). Yet Peter – and all Christianity with him – had crossed over to become a faith that ignored cultural barriers. We have a ‘crossing-over’ type of faith and love for neighbour. In fact, it is against the work of God to grimly hold on to personal distinctives (see the word from God in the verse I quote below).

Peter became a proselyte to outreach, a proselyte to direct engagement and love, a convert to Jesus’ direct welcome of people of all kinds. Peter became a proselyte that we might become proselytes too.

What God has made clean, do not defile! (Acts 10:15)



When people can’t hear Christians

Working in emergency services and seeing life in all of its manifestations, how have you personally dealt with the difficult side of the job, ie. patient grief, trauma and death? Have these experiences ever made you question your own faith?

The sign of Christianity is the cross, a reminder of Jesus’ unjust suffering. The suffering in this world is so real that God himself chose to suffer in order to offer hope and forgiveness. Thus, for me suffering is not an intellectual problem. The problem is that suffering is hard! Watching pain, sitting with grief, not knowing what to say. There are many helps for me, including prayer, talking about what troubles me, getting good exercise, time with my family, and being disciplined to have days off.

The above words are from an interview in which I was the one giving answers. The NSW Ambulance Service used their regular staff magazine, Sirens, to highlight volunteers in the organisation. I was one of the volunteer chaplains to ‘feature’. There’s an on-line copy of the chaplains’ interviews here.

This article is a positive piece about Christian minsters. They openly asked us all about our faith, and its challenges. They are encouraging about chaplains having a role in the ambulance service. I hope you catch my emphasis: this was positive!

Of course, editing was needed to fit into the magazine. The editor tidied up some of my answers. I looked more coherent because of good editing.

Now, look at the above question and find the part that was edited out. (Don’t cheat by reading on!)

The final version lacked mention of the cross. Everything before Thus. (“The sign of Christianity is the cross, a reminder of Jesus’ unjust suffering. The suffering in this world is so real that God himself chose to suffer in order to offer hope and forgiveness. Thus…”)

In the whole interview, those two sentences were the most personal and significant to me. They were closest to my heart and thinking and motivation. The cross is everything.

And yet, in a positive piece about chaplains, they were the lines cut out. Cut out, I believe, not with any malicious intent – but because they seemed the least relevant.

What a difference of view: the cross as most important, or the cross as least relevant.

This illustrates a problem for Christians as we try to share the gospel of Jesus with people: many people simply cannot hear what Christians say.

Try as we might to point to the centre of our faith – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – we will frequently fail to communicate.

It’s not (always) because of ill-will towards Christians. This interview is an example of a positive conversation in which the most important is edited out.

We know there are spiritual causes: the false god of this age does blind people to God’s truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). Hence, we always pray because communication depends upon God.

I believe there are also cultural and communication causes. People have an idea of what Christians are about even before we talk with them, and it takes a long time to overcome errors. It sometimes looks like churches are just another political group (speaking up on matters of legislation). Or Christians are viewed as people whose interest is doing good (the Salvos, speaking up about gambling addiction, supporting asylum seekers, etc). Even our public failures suggest we’re about morality (witness the scandal of child abuse in churches).

So when we say, It’s not my behaviour, it’s all the work of Jesus, we often don’t get through. This real gospel message does not match the imagined message people expect from us. It’s as if our hearers correct us in their minds: ‘When he said that Christians cannot earn salvation, I’m sure he meant they can earn salvation.’

We can’t blame people for this, nor become irritated. So often we Christians have been muddled or unclear! Personally, though, I find it helpful to recognise how hard it is to hear the message of the cross and grace. It’s difficult – therefore I need to say it more often, more clearly, with more patience, and with better appreciation for my hearers.

Next interview, will I mention the cross? Absolutely!



How difficult is the gospel of Jesus?

I’ve been a Christian for going on 30 years now, and I learn more every day. If there’s so much more depth for me to learn, how hard is it to understand the message of Jesus for the very first time?

I often say, ‘The gospel is simple’, and it’s true! Christianity is not a philosophy, nor an academic pursuit. Yet, whenever we share the news of Jesus, words are involved. Understanding is part of the process.

How easily will people understand the words I use when I talk about Jesus? Which words are common, which are rare? This is particularly important when in conversation with those who have English as a second language.

How complex would you consider the following to be? It’s a quick and rough explanation of the gospel of Jesus that I just typed up. Please read this and consider how hard it is!

God lovingly created the world, and gave people the responsibility to rule it under him.
We rejected God and cut ourselves off from him. Instead of life, we chose death. Instead of God’s love, we are under his judgement.
Yet God’s love continues! He worked through his people to save the world. The high point of this was in the son of God, Jesus. Jesus died in our place so that we might not die. Jesus rose again, which shows he is the ruler of all things (of the world, of life and death, of us too).
That leaves us with a new opportunity. Instead of continuing to live cut off from God, he invites us back to himself. We accept the gift of forgiveness by trusting Jesus’ death and accepting that Jesus is the ruler.

How difficult is that to read? (Not ‘How right or wrong?’, but ‘How difficult?’)

I took that text and typed it into The up-goer five text editor. This is a fun tool that checks entered text – the idea is to explain any idea using only the 1000 most common English words. It told me I have used non-permitted words. The offending words …

  • Lovingly
  • Created
  • Responsibility
  • Rule, ruler
  • Rejected
  • Ourselves
  • Chose
  • Judgement
  • Jesus
  • Opportunity
  • Invites
  • Gift
  • Forgiveness

Of course, most English-speakers have a vocabulary that copes with a number of these words. Some words could be replaced with a simpler option. But this illustrates something to keep in mind – our key Christian terms need straightforward explanation.

Since this is so, we need to choose carefully. Many words already need an explanation, so only use the less-common words if they really will help.

In the text above, I avoided the word ‘sin’. Sin is a word poorly-understood, so I try to explain the idea some other way. (And it’s not one of the 1000, either.) On the other hand, the second word is a problem: ‘lovingly’. I included this because I want to say, as early as possible, the God loves!

So what do you think? Let me know if you think the gospel is hard to understand, or easy; if there are words to avoid, or if we should stick to the vocabulary of the Bible.



Mission work & Olympic TV coverage

In which a sports-loving blogger finds a link between TV sports and missiology …

Oi! Oi! Oi!

In Australia – and maybe the rest of the world also – Olympic games TV coverage is famously parochial. By this I mean that coverage not only tries to show as many Aussies as possible, but then fawns obsessively on those who gain success. Bleagh! (But we keep watching the sport/advertising, so we all must take some of the blame.)

Let’s assume that we somehow got the coverage ‘just right’ – perfectly pitched and balanced. What would it look like?  Perfect Olympic coverage would be the perfect example of mission practice.

Missiology is thinking about how to do Christian mission – how to announce to all that Jesus Christ is Lord. ‘How’ shows an interest in method. ‘To all’ is required, for mission crosses cultures. ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ is the message, and also implies the result, the invitation to repent and believe.

But back to what would make great Olympic coverage.

Talk to the local audience

The Olympics on Australian TV should show as many of the Australian performances as possible. It should celebrate victory. It should also cover athletes in obscure sports, or who have no great hopes of success. These team members represent Australia, so it seems wrong to bury them just because they fail to qualify for finals.

If an unknown Australia archer does not appear in Chinese or German TV coverage, fair enough. But if s/he is brushed aside in Australian TV studios that would be terribly rude.

Mission insight: speak the local language and dialect. Celebrate the high points for local people. Your Christian mission might be in Mongolia or in Melbourne. No matter where it is, talk so locals can understand.

Don’t be too parochial

Australia’s obesity problems might be the responsibility of our Olympic broadcasters: a constant diet of sugary-sweet slow-motion success-snippets.

It’s nice that we won that medal. But we don’t need to watch endless repeats of the winning move, do we? Or have inane interviews with every single participant, not to mention their ‘inspirational’ first grade teacher. (There seems no end to the number of ways to ask, ‘How did you feel?’)

This kind of coverage is all too self-glorifying: ‘Look, aren’t we good?’, ‘The whole nation is proud of you’, ‘We punch above our weight’, and so on.

Mission insight: as we love the local culture, the Gospel of Jesus will find fault. Therefore every missionary must have times of un-ease no matter how well they are enculturated. Every place and culture is touched by the ugliness of sin. It’s not love to glorify a human system beyond reality.

Tell the major story

The joy of international games, like the Olympics, if often in seeing huge stories that are not our own. Australia does well at swimming, but the 2008 Olympic pool was dominated by Michael Phelps. Even Down Under, Phelps had to be lauded. Australia had no finalists in the 100m track, yet it would have been our loss if we did not watch Usain Bolt.

Good TV coverage has to tell us the headline news from all sports. If it doesn’t, then we are uninformed.

Mission insight: all missionaries have to tell the world the big news, the account of Jesus crucified, risen and reigning. This is an obvious but essential reminder. Every mission – at home or abroad – has 1000s of opportunities. There is hospitality and care and communication and listening and giving family advice and practising compassion and showing sympathy and … All good things! In fulfilling these, we are to remember to talk about Jesus, because he is the major story.


Finding the lost

Jesus offended religious leaders of his day by hanging around with sinners.

Jesus explained his way: to find the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7).

In response to Jesus, church error number one: to stop finding the sheep.

When we give this up – that is, do no gospel proclamation – we demonstrate by how much we misunderstand Jesus. And perhaps that we are scared of hard work for Jesus. We can give it up deliberately or incidentally. It’s deliberate when we decide church is OK as it stands, or that we wish to focus on being pure for God. It’s incidental when we speak about evangelism instead of practising evangelism.

In response to Jesus, church error number two: we teach that the sheep are not lost.

There’s a lazy slide from ‘Jesus loves them’ to ‘therefore they must be ok.’ If we downplay the lostness of sin, Jesus’ work makes no sense. If ‘they’re ok’, then why did Jesus have to go to the cross? Why was there no other way (Matthew 26:39)?



Quick review: ‘If I we’re God, I’d make myself clearer’

If I Were God, I'd Make Myself Clearer: Searching for Clarity in a World Full of ClaimsIf I Were God, I’d Make Myself Clearer: Searching for Clarity in a World Full of Claims by John Dickson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short book has a clear and limited aim. It’s not to present the essence of Christian faith. Nor to disprove other beliefs.

Instead, its aim is to show that Christianity by nature is open to objective enquiry. Such enquiry is not the whole of Christianity, nor sufficient to make one convert. Yet the openness flows directly from the historical and objective nature of the claims: that the real Jesus really lived, died and rose again.

The book is also good in pointing out the impossibility of all faiths being equally true, a prevalent modern mis-application of ‘tolerance’. (All faiths could be equally untrue, of course.)

I think this book is good as a friendly give-away and conversation-starter. In fact, I can already think of someone who might enjoy reading it. Time to buy a new copy…

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