Last week I tweeted a link to the statement of imprisoned Chinese church leader Wang Yi’s church. You can read it here.
In brief, Wang Yi is the pastor of an underground church in China, Early Rain Covenant Church. Pastor Wang and 100 of his fellow believers were arrested by the Chinese government about one year ago. Now, Wang has been sentenced to nine years in prison for subversion of state power and illegal business operations.
What I love about this statement is how it emphasizes things that we wouldn’t emphasize if we are being persecuted. The statement is written by a people who know what it means to suffer and how to do it well. It’s a model for how us as Christians should handle suffering as it becomes more and more normal to suffer for Christ in the West.
Here are just a few thoughts from the letter that I think Western Christians can learn from:
- “Christians should be willing to submit to the government’s physical restrictions of them.” What’s refreshing about this take is that Christians in America often get caught in a kind of antagonism where if we are jailed or even lightly rebuked for sharing the Gospel, we want to demand our rights. The apostle Peter tells us to submit to civil authority and to bear up under the pressure of suffering, even though we’ve done nothing wrong (see 1 Peter 2:13-20).
- Pastor Wang’s arrest is part of his calling. In the West, we often take on titles and positions as an antidote to suffering. We give difficult, arduous tasks to those who are farther down the “ministry ladder” than we are. However, Pastor Wang and his church understand suffering as a normal part of his calling. 1 Peter 2:20 tells us that we are called to follow Jesus into the same type of suffering he endured. We are called to suffering, especially as a servant of the Gospel. So OF COURSE he’s suffering. He’s responded to God’s call on his life. May we understand again that our calling is not what’s written on a business card, but to literally follow the footsteps of Christ, whichi includes suffering as He did.
- No crimes were committed. In a free society, Yi would not be jailed for his actions. I find this part of the statement interesting, mostly because I believe this to be an effort of the church to earn credibility with the Chinese people and people around the world. In arguing that he has not committed a crime, the church is defending his morality and trying to earn rapport with the rest of the world. Peter tells us it’s better to keep our integrity and suffer rather than to suffer for committing and actual crime (1 Peter 3:16-17) and the church seems to be making a case that this is what happened.
- No hate, just evangelistic love. After some exhortations of the Chinese government to “stay in their lane,” the church calls on believers to pray for the salvation of the Chinese government. This is so crucial. Many would be tempted to pray down God’s judgment, but the church is following in Jesus’ steps and saying “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they do,” (Luke 23:24). It’s this kind of heart cry that will open the hearts of unjust persecutors to the truth of the Gospel and save some of them.
Imagine this-the church in America can learn to suffer for the glory of God. We can learn to submit to government authority and still obey God. We can embrace suffering as part of our calling and maintain our integrity. We can even pray for those who persecute us to find the light and the truth. We have no better teacher in this than our brothers and sisters in China and other parts of the world.
We just need to be willing to learn from them.
Picture yourself alongside the apostle Paul. There you are in a dark, miserable prison. Rats are plentiful. The smell of human waste is everywhere. You have no idea when you’re going to be released. You’ve been faithful to Jesus to share the good news of the gospel with many in the city of Philippi and because of that, you’ve had handcuffs slapped on your wrists and you were thrown into this prison.
Then, Paul leans over to you. You don’t necessarily expect Paul to gripe and complain, but you weren’t prepared for what he said next: “Brother, I know it’s late. I know we’ve just been beaten and the rats are starting to nip at us, but we should start praising the Lord.”
In that moment, what would your reaction be?
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I would just jump right in singing and praising God like Silas did. Your reaction to that statement tells a lot about what you believe God deserves praise for. Paul had learned something that others before Him learned: We don’t just praise God because circumstances are going well. We praise Him because of who He is.
In this way, praise is a discipline. We don’t just wake up one morning desiring to praise God in the darkest and most bitter circumstances. What’s more likely is that we begin every day to delight in God for who He is and what He’s done for us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. *This allows us to praise Him no matter the circumstances.*
Listen to David:
“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,” (Psalm 31:7)
“Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright,” (Psalm 33:1)
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” (Psalm 34:1).
All of these point to David calling us to make a decision, based on who God is, to offer praise. None of these commands are based on the circumstances going on around him or us. In fact, some of them call us to praise in spite of the circumstances.
Beloved, we must get better at praising God for *WHO* He is, despite our circumstances. It’s the only practice that will get us to the place where we praise God in the prison. We want to be the people whose spirits are so alive with God that despite the gruesomeness around us we still love God.
We don’t get there in a minute. We get there day by day, praising God where we are at right now.
Some of you aren’t good at sharing your faith. You are fearful. You have a hard to bringing up Jesus in conversations. When you do,it’s muddled.
I understand. I’ve been there.
There are two things that I think every believer should understand about sharing their faith.
The first is that, with some exceptions, most of you were the best at sharing your faith when you knew the least about Jesus, Christianity, and theology. It was your fresh love for Jesus and the wonder of being saved at all that motivated you to tell your friends, co-workers, anyone who would listen about how great Jesus is. Did you lose that? If you did, it’s time to get it back. Growing in Jesus shouldn’t take away the wonder. If you grew away from the wonder of Jesus, maybe you grew in the wrong direction.
The other thing is that growing in sharing the good news takes time. Don’t get frustrated if the first, second, and third times don’t go well. Press on. Sharing your faith is a muscle you strengthen over time. You don’t set a resolution on New Year’s Eve to get in shape and wake up on January 2nd with a ripped body. You set a goal, work towards it, and slowly see improvement. John Wimber used to say you couldn’t say God didn’t heal today until you prayed for 100 people and nothing happened. I would submit to you that you can’t say you’re not good at evangelism until you shared the Gospel 100 times and nothing happens. In the mean time, pray, get closer to Jesus, get around some people who will support you in this journey. You will get better.
I’ve been doing this for the last couple of years, and finally, after a lot of ups and downs, I’m starting to get good at sharing the Gospel. No one’s come to faith (yet), but I’m somewhat regularly sharing in a way that I know connects to the hearts of people around me.
You can, too, if you don’t give up.
Yesterday was our “All House Church Meeting.”
It normally is the one time a month where our house churches gather together for a more concrete time preaching, worship, and vision casting.
I had a message to share that fit within those lines. It didn’t get shared yesterday.
Instead, when we gathered, everyone was catching up. The holidays were long and relationships needed some time to reconnect. Then, the news of a brother who was part of on of our house churches passing away had to be talked through. Next, an extended time of worship came and it was more participatory than normal. This is a good thing.
When worship was over, we talked over our network’s support of a house church network in Uganda and how we will handle finances with that. Then we talked over an upcoming time of fasting and prayer we hope to have. Then we prayed for those affected by the passing of our friend and those who needed healing. Then the pizza arrived and the kids could not be held back any longer.
So, no, we never got to the message.
We did sing the word back and forth to each other. We did live out the word in our care for one another. We did call each other to biblical financial principals and plan a way to increase our faithfulness. And we did pray for those who are sick and in need, like the Bible commands us to.
It’s rare for us not open the Bible when we gather, but if you had your eyes open, you might have watched a sermon in progress.
For those of you who don’t know, six months ago my wife and I welcomed our fifth biological kiddo into our lives. Korah Grace was born to us happy and healthy. Needless to say, I’ve been pulling a lot of extra hours being dad lately.
A few days ago I was holding Korah with my big Bible sitting on the arm of the chair next to me. She, with her six-month-old eyes and perception of reality reached out towards the Bible expecting to easily stuff the Bible in her mouth, only to find out that it was much bigger and heavier than she had originally thought. It wouldn’t just move under the weight of her little arms.
As I sat and watched her explore the world with her six-month-old senses, I realized that you and I aren’t so different from my daughter. We believe that we are much bigger than we really are. We think big truths (like the Bible) are able to be manipulated easily. It’s not until we try to manipulate them that we realize there is much more substance to them than our senses and perception of reality allow us to understand.
Wisdom comes when we realize we see in this age dimly. We don’t see the substance in spiritual truth like we need to. We believe we can manipulate it easily, when really if we had eyes to see, there’s so much more weight and gravity to God’s truth. It’s real and won’t move under our strength.
This is what my daughter has been teaching me lately.
I’m not the guy who gives words for the New Year. I usually think that things like this are things men dream up rather than actually hear from Jesus.
So when my 11 year old son gave a short prayer before our New Year’s Eve gathering, I was a little taken aback. Normally those kind of prayers are short and help move us along to dinner. We have a rule in our house churches: “No warring over the nations before dinner.”
So when Joel prayed, “Lord, make this a faithful and fruitful new year…” in the midst of blessing the food, I was taken aback. He doesn’t normally pray like that.
Especially before meals.
So, may I commend to you this prayer (and prophetic word) for 2020. May it be a faithful and fruitful year. May you stay the course on the things the Lord has called you to. May God reward you with seeing the fruit of that faithfulness.
I did a lot of reading this year.
I read so much I surprised myself. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll talk about the how’s, why’s, and what’s of my reading this year. For now, lets just say I read more books this year than in any single year of my life.
While that level of reading by necessity must be broad, I did have one goal in my reading this year—read as many books as I could about evangelism. Now, why, you may ask would I read as many books as I could on evangelism? Well, the simple answers is I want to get better at it. The more complex answer is that I find that the more I think about a topic, the more central it becomes in my life. One easy way for me to think about evangelism more was to read more about it.
There were a lot of books. I didn’t get through all of them. I plan to continue the emphasis going forward in the New Year. Because evangelism is not just something I need to get better at, but I believe the whole body of Christ in America needs to get better at, I created a list of the ten best books on evangelism I’ve read this year. There’s a short blurb below each link that tells a bit of my journey with the book and why it might interest you.
This was the second or third book about evangelism I read this year and it was easily the best. Jean is a prophetic minister who regularly hears from Jesus and shares His heart with lost people around her. This may seem really scary and difficult, but Jean makes the process seem so simple and friendly that by the end of the book you’ll be wanting to put it into practice. Not only did I learn about hearing from Jesus and sharing what I’m hearing with the lost by reading this book, but I encountered the love of Jesus as I read the author’s testimony. I highly recommend picking up the audio book where you’ll get to hear a very personal evangelism testiomony told in the author’s own voice toward the end of the book. It’s well worth it.
Spirit Led Evangelism was such an encouraging read. The book is by Che Ahn, a stalwart in the charismatic renewal movement who has been moving in Holy Spirit-inspired evangelism since his days in the Jesus People movement. Che covered the whole spectrum of evangelism, from sharing the Gospel and partnering with the Holy Spirit in signs and wonders to church planting and its impact in the harvest. Ahn encourages believers to follow the Holy Spirit and be persistent and faithful in evangelism, which is a rare combination. I think you’ll be helped by this book.
This book is a classic. You can’t go anywhere in American Evangelicalism without encountering someone whose thoughts have been impacted by this book. What I found interesting is that so much of the house church movement’s thinking finds its origin and support in the discipleship principles laid out here. The key to effective evangelism is found in sharing the Gospel and training up converts in a way of life that leads them to do the same. Without this plan in place, both our evangelism and our churches will suffer. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.
This book has one clear focus—convincing you that you need to be more bold for Jesus. The author believes in the West, we don’t share the Gospel because we are afraid, and I agree with him. His answer is to regularly ask Jesus for boldness to share the Gospel. It’s a simple formula and a long book. I hesitated putting this book so high on this list, because the book repeats the premise so much, but I believe that the premise is so true and accurate that I think you should read it and put some of his recommendations into practice.
Many of the books I read on evangelism were written from a perspective that would have worked in 1990, but no longer work in 2019. This book was the first book that acknowledged that we are no longer culturally in the same place that we were in 1990 and that the tactics that worked in 1990 might not be as helpful as they used to be. My big takeaway from this book is that people need to be exposed to Christians in normal, everyday life in order to see that Christians aren’t the odd cultural phenomenon that the media makes them out to be. If you struggle with the culture being less receptive to Christianity than it used to be, I would highly recommend this book.
This book is written by Peyton Jones, a missionary to Wales who spent time planting a church in a Starbucks there. Peyton writes from the perspective of someone who has been to Western countries who have rejected Christianity at a far higher level than the United States and he plants churches and trains church planters to reach those same types of people here. I came to this book looking for strategies, I left with the conviction that God loves lost people and if we spend time with people who are far away from God and have the Gospel at the ready, we will see people come to Jesus.
This is a good book written by Alvin Reid, a professor of evangelism at a Southern Baptist university who wrote this book to help people who don’t see themselves as evangelists get better at sharing the good news. There is a lot of good, practical advice about sharing the Gospel as part of your everyday life. If you struggle with fear in evangelism or need a good, practical starting point, this is a good book for you.
I don’t remember who, but some semi-famous preacher who has led a lot of people to Christ said this was the book that has informed all of his evangelism. After reading this book, I can understand why this book would be a solid introduction to evangelism. It’s mostly about creating a system that enables evangelism and discipleship and that works extremely well in a college environment. The trick is making it work in a post-college environment.
This is an older book, but one that is full of stories of the author learning how to share Jesus with people. The premise of the book is that Christians need to get out in the world and bring the Gospel to where people are. There are a lot of encouraging stories that will benefit Christians trying to learn how to share Jesus with others.
I didn’t intend to learn much about evangelism from this book but I couldn’t ignore the forward by David Platt that commended the author as a model for evangelism. I think the core thought that was helpful in this book was an emphasis on teaching in aiding people to come to Christ. Especially if you identify as a teacher, this book may give you insights into how you can lead people to Jesus.
So, there you have it. The top ten books on evangelism that I’ve read this year. If you haven’t read a good book on evangelism this year, pick a book from this list and start reading.
You won’t regret it.