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  • Writer's pictureMark Bocanegra

Pot-bellied Christians catching 180lb sheep?

Hello from the shores of Kaihin Makuhari! I wanted to share another reflection on the "Place" of Evangelism. You heard the first installment from a previous newsletter (here). This is the second installment on my series on the 'Place' of Evangelism. This time around, I will break it up into two or three parts.

"Place" of Evangelism: Structures structure us. In order to prepare for this series on the "Place" of Evangelism, I read a really interesting book on the "history" of the home. (It was actually a book assigned in seminary!) It goes through how our living place has evolved from the middle ages, through the 16th century, and into the modern age. It talks about how pieces of furniture--like a chair or a table--evolve. It talks about how rooms evolve over the centuries. And what you come away is this: we do not shape our homes, but the structure of our homes shape how we live, how we interact with our families, and how we think We can even say this for actual church buildings. The structure of our church buildings determine our church life and reflect the priorities its priorities. The Filipino Roman Catholic church that I attended was held on a basketball court of a gated community. And essentially, many of the residents of the gated community went to Mass there--essentially emphasizing convenience over everything. (There are Filipino Roman Catholic services at shopping malls too!) The structure of convenience taught me that you work Christ into your pre-existing life--not the other way around. The Korean Presbyterian Church where I was saved. The church had a huge pulpit in a beautiful but simple sanctuary--emphasizing the importance of the preached Word and having a room that was neither too distracting or too casual. However, what was more interesting was that the church's cafeteria was I think as big or maybe bigger than the Sanctuary! After the service, everyone would receive a free lunch after the service and enjoy fellowship with other believers--etching into one's mind the importance of fellowship after the worship service. Although Kaihin Makuhari Grace Church is extremely cramped, the structure of the worship forces you to talk to people. This organically creates a friendly, family-like, and warm atmosphere. And actually, if you study the Tabernacle in Exodus, the same principles apply. The furniture and the structure of the Tabernacle determine also how we relate to God, how we think about God, and how we live with God. Whether we like it or not, structures structure us. But what I am talking today is not the church building, but the "Church" itself. The 'House of the Lord.' And the question I want to answer is this. What kind of place is the "House of the Lord"? How is it structured? What is the architecture and key pieces of 'furniture' of this place? How does the structure determine the life of the Church? Today, this will not be an exegetical or a theological study--but a giant sermon illustration. I want to talk about the "House of the Lord" as if it were an actual house in order to try to summarize in a memorable way large swaths of biblical, exegetical, and theological data. Through doing that, I'm going to try to show you how the "House of the Lord" becomes the Place of Evangelism. I'm going to structure it according to three parts of the home: 1) the front yard, 2) the inside, and 3) the view.     1) The Frontyard: An Attractive Fruit Garden     2) The Inside: An Inviting Feast of the Words of Jesus     3) The View: The Majestic New Jerusalem on Mt. Zion The Front Yard: An Attractive Fruit Garden The entrance of the home is the most visible part; therefore, it is the primary medium of communicating to the outside world. In a certain sense, it is the part of the home that you show off to the world: you might have a really nice fancy door to show off your artistic sense, you might have a really nice playground or toys to show off your children, you might have a barbeque area to show off your social lifestyle, you might have a really nice clean yard to show off your cleanliness, you might have a really nice car to show off your wealth. Maybe you have a giant gate and wall to tell people to stay out. Basically, the front yard is the very thing that communicates whether you are an approachable family or not.

But how do we convince people to approach the church? By the front yard of the 'House of the Lord.' But what do we put in the front yard? What do we want to communicate? When Billy Graham was invited to do an evangelistic crusade at Great Britain, he apparently asked the question, "Is your Church worth joining in the first place?" Essentially, there needs to be something in the front yard of that makes people stop and look around.  Using the text of the first talk (Ezekiel 47), what you could say is that the front yard of the "House of the Lord" is a fruit garden (Ezekiel 47:12). What we see here is that when you approach the "river" that flows out of the Temple,  you don't see the river first. You see all the vegetation that the river produces. THEN you see the river.  In other parts of Ezekiel (particularly Ezekiel 37), we see that when the LORD renews his people, it is their walks that attract people to itself. This kind of approach that was introduced from the very beginning in Deuteronomy. Mahatma Gandhi once said to some missionaries in India, "You work so hard at it. Just remember that the rose never invites anyone to smell it. If it is fragrant, people will walk across the garden and endure the thorns to smell it." Although I disagree with Gandhi that Christians don't need to proclaim the Word, I do think us Christians have forgotten the powerful pull of the aroma of Christ. The Aroma of the Fruit of the Spirit What does that mean in the New Testament context? The Church attracts people to Christ by the fruit of His followers--their good works. After reading the New Testament over and over again, you can identify a few direct commands for lay Christians to share the Gospel message to everyone; however, there are overwhelmingly more commandments to bear fruit with the purpose of attracting people to the faith. As an example, Titus 2 is a long list of how the Christian should live. Older men should be sober-minded and dignified. Older women should be reverent. Young women should be pure and kind. Slaves should be submissive to their masters. And throughout this list of good works, there are three very clear purposes:

  • "So that the word of God may not be reviled."

  • "so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us."

  • "So that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior"

The expectation is that our Christian lives should attract people to the Word. I also find it extremely interesting that in the Early Church, in other writings (like the Didache and 1 Clement), in times of deep persecution and/or suspicion of the Christians, there is no or few direct calls to share the Gospel. But there are NUMEROUS and clear calls to live holy, obedient, Word-centered lives in the midst of a hostile and pagan world. I don't think it was because they didn't believe in the sharing the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit; but I think it was the conviction that that was what God had commanded them to do first. And we have seen through numerous testimonies, their commitment to a holy life was also a powerful witness.

Let me ask you this--what first brought you to church? I'm sure the reason why any of you considered Christianity in the first place is because there was a Christian who you saw lived a life that was attractive. It certainly was the case for me.

What attracts people to the rivers of the Holy Spirit is not our welcome team, our music, what we say, our events, our programs, our small groups, our great worship, our nice fellowship, or how we contextualize the Gospel, but it is the Christian lives showcased in all of these things. I'm not against events, small groups, fellowships, or anything like that. But we need to remember the 'events' are not the main event. The events are mere 'containers' that showcase how the LORD has born fruit in Christian lives life.

Many people ask me how do we evangelize the Gospel to a Japanese person. "What do you say? How do you say it?" But I think the real question is--how do I live a Christian life in pagan world? And is it bearing fruit? It is no use trying to invite someone to a river where all the trees are dead around it.

Evangelism: Both preached Word and Word lived out.

Do we realize how essential our Christian life is in the ministry of Evangelism? Perhaps you are right now evangelizing to someone right now. Does your life reflect your absolute faith in Christ alone for salvation and your desire to follow him in all ways? I'm not telling you to be a perfect Christian--but I'm asking if people can visibly see that you have pledged your life to a gracious King, giving your heart to a wonderful Bridegroom, and trusting your life to a perfect Doctor. Are we breaking the third commandment by proclaiming the Gospel that we do not daily enjoy and follow?

I'm not saying we should not share the Gospel message to people until we are perfect--I actually address that in the next two points; however, what I am saying is this… Too often we have overemphasized what is directly commanded in Scripture sometimes and underemphasized what is directly commanded in Scripture everywhere

Why have we done this? Because attracting people through good works is hard. It's harder than knocking on doors and giving out Gospel pamphlets. It's harder than preaching the Gospel to strangers on a street. It's harder than making a 5 minute Gospel presentation to a non-Christian friend. Evangelism is not rocket science but growing Spirit-generated fruit garden in the front of the "House of the Lord" takes time and a LOT of hard work. That is why it is tempting to replace the fruit garden of the Holy Spirit with a nice car, a nice barbecue set, nice lawn, and wonderful parties. Why? Because you can buy them immediately and that's what everyone wants. However, the reality is that any non-Christian can reproduce the same thing--probably reproduce it better! 

Evangelists are spiritual athletes.

That is why, in my mind, there is no such thing as a 'outward-looking' or 'inward-looking' church in my mind. There is no such dichotomy. The most outward-facing Evangelist is the one who is the most introspective and meticulous about one's own Christian doctrine and walk. As Paul says so himself to Timothy the Evangelist:

1 Timothy 4:15-16

15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Do we believe that? As one KMGC elder put it, "If you want a Christian to perform arduous spiritual tasks, you got to first work on their core (i.e. abs). You need to train first." Yes, exactly. Spiritually pot-bellied Christians can't be expected to perform the taxing task of running after, catching, wrestling down, and carrying a lost 180 pound sheep across the hills back into the Lord's sheep pen. Yes, I know. I gotta hit the gym :)

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