Matthew R. Perry

Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Jesus’ Poor Evangelism Techniques

In Church Life, Evangelism, For Preachers/Pastors, For Seminary Students, Preaching on December 5, 2008 at 11:29 am

When churches and church leaders begin studying methods and techniques of our culture rather than what God has laid out in His Word, even the best intentioned leaders will find themselves straying from God’s will–even when the numbers and results say otherwise.

I grew up on the tail end of a revivalism era where many evangelists would come into a church to conduct “revival services” asking those to “admit they were sinners” and to “come to Jesus” so you will “go to heaven.” Laced with tear-jerking stories and sparse exposition of Scriptures (which the Bible says in Hebrews 4:12 is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword), many would be emotionally moved. Revival services were considered great successes when great numbers would come.

I wonder how many who subscribe to this would look at Jesus’ evangelism techniques and say, “Wow, Jesus really missed it this time.” I am thinking of the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. Notice a number of things:

1. Jesus had a willing seeker. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 20:16). If that’s not a willing seeker, I don’t know what is! He clearly had a concern about his spiritual status before God. Jesus had someone ready.

2. Jesus had an influential seeker. This was a rich ruler, meaning he was part of the Sanhedrin, a.k.a. the Jewish Supreme Court. For many in our day, to have such an influential inquirer would be considered a great blessing. To those with questionable motives, this man needs to get into a church and learn the importance of giving to the Lord’s work!

3. Having such a convert would help make some in-roads into the Scribes and Pharisees world. No doubt that this would cause a stir.

But notice what Jesus does:

1. While many would be ready to bring them into the Kingdom right away, Jesus puts up roadblocks! “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 20:17 ).

Two things to notice here. First, he puts the inquirer on his heels by questioning his notion of ‘goodness.’ Only God is good, and only God can save. In essence, Jesus is saying, “Are you approaching me because I am good or say good things? Are you attributing to me the trait of being able to give life? Are you saying I am the Son of God — because only God and His Son can do this?”

Secondly, he puts up the barrier of the commandments. “Keep the commandments,” Jesus tells him. If you want life, obey God to the fullest extent! Yet, the ruler questioned which commandments he should obey! Jesus lists off the Second Tablet commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What are the significance of these? These are relational commandments — how one deals with another human being. The Scribes and Pharisees struggled with this. They loved obeying the minutiae of the law, but felt themselves morally superior to the common folk of the day. These were serious issues, given how they were God’s covenant priests who represented Him.

The rich young ruler felt himself capable of entering the Kingdom due to his adequate keeping of the commandments. In other words, he did not see himself as “falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He did not see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior. He saw himself as a good man in need of vindication of his good works.

3. Jesus dug deep to the true obstacle of his heart. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 20:21). Whereas many preachers and evangelists call for an easy-believism, Jesus rejected this notion and told the young man to come face-to-face with the core problem/sin that is the obstacle for eternal life. His possessions were his god — if he is not willing to give up his god, he cannot receive eternal life. If he wants the treasure of eternal life in heaven, yet will not give up the treasure here on earth, he cannot be a part of the Kingdom.

Many in our churches would never say that Jesus’ evangelism techniques were poor, but given how so few model him in showing how inquirers should count the cost of denying themselves and taking up their cross, we wonder why so few who say they are Christians really look very much like everyone else.

Right before dcTalk’s great song from 1995 called “What If I Stumble?”, a preacher (I believe it was Brennan Manning) spoke this: “The greatest single cause of atheism today is Christians, who mouth Jesus with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle. That’s what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Maybe its because many Christians have not learned the lesson of denying self and taking up the cross of Christ daily.

May that not be said of us!

Advertisements

Will You Keep Short Accounts?

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2008 at 9:07 am

(This sermon, Could You Be Charged With First Degree Anger?, was preached at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on Sunday, June 8, 2008. To read through Part I, click here; Part 2 here. To listen to other audio sermons, click here.)

Jesus ties it all together in Matthew 5:25-26:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying, “Dear disciples and all who would hear, you have a window of opportunity.” One day, you will have to give an account of your life before the Great Judge of the Universe, Jesus Christ. When that happens, it will be too late, for the Scripture does say, “It is destined for man to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

But until then, God in his great patience and care gives us an opportunity to take care of those issues. So this would be a great time to put this all together and go step-by-step through this.

First, remember that you and all other human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Secondly, admit that you do get angry at times—and don’t make excuses.

Thirdly, take steps to rectify the situation immediately. Even in times of worship, where one’s pride may take the fore because you are attending, now is the time to get up and go reconcile. Frederich Buechner once wrote, “Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” So deal with it now!

Fourth, trust that God will administer justice, if need be.
Romans 12:19-21 says:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If your trust truly is in Christ alone, then that Gospel trust must bleed over into every area of life — especially this one.

Lastly, ask God to change your heart. In Ezekiel 36:25-26, God says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” When God works this, we will become more sensitive to his working. True followers of Christ have this, but it takes a diligent pursuit. If you want a hardened heart, then do nothing — that heart will come and drag you right into hell. If you want to be right before him, ask him to change your heart.

Conclusion

Yesterday, I came across a documentary by NPR on the life of Gerry Mulligan. Mulligan was a premiere tenor sax player who was a very influential in the field of jazz in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and was even working on a project when he died in 1996. Mulligan was an innovator, but he was also a bit headstrong. He knew what he wanted his arrangements and his band to sound like — even if it meant going against what others in the field felt was un-doable. While he made a number of friends and gained a ton of admirers, he also had some on the other side of that fence.

In 1995, Mulligan found out he and another one of his former band members, found out they had cancer. These men shared great admiration for one another, but also some serious artistic differences that would often strain the relationship. In light of the cancer, made this very wise comment, he said “When Gerry and I found out we had cancer, all those disagreements were just taken off the table and we focus on the issues we agreed on. None of those things we disagreed on in the grand scheme didn’t matter.”

This is something to ponder, isn’t it? While there are certain this we can never compromise on (Christ, the Bible, the resurrection, the Trinity, the local church, etc.), there are issues that will plant the seeds of anger and contempt in our hearts. What will it take for us to repent of those issues? Let me ask it another way: what will God have to do in your life to help you see that nothing is worth destroying your relationship with God or with your neighbor? Will it have to be cancer? A church split? A catastrophe of some sort? Or have Jesus’ words penetrated to such a degree that his word is sufficient?

Have You Committed First-Degree Anger? (Part I)

In Sermons on June 9, 2008 at 9:20 pm

During my freshman and sophomore year of college, I worked at Winn-Dixie as a produce clerk. During that time, I met some interesting folks and became good acquaintances with them. One of those individuals was a young man named ________________________. He and I went to the same high school (I graduated a year ahead of him), but I didn’t get to know him until we worked at W/D. Even with our religious differences (he being an atheist and I being a Christian), we got along quite well. He was a nice, polite, mild-mannered guy with freakish strength.

Imagine my surprise when, after I transferred to Palm Beach Atlantic College and returned back home from break, my mom showed me the front page of the paper with his picture on it with the headline, “Charged with First-Degree Murder, receives a 25-year sentence in prison.” As I read the story, I couldn’t believe how it all happened. He started dating this girl in high school, when her ex-boyfriend started coming around and stalking her. And, to make a long story short, Alex took care of the problem in a most cold-blooded, cold-hearted way.

It’s been 16 years since this happened. And I began to think about the disposition with which __________________ presented himself at work. All the while, that anger and ultimately that murder was lying in his heart that whole time. It is an emotion that lurks in the heart and takes no prisoners. Some say it’s OK: “It’s just the murder that makes the front page and occupies the lead stories on the 6:00 news. It’s OK to be angry, just as long as you don’t make the front page, right?” They have a case. You never see anyone sentences to first-degree anger, do you?

This was the mindset during Jesus’ time. The Pharisees led the people to think that as long as you kept the law outwardly, you were righteous. Some looked at Jesus and thought he was trying to relax the commands of God — but in reality, Jesus goes deeper to God’s true intention behind the command. It’s not simply about an external obedience but an internal transformation.

1. Anger plants the seeds of murder in our hearts (Matthew 5:21-22).

My wife has found a new hobby. Over the last few weeks, she has been working hard at planting flowers and shrubs and such in order to make the house look like a home. She has such a gift for this — and the results are obvious. But at the beginning, each of these flowers started with a small seed that was planted at just the right depth and nourished in just the right way. The result is a beautiful, colorful bloom!

Anger plants the seeds of murder in our hearts. Again, Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

The first question asked is, “Wait, is all anger bad? Isn’t there some anger that is good? Wasn’t Jesus angry?” Yes, Jesus had at least two bouts of anger when dealing with the moneychangers in the Temple. And there are times when God calls us to show a righteous anger at some great injustice done in the world to others.

But this an anger that is toward others who have offended us. James Boice notes, “If we are honest, we must admit that far more often we are angry at some wrong done against ourselves, real or imaginary, some insult or some deserved neglect.” Carson notes that Jesus is like a good preacher who confronts his audience. “You think yourselves far removed morally speaking from murderers — have you ever hated? Have you never wished someone were dead? Have you ever committed character assassination? Such vilifying lies at the root of murder, and makes a conscious realization that he differs not a whit, morally speaking, from the actual murderer.”

All of our words and our actions begin with the attitudes of the human heart. We find ourselves so offended that we tend to say, “I wish they would just go away.” They begin to use their tongue to humiliate — even to the point of saying, “Worthless! You fool!!” We want them to hurt as badly or more so than we hurt.

James 3:3-6 puts into view exactly the horror of the tongue:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. [4] Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. [5] So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! [6] And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

You may say, “Those are just words — how can one equate harsh words with murder?” Easy – because they come from the same seed of anger. What is the rub ultimately? The rub is that we are harboring seeds of murder against another one of God’s creation. MacArthur tells of a Jewish legend in which a young rabbi named Simon Ben Eleazar who had just come from a session with his famous teacher. The young man felt especially proud about how he handled himself before the teacher. As he basked in his feelings of wisdom and holiness, he passed a man who was especially unattractive. When the man greeted Simon, the rabbi responded, “You Raca! How ugly you are. Are all men of your town as ugly as you?” “That I do not know, “the man answered, “but go and tell the Maker who created me how ugly is the creature he has made.”

Happy Are The Holy, For God Is In Sight

In Sermons on April 28, 2008 at 8:19 pm

Jesus urges us not to look to external piety and good works or even to our intellect, but toward the purity of heart he requires if we desire to fellowship with him. Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3-4, ESV).

If you desire to fellowship with God, then you must desire holiness before God. Christ here is calling us to unadulterated, unblemished purity. We all must be careful in allowing anything in our hearts, souls, and minds that distorts or takes away from the holiness of God. Carson again asks, “What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral?” Purity should not be present only in certain situations, but privately and publicly.

Staying pure is not easy at first. Since we are products of the Fall and are tinged by sin. I will say this: oftentimes, those who have not surrendered to Christ understand Christ’s desire for holiness better than some Christians. They understand it’s a total surrender. For many Christians, it’s just about getting to heaven. All too few concern themselves about growing in the faith. But Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

J. Vernon McGee told one time while at a chapel service in Dallas that a beautiful song was sung, “Take Time To Be Holy” which starts off, “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord.” Yet, Lewis Sperry Chafer who preached at that service requested that one word be changed. He said, “Let’s sing, ‘Take time to behold him, speak oft with thy Lord.” The connection is clear: If we wish to behold him, we must strive to be holy. And if we strive to live holy lives because we love him and wish to behold him as he is.

Do you long for purity in your heart? Do you find yourself allowing unholy things into your mind?

Happy Are The Merciful, for Mercy Awaits

In Church Life, Devotional, Sermons on April 27, 2008 at 5:07 pm

(This is a portion of a sermon preached on Sunday, April 27, 2008. To listen to the sermon in its entirety, click here. For other audio sermons, click here.)

Every once in a while I hear something that helps me so much in understanding my Christian walk, it gives me one of those “Ah-ha!” moments. I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller out of New York. One day, his wife insightfully told him how the Christian life for so many was like putting quarters in a Coke machine. The object is to put the quarters in, then out comes the beverage. But on occasion, you put the quarters in and they don’t drop. So what do you do? You shake it and bump it until you hear the quarters drop.

For all too many Christians, the quarters have been deposited in our minds. We know the facts of the Gospel in how God made us, how we have sinned, and how we need to be saved by Christ through his death and resurrection. Many of us have made that decision. The problem though is that those quarters haven’t dropped and we’re waiting in that frustrating in-between stage where we know salvation in Christ, but we just fail to live it out in Christ.

Last week, I preached on the first four beatitudes. Those are the quarters in the machine. These last four Beatitudes are what should come out when the quarters drop. Being a Kingdom child is not just about Kingdom thinking, but Kingdom living. And the only way this can happen is not just from living out Kingdom principles, but when the King of Kings lives in us — Jesus Christ. My prayer this morning is that the Spirit will shake us until the quarters drop.

1. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).

Mercy. One of the words that we find used in a number of different places, but do we really understand what this word means? We tend to use the word ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ in much the same way. Think of it this way: grace is receiving something you do not deserve, and mercy is not receiving something you do deserve. D.A. Carson says that, “Grace answers to the undeserving; mercy answers to the miserable.”

So, when we read this passage of Scripture, we tend to take it like this, “If we are merciful, we shall receive mercy.” If you do this, then this will come back to you. This sounds right on the surface. But how does one become merciful? In reality, one who is merciful is one who has received mercy himself — he is one who understands his need for mercy and have received it abundantly. He understands, going back to the first beatitude, that he is in poverty in spirit due to his sin. As a result, he prays like David did, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquities, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-3).

I came across this recently, “It is sometimes said that an alcoholic who won’t admit he’s an alcoholic hates all other alcoholics.” Here’s a question for you: are you more offended at someone else’s sin moreso than your own? How can you tell? Well, have you shown mercy because you realize that great mercy God showed you? Do you find yourself feeling unworthy of it? Do you find yourself even resenting God’s mercy?

Consider Jonah. Jonah was a Bible-believing prophet commissioned by God. Yet God sends Jonah to a place and a people that to whom he feels far superior. He believes in the Bible, yet displays no compassion, no love, no mercy toward them. Why? Some would say, “Well, he’s prejudice.” That’s true, but why? “Well, he’s a sinner, like all of us.” That’s true, but where’s the rub for him? The problem was that he believed in something greater than the Gospel, something other than God to sustain him. And if you are having trouble being merciful to others, have you truly received and understood the mercy of God?