Category Archives: Evangelism

How Christians Can Pray for Muslims During Ramadan

Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Friday, May 26, 2017, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Sunday, June 25th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

If you’d like ideas for daily prayer during Ramadan, you may want to consider this resource.

Followed by The God of Grace

God's pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach and drew a gracious line in the sand.

God’s pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach where He drew a gracious line in the sand saying, “You are either for Me or against Me.”

It was early in my junior year at Virginia Tech—and I felt like everywhere I turned, God was following me around.

It all began a few months before, when a friend came to a Halloween party and talked to me about Jesus. And ever since that night, it seemed like I couldn’t escape what he had said. I believed God was real, but I was not ready to surrender my life of drugs, drinking, or dating. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion that my friend was telling me the truth.

Several times that semester I found myself smoking a blunt, only to become compelled to flush it and pick up the Bible. One early morning I was reading and became so overwhelmed, I printed out portions of Revelation and nailed it to the apartment door of “the white devil” who had long been my cocaine dealer (yes, that freaked him out). On the weekends, I would party hard, but somehow attend a church on Sunday, regardless of how strung out I was from the night before.

My soul was conflicted. I loved the fleeting pleasures of sin, yet I felt as if I was being pursued by the One I later heard affectionally called “The Hound of Heaven.”

It was in the middle of all this soul searching that my buddy Adam suggested we take a trip to Panama City Beach for Spring Break. I wasn’t sure if I should, but it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree that I was just stressed out and that I needed a little fun in the sun to help clear my mind.

Redemptive Road Trip

As we drove with windows down and music blaring, we talked about life and school and girls—and about what I had been reading in the Bible. I told Adam that I was seeing things in a new light and I was feeling like God was showing Himself to me everywhere I went. Adam was a good friend and he listened, but I’m sure he thought I was going crazy.

As we neared Panama City Beach I noticed a plane flying overhead pulling a banner behind it. As it drew closer I could make out that it read, “Jesus Loves You – John 3:16.”

I pointed my arm out the window and told Adam, “Look, God is following me around.”

Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped our bags in the room and headed to the beach. We anchored our chairs in the sand and cracked open a pair of cold ones. After a while I noticed what looked like a small herd of students talking to people around us and handing out little booklets. A couple guys came over to where we were sitting, gave me a pamphlet and told me that “God had a wonderful plan for my life.” After we talked for a few minutes, they made their way down the beach and I turned to Adam and said, “See, I told you, God is following me around.”

We laughed it off and headed back to the room. That evening we went to a club until closing time when we made our way out to the curb to call a cab. But no sooner than we got there, three vans pulled up with holy roller graffiti on the side that read “God loves you!”, “Believe the Gospel!” and “Jesus saves!” The drivers got out, offering free rides for anyone who needed it. We declined the ride, but as we walked away I looked over and said, “Adam, I’m not making this stuff up, I think God is following me.”

The next day was a little rainy and we decided to lay low at the hotel. At some point in the night, I found some weed and smoked myself hungry. I found Adam and we made our way to the Waffle House across the street. I told Adam that I felt like God was making me feel bad for the way I was living and I didn’t know what to do. As we scarfed down our waffles he looked at me and said, “bro, I think you need to stop doing the drugs, they’re messing with your mind.”

Within minutes, the door to the Waffle House opened up and a flood of about 30 loud and laughing people carrying Bibles came into the restaurant and took seats all around us. One of the guys walked straight up to our table and said “hey, my name is Shelby, do you go to Virginia Tech?” We said yes, introduced ourselves and then he asked me, “have I ever seen you at a church in Blacksburg?” I told him I had visited a few and that it was possible.

He explained that he was with a group called Campus Crusade for Christ and that he would like to meet up with me when we got back to school to talk about God and the Bible. We exchanged information and he headed off.

After he was gone, Adam turned, stared at me in the eyes and said, “Dude, God is following you around!”

A Line In the Sand

The next day I took a walk on the beach before dusk. As I did, I saw a girl sitting by herself staring at the ocean. I wasn’t sure why but I felt like I was supposed to go over and talk to her. I said hello and asked her how she was and if she had been in the water. She kindly replied and said the water was a little too cold for her.

I said something stupid like, “yeah I’d have to have a case of beer before I got in there.” She looked at me and said, “you know, I don’t know about that, but God has taught me that Jesus is all I need to be happy.” It was a pretty serious Jesus juke, but it didn’t surprise me.  I told her that I had been thinking a lot about God and asked her to pray for me.

As I walked toward the hotel, a lady in a beach wheelchair and another guy my age signaled for me to come over to them. I knew this was another divine set up, but I felt like it would be bad to run from a woman in a wheelchair, so I made my way over to them.

The lady’s name was Stacy James and after a few get to know you questions, she looked at me and said, “Garrett, what do you know about Jesus?” I don’t remember much else that she said except that God wanted me to know that I had to choose to either be for Him or against Him because I could not be both (Matthew 12:30).

That beach trip proved to be a true line in the sand for me.

When I returned to school I began meeting with Shelby and he helped me to understand the basics of what it meant to walk with Jesus. And since that trip, I have been for Jesus. This is not because of something wise or wonderful in me, but rather, for some eternally mysterious reason, God had set His affections on me and chased me down.

I tried to run, tried to hide, tried to explain His pursuit away, but in the end, I found His grace to be irresistible.

I’d like to leave you with two thoughts…

  1. God follows you because He loves you.

If you are reading this and know God has been following you around too, I plead with you to stop your running. God chases you down, not to do you harm, but to rescue you.

One of God’s prophets named Isaiah once described our running this way, “we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Following our own way seems like it leads to life, but in the end it is quite the opposite. Proverbs 14:12 says “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Running from God leads only to judgment by God (Revelation 20:11-15).

Yet because God loves running rebels, He sent His Son Jesus to come and rescue us from our wandering toward destruction. Jesus came as the “good shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).

What that means is that Jesus came to earth to die on a cross and receive the judgment we deserve for the way we sinned against God. But then Jesus rose from the dead and now calls all people, including you, to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness from Him (Acts 2:38, 17:30-31). God follows you because He loves you. So stop your running and surrender to the One who watches over your soul (1 Peter 2:25).

  1. God uses you to follow those He loves. 

Do not underestimate how important it is to always be throwing Gospel seed wherever you go. Whether we are on a beach, in a Waffle House, flying a plane, driving drunk people home, or doing normal life; remember that God is working to call His people to Himself—and He is using you to do it.

My wife regularly reminds me that “every brief encounter is from the Lord.” It may be a full Gospel conversation on a short-term mission trip or it may be simply asking a cashier how you can pray for them. God uses all sorts of “brief encounters” to awaken Gospel interest in the hearts of His elect.

The question is, are you actively seeking ways to help others hear the good news of the sinner-seeking Savior?

The year after my trip to Panama City Beach, I went back, but this time it wasn’t to party. Instead, I went with the same group whom God used to reach out to me the year before. I share that only to illustrate that God loves to use the most unlikely of people for His purposes.

So if you feel inadequate in sharing the good news about Jesus with others, do not allow that to stop you. Remember that God is the great Evangelist, He is simply allowing you to share in the joy of helping others come to know Him.

How ISIS Helped Salmaa Become a Christian

Egyptian Martyr

Due to the risk of her safety, Salmaa’s name has been changed and other identifying details have been left out. Her story, however, is true and wonderfully encouraging. Pray for many more like it.

 

Salmaa’s journey to knowing Jesus was spurred by emptiness. She lacked peace and longed to know who God was and what purpose He might have for her life. She was raised in a Middle Eastern country where she and everyone around her believed that Allah was the one true god.

But as Salmaa read the Quran, she only found deeper emptiness as she was confronted with a god who was cruel, unkind, and unpredictable. After much study, she closed the Quran. She was dissatisfied and left without answers, but the longing to be near to God remained.

By God’s grace and wonderful sovereignty, Salmaa was given a Bible and heard the good news about Jesus. She heard that Jesus was not just a prophet, but was God in the flesh who mercifully died and rose to forgive anyone who would believe in Him.

As she read the Bible, she was drawn to the One who seemed to speak through its pages. As she read, she became convinced that the Bible was indeed the “word of Life” that pointed to the “Word of life.”

Seeking to know Him came with obstacles, but Salmaa’s longing to have peace with God could not be quenched. And in recent days, her longing to know Jesus has been intensified by the most unlikely of circumstances.

As Salmaa watched the news and saw the murder of 21 Ethiopian Christians by the hands of ISIS, she was strangely drawn to the peace she found on the faces of the men who knelt in honor of Jesus.

How could they be at such peace with God?

How could they appear so comforted in their final moments?

Where could they find joy in a moment like that?

Salmaa saw a strength in their faces that she could not understand, but knew that it must have come from the God she had read of in the Bible—and she wanted to possess that peace.

Days later, testimonies from the families of the martyred began to emerge, and once again Salmaa was baffled. The families offered forgiveness for those who murdered their sons, brothers, and fathers. One mother said she praised God that her son was in heaven now and that she would like to invite the ISIS soldiers into her home so she could tell them more about the Savior her son loved so much.

How could those family members forgive these murders of their sons and husbands and fathers?

This too, she knew, was not a response that could come from anywhere but from God.

Since then, she has read the Bible daily and by His mercy, God has drawn her to Himself through faith in Jesus. She has told her family of her decision to follow Him and has endured their scorn. She has renounced Allah, knowing that one day she may be called to surrender her life in the same way her Ethiopian brothers did.

Salmaa shared with us that ISIS thinks they are destroying and ending Christianity by killing Christians, but what they do not understand is that their evil acts are causing people to look not at them, but at these who are dying with the peace of Jesus. They are seeing faces of peace, comfort, joy, and power and this is causing them to seek answers, and to come to know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Salmaa’s eyes have been opened by the graciousness and mercy of our Lord. And she is not the only one. God is working through the martyrdom of His servants to show that He is worthy of our worship, no matter what the cost.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a God who is able to take the most horrendous of evils and use them for His glory and the good of those He calls to Himself (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28; Colossians 2:13-15). Let us pray and labor in faith, knowing that God is working to save His people.

Father, strengthen your church to suffer well and know Your peace as their blood is shed for the One who shed His blood for them (John 16:33). And we pray that you would open the eyes of many more Muslims like Salmaa. Show them that Jesus, Your Son, is the true God who can give them peace which Allah cannot (John 14:27), in the Name of Jesus—Amen. 

 

Remembering Dad’s Death – Peace in an Unanswered Prayer

Here I am snuggled up with dad in his favorite red chair. I miss him much.

Me snuggled up with dad in his favorite red chair. I miss him much.

This post is written by a guest author, my wife, Carrie Kell

“Dad, hey it’s me. I called to see if you know what you were doing 33 years ago today?”

“No, I don’t think I do. “

“You were looking at me for the first time.”

The silence was broken with a tearful voice, “You’d think I would remember that, huh? I guess it is August the 8th. Happy Birthday, Sis (he called me sis or sissy for as long as I can remember).

Dad actually never forgot my birthday. I wasn’t upset though, I knew he hadn’t been himself lately.

I had called him a few days earlier and he’d asked me (for the 3rd time) if I knew what “the baby growing in my belly was yet.” I reminded him it was a boy, and he was just as shocked and excited as he was the other two times I told him. I knew something wasn’t right.

What I didn’t know, however, is that the last time I would ever speak to my dad (perhaps for eternity) was on my 33rd birthday. I am forever thankful that I called and reminded him what day it was. His response was so sweet. He was emotional. I often wonder if he knew he was close to the end.

The Day

We were in Speculator, New York where Garrett was speaking at a family camp. We were there to relax and be reunited with some dear friends from Texas. I would need those friends that week more than I realized. The Lord’s timing always amazes me and encourages my faith.

Two days after we arrived, on August 10th, 2013 my sweet husband came to me in the dining area where I had just shared laughs with my friends. He led me by the hand into the hallway and said those words I’ll never forget, “Carrie, your dad died.”

My eyes widened in disbelief, but deep down I’d known something wasn’t right with him lately. But still, my dad? Mike Church? It just seemed so surreal.

You always know that your parents will die one day, but you can’t really grasp what that means before it happens. In fact, you can’t really grasp what it means after it happens. Losing those you love is very strange.

Mike and Me

My dad wasn’t like the dads my friends had growing up. Nor did he even come close to the kind of dad my children will have. But he was what God gave to me—and for that I am truly thankful.

In the early days of my life I remember curling up with him and falling asleep in his oversized red recliner he loved so much. He coached my sports teams, took us on vacations, and made sure to get us gifts we wanted at Christmas time. He tried to be a good dad, but he could only do that in his own strength for so long.

I was 11 when he left me, my mother, and my brother. He became a man of self-love and basically did as he pleased for the rest of his life. This kind of life with Mike Church wasn’t easy. There were years that he didn’t try to have a relationship with me, nor did he seem to care when I tried to have one with him. We were not his priority anymore. He was his own priority.

He thought this would make him happy. So he ran after it with all his heart, which is so sad, because it ended up being the very thing that made him so miserable and lonely. And it was my father’s misery that God used to soften my heart toward him.

The Changing of the Heart

When I was a freshman in college, the Lord convicted me about the way I felt toward my dad. Now you might think that I was angry at dad for what he had done to our family, but I wasn’t angry—I was apathetic. I seriously didn’t care. He had left us and I had no need to care about him.

The change began one evening after a conversation with a new friend. He wasn’t a Christian and was struggling to find happiness in his life. He’d been through hard things and was at a breaking point.

After my conversation with him, I went back to my dorm room with a heaviness like I had never experienced before. I began praying for him and pleading with God to save him. During that prayer I began to wonder how I could care so much about this person’s salvation, but not for my own father’s?

In many ways my new friend was much like my dad (he even shared his birthday). His self-centeredness didn’t make him easy to be friends with, but as he shared about his desire to find happiness, it softened me towards him. The Lord used that night to melt my heart and teach me not only what it meant to be broken over my friend’s salvation, but to begin to love my dad. Where my heart had once been so indifferent towards him, the Lord gave me a deep love for him. There is no explanation for this love except the grace of God.

A Father to the Fatherless

One of the first things God impressed on my heart was that if I was going to love my father, I was going to have to forgive all his sins against me. I had grown cold to the sting of those sins, but I knew they were there. In His mercy, God reminded me of how much He had forgiven me in Christ.

It was through this that God gave me grace to extend forgiveness to my father for all he had done to me. Jesus loved His enemies, and He called me to do the same (Luke 6:27-33). What I have found is that loving those who are difficult to love is only possible because the Lord does it for you as He works through you. My faith increased so much in those years, because I was certain the deep love I began to develop for my dad wasn’t my own love, it was the love Christ gave me.

The Lord also taught me that to love my father, my expectations would have to change. When I began to love him as a lost person and not a dad, it gave me freedom. I no longer expected Mike to be a real dad to me. He wouldn’t ever be that, unless God changed his heart. But this didn’t mean I would be without a father to care for me.

In Psalm 86:5 God promises that He would be a “Father to the fatherless.” Though my earthly father had abandoned me so many years ago, I have a heavenly Father who will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). God had promised to supply every need of mine according to the riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19), and making me His daughter is the greatest of those riches.

The good news of the Gospel isn’t only that Jesus forgives my sin through faith in Him (which is amazing), but that He gave me grace to love my dad and gave me assurance that God would forever be my Father.

The Prayer Unanswered

Though God changed my heart toward dad in college, my prayers for his salvation had begun long before that. I knew he was a lost man and desperately needed Christ, just like I did. I wanted him to have freedom from the life he lived and the pain and loneliness I could see so clearly. I also became convinced that I was his daughter for this very purpose (Acts 17:24-30).

Because the Lord had so changed my heart toward my dad, I really believed that eventually he would see his need for a Savior. I believed he would look back over his life, see where he had failed, and find hope and forgiveness in the only place he could—Jesus!

I prayed for this almost daily. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I was certain it would. I struggled to trust the Lord in other areas, but I was sure that the Lord would hear the cry of my heart and let me see my dad come to know Him!

Because of this hope, I shared the gospel with my Father often. A month before he died, I sat in his house in tears as I shared the importance of loving God, knowing Christ, and knowing his need for Christ’s forgiveness. He wasn’t convinced. It broke my heart, but not my faith.

That proved to be the last face-to-face conversation I had with my dad. We only spoke on the phone a handful of times after that day, including the day I reminded him of my birthday.

When dad died I was certainly sad, but even more so, I was confused. Why did I not see God save my dad? Why did God change my heart toward my dad if it weren’t for the purpose of seeing him believe? What did this mean about God’s character if twenty years of prayers for my dad’s soul weren’t answered?

Peace in the Unanswered Prayer

Though I have many unanswered questions, the Lord has given me peace. Though my prayers were not answered in the way I had envisioned, my heavenly Father loves me more than I can imagine and I know that all He does is done in faithfulness (Psalm 33:4).

1. I have no regrets.

By the end, dad knew I loved him, and I knew he loved me as much as he was able. Dad also knew the Gospel. I don’t always do this well with others, but the Lord gave many opportunities for me to share the love of Jesus with him and I truly believe there was nothing left I could have said.

Sure, our conversations weren’t always easy and I often walked away discouraged, but by God’s grace I have no regrets today because I shared the Gospel with him. This has served as a great encouragement for me that I will never regret sharing the Gospel with someone—especially once they are gone.

2. I have hope in God’s mercy.

Because I had shared the Gospel, I can rest in the fact that dad knew where to go for mercy if he wanted it. I don’t know what the last few days of dad’s life were like. I wasn’t there when he died. But I do know that as long as someone has breath, they can cry out to God who delights in saving those who seek Him, even if it is with their final breath (Luke 23:42-43).

This peace did not come quickly for me. There were many days and nights of praying and questioning since his death, but God’s mercy gives me hope, no matter what happens.

3. I have trust in God’s greatness.

Though I don’t know that I will see my dad again, I know that I can trust in the great love and wisdom of my heavenly Father. Once I am in His presence in heaven, I know I will lack nothing. In this I rest and in this I hope. Until that day, I will take my anxious heart to His Word and find comfort in truths like this,

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalm 131

Losing my dad has been a sorrowful journey and one that will change my life forever. But my sorrow has been put to rest because the Lord has quieted my soul. He will hold me fast. He will hold me fast.

From Shamanism to Salvation – Nikki’s Story

Nikki (left) and Stephanie celebrating God's power over false gods following her baptism.

Nikki (left) and Stephanie celebrating God’s grace following her baptism.

On Sunday, I had the honor of baptizing a new sister in Christ named Nikki. This baptism was particularly special to me as her conversion was an answer to prayer.

I’ll explain more after you hear her story.

“I was born in Mongolia, a country under the strong influence of Shamanism, Buddhism and other folk religions. Growing up, my parents often visited the witch doctor because of my poor health when I was young. I wore protective amulets close to my heart and around my right ankle. They were my “saviors” and I trusted them to keep me safe and away from evil and harm.

I came to the US in September 2011 to study. During that time, I worked part-time at a dry-cleaners to practice my English. In December 2012, most customers would come by the shop to collect their clothes and as a courtesy ask “What are you doing for Christmas?” I would always respond that “I don’t celebrate Christmas”.

One day, a customer, Garrett, came to pick up his clothes and posed the same question. He followed up by asking about my family and invited me to his church after writing both his and Carrie’s name on a card. Come every Sunday, I would think about whether I should visit the church, but never did so. The following month, I was going through an extremely stressful time in my life and finally decided to visit Del Ray Baptist.

It seemed as though everyone there knew who I was and were extremely caring and welcoming. There, Carrie introduced me to Stephanie who I met on a weekly basis to study the Bible. At the end of one of our bible studies, Stephanie told me that “you cannot serve 2 masters” and challenged me to take off my protective amulets. I was so scared as I believed that if I took them off, I would die.

Stephanie continued to patiently pray with me, and taught me what the Gospel is and what it took to follow Jesus. I continued to question what Christianity was, thinking it was all crazy, but God was working on my heart and starting to change me.

In October 2013, I called my mother and told her I no longer believed in Shamanism and was now a Christian. It was one of the hardest decisions in my life as I knew that I was forsaking what my family and people believed and would face the ridicule of many of my Mongolian friends. Yet, Jesus is my true Savior, not those protective amulets or spirits.

As it says in Matthew 10:39 “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus came to me in such a strong way that I could no longer deny Him. God has given me the courage to take off those amulets, I am still alive! and continues to protect and provide me in such amazing ways despite my circumstances. I am thankful that He loves me so much. What an amazing Father we have!

So I come here today to be baptized before you to say that I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I intend to follow Him for the rest of my life.”

 

Praise God for His great power over false gods!

God used my encounters with Nikki not only to save her soul, but also to encourage my own. I had been pretty discouraged with my personal evangelism in the days before I met Nikki. I felt like open doors for the Gospel had been nonexistent for several months, so I began to pray more fervently and committed to being bold with any small opening the Lord might give. After my first conversation with her, my wife and I regularly prayed for her salvation and dropped off clothes at the cleaners on days I knew she was working.

Once she visited the church, we had her over to our house with some friends who had done Gospel work in Mongolia and we encouraged others from the church to be praying for Nikki. I remember distinctly one Sunday while I was preaching and saw Nikki sitting next to Stephanie in the row behind my family and her face was beaming and head was nodding as she heard God’s Word proclaimed. There are few sweeter sights a preacher can see than that!

And as a pastor, I have fewer sweeter joys than to see the way our church has been used by the Lord through this whole process. Many have prayed for her, Stephanie has invested many hours of patient Gospel labor, and another single sister named Esther has recently rearranged her living situation so Nikki could move in with her. The Great Commission is always best carried out in a community where people are moved to show sacrifical love because they have first been loved so sacrifically by Jesus.

Having the honor to play a small part in the Lord extending mercy to one of His children is one of the most humbling and soul-refreshing experiences any of us can have. May God open many doors for us so the Gospel can go forth and many more false gods to be put in their place.

Also, keep Nikki in your prayers as she walks with her new Savior. Ask the Lord to encourage her, protect her, and give her opportunity to proclaim Jesus among her friends and family whom she loves very much.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” Isaiah 45:5

 

 

Divine Appointments: The Spirit is Willing But the Schedule is Tight

Use me hands

“Pray that God would set up divine appointments this week. Ask Him to interrupt your life and use you to talk with someone about Jesus.”

That was my final encouragement during Sunday’s message from Romans 10.

Sure enough, right after the service a young man was in our parking lot looking for someone to help him get his life on track. And sure enough there we were with four screaming kiddos in the mini-van and plans for the afternoon.

It’s moments like those that tempt me to change my prayer from “Lord, use me” to “Lord, use me when I’ve got some free time.”

Gospel ministry can be lots of things, but convenient is usually not the best way to describe it. The very fact that our interruptions are divine appointments ensures that they probably won’t fit neatly into our schedule.

So if the Spirit is willing to set up divine appointments, how should we prepare to respond—even when our schedule is full? There are no magic answers, but here are a few things to prayerfully consider:

 

1. Pray for divine appointments.

God is sovereignly working out His purposes in history. He places people where He wants them (Acts 17:26) and amazingly arranges circumstances to draw people to Himself (Acts 8:26-40). As His followers, we are to be ready, willing, and desirous to be a part of introducing people to Him (Isa. 6:8; Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:20).

Pray for God to use you. Pray for Him to use your church. Regularly pray for Him to interrupt your schedule and arrange circumstances so that you will have opportunity to speak to others about Him. Ask Him to open doors for the Word to go forth (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; Col. 4:2; Rev. 3:8) and for Him to open your eyes to see the appointments He is arranging.

 

2. Plan for divine answers.

When we pray, we should expect that God will answer. We serve a God who delights in finding and using available people (2 Chron. 16:9). That means that when we awake each morning, we should fully expect that the Lord of heaven will use us on earth that day for His glory. Some days this will be more obvious than others, but we should always be expectant.

My wife has long said, “every brief encounter is from the Lord.” Since there is no such thing as luck or chance, we should always remember that when we encounter the people in our family, neighbor, workplace, and at the check out counter (get off your phone) it happens because God has arranged it to happen that way.

Are you seeking open doors in conversations? Are you asking people questions about their life? Are you asking people how you can pray for them? Are you pushing on doors in relationships to see if the Lord makes one swing open? I would encourage you to be planning for the Lord to use you. Be watchful and expectant.

I know an elder and his wife who would make a crockpot meal almost every Sunday morning so they could invite people they met at church home for lunch. I’ve heard testimonies of people who sat in front of them at church and then got the invite to join them for lunch. That elder’s family was ready to be used by the Lord!

Another practical way to plan for divine answers is to stockpile resources you can give to people who might be interested in hearing more. I have copies of the Scriptures and a Gospel tract called 2 Ways to Live in my backpack when I travel, in my car, in my home office, and at the church. I also have a reading plan to give someone who shows interest in starting to read the Bible. You may not use these resources all the time, but they’re nice to have around in case the conversation gets that far.

 

3. Pray to know when you should walk away from a possible Gospel opportunity.

Jesus never lacked for opportunities to minister. But Jesus didn’t minister to every person who came to Him. There were times He said “no” to opportunities that were before Him because He had other business from the Father to attend to (Mk. 1:36-38).

Jesus did have an advantage, being omniscient and all, but the reality is that He gives us His Spirit to guide us (Jn. 16:33; Acts 8:29, 10:19, 13:2) and wisdom as we ask for it (Matt. 7:7-11; James 1:5). There are times we just aren’t able to share with people because we have other things the Lord would have us do.

For instance, we didn’t stick around and share the Gospel with the young man who was in the parking lot on Sunday after church. It just wasn’t the right time. We exchanged emails and I introduced him to a few of our other members, but it was best for me to keep the commitment I had with my family on that day. On other days, we may have invited him to lunch or I may have told the family to head home and I’d stay back to talk.

Pray for the Lord to help you walk in wisdom, and rest in the fact that Jesus is the Savior, not you.

 

4. Pray to know when your plans are getting in the way of God’s plans.

There are times when the good things we are doing are in the way of the greater things the Lord wants us to do. In Luke 9:57-62 Jesus encounters three would-be followers who when asked to follow him gave what seem like good excuses. I mean, ensuring shelter, burying a dying parent, and saying farewell to your family seem like better reasons to delay following Jesus than I usually come up with.

This passage should serve as a humbling reminder that we must not “lean on our own understanding” (Prov. 3:5-6) and prayerfully ensure that we are choosing the “better portion” (Lk. 10:38-42). We need grace to see things in our schedule that might be able to go in order to free up available time. We should be prayerful that God would cultivate a sensitive heart in us like young Samuel had (1 Sam. 3:1-11) so that if we ever sense Him calling us to do something, we will step out with expectant faith.

This is where being in loving, intentional, truth-speaking community with other believers is essential. I need people in my life to help me think through my priorities. I am not above allowing comfort and personal plans to creep in and cloud my ability to see what the Lord has set before me. Let’s help each other be attentive to divine appointments and create a culture in our churches where we are surrendered to the Lord’s call to make His name known.

 

5. Rest in God’s grace if you miss an opportunity.

We will all miss divine appointments. We are sinners who, for many reasons, are prone to have deaf ears, hardened hearts, and dulled senses. I still have instances that haunt me where I missed what appeared to be a divinely ordained opportunity to point someone towards Christ. And while we must always learn and repent when appropriate, we must also rest in the fact that God’s grace covers all our failures.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus died and rose for sinners, including those who miss divine appointments. So if you’ve been too busy to notice, or too fearful to speak, cast yourself upon the Lord’s matchless mercy—and get ready for the next opportunity He lays before you.

 

The Spirit is willing to use us, so draw near to the Lord and ask Him to do so. Nothing is better than having the message of God’s grace and a schedule full of divine appointments to share it with. Lord, use us!

 

 

Thanks to Blake White @ablakewhite for his tweet “the Spirit is willing but the schedule is tight” which got me thinking about this and to Tim Challies @challies for this post on getting things done that had a section on being ready for divine appointments.

 

I also want to strongly recommend Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy and Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next for your reading. They are wonderful resources that will help you think well about having a full schedule for the glory of God.

 

 

 

Stephen’s Story – From Atheist to Child of the King

Stephen with his friend and language partner Michael.

Stephen was an atheist who heard God’s Word through several faithful witnesses,    including his language partner, Michael.

This Sunday, our church had the joy and privilege of hearing Stephen Yin share his testimony as he was baptized to publicly profess His faith in Jesus. Stephen was an atheist at this time last year, but the Lord sought him and saved his soul. May we never give up hope in our sovereign God who is able to transform even the hardest of hearts.

 

Here is Stephen’s story.

 

My name is Stephen. I am from China and am studying Statistics at George Washington University. I came from a country where the educational system taught you that there is definitely no God in this world. In my country, it is pretty silly to believe in God and anyone who says they do is viewed as a loser. Growing up, people always laughed at those who said they are God believers, and I was among those who laughed.

However, from September of 2012, everything about me began to change. On August 14th, I arrived in the US from my godless home country. I attended classes, struggled with the language barrier, suffered from culture shock, but still tried hard to be a good student.

One day, I received an email saying there was a free English class in our university. I thought maybe that was good for my language problem, so I just decided to go. When I attended the class, I found out it was held by Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC), but I didn’t know anything about these people.

In the first half of the class, we picked a topic and read some articles and talked about them with English speakers from the church. In the second half, we did a bible study. That was the first time I read a bible and learned things about Jesus Christ. I had no plans to read the Bible, but God had other plans.

At first, this did not make any sense for me. I just thought “well, I attended their class, it was free, and it seems like learning this bible can make them happy.” So I just continued to do the bible study. At the third class, I met a lady named Cindy. She taught me some basic ideas about Christianity. Before then, I had never known anything about this Jesus.

At the following week of the English class, Cindy brought me a bible with both Chinese and English (which is the bible I still use today). Since I now had my own bible, I would read some of it when I was bored because at that time I just took it as a story book.

Then one of my friends told me there was a free food party on Friday night where they offer Chinese food. After the food, they would have a bible study and taught Matthew. Most of my friends who went there together with me gave up because they thought the bible study was too boring. But for me, I thought it is good to learn something from there. Actually, I cannot tell why I thought so, but I just felt I like reading the bible and all of a sudden it was not so boring for me. Also, I get free Chinese food, so I kept on attending the bible study every week.

Soon after this, I got a “language partner” named Michael, who was supposed to teach English and have conversation with me. I spent a lot time with Michael meeting every week. I told him I was curious about the story of the bible so maybe we can talk about it. Michael taught me a lot about the Christianity, who is God, how our world was created, why we are sinners, and how can we be saved by Jesus. I had never heard about these things before.

During my third month in the country, my life became filled with trouble. My cost to live here was higher than what I thought and I was feeling lonely and homesick. When I was really feeling bad, I did not want to do anything. Then I just picked up my bible and discovered that when I was upset, reading the bible gave me a sense of peace. I talked about this with Michael, and he encouraged me to just keep on reading the bible and keep on visiting church with him.

At this time I needed to find a new place to live and moved in with Mark and Laura who invited me to visit Del Ray Baptist Church (DRBC). At DRBC, I learned the Christianity and Garrett preaches slow enough so I could really follow the sermon which really helped me a lot.

I still went to the Friday night Bible study every week. It took me about 2 hours to get back home after the bible study as the bus runs every 90 minutes. Also I had to walk about 1 mile at midnight to the house. Though this was a lot, I kept on doing it, which even astonished me. Then I realized that God had been changing my mind and making me want to learn his word enough that all this late travel was no longer trouble for me.

When I lived with Mark and Laura they taught me about how to try to live in a Christian way. Before living with them, the bible was something like literature, but Mark and Laura taught me how to think of this world and how to apply our faith in our everyday life. I began to try to hand in my life to God and pray and worship God in my daily life.

At DRBC, I met one of the elders, Brian. We talked almost every week after church and he told me something about the sermon message and my studies and my life. I could always ask Brian any question I had about life or study or Christianity. We talked much deeper about what does it mean to become a Christian and how a Christian truly believes in God.

It was then that I truly believed that God created us, that all of us are sinners, that God loves us and sent his own son, Jesus Christ to our world to pay for our sins. Jesus Christ, as a man and also God, come to our world. He is perfect and died for us on the cross and rose from death again. Only through the faith in Jesus and God, can we be saved. I know all of these and believe these are true.

But it was difficult to understand this thing called “faith”. Chinese people never really believe in anything when we grow up, so I did not know what “faith” really means. I talked a lot about this with Brian. He taught me a lot about my questions and suggested that I read Romans.

Michael and I went through Romans chapter by chapter. I also talked with Brian and Mark in the church at this time. At that time, I prayed often in my daily life, had handed my life to God, trusted him and tried to do the right things to please our Father as Brian taught me.

But I never thought about to be baptized. One day, when I was together with Michael having the lunch, Michael asked me some question about what I believe, then he told me, Stephen, if you believe in all of these, you should be baptized and tell everyone you have become a Christian.

I realized that, yea I do really believe, I trust our God, I believe in Jesus Christ who came here, saved us, and rose from death again, and that only through faith in Jesus we can be saved. As an act of His mercy, God led me step by step in learning his words.  Now I stand before you as a broken, repentant sinner, saved only by the amazing grace of my perfect Father who will never leave me or forsake me.  Today, I’d like to be baptized as a public display of what God has done in my life!

The Stand that Saved My Soul

On Halloween night 1998 I threw a party in my apartment at Virginia Tech. I was 20 years old and was in the wildest season of my life. I had three girl roommates, a live in girlfriend, and I spent most of my spare time smoking weed, doing lines of cocaine, and drinking.

On that Halloween night, I was geared up for what I expected to be a good time. Because the party was going be so “unforgettable” I invited an old friend from high school down for the weekend. Dave and I had played hoops and partied together over the years, so I was excited to see him.

When Dave arrived, I greeted him and escorted him back to my room where I proudly unveiled the welcome gifts I’d prepared for him. On my desk was a fat bag of weed, a 6’er of his favorite beer, and I told him I had a girl he could get to know for the weekend.

But Dave didn’t respond like I expected he would. Instead, he gently closed the door and sat on the bed. He looked me in the eyes and told me he didn’t do those things anymore. He said he’d become a Christian and that he loved Jesus now and the reason he came to the party was to tell me that Jesus loved me too.

I laughed him off.

For the rest of the night Dave stayed at the party with people going crazy all around him. Other friends came up and asked me what was up with my buddy and when I told them he was a Christian we’d all sneer and say “oh, poor guy” like he’d caught a disease or something.

But as the night went on, my heart was uneasy.

In that room, with the music bump’n and laughter roll’n, I was haunted. As I looked at Dave, I saw he had a peace that no drink or high or lover could give. The party eventually ended, but the story was just beginning.

Over the next several days, Dave and I spoke about Jesus and about the Gospel. He gave me Scriptures to read and tried to answer my questions and endured my mocking. We spoke on the phone several times and exchanged emails. What follows is the family friendly version of an email I sent him about a week after his visit.

 

Dave-

Dude, we have to talk. Its great and all that you’re Mr. Religious now, but I want you to know I’m worried about you. I want you to be careful that you don’t go overboard and start getting all weird on me. I mean I know that going to church is a good thing and that God is real and all that, but if you don’t watch it you’re going to miss out on what life is really all about.

I know you are just trying to be a good boy and all, but when you came down here and wouldn’t drink, you looked like an idiot. I mean you were just sitting there with a cork in your mouth. What is wrong with you?

I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I’m really worried about you. I know you are just preaching at me because you are my boy and all that, but I know that I’m OK, God and I have our own little understanding. I know I get crazy now and again, but I don’t think God is going to send me to hell for having a good time. I mean he understands I’m just having a little fun. I’m not a bad person and he knows my heart and all that. I agree I get a little crazy now and again, but it’s good for the soul right? Well, enough of that, I’m sure you’ll be back to normal soon and we can smoke a fatty to celebrate. Be a good boy and tell Jesus I said hi.

Garrett

 

During another party a week or so later I felt myself becoming uncomfortable. I was feeling haunted, though I couldn’t explain it to myself. I felt dirty and confused, so I retreated to my bedroom and closed the door and said, “Ok, God, if you’re real, show me something.” As I looked down in exhaustion, I saw the corner of a bible that my parents had given me when I went off to college. Until that night it had been hidden under my bed. But for some reason, that night, it was peeking out.

I sat at my desk and played Bible roulette. The Bible opened to Ezekiel 18. I began reading and came to this,

The person who sins is the one who will die…But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live…Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live…Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die…I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” (NLT).

That freaked me out.

So I closed the Bible and said, “God, let’s try this again.” I opened again and this time it fell open to Romans 2 which says, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

That really freaked me out.

A few weeks later I was at home on Christmas break and I was doing a drug called Ecstasy. Sometime after midnight I became strangely sober and felt an overwhelming burden to call Dave. So at 2:00AM Dave came up to my house, carrying his Bible, with tears rolling down his cheek.

We sat down and I told him I needed to know more about God. He asked me if I knew what he was doing when I called him. He went on to tell me that when I called him he was doing the same thing he’d been doing every night since he left Virginia Tech—he was on his knees praying for me.

Over the next few days and weeks I continued to read the Bible and have conversations with Dave. He told me that God made me to love and worship Him. He explained that the guilt I was feeling was God showing me that I was in rebellion against Him and was on my way to hell. He explained that Jesus died for sinners like me and then rose from the dead to extend mercy to me if I who would turn from my sins and believe in Jesus. He told me that Jesus would forgive all of my sins, change my life, and make me His forever.

I’m not sure if it was that night or in the weeks that followed, but God saved my soul. I began reading the Bible and it was no longer a book of old stories, but now it was like a spotlight that searched my soul and showed me the depths of my sin and the even greater depths of God’s love for me in Jesus.

Dave made a stand for Christ that night at Virginia Tech. God used him to get a message to me that eternally altered my life. Now, every Halloween night I call Dave and thank him for the stand. God used Dave’s stand to save my soul and my life from utter destruction.

I’m a very unlikely person to be a Christian. I loved my sin. I loved my life. I had a very hard heart. Dave was the 17th person to have some sort of Gospel conversation with me. I didn’t want Jesus. But for some reason, He wanted me.

As you read this, I want to encourage you to remember that God’s grace is stronger than the hardest heart. Romans 1:16-17 says “the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, the righteous shall live by faith.”

Who is the most unlikely person you know to become a follower of Jesus?

Take a moment to think.

You have a name?

Jesus can save them.

And you just might be the person He uses to get the Gospel to them.

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, for rebels like me and rebels like you.

Make a stand for Christ and trust Him to use it for His glory.

That stand may just save a soul.

How Do Atheists Get To Heaven? A Response to Pope Francis

Pope FrancisHow do atheists get into heaven?

This isn’t the opening line of a bad joke, but rather it’s an eternally important question that we all need to ask.

Yesterday (September 11, 2013)  Pope Francis wrote an open letter to Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in which he said, “God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.”

In other words, you can be an atheist, but if you follow your conscience, you can expect God to extend mercy to you and you will be with Him for eternity in heaven.

While I respect Pope Francis’ attempts to further dialogue with people who are not traditionally open to religious conversations, I am deeply saddened by his distortion of truth. The Pope and the Bible do not agree on this all important matter.

Below are a few lessons from the Scriptures that clearly state how an atheist goes to heaven. If you are an atheist, I encourage you to read these verses and ask if God is really there, that He will show Himself to you and lead you into truth.

1. An atheist must recognize that their disbelief in God is foolish.

Psalm 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’…”

There is a God who gave all of us life. Every breath we take is a testimony to His mercy, even if we don’t recognize it. If you’re an atheist, please know that you have a Maker and He says it is foolish for you to ignore that He made you (Psalm 139:13-14) and that He lovingly sustains you (Matthew 5:45).

2. An atheist must recognize that God has graciously given much evidence of His existence in creation.

Romans 1:19-20 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

All of creation is a high-definition testimony of God’s existence and power and beauty. God says that there is no excuse not to believe in Him in light of all He has made. If you are an atheist, please pause and ponder where everything came from and if indeed it is possible that there is a God who did it all to point to Himself.

3. An atheist must recognize that if they try to obey their conscience they will only be condemned.

Romans 2:14-16 “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

This is certainly the passage Pope Francis had in mind when he gave hope for people who don’t believe in God. The problem is that even when our conscience becomes a law to ourselves, we break it all the time. Sure there will be instances where our consciences “excuse” us because we avoid things we know we shouldn’t do, but how many times does it “accuse” us!

The reality is that all of us have many strikes against our conscience and that only further shows that we aren’t in good standing with God. The God of heaven is holy and He will not allow evil to remain forever (Habakkuk 1:13). Our conscience doesn’t excuse us ultimately, rather it condemns us before God and shows us that we need Him to forgive us. If you are an atheist, I encourage you to consider the times you have done things you know to be wrong. What if there is a God who really cares about those things?

4. An atheist must realize that they are already condemned before God because they haven’t believed in Jesus.

John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

When we die we do not have to wonder what will happen. God tells us that if we turn from our sin and believe in Jesus, we will be forgiven and not be condemned before God for our rebellions. But if we do not believe in Jesus, we are already condemned because of the ways we have rejected His revelation to us in creation, in our conscience, and ultimately in His Son.

Revelation 21:8 “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

There is no hope for those who do not have faith in Christ. The only thing that awaits them is the eternal judgment of God. This not popular or palatable for many, but it should sober us and cause us to reflect on what the Bible says about eternity. If you are an atheist, please do not allow these warnings to fall on deaf ears. Ask God, if He is really there, to show you what is true.

5. An atheist must turn from their sin and trust in Jesus.

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

1 John 5:11-12 “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

How can an atheist get into heaven? Not by denying God or attempting to follow their conscience. Atheists get to heaven by ceasing from their atheism and surrendering to Christ.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ is the Savior whom God sent to awaken us from our atheism or sleepy self-righteousness or dead religion. He is God’s only provision for to make us right with Him. There is no other way to heaven other than believing in Jesus. If you are an atheist, please give consideration to whether or not Jesus is who the Bible claims that He was.

If you are a Christian–

Pray for your atheist friends to have soft hearts toward the Lord

Pray for divinely appointed opportunities to talk through the Scriptures with them.

Pray for Pope Francis to have humility before the Scriptures and “not be wise above what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).

It is only by grace that any of us are saved (Eph. 2:8-10), which should do nothing but produce humility toward God, compassion toward others, and patience with those who do not yet believe in God. It is not however loving or compassionate to tell people that they can go to heaven without believing in Jesus because that is a lie.

The Toughest Conversation I’m Glad I Had

grandmom and granddad

    We weren’t sure when Grandpa woke up, but we knew it was long before the sun did. My earliest memories of him revolve around a small kitchen table where he sat each morning drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. The walls of his basement were decorated with World War II honors and pictures of his hunting victories. Locked gun cases held treasures we were only allowed to behold when Grandpa opened them for us.

     I learned my first curse words from my grandfather, who was sure to drop some colorful language in at least every other sentence. He could be an intimidating man, but his smile and belly laugh calmed our trepidation. His love for my grandmother was marked by service and tenderness I’ve rarely seen rivaled. He stood when she came into the room and attended to her every need.

      Granddad was an occasional churchman. His faith would have best been described as private. As our family’s patriarch he always prayed before meals, when  he’d take the opportunity to thank God for our country and blast whomever might be president at the time. I never saw him open a Bible and never heard him speak of Jesus, except when interjecting his name as an expletive.

 Weighty Awareness

      In 2011, my wife and I planned a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina, as part of our family’s summer vacation. We chose this spot because we love the beach, but mostly because my grandparents lived there, and we wanted them to meet our newborn son. Our family was buzzing as the days drew closer, but along with the anticipation, a weighty awareness rested on my heart. The Lord was calling me to share the gospel with Granddad.

      Though burdened for his salvation for years, I hadn’t enjoyed many in-person opportunities for that kind of conversation. Granddad was now in his 80s and, though not in bad health, I sensed the Lord had set apart this time for me to initiate an eternally important conversation with him.

      I guess I’m like anybody else when it comes to sharing the gospel. I believe the good news with all my heart, but whether it be fear of man or feelings of inadequacy, I still get anxious whenever I proclaim Christ’s name. The pending conversation with Granddad took my fear to another level, for several reasons.

      First, it was Grandpa. He was a man of steel, and I was scared to death to speak truth to someone who’d lived nearly four times as long as I had. He’d forgotten more than I’ll ever learn, and the thought of calling him to repent and believe in King Jesus made me so anxious I was nearly nauseous over it.

     Second, he claimed to be a Christian. He’d gone to church a billion times and heard as many sermons. He was a longstanding member of a Presbyterian church that appeared to be, to put it charitably, light on the gospel. Though Grandpa was a man of impeccable integrity and faithfulness, he didn’t display fruit that would be characterized as Christlike (Matt. 7:16; Gal. 5:22-23).

     Third, he was family. It’s always tough to share the gospel with family since they know all about you—the good, bad, and the real bad. Grandpa knew me when I was a womanizing cokehead who mocked religion and disgraced my family. Though Jesus has done a wonderful work in my life, I was still aware that Grandpa knew my past. And on this particular occasion, it haunted me.

     Before the trip, I prayed and asked others to do the same with the hope God would soften his heart and give me courage to speak truth. The Lord answered those prayers as on the last day of the trip I had a clear 30-minute gospel conversation with him. At first it was a little tough, but I believe the Lord blessed our time together.

     Though Grandpa raised numerous questions and shared some of his doubts, he expressed willingness to consider the news I’d relayed to him. Once I returned I sent him a letter addressing his questions, some selected Scriptures to consider, and a copy of my friend Mike McKinley’s excellent book Am I Really a Christian?. We had one follow-up conversation, during which he remarked, “I’ve never understood this ‘born-again’ thing, but I think I’m starting to get it.”

     Granddad died on December 17, 2012, with his wife of 55 years by his side. He’d requested to be cremated, and my grandmother fulfilled his request. I had the honor of leading a memorial service in his birthplace of Currituck, North Carolina.

Seed Sown

     In the days since Grandpa’s death, I’ve often wondered whether the seed sown upon his soul took root. I have hope that God brought about repentance and faith in my grandfather before he died, but I cannot be certain. What I can be certain of, however, is that the words of Scripture are true: “The fear of man is a snare” (Prov. 29:25).

     No matter what man we fear (even if it’s Grandpa), fear is a snare. Fear is a snare for us, and it’s a snare for those who need to hear the message that can save their souls. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), and it is good news. Yet as Carl F. H. Henry observed, it is “only good news if it gets there in time.”

     I haven’t always obeyed the Lord’s call for me to share the gospel. To this day several scenes haunt my memory. I know, however, that although I’ve withheld the gospel from some, God’s mercy extends to me. His grace abounds to undeserving rebels like me.

     The conversation with my grandfather was one of the toughest I’ve ever had, but I’ve been sobered in the hindsight of his death. My fear appears quite shortsighted today, for at this moment he’s in eternity. He sees what we have only heard. Christ is more real to him now than when we sat at the kitchen table and read the Scriptures that pointed to the Lord of glory.

     I trust that on that last day when we all stand before that great judgment throne, the fear of man will be exposed for utter foolishness. The weightiness of eternity presses us into deeper dependence on Christ to do what he’s called us to do—while we still can. To be paralyzed by fear of human opinion, rather than stirred to declare the truth that can deliver from destruction, is a most saddening tradeoff.

     God has placed each of us in our families, neighborhoods, classrooms, and workplaces to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We aren’t there by chance, and there is no time to waste. Pray for God to open doors for the gospel. Ask him to give you courage to speak his name.

     I’m convinced that one day, when standing before his Son, those tough conversations will be among those we’ll be eternally glad we had.