The Danger of Becoming an Awakenings Agnostic

When is the first time you remember seeing God move? The first time you remember being aware of his presence, seeing him change lives, or knowing he was near? I remember seeing God save young people, some of whom were hippie-types. I remember our church converting a skating rink into a “One Way Christian Night Club.” I remember wanting to know Jesus personally. I was 11.

When was the last time you saw him move? Just last week I had the honor of helping someone place their faith in Christ alone for salvation. That never gets old. Sunday, as I taught on my Sharing Jesus book for my friend Kie Bowman at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, I sensed God’s good hand, and was renewed in my heart that God called me to encourage believers in evangelism. How about you? When did you last see him answer prayer, change a life, or change your life?

When is the next time you will see him move? Are you anticipating his work in your life?

I know what you may be thinking: “Hang on, you are asking questions about our experiences–isn’t it a dangerous thing to focus on our experiences?” Yes, but no more dangerous than to ignore the reality that our God is living and active and at work in our world.  The Word of God, his unchanging truth, is always the arbiter of our experience. But the Bible that guides us teems with accounts of the activity of God at work in the world.

I’m always wary of people who overly emphasize experience. But I’m concerned about the other side of this: believers who interpret the Bible by their non-experience. We have an entire generation who has never really seen God move in power, except in spots here and there. The cumulative effect can be to develop a suspicion toward anything out of the ordinary. We could even become agnostics toward spiritual awakening. Jonathan Edwards wrote several of his treatises on revival to respond to professing believers who were skeptical of the work of God.

God has moved mightily in the past. We see it throughout the Word, as I noted above. We see it in history, through powerful missionary movements, in remarkable stories of God’s people standing firm in persecution, and in great revival movements. I love to tell my students some of the stories of revival. For some, it’s a stimulus to seek God with a fresh heart. For others, I fear it’s just some stories totally detached from their experience with Christ.

We don’t seek revival for the experience of it. We pray for a God-intervention, an awakening, to know God more. We ask for God’s power to be more effective in serving him and to bring more glory to his name. We pray for God to awaken the church because God can do more in a week of his activity than we can do in a decade in our own power.

There is another thing: an awakening really does change things. It changes the church, and it sweeps many into the kingdom of God. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this in my life on earth. I’ve never been the same from such visitations.

Don’t seek an experience, but don’t be suspicious of them either. Seek the face of God more than his hand, and walk with him with deep affection, and pray for revival. Like the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 85, and Habakkuk prayed, and as Isaiah prayed in 64:1. Our world is a mess, and our hope is in God.

By the way, several years ago a professor of mine named Malcolm McDow and I wrote a history of awakenings called Firefall. More recently we updated it. If you are hungry to know more about how God has moved in the past to be stirred to pray today, you can get it here. My life has been shaped greatly by the stories of revival.

One more thing: I warn my students, and I want to warn you–you can be in the middle of the activity of God and miss him at work. You wouldn’t be the first. That reality drives me to prayer. I believe our God is at work in powerful ways, and I don’t want to miss being a part of his activity. As you pray, pray for revival.

Seven Core Convictions about Evangelism

In I Thessalonians 1:5 Paul says several things about how the gospel came to the Thessalonians: it came not only in word (it came in word, but more); in power, with the Holy Spirit, and with CONVICTION. Paul completed his thought by noting how these Thessalonians saw how they lived among them. But I want to focus on the word “conviction.” Paul had undeniable convictions. What are your convictions regarding evangelism? Here are seven of mine:

1.  Men and women are without hope until they receive salvation through Jesus. Therefore, we must evangelize urgently. People apart from Christ are lost (Luke 15), dead in sins (Eph. 2:1), under sin (Rom. 3:9), and under condemnation (John 3:18). Immanuel Kant once declared that David Hume, the skeptic, awoke him from his dogmatic slumber. Surely a skeptical world, living in fear, often without hope, should awaken us from our apathy!

2. Many people are ready to respond to the gospel. Therefore, we must evangelize regularly. Paul told Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season—or when we feel like it and when we don’t! In 1995, I had the privilege of joining the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to that I taught at Houston Baptist University. Before leaving the university, I made an appointment with several students, including some whom I felt needed to hear the gospel. One was a young lady named Audra. I shared Christ with her. This was new to her, although she had gone to church services a few times. I gave her a gospel booklet, asking her to read it again.The first week after beginning my work at Southeastern, I got a letter from Audra. She wrote, “On August 9, I opened my heart to Christ. . . . A big thanks goes to you.” She even photo­copied the tract to give it to another person who needed Christ. This point is that Audra needed someone to tell her how to be saved. The reason many people aren’t Christians is that no one has told them how to be saved.

3. Believers are commanded by the Bible to evangelize. Therefore, we must evangelize obediently. Billy Graham has said the number one reason we should witness is because God says we should. There are certainly other motives for our witness, but we should not ignore this simple truth. Obedience matters to God. In this day of “consumer Christianity” which focuses on meeting our needs, obedience has become low on the priority list of many believers.

4. Most believers want to witness but do not. Therefore, we must evangelize purposefully. I have been in a couple thousand churches over the past decades. I am amazed at the number of believers who want to witness, who want to make a difference, who long for their lives to matter. They are afraid, or do not know how, or have been too busy doing good things to participate in the best thing—winning people to Christ.

5. The gospel is the greatest message we could ever tell. Therefore, we must evangelize confidently. As a university student, I was discipled by a man named Curtis. One day he asked me a simple question that changed my life.

“Alvin,” he said, “what is the best thing that ever happened to you?”

“The day I was saved,” I heartily replied, with my Sunday school smile.

“Then, Alvin,” he continued, “what is the best thing you can do for someone else?”

The answer was obvious. Yet I was immediately embarrassed at it because I knew my life did not reflect the joy of introducing others to the Jesus whom I knew so well.

6. We must rethink the way we understand and practice evangelism. Therefore we must evangelize missionally. We have to see America as the mission field it is and share Christ from the posture of a missionary in a land that does not know Christ. That’s a large reason I wrote the Sharing Jesus book.

7. We must understand the spirit of the times. Therefore, we must evangelize holistically. Evangelism is less a technique and more a lifestyle, less a method and more a movement. The Western Church has been in decline for longer than we would like to admit. The notion that we should simply do what we have been doing, only better or with more passion, must be rejected. The idea that the key to the future is a new method that meets the times misses the point. Separating evangelism from the life of the believer in a compartmentalizing manner must not happen. Einstein was right when he said insanity is doing the same thing over and over only to expect different results. We must take the timeless message and communicate it in a timely manner. Do you really believe the greatest thing you can tell another person is the good news about Jesus? Then tell someone!

Eight Weeks of Effective Witness Day 15: A Place to Land for Evangelism

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.” Archimedes.

I want to offer you a landing place for your evangelism. Actually, my publisher B&H Academic created it, and I’m grateful. You can search the page yourself here, but I want to comment about it with some screen shots.

The page is a one-stop location full of resources related to evangelism flowing from my Sharing Jesus book. Here’s an overview of some of the features:

This is the main home page for the book at B&H Academic. You can also find it by simply searching PLEASE NOTE: There is a place to share your story about how this resource has helped you in your witness. Or, you can just post a story about sharing Jesus. It will encourage others!

Here are some very kind comments from others about the book. My pal D.A. Horton is planting a church in LA. Rebecca Pippert is a hero to me–her book Out of the Saltshaker had a tremendous impact on me in seminary. And my friend Ed Stetzer heads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton and is a guru of all things missional. I’m grateful for these kind words.

You can “try before you buy” the book here. Also, when you place an order, if you want to order in bulk you can get copies for only $5.00 each for orders of 20 or more! That. is. amazing. I know student pastors who are giving this to high school grads, pastors giving to their staff and key leaders, church planting leaders giving one to all their planters, and businessmen giving them to employees, and other examples.

I’m very excited about this page. My dear friend Brian Upshaw and the North Carolina Baptist State Convention along with help from the North American Mission Board recorded a series of eight videos where I teach through each chapter in about 20 minutes or so. These are FREE for you at the site. I already know pastors and others in different states who are using these to lead training through the book over an eight week study. I’m so grateful for this.

ALSO: there are two videos of role-playing. I role play leading a young man named Eli to Christ, and two of our young ladies also role play a conversation. Note: these are not polished, but are real-life convos, the kind I have regularly with young professionals and others. There’s also a video interview with my dear friend Jonathan Dodson of City Life Church in Austin.

I hope you will take advantage of these amazing resources available to you, and I hope you wil join the EIGHT WEEK CHALLENGE and tell us your stories.

I’m praying for an evangelism movement in our time. Perhaps this can help.