"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Healing Slices From A Cut Deck

Sometimes a slice of the past comes to us and strikes hard, cutting like the edge of a worn ace dealt from an old pinochle deck. However, these times remembered may open us up and heal us… the effect depending on the giver, the recipient and the grace of God. Such graceful slicing renders my heart this day as I pour over family photos recently received from my cousin. They trace my history by showing pictures of my family members that go back over a century, even to the days just after the American Civil War.
First noticed among them, however, is a picture taken at the beginning of this present century. It is one where I stand tall, elderly and bearded, amid other family members when we gathered at the burial of a favorite uncle. I will always remember Uncle Joe Briar. I remember him for his playing of pinochle. I think of his home-made ice cream, and his laughing chuckle belted from a hairy chest clothed in carpenter’s overalls. And fondly, I remember him for his wrestling with my cousin and myself in the backyard of my great grandparent’s home after we had respectfully buried my great grandfather. For we had buried the dear and departed William Burton Beam, and Uncle Joe’s family-style bear hugs changed that somber day into an afternoon filled with childish revelry and family warmth. Though beloved grandpa had gone to heaven, you see.., Uncle Joe had taught that we would be okay.

Standing beside me in the more recent picture I see my sister Cynthia. She has now died as well, and I struggle in my aging humanity to keep her from becoming just one single card placed in the shuffling of a multiple-deck of life. Yet there is no Uncle Joe to cradle us now, and I just wrestle in my spirit with God. For you see, these all rest with William Burton Beam, and are remembered by my faltering finitude. As the years pass I find myself rejoicing that though I and my memories may fade, God shall not forget. That is his promise, and I cling to it for I love them all deeply.
But now as I write these words, sweet memories begin to emerge, for I see Cindy vividly in my mind’s eye. She stood as a child, this loving sister, in a late evening’s cellar stairwell. She stood down there low on the steps holding my supper out to me, for I had been banished from the house and kitchen. I had come home too late from playing backlot basketball. The memory of mom’s anger and Cindy’s care is likened to God’s strong Law which properly condemns, and the gracious Gospel’s forgiveness. All this is personified through the sweet sisterly face remembered.

Amid the pictures I also find my parents, Muriel and Clyde. The picture was taken early in their married years. It was during WW2 (c.1943), just a year or so after my birth. I know the approximate date not by my mother’s youthful beauty nor by my father’s Navy uniform, but because of family stories told about her toiling in the Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine factory in Hartford, CT. I know of the time you see, for the picture you see clearly shows her work uniform worn proudly like the historic “Rosey the Riveter”. Mom's beauty while at work is thus emblazoned in my remembrance, a card lovingly turned face up by any machinery that mimics the hum of a Westinghouse wringer washer lulling me to sleep as I lay beneath her feet when she did our laundry in Scranton, PA. Yes, now I remember… now it becomes clear. Thank you blessed cousin for you have given me tears and treasures of days gone by. And especially thank you Almighty God, for through these thinly sliced moments dealt to me in time, you have shown me to be richly wrapped like your Son, in the warmth of swaddling clothes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Be Transformed!

As attested by St. Paul to the early church at Rome, each Christian is set apart from the world. We read…

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.” (Romans 12:1-3 RSV)

The statement seems one concerning Christian responsibility. We of the Christian faith are set apart from the world, and called to sober judgment about ourselves and the time in which we live. Take this to heart, for we are viewed as threat by principalities and powers within an age now focused on human and socialistic universality. What’s more, I truly believe the church found in the American realm is slowly and somewhat unknowingly being diminished in power and number.
The evidence of this societal world course was recently highlighted in a newscast about the tensions rising in Scandinavian nations. The tension is claimed as due to rising numbers of Muslim population growth. This growth is now creating tensions as religious intolerance trends emerge. Though the political call there is for increased tolerance, the tensions present are not confined, and violence is breaking forth in these nations now in the news. As well, recent societal racial and religious unrest is also noted among other European nations and our own continent. I believe the instability is symptomatic of a general decline in our Christian influence in the post-modern world.
Am I paranoid? Possibly. But I do think we of the American church should thus note the causes and live prophetically in coming decades. Let us be aware of the forces in the world that are poised over against the spread of the gospel and growth of the church.
To make my case, first consider trends in church birthrate and the act of abortion. Many mainline, and mostly Protestant Christian church denominations, now have diminished negative conversation concerning the taking of human embryonic life. Often touting human overcrowding and family financial limitations as justification, we in American expressions of the mainline Christian church have reduced our birthrate below the normative worldwide rate. Our baptismal numbers are thus abysmal. Catechism classes wane, and church populations are in decline across the congregational spectrum. These factors persist, yet denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA) freely fund abortions through insurance carriers as elective medical procedures. In this subtle way leaders and clergy support pro-choice political agendas, and seem to make their denominations a sacrifice on an altar more acceptable to modern societal standards.
The church is satanically and sinfully being de-populated by these trends! Like a frog being boiled, the water in the font is therefore heated slowly and we are too self-absorbed and ecclesially comfortable in navel gazing to be prophetic and notice the changes.
As of late, many of our mainline Christian denominations also now embrace alternate lifestyle unions in clergy positions, and claim that these relationships are without sin. Thus we ignore an ancient ban within the faith passed on by ancient Hebraic society which furthered growth within the tribal systems of the chosen people. We ignore biblical mandates against homosexuality, thereby allowing the example of a self-centered humanism mired in non-reproduction to impress the church and affect the ranks of laity. What is more abrasive, is that we then have the boldness to raise complaint before God about dwindling church populations!
Because we are thus considered now as “alien residents” wending our way through a gospel resistive American culture, we also take note of rather nominal reception to proclamation in modernistic society. Rampant and resistant agnosticism feeds the non-procreative thrust until our youth consider marriage as passe’, child-bearing as financially lame, and church membership viewed as party to an archaic lifestyle. This slide into personal agnosticism and atheism is forwarded by many public education systems that challenge the traditional sexual norms, family cultivation, and the religious anchors of a faith community. If we factor in other modern geographic challenges posed to the maintenance of family connections, as our children mature and go into society, we find ourselves having communications with them only through electronic social media, wherein we see the numerical growth of real church community and family structure under great peril.
Prophetically, I say let us therefore join together in Christian community and pray to the Holy Spirit for forgiveness of sins, for the growth of the church, and the future of our witness.
Would the granting of these things put us in world-space competition with other populations and religious expressions… surely! But allow the scriptural record to teach us that in spite of persecution, peril, and more, God shall preserve the faithful church even though it becomes remnant. Remember truly that God rejoices in our abundance! Let the historical record of the people of God provide witness as we break away from destructive societal influences within our number, and remain faithful to our calling from Christ to proclaim the gospel. Thereby through divine power and guidance the church shall indeed be transformed to emerge triumphant though seas boil from the subtle activities of the satanic realm. Lord.., we pray, let it be so.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Preparing, Planting and Promise...

ARE WE Lutherans a welcoming people? I ask because I've recently come to the stark realization that our little church in rural Pennsylvania isn’t growing very much... not yet!
 In recent contemplation, I asked, “Are we a gospel proclaiming people?” If so, why aren't those who have heard our words showing up on Sunday morning?
 Possibly some of us have shared.., but it seems that either we are not a very inviting people, or the people we invite do not respond to the call of the Spirit.
 Consequently, I then wondered, "Do we need to examine our method or plant other fields?" It seems that in our little faith community, though we sometimes share words and mission with other local Christians, we exist as rather insular to the general population. Considering this, I now wonder, "Is this isolation a phenomenon just within Lutheranism, or is it also found in American Christianity, or does it hold true for the whole of Christianity across the globe?" For answers to these questions, we need to inform ourselves about evangelism, and the methods taught to us by our Lord. I do fear that this isolation exists at least locally. Statistics show that the American church population is dwindling.
  "Why" we may ask? Are we so insular from the world, that few around us hear the Law and Gospel? If so, we therefore have lost the Master’s touch in planting the kingdom.
 I think it is far past time to re-examine our methods according to Jesus’ lessons. We read a parable told to the disciples by Jesus, as passed along by the Matthean community…

“And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 13:3-9)

As we consider our Lord's words, we first notice that many persons who receive the gospel will not respond. We also note from some other scriptural records that tell us that some people may trample upon the sower. Are these reasons why we we do not go or grow?
 Scripture reveals that the earth, though distorted by sin, is not infertile. If we Christians fail to plant wheat, we will just get weeds. Something will grow. Weeds just sprout with evil abundance… and these weeds usually do not respond to the call of the church, especially if there has been no invitation.
  As a farmer in my early years, it seems to me that it is in this first step of planning where we falter. As persons called to gospel planting, even during the warm glow found just after Easter,
we tend to fail in walking out of the church door to begin evangelical efforts.
 Yes, we do receive the Word and Sacrament ourselves, and usually claim that thanksgiving is in our hearts... but we selfishly do not “go out to sow”. Consequently, we show how shallow is our commitment. We do not approach fertile ground... nor prepare the soil. We thus fail to even scratch red dirt! (“adamah” in the Hebrew). Thus sinful Adam in the field next door remains in peril. Our sloth and selfishness leaves persons, known and unknown to us, standing outside of God’s garden of grace.
 For this reason... for the sake of the lost, let us own our reluctance to do our Master’s bidding. We must ask forgiveness through, and for the work of Christ. Being forgiven, we can then be empowered by the Spirit to plant. We may then scatter from church to scratch this evil world deep in fertile methods of proclamation. Let us prayerfully ask the Spirit to direct our steps. Each one of us needs to pick at least one field of endeavor, realizing though, that we may later be guided by the Spirit to another site.

 First, we must ask, “Where in my every day, or weekly travels can I effectively have a faith dialog with others?” At work? At school? While golfing? When hunting or fishing, While eating or serving?
 We need consider how the setting offer a witness opportunity? Can a statement made simply by folded hands in a prayer spoken before having lunch with a co-worker or co-workers at a fast food restaurant, so that work will open an evangelical conversation? Might it be that the action could evoke inquiry? At least the respectful action of prayer lets others know your personal faith!
 Or possibly, heaven forbid, you believe that their salvation is not worth the risk of offending them with prayers in public? If you think the latter, do not call yourself faithful to Christ in practice!
 Remember that our Lord’s commission to do the task of evangelism was more than a request. It remains even now as a privilege and command. We are called first to be an evangelical people!
 So it is that you should now list the places where an evangelical witness may be offered. Remember, don't be afraid to break new ground... with God all things are possible. This is how evangelism begins. Choosing a field for your evangelical work is of great importance.
Second,  but of great importance is that you pray before beginning the groundwork, then pray again during the seeding, and pray finally for the growth of faith.

 As a child of twelve, I remember that my mother told me that when I was old enough to plant and grow something in the yard behind our home, I could go to work on the farm managed by my favorite uncle. So, with an unspoken desire buried deep within my adolescent and skinny body, and a goal in my mind, I began to plan. Long before planting time came, I went to the school library and studied gardening and farming methods. Afterward, I very carefully picked the garden site, choosing fertile ground with good sun exposure. And finally, after having to invest my lawn mowing allowance for my spade and fork, I began to dig.

 Digging the garden was work in the hot spring day, but there was no turning back. I was invested in the spirit of growth. Giving thanks for my mother’s wisdom, I now realize that I have been, either literally or symbolically digging the dirt of God’s sweet earth ever since.
 Prayer does that focusing for us. I now see that doing evangelical planting is very much the same as gardening or farming. It’s at the same time, both complicated and easy! That is why prayer for a bountiful harvest is so very important. Prayer, study, and planning are just the initial steps. You must develop prayerful resolve. This type of resolve only can be obtained from the Spirit of God, on each and every day of the planting. Once begun, there can be no looking back nor hesitation about the rightness of the task. Make sure that you are fed... involved in a church that seeks right interpretation of God's Word.

Note the words of Jesus to an impetuous young man. That person said:

"I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:61-62)

At a clergy gathering I noticed the guest speaker, Dr. Gemechis Buba of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), standing in front of the gathering with the scriptures in his hand. That was his first tool of the planting! I noted his quoting of certain key texts without even opening the beautiful floppy book. So should our planting be! Each thrust into deep the soil of sinful earth should be of the force found only in biblical strength.
 So roll up those protective garden gloves, set them aside, and open your bibles. Memorize key passages you should use during witness. Attend bible studies. Over the years I have grown my own list… a veritable garden salad of Romans 6:23 and 3:23-24, and verse 28 followed by the tall stand of the golden wheat found in John 3:16.

Memorization is difficult you say? For some... but I counter with the words of the Master of the Vineyard…

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30)

After prayerful planning and studying for the field of endeavor, whether your find fertile ground in the workplace, badminton courts, square dance club, neighborhood bar or county fair planning committee… know that digging is not easy work.

 As you dig, know that you’re going to find worms! Your work will sometimes expose big, fat, ugly slimy night crawlers that will try to hide from the light, Do not faint at their attempt to reject your efforts. For example, those persons who stubbornly claim atheism or agnosticm... may try to preserve the darkness that keeps them spiritually hidden.
 Know this…. like the big night crawlers that were turned up by my youthful digging, these persons who are exposed and reject the Word that you offer, have deeply felt the vibrations of the Spirit’s work. However, though disturbed by the Spirit's footfall, they may still try to cling to their earthly gods, They cannot see or hear! Simply pray for them and let them go their way. Our God is not finished with them.
 Once the gospel grounding has been carefully prepared, your step by step planting begins. Now remember! This is stinky work. When a gospel seed is planted by your time spent with an acquaintance or friend, plenteous manure and fertilizers must attend.

No, don’t crinkle your nose up! So it is... now, and so it was when our Lord began his work. We know, for Jesus told this parable…

"A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, 'Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?'And he answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13:5-9)

 Anyone who is experienced at the planting of crops knows that you do not spread seed on hard ground. The soil must be overturned and broken apart for aeration. Turning a person's world upside down can be disturbing. Yet a thorough, and often painful, aeration by the Spirit’s power is just what is called for… and you must know how this is done!
 You, the sower of the seed, must show the dirt that has been under your own fingernails. You need to aerate your story. Tell about how God worked in your life. Relate how the Spirit lifted you up in spite of the manure on your boots, your clothes, and your soul.

 Oh yes, it can be a risky and stinky job to do this over and over again for each new crop. But it is necessary! Let them know how the divine gift of Christ empowered God’s Spirit to tie your wandering tendrils safely. Tell them how God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, has led you and taught you toward your bearing of the fruit of the kingdom.
 This mixture of digging together in the dirt, as two human beings sitting over a coffee break and working through the fertilizer found in your life, is very important for identifying the sinful commonality of all that is human. Let not demonic pride ruin the harvest and trample the crop. Do not be haughty, for we are all sinful and rest on the graceful love of God. Without God’s precious gift we would wither and die. Only the precious sweat and drops of blood shed beneath the cross of Christ has been the watery baptismal gift that leads to eternal life. So plan now, memorize scripture, and get ready to turn the earth and plant the seeds of eternal life.

Don't Over Work the Soil!
Workers in God’s garden, know this! Here is the most difficult part for those who till the earth as disciples in the Spirit! Once the seeds of faith are planted and you have watered them with your prayers to God, keep your hands off the growing. Know that faith must germinate within them!
 “How long will the sprouting take?” you control freaks may ask. “When will you see signs of new life?” you may wonder.
 I say to you that the Spirit does not always reveal. Some persons respond to the loving waters of your words quickly, to emerge as the stones roll away from their earthen tomb in just a few days. Others are like the seeds of a bristle cone pine, seemingly cold dead in faith, which may wait for eons... to be triggered only by the heated fires of the Spirit.
 Remember! You are called to put aside your control issues and bend your knees daily in prayer to the “Lord of the Harvest”. In the Lord’s own time, the “agogic” merging together moment... shall come. Remember that your Lord has said..,

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:18-19)

 In the Lord’s own time, therefore, the faith that has been planted shall germinate and growth can begin. Be assured that for some this holy growth may at first be unseen. Then, though possibly becoming antsy like myself as gardener, in the coming days warmed by the Son, you shall kneel for a thanksgiving prayer as the planting begins to emerge triumphantly.
 In my own planting of the gospel, I’ve seen youthful men, sprout suddenly... onion-like to become the first tall, sweet leaders within a household and church. I have witnessed red-haired radishes come up in catechism to relish the taste of the youth group. Even lettuce-like leafy people, seemingly tossed by every faint breeze, stay though easy to wilt. These last, when rooted in scripture, shall be nourished by the rich life of a gospel people.

 Finally, there are the “rutabagas”. Those persons are like the tasteless clumps that filled my mother’s family pot when times were tough. Hard to digest sometimes, these seemingly nourish us like vital spinach and keep the church going. As the words say, these all come up together “there in God’s garden.”
 Remember! When all these wondrous persons first emerge tender in the faith.., that is when you are called to remain beside them.. Speak for them on your prayer bones... to cultivate. Bring them to your bible study group. Invite them to worship. Empower them, in turn... to contribute shade to others who are tender in the brightness of God’s love. Nurture them, weed them and care for them, even gently tying wandering tendrils so that they may grow straight and true.
 Most of all, invite them to the waters of baptism wherein the Spirit nurtures and they may be fed greater strength. Let them know they are not growing alone, for the Spirit of God is in them and with them. Soon they shall be pruned and strengthened by both Law and Gospel, bearing fruit and gleaned to be a source of seed for the next generation. Know the Lord Jesus has said...

"The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)

 Indeed, though some will be lowly melons, they just may add a sweet base to the church choir. Others will be tall feed corn in due season, rising high to feed and lead us before falling to earth in the autumn of their lives. And still others will be like a staunch growth of sunflowers that raise their faces in praise to the Son. Of such people church growth occurs in the preparing, planting, and promise… thanks be to God, Let us work heartily in the garden of the Almighty!

For your thoughts, I offer this video in honor of someone who influenced my walk of faith...

May the Peace of God that surpasses all human understanding,
 keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wheeled Parable...

OUR Lord used parables to illustrate the kingdom of God to the disciples and others who would listen. But I've noted that these treasures are dated and difficult for those not acquainted with farms, forests and such as they were delivered in an ancient society. I wondered what this medium of communication would sound like if told today. Maybe like this...
The kingdom of God is like a woman who delivers meals to the homebound each day. One late hour she heard a thump, thump, thump as she drove. She stopped, and soon found that she had run over some devilish item on the road, for a left rear tire was flat. Being industrious, and knowing the task for her father had taught her duly, she began to change the tire. Just as she removed the wheel, a large black truck roared past and she stepped to avoid being struck. The hubcap holding the lugnuts flipped beneath her foot and the fasteners rolled into the storm drain and were soon gone. She heard them plop downward one by one, away into the cavern below.
Beside herself, she stared at the drain, cursed the truck, and knelt with her head against the fender. Then she looked heavenward for help. Just as she began to utter the words of her prayer, a tiny bell rang out. It was a bell on the handlebars of a tricycle ridden by a young child watching the scene.
"Can you go for help" she asked, even while knowing the neighborhood was less than desired."
"No..," the child said, "...you can fix it yourself. Just learn more to share."
The young woman smiled at the apparent impertinance.
"Oh really... how?"
Take one nut from the other three wheels to fasten the fourth, and go on your way. "Go slow and pray, but be on your way."
Let those who can hear listen to the child, for of such is the good news in the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Out of the Catacombs...

WE CHRISTIANS RIDE a rough road in today's church bus. We suffer it seems from a diminished evangelistic skill within American society. Fewer seats are filled. Not as many  people are attending worship..
 Many would-be prophets give us reason for this, saying that our voices now express the gospel within a post-Christian, scientific world in America. Thus our efforts are often relegated to doing worthy social ministry. In this scenario, any devout evangelistic Christian is portrayed as a out-of-touch person; one who offers an out-dated belief system, one that does not address the realistic needs of the modern populace.
 To these pundits I answer… the message of Christ is one that over arches all geography, social strata, and historical reference. I believe it is not that our message is irrelevant in modern society, for sin is still sin and salvation in Christ is still eternal salvation.
 Our shortcoming in many denominations of the Church comes from our national history, one stunned to silence by the numerical brightness of European immigration for several centuries. The early Europeans immigrated, had children... and when Christian remained faithful to Baptism and fellowship. So in a general sense, the Church grew by procreation. However, this is no longer so. Birthrate has slowed. The modern penchant toward smaller families, birth control and abortion throws a wrench in the wheels of the church bus.The result is that we have stopped growing, and what's worse... we have forgotten how to do evangelism.

 It is certain that we have been far too content to stay in our church circles until numerical depopulation or budgetary concerns arise. In reaction we then often link growth and prosperity with various evangelism programs. For most congregations and denominations, these have thankfully failed.
 Be aware, however, that successful church growth may occasionally be attributed to a population spurt within a geographic area... and not fully the result of evangelical fervor. Though population changes may influence a measure of evangelical success, we should ask ourselves how many more persons could have been reached by a fervent evangelical effort within that same locale.
 Some may argue that growth also occurs as evangelical churches offer various methods of entertainment to woo attendees. While I concede that modern worship settings do offer tangible benefits, we must note that care must be taken. I dare say that temporary successes in praise-only based, feel-good evangelism may not establish a permanent, lasting relationship between our Creator and his people. What happens when the praise music stops?

Proclaim The Faith!
Evangelism is an important responsibility of the Church regardless of attendance figures or the bottom line in prosperity. Evangelism should not be a task undertaken simply to fill the seats of a waning denomination or individual church bus. To do so intentionally is self-serving. That sort of evangelism is a sinful distortion, viewing the hearing public as malleable pawns within the strategic growth aims of a church or denomination. Unfortunately, this has been the tactics of too many mega-church evangelists. Instead, we are called to plainly and freely declare the good news of salvation in Christ for the salvation strictly benefit of the hearer. This mandate yet exists as our first calling, because our Lord said to His disciples…

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.“ (Matt 28:18-20)

 Based upon this text, therefore, we may safely say that proclamation by the early church was indeed a great priority. Evangelism was not placed as an adjunct responsibility of a synod or district committee, nor relegated as a minor duty of a priest, pastor, or even an appointed evangelist. Evangelical mission was given to the entire Church by our Lord, and consequently placed upon every disciple as primary. We are still called personally to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in order that this sin-ridden world may embrace Christ... and face a brighter tomorrow. Once having heard the gospel, persons may walk with us even into a dim future, by knowing the grace of forgiveness and God’s eternal companionship. This is the loving heart of Christian evangelism!

Be Apostolic!
We must return to those apostolic methods for the modern evangelical task. Though we consider ourselves now more highly evolved in modern, scientific society than the days of ancient Rome, we are not proven to be better in human character. The words spoken by the apostles and other followers of Jesus may still possess the eternal power of the Spirit to reach out and touch the souls of those who hear. Though the modern world has deepened the mire of distractions, a Spirit-empowered evangelist must wade through this to stir the soul. The distractions cannot block the message guided by the Holy Spirit unless we remain silent.
 You see, I believe that modern civilization can yet embrace the Word, but the Church must go out and proclaim of the Good News in the world about us. If we leave the American podium vacant, other ersatz powers will claim that territory.
 Since the early 1500s and the Reformation, the church has taught us to define God’s Word into two categories… Law and Gospel. This bad news/good news language of the church, however, does not always translate well into modern American society. How then do we begin? Both success and failures are possible. Are we ready for them? God wasn't too lazy to save us... are we too lazy to read His Word?


 To illustrate proper action, imagine if we take a scriptural view of the possible responses from a person to whom evangelical efforts are given. I cite the parable that Jesus told about sowing the seed. (see Matt 13:1-9) As we read that text, we immediately see that some gospel seed will not take root.
 First, we know that a modern person may attempt to deny the existence of the Divine lawgiver, and thus try to negate the teachings of the Law and thwart the conviction in sin. Sadly, this stance may hold one in good material comfort in today’s world even though the soul may erode. Modern demonic powers lure many people into a restive and self-centered atheism.
 Enter the conversation knowing that these individuals may attempt to keep God out of the arena of everyday life by denying or ignoring the Creator. They replace the Law of God with the laws of government or society, thus falling victim to legal subjectivism. They cling to the court of popular opinion. We may counter this by saying that what was illegal one day, and then legal the next... or vice-versa. Upon this world there lays no firm ground..
 How should we deal with this faith denial? First, know that we can do nothing without prayer. The Spirit's presence and working is crucial. An atheistic stance, should rightly and prayerfully be placed within the care of the Holy Spirit. After such prayers are spoken, we are called to declare the salvation of God boldly in the face of unbelief. If the atheistic person rejects your witness, then we have been instructed to shake the dust off our feet as we continue to declare the Word to others. We know that truly we have done our task. God will be God... and the Holy Spirit will work. That God is all-knowing and infinitely caring is our reward. To attempt more, becomes for us a prideful control issue with which we must deal as disciples.

Shallow Ground
Of concern are those persons within our society who relegate the Creator to the realm of “the man upstairs”. These casual believers declare the occupant of the apartment upstairs as “out to lunch”, until they have need to take a prod and tap the ceiling. This may occur when tall buildings fall, bombs explode and the uncontrollable intrudes into the modern living space. By their posture adopted, these casuals open themselves to evangelistic efforts when the horrid event occurs. During this time, by their recognition of a “higher power”, they can be engaged in holy conversation. However, we must take note of their driving force. Like the seed strewn among the rocks, they may only seek a temporary “healing” of sorts, as did many who surrounded Jesus during his earthly ministry.
 In this case, we must realize that after the balm of the Gospel is applied, the sores cultivated by modern distractions often return. Some persons may fade back into the compartmental dungeons of modern life, but finally and most promising, some of our words will fall on fertile hearts prepared by the Spirit. A persons may one day be incorporated by your efforts into a faith community that becomes part of their very being. The words that lead them through the first planting may seem to fall fallow, but to say them is our calling. It is about this “planting of the seed” process that this article speaks.

Forgiven Sinners Reaching Sinners!
Note here that any evangelical effort begins with a prayer of thanksgiving for our own salvation. We must realize that the message we carry into society is that we are saved by grace, and not by any attribute of our own deserving. We are yet sinners before God’s Law, who have been lovingly freed by Christ... and are now chosen to accomplish a given task.
 Remember this! As sinners in conversation with other sinners, we may thus claim common ground. As Paul states in his letter to Rome…, all have sinned and...

“... the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

 Thus is the imperative to bring persons with whom we speak to the realization that we are collectively and individually sinful. Being mutually sinful, we then tell our companion that we are saved by grace only through faith given to us in Jesus Christ. This is the gift that is freely given to us... by God through the Holy Spirit... even though we should stand as condemned.

Approaching The Un-Churched
 As disciples in the now pluralistic society in North America, we have been given faint and firm boundaries within the realm of the modern. We are told both overtly and covertly that there are certain arenas where evangelical speech is not appropriate. Prayers are formerly banned in many public sites. Recent video has shown the unfounded arrest of a Christian evangelist preaching in the public square. In many modern corporations, any bubblings of religious fervor are soon popped by the power brokers of commercial endeavor. Any religious discourse that would possibly offend any worker, or the consumer, is banned from the workplace. Thus an evangelically-minded Christian who pursues such course in the public arena may be quickly labeled as a “bible thumper”, and may be punished by various methods… including ridicule, ostracism, an official statement of “cease and desist”, or termination of the held position.
 The only exception to this scornful course seemingly exists where being “pro” Christian and evangelical is deemed as profitable. This latter situation is often detected when the Church is being courted by the surrounding government, society or business. For example, our federal government was recently challenged to respond quickly to a natural disaster that afflicted the southern U.S. When the natural malady befell the region, many in public leadership held that the Church could step forward in recovery ministries. “Do your good works thing!” was expressed in the Church's ear. I find it incredible that the law tries to limit the arena for gospel proclamation, but the same lawmaking entities find it good and proper for the Church to do relief tasks in puddles where the government drowns or finds mud.

How to Approach?
If we examine our predecessors in faith within scripture, we find that Christianity grew in a society that was often “over-against” the early church and its proclamation. We ask then, "How did the gospel message succeed?" Again we turn to scriptural source, as St Paul wrote…

“That in my preaching I may make gospel (good news) free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free of all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more… to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all persons, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9, paraphrased)

 We know the early church accomplished proclamation of salvation through Christ, but that speech did not emerge easily. Yet, even during the persecutions of the early church, the Spirit assured that the gospel message would survive and the Church could grow. While we do not usually suffer open persecution of this sort at present, we still find ourselves socially restrained. I contend that our conversation can be initiated to the un-churched using a myriad of methods. Our first tool is to tap the innate human curiosity of citizens within the free American society. For example of this, I offer an actual, real-life evangelical stage…
 A working man came to his place of employment dressed in usual hardhat. He donned his orange safety vest. He then worked alongside many others on the construction job, including those with whom he would eat lunch. When lunch time came, he took off his vest and thus revealed his “T-shirt” (a very common media for all sorts of sayings and advertisement). His shirt had the letters R-U-AH across the front pectorial area, and the letters possessed an “ICTHUS” fish symbol beneath them. On his back was a picture of his church and its name.
The man, when eventually questioned by a co-worker about the cryptic logo, began to explain its source in meaning, that "RUAH" is the Hebrew word for Spirit. He then told a bit of Christian history… and then made his faith profession using the framework of the Apostles Creed. In that way, he related both sinfulness and salvation. He concluded with an invitation for anyone listening who would want to come to worship services with him. While shunned later by some co-warkers, he opened a subtle avenue for holy conversation with others..
 Recently it was said by a local teacher that she was afraid to be gospel proclaiming because of her position within a public school. Knowing that the modern education realm often does not tolerate open evangelical dialogue, when she was queried by a curious student as to her plans for the evening, she simply said… “I’m going to a bible study. You can come if you’d like.”
 Consequently and acceptably, without compulsion to the student... she witnessed to the faith by which she guides her life. Would the student inquire further, or go to the Bible Study, or to Church? Will the student go to her own church? The subtle guidance of the teacher and the student’s reaction to the Spirit, shall determine the response.
 A few years ago I witnessed a gentle “bed and breakfast” evangelical effort spilling forth. While lodging at a small town establishment, a visitor found their delicious breakfast laid out on the morning table. Alongside her dish she found a small, flowered bi-folded card. When opened, the card revealed a single biblical wisdom saying for the day, complete with the source chapter and verse from the biblical book of Proverbs. Then, in the time that it took to serve the remainder of the meal, a Christian witness unfolded from the owner of the establishment. On that same Sunday morning the visitor at the inn stood at the entry way of the hostel owner’s church.
 Another person, who as a Christian came from an upbringing within Roman Catholicism, retains the custom of placing her rosary beads in her pocket at the beginning of each day. As she digs for change at the store, the gas station, the ice cream stand… or virtually any opportunity… she hauls out both her change and her beads. They have become a sign of her identity in the same way that her ancient forebears in Roman days wore a locket with a fish or cross symbol inscribed. The woman was heard saying “Oh, there’s my beads!” If the bait was taken, even in a vague smile… she found delight in playfully telling any interested onlooker about the practice of her faithful oddity.., gradually relating sinfulness, salvation and invitation in practiced style. With very little prompting she would tell about how the beads helped guide her prayers through a daughter’s perilous accident. In true “fisherman” legacy she placed the bait and set a Christian hook. Thus some onlooker would show up on our Lord’s boat from a stormy sea.
 Given these examples, whether subtle or more blatant... let others know your faith. A simple cross worn may be sufficient. Click on the label below to see a pendant available...

Preparing for the Task
The potential for our evangelistic success is very high in American society. As our Lord has pointed out, “the harvest is ready, but workers are few”. But in the fast-paced modern world, we strive to do this task in a consistent method. First prepare! Ask any avid fisherman.., getting prepared can be rewarding.
 Consider memorizing just a few verses. The first we mentioned from St. Paul serves to establish commonality with the hearer… ALL are sinful! (Romans 3:23).
 But then, we point out that we are delivered by God’s grace… "justified (made right by God) by grace through faith given (again, it’s free!), through the redemption (payment) which is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

 Stating the gospel clearly, and emphasizing that though we cannot work or earn our way to the heavenly realm by good deeds, the final result is that we are justified in a gift.
 We are often asked then, "But why would God do such a outrageous act?"
 Only one reason is given…“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that who ever believes in him should have eternal life”. (John 3:16)
 Ahh… there it is... as the central message, God’s love poured out! At this point we may stress that the gift given is ours regardless of any earthly power. We no longer have to worry about our own lot. That eternal life guarantee begins from the time of Baptism, and continues until the “end” of the age. Since Jesus Christ has told us that he is the beginning and the end of all things... we are thus safely secured by the love of God.
 Now, consider what this will do for those to whom you witness. They are freed from this world’s tyranny and also become freed of its measures. They have become God’s servant. The person who receives your witness can now eventually join you to work in Christ for the betterment of all.
 You see, in order to do evangelism to persons within society, we must break out into the world from the catacombs of modern religious molds. Each person must interact with others where they live and within society. Be aware, however, that each time we strike up conversation with a child of God who has been distanced from our Lord by the world, we evangelically intrude upon evil. Yet the result can be astounding.
 Know that opportunities exist to witness in places of employment, social clubs, bowling leagues, at football games, military-related activities such as VFW clubs and American Legion....and a multitude of other events. The initial tone can be either humorous or heavy laden. Your witness can be made on a ride to an amusement park, while waiting in a traffic jam, or in the armchairs of a one-day surgery waiting room of a hospital. The approach and conversation entry point can be as varied as the humanity that is doing the task or hearing the message.
 I simply say to you… be evangelically-minded! Start now. If you put off the task, it may not get done. Remember, our Lord said… GO therefore into all nations… and I am bold enough to add “NOW”.
  Each evangelist has a skill, interest or trade which causes them to interact with others. You may have heard the adage that “no one is an island unto themselves”. Then add to this, that the foundations of friends and family in our society are not too different from that of the first disciples.
 Ask yourself what key symbols or words used within the common endeavor are examples of biblical lessons. In example, I often have wished that I could master the art of gardening or trimming those wondrous tiny Japanese trees. What marvelous and fertile ground for witness that could be! The introduction could go like this…
 Mr. Evangel… “Wow, this little bonsai tree is beginning to shape up, I’ve been working on it for about a month.”
Mrs. Mackerel… “Uh huh…”

Mr. Evangel… “I wonder how Jesus did it. (the bait is cast)
Mrs Mackerel… “Did what?”    (Gotcha!)

Mr. Evangel… “Oh.., he taught about trimming branches. I think he knew a lot about gardening.”

Mrs. Mackerel… Really? You’re kidding right?
Mr. Evangel… “No.., he really did teach us using plants…” (And now witnessing occurs in grand fashion using the story of the Jesus in the vineyard)

 Remember! The biblical stories move from scripture to everyday, modern life and your witnessing will progress from there. Use your memorized verses, such as those I’ve previous offered, or possibly use a known prayer or Christian creed to guide your witness. Realize that such items as the Apostles' Creed are witness tools!

 The task is much like fishing.., you know the habitat of your prize and you use appropriate metaphor or stories to cast into conversation. But like fishing, it takes practice to get the basket full. Try practicing your cast with a member of your church. In fly fishing, it often takes prayerful practice before confidence allows ever going to the stream. But going to the stream is a must. A book that I have acquired may give your further guidance.

 Also as example, a holy conversation may begin with when baking a pie with a family member. It can begin with a simple… “Do you know the biblical story of leaven?” In this, first know the central applicable statement of Jesus concerning leavening, then look for ways to use that in evangelical conversation. Then the story sequence of sin, the sacrifice of Christ, forgiveness, and deliverance follows.
 If you knit in a quilting club… use wool, lost sheep, worn out comforter blankets.., etc. The possibilities are endless!
 In the technical world this can also be accomplished. For example, if you work in a metallurgical lab, ask yourself what the connections are between scripture and hardening the metal by fire? Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
 For example, ask yourself how metal items are case hardened? They are buried in carbon, like we in the dirt of sin! How does softening or annealing happen? Using a sustained application of heat, a brittle hard metal may be annealed, softened to a malleable entity… this sounds like images of the Law applied... hellfire! And we suffer conviction… softened by being put in the oven. Thus we, like iron, are made into a hardened workable tool by the heat of the divine Holy Spirit… tough and ready for holy service.
 If you work around water, such as a dishwasher in a restaurant, what biblical symbols fit? How can this symbol lead us conversationally to the idea of Holy Baptism? Yes, to quote a childhood poem, whether “butcher, baker or candlestick maker”, we can do the task for the future of the church in gospel proclamation.

 Does all this seem far fetched? I think not… we have simply lost our spiritual imagination. Pray.., imagine, and pray again for guidance. Read scripture, then step out in witness… that is the starting point of evangelism! Use what God has provided. Check out...

 Start with what you know and move toward the divine knowledge that the Spirit will give. On this the church of Christ across the ages has endured and grown.
 I offer you a last note concerning witness told to me about a man who carpooled. He simply said to his driver… “I went to church over the weekend, and it was a little confusing. We say the Creed.., you know. It starts, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
 How long do you think it took him? I mean was it seven days or seven billion years?”

The result was a conversation about creation that continued in stages for a period of weeks, and the passenger was invited and moved by the Spirit toward becoming a member of a church.
 As an evangelist, I say to you.... DO IT! The results may be glorious. You may have noted various publications above to further guide your efforts. Read them and speak to your pastor about your renewed calling. On the job training is an ancient industrial method still used in the modern world.