Category: Encouragement

Witness Well

Defining Success

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”  (Proverbs 16:3)

I cleaned out my office during Christmas break.

Books were re-arranged. Folders were reorganized. Shelves were dusted.

Inside my closet required a purge. Notebooks bursting with old notes, training materials, office supplies and various odds and ends were bit of a mess. On the top shelf gathering dust included more articles, notes, and hand-written journals. Tucked away amidst the clutter was a brown, hard-bound manuscript.

As a young man struggling to find purpose, raise a new family, and flailing in his profession, the manuscript I was holding in my hand represented a pivotal point in my life.

It all started with a well-known quote.

“Every man should plant a tree, have a child, and write a book. These all live on after us, insuring a measure of immortality.”  (attributed to the Talmud or Jose Marti)

The Lord had already blessed me with two children, a tree was recently planted in my front yard in Minnesota, so it seemed at the time that writing a book was the next thing I needed to do to build a legacy.

Since I was a new father and had little idea what I was doing, I felt that writing a book about fatherhood would be an appropriate subject. I knew there were young men like myself who were struggling with materialism and the pursuit to be somebody. We were inadvertently following in our father’s footsteps by not knowing how to be an engaged father. Weary of reading “how-to” books that mostly made me feel guilty about what I was not doing, I wanted to write a book of encouragement. For two years, I arrived early at the office to research, write and re-write.

The studying and research led me to this conclusion. The best way a Christian father can be the father he desires to be is to trust Christ’s promises and steadfastly remain in his Word. Only Christ takes away the baggage that hampers our ability to be a God-pleasing father and husband. Only Christ takes away the guilt. He takes us – the complete mess that we are – and molds us to be his own. By remaining in Christ and committed to the task God ordains for us, we will be a good father whether we feel like it or not.

The manuscript that carried this truth was sent to dozens of publishers and rejected by all of them.

When it appeared that the Lord was closing the door on this project, I needed to move on. The manuscript was bound for safe keeping.

After wiping away the dust, I asked myself, “Was this project a failure?”

Nobody was impacted by its words, but it certainly changed me. A spark was created – a desire to proclaim the message of the cross. It spurred me to consider becoming a full-time servant of the gospel. And the Lord miraculously opened a door for me to serve.

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Success is defined by faithfulness.

Whether it be a father struggling to figure out how to be a good father, a young man attempting to establish a career, or a called servant out serving in the field, God does not judge a person’s effectiveness by outward success.

I wonder how successful Daniel felt when he was sitting alone in the lion’s den.

I wonder how successful Moses felt while wandering in the desert.

I wonder how successful Paul felt while under arrest in Rome.

Success is much more about being and remaining in Christ rather than planning and doing.

Success in God’s eyes is determined by faithfulness to the task for which God places before us.

This thought is totally contrary to our human nature. We desire – even demand — fruits for our efforts. When they do not appear according to our timetable, we tend to wring our hands and consider ourselves as failures.

Faith trusts God’s work on our behalf but faithfulness always works.

Faith rests in God’s promises but faithfulness never rests.

It’s a life-long quandary that only can be sharply defined by what can be perceived by our human nature as a failure.

There was a king born in a lowly manager in the small town of Bethlehem.

The long-awaited Messiah then disappeared in Nazareth for thirty years.

The Son of God revealed himself, then lifted on the cross.

In humility, in what was perceived as total defeat, there was victory!

Gospel ministries flourish and they close. God opens doors and closes them.

I sometimes have experienced ministry “success” and yet, it’s never enough to satisfy my ego.

I have often experienced ministry “failure” and yet, it’s always enough to keep me humble.

If I said that I have been blessed with four adult children who are making good life decisions, remaining in Christ, and not carrying excessive baggage, I would risk patting myself on the back and proudly take the credit.

If I said that all four of my children were making difficult life decisions and have turned away from Christ, I would risk scourging myself on the back and take all the blame.

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”  (Proverbs 16:3)

Success is defined by faithfulness – even when we feel like a failure.

Though our human nature demands results – visible monuments of our labor (successful work, ministry, or children) – our new nature in Christ trusts that our labor for him is never in vain.

Trusting in Christ – committing your work to the Lord — and his plans will be established.

Through his tender grace and everlasting mercy, God allows us to wrestle and pray, live and stay, so that he may begin a good work in us, for us, and through us according to his will and purpose. And that good work never ends until he calls us home to his eternal presence in heaven.

Gaining an Audience to Hear the Word

I wonder if Peter thought Jesus was crazy.

An experienced fisherman, he knew where and when fish were most likely to be caught. When Jesus told him to go back into the deep waters and throw the net out, it was probably the stupidest idea he had ever heard. Worn out and exhausted from a long day of catching nothing, Peter was probably in no mood to try an idea that he thought had little chance of succeeding.

Especially from a carpenter!

“But because you say so, [Peter replied] I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)

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Evangelism.

When hearing the call to proclaim the Good News, disheartened, seasoned believers can balk like Peter. Holding an empty net in their hands after another outreach event, they look at paltry results and empty pews and mutter, “What’s the point? Nothing seems to work.”

And then they hear a crazy idea.

“You want me to go out into the deep waters of this world to throw a net? You want me to talk to unchurched people who appear to be disinterested, disengaged, and disrespectful of organized religion?” Worn out and exhausted, they think to themselves, “Nobody cares. They are not going to listen! Trust me, there are no fish to catch!”

“But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  (Luke 5:5)

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In this oversaturated world with information overflow, there are many nets in the water already. Fake news, click bait, and empty promises routinely snag unsuspecting browsers.

Companies and start-ups struggle to capture the attention of potential buyers. The successful ones who are separating themselves from others are painstakingly building credibility – a reputation of quality. They call this “branding”. It’s not about designing an attractive logo but gaining an audience by delivering on promises one customer at a time.

Gaining an audience to hear God’s Word is a mighty struggle.

People are disengaging themselves from the church for a variety of reasons. Many of them have had bad experiences at church or have observed professing Christians behaving badly. The next generation is rejecting their parent’s notion that they must go to church for the sake of going to church. The perceived brand of a church is unwelcoming, judgmental, money-hungry and irrelevant.

It’s not that the Word no longer works, but the Word is struggling to get out.

What are some ways for churches to gain an audience to hear the Word?

We gain an audience by building a platform of trust.

Trust compels people to try you out.

In the business world, it’s about creating a “set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decisions to choose one product or service over another.” (Seth Godin)

Gaining an audience is not about making a church attractive but being real. It’s about presenting yourselves – stains and all – as real people who are daily trusting and immersing themselves on the message of the cross.

People today are willing to invest themselves in people, not ideas.

We gain an audience by welcoming and accepting broken people.

Churches tend to communicate something they are not. They use stock photos of beautiful people who look put together. Christian catchphrases that are meaningful for seasoned believers can come across as “churchy” to the unchurched. People are not looking for phoniness whether its unintentional or not.

A welcoming church takes on the attitude of “being all things to all people so that by all possible means they might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22) This means preparing to welcome and accept people who are not like themselves.

Broken people are desperately seeking for a place to belong. Many are biblically illiterate. It’s not that they are rejecting the Truth, it’s that they have never heard it clearly communicated before. They don’t know that they don’t know. And many times, people are not willing to admit that they don’t know until life throws them a curveball. Broken and shattered, they desperately are looking for answers that the world is not providing.

Those are the people who are walking through church doors on a Sunday morning.

If Christians think its scary going canvassing, it is even more scary for an unchurched person to come to church on a Sunday morning when they don’t know anybody. They are making a huge personal investment. They are taking an enormous risk. They are giving your church a “free 30-day trial” to test your product and service. They are savvy shoppers who typically look for any excuse to lose their trust.

We gain an audience by being welcoming and transparent. We keep an audience by telling our story.

Life-long Christians baptized as infants have wonderful stories to tell.

The greatest stories are not necessarily how an unbeliever receives faith, but how a seasoned believer remains in the faith.

People watch and observe. They are willing to hear how you weather the storms of life, keep temptations at bay, and exhibit peace, hope, and love when the world seems dark.

Despite what believers perceive on the outside, people are willing to hear reasons for the hope that believers have in Christ.

Rooted in Christ, our stories center on Christ and trusting his promises. Believers don’t have to paint a rosy picture of themselves to make Christ attractive, nor present ourselves as wise and eloquent, but point to the source of our Trust lest we rob the message of its power.

Businesses grow by word-of-mouth. Churches gain an audience by developing a powerful Word-of-mouth network. Reputations are built and stories are told. And people remember stories and faces far more than they remember facts.

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Personal evangelism is a crazy idea.

Jesus told the disciples “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This charge is given to all who believe in him and reiterated in the Great Commission. To be fishers of men means you don’t wait for people to jump into your boat, but you go out into the dark, murky water of sin and put nets into the water.

Word and sacrament gospel ministries that are overflowing with grace and peace can’t help but take Christ at his Word. With pure thankfulness for what Christ has done, we prayerfully consider crazy ideas.

Go into the world and make disciples of all nations seems like a wild notion.

Yet, believers do so, not because they think it will work or not…

“But because you say so…”

On the front lines of controversy

What is it like to be on the frontlines of controversy?

A sneaker wave of attention unexpectedly falls on a person’s shore. Somebody has uncovered a past comment that appears hateful, racist, or unacceptable. A news report uncovers a company actions that causes a public outcry. They quickly scramble to provide a satisfactory response to keep their profit share. In the political arena, entertainment world, or other high-profile venues, people hire experts to know how to deftly avoid or even take advantage of informational storms.

Controversies demand resolution. They rarely ride off into the sunset on their own. Supporters or opportunists will use whatever means at their disposal to further their cause by riding the wave created by controversy.

Evangelism can spark controversy.

Reaching the world starts with our neighbors

When overwhelmed by the mission of the church to teach all nations and the great commission given to go and make disciples, Jesus provides us with a witnessing tip to get started.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

It is a simple strategy yet profoundly difficult.

It means to sacrifice our own self-interests for the interest of others. It means to stop absorbing ourselves in our own little world and capture the interest of those living around us – for the sake of the gospel.

Love my neighbor as myself? It’s hard-enough just to know their names.

When it comes to employing outreach strategies, we tend to forget that the best mission is to work the field where God has planted us. Whether a subdivision, apartment building, townhomes, or living on forty acres, we all have neighbors. We wave at them when we drive by their house. We watch their kids grow up from a distance, buy their children’s cookie dough when they knock on our doors, or watch them mow the lawn on a warm summer day.

Neighbors are people Jesus refers to when he asks us to engage the world and proclaim his message.

A simple strategy yet profoundly difficult.

When I view my house as a castle – a private sanctuary to exercise my natural inclination to be left alone to recharge my battery – it is difficult to love my neighbor as myself. I struggle to get past the “good morning” wave because I’m too tired to engage.

If you are like me, I have some good news for us. Jesus forgives us. To love our neighbor as ourselves needs a clean heart, a renewed spirit, and a refurbished zeal. Touched by his grace, filled with the fruits of Christ’s life in us, we can take that first step out of our comfort zones and be who God desires us to be – a good neighbor for the sake of the gospel.

I would like to offer the following suggestions to help us do that:

Be visible by taking slow meandering walks throughout your neighborhood. Pray for the houses that you walk by. And whenever you see a person, stop and chat with them. Introduce yourself and get to know their name. Be bold by asking how you can pray for them and their family. [I am discovering how powerful this walk can be.]

Be vulnerable and not worry about making a good impression or try to be somebody you are not. By remaining in Christ, your neighbors will see Christ through you. And that’s okay!

Be discerning in all your words and actions because your neighbors are watching. They observe you leaving for church on a Sunday morning and when you return. They watch how you interact with your spouse and children. Let’s not give our neighbors excuses to reject hearing the Truth when they see us behaving like a hypocrite.

Be gospel intentional. Keep your eyes and ears open to all opportunities that God provides. Be a first responder when people need help. Be that person in your neighborhood for people to go to when they have a spiritual question.

The Bible tells us to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ to anybody who asks. (1 Peter 3:15)

Anybody who asks? Isn’t that interesting.

It seems that part of being an evangelist for Christ is not necessarily pulling on sleeves to gain an audience but be willing to provide an answer when somebody tugs on our sleeve to ask a question.

That is a different dynamic.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves places ourselves into positions to have our sleeve tugged to answer a question. And that can start by getting to know the names of our neighbors and allowing them to know us.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves doesn’t stop at being a light for Christ but taking that next step to verbally reveal the source of that Light.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves means daily reminding ourselves to be gospel intentional throughout the day.

Love for Christ prompts us to be willing messengers and good neighbors. And God takes that willingness and provides us with opportunities to convey the reasons for the hope we have in Christ.

And that’s how believers reach the world with the Good News. It starts with our neighbor.

Why I believe Wisconsin is a great mission field

Praise and Proclaim has launched five outreach initiatives in Wisconsin that includes going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel. We are meeting people who are willing to be engaged to hear a short gospel message. Congregations in Wisconsin can be encouraged to trust Jesus words that the harvest is ready and the workers are few. I provide a few reasons why this is true.

Subscribe to the Praise and Proclaim Email Newsletter.

The impact of building credibility in outreach

Praise and Proclaim has had the privilege of conducting forty-seven outreach initiatives since its inception in 2016. With every congregation, we attempt to learn while we train members to verbally proclaim the gospel.

I believe we have uncovered a powerful way for congregations to engage their community and transition to sharing a brief gospel message.  I explain more in this short video.

Promises to prepare believers to be witnesses

There are powerful words associated with remaining in Christ that are not to be taken lightly. Words of promise and ramifications. Words of promise and boldness.

In an uncompromising world, there are absolute promises that requires an enormous sacrifice.

Trust.

Jesus makes promises for all people. For those who trust in Christ and remain in his love, promises turn into reality.

With a careful reflection of the words of John 15, we can discover seven important truths that a believer can count on. These promises help prepare us to be his witnesses in today’s world.

#1 Believers are already clean!

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”  (John 15:3)

Believers are clean not based on what we have done or can do for Christ, but the powerful claims of His Word.

The Lord lovingly tends to those who remain in Him. He disciplines those he loves and delights in pruning branches in our lives that are not bearing fruit. The act of pruning is often painful, but necessary for believers so that they may bear fruit in greater number and higher quality.

#2 Bearing fruit is a promise that believers can count on.

“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  (John 15:5)

A healthy tree bears good fruit. It’s a natural response because that’s what fruit trees were created to do.

Faithful believers who remain in Christ bear good fruit because that is what they were created to do. The acts of faithfulness are focused on the “remaining” rather than the “doing”. This means remaining steadfastly in his Word so that a believer can be a healthy tree in Christ. This includes trusting God’s promises when life is sunny or stormy and that God is planting them right where they need. He provides the right people at the right time to pick the low-hanging fruit from a believer so they can “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

#3 Obedience is a wonderful opportunity for believers to experience the presence of Christ.

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (v. 10)

Obedience does not affect a believer’s status with Christ, but introduces His presence to the world.

#4 Jesus claims all believers to be His friends.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (v. 15)

Perfect love is found only in Christ. Believers have no greater friend than Christ. The greatest demonstration of perfect love and perfect friendship is when Christ laid down his life for us. Isn’t that amazing?

#5 Jesus chose all believers to be his friends.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you..”   (v.16)

Jesus picked us out from the crowd. He taps us on our shoulder and wants to be associated with us. He is not embarrassed to be seen with us. He listens to us intently. He cares for us passionately. He is perfectly trustworthy and forever has our back.

Jesus separates us from the world and leads those who remain in him down the narrow road and through the small gate to be with him forever.

#6 Because Jesus has chosen all believers to be his friends, they are going to be hated by the world.

“..you do not belong to the world, but I have chose you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  (v. 19)

Rejection hurts. We desire to belong. We long to be liked, accepted, acknowledged, and befriended. By trusting in Christ and remaining in his love, believers are going to be marked, persecuted and hated. Believers ought to accept this promise from Christ and not be surprised when it happens.

Despite the tugs to be accepted, loved – or feel like you belong – by the world, remember that nothing in this world can come close to what Christ will deliver in heaven. Remain in him.

#7 A believer’s life in Christ is a testimony for Christ.

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”  (v. 26-27)

Always be prepared and ready to provide an answer for the hope we have in Christ. When believers step out in faith to share the gospel with others, they share the words of Christ. The words will not be their own, but they will come from the Spirit of truth, our Advocate, who lives and reigns in them.

Fruits of the Spirit that display itself in our life in Christ are produced from the Spirit. Trusting Christ’s promises prepares us to be his witnesses.

Testifying the truth of Christ can only be produced from the Spirit of truth who gives us the words to say. Remaining in Christ’s promises prepares us to be his witnesses.

Praise and Proclaim updates:

I had the privilege and joy to present at the recent WELS Staff Ministers Conference held at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Niles, IL (April 25-27). After the presentation, it was fun to lead over thirty WELS staff ministers canvassing to verbally proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the surrounding neighborhoods. Even though teams were only given a window of forty-five minutes to an hour, we rejoice that the Lord opened enough doors for us to plant the seeds of the gospel 75 times. We pray that the training may serve to enhance the gospel ministries of these faithful servants who are serving in various capacities through the U.S.

On April 10th, I had the privilege to lead training at E-Day Action Day at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN. It was impressive to see the number of students arrive even though the canvassing component of the training had to be cancelled due to the severe winter weather. (see link “The New Ulm Adventure“) Even though the weather forecasted another winter storm, the Lord allowed the rescheduled canvassing to take place on Saturday, April 28th.  Twenty-five MLC students went out and knocked on over seven hundred doors in New Ulm and verbally proclaimed the gospel to 157 souls. During the debriefing time, the students were grateful for the experience and energized by the number of positive responses they received at the door. May the Lord bless this experience and enhance the student’s training to be future called servants.  

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Starting spiritual conversations

Most people consider themselves spiritual. There is a desire for inner peace, harmony with body and soul, or a reconnection with a higher power. While many spiritual paths are offered, few provided satisfying solutions. And sadly, there is a growing reluctance to seek out a Christian church to find answers.

We seem to be arriving at a time to employ evangelism strategies that emphasizes individual believers to go and get the Word out rather that inviting people to come and hear the Word.

How can we start spiritual conversations with people who don’t know Christ?