Tag Archives: Storyline of the Bible

What is Christianity?

It was a true joy to speak at a Power to Change event at York University last month. I’m really encouraged to see the way they’re engaging unbelievers with the grace and truth of Christ. I was asked to speak on this question: What does Christianity have to do with my life? Good question. There are hundreds of ways to answer the question, but what follows is the first part of how I responded. I’ll write another post on the second part.

We can capture the essence of what Christianity is from two angles.

1) “Follow Me”

Christianity can be summed up in two words, “Follow me.” These are the words of Jesus and this is the essence of Christianity. Christianity is not primarily a system of beliefs. Though it contains a system of beliefs, it is, in the first place, knowing the person of Jesus Christ and following Him. Jesus’ call to follow him is his call to trust him and prove that trust by doing what he says. Believing that he is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do. It is a call to love him, know him and follow him.

2) Christianity is built upon the truthfulness of Scripture, which is the lens through which Christians see the world.

The Bible governs a Christian’s beliefs about origins, meaning, identity morality and destiny. Christianity is founded on the truth of the Bible. The Bible is one story that reveals who God is, but the storyline is composed of four different stages.

1) Creation. God created the world and everything in it. He created it good. He created us good. He made us to live in his presence, under his rule and to enjoy him.

2) Fall. Adam and Eve rejected the rule of God and because God is just they suffered for it. According to God’s just dealing with rebellion, he cast them from his presence. Mankind was damned and doomed. The world was cursed.

3) Redemption. This is God’s a rescue plan; his peace making plan for his enemies. Redemption is what God has done to save rebels from their rebellion and to bring them back to himself to live under his rule, in his family, fully forgiven for the bad they have done. He sent Jesus to save people from the curse and their sins.

4) New Creation. This is the hope of what God has promised. Not only did Jesus come and die and rise and leave. He’s promised to return and judge the world. All rebels who are saved by Jesus will be with him, in his presence, living under his rule, forever. This is the hope of Christianity.

These four stages of the story of the Bible form the lens through which a Christians see the world. But Christianity is primarily about knowing and following the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only believed in and confirmed the truthfulness of Scripture, creation, the fall, redemption and new creation, He is the climax and main subject of the entire story. Everything else in the story before him foreshadows him. Christianity is about Jesus.

So now, in light of all of that, so what? What does all of that have to do your life? (Stay tuned for part 2).

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Nick Speaks of Jesus on the Streets: The Story and the Lesson

Nick is the lead worshipper at GFC Don Mills, but more importantly, he deeply loves Jesus and is committed to following him.  Below he shares a really cool story about his experience of speaking about Jesus when he came out with me two weeks ago.

Friday night

Paul, Ricardo and I went out on Friday night to speak to people about Jesus. As is Paul’s custom, we walked around different bus stops to speak with anyone who was willing. We had a few good conversations but one that stood out to us was with a young man. Let’s call him Tim though that’s not his real name.

We met a man at the bus stop

Paul and I approached Tim (Ricardo stayed behind to pray) and told him what we were all about. We introduced ourselves by name and informed him that we were members at a church in the area and wanted to speak with people about Jesus. Paul began by asking him if he had any religious background. He told us that his mom was a Christian but he characterized her devotion as “moderate”.

Asking questions

Then Paul asked Tim about himself a little bit. “What are you doing?” Paul said. He responded by telling us that he was on his way home from work. Paul continued, “What kind of work do you do?” “Customer service,” Tim responded. At that point I broke my way into the conversation. “Do you get yelled at a lot?” I asked. “Yeah,” Tim laughed. I pushed the conversation a little further, “In this line of work do you see how messed up people can be?”

So began our conversation.

People are messed up

Tim agreed that some people are indeed messed up; but then he said that some people aren’t all that bad. In fact, he said that some people are good. In some ways Tim was right. People are made in the image of God and they do retain some of the good-ness that God created us with; but I told Tim that it’s interesting that you usually never meet anyone who thinks they are bad themselves. It is usually “other people” who are the problem.  He agreed at that point and said, “Yeah, we tend toward an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.” I wanted him to see that “we” are all part of the problem and not just “them,” so I asked him, “Tim if the world was filled with people just like you, do you think that all the world’s problems would disappear?” He said, “Probably not.”

The story of the Bible and its climax

I proceeded to tell Tim the story of the Bible and the climax of that story. It went something like this: Our world has been utterly destroyed by sin and we need a King who can put the world right. God promised that one day he would send his King and this is exactly what we read about in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus came into the world, in fulfilment of God’s promises, pushing back against sin and all of its effects. That’s why we see him healing diseases, forgiving sins, calming storms, casting out demons and even raising the dead. Jesus eventually died on the cross and rose again so that we ourselves could be forgiven of our sin and included in God’s kingdom. One day Jesus will return and make everything right. The thing about it, though, is if God is going to make the world right and rid the world of sin something has to be done about us. That means either forgiveness or judgement.”

The challenge

Afterwards, Paul challenged Tim. He asked him what he thought about this and if he ever thinks about these things. Tim told us honestly that he has always been indifferent to Jesus. He said that he’s indifferent towards a lot of things.

Our conversation continued for a while (he let three buses go by while we were speaking). He asked some good questions regarding the centrality of God and the importance of the gospel of Luke (We had copies that we were giving out). We let him know that the gospel tells the story of Jesus and is a good place to start but that the entire bible is God’s inspired word. Paul even had the chance to speak with him about Genesis 1-3.

This was an encouraging encounter. Tim was interested, open and honest. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again but I hope that he bows his knee to King Jesus and is welcomed into the life of the age to come.  Pray for him.

Five lessons learned:

1)      Talking about Jesus brings us joy: As I was speaking to Tim about Jesus I found that I myself was getting excited about Jesus. I began thinking, “Wow! This really is good news!”

2)      Seeing the gospels as the Gospel makes Christianity incredibly relevant to people:  There are many stories in the gospels about all sorts of people from all sorts of different walks of life. In Tony’s case he works in customer service. This is a career where one is continually yelled at and made to feel small. There are plenty of stories in the gospels about people who are “made to feel small” and how Jesus meets those people where they are. Ultimately, we see how Jesus came into the world to bring God’s kingdom and solve the systemic problem of sin that causes all the problems we encounter.

3)      Just be yourself and talk about Jesus: Evangelistic “schemes” can be incredibly helpful at times (I know I’ve benefited from them at times) but it’s important to just be yourself. We are talking to human beings not robots. Talk to people where they are at and then talk about Jesus. You don’t need a PhD in Missions to do that. Although evangelism can be hard work at times it can also be really fun when we are ourselves.

4)      Pray: God is in control and can soften people’s hearts. We need to plead with God that he would do just that and that he would lead us to those whom he wills.

5)      Worship: Evangelism is worship. Whether you experience a Tim or a person who wants nothing to do with you God is glorified when Jesus is proclaimed.

Day 4: Talking to Atheists

Yesterday marked the fourth day of our summer evangelism schedule. Three co-labourers joined me in spreading the gospel in Don Mills – what a joy it is to strive side by side for the faith of the gospel!  Out of the four substantial conversations I had, the first three were with atheists (back to back to back). Here is an abbreviated summary of the conversations:

God is a Myth

Arthur and I met an elderly lady at the street corner. We made some small talk but quickly asked her about her thoughts on Jesus and her religious background. She said she was an atheist. For her, any stories about God = myth. She grew up in a United Church, was very involved, but eventually parted ways, convinced that Christianity isn’t based on truth but fancy ideas. She said, “It’s for the weak.” (She speaks better than she knows; cf. Mt 5:3).

She kept saying, “I don’t need God,” and “I’m fine.” Eventually I responded (gently, yet firmly) with, “Do you think you’ll be saying that on your death bed?” I went on, “Look, everyone dies; you will die. I will die. And judgement is coming. Are you prepared for that?” My comments on death must have triggered her thoughts of funerals. She replied, “You know, of all the funerals I go to these days, they don’t really mention God much any more. They’re memorials about the persons life.” (She went on to speak of how nice that is). She basically told us that times are changing; people are finally coming to terms with reality; there is no God. Christianity (and other religions) is basically for stupid people who can’t live with the reality that there is no God, no hope after death and so on.

We tried to talk to her about the historical facts about Jesus, but she wouldn’t have it; she seriously questions the reliability of Scripture. It’s all mythology in her mind. We had some other questions for her as we sought to engage her and weaken her confidence in her atheism. I told her that she is suppressing the truth about God, but in a candid way she simply told us, “good luck as you talk to others; better luck with someone else.” May God show her that she needs him.

Scientific Atheism

Shortly thereafter, we approached another lady whose atheism was largely governed by her allegiance to science. I talked to her for a while about the usefulness and goodness of science. However, I also talked about it’s limitations, namely when nailing down issues of origins. The scientific method of hypothesis, observation, analysis and conclusion suffers in the study of origins; it’s too late to observe! She agreed and admitted that the theistic view of the origins of the world is no irrational. In fact, she said, “I know science and Christianity is compatible.” Even so, she prefers the atheistic model.

I spent some time arguing for a Creator based on the design in the world and then started to talk to her about morality. I asked her, “What is the basis for morality?” She said that it is cultural. And just as I was arguing for the incoherence and impossibility of her position, the bus arrived. I gave her some good Christian literature.

May the Lord show her that he is the Maker of heaven and earth. And may she come to worship the Son, who is before all things and in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17).

“I Don’t Care” Atheism

Later on, I met a young man waiting for his bus. He was hard, tough and rugged. But he was friendly enough to carry on a conversation.  I could tell it was an inner struggle for him to keep talking with me, but by the grace of God he did. He told me he was an atheist, had no religious background and didn’t really care about Jesus or anything about God.

When he told me he was an atheist, I asked him what he thought of Jesus. With a cool and slightly annoyed spirit, he said, “Well, maybe if he’d drop down here and say hello, I’d say, ‘What’s up.'” I responded, “You think that’s what it would take? Well, what if he did, but not only that, what would you do if he told you that he is from God, Christianity is the truth and you must follow him. Would you?” He said, “I don’t know.” (Thinking of Luke 16, I am doubtful that he would). He assured me that he doesn’t care about these things. He told me that needs to work and provide for his family; that’s it. He said, “Another day another dollar.”

I asked him what he cares about. He said, “family.” I affirmed the value of family and told him straight up: “Look, 10 years ago, there’s no way I’d be on the streets talking to people about Jesus. Something happened to me. I started to follow Jesus, but I didn’t do it without reason. There are reasons that lead me to follow Christ. Namely, that it’s true. This stuff isn’t just in my head; it’s real. God, Jesus the truth of Christianity; this stuff just is, and I’m gripped by these realities.”

He said, “What about all the other religions. So they’re all wrong?” I said, “Jesus said he’s the only way to God. And I believe it. But hey, he’s either right or he’s wrong. The claim may sound arrogant, but it’s not arrogant if it’s true.”  He saw the logic yet still seemed quite sceptical.

Before long, he posed another objection, “But what about the Old and New Testaments; they teach different messages.” (I think he meant to say: “They are inconsistent”). I told him, “Look, the Old Testament is made up of 39 books and the main message can be summed up in one sentence: ‘Somebody’s coming.’ God had made a number of promises to his people. And the New Testament can basically be summed up in one sentence as well: ‘I’m here!’ God kept his promises. Jesus is the One who God has promised, and he brought salvation for us, those who have sinned and rebelled against him.”

The bus soon came and as I was warning him about the judgement to come, he said, “I don’t give a s#@t.” Then he said good bye. My heart really mourned over his hardness of heart. I believer Jesus is powerful to soften it. My goal was to put a stone is his shoe. By the grace of God, I hope it stays in there!

Well, that is a brief summary of part of Day 4. We had other more encouraging conversations with people who seemed more receptive, but I felt it wise to share about the difficulties of my conversations with atheists. Oh how they need the gospel and a worldview that can make sense of it! May the Spirit work in their minds and hearts.

Spreading More Than The Gospel

Gospel Review

Our afternoon study called ‘A People Made Ready’ resumed this past Sunday. In our first study, we looked at the question, ‘What is the Gospel?’ We saw that the gospel is the announcement of the reign of God, though Jesus Christ, who is Lord over all. Essentially, the gospel is a message about Jesus.

Spreading this gospel means introducing people to Jesus – telling people the good news of who he is in light of his saving accomplishments. And since he is Lord of the world, all the people of the world must give their allegiance to him. If we profess allegiance to this King, we ought to spread this great and glorious gospel. That was week one.

But there is something else about the nature of this gospel that warrants careful consideration while spreading it: the gospel is the climax of a much larger storyline. Jesus did not appear out of the thin air.

The Gospel is the Climax of a Much Larger Storyline

The preaching of John the Baptist in all four Gospels is significant! He prepares the way for the coming of the Lord (Malachi 3:1) and the great and awesome day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). John the Baptist’s ministry is to prepare God’s people for the climax of the entire history of redemption! The gospel is the climax of a much larger storyline. Paul tells us that all God’s promises (from the OT) “find their yes in [Christ]” (2 Cor 1:20). This means God has a history of making promises. As the storyline of the Bible progresses, the suspense thickens: how will God keep his promises? Without charting out what these promises are, at least two observations are in order: (1) though the Gospel is the announcement of God’s reign through Jesus Christ, it’s a climactic announcement that shouts ‘fulfilment of promises!’; and (2) unless someone is remotely aware of the larger storyline, they are unlikely to appreciate and understand this climax.

Understanding the Storyline is Not Trivial

In Colossians 1:5-6, Paul tells the Colossians that the gospel bore fruit among them and all over the world “since the day [they] heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” This passage doesn’t tell us explicitly that we need to preach the storyline of the Bible, nor that x-amount of the storyline needs to be understood before the gospel can be rightly believed. But it tells us that people need to understand the grace of God in truth. And as is the case with any story, the more someone understands the plot (promises) of the storyline, the more they’ll understand and appreciate the climax (Lord-willing).

When it comes to the storyline of the Bible the gospel is the climax, and it is where the grace of God is most clearly displayed! We greatly serve fellow sinners when we help them see the context or big picture in which this climactic event takes place.

How do we Share Big Picture Stuff while Sharing the Gospel?

How do we do this? Though there are hundreds of thousands of people in the GTA who have, at least, a semi-Christian view of the world with a decent amount of biblical literacy, there are more who don’t. People in our culture are becoming increasingly biblically illiterate (even churches can be!). So how much of the storyline do we need to communicate in conjunction with gospel bites about Jesus? Though this largely depends on the nature of any given conversation Matthias Media’s Two Ways to Live booklet is an excellent resource for sharing the Gospel in light of the basic storyline of Scripture. (Just click the link above to see the six picture presentation).

A Brief Outline of Two Ways to Live (without pictures)

Here is a basic outline of the tract that you might find helpful:

1. God is loving ruler of the world. He made us rulers of the world under him. (Gen 1-2; Rev 4:11). BUT, is that the way it is now?

2. We all reject the ruler – God – by trying to run our lives our way without him. But we fail to rule ourselves or society or the world. (Gen 3; Rom 3:10-12). WHAT will God do about this rebellion?

3. God won’t let us rebel forever. God’s punishment for rebellion is death and judgement. (Gen 3; Heb 9:27). God’s justice sounds hard. BUT …

4. Because of his love, God sent his Son in the world: the man Jesus Christ. Jesus always lived under God’s rule. Yet, by dying in our place he took our punishment and brought forgiveness. (Gen 12:1-3, 15:1-6; and 1 Pet 3:18). BUT, that’s not all …

5. God raised Jesus to life again as the ruler of the world. Jesus has conquered death, now gives life, and will return to judge. (1 Pet 1:3) WELL, where does that leave us?

6. The two ways to live:

(1) OUR WAY = Reject God as our ruler. Try to live life our way. The result: Condemned by God; facing death and judgement.

(2) GOD’S NEW WAY = Submit to Jesus as our ruler. Rely on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The result: Forgiveness by God and eternal life. (John 3:16; Rev 21:1-5)

At the end of the booklet, the call is to (1) Talk to God; (2) Submit to Jesus; and (3) Keep trusting.

Practical Instructions for Sharing Two Ways to Live

1. The six points are six pegs on which to hang a gospel conversation. You can enter in at any point. (You don’t need to start at the first point).

2. You can elaborate more or less on any point. This will depend on the conversation you are having.

3. Learn to connect topics of conversation to the six pegs (pictures) of God’s big picture.

Here is an example of connecting a conversation to one of those pegs: If someone is reading the news and comments on how messed up the world is, you could pipe up and say, “It really is messed up, but ya know, the reason is because we all reject God as our ruler; and we try do things our way. That is the main problem. That’s what the Bible teaches. Have you ever thought about that much?” This would be an example of entering in and hanging a conversation on the second peg. If the conversation continues, you will likely talk about the fall in Genesis 3, and there is great potential to end up focusing on Jesus who redeems rebels.

Spreading More than the Gospel

So, the gospel is the climax of a much larger storyline that provides the very framework needed for understanding it. Accordingly, it’s important that we spread them together (Jesus according to the Gospels & the storyline of the Bible). Indeed, we ought to spread more than the gospel. The more biblically illiterate a person is, the more we need to give them more than the gospel.