For This, and More, We Give You Thanks

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Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for me. Uniquely American and thoroughly Christian, Thanksgiving was birthed in the hearts of those who needed much. When the Pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving, they did so at the end of a year in which half of them died. Plymouth Rock received 102 Pilgrims, but by Thanksgiving only 51 were still alive. Still, they feasted for four days with their Native American friends, grateful for what God provided. Then, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, just days after he delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19. With the blood of soldiers watering the ground in the North and the South, Lincoln called upon the nation to set aside a day to thank God for His blessings. Remarkable!

As I look forward to Thanksgiving, gratitude fills my heart as I reflect back on collaborative ministry that we enjoy in the Northwest. Consider a few matters for which we can be thankful.

First, rejoice that we reached more people for Christ, and the baptismal waters were stirred more frequently in our churches, than they were the previous year. Pastors and churches are facing great challenges, but your obedience to Christ and labor for Him is changing eternity for thousands of people in the Northwest and the mission fields beyond. Thank God for this!

Second, in the past year new work was started among those speaking English, Nepali, Spanish, Mandarin, and Korean, joining almost 30 different languages represented in our NWBC churches. By working together, we have become the most linguistically diverse network of churches in the Northwest. In our annual meeting last week we prayed for Christian Phan, pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Renton (Vietnamese), and Raju Subedi, pastor of International Church in Beaverton (Bhutanese), each of whom is the nationally elected leader of their respective fellowship of churches. It is an honor and a blessing to partner with such men. Among our pastors are those who have led the national Korean fellowship of churches, the national Romanian fellowship of churches, and the national Ukrainian fellowship. Thank God for this!

Third, we ended October at 99.9 percent of budget through the first ten months of 2015. With a strong final two months we could make budget for the first time since 1997. Thank you for your sacrificial generosity to support missions through CP. The very reason for our existence as a convention is to provide our churches the means to collaborate in missions and evangelism, and your faithfulness in giving enables us to do that. In addition, our Sylvia Wilson/Northwest Impact Mission Offering is up 23 percent over last year. You still have two months remaining to donate to Northwest Missions in support of Disaster Relief, Evangelism, Church Planting, and Leadership Development in the Northwest. Thank God for this!

Fourth, at our annual meeting last week in Portland we elected outstanding new leaders. Steve Bryant, a layman from Highland Baptist, Redmond, OR was elected President. Matthew Savage, the pastor of Journey Church, Everett, WA was elected first Vice-president. And Josh Martin, worship pastor of Resonate Church, Pullman, WA was elected second Vice-president. I look forward to working with these fine men. Pastors Dale Jenkins, Bryan Toll, and Frank Johnson each served two years in the aforementioned offices, and they each served us exceptionally well. Thank God for this!

Fifth, regarding your NWBC staff, I am grateful to report that David Gass will join our staff on February 1. You will learn more about David and his family in the next couple of months, but I want to mention him now so that you will lift David and his family up in prayer. Nora is his wife and Parker and Halle are their two children. David will serve in Regions 1 and 2 as a Church Health/Evangelism Catalyst. He will also assist convention-wide with our East Asia mission partnership. For the past 13 years David and his family have served with the IMB in Asia. Some of you have met him at the EA1Day events we have done. David and Nora are two of the returning missionaries that we have been praying for as the IMB reduces staff. David volunteered to leave the IMB and join the NWBC. We thank God that He led the Gass family to the Northwest. They are moving from Taipei, Taiwan.

For these reasons, and many more, we thank our heavenly Father. I trust that each of you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving! It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Evangelism in the Beginning

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You don’t expect a man the size of a bear, with a low, rumbling growl to match, to look you straight in the eye and say, “George, I love you, and I want you to know my Jesus,” but that’s what he does every day. It won’t surprise you to know that he frequently leads people to love the Jesus he knows so well.

I thought of this friend when reading Michael Green’s classic work, Evangelism in the Early Church. Widely regarded as the best book on the subject, I thought it helpful to highlight some of his conclusions for those who desire to lead others to the feet of Jesus.

Green’s primary conclusion is that neither the strategy nor the tactics of the first Christians were particularly remarkable. “What was remarkable was their conviction, their passion and their determination to act as Christ’s embassy to a rebel world, whatever the consequences.” It was the personal transformation of their character, as they welcomed the Holy Spirit into their lives, which was most stunning. This is what made me think of my friend – personal passion, born of the Spirit of God and infused with deep gratitude to Jesus, overflowing into personal witness.

Passionate conviction and personal witness characterized those who founded the Christian movement.   Still, Green notes five approaches which the Early Church adopted and from which we could profit. First, most of their evangelism took place on what we would call “secular ground.” You find them in the laundries, street corners and markets. Evangelism did not happen in church buildings, of which they had none. In my own experience I have seen and done this, particularly in places where there are no church buildings. I would also note that in the places where Christianity is growing most rapidly, they have few church buildings. It makes me wonder if the presence of many steeples has led us to rely upon the building as the place of evangelism. The pattern of the early church, and even the contemporary church in areas where the Church is growing, suggests that we must evangelize on “secular ground.”

Second, Green notes that “the priority of early Christians seems to have been personal conversations with individuals.” You see this in the way Jesus evangelized. Read John’s Gospel , for example, and the stories that strike you most are Jesus’ personal conversations with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the lame man at the pool, the adulterous woman, the man born blind, Lazarus, not to mention Jesus’ conversations with the Twelve. Some of the earliest Christian writings, following the New Testament era, recount personal one-on-one witnessing experiences. If your church wants to reach people for Christ, you must consistently train members in the skills of talking to others about Jesus. The MY316 evangelism resources provided by the Northwest Baptist Convention helps believers know how to share Jesus using their own personal testimonies and John 3:16. In March of 2016 we will have one-day “Story Witnessing Workshops” throughout the Northwest which will focus on helping Christians to listen well and connect Bible stories to people’s lives.

Third, Green says that “the home provided the most natural context for gossiping the gospel.”   This is clear from the Book of Acts, and is also prevalent in Second Century Christian literature.   In many regions of the world we continue to see believers meeting in homes and practicing household hospitality as a means to share Jesus. But we do not see this much in America any more. It seems that we view our homes as a private retreat more than a place for entertaining strangers and sharing Christ with neighbors. I would encourage you reach out to internationals and immigrants. Most immigrants are never invited into the home of an American. And most Americans never invite someone from another country, culture and ethnic group into their home. The Northwest has many immigrant peoples. I have found immigrants are most honored when we invite them into our homes.

A fourth method of the Early Church was church planting. Indeed, we can say that the Church grew as new churches were planted. Green says that church planting was “the most effective” method of evangelism. What we know is that in every place where Christianity is growing, the number of churches is growing. This has always been true. Is your church involved in planting other churches? It can be.

Finally, Green notes the emphasis those first Christians put on the work of the Holy Spirit.   They understood that the Holy Spirit worked within them to produce the character of Jesus. Green says, “The Western Church has grown too dependent on words, and not nearly dependent enough on the power of the Holy Spirit,”

There has been no significant change when it comes to effective evangelism. It’s always been about sharing Christ personally, where people live and work, and doing so in the power of the Spirit. We just need more of it.