Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to Share the Gospel

My friend Ronnie preached at church on Sunday. To hear his sermon titled "Speak the Gospel", click HERE. But afterward, he posted an article about practical tips for how to share the gospel. I copied it below, but if you wanna read it on its original blog, click HERE.

Following up on Sunday’s sermon I thought it would be helpful to write an article providing practical ways to share the gospel. We preachers spend a lot of time conveying the need to share the gospel, but we don’t always give listeners the tools to get started. Sharing the gospel does not need to be as intimidating as we make it out to be. Being someone who consistently shares the gospel does not mean we run around our workplaces heralding “turn or burn.” I hope to lay out a blue print here that will help you strategize and implement regular gospel sharing in your everyday life in a natural and seamless way.

Before we get into the “how to” of evangelism I want to stress that in order to be an evangelist in your sphere of influence, you must be intentional. I think sometimes we have romantic notions of people coming to us, falling on their face, crying for us to tell them the path of salvation, but we must remember that Christ told us to “go”, not to wait. So it is imperative that we set our hearts to do fulfill the mission that Christ has called us to. If you don’t think it’s necessary to share the gospel, forget about reading this article; read your Bible instead. But if you have a heart to see more worshipers of Christ in your places of influence, read on and think deeply about how these steps would look in your life today. I would highly encourage you to read this with pen and paper in hand, following along with these steps as we go. That way, at the end you will be all ready to hit the ground running.

Step 1: Identify the top 4 topics that come up in regular everyday conversation

This is not the time to over-spiritualize. For most of us we will have answers that look like work, family, school, types of leisure, hobbies, health, politics, relationships, TV, movies, etc. These are the things that in everyday conversation, we will talk about 99% of the time with the people we encounter. Think about those “shooting the breeze” type conversations you have with people everyday at work, your neighborhood, or on the bus. What are the topics that are normally brought up? Probably something of the types listed above. The four things that I have the most conversations about would be family, work, sports, and health.

Step 2: Divide those 4 things into smaller parts

This sounds more difficult than it really is so let me use myself as an example. Here’s how I would divide my top 4 things:

Family: Wife, children (if I had any), where I grew up, where I live now
Work: (Keep in mind I work at a church) Teaching, meetings, leadership development. When you think about it for yourself, think about those work things that regularly come up in conversation; things like clients, sales, profit, ethics, whatever work topics you discuss most.
Sports: hockey, tennis, and basketball (these are the sports I talk the most about)
Health: Working out, eating right (When I have health conversations, those two are all I got)

99% of all the conversations I have on a daily basis, whether it is with strangers, acquaintances, friends, or coworkers, involve these things to some degree.

Step 3: Pick one of the major topics you listed in step 2 and practice connecting its smaller parts to the gospel.

Again, for the sake of clarity I will use myself as an example. This is where the rubber meets the road. You’ll need to think deeply about these issues. The question you need to ask yourself is how can I connect those everyday things in my life to a gospel conversation? Think about it: if we are Christians, then every single thing in our life should relate to Christ and the gospel in some way, and our goal is to think about what that connection is, then speak it. I will use my family topic to illustrate this step. Also keep in mind there could be a myriad of transitions from each of these topics so I am just including a couple for examples.

Wife

“Yeah, my wife and I argue a lot too. Sometimes it’s really hard to get past it and let things know, but when I consider that Christ’s love for me is limitless even though I offend Him every day, it seems ridiculous that I would hold a grudge against my wife.”

Children

“It wasn’t until I had children that I fully realized the love that God has for me. Because of what Christ did for me on the cross, the Bible says that I am really a child of God and all of those feelings I have towards my children, God has towards me in even greater degree. That’s amazing!

Where I grew up

“I grew up in Detroit, MI. It’s as bad as everyone thinks. The poverty there was horrendous. When I think of the people there with no hope, very little government assistance, forgotten in a lot of ways, it’s unbelievable to think that that is a perfect physical picture of what my life was like before I came to know Jesus.”

Where I live now

“I live in south Austin, near I-35 and Slaughter. The best thing about that place is Southpark Meadows shopping center which is the largest retail area in Austin. I love to go to the Borders there and sit and read on my day off.” (This is where many will ask what you like to read) “I’ll go there and spend some time reading my Bible or some other theological book that talk about how great God is and how beautiful Christ is.”

Practice, practice, practice

Invite a Christian friend, roommate, or spouse to have mock conversations with you about the things you listed above, then practice making transitions to the gospel. There are a host of transitions from a variety of angles so get creative. This does take practice, but it will definitely give you confidence and show you how easy it is to make simple gospel-centered statements in everyday conversations.

Step 4: Next time it comes up in real conversation, make the connection!

Realistically speaking, if you do not make a mental note to make these connections, you will probably squander the opportunity. A couple of things to keep in mind here: first, BE INTENTIONAL! If you do not set your mind and heart to share the gospel then it will just fall by the wayside. Pick a couple specific people each day, pray for God to allow you a conversation, and then make the commitment to speak the gospel into their lives. Secondly, we must remember that Jesus is an offense to a lot of people. It would be misleading for me to convey that you won’t have any awkward conversations. To some we will be the aroma of death and to some we will be the aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:15-16) and which means it is important to remember that not everyone will be receptive and accommodating to the truth of Christ. But be intentional and let God do what He desires to do.

Finally, chances are in the beginning you will be much more timid and apprehensive about making the gospel transitions. Don’t get down on yourself, pray for more boldness, and live another day. God will always be faithful to provide us with opportunities.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the rest of the topics you listed

Simple as that. Think about it: if you are faithful to complete these steps, you will have a gospel presenting arsenal that targets every single one of your daily conversations! I do not want to imply that speaking the gospel is as easy as falling off a log, but it can be much simpler than we make it out to be. God is the one who saves yet we must be intentional to speak the gospel saving truth to those around us; now go out there and make disciples!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rich People Should ENGAGE the Poor (and if you live in America, you are "rich")

I read this post on a friend's blog this morning. She currently lives in Thailand and always has interesting stories and photos from life on the opposite side of the world. Today, she was preachin' it and I was lovin' it! Read below or click here for the post on her blog.
In bangkok recently i was having dinner with a friend working with the poor and oppressed. we got to talking about our distaste for american materialism and how it distances americans from the world at large. at a certain point, doesn't it seem like the stuff we buy becomes almost unethical? let's face it, the american dream is unbiblical; god does not desire for us to work independently towards comfort and success and retire in our pile of stuff. non-christians get this too. the stuff we accumulate insulates us from the suffering of others and makes the realities of the world- war, death, disease- seem more remote. but where to begin?

it's not that buying a porsche is unethical, but it's tempting to brand it as such when that $80,000 could otherwise provide clean water for thousands of africans. but really, those comparisons are moot. if i buy gum, sure, that money could have gone to the poor, but the gum company employs people, etc. i have friends that completely disavow labels and materialism and try to live as ascetically and humbly as possible. i have other friends that insist they have worked hard for their wealth and they deserve to spend it as they see fit. how do you reconcile the two?


i've struggled with this for years traveling to and from places i've worked in developing countries back to my life amongst wealth and privilege in texas and never really come to a satisfactory answer. all i know is that it doesn't quite sit right with me that there is such a disparity, an injustice, between what i see overseas and what i witness at home. but how do you determine what is just and what is excess? it obviously is not as easy as blame the rich (by the way, if you are reading this from the US, you
are the rich). the rich drive economies, provide jobs, fund important social and charitable functions, and i suppose they're people too. and as for the poor it isn't that they are simply "so happy and have so little." i hear this often from people in the states and it's true to a degree, but it makes me want to throw up.

sure, poor people are happy, but they aren't merely happy savages. the poor people i know are often tired, hungry and beaten down and desperately want their kids to be able to go to school and have access to healthcare. yes, people who are poor have the capacity for happiness, but why does this surprise us so much? i think americans confuse happiness with resiliency. the poor can be happy or sad, but most of all they continue on despite hardships because they must.


if you are rich or super rich, or spend or don't spend, what truly matters is that you
engage suffering and poverty. are you meaningfully engaged in the reality that life is tortured and difficult for the majority of the world? are you engaged in the fight for social justice? can you empathize with the poor? to be sure there is poverty in america- emotional, spiritual and financial. and i'm not condemning people that don't live as i do, but simply hoping that no matter where anyone is, they are engaging the world around them. i can't say that spending "x" amount of money on a car is a sin or condemn anyone for it, but if you have little regard for others, i'm pretty sure you're going to hell. just kidding. expenses are relative- i get that. as much as i am tempted to vilify american consumerism, i am guilty of it.

but i would encourage anyone, no matter how much they have or how much they deny themselves, to become engaged in their world through knowledge, relationships, donations or volunteerism, be it local or foreign.


the have nots will always blame the haves and the haves will always spend money on unnecessary stuff for their dogs (don't get me started), but so long as the rich are meaningfully engaged in the lives of the poor and have an understanding that they are still connected to the world of human suffering, i suppose they can buy clothes for their dogs. just because you live in america and have a comfortable life does not mean that you're not accountable for the well-being of the poor or that you are too far removed from the oppression, diseases and famines of the world. you are human. you can thank your lucky stars that you were not born a woman in iran or a boy in the congo or anyone in burma. with that gratitude comes something much stronger than
noblesse oblige or even guilt: a common humanity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

America's Best/Worst Paying Jobs

Saw this reported on CNN this morning and thought I'd share it just because its a random list, and I like lists.

Top 5 BEST Paying Jobs in America:
  1. Surgeons ($206,770)
  2. Anesthesiologists ($197,570)
  3. Orthodontists ($194,930)
  4. Obstetrician and gynecologists ($192,780)
  5. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons ($190,420)
Top 5 WORST Paying Jobs in America:
  1. Combined food-preparation and service workers ($17,400)
  2. Cooks, fast food ($17,620)
  3. Dishwashers ($17,750)
  4. Dining room/cafeteria attendants, bartender helpers ($18,140)
  5. Shampooers ($18,300)
And the AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY in America is now $42,270, which is up 3.9% from last year.

CNN cited Forbes.com as their source. You can click the linkt o read the top 25 of both categories.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: There Is No Me Without You

Tonight I finished a rough, but awesome, book: "There Is No Me Without You" by Melissa Fay Greene. It is the story of Ethiopia, as told through the lens of the AIDS epidemic, the sharp increase in the resulting orphan population, and how the country-- and specifically one woman-- responds.

This is not an easy or light book to read, but it was penetrating and thought (and emotion) provoking! At times I was so mad and frustrated, disgusted with the blanket failure our world has settled for in the fight against this horrible disease. Other times, I was so moved and hurting for its victims and those who sacrificed everything to love & care for the abandoned, rejected, outcast segment of the country's population.

The author does a great job of sharing statistics, history, and hard, sad facts in an interesting way. She also tells an amazingly human and painful story of a widow who loses her own daughter to AIDS, and ends up (literally) stumbling into a ministry of care for AIDS orphans in her country. It is not a saintly portrayal, but an honest one, which reminded me that God uses the weak & the sinful to accomplish His great purposes.

Finally, in Parts 3 & 4 of the book, the author tells the "continuation" of the story through the lens of adoption. Which was really touching, even though it's not something we feel called to. The author & book have a website that has info on what's become of the Ethiopian Foster Mother, picture slide shows of the children, and information on adoption. Check out www.thereisnomewithoutyou.com

I definately recommend this book if you are interested in reading about obedience to a call, mercy ministry, AIDS/health related crisis', Ethiopia, Africa, or adoption.

UT ESL End of Semester Banquet

Hilary invited me to join her for her school's end of semester banquet this weekend. It was a nice dinner, a talent show, awards were given, and to wrap up, the students danced! I enjoyed getting to know them the few classes I sat in on. And I loved watching them celebrate with each other their successes from the year. Here are a few pics and a video from the night...



Some of Hilary's undergrad students performed a traditional Arabian dance.












Also represented at the talent show was a Turkish girl who performed a traditional belly-dance.

video

In this video, students from Hilary's Graduate level class were unified as they danced to a Latin song. Students from Costa Rica, Mexico& Algeria samba together, a Vietnamese student dances with a Libyan classmate's baby, a funny white girl adds her dance skills (ha ha, hilary!), a lanky Korean watches- arms folded, but with a smile--, a Guinean in a suit lets loose!

Thanks for inviting me Hilary!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Habitat for Humanity Egypt Director in Austin

I want to invite you to help me welcome the National Director of Egypt’s Habitat for Humanity, Yousry Makar. Mr. Makar is in Austin for a short visit and we are gathering anyone interested in learning more about the spiritual climate of Egypt, poverty & development in that country, or about Habitat’s work there to join us on Thursday, May 7th, at 7pm at The Austin Stone’s church offices. We will have a Q&A for Yousry and a short informational presentation, and we hope to encourage Yousry in the work of mercy ministry in Egypt.

Habitat for Humanity—Egypt’s mission is to demonstrate the love of Jesus, practically, by helping families to gain simple, decent, healthy, afforable housing in all parts of Egypt. Last year alone, Habitat built 2,445 homes in 25 different communities across Egypt. Although the cost of an average home built by Habitat for Humanity in the U.S. is $90-100,000, the cost to complete a Habitat home in Egypt averages $1300. Many lives are touched and entire communities are impacted, both economically and spiritually.

The Austin Stone sent a team to Egypt in February 2009 to work with Habitat for Humanity. They built homes in a small village in central Egypt for a week and loved every minute. They spent time with Yousry and are eager to introduce him to more of you from Austin Stone. Here is a blog post from one of the team members describing their time with Habitat.

We encourage you to come and hear more about Habitat this Thursday (May 7th at 7pm at the church office). Bring your family, friends, community group… If you can’t come, pass this along to someone you think might enjoy it. Please RSVP to atxanna@gmail.com so we know how many snacks and drinks to have on hand (but even if you forget to RSVP, you can still come).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

300 New Homeless People in Austin Tonight

Due to the massive apartment fire in St. Johns' neighborhood this afternoon, the Red Cross is reporting there are now 300 people displaced and without shelter. Although the two most common contributing factors to homelessness are (1) poverty and (2) lack of affordable housing, another frequent factor is an incident of emergency. Once a family experiences an unexpected change in their situation, they can go from housed to homeless in an instant. That is what happened today in Austin.

Because so many of you I know will be helping to serve those displaced by this catastrophe, I thought I would share with you all some MYTHS & FACTS about Homelessness in the Austin area*.

MYTH: Those in homeless situations are mostly single adult males.
FACT: Families are the fastest growing population of the homeless. 40% of all those in homeless situations are families. (And, in the U.S. at large, the average homeless person is a 10 year old girl.) Unlike homeless single adult men, homeless families are often invisible to the public eye. Homeless families often live doubled up with friends or family members or in shelters, including domestic violence shelters.

MYTH: Those in homeless situations are "street people."
FACT: Only 18% of those in homeless situations live on the streets. The majority (64%) of those in homeless situations live in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or doubled up with family or friends. 19% live in motels or rooming houses.

MYTH: Those in homeless situations are lazy and won't work.
FACT: 44% of homeless persons did paid work during the last month. Of these, 20% worked in a job lasting or expected to last at least 3 months, 25% worked at a temporary or day-labor job. Most work in minimum-wage, service, or seasonal jobs that do not pay enough to afford housing at the fair-market rate in our community.

MYTH: All those in homeless situations are poorly educated.
FACT: While lack of education and significant job training do contribute to homelessness, a health crisis, or natural disaster (or other disaster like the St. Johns' fire today) does not discriminate based on education. Many of those in homeless situations have a high school, college and even graduate degrees.

MYTH: All those in homeless situations get government assistance.
FACT: Over 40% of homeless persons are eligible for disability, but only 11% actually receive them. Most are eligible for food stamps, but only 37% receive them. Most families are eligible for welfare benefits, but only 52% receive them. Some 12% of children are denied access to school, despite federal laws.

MYTH: There are plenty of shelters to assist the homeless.
FACT: 52% of shelter requests by homeless families are estimated to have been unmet (last updated in 2001).

MYTH: Most people in homeless situations are chronically homeless.
FACT: The transitionally/situationaly homeless account for 40-50% and are homeless for 6 months or less; 70% of all those in homeless situations are homeless for less than 2 years. Others who are considered episodically homeless as they move in and out of homelessness account for 20-30% of those in homeless situations. This leaves less than 20% of all those in homeless situations who are actually chronically homeless.

(This picture is of a little girl who is homeless tonight, after the apartment fire destroyed her home. (via Matt Carter's Twitter)

MYTH:
People are homeless because they want to be; they're happy that way, i.e..
FACT: The circumstances of homelessness are anything but happy. Families and children lose their homes, rooms, possessions, neighborhoods, friends, schools, pets, security, identity, self-esteem, and on and on.
-- 38% of those in homeless situations report being robbed
-- 41% of those in homeless situations report theift of their property
-- 22% of those in homeless situations report being assaulted
-- 7% of those in homeless situations report sexual assault
-- 1 of 8 women in homeless situations report being raped
-- 26% of those in homeless situations report infectious conditions
-- 46% of those in homeless situations report chronic health conditions related to their living situation and inability to access adequate healthcare
-- 69% of those in homeless situations report being arrested or harassed merely because of being homeless (i.e. they broke no law)
-- Nearly 100% of those in homeless situations report going hungry a portion fo the time they are homeless.

* From my Caritas Training Manual on Poverty & Homelessness in the Austin Area.

Who would choose these things for their life? Please reach out and help those in need as a result of the fire today. Follow @justinlopez on Twitter to get instructions for how you can volunteer, or check the facebook status' of the Austin Stone staffers, or the Stone website will have posts about it. The Red Cross is also asking for financial donations.

Sign up to volunteer collecting, organizing, and distributing donations at Ebenezer Church here.
Sign up to volunteer at Gus Garcia Rec Center (Spanish speakers / kidcare especially needed) here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How to Help with the St. John's Fire Aftermath

If you attend the Stone, you know that we are always seeking ways to serve the St. John’s neighborhood. Today, a four-alarm fire in an apartment complex in that neighborhood has affected many families. These people are greatly in need of many everyday items that have been lost in the fire.

Donations will be accepted for these families from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Iglesia Centro Familiar Ebenezer. Directions are available here.

Items that are needed include:

  • Canned food items
  • Diapers and wipes
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Tylenol and Children’s Tylenol
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Baby formula and baby food
  • Baby bottles
  • Socks
  • Underwear (both adult and children’s sizes)
  • T-shirts (all sizes)
  • Blankets

If you are able to help, please do so. Thank you.

Egypt's Habitat Director Comes to AUSTIN


Anyone out there wanna learn about the spiritual climate of Egypt, poverty & development in Egypt, and Habitat for Humanity-EGYPT... from an actual Egyptian man? Well, this week, the national director of Habitat for Humanity in Egypt will be in Austin and you can come to a small presentation/Q&A with him at the Austin Stone church OFFICES on Thursday, May 7th. Click HERE for details.

(That's him in the picture, visiting our team at the Cairo Bookfair.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Funny Cities Across the Globe

Andy and I have a map of the world shower curtain liner. It helps us remember to pray that Christ would complete the task of redeeming people from all the nations. But sometimes while I'm in the shower and not praying, then I start scanning over the map looking at all the city names and countries. Today, I've decided to list out some of the more funny names I've come across. Just for fun...
  • Murmansk, Russia (this one always makes me laugh because I think of Ben Stiller in Zoolander saying "merman, not mermaid... merMAN!")
  • Flin Flon, Canada (really? Flin Flon)
  • Porto Alegro, Brazil (in spanish, I think this means Happy Port, even though they don't speak spanish in Brazil)
  • Gympie, Australia (which I often sing in my head to the tune of the old Hefty Trash Bag commercial tune: gympie, gympie, gympie... hefty, hefty, hefty.)
  • Perm, Russia (When I read this one I always say to myself "Big Perm", like in the movie Friday, but because it is written in a larger font-- must be a big city. And I think this is a city required hairstyle too)
  • Dawson Creek, Canada (that's right: there really was an actual Dawson's Creek)
  • Concepcion, Chile (as in tot)
  • Archangelsk, Russia (there must have been some spiritual history in that town)
  • Labrador City, Canada (where i guess the dog orginated from??)
  • Cork, Ireland (wikipedia says people from this town are called "Corkonians")
  • Woy Woy, Australia (I've actually BEEN here, it is a small beach town outside Sydney where we had dinner in the home of a famous Aussie musician)
  • Christchurch, New Zealand (random link provided for further info)
  • Circle, Alaska (borrrrr-ing!)
  • Espirito Santo, Brazil (Holy Spirit, Brazil... again in spanish, not portuguese)
  • and finally, there really is a TIMBUKTU, Mali!