How to share the gospel

May 112014

What a presumptuous title for a blog post! It sounds like I, Dave Criddle, think I’ve cracked it and have the how-to guide on how to share the good news. Far from it!!

This week, I preached on 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. In it Paul describes how he shared the gospel with non-believers in Thessalonica. I was deeply challenged by his evangelistic method(s) and wanted to spread that challenge around!

how to share gospel

The verse that struck me was 1 Thessalonians 1:5:

because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

There seem to be four elements at work here, and each presents me with a big challenge.

‘not simply with words’

It would be easy with a phrase like that to downplay speech, to say talking the gospel doesn’t matter. Francis of Assissi is famously quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” Francis himself wasn’t promoting a wordless gospel, but his words have been taken to mean that.

wrods if necessaryThere are folk who advocate sharing faith by actions and lifestyle instead of words. While the ‘not simply’ in this verse certainly means words aren’t all we need, it’s a stretch to say we don’t need them at all.

Whether it be Jesus, Paul or anyone else who ever shared ‘the gospel’ in the New Testament, words were always used. We can’t escape the need to articulate our faith with words.

‘with power, with the Holy Spirit’

Not just words, then, but power also! There are two things Paul says add power to the message he proclaimed. The first is the Holy Spirit at work.

All through Acts, when the gospel was preached God added confirmation of the message with miraculous signs and wonders. People were healed and there was breakthrough in communities. People saw first hand the power of the gospel which was being talked about.

Do we have reason to believe God is no longer in the business of adding his ‘Yes!’ to our message by working wonders in people’s hearts and lives? I don’t think we do. We need the Holy Spirit to convict, to add power to what we proclaim.

‘and deep conviction’

The second source of power is the messengers’ own conviction. They really believe this stuff! They were deeply convicted and passionate about the truth, power and importance of their message.

We can all tell whether someone cares about what they’re talking about. And if we as messengers of the gospel aren’t excited about it, captivated by Jesus, who He is, what He’s done, what He’s doing and what He’ll do then how on earth can we expect others to catch the vision?

I saw a statistic recently (I can’t find it now) that said the majority of people who come to faith are led to Jesus by someone who has been a Christian for less than two years. Is that just because the infectious zeal has worn off after that? If so, how sad.

‘we lived among you’

Paul’s message wasn’t a hit-and-run gospel. He stuck around and lived with those he shared Jesus with. A chapter later in his letter Paul says, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

sharing lifeHe lived alongside them. He became their friend. He shared life. The ups and the downs. He walked with them, hand in hand. He chose to commit to them, and in doing so became a model of what a life lived with Jesus looks like. This was real relationship.

And in fact when they did convert, Paul was their role model (1 Thes 1:6). It was the life they’d seen him living that they aspired to. He was their model of faith, and the only reason he could be was that he had shared life so totally with them. That is sobering.

Like I said, I find all of it very challenging indeed. It is such a holistic vision of what sharing faith can look like. I’m sure all of us naturally lean towards parts of it and away from others. To embrace all of it is a big calling, but if we take it seriously there is huge power. Let’s step up!

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May 092014

I remember one of the things I was taught at church as a child was this: being a Christian isn’t just about being a nice person. How true! A living Christian faith isn’t about being polite. We aren’t just called to be ‘nice’. We are called to be transformed, new people enlivened with the peace and joy and love of knowing the one who made us and died for us.

There’s more to being a Christian than being nice. But there isn’t less to being a Christian than being nice. If I am transformed by Jesus, surely that would make me nice! Not weak and feeble. Not a pushover. But kind and gracious, surely!

be nice

That’s why seeing someone commend me on Twitter earlier today made me a little sad. Here’s the tweet:

Scott's Tweet

(For the uninitiated, “#FF” stands for ‘Follow Friday’, a custom by which – on Fridays – you give advice to your followers on Twitter about who else they might like to follow. Today, Scott (an atheist who I’ve never met but talk with on Twitter quite a bit) recommended me to his other followers. Thanks Scott.)

What are we known for?

Sure, it’s always pleasant when someone says you’re a good egg. But this made me really sad. I’ve got to know how Scott thinks a little since January when he saw my Ricky Gervais article and starting asking lots of questions. He’s not a fan of religion or faith (and that must shape his views), and he wouldn’t claim to speak for all non-Christians.

The two bits that make me sad are ‘even though’ and ‘despite’. I’ll answer honestly even though I’m a Christian. I’m a nice bloke despite my faith (in his view a delusion).

In his mind, and presumably experience, by default a Christian wouldn’t be open and honest, a person with my faith wouldn’t be a nice person. The default Christian is dishonest, unpleasant and sees themselves as beyond reproach or questioning.

This is sad.

Like I say, this is one person and this view may not be the case everywhere. But having interacted with quite a lot of people like Scott – reasonable, but not Christian – and having seen the way media presentation of Christianity is going, I fear it may be. I fear that society at large doesn’t think Christians are very nice.

This is sad

I find this very sad. Jesus said this:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

The mark of being a follower of Jesus – the way HE says we will be known as His – is love. This of course includes love of everyone, but first and foremost it means loving ‘one another’.

I want to make something clear: the vast majority of Christians I know are full of love, are beautifully kind and caring people. They are nice! And they should be. They are called to be. It is their responsibility to be.

But it also breaks my heart to see the ways in which Christians treat one another, and the way that in the public eye we have become known as people of exclusion and hate, not welcome and love. I have been so upset by the manner in which conversations recently around same sex marriage have been conducted. There has been such hate and vitriol by Christians on both sides of that discussion. There has of course been dialogue filled with love, compassion and grace from both sides as well, but there should be more of it.

We can do better. We can be nicer!

love not rightThis needn’t be the way things are, though. There is no reason why people should think of a Christian and think ‘bigot’ or ‘hateful’ or ‘unkind’. Jesus was none of those things, and neither should we be.

Sometimes we put such a high premium on being right that we forget the importance of being kind. We would rather win the argument than love our ‘opponent’. Jesus so totally models the opposite of this that he was willing to be killed by His ‘opponents’ in order to extend love.

I end, then, with two messages.

For non-Christians: On behalf of Christians, on behalf of the Church, I am sorry. We have a message of love and inclusion and radical grace, but so often we fail our Saviour and our world by letting that get obscured. We have never claimed to be perfect, but I am sorry for the times we fail.

For Christians: Let’s be better. Let’s rather be loving than right. As we continue to discuss important things, and to do so publicly, let’s remember that the only way to be known as Jesus’ disciples is to demonstrate love. Let’s take back the reputation of our faith and be known for radical love and kindness by people, whether they agree with us or not.

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Faith when you don’t feel like it

May 042014

I’m going to be honest. Sometimes I don’t feel like praying, reading my Bible or going to church to be around other Christians. I’ll be even more honest and say this: sometimes when I’ve felt like that I’ve just not bothered.

I don’t think this is just me – I imagine it’s a fairly universal Christian experience. Often we don’t feel God’s presence, and we don’t have much motivation to actively pursue our faith, even if we’ve known the power of those things before. We stop pursuing God, and we continue to feel far from Him. We feel ourselves in a rut. What to do when we’re not sure if we can be bothered?

faith when you don't feel like it

It was the guest post on my blog a few days ago that has got me thinking about these things. I found my friend James’s words very powerful, so if you haven’t read it check it out before I carry on.

My advice: do it anyway

What to do, then? There are of course times when we feel totally on fire, captivated by God, inspired by who He is. There are times when we do not just know He is present because we are told He is in Scripture but because we can feel His presence palpably. He is in the atmosphere, in our coming and going, our every breath, every moment, every thought.

But there are also times when it’s not like that. We feel nothing. It seems irrelevant. In those times, what to do?

My advice is simple, but not easy. This advice is as much for me as it is for anyone else. This is it:

Do it anyway.

What’s ‘it’? ‘It’ is any of the countless ways God has given us to seek Him. Opening up His word where He reveals Himself even if the words seem lifeless. Sitting before Him in prayer even if it feels like we’re all alone talking to a brick wall. Being part of a community of Christians, gathering together in His name even if it feels like a formality. Singing to Him in worship even if the lyrics seem trite and the tune leaves us cold. This is just the tip of the ice berg. There are all sorts of acts of devotion and worship He has given us: fasting, giving, silence, pilgrimage – the list goes on.

Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?

I said it isn’t easy, and for me this can be the biggest internal barrier: it feels like hypocrisy. God seems pretty clear that while He likes our acts of worship He isn’t interested in them so much as He is interested in our hearts (e.g. Psalm 51:16-17). Surely to just ‘go through the motions’ is the height of hypocrisy.

I don’t think it is.

Collectively, all these activities we’re talking about are called ‘spiritual disciplines’. Discipline isn’t about our feelings, whether we’re really into something in that moment or not. We do them because we do them, but because we do them there can be great benefit.

If I cannot in all honesty marshall my emotions to give God joyful praise, I am still able as an act of will to give myself to Him, to place myself before Him. I should not be driven by what I feel. Devotion, worship, faith – these are things of our will before they are things we feel. It’s not hypocrisy to honestly give God our wills. It would be to pretend we feel something we don’t.

Opening the door to God

The truth is we don’t want to remain distant and detached in our faith. The very fact that in those times of feeling disconnected it feels bad shows a desire for close relationship with God. Part of the reason for these disciplines is just that.

Richard Foster, who wrote a fantastic book on spiritual disciplines (), puts it like this:

God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.

A relationship with God – like any other – requires attention. When human relationships become distant or difficult, there are two choices. Feel hopeless and let it become more distant, or work at it and build back the intimacy we want.

These holy habits are gifts given to us so that we can present ourselves before God exactly as we are, putting ourselves in a place where He might work in us, change us, speak to us. He won’t force that on us anymore than we can force ourselves to feel anything.

But we can steadily, daily place ourselves at His feet and simply say ‘I’m here’. Once we open the door, and keep it open, things can change.

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“Why am I a Christian? Habit.” – James Pollard

May 022014

Why Christian thumbMy next instalment in the “Why are you a Christian?” series is from my friend James. I owe a lot to James. He used to be my youth leader and has had a profound impact on my life. He was trying to teach me about Jesus, and he did that plenty. But on top of that, without trying he taught me to speak in public and without knowing he taught me to pray. He’s a legend!

This is his answer to my question, “Why are you a Christian?”

james - why

Why am I a Christian?


Ok, that’s a bit of a cheat, that’s more of an answer to the question “Why are you still a Christian”. Originally I was a Christian because of the sense of love and adventure that I heard came from following Jesus. Even before that, it was because my family took me to Church, though on my part it was a slightly frustrated “can we go home now and watch Batman” kind of way. I missed out on a lot of Children’s Sunday Morning Telly.

It was hearing from people who considered God to be active now, and that he was interested in me that pulled me into making faith my own. I was supported by an excellent local youth group.

So why do I say habit?

Even if you are not a Christian I guess that you have read Dave’s blog (among other things) and it is clear that Christianity is not a smooth road. (Or maybe it is a smooth road but the vehicles we are travelling in are not in the best repair?)

I had a period where not only did God seem to be silent, but the activities of the church looked to be outright harmful. I couldn’t see God at work anywhere, and faith just seemed to be making life hard for people. I was re-evaluating all my experience up to that point, and re-evaluating it downwards. My only act of worship was to drag my grouchy miserable carcass along to a Church on Sundays. The songs tasted of ash, the preaching was clear but meaningless. The people were nice, but it’s not like I don’t know nice people who don’t know Jesus. (Double negative followed by a negative. Take that grammar!) I struggled to see why anyone would want to be a Christian.

It was Habit that kept me “in.” It was so ingrained that Church on Sunday is what I did, I couldn’t not go. And I hit a point where it felt that all I had left was habit. But it slowly dawned on me that habit could be good in itself. Not just the attending church, but other behaviours I had picked up on the way and that I still practiced because they were habits. These habits impacted how I treated others, even if the emotion was not always totally there.

Habit kept me in a place where I could start to hear (faintly) God speaking again. Habit eventually took me to a place where I could begin to see again why someone might want be Jesus’ Disciple. And habit kept me returning to a place where I could (even faintly) hear from the one who preached such incredible outrageous things like “Love Your Enemy”. Without the habits, I probably would have just wandered off.

“Love Your Enemy”? That’s nuts. I want to know a God who not only taught that, but lived it as well.

Ok, so why am I a Christian? Love. Why am I still a Christian? Love. And Habit. And Jesus.

Brilliant stuff! Thank you James for writing this. If you have any questions for James, or thoughts on what he shared, drop them in the box below. I know he’ll want to see. If you want to see the rest of the answers I’ve had so far, check them out here.

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