I think a lot about the importance of living well in every tense—specifically, past, present, future, and present-future tenses. Here, I would like to think out loud, applying this concept to the practice of evangelism, one of the critical skills of well-qualified church planters.
Before I became a follower of Jesus, I was quite a rebellious iconoclast. It was the era of the Vietnam War, and I was particularly hostile towards the military. But soon after I submitted my will to God’s will, a man and his wife, both Marines, moved in next door. I shared Jesus with them, and they, and even their children, became Christians. Their baptism as a family still stands among the best days of my life. Not only was a family healed and made whole, but the event, as I understood it, was also an act of hilarious, heavenly forgiveness for my own rebellious past. To some people, it is unfathomable that there is a God who will forgive them of all of the wrongs they have ever committed. Likewise, it is difficult for others to forgive those who have wronged them, and they remain bitter. Christ taught us to pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those do wrong to us.” This is such a precious aspect of evangelism—good for us personally and good for the world.
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Some people especially need to trust God to be their “here and now” provider. They (we) are so used to leaning on their own abilities, strength, influence, and powerful relationships that they have never really needed to rely on anything outside of themselves. God as provider can be a difficult concept for self-reliant people who have a strong work ethic. He wants us to trust that He will give us our daily bread. What a relief it is to know that there is something more reliable than our own merits to see us through the day. Present tense also means living incarnationally. Christ in us truly is the hope of glory. He really is made known through the transformed lives of people who choose to follow Him. In the present tense, Christ helps us to live holy lives and is able to keep us from temptation and evil. That’s the kind of life that helps influence others to follow Him too. With Jesus as Lord, it is possible to live well, to live as a reliable witness in the present tense.
Yes. Most of our evangelistic training helps us to accept Jesus so that someday when we die we can enter heaven. An amazing gift! But the future tense of evangelism is even better than that. His kingdom will come, His will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Someday, everything that is broken will be fixed— Jesus saves it all. This is incredible news for people who are already committed to saving something—trees, whales, tigers, or whatever. Empowered by Christ and enabled through prayer, the story of salvation begins to take root on this side of heaven, with a promise for future completion.
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The concept of sustainability is becoming more crucial than ever before. It means that the act of doing something now makes things better, instead of worse, for our own future and that of the next generation. The idea spans various arenas. In ecology, it means not raping the earth’s resources so that the planet is healed and not increasingly more damaged. In the area of health, it means preventative care, not merely the treatment of illnesses. In family life, it refers to parents who want better lives for their children than they experienced.
Think stewardship. In church planting, a major evangelistic thrust is around harvesting “low hanging fruit”—utilizing sifting methodologies that help discover people most ready to experience transformation in Christ. Great! But what about also sowing new seeds in places and among peoples where we ourselves may never harvest? Believing that there are fields that are “white unto harvest,” we continually engage the harvest fields. However, let us practice kingdom stewardship and not diminish the opportunities belonging to future generations. Let us not forsake the task of sowing.
Evangelism is a task to be completed in all four tenses.
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