All posts by Stephen

Do You Ask Good or Bad Questions?

Last Sunday, we concluded a sermon series on evangelism. I do pray this will be a turning point in our church becoming more evangelistic, and seeing more people saved. May this not be the end, but rather the beginning of a new culture of evangelism in our lives and in the church.

When preaching on “The Conversation of an Evangelist” a few weeks ago, I shared several ways to have more fruitful, gospel-centered conversations, as Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch.

During that message, I shared several tips for asking good questions, and promised I would send it out to everyone. As you can see, one of the keys to evangelism is becoming a better listener. Here’s the list for any blog readers interested…

NINE TIPS FOR ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS

By Will Metzger, Tell the Truth

1. Take every possible chance to ask a searching question, then keep quiet.

2. One thoughtful question is worth a dozen interrogative ones. The prod-and-pry approach makes people clam up.

3. Questions that come close to people’s true interests get the best answers, provided we are interested.

4. Be prepared to wait. Sometimes a long silence can be more rewarding than another question.

5. In every case, the quality of an answer depends on the quality of attention given by the questioner.

6. Questions must spring from honest inquiry, not from attempts at flattery or efforts to manipulate people’s thinking.

7. Questions that deal with people’s feelings are more provocative than those that deal with facts. Listen for and encourage all expressions of feeling.

8. What is our motive in asking questions? Are we just leading people on in order to argue or to trap them, or do we really care for them?

9. Ask questions to help people tell their story, not just about what interests you or things you want clarified.

“Only a listening, loving heart can remove the mask we all wear”

Question: What kind of questions help you have gospel conversations with unbelievers?

Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Advantages of a Small Church

My wife and I both grew up in small churches, and I pastor one now. I’ve long felt they are overlooked and misunderstood in ministry training and support.

Most small churches, I think, struggle with an inferiority complex, looking with a certain degree of envy at their “big brother” down the street (or on YouTube, or the radio, or conferences). Big churches appear successful (“They must be doing something right to attract all those people!”). Small churches draw looks of sympathy.

But let us not forget the majority of churches in America, and throughout church history, have been small churches. It appears Christ will always accomplish a large amount of kingdom work through small churches.

In a 2014 Shepherds Conference workshop entitled “Small Church: Big Impact,” Lance Quinn shared several advantages to a small church. These include:

• Small churches should be able to do a few things well.
• They are able to more effectively know and care for the entire body.
• They can more effectively practice the one-another’s of scripture.
• They can be easier to manage due to a lack of complexity.
• It is possible to know and affirm leaders in a more intimate way.
• They can be a close-knit body of prayer warrior.

Question: Do you agree with these points? What advantages would you add to the list?

When Heaven Celebrates

Jesus tells three stories of lost items – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, better known as the prodigal son.

Each of these parables capture the perilous condition of the unbeliever as “lost,” but also the inexpressible joy in heaven when a person repents.

Luke 15:10 says “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This suggests that angels and saints in heaven rejoice when a person is saved. But more importantly, it teaches that God himself celebrates every time an unbeliever turns from sin and trusts in Jesus.

What a thought! God loves to save people! Are we equally enthusiastic?

Our church is starting a summer series on evangelism that will teach us how to overcome fear and share our faith, with the goal that God would be glorified and more people in our community would be saved. I invite you to follow along online.

The first sermon, “When Heaven Celebrates,” is now available for free download from our church podcast.

Summer Conferences

I’ve noticed there are several great conferences coming up this summer that may interest you. Here’s a list with links to more information. Although I didn’t include it on this list, you may also want to attend the SBC Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting in Phoenix on June 11-14.

Discovering the God of the Bible
Los Angeles, CA – June 9-10
Featuring John MacArthur, Robert Godfrey, and more. Topics include God’s sovereignty, holiness, love, etc.

Great Homeschool Convention
Ontario, CA – June 15-17
Topics: homeschool 101, classical learning, homeschooling teens, planning for college, etc. plus a huge exhibit hall

Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World
Nashville, TN – August 24-26
Topics: raising counter-cultural kids, addressing the problem of porn, championing adoption and foster care, etc.

Biblical Counseling Conference
Laguna Hills, CA – Three weekends available: Aug 25-26, Sep 22-23, Oct 27-28
Topics: how to change, key elements of counseling, issues of the heart, common counseling problems, etc.

Photo credit: Hubspot

From Sadness to Gladness

Last Sunday, we had the joy of observing both Christian ordinances – baptism and the Lord’s supper. It was an extra special day for me because I got to baptize Heidi and watch her share her testimony before the congregation.

I don’t always preach topically on a holiday, but since it was Mother’s Day and we are in-between sermon series right now, I chose to preach on Psalm 113:9, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!”

This passage captures the heartache of barrenness, but also the redemptive love of God, and the power of answered prayer. I was struck how a childless mother illustrates the theme of “great reversal” woven throughout scripture.

It is a painful topic, yet it reminds us God will one day wipe away our tears and correct every injustice. The same God who is “high above all nations” (verse 4) also “raises the poor from the dust” (verse 7).

I loved this note in The ESV Study Bible: “God’s majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful.” Praise God that he is both transcendent and immanent!

Sunday’s sermon “From Sadness to Gladness” is now available for free download from our church podcast.

Practical Implications of Calvinism

I came across an interesting article this week on Some Practical Implications of Calvinism.

The label Calvinism can be confusing at times so I generally avoid it and prefer the phrase “doctrines of grace.” Calvinism basically teaches that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. It recognizes we are dead in our sins and that God is the one who initiates and causes us to be saved by his Holy Spirit, apart from any human effort or will.

I personally believe this is what Jesus taught as well as the Apostle Paul. But it became known as Calvinism because it was popularized by the 16th century reformer John Calvin. He thought it through quite carefully and explained it in his commentaries and his multi-volume theology, The Institutes.

Anyway, I liked this article and thought you might enjoy it too. It shows how the doctrines of grace should drive us to humility and an evangelistic zeal, rather than arrogance and indifference toward the lost.

Tom Hicks lists the following nine implications of Calvinism:

1. Calvinism gives us confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency.

2. Calvinism helps calm our anxieties.

3. Calvinism helps prevent us from trying to control others.

4. Calvinism teaches us to love unconditionally.

5. Calvinism makes us bold to obey the Lord.

6. Calvinism supports a heart for missions.

7. Calvinism fosters deep humility.

8. Calvinism undergirds our assurance of salvation.

9. Calvinism leads us to worship.

You can read the whole thing here.

Which of these do you find most helpful, or perhaps even surprising?

Firstborn From the Dead

Every baseball is made with exact specifications. 108 red stitches woven in a trademark figure-eight pattern. A horsehide or cowhide cover. Then a series of independent windings of yarn that, if held end-to-end, would stretch the length of almost four football fields. Near the center of the ball are layers of red and black rubber, and then, in the very middle, is a cork core, roughly the size of a bouncy ball you’d get out of a gumball machine.

You’ll probably never see the inside of a baseball while it is in play, but it could be said what is inside that sphere is what makes the entire game of baseball possible. One could even argue it is the most important part of the game.

If we could draw a spiritual lesson, it would be this: what is at the center of your life is the most important thing about you. Last Sunday, we explored this theme from Colossians 1.

According to the Apostle Paul, the central focus of our lives and of the church must be Jesus Christ. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…he is the head…that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col. 1:17-18).

This profound passage was likely an early church hymn, and provided much encouragement for us on Easter Sunday. We learned that Jesus is firstborn from the dead (the hope and firstfruits of our own resurrection), and because of that fact, he deserves to rule at the core of our lives.

The message is now available for free download via our church podcast page.

Sale on Bruce and Moo NT Commentaries

Logos Bible Software just concluded their March Madness competition, and the winners this year are Doug Moo and FF Bruce.

For a limited time, you can buy Dr. Bruce’s works at 60% off retail price, and Dr. Moo’s at 70% off retail price. Some great deals especially on commentaries. If you are interested in building a digital library I would highly recommend:

· Hard Sayings of the Bible

· NICNT Acts

· NICNT Romans

· NICNT Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians

· Pillar NTC Colossians and Philemon

· NICNT Hebrews

· Pillar NTC James

· NIVAC 2 Peter and Jude

· Canon of Scripture

People often think Logos is too expensive to get started, but you can buy the Logos Starter library for less than $200 (even lower with Academic discount). Payment plans are also available to spread the cost over several months.

The Lost Art of Listening

“My wife said I never listen to her… At least I think that’s what she said.”

The quip would be funny if it wasn’t so true. Many of us have lost the ability to listen.

Cable news has replaced thoughtful analysis with senseless shouting. Universities have substituted civil dialogue with violent protests. If our nation is to live up to its name and once again be the “United States,” we must rediscover the art of listening. Here are three keys to better listening.

1. Listening must be cultivated. King Solomon introduced his son to the idea of “making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2). What a concept! Talk is easy; listening is hard. We love to make our voice heard. Listening, on the other hand, takes discipline. It involves humbling ourselves, admitting there may information we still lack, or an alternate perspective we can benefit from. In the rare times we do listen, we tend to surround ourselves with people who think and act just like us, re-enforcing our own biases. But that’s not necessarily listening. We must also be willing to engage opposing viewpoints, to avoid stereotypes, and to look for areas of common ground. God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Maybe that’s because he wants us to spend twice as much time listening as talking.

2. Listening must be compassionate. It is a simple expression of Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” When we listen, we are trying to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Our first goal is not to win an argument; it’s to understand the other side. Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests there are five levels of listening. Lower stages include hearing a voice, but only pretending to listen. Or practicing selective listening while forming a rebuttal. But true listening is empathetic listening. It is listening with an intent to understand, to get inside their frame of reference and understand them both intellectually and emotionally. That’s true listening.

3. Listening must be critical. Not mean-spirited, but with discernment. Learn to be a critical thinker. “Test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). I think some people are afraid to listen because they think listening is the same as agreement. But the two are not the same. When listening, we’re just trying to better understand the other person, and giving them the same respect we’d ask them to give us. Hear them out. It may even be helpful to ask follow-up questions, or re-phrase their statement into our own words to make sure we heard it right. Only then can we decide whether we agree or disagree with their viewpoint, and why.

As a Christian, my only reliable source of truth is the Bible. It’s the gold standard by which all truth claims must be judged. So a helpful follow up question to ask is, “What does the Bible say?” Like the Berean church in Acts 17:11, we should examine the scriptures daily, to see if these things are so. The more we get to know our Bibles, the better we can navigate the murky waters of ideas and competing worldviews.

Cultivate a listening ear. Be compassionate. Think critically. If we all practice these keys to better listening, perhaps we’ll see a bit of civility restored to public discourse.

Today’s post first appeared in the Thursday edition of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.

Photo credit: Olaf Meyer via Flickr

Leave Your Mark

Few things bring more joy than watching young people worship the Lord.

A couple weeks ago, we had a “Youth Recognition Sunday” at church, with our youth group providing the scripture reading, meditation on the attributes of God, and special music. This was completely the idea of our youth leaders, and I’m so thankful they did it!

Since we just completed our study through the Gospel of Mark, I decided to bring a message geared directly at our young people — encouraging them not to squander these years of singleness, but rather to be an example to the rest of the body of Christ.

I didn’t get a chance to say it during the message, but this passage became a kind of “life verse” for me and Natalie during our dating years in college. It helped us stay pure and kept our focus on the Lord as we walked through life together and moved steadily toward marriage. As both a pastor and husband, it has become a special portion of Scripture to me.

The sermon “Leave Your Mark” is now available on our church podcast, or you can listen using the media player below.