This past Sunday, our church had the privilege of hearing from guest speaker Greg Laurie. He's the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship out in California (one of the largest churches in the US), and a prolific evangelist. First we saw a short film that recounts his life story (after watching it, I'll be shocked if I don't wind up reading the book), then he gave a message from Luke 15 and gave an altar call. Here are a few of my thoughts...
1) Greg's story is really amazing. Without getting into too many details, it's hard to imagine a worse childhood - his mother was married at least seven different times (I believe he was from the 4th marriage, when she was still in her early 20's), she was a drunk, there was abuse, Greg had to stop one of her boyfriends from killing her, etc. With so many people blaming their parents/culture for their sins today, or believing that children always necessarily turn out as they are raised (good or bad), it's a good reminder that this is just a general principle, not an absolute rule.
Yes, the sins of the fathers are often visited on their descendants. Yes, good and godly parenting often produces good and godly children. But not always. Sometimes parents can do everything right, and the kid turns out to be a jerk anyway. And sometimes even with the worst parenting imaginable, God intervenes and turns the family around.
2) The way Greg was converted is truly convicting and awesome. He had become a hippie, and in high school he'd been doing some severe drugs. And he didn't care about God in the least. But he did have a crush on this girl who had become a Christian, and she'd gotten involved with the "Jesus movement" at school. So one day at lunch, the group was meeting out on the courtyard, and Greg sat close enough to keep an eye on the girl without being a part of the Jesus meeting.
Then the strangest thing happened. The leader started reading scripture, and explaining what it said. Greg wasn't paying attention, until something caught his ear: "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters" (Mat 12:30). Not a verse you're likely to find in any evangelistic material. But one that cut him straight to the heart and brought him to repentance. Within a matter of days, he went from pothead Christ-mocking rebel to vocal Christian.
And what brought that radical change about? Nothing but the word of God. Not a message dressed up in relevance, not an attempt to appeal to things he liked, not someone trying to infiltrate his culture, just a man faithfully proclaiming God's word. He just overheard one verse, and the conviction it brought completely changed his life. I feel like there's a lesson in there somewhere...
3) After his conversion, one of the other believers invited him to church. They went to a place called Calvary Chapel, led by a man named Chuck Smith. A lot of the members were converted hippies, youthful, rebellious, not trusting anyone over 30. And this is the guy who led them. That picture doesn't look too much different from the ones of him in the 70's - he was a bald, older dumpy white guy in a suit or polo shirt, with hundreds of long-haired hippies listening to him.
How? How is such a thing possible? After all, nary a day goes by without me reading about how if we want to reach a certain culture, we need to immerse in it. If we want to reach artists, we need to become artists. If we want to reach goths, it'll never happen unless we dress and act and talk like goths. Yet here was a guy who looked like everything the hippies would oppose, yet God used him to bring hundreds of them to faith and repentance. How? Here's a hint: in every clip of him that was shown, he was reading from his Bible. It seems that maybe, just maybe, the key isn't to become more 'relevant', but to faithfully preach the message that applies to all men everywhere at all times, that transcends all racial, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic barriers, and proclaims the greatest problem we face and God's perfect solution.
Nah. Never get a book deal like that. Who would believe that God's word is actually more imminently relevant than our hairstyles and musical tastes? I must be a crazy fundie or something.
4) Now, about the altar call and invitation. I know these things are controversial and all, but if done properly, they can be very useful and mitigate against the dangers (i.e. false assurance). So anyway, I remember the first time I was at Harvest for one, and frankly it should be its own "Why I Love James MacDonald" post. He was finishing his message and giving the challenge, and started like he was going to do the "every head bowed, eyes closed" thing... then stopped and said "Forget that - every head up, eyes open, look around. If you want to claim to follow Christ, you do it publicly and let everyone know!" Amen to that! No more of these 'I'll just slip my hand up while nobody's looking and I'll be covered' phony professions of 'faith', please. If you're even the least bit sincere, letting the people around you know is the very least you can do.
So anyway, this weekend Greg Laurie gave the invitation to submit to Jesus. He did the typical way, which would've been really disappointing had I not known what was coming. After that, the challenge was issued - if you professed faith, come on down! As he put it, "Put feet to your faith." If you are ashamed to come up front and be seen, that's a really good sign your faith isn't genuine and you can't believe you're saved. No doubt just that simple act caused a few false professors to drop out only a few seconds into their supposed new life in Christ. And no doubt they are better off for it - better to have your 'faith' proved phony right away rather than be deluded about it for no one knows how long.
Next, those who came forward were sent off to meet individually with various ministry leaders - some elders, small group leaders, pastors, etc. Somehow the wife and I were invited to participate as well. We basically met with them just to get a feel for where they stood, make sure they understood what they were doing and its implications, that sort of thing. The aim was to get the point across that this isn't just a one-time purchase of fire insurance. Coming to faith in Christ means submitting to his Lordship in all of life, as long as you live. I pray that this message came across loud and clear, and that these folks are genuine brothers and sisters in Christ gearing up for a life-long journey of sanctification and fruit-bearing communion. The last thing we ever want to do is give someone false assurance, that raising a hand or coming forward or meeting with a counselor, if that's where it ends, is evidence of genuine faith.
5) While I was writing this up, this article came across my RSS. It's James MacDonald's reflections on the news from this weekend, and in the process he lays some serious smack down on the "relevance is everything" crowd. Definitely worth a read. It brings to mind something Phil Johnson has often pointed out - strange how the only 'cultures' worth 'engaging' are the ones they want to be a part of. You never hear one of the relevance warriors talking about engaging the, say, chess team culture, or the Polish polka-dancing culture. No, somehow it's always the cool, edgy cultures that they just need to immerse in. How odd. It's almost like they're less concerned about actually reaching people for Christ, and more in finding a sanctified excuse to do what they really want to do. But.... nah, that couldn't be it. Could it?
2 hours ago