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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Why It's Not Okay For a Christian to Date, Court or Marry a Non-Believer



It's safe to say that the enemy is having a field day in the area of unequal yokes (believers becoming romantically entangled with non-believers.) I would go as far as to suggest that it is the biggest danger and strongest area of temptation a Christian can face, especially for younger people. I hear it all the time and the list of reasons is extensive. 

I succumbed as a teenager, so I’m also speaking from personal experience. After a painful break-up with a Christian, and having just been baptised, declaring my faith publicly, I fell in dramatic fashion. A man who seemed to be exactly what I was looking and hoping for appeared suddenly on the scene when I was still reeling and hurt from what had gone before. The only problem, he wasn’t a believer, well, not yet anyway, but that would change, wouldn’t it?

Determined that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes as so many of my peers, and thinking my situation was somehow different, I ignored the advice of everyone. I persuaded him to come to church with me. I resisted making the relationship official knowing what the Bible says about these things. But, my heart was committed and I was emotionally attached. I was walking the danger line and it was just a matter of time before I veered over the edge.

Six years later, my life a broken mess and a string of relationships with non-believers behind me, I woke up. I decided that enough was enough. Knowing the way home, I repented of my many sins, and returned to a patient and gracious God. That was twelve years ago, but, things could have been very different if I had heeded the warnings in Scripture or listened to those who were trying to get through to me. My life could also have been very different if I had married one of those men.

Let me ask you, do you recognise any of these? They may be spoken aloud or remain hidden in the heart:

·         “I’m the only Christian he knows. How will he be saved if I break up with him?”
·         “She was brought up in the church and our views are almost the same.”
·         “He’s from a good Christian family, his mother and sister are Christians.”
·         “God has told me that she is the one.”
·         “She’s willing to wait until we are married.”
·         “We’re just friends, I’m praying for her.”
·         “He’s been coming to church with me. I think he’s nearly ready.”
·         “Why would God have allowed our paths to cross if we weren’t meant to be together?”
·         “My pastor says it’s okay as long as we don’t have sex.”
·         “That Bible passage isn’t talking about romantic relationships.”
·         “I just have an inner sense that we are meant to be together.”
·         “I don’t think I’ll meet anyone else and I want to have a family.”
·         “My friends really like her, she fits in.”
·         “Everyone is getting married, I don’t want to be lonely.”
·         “I’ve waited for God and He hasn’t delivered, I’ll have to make my own happiness.”
·         “God can’t expect me to be alone forever.”
·         “My church leader said that sometimes God makes allowances.”
·         “I know of a couple where it worked out and he became a Christian. They are very happy”
·         “He is more moral than a lot of Christian people I know.”
·         “The Bible doesn’t apply to us today. Things have moved on.”
·         “She supports my faith and thinks it’s a good thing.”
·         “God knows my weaknesses and He will forgive me.”
·         “God wouldn’t want me to break the commitment I have made to marry her.”
·         “Once we’re married everything will be okay, she will believe because she loves me.”
·         “My situation is different and I know things will work out.”
·         “He accepts my faith and doesn’t want me to change.”
·         “We’re saved by grace, remember? God loves me too much to deny me this relationship.”
·         “My faith is strong enough to endure the temptation, I won’t fall away.”
·         “But, I love him and can’t imagine my life with anyone else.”

There are surely others that you have heard or maybe even wrestled with yourself. The devil has perfected his strategy having dealt with many subjects over the years.  He whispers lies and takes us captive to the feelings and emotions that are racing in our hearts and minds. It’s practically impossible to be objective when we are already in the situation.

All sorts of Christians, from all different backgrounds, with perfectly good intentions have slipped into sin by listening to one or more of the lies listed above. If we tell ourselves something often enough, we start to believe it, whether or not it is the truth. We can dull our conscience until the guilt that kept us awake at night becomes a dull ache and then fades away almost completely. Not totally though, provided we are really saved, there will still be a sense that things are not quite right. Believe it or not, that is God’s grace, reminding us that we cannot be satisfied or fulfilled without Him even though He has been temporarily side-lined.

I cannot address those who don’t believe the Bible or who don’t see it as authoritative. Those people have more serious issues and cannot be called Christians in any real sense. Take away the Bible and there is no foundation for faith. The Bible is God’s Word and we should seek to obey it.

If you do take the Bible seriously, you need to know that it is clear on the subject of relationships between believers and non-believers. In 2 Corinthians 6 vs 14-16:

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (ESV)

I think John MacArthur’s comments on this passage are helpful here;

“This passage identifies two opposing worlds.  The terminology is clear.  One of those worlds is marked by righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the presence of God.  The other is marked by lawlessness, darkness, Satan, unbelievers, and the presence of false gods.  And these two worlds are utterly different and distinct, so much so that they are mutually exclusive. 

They cannot work together in common partnership; they cannot fellowship together.  They are not in harmony with one another.  One is old; the other is new.  One is earthly; the other is heavenly.  One is deadly; the other is life giving.  One is wicked; the other holy.  One is built on lies; the other is all truth.  One perishes and the other lives eternally.” (https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/47-45)

Personally, I never considered the arguments that the Bible passage didn’t apply or that God meant something different. I knew what the Bible said and that my decision to have a relationship with a non-believer was displeasing to Him, so I just stayed away from the church. Ultimately, I became a prodigal.

I wasn’t guilty of hypocrisy by claiming to live a Christian life—those that do are not just harming themselves but are also damaging the integrity of the church in the eyes of the world. Don’t claim to be a Christian if you are living in wilful disobedience and don’t try to justify yourself by blaming God. That’s what the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were doing and they were severely rebuked for it.

What about the occasional story about couples where one party was converted later than the other? From a different perspective, does God ever bless disobedience? The answer to that question is a definite “no.” So, those who believe that they have somehow been brought together by God and that He would have them disobey a clear command in Scripture are wrong.

There are instances where God is gracious to a person and brings good out of bad. He may forgive our wrong choices and use us anyway, but there are always consequences. Nine times out of ten, or maybe ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the non-believer ends up drawing the Christian away from Christ.

There are many sins in the mix in these situations but the main one is idolatry. We are placing a person ahead of our relationship with God. It is easy to become blind to the reality and irrational—the enemy makes us think that we must be with that person and it becomes the most important priority in our lives. Is another human being ever really that incredible, or have we been drawn into a fantasy world?

We forget that we serve a good God who loves us and knows the desires of our hearts. That He is all powerful and more than capable of leading us to the right marriage partner at the right time. We attempt to do God’s work for him and make a mess of it. We are impatient and impulsive and forget that our hearts are sinful and lead us astray. We think that we can handle it and that we know what we are doing. We place ourselves on God’s throne and suffer the consequence.

God’s commands are there for our benefit and protection. He didn’t make them up to ruin our fun or for the sake of it. Think of the long-term consequence of becoming emotionally entangled or even married to a non-believer; 

  • Unless they see the truth, the partner you love is on their way to hell
  • What about your children? How can you teach them the right way if you are divided
  • Your priorities, values, focus and purpose in life will be fundamentally different
  • Your hobbies, holidays and use of time will be at odds with each other 
  • There may be arguments about financial priorities, career prospects, gender roles
  •  In time, there will be fights about church, personal devotions, beliefs, the Bible 
  •  Guilt—a nagging sense that you have sinned and are trapped in the situation
  • Different views about love, marriage and relationships
  • The loss of the opportunity for unity in a marriage with God at the centre
  • Greater likelihood of divorce—a marriage that is divided from the outset may fail
  • The church in disarray as disobedience is seen as the norm and others follow the example 
  •  God is grieved and your relationship with Him is damaged

Again, I’m sure there are many more that only those who have suffered through them will know.

This post is really a warning to those that are not yet married not to fall into the enemy’s trap. Don’t shut out the voices of those who care about you or isolate yourself from other believers. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn away from your church family thinking you and your partner can go it alone. Listen to the advice of Christians who have made mistakes and heed what they say. You are not invincible and your situation is not different. Talk to your church leader by all means, but if they tell you something that contradicts the Bible, you must obey God rather than men. They will have to give account for their carelessness.

This is not a message about Christian dating, so I’m not going to offer suggestions in that area. I will just say, that it is better to be single than to be with the wrong person, and then either end up falling away from God, or in the middle of a messy divorce a few years down the line. 

Wait and pray, if God has someone for you, you can be sure that He will bring that person along when the time is right.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

10 Suggestions for Evangelism



I know lots of people who want to share the Gospel but either don’t know where to start or are afraid of taking the first step. I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas or methods that can be used. There are some big suggestions that may be daunting. But, also, some more discreet approaches. Some are things you can do individually, others are for a church group or in partnership with a church. 

There is no “one size fits all” and no method that will necessarily be more effective than another. God chooses when to open a person’s heart and draw them to Him. Our job as Christians is to be faithful in planting the seed. Most importantly we need to pray about every contact with a non-believer.

  • Choosing and Distributing Tracts. A tract is a small leaflet containing a Gospel message. It can be on a particular topic or theme. There are good tracts and bad ones. Colourful or unusual looking tracts can be effective because they get a person’s attention. Ideally, choose tracts that clearly present the Gospel with at least one Bible verse—it is the Word of God that convicts. Some organisations offer sample tract packs—LivingWaters or Birmingham Gospel Outreach. If you don’t like any of the available tracts, you can create your own and even include your testimony. But, don’t make it too long and it’s a good idea to ask a church leader to check it over. Take tracts with you wherever you go and leave them in public places—trains, restaurants after a meal, shopping malls, libraries etc. If you are feeling bold you can write an email address for further contact. You could also give a tract to someone after a conversation. It’s always a good idea to say something about what it is if you do that. 
 
  • Door to Door. I know a church that uses a detailed street map of their town to plan their evangelism. A small team meets once a week for prayer, they then take tracts and church leaflets and put them through every door on every street detailed on the map. They have covered the entire town and started again with a new tract which means that every person in their area has had the opportunity to read the Gospel. It is also non-confrontational. Always make sure there are details if someone wants to ask further questions or to go to a church. 
 
  • Social Media. The internet has created opportunities to reach people around the world, even in closed countries. Make sure your social media profiles reflect your Christian faith. You could put Bible verses prominently on your pages or post them to walls. Like and share Christian posts. Write your own testimony and share it. Read and review Christian books and recommend them online, try to be honest! Don’t hide your faith online, make it obvious that you are different and try to bring biblical values into discussions. The Christian Institute deals with a wide-range of issues that impact Christians in the UK. Read and share their posts and consider supporting their work. 

  • Prison Writing and Visiting. The Bible specifically reminds us to remember those who are in prison. There are Christian organisations that facilitate contact with prisoners—Daylight Christian Prison Trust  and Prison Fellowship. Sign up as a volunteer and write letters to prisoners around the world. If there is a prison near your church, consider asking your church leader if you could organise regular visits to build relationships with the prisoners. The biggest need is usually for practical help on release from prison, make sure your church plans for this.

  • Street Evangelism. This is probably the most well-known form of evangelism and the most feared! But it doesn’t need to be confrontational. You could be a supporter—join a team preaching on the street and stand in the crowd ready to answer questions or to discuss what the preacher is saying with those watching. You could even just give out tracts to those nearby. Setting up a small book-table is a good way to start conversations and distribute Christian literature especially with the sad demise of many Christian bookshops. If you are led by God, get involved in the preaching yourself. It’s good to join with others and to be linked with a local church for follow-up with enquirers. Make sure you obtain permission from authorities for public spaces. There are Open Air Missions you could join or take a trip to a Speaker’s Corner. 

  • Personal Contacts. These are the people you already know through daily life—relatives, friends, neighbours, work-colleagues. They may be the most difficult group to witness to because they know you, have seen your ups and downs and you could risk losing the relationship. But, they are actually the people that you bear the most responsibility to witness to. You might be the only Christian they know--make sure your lifestyle and decision-making reflects Jesus. Try inviting them to a special event at church or include a Bible verse or tract in a card for a Birthday or Christmas. Offer them a Christian book that deals with an issue they are facing. It may not be necessary to keep hammering them over the head with the Gospel, but it’s really important that they hear or read it clearly at least once through your contact.  

  • Coffee Shop Outreach. There are a lot of churches now that have places where people can talk to a Christian informally. Sometimes these places sell books or host a small library which could be good for starting conversations. Independent bookshops are disappearing but church shops usually operate on a not for profit basis due to being charitable. You could get involved in this friendship evangelism or ask your church to consider beginning a ministry for this purpose. A lot of people have problems and need someone to listen, but face to face contact is being lost due to the unstoppable march of technology. People are lonely, give your time. 

  • Write a Book! Not everyone will have the ability, motivation or time to do this but it can be a great way to get the Gospel out there and to make people think about issues from a Christian perspective. Alternatively, start a book club with some friends or work colleagues and when it is your turn to choose, be bold and opt for a Christian one. Plan what you will say in the subsequent discussion to make the best use of the opportunity. 

  • Become an Online Evangelist. There are organisations that recruit online missionaries and evangelists. I volunteer for Need Him (formerly Groundwire.) We chat online to people all around the world who have questions about faith or who need spiritual advice. It is anonymous, there is training and a team leader oversees the conversations. If you have a few hours a week to spare, sign up now! 

  • Missions. Those who are called into long term mission work probably won’t need to read a post suggesting basic ways to evangelise! Short-term missions can be a good option for people who want to test the water. However, they can seriously damage long term work that is already taking place if they are not planned properly. That is part of a larger discussion, but the golden rule for STM’s is to make sure that you partner effectively with either a church or with long term workers on the ground that know what they are doing. Choose a mission that includes evangelism or if it is a specific practical project, that is facilitating future evangelism. Remember that help without hope is the ultimate tragedy.

I hope this list is useful and has given you some new ideas. Feel free to make suggestions as there are a lot of other ways to share the Gospel. Innovation can also be exciting. God created us all differently so maybe your idea will start a trend! In an adaptation of a quote from Chinua Achebe:

“If you don’t like someone else’s idea then come up with your own.”


 Matthew 28 vs 18-20
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”