Archive for the ‘Witness’ Category

I Don’t Believe In That God Either

August 7, 2017

“I don’t believe in God.”

“Tell me about the god you don’t believe in.”

“Oh, I don’t believe in that god, either.”

Gene Appel (Eastside Christian Church, Orange County, CA) and Andy Stanley (North Point Community Church, suburban Atlanta) have each done a teaching series on the topic. Yesterday I heard another take on the subject rolling up an entire series into one talk.

You know, you have what I have called the “Great Vending Machine in the Sky” God. Granted James tells us (and it’s in several other places as well) that if you ask with enough faith, you’ll receive. But what happens when you drop in your four quarters, press the buttons, and the bag gets stuck against the window. You can see it, but you can’t get it. Now you blame that God and cease to believe.

Or the political god who cares about which political party you vote for. Vote the wrong party and you’re going to hell. Just a personal observation here–I haven’t found either Democrat or Republican in the Bible yet. I’ll keep searching, but after 50 years of study I doubt that I find it. But if you teach that, then you only reach 50% of the people that God wants you to reach–since he wants us to reach out to everyone.

Going back to my conversation–

I love the second sentence. Without threatening, we just try to draw out a conversation about God. 

How many of us would just jump in with a monologue about our god? Then pull out John 3:16 or another favorite verse. And tell them they are going to hell. And then leave. And they thing, there goes yet another judgemental Christian. Why would I want to be like them?

More than 30 years of my career have been devoted to definitions. Even now, I’ll be in an interview with some technology expert and they will throw out a word. I think, Hmm, I think I understand that word, but what does she really mean by it? I’ll say, At the risk of seeming ignorant, what do you mean by that word? 

Often that leads into a wonderful conversation and I get a deep explanation of the topic.

Works with God conversations, too. “Could you describe the god you don’t believe in.” Followed by “Oh, could I tell you about a different God–one who seeks a relationship not a subject.”

Sometimes You Get What You Need

April 17, 2017

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need — The Rolling Stones

The child uses the persuasive and time-honored technique of screaming to get a candy. Mommy buys fruit.

Followers ask their leader if he is finally going to do what they expect. He says no, but he’ll give them something he thinks is better.

Jesus’ followers, talking with him after his resurrection, ask, Well, now that you pulled off this coming back to life thing after suffering a cruel death, are you going to finally put on the king’s robes, grab a sword, and drive the Romans out of Israel. In so doing, are you going to re-establish the line of legitimate kings and also restore the Temple to the glory it knew under Solomon as the dwelling place of God? (see Acts 1:6)

Jesus said, No.

But, I’ll give you something better. You will get the power of the Holy Spirit from God and then you will go around telling people about me–what I did, how I changed your lives, and what I offer to other people. (apologies to Acts 1:7-8)

As Christ-followers, we are living in a post-Easter world.

Maybe we should get over the childish tantrums of arguing over which theology is more correct–even (throughout history) raising armies and fighting to the death among ourselves to prove whose theology is the best, and actually do what Jesus said and accept his gift.

Come Holy Spirit, enter the hearts of your faithful goes the old prayer.

And we’ll tell people about the power that came over us. Not the power to argue a point. The power of living a full and free life. With-God.

Responding To Jesus

January 2, 2017

They were perhaps the most learned men in all of the world. Wealth afforded them the luxury of study. They studied the stars, the meaning of the stars, all the religions of the world, all the science known at the time, all the literature that existed. They had obtained wisdom. They were the Magi.

While observing the movements of stars in the sky, one night an unusual star not seen before ascended. They studied. Discussed. Contemplated. The conclusion–this was the star of a new King of the Jews.

Well, they couldn’t just sit around and contemplate their navels. He was obviously an important king. 

So, they gathered together expensive gifts and started the journey toward the land of the Jews in search of the King.

Eventually they found him. In Bethlehem. They gave him the gifts. They prayed. They wished the family well. They went home without telling anyone, for they had been warned in their dreams to maintain silence.

That is one response–worship, reverence.

Along the way, they stopped by the capital city of the Jews. Someone there surely must know the location of the birthplace of their new king. The current king saw them. When they told him a new king had been born, that upset his plans. That upset him. When King Herod was upset, the whole country was upset. It usually meant someone would die.

Since his scholars told him the birthplace had to be Bethlehem and since the Magi neglected to return to tell him the exact place and family, he responded to Jesus in the way he responded to many things–out of fear and pride. He killed all the male children 2 years of age and under just to assure getting him.

That is another response–fear, jealousy.

There were shepherds earlier in the story. They saw a vision, angels, who told them about the baby. They went. They saw. They told people–not theology about the new king. They just told people the new king had finally been born.

That is another response–spread the word.

What is your response?

Living Faithfully Amidst Secular Neighbors

June 28, 2016

I’m writing this on a plane heading toward “sin city”. A technical conference awaits me. Not the slots, the shows, the girls. I was pretty much a boring geek in high school, and I remain so.

On the other hand, Paul wrote letters to early Jesus-followers who lived in cities just like that (without the lights).

You see, those early Christians knew very well that they were living amidst a secular society. Paul urged them to live so differently that people would be attracted to their way of life. And in so doing, they could attract more disciples of Jesus. Just what we are supposed to be doing.

I have recently become a fan of John Fischer and his daily email The Catch. Yesterday he wrote:

In an article this weekend in The New York Times called “The Bad Faith of the White Working Class,” author J.D. Vance pointed out that the politi cization of the church has led to widespread thinking that the main enemies of our faith are external. The bad guys are all out there – the secularists, the “evil elites,” the Muslims, etc. And while preachers preach against all the evil out there, Christians on the inside are pulling further and further away from the world and more into isolationism and finger-pointing. This isolation and fear of encroachment from the outside and tendency to project complex problems onto simple villains is fueling both the current political campaigns here in America and the decision in Britain to leave the European Union. It is a widespread fear that has gripped the white working class in the Western World that the world as we know it is changing.

This  is true, but pulling in and building walls is not going to stop it. Actually, nothing is going to stop it, and as believers, we need to be better equipped to handle these cultural changes with grace and love. That’s why, here at the Catch, we emphasize the Gospel of Welcome and grace turned outward. God’s arms are open to everyone without discrimination, and the grace we have received, we are eager to extend out toward everyone, everywhere.

So many rural people that I know and associate with think that cities are (or should be) just like the little towns they grew up in. Everyone went to the same church. Maybe one or two families didn’t go to any church and were watched carefully.

But we Jesus-followers have always and throughout history lived in a secular society. People may have nominally belonged to a church because that’s where the social center was (plus you didn’t want to be ostracized in a village of fewer than 1,000 people).

The question we really need to ask is, “Are we living the kind of life that attracts people to Jesus, or are we living the kind of life that repels people?”

That is a crucial question. None of us are perfect. But are we living as forgiven? Or as Pharisees who followed rules and pointed fingers at whoever fails to follow the rules? Let’s see, which ones did Jesus prefer? It’s not a trick question.

Are There People Who Are Not Christians In Your Church?

March 30, 2016

I didn’t mean to miss posting yesterday. We had guests and then we were relaxing and I forgot all about writing. Yes, that’s hard to believe. And, I left at 5:30 am for a meeting on the other side of the state. In Ohio, that’s a 3-hour drive.

Looking at our Easter service and thinking about the early  church growing by attraction, I started to meditate on people in the church. Especially when I see posts on Facebook from people who claim Christianity, but their posts belie that stance. Meaning that there is precious little in what they say that sounds as if it were rooted in the New Testament.

So, I got to wondering, how many people were attracted to come to the church who are not followers of Jesus?

Then I thought, there are two types of these people.

On the one hand would be seekers. They know that they are not followers, but they are attracted enough to find out more. They feel a need and feel there’s something that other people have. So, they come.

On the other hand, there are members or regular attenders. They may even say that they are a member. On a questionnaire, they may even check Christian.

But one wonders. Are they really? As the old saying goes, if you were tried at court for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Well?

So, I wondered. How many people around me are that second type? And why have I not attracted any of the first type?

And, how do my actions stack up?

I’ve been reading in an early “catechism” ascribed to the apostles themselves called the Didache (dee-da-kay). Many chapters are advice on how to live. Makes me wonder–if someone were watching my life unfold, would they know that I’m a follower of Jesus?

Treating Our Fellow Humans Well

February 29, 2016

I have many friends and acquaintances who are followers of Islam. Not one is even remotely a terrorist. Or even a bad person.

One thing I have noticed while reading about how Jesus and Paul treated people–they treated people of all cultures with respect.

Jesus was watched very carefully by the ultra-religious among the Pharisees. Every little thing was commented on. Yet, even in the Jewish  areas where he mainly served, he treated “outsiders” with respect. Think of his healings of Romans. Or the Samaritan woman.

Paul’s ministry was explicitly to people outside the Jewish faith and culture. Yet, he too treated people of other cultures well. Think of his “debate” in Athens pointing out the statue to the unknown god. “I’m here to tell you about that unknown God you’re worshiping. He is real.”

Last week I wrote a plea for more mature relationships among men and women. This week, I’m going even more off the deep end (at least as far as Americans are concerned) by commenting on relations with Muslims.

Someone asked me once about Muslims and Christians worshiping the same God. Certainly Muslims trace their lineage back to Abraham, just as we do. John Fischer on The Catch has been discussing this issue with great sensitivity and understanding.

I’m not going to give an answer to the question. But I know that most of the readers of this blog would be amazed to know just what is in the Quran. And that many Muslims are taught much more about Jesus than many who call themselves Christian.

I don’t believe that Muslims must suddenly become Baptist or Methodist. But I think that it is only a short step to go from their understanding of Jesus to the faith in the resurrection. We only need to present clearly the evidence that Jesus is even greater than they are taught.

My concern for people is not what “church” they call home–if indeed they even have one. My concern is to make disciples of Jesus. Maybe they are Samaritan. Maybe Greek. Maybe Muslim. Maybe Buddhist. Jesus is what is important. And sometimes we lose sight of the basics of the faith.

Humans are born with a longing. Jesus fulfills it. Those of us who are truly disciples try to tell others about that in such a way not to turn them off but to engage and encourage.

Searching for the Authentic and Transparent

February 18, 2016

A couple of Christian musicians were discussing, well, music. One is a professor at a university. He remarked during the conversation that the young people going through university lately enjoy the music of the 70s. They hear songs about authentic relationships and transparent emotions.

I recently discovered the channel called The Bridge on Sirius XM. It plays the 70s folk rock and jazz-type pop music (Billy Joel, Elton John, etc.). I know–you’re aghast that I don’t listen exclusively to Christian music. Well, sorry.

Now, I lived through that era. I used to get my guitar out and sing those songs. But I’d forgotten. When you live through it, you don’t have the context of time. Now I listen, especially after another 4.5 hour drive to Chicago like I did yesterday. The music professor was right. There’s no “let’s jump into bed right away” lyrics. Or lyrics about angst and rebellion. It’s authenticity, transparency, relationship. It’s about real life.

I’ve heard the same thing about worship. “Contemporary praise” music became shallow. Repeat the same words over and over and simulate emotion by waving your hands like at a rock concert (except no lighters or later mobile phone lights). That’s when I quit trying to get the old, battered guitar out and sing praise songs. As Yogi Berra would have said, “There’s no there there.”

Young people, Millennials, are said to be seeking a more transparent, authentic experience in worship and in Christian life than their predecessors. Or, maybe we’ve always been seeking it and the fads of worship leaders took us down a different path.

Are the Christian leaders on the platform authentic and transparent? Or is it just show? I don’t mind guitars and drums. Or organ music. I can enjoy each. Or folk music.

But I feel like the millennials–I crave authentic speakers, leaders, relationships. There are too many glib speakers out there. I find ones who are real to listen to. And authentic service.

I like to say that I’m a Millennial in an aging Boomer body. I doubt that I’m unique. If you’re young, I hope you find your place. For us older people–what are we doing to share the authentic Christian life with that new generation?

Get real!

Dangling Conversations

February 2, 2016

My friend Jim Pinto is an engineer, so he always researches and sometimes overthinks things (as a reader of this blog, does that sound familiar?). He was raised as a Catholic in India. Gives him a perspective on life that I find valuable.

He recently became bored with adult conversations at a gathering. Ever happen to you? Adults usually talk about other people. Or, as they get older, they talk about themselves–their medications, ailments, aches, doctors.

I know that conversations are not listed on Richard J. Foster’s exhaustive list of spiritual disciplines. Think about it for a minute. Are there not times when you could steer conversation intentionally toward new ideas? Toward growth moments? Or even toward spiritual life?

Another friend recently received a cross about two feet high to place in his yard from his church. The idea was that it could be a conversation starter. Someone walks by, sees the cross, asks about it, and you have an opening to talk about church and life with God.

I should mention that he lives in a retirement community in Florida. The first person who walked by asked, “Aww, did your dog die?” The second person asked if someone was killed on the road in an accident. Oh, well. Nice try.

Anyway, back to Jim. Remember him? He was bored with adult conversation and did what I like to do–go talk with the kids. They are enthusiastically learning new things and sharing them. Life is an adventure to them. They get new ideas, try them out, explore them.

Jim things that the generation of teens today (whatever label marketing people are giving them) will change the world for the better. I told him that that’s just what people said about us–the Boomers. We only sort of did that. But the majority also were the “Me Generation” and we can see that in everything from politics to fashion.

I hope he’s right.

But I began to wonder–how many Millennials (say 20 to 35 years old today in my terms) are there in your church? How many are you nurturing? In my case, none. That’s not good.

Then, how are you relating to today’s teens? Are you nurturing and mentoring anyone that age?

I sense that is the task of older people. A generation of church leaders sprang up against much opposition to reach a younger population (think Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley). Are those churches still relevant to the next younger population? Is yours?

Bet we have work to do.

Respond To Others Rather Than Giving Speeches

December 15, 2015

“My wife told me about a situation at work. I told her how to solve it. Now she’s mad at me. What gives?”

“I told him over and over about the gospel, but I can’t seem to make him understand.”

Have you ever heard comments like those or something similar?

I’m following up on yesterday’s post on listening.

Did the wife ask for advice? I doubt it. She’s probably smart enough to work out things. Why treat her like a child?

What would be a better response? Discussion. And Empathy. “Gee, honey, that’s too bad.What are you going to do?” (OK, the actual conversation would be longer, of course.)

Let’s look at evangelizing.

How well has speaking at people worked for you? Not well? Of course not.

Once again, what does the other person want? Did you ask? Are you merely offering simplistic advice? No one appreciates advice.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”

What is that key? Respond. In order to respond properly, first we must listen actively.

He Broke The Walls

December 10, 2015

He knew there were people on the other side of town. But no one from his group ever went there. Rumor was they spoke a different language, didn’t wash, were vicious.

He told the stranger who came to town not to go there. They were violent. Had guns. He’d just get in trouble…or worse.

But the stranger went. He had a mission to see people.

Upon his return, he reported, “They are just like you. They even suspect the same things about you that you suspect about them.”

People are people the world over or the neighborhood over. Hopes, fears, needs, desires. Same feelings of being lost and needing connection with God.

Paul, the apostle, lived that situation. He was often that stranger who went to the outsider group. He found that they were open to learning how to live with God.

He wrote to his friends in Ephesus, “Jesus has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility that is between us.”

What better calling in life than to make it your mission to break down walls. It is easier, of course, to build walls. We feel safer. We can be important in our own little fenced in area.

I was there once. My friends were Catholic. Don’t go to that place, they told me. Those are Protestants. They get into fights and will hurt you. Funny, I was Protestant. I grew up thinking that way about Catholics. Now they were my friends and I was warned about my people.

But it was OK, I told them. They are people, too. And this was Ohio, not Northern Ireland.

Ah, but to break down the wall and invite others to the party. That is the calling.