Archive for the ‘Witness’ Category

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.

Speaking About What We’ve Experienced

November 17, 2015

Coffee lovers have come to the opinion that their drink must be incredibly strong to be good. That is the power of advertising and peer pressure where you go to places that must over-roast their coffees to make up for the variation in the quality of the beans. In process control it’s called compensating for the variables of the input material.

When the quality of the raw material is more carefully controlled which can be the result of the way the coffee is purchased from the farmer, then the roaster is free to bring out the true flavors of the different varieties of the bean. The result is a coffee that is more pleasing to the palate.

We cannot help from speaking about what we have seen and heard. — Peter and John recorded in Acts 4

Christ-followers call it “witnessing.” Originally it meant “speaking about what we have seen and heard.” For us it is speaking from experience.

Sharing an experience is powerful. It is your story. But it is a story that can relate to other people. It is a story pleasing to the palate.

Followers of our faith for centuries have given us a bad name by coming on so strongly like that overpowering cup of coffee. They try to force feed their beliefs–often emphasizing peripheral beliefs ignoring the central belief that we have experienced new life as a Jesus-follower after coming to belief in his resurrection.

I’m thinking about Galatians 5 and Paul’s description of changed lives. And also of the especially powerful first five chapters of Acts.

Think of the growth of the early church and the lives that were changed because they:

  1. Shared what they had experienced
  2. Served others with no thought for themselves or their own well being

And we wonder why we’re not growing and thriving.

Working Hard As Spiritual Discipline

November 5, 2015

When did you discover the value of working hard? Or, did you ever?

For me, it hit me somewhere around age 19. I just coasted through elementary and high school and “earned” from excellent to good grades. Then there was the university. Competition was tough. Classes were tough (and I wasn’t prepared either academically or in maturity for the jump).

Then, duh, I learned to go to class and do the work.

That is a life-long trait. I can relax, but I know the value and benefits of working hard.

Recently I have been listening to Rick Warren. He’s pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA. He’s been discussing living a blessed life (from the Sermon on the Mount, you know, Blessed are the …). Today he was talking about how God expects us to be people of integrity. And one example of integrity is to work hard. If someone is paying you for a day’s labor, then give that person your undivided attention and focus on the work.

Work becomes a Spiritual Discipline if done with the right attitude and focus.

Hard work also becomes a witness. I heard a story from a business man in a developing country. His example, his hiring practices, and his treatment of employees with the highest ethics served as a witness bringing many people into discipleship with Jesus.

Warren said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could say I hire Christians because they always work hard and have the highest ethics.”

Bringing our spiritual life into all facets of our life is the most important thing we can do.

Prepare To Meet Thy God

November 3, 2015

I was driving some back country roads this evening on my way to dinner. Passed by a small country church with a sign about as big as the church. “Prepare To Meet Thy God” it proclaimed.

Do you also get the feeling that that comment is an in-your-face remark? The picture of a black-bearded, black-suited, black string bow-tie wearing, finger waving, American country preacher springs to mind?

Maybe I get that image because I know so many people that way. It may be a caricature. But unfortunately, the phrase just strikes me that way.

Many of those “bumper-sticker” phrases do. There is something impersonal about them. It’s like shouting at someone. Not like conversing with someone.

Maybe that is my problem. This should be personal–not something shouted out.

I remember meeting God. It was personal. And life-changing. In the quiet of meditation, the experience was unmistakable. Then again in celebration time during an Emmaus Walk. And other times.

Preparing to meet your God–THE God–takes a life of getting ready. There was study so that I knew what was real. There was prayer. There were the disciplines of meditation and contemplation. There was an openness toward and expectation of the reality of God.

Like Paul, I hesitate to write things such as this. It is not boasting, which Paul abhorred. It is merely witnessing. Pointing to a reality that exists no matter what materialists say. No, it is not delusion as much modern psychology maintains. If they would prepare….

I don’t like in-your-face evangelizing. I am praying right now that God would lead someone into my life to disciple. Personally. Not just shouting slogans, but really preparing to meet our God.

A Teaching Moment Missed

September 28, 2015

He did something kind for the harried server at the busy family restaurant.

She said, “Thank you.”

Later, one of the man’s companions said, “Just what was that ‘thank you’ from the server? Why should you care. I don’t care anything about her.”

A second companion agreed. Then the next. And the next. Until it was five wondering why care about the server.

Jesus said, “And the second [commandment] is like the first, you shall love your neighbor.”

This was a group of people who, if you asked them, would profess to be Christians. 

Yet…

I get the feeling that they are more similar to the Pharisees than to Jesus. Religious rules. Care more for themselves than for others.

That feeling is almost a national crisis. I think it is the underlying cause of our political divisiveness. It does not matter which end of the spectrum you find yourself. So often it seems that people are more interested in themselves than in others.

I self-identify as “liberal” because of the peace and justice movements of the 50s and 60s. But that isn’t “liberal” any longer. Big city people tell me I’m conservative (because I’m personally conservative in finances and ethics). But I do not self-identify with those people either. 

But, I digress.

Was that a teaching moment?

Jesus would have answered. He’d have had a cute story with a sharp point. It would have left them thinking. Sometimes people were converted because of his stories. Sometimes they went away sad.

In my case (being the man in the story), the big pitch came across the plate, and I whiffed.

Do we let teaching moments slide by because we don’t wish to seem obnoxious? Or, we seek to avoid confrontation or bad scenes? Or, because we give up and believe that people so focused on themselves can not be brought to an understanding of others?

Or–just a lack of courage?

There was a teaching moment to try to get people with Jesus in their heads to Jesus in their hearts. And I failed Jesus.

Maybe not the next time.

They Don’t Tell The Story Anymore

December 17, 2014

“Fewer and fewer people tell the story of Advent anymore.”

Perhaps I listen to the Pastor too carefully. Sort of like a professor in college rather than as a professional speaker whose aim is not to enlighten but to move emotions.

This may have been just a rhetorical device. Build up a “straw man” only to tear it down later in the talk.

More likely it is the lament of a person (most of my contemporaries in west central and northwest Ohio) who grew up in a village of perhaps 1,500 or fewer population. Everyone in the village was the same. Christian. White. Worker.

That is not the way it is anymore. We live in a multi-cultural time. Even within my Yoga class, not only do I have the “usual suspects” of white Christians, but we have had class members who are Jain, Sikh and Hindu. Oh, also Islam. Probably a few “pagans”, too. That is in a town of fewer than 20,000 people.

The majority in town most likely are those without a god. They live life day-by-day according to the whims of their emotions. “Sinners” as Paul the Apostle would say. People not only not trying to live a moral life, but actually deriding those who do.

Is the problem that fewer people are telling the story of Advent these days or that we in the church are doing such a poor job of it?

One of our pastors has a great heart for children. I wish some of her empathy could be siphoned off into other vessels of human flesh who could use some of that. But she has said every year at this time, “I was worried that the kids would not have Christmas.”

Let me translate for all of you non-Americans who read these words. She means, “I’m afraid that the kids will not get presents.”

Even devout followers of Jesus equate Christmas with receiving presents!

Circling around to the pastor’s comment–I was immediately reminded (as I sat there listening to the rest of his talk) of the Acts 2 church. They added daily to the number of followers–by the way they lived.

We added four people to our membership Sunday. But they all came from other churches. How many people in your groups have been added because they have see a better way to live due to your example?

Maybe we are the cause of the “fewer”?