Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Reason You Can’t Make Disciples Without Relationships

I tried. I really did. When I was a young man I tried to use those “evangelism in a can” methods of outreach. We were trained on how to use them to go out, find people to study with, sit down with them and go through the information.  At the end of the lesson there was always a question (or several) that asked if, on the basis of the information they had been given, they would like to be baptized. Some would but most would not (I was eager but probably not too persuasive). We made arrangements to baptize the “converted” and asked the others to continue in thought and prayer about their decision. It was all well and good. The information was biblical with a strong Church of Christ leaning application. The presentation was cordial and conversation kept polite without arguing too passionately on the areas where we might disagree. All in all I would say the interaction was…clinical and academic. In retrospect it is not hard to see why people seldom responded as we hoped they would.

Far too long our ‘go to’ strategy for outreach/evangelism/discipleship has focused on disseminating information to people we barely know or don’t know at all.  While there is nothing wrong with knocking on doors or inviting the community into our facilities for meals and events, that kind of strategy has yielded unsatisfactory returns for decades.  The reason is that this strategy routes us around the very thing that allows people to genuinely see Jesus in us. That thing is – relationship.

Jesus and his disciples used the information blast method as well but it was not their ‘go to’ strategy. They preferred relationships.  They wanted to serve those with needs, to heal the sick and wounded and to do life with those who followed.  They got their hands dirty and not only told people of the Kingdom of God but led them there and allowed them to experience it with them.

We will rarely be successful in making disciples by merely teaching people what we know about Jesus.  They will want to see our faith working through us.  They will seldom respond to the challenge to “dig a little deeper” or to “read their Bibles and do what it says” if they don’t know that people of faith will be there whether they respond with increased faith or not. We can’t expect people to leave the support of the world and a lifestyle they know (regardless of how dysfunctional) if they don’t know we will be there for them regardless. We need to stop being afraid we’ll get messy. As disciples we are asked to meet people where they are and lead them to the kingdom.

As you plan to make disciples, rather than relying on the hope of meeting someone new why not start with someone you know. Begin praying for people you now know who have “messy lives” and ask God to reach them through you.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Mercy for the Broken

          The issue of sexual immorality is a difficult one to speak about in a corporate worship service and that for a list of reasons.  First, it is awkward because of the differing ages and positions of life of people in the average Sunday Morning church audience.  Sex is a sensitive topic and for differing reasons. Adults have usually reached a different level of understanding of sexual matters and can bear a discussion of a more graphic nature while that same discussion might be completely inappropriate for the average teen.  Younger children can be introduced to the subject prematurely and some older folks may not feel comfortable talking about it at all.

          There is also the consideration for those who are guests to the services.  It is imperative that the preacher consider those visiting in every sermon.  The culture bears a very different message about sexuality, what is acceptable and what isn’t as well as how one might express or hold to a different opinion regarding what is acceptable. Secular visitors may struggle when hearing a Biblical exposition on human sexuality.  Any effort to communicate Biblical truth around this topic might well be seen as judgmental, hateful and condemning of one segment of the population or another.

          Another reason sexual immorality is a difficult topic to tackle is that it is an area filled with shame for many.  We live in a sexually broken society.  Our culture has ventured far from God’s design for human sexuality and as a result has been plunged into sea of shame; one from which few will remain unscathed.  Anytime one speaks of sexual immorality from a Biblical perspective there are mature Christians, new Christians, seekers and unbelievers who struggle with guilt and shame produced by abuse and/or mistakes from the past.  Some are confronted with necessary changes in their current walk of life and those changes are never easy.

          Let me address those three reasons briefly here.  First human sexuality is an issue that receives significant focus in our culture with little respect for those who are innocents.  Children are learning about sex from peers at a younger age than ever. I personally believe as the authors of scripture also believed that it is important to have those discussions in the church, even if awkwardly, so that God’s people are hearing God’s word on the topic. It is a topic that receives significant attention in both the old and new testaments. The old testament is especially graphic regarding God’s design for human sexuality and the boundaries he places around it giving it context in which to make it pure, sacred and holy. It is up to the church to remind Christians of God’s design and the boundaries he put in place. We want to be sensitive to a culture that is clearly being carried by a wave of immorality toward the acceptance of a deeper and darker brand of hedonism but we also bear the burden upholding God's will for God's people.

          In regards to the second issue, I believe it is worth the risk of “turning off” people from the culture in favor of speaking plainly about God’s design and his intent for human sexuality.  I think what is spoken should clearly be labeled as part of the ‘cost of discipleship’ being that when one chooses to follow Christ, they also choose his standards for behavior and his definition of right and wrong.

         Finally, I also believe that messages about sexual immorality should be heavily seasoned with the message of grace. Because we are surrounded by a sex-saturated society we must seek to understand that just being a part of that culture is in and of itself wounding.  Those who are sexually wounded are far more vulnerable to temptation to stray from God’s plan for sexual expression. The church must be a place where the broken can come for help. We cannot stand at the door with measuring stick for sexual purity requiring certain standards be met before those seeking God’s presence can come in. The church must be a place where the wounded find healing and where those struggling can find peace from their struggles not judgement for them.
          If we are to be the church Jesus built, one of our defining qualities must be to well manage the tension between holding disciples to the highest standards of sexual purity while offering mercy for the broken, healing for the wounded and help for the struggling.


Friday, March 18, 2016

The Age of Disillusionment (part 2)

In a previous post I discussed how we seem to be on the cusp of a whole new era in our country or perhaps we are already there.  The past era has been dubbed the “age of information” and as a result, we have information galore.  The problem is trying to figure out which information is reliable and which is garbage. A consequence of choosing poorly is that unreliable information often lets you down.  A lot of unnecessary challenges pop up when the information used to make important life decisions disappoints. A natural consequence of continual disappointment is disillusionment and that is epidemic right now.  When people live their lives in a fog of disillusionment they often become cynical, bitter and hopeless. 

          It is interesting to see the level of cynicism in many of the candidates running for president this election cycle. Could it be that cynicism may be one of those things that voters find appealing?  Perhaps it is exactly what connects with them.

          Still, many long for the principles that, in their opinion, made our country great.  People used to relish hearing about individuals who started out with nothing but hard work and God’s blessings they made something of themselves.  They took advantage of the opportunities in a country with a vigorous economy and strong manufacturing to work hard and make their own way leaving a legacy for their family.  Government was at one time expected to create an environment and a context in which people could work to write their own story. Most folks just wanted to realize the American Dream. 

          We seem to have gotten away from that somewhat.  I know it has been repeated too much but remember when it played well to remind people of the old JFK quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country?”  In modern times so many of the questions being asked seem to revolve around “what can the government do for me?” Discussions around health care, education, human rights and many other issues all seem to center around the expectation that government should take care of us and let us do what we want. The focus is on what is best for the individual and not what is best for the country.

          Call me old fashioned but I still like the concept of expecting individuals to take personal responsibility for their own mess, for their own decisions, for helping those around them who are needy and caring for those under their own roof.
         Christians need to take the lead here.  We need to be a people who face adversity and challenge by leaning on God and going to him often in prayer.  I for one would rather lean on God in times of trouble than on a politically correct government that is being weakened by the overwhelming demands of a populace consumed with materialism and in possession of an unquenchable appetite for government services.

A prudent government might be able to fix economies, improve foreign relations, enforce laws and defend the nation against threats but it will never be able to fix people.  Only people can fix people and that only with a faith in God who is able to change hearts and draw others to Him with his amazing love. It is His love that is desperately needed now because only His kind of love can offer the hope required to overcome disillusionment.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Age of Disillusionment (Part 1)

This presidential election is already proving to be interesting.  Before I go further let me assure you that I am not a person who will venture into telling you for whom to vote. I won’t publically endorse candidates or take positions on political issues that have no direct moral or religious attachments.  In this current series I plan to discuss several things that concern me about the direction and tone of the election in general and specifically about why the electorate seems to be enthralled with more and more extreme candidates.  Regardless of the outcome this November, we are electing a president who will lead us into a whole new era or age for our country. In my view, we are leaving the "Information Age" and venturing into "The Age of Disillusionment."

          I’ll start right off by stating my premise that we as a culture are becoming more and more disillusioned. I believe the genesis of our disillusionment is the erosion of what is culturally accepted as truth. The concept of truth today is so muddy that it is almost laughable to even have a discussion about it.  We love to listen to debates over the issues that matter to us. However, our cultural penchant for spinning facts to win the debate is places winning over discovery and that is largely causative. Tie that to the fact that either side of any debate has a virtually limitless resources on the internet (and other people and places) to support their version of the ‘truth’ with facts (valid or otherwise) to "prove it."  The absence of absolute truth has led to the rise of individual truth.  If you ask someone today to tell you what truth is, you are likely to get an answer that starts with, “Well, MY concept of truth is…”  And there you go.  MY concept of truth means I went out on the internet and talked with a few friends and if I’m real ambitious I read a few articles or maybe a book or two and combined the elements picking out bits and pieces that I liked and that became my truth.  Because the concept of truth has become virtually unverifiable, what we see as true has become a matter of personal taste.

          Here is an old example: “Life begins at conception.” Just the mention of that statement inflames old debates and old arguments that when played out always ended up with how opposing intellects defined terms and whose definitions were used.  Rather than seeking to discover truth we settle for opinions that justify our personal world view and call that "our truth."

          We have moved so far from being “one nation under God” that we have lost our anchor. We debate but we have no ultimate authority; no bedrock for truth. That will leave us drifting further away from each other and continually weakened over time.

          Because there is no authority that can win the debate or find the truth we fall into cycles of endless bickering.  Bickering like we see these days would be thought childish and labeled effrontery just half a century ago.  People, especially the young people, grow weary of the bickering and when they grow numb to the bickering they tune it out and focus on things that feel safe and comfortable. It’s no wonder that when young people are asked about what things that really matter to them they often respond with tales of fantasy movies and video games. They chase after vanity and recreation.  They seek escape from the world of relativity and take refuge in what they can control.

          Is it possible that the most extreme and abrasive candidates could be elected in this election? You bet it is.  In the climate I have just described where concepts like 'truth' and 'right' are irrelevant the only choice for the disillusioned is ‘the opposite of what we have had.’