The Beauty of Being Irrelevant

hipster-trap

True story from seminary days:

I stick a Tootsie Roll in my lip,” he said. 

“A what where why?” I said. 

“Well, the guys in my community all chew tobacco, and I don’t. So the Tootsie Roll turns my spit brown. I can relate to them better that way,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

He was a young pastor in rural upstate New York — to a redneck tribe of pickup trucks and flannel shirts. And chewing tobacco. In the spirit of becoming “all things to all people,” my seminary roommate took up the Tootsie Roll habit, that he might better relate to the men he wanted to reach.

I love that spirit.

But I’m not so sure about that practice.

Aside from the risk of getting busted, “Hey Jimmy-Bob, got a plug of chew I could have?” “Nah, just Tootsie Rolls…” there’s a flaw in the thinking. Being relevant does not mean coloring your spit, faux-hawking what’s left of your hair, or sporting hipster glasses. It does not require LL Cool J on your iPod or misspelled Hebrew tatted on your forearm.

Being relevant means BEING YOURSELF, connecting with a tribe different than yours, and offering hope for a way out. If God has called you to cross cultural barriers (age, language, ethnicity, nationality, religion, education, social status) for the sake of the gospel, then the people you’re reaching need three gifts from you: Continue reading

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Four Benefits of Salvation Invitations

scaryevangelist1Dear Pastor,

Please give a salvation invitation. Not every week, perhaps (unless evangelism is your spiritual gift, in which case you don’t need this post). Not even every month. I’m not suggesting you set much of a schedule at all. But periodically, as the Holy Spirit leads, or as the calendar suggests, speak to those in your congregation who are not saved, invite them to cross the line of faith, and lead them in a prayer of faith, right there, on the spot.

It is not my objective, in this post, to defend the idea of evangelism, the gospel of grace, or salvation as a “moment” in which a person passes from death to life. I have done that here and here and here. Nor will we engage the calvinist/arminian controversy, except to say… Continue reading

WORD

[Four Letter Words is available at a special price, one day only: $5.99 (list $13.99). Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, WORD, click here to purchase specially inscribed/autographed copies of Four Letter Words] Please spread the word. Thanks.

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God Is…

The Apostle John detonated a religious explosion when he wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He actually wrote it twice (v. 16). No other religion ever made love the heartbeat of God.

Christians own “God is love.”

We might not have always radiated his ideal standards, but we’ve never budged from this mother of all religious premises. We don’t simply say God has love, or that God shows love, or that God—after he’s been fed enough sacrifices—is loving. No. We say, God is love. Followers of Jesus brought that message to the world. Like the original, original, Original Pancake House, there are many copies, but only one original.

That original, found in John’s first Epistle, only echoes a thousand whispers of biblical teaching. John didn’t invent this truth; he only summarized it from all that Scripture already said.

He supremely learned it from Jesus. Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13) and, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Does love prove the superiority of the Bible? Only if a loving God is important to you. Otherwise, it makes no difference.

The Main Thing

The love of God is the main theme of the whole Bible. The different authors of the Bible’s sixty-six books, hold up God’s love like a diamond, and make it sparkle from a million angles.

Moses highlighted this love as part of God’s abiding marriage covenant with his people. If God was jealous, it was only because the people he loved went after other lovers.

David composed songs about God’s love—friend to friend, and man to God. For David, God wasn’t just “the Big Guy up there,” he was closer than a brother, and more gentle than a shepherd.

The Prophets painted God’s love as a portrait of a mother nursing her child, or a lover wooing his beloved. “The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).

The Gospels depict God’s love as a fire burning in Jesus’ heart. Sometimes it was warm and tender: when Jesus ate fish with his disciples, when he turned water to wine, and when he healed lepers and embraced society’s outcasts. Other times, his love burned red hot: when he drove the crooks out of the temple with a homemade whip, when he shredded the Pharisees for loading impossible burdens on people who sought God, and when he died for our sins—the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

The Epistles (most of the rest of the New Testament) analyze God’s love. They tell us it flows from the heart of God in infinite measure, and that it’s grounded in the death of Christ. These books humble us by comparing our puny love to God’s massive love: “This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10, NLT).

Every major part of the Bible teaches the love of God. In symbols, in ceremonies, in parables, in healings, in miracles, and in plain teaching, the love of God pulses from the Bible’s beginning to its end.

Search the religious literature of the world. Dig through the annals of history. Explore religious books from any culture, anywhere in the world. You’ll never find a match to the Bible’s beautiful claim that God is love.

Yes, God is more than love. But that he is love, and that his love is such a big part of him, makes me feel secure. In the Bible, I read a grand narrative of a God who made me, lost me, and loved me enough to buy me back at immeasurable cost. I feel safe with this God, and safe in his universe, now and forever. God’s love is a crazy big love, and I’m glad to rest in it.

Because of Love

Even so, we who follow Jesus still get in trouble for believing the Bible. How can we be so narrow to say that the Bible is God’s only book? Hasn’t God revealed himself in all the religions of humankind?

I know I’m only digging my hole deeper with some friends in this conversation, but I will say that if there is any truth or goodness in any other religious book or teacher, it is only a distorted memory from a race created by the Bible’s God, but now wandering in darkness away from him. The Bible’s teaching is original. Everything else is a copy of a copy of a copy.

I’ll hold up my shields till the spitballs subside.

If a God of love has inspired any book, the only real contender is the Bible…

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To read more: Click here to buy your discounted copies. Today only. 

Mean Christians in an Age of Sensitivity

A while back, I asked for blog suggestions on my Facebook page (hey, let’s be friends, click for my Facebook page)… and William suggested, “Christians should tip well at restaurants.”

My mom, Dorothy, spent most of her adult life as a waitress (but I’m gonna stick with the now fashionable “waiter”). She started at a small diner in Chicago, and worked her way up to a banquet waiter at some nice hotels. When my parents moved to Florida, she continued waiting tables at different restaurants.

I learned restaurant etiquette from her, including not to blow bubbles to create foam in my milk shake, and not to pick gum off the bottom of the tables.

I also learned that the after-mass mass was the worst mass of all.

A number of waiters in my current home town tell me they dread the Sunday pm shift. Crabby, demanding patrons in Sunday best ruin the reputation of Jesus and then leave a lousy tip wrapped in a gospel tract.

Oh the humanity!

Cheap tippers lend credence to the old adage, “It’s not God I’m having difficulty with; it’s his people.” The Bible tells pastors to reprove and rebuke with all longsuffering, so here goes:

STOP IT!

STOP IT! OR I’LL…

How far from the spirit of Christ! Hypocrites! Crabby, mean-spirited, bratty so-called followers of the One who GAVE HIS ALL?  How can this be? How can you walk out of the worship of the living God and so quickly unleash your Inner Jerk on waiters “groping in darkness” to find the God who made them?

“so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; (Acts 17:27, NKJV).

And here you are, you damnable cheap tipper, putting stumblingblocks in their way.  Tripping them up. Making them tell stories about lousy tips wrapped in cheesy tracts. STOP IT!

Dear Waiters of America, on behalf of Christians everywhere, I’m sorry. I apologize.

I’m not saying you have to go crazy with the tip. Lord knows everybody’s hurting right now. But 15% is standard and go higher from there.  Or else, just order carry-out. And, for our Lord’s sake, don’t pull out one of those “tip calculation cards…”  Just figure it out and round UP. For an extra buck, you make Jesus look good to a skeptic.

Paul’s exhortation regarding the Corinthians’ offering applies to everybody when it comes to the spirit of generosity:

Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation. (2 Corinthians 9:5, NKJV).

Don’t begrudge the tip; it’s part of the price tag of eating out in our culture. You knew that walking in. And don’t be so demanding and critical of table service. Yes, you should expect professionalism, but not perfection.

Christ’s followers should be big-hearted, encouraging, and generous. Your life isn’t about how much money you kept in your wallet; it’s about how well your life pointed to your Savior.

Remember, you have a testimony. Even in a restaurant. Even with a waiter. You have a testimony. Your life witnesses to an all-gracious Savior. Remember that next time you eat out.

What you say with a tract can never undo what you say with your conduct.

Let your conduct be your testimony, and your tip be a token of Christ’s love.

Any waiters wanna sound off?  Use the comments section…

Announcing CureAfrica.org

guinea_kids3In Guinea, a nation in West Africa, the average life expectancy is under 50 years. Major infectious diseases (hepatitis A, typhoid, malaria, yellow fever and tuberculosis) combine with parasitic diseases, dehydration and HIV/AIDS to rob millions of longer life.

YOU CAN HELP!

I’m excited to be part of CureAfrica.org, and I’d like you to spread the word. CureAfrica.org supports two medical teams in one of the poorest nations on earth For every book you buy, our authors donate $5.00, divided equally between these teams:

HOPE MEDICAL CLINIC

Hope Clinic is a dental & medical clinic in Guinea, West Africa.  The clinic lives out God’s love to the people of Guinea by meeting their medical and dental needs while giving a verbal witness of the Gospel. They work in conjunction with Guinea Medical Teams, providing care to the Mano and Malinke tribal groups of Guinea through short-term outreaches since 1993.

hopeclinicsurgeryIn 2008, Hope Clinic saw more than 18,000 patients and 600 professions of faith.

YOU CAN BE PART OF THIS TEAM!

The average cost for a patient at Hope Clinic:

a.. Patient visit ($4.00)
b.. Patient surgery ($50.00)
c.. For every book you buy, you make it possible for ONE West Guinean to receive much needed medical treatment.
d.. For every case you buy (10 books), you pay for a SURGERY!

guineawomen

TIMBI MOBILE MEDICAL OUTREACH

A mobile medical clinic that brings healing, medical, and dental procedures, eyeglasses, and spiritual hope to the underserved province of Timbi. Timbi Mobile Medical Outreach brings healing to people living in some of the most remote areas of Africa.

YOU CAN BE PART OF THIS TEAM!

Here are the average costs for Timbi Mobile Medical Outreach:

a.. $5 pays for one medical visit or vaccinations for a sick child or adult (buy 1 book)
b.. $10 pays for 3 dental fillings or one extraction (buy 2 books)
c.. $2 pays for eyeglasses (provided by the Lions Club)
d.. $50 pays for medical care for two families (buy 10 books)

healnation“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'” Matthew 25:34-36, NKJV.

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guineaschoolkidsAuthors will donate $5 for each book purchased. Proceeds will be split equally between Hope Medical Clinic and Timbi Mobile Medical Outreach. 100% of donations will be directed to these organizations. no overhead will be changed by the authors or CureAfrica.org.  Buyer pays applicable sales taxes plus shipping.

One of the coolest things for me is that all of these authors are my friends. We’re all part of the same church.

In fact, we’ll have a CureAfrica.org book signing on the last weekend of September at church.  You can do your Christmas shopping there, and help some of the world’s poorest people get the care they need.

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SIMPLE WAYS YOU CAN SPREAD THE WORD:

1. Link to http://www.CureAfrica.org or put us on your blogroll.

2. Give CureAfrica.org regular Twitter and Facebook mentions, just copy and paste:

Some authors have banded together to bring healing to Africa’s poorest tribes. Please make a difference. http://bit.ly/EAr2N Please RT.

3. Sponsorship: would you be willing to help pay for banner ads? In exchange you or your company can place your own banner ad on the CureAfrica.org sponsors page. Please click here for CureAfrica.org sponsorship information.

4. Post a blog about this huge need and opportunity.  Let me know about your blog, and I’ll link to it from here AND from the CureAfrica.org sponsors page!

5. Buy a bunch of books!  Do your Christmas shopping at www.CureAfrica.org!

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Tootsie Roll Spit & Cussing Pastors?

chewingtobacco“I chew Tootsie Rolls so my spit can be brown.” That’s what a pastor-friend told me. He pastored in upstate NY, where most of the guys chewed tobacco.  He wanted to relate to them better, so he needed brown spit. He popped a mini-Tootsie Roll in his mouth, and that made his spit brown.  I am not making this up.

Megachurch pastor, Ed Young, starts a recent video with some second-tier swear words. By second-tier, I mean words you can find in the Bible, like damn and hell, plus a few crude words like suck… you get the picture.  Once he has your attention, he describes a new breed of pastors that uses cuss words to relate to the audience. Ed then argues AGAINST that practice. He says it isn’t necessary, and that followers of Jesus should purify their language.

cussingSo, should pastors chew Tootsie Rolls so they can look like they’re chewing tobacco and spit brown spit? Should we spice up our preaching with a few well-timed helluva’s and pissed-off’s?  Is this what Paul meant when he wrote, “I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22)?

As followers of Jesus, we incarnate two values:

  1. We need to get down and dirty with lost people, so we can take their hands and lead them to Christ.

Missionary Hudson Taylor shocked prim English society when he started dressing like the Chinese people he evangelized. He even grew a pony tail and braided it. He rewrote English hymns to Chinese music and used Chinese idiom to preach the gospel.

He became like them to reach them for Jesus.

Hudson%20TaylorHard to argue, right? He got criticized for being worldly.  Thank you, people of God. There is a sense in which we have to incarnate Christ’s love into a culture, even if that culture stinks. Think of how stinky earth is compared to heaven, but Heaven’s Missionary came to us in a barn.  We must live the context of the people we’re trying to reach.

But does that mean cussing or brown spit? Or–to push it the question farther–in my high school years, a group calling themselves Children of God used pornography for evangelism.  Yes indeed. They handed out Jesus-literature with pornographic drawings to get young students’ attention, and believe me, it worked.  They called it “flirty-fishing.” I later learned that group was a pretty sick cult.

Just how far should we push this thing called “contextualization”?

Not that far, says one of my all-time favorite preachers, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones gave up a medical career for the ministry. He was assigned his first church in an economically depressed, blighted urban area in Wales. High unemployment, blue collar coal miners, and a broken economy didn’t make life easy.

Lloyd-Jones was a white-collar professional–a physician. The men in his community were rough coal miners with the language to match.  What’s a young pastor to do?

For Lloyd-Jones, the answer was simple:  be your best self in Christ.

lloydjonesI read Ian Murray’s ridiculously long biography (2 fat volumes) three or four times, early in my ministry, and what a relief!  Lloyd-Jones argued that people are looking for A WAY OUT OF THE LIFE THEY KNOW.  And we who follow Jesus must manifest that WAY OUT, even as we speak our people’s language.  It’s not only our similarities to our people that forge connections, ITS OUR DISSIMILARITIES, too.  Our people need to want what we have.  They need to see that a better life is within reach.  They need hope.

That’s the complementary value to #1:

2. People need to see that a different life is within reach, and we need to manifest that life.

When I was in Africa, Dave and Becki Thompson lent me a book by an African native who converted to Christ (I forget its title).  The African writes of all kinds of westerners coming to African villages, and getting practically naked so they could be like the tribal people.  He always thought that was nuts.  The only reason his people were naked, he wrote, was because they didn’t have clothes!  They wanted clothes, but didn’t have them, and thought only an idiot would run around the jungle naked by choice.

I love the twin truths of 2 Tim 2:19:  “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.””

  1. The Lord knows those who are his: that’s our security, our comfort, our salvation, our hope, our peace.  That’s God’s side of the coin. Grace. Salvation. Freedom.  Then there’s the flipside:
  2. Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity. Not in a legalistic sense, but in an evangelistic sense:  Jesus lifted me out of a sewer into a clean-smelling atmosphere… and he is ready to lift you too.

Plus, I’m on a low-carb diet and Tootsie Rolls won’t work for me.  Dang it.

Your Church Smells

italianfood1As a kid, my family enjoyed dinner every Sunday after church at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. This would be the Italian side of my family. The second thing that hit me when I walked through their door was the plastic covers on the lamp shades–thankfully NOT on the sofas and chairs.  The first thing was the smell: a heavenly blend of garlic, marinara sauce, and Italian spices from the roast beef.

Play, watch TV, eat, fall asleep while the grown-ups visited. A good life.

Whenever I smell Italian food, I think of Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

If you were to visit (they’re in heaven now, so you can’t), you’d say their house smells “Italian.”

If you were to ask them to describe their home’s smell, they would say… “Our house has no smell.” Or maybe, “Our house smells normal.”

italianfood2Your own culture is invisible to you. It doesn’t smell like a culture. It doesn’t smell at all, to you. It’s your NORMAL.  My Irish friends don’t listen to Irish music, they listen to music. My Greek friends don’t eat Greek food, they eat food. We become oblivious to the smells and textures of our own culture. We interpret them as NORMAL and as UNIVERSAL. Who DOESN’T love the smell of cooked cabbage, right?  (Peeeeewwwww!)

And that’s what can make church-people like me so dangerous: we create a church-culture that WE can’t smell. But our VISITORS CAN SMELL IT. It’s the first thing that hits them.

In our minds, we don’t do contemporary worship or traditional worship or cutting edge worship. We just do worship. Everybody should like it, right? To us it is meaningful. To us it is reverent. To us it is celebrative.  It has become our “normal.”  It’s the music of our hearts. Hate to burst your bubble, but just because it’s in your heart, doesn’t mean it’s in everybody’s heart.

We universalize our normal. We get so used to it that we can’t imagine anybody NOT being used to it. It has no smell.

But our visitors smell it a mile away.  They smell our worship style, our color scheme, our musty air, our architecture, our pacing, our technology (or lack of it), the elements we include, the elements we omit, our language, our coffee brand, our Bible translation, our inter-relational harmony, our wood pews or theater seats, our printed media, our projected media, our choice of instruments, our volume, and our preaching style.  All the stuff that we stopped noticing  years ago. It all communicates.

Your church smells. The most important question you can ask is this: IS IT A GOOD SMELL OR A BAD SMELL TO THE PEOPLE GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO REACH?

Can you smell it?  If you can’t, your church is in trouble.

noseThe second most important question you can ask is: DO WE EVEN KNOW WHAT SMELLS GOOD TO THE PEOPLE GOD HAS CALLED US TO REACH? If God has called you to reach your community, what is their median age? What is the segment of that age you are best equipped to reach?  What smells do they hate? What smells drive them away? What smells do they love? You have to know. You have to listen. You have to relate… and you have to SACRIFICE.

That’s the next important question, actually the most decisive question of all: ARE THE PEOPLE AND LEADERS OF YOUR CHURCH WILLING TO BREATHE WHAT SMELLS BAD TO YOU SO YOU CAN REACH THE LOST?

I am NOT saying that we should water-down our doctrine. No way!  I believe in teaching the whole counsel of God from the Word of God. I am NOT talking about the content of our faith, but about the PACKAGING of it. I am talking about the morally neutral, cultural elements that define us. I am talking about the stylistic stuff. Stuff that leaders should be super-sensitive to.  Are we needlessly driving away honest seekers after God? Are we putting a stumbling block in their way because we don’t like the smells they like? Are we willing to sacrifice our preferences for the sake of lost people?

How long would you hold your nose (and smile) if it meant a great flow of hurting people into God’s kingdom?

Three lessons here:

churchworship11. Learn to smell your church through visitor’s nostrils. Okay, maybe not the most appealing analogy, but you catch my meaning.  You stopped noticing that old planter in the corner, covered in dust, years ago. But it tells newcomers you don’t care. You stopped noticing the handwritten signs taped to the walls. But it tells your visitors something.  You can put out a million signs that say, Visitors Welcome. But if you create a church that doesn’t smell good to them, don’t be surprised if they stay away in droves.

2. Sacrifice your preferences for the sake of lost people. Here’s where Paul smacks us upside our self-centered head:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NKJV.

If your church smells the same today as it did fifteen years ago, don’t be surprised if the young people go elsewhere. I’m not saying that your church is necessarily bad… maybe God is calling you to reach somebody other than young adults. That’s great. Be true to your call.  I’m just saying, don’t be surprised.

girlBut I’m also saying something deeper.  Are you, veteran Christian, so hardened that you’re willing to drive away potential converts for the sake of your personal preferences?  God help us! And God give us leaders brave enough to defy that unholy spirit.

“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our [younger, weaker] brother’s way.” Romans 14:13, NKJV.

Oops.  Did I catch you self-righteously nodding your head? “See!” you think, “You’re offending the bretheren and sisteren! It’s wrong!”

No, it’s not wrong. It’s wrong to offend the WEAKER brother or sister… that is, the new kids on the spiritual block. It’s not wrong to offend the veteran, by this Bible verse.

Dear Long-Time Christian, please give up your right to be offended. Please give up your right to have it your way. Please give up the drive that makes you lock the church in YOUR personal Golden Era… Please let the church smell FRESH.

phariseeslegalistsThat  means we may offend–we must offend–people just like ME:  veteran Christians. I should love lost people so much that I can tolerate any smell to get them saved and folded into God’s family. I must make that sacrifice, not the lost people around me. God calls me to that.  And if I’m not ready for that by now, the church should pass me by.  Lord knows, I’ve had enough time to grow up.

Remember all those times you said that every Christian is a missionary? Well, it’s time to practice what you preach.

Pretend God planted you in a far-off land. Pretend you’re a missionary to an alien tribe. Pretend you have to eat food you don’t like, sing songs you don’t like, and worship in a hut you don’t like… in a language you don’t like… so they can spend eternity with the Savior.  Be a missionary, and please, for heaven’s don’t grumble about it.

3. Celebrate the smells of other churches. Don’t criticize them if they’re preaching Christ and his Word.  Don’t judge their music or vestments or programs or language if they are reaching their community for Christ. So they’re not the same as you. So they don’t share your preferences. They can reach people you’ll never reach.

Aren’t you glad somebody told you about Jesus in your language, your style?

That is a pleasing aroma to God.

Can you smell it?

stryper2choircathedralssheahillsong

I’d like to invite you to one more local book-signing.  I’ll be at Barnes and Noble on Saturday, April 25, at 10:00 to noon.  In many ways, this one is most important to me. I did signings at two local Christian bookstores, and that was fun. But this one is about our testimony. I’d really love the Barnes & Noble store to know that Christians come into their store and buy their books.  So if you can make it, just to visit for a while, or if you could hold off buying a book till then, that would be great.

Get on the email list and I’ll send a reminder.

On the Way to Starbucks…

This is not my story. My friend, Nadine Bailey, sent it to me. It was so cool, I wanted to share it with you, and I do so with her permission, unabridged… Bill Giovannetti

starbucksA funny thing happened on the way to Starbucks.

I was on my way into Starbucks to meet a work acquaintance that has also become a close friend. It was a rainy day and I was wearing my favorite red sweater. As always, in my overworked, blackberry, cell phone life I was in a rush as moved toward the door. As I got close to the front of the door I could see a group of people standing in a semi circle watching me as I approached. I young man in his twenties was smiling at me as if I were a long lost friend. In my job I meet many people and as I get older I don’t always remember them, so I smiled back and walked up to him to see if he was someone I knew. He introduced himself and told me that he and his friend were on trip to the United States and they were involved a treasure hunt and that one of the people they needed to meet was someone wearing a red sweater.

We talked for a few minutes and I learned that they were attending a weeklong mission trip at a local bible college and that this was part of the training to meet new people. Three of the men were from Asia and one woman was from France. They asked me if I knew a person called Jesus. I assured them that I did and we talked for a few minutes about China and the believer’s there and what it was like to worship underground, but how still God is moving in many hearts.

groupprayerAs I got ready to leave they asked if they could pray with me and for me and by the way did I happen to have a knee injury because that was also on the list. I said this is your lucky day, I have a really bad knee and yes it is the left one. They asked could we touch your knee as we pray? Now those of you that know my worship style know that I am as conservative in my worship as I am in my politics. No hands in the air, no clapping, I may sing a little but that’s about as far as I go. Also going through my mind is the thought of my work colleague sitting inside Starbucks as I am having this little meeting, maybe right by the window looking out.

kneepainWhen they asked me what I needed prayer for it takes me a minute to think of something because I am truly blessed. My knee pain has been with me for so many years I rarely think about it anymore. So I ask them to pray that I will be the listener and friend to the many people who I meet each day that are angry and hurt about the turn the world has taken, that I will always be a witness of the love that God brings to us in this troubled world. So there in front of Starbucks this small group of believers kneel at my feet and put their hand on my knee, and raise their other hand in prayer, for the whole world to see. It must have been quite a picture, me in my bright red sweater, all six feet of me, them kneeling at my feet, on a busy street.

In a few minutes it is over. We wish each other well and I go into Starbucks.

My friend is sitting in the back and I am not sure if he has seen the exchange and I don’t ask. We meet for an hour and when I leave they are gone and I go back to my busy over booked blackberry cell phone life. But I cannot stop thinking about that little group of people I met on my way to Starbucks and how they made me think about my God. I am a person of faith, but I rarely ever ask God to heal someone unless they are on their deathbed. I just hate to bother him for the little stuff. 42-19127208Tooth aches, knee pains all seem too trivial to bother him with, and because I have a tendency to do things myself, maybe just maybe, I am keeping those things for me? What if I had been in too much of a rush to stop and meet that small group of visiting believers, or worse what if I had said something unkind? How many times have I missed the blessings that God sends my way because I am in such a rush, or too proud. Later I thought about them I prayed that God would give me the wisdom to slow down, to catch those blessings that He puts along the way for me. That I would never be to proud to pray with others in public and for the freedom we have to do so.  I also thanked him for the blessing he had sent to me on my way to Starbucks.

Oh and did I tell you that my knee pain is gone?

—Nadine Bailey

Pardon me for intruding…

People who study evangelism often classify it as a) relational/lifestyle, b) mass evangelism, like Billy Graham or Luis Palau, or a pastor who gives an invitation, c) power evangelism, with signs and wonders, or d) confrontational/intrusional, in which we approach a stranger with a tract, Bible, or “survey.” 

I grew up on a diet of intrusional evangelism. We went to O’Hare Airport to pass out tracts. We knocked on doors to engage in dialogue. We learned Evangelism Explosion’s key questions. We learned Evangelism Encounter’s excellent definitions: “Saving faith is claiming by personal choice, and relying exclusively upon the finished work of Christ as my hope for eternity” (thanks, Dick Sisson).

I was mortified the whole time. As a Meiers-Briggs moderate introvert, the idea of engaging total strangers in conversations about Jesus terrified me. It still does, and I’m a career minister!

What a great relief when Lifestyle/Relational evangelism swept the country, and I no longer had to knock on doors! Whew! I’m off the hook. All I have to do is step through doors that God opens first, right? I don’t have to actually INITIATE anything, do I? That’s God’s job, or else, I’m “cramming Jesus down somebody’s throat” right? 

Not so fast.

Check out this video in which Penn Jillette, the magician, and a convinced atheist, describes receiving a Bible from a Gideon.

That would be classified as confrontational/intrusional evangelism, but was it? Did Penn feel intruded upon? A Gideon took the initiative and, in a gracious way, handed out a Bible. I like that a lot.

Could it be that relational evangelism has become non-evangelism?

kungfuevangelistWhen I first arrived at Neighborhood Church, I gave each pastor a couple of Bibles, and we split into groups of 2 and 3 to knock on doors in local trailer parks and neighborhoods. We said, “Hi, I’m pastor Bill. We’re going to have a prayer meeting in a while, and I was wondering if there were any needs you have our team could pray for.”  Then we offered them the Bible, wrote down their needs, prayed on the spot–which everyone wanted–and went our way.

Only one pastor had a bad experience, when the door was slammed in his face. The rest of us found a great openness to this kind of initiative.

For the record, I’m pro-evangelism. All kinds, as long as it’s honest and doesn’t demean people.

  • To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22, NKJV).
  • What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:18, NKJV).

A Christless Cross and a Crossless Gospel

 

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In the mid-1980’s, I bumped into a college friend I hadn’t seen for a few years.  He worked in an inner-city church with multi-lingual immigrants.  He had an excellent ministry in may ways, and I was a little jealous.  As my friend described the dysfunction and poverty of the people he served–especially the kids–my heart sank.  I asked, “So what do you have to give these kids?”  When I got his answer, I wished I hadn’t asked.

He said, “Well, Bill, I really don’t have anything to give them except myself.”

My heart sank.  I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought WHO WANTS YOU?  What good are you?  You’re going to leave them someday!  You’re going to move or die!  Then what do they have?  Fond memories? Is that why God called you here?

Sharing the gospel means more than hugging a kid.  And I served full-time as a children’s and youth pastor for almost eight years, in the city of Chicago, so I have a little street cred on this issue.  I planted a church in Chicago and served with wonderful people for 16 years.  The people in our church ran a food pantry (the biggest one in our part of town), a clothing center (pressed and ironed and given free in the name of Jesus), and a ministry to homeless people on Chicago’s lower Wacker Drive, where people lived in cardboard boxes and people from our church brought them food, shared Christ, and sang and prayed.  I’ve planted an urban church, eaten at soup kitchens, spoken at women’s shelters (and played piano poorly there), prayed and served and slept overnight at a mission, and ran an urban high school group.  This isn’t about boasting… it’s about forestalling the criticism that I don’t care about “social ministry.”  I do.  But, as my urban-pastor friend, George Rice, once said, “Social ministry only gives your gospel ministry credibility.”  And, as my urban-pastor friend, Jimcrossceltic.jpgQueen, said, “I don’t care how many people you feed, shelter, or clothe, if you’re not getting people saved, you’re not Christian.” AMEN!!!

I am getting jittery about some developments I see, especially among a generation of Christians raised with post-modern… uhhh… let us call it “mega-flexibility.”  I speak of one branch only of the emerging church (new school theology)–the other branch I really like (new school methodology).

I know, I sound like an angry old guy, ranting. And I don’t want to. I don’t want to be the guy who’s always complaining about something.  I want a positive ministry. I want to build up and encourage. I do have a tolerance for a broad spectrum of evangelical opinion. I can work with and love people I disagree with. I’ve done it all my ministry years. So please take this critique as from a brother who sees friends he loves steering off course–perhaps without even realizing it.

Here are the symptoms of “Mega-flexibility”

  1. Disdain for personal evangelism because you have an “agenda” or an “ulterior motive” in your relationships.  The evangelistic motive poisons the well, and makes lost people doubt your sincerity, they say, so you shouldn’t make it your goal to get people saved.  “Just love them.”But isn’t this a Christless gospel?  Doesn’t this scrape across the grain of Paul’s declaration “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16, NKJV)?  And doesn’t “Just love them” sound like Oprah or Deepak Chopra or whatever guru is out there?I have many wonderful and warm friendships.  I try to be loyal to my friends, and expect them to be loyal to me.  Isn’t Jesus my friend too?  Should I keep him under wraps?  I have never met a self-respecting evangelical who wants to cram Jesus down somebody’s throat.  Yes, it happens in Starbucks and in so-called intrusional evangelism.  I get that.  I’m not talking about that though.  I’m talking about Christians not communicating Jesus and his saving love WITH THEIR WORDS, the much overused St Francis quote notwithstanding.
  2. A fondness for the saying, “It’s not our job to get people saved.”  In context this phrase means, don’t cram Jesus down people’s throats, which we all agree with.  But it goes deeper.  It also means don’t enter relationships with the idea of leading a person to Christ.  This represents a departure from generations of evangelical faith.  The problem with the statement is called equivocation.  Equivocation is what happens when you use the same words with two or more different meanings.  It’s a slippery way to communicate. Pastors who say, “It’s not our job to get people saved” are using the phrase in two different ways (equivocally), and if they is called on it, they can retreat to whichever meaning suits the need at hand. Equivocation. Don’t fall for it. Here’s what I mean…Meaning 1:  It’s not our job to get people saved… because only God can save people.  Only God can redeem and forgive.  You and I have not died for anybody’s sins, and we’re not the Savior. Meaning 1 merits a big Amen, but that’s not what most young hearers of this line will think. They will think…
    Meaning 2:  It’s not our job to get people saved… because we shouldn’t be out there talking about Jesus because Jesus turns people off and we should just love them and let them see our love and that will save them… and so you don’t have to, indeed you shouldn’t bring up Jesus, and certainly not his saving work on the Cross… [some even go this far]  and people are saved by love anyway, and if they’re sincere, they’ll maybe go to heaven…  I wonder how far this train of thought will go before we’ve all become universalists.  

    Look, friends talk about friends, right?  If I’m your friend, over time, you’ll discover that I’m also friends with Dave and Dale and Jim and Gail and whoever else.  It’s natural.  It’s normal.  

    Well, I’m friends with Jesus.  Should I lock him in a closet?  Isn’t it unhealthy to hide Friend A from Friend B?  Sorry, I won’t do that.  If you are going to be in relationship with me, you will hear about my friend, Jesus.  Not in a rude, obnoxious, or preachy way (unless I’m preaching). But in a natural way, as part of my life. Doesn’t it seem disloyal to actually suppress Jesus?  To hide him?  To not speak of his love and sacrifice?  It’s not natural, if you ask me.

    And I’m not talking about Jesus this, Jesus that, Jesus everything… Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  That’s weird too.  I’m talking about a friend who helps me through every day, and it’s just normal to express that.  A friend whose death gave me life and heaven.  It’s natural to express that.

  3. A redefinition of Jesus’ death… This is the part that makes me saddest and maddest.  To use theological terms, I see a trend away from Substitutionary Atonement and toward the Moral Example Theory of the Atonement.  The Moral Example theory states that the Cross is the supreme expression of love. Jesus didn’t die to pay for our sins; he died to show us the extent of the love we must have for one another. And so the good news we Christians have is not so much about a once for all Savior who died in place of us sinners;  it is rather the good news of our self-sacrificing love for others, especially “the least of these.”This posits something the Church has routinely rejected:  A Christless Cross.  A concept of Cross that centers on US instead of HIM.  Ouch.  So we say thing like, “All I have to give them is myself.”When we should be giving them the gospel, which is so clearly defined as Christ-centered and Subsitutionary:
    Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NKJV). 

    Do a study on the Greek construction of “for our sins” and you will discover that the preposition “huper” plus the genitive “sins” indicates the idea of substitution.  Christ died as substitute for our sins.  That’s the idea.  And that’s the gospel.  Any other theory of the atonement must be secondary to the Substitutionary Theory.

    Or else, let’s just throw out all theology since the Reformation, which, sadly, too many emerging church leaders are all to quick to do.  They say things like, “Christ has been so misrepresented we must start over.”  Start over?  Really?   Ouch.  Luther and Calvin and Turrettin and that great cloud of witnesses that did the linguistic and theological work, standing on the shoulders of their forebears, to give us this most precious, utterly unique message of a Savior who loved us and gave himself up for us.

jesuspowerI thank God for the men and women who loved me enough to tell me about Jesus.  It thank God for people who believed in the Great Commission and built churches to keep spreading the gospel.  I thank God for the people who bugged me to Christ.  Now it’s our turn.  Keep Christ central to the gospel.  And keep the Cross central to Christ.

Beware the Crossless Gospel and Beware the Christless Cross.