Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Death – Again

February 16, 2021

I’ve written repeatedly over the years on the topic of how a Christian approaches death and burial (here, here, here, here, and here). I keep revisiting the topic because the topic continues to be revisited in our larger culture. Burial was considered the norm for many, many years. In part because of religious tradition and no doubt in part to simply not having many other options. But these days, options are what people are all about. And as awareness increases of the rather unhealthy amount of chemicals normally used to prepare a body for burial and the amount of space dead people take up, options continue to evolve. Not surprisingly some of these options embrace some rather non-traditional (to say nothing of unBiblical) approaches to creating a palatable way of thinking about death and the great beyond (or lack thereof).

The latest article is here. As opposed to burying, burning, or liquifying the body, this option turns human bodies into compost in the span of 30 days by letting nature take its course, probably with a bit of eco/bio – friendly encouragement. The result is compost, literally. Fit for use in your garden or wherever.

Once again, when I die, I expect my body will decay. That will happen regardless of the particular means by which my body is disposed of. But how my body reaches that state of decomposition and why can matter a great deal, particularly as a Christian who hopes and trusts in the resurrection of the dead, and therefore of the Biblical beauty and dignity and sanctity my human body is imbued with. Unlike many other religions and philosophies the Bible is unilaterally pro-matter. Matter matters, you might say. We are created physical and spiritual beings. Our wholeness exists in the combination of the spiritual and the material. The Biblical picture of life after death is not immaterial or incorporeal but very, very human. Perfected, to be sure, but human – body and spirit.

If you’re interested, a handful of good Biblical reference points on this would include Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, John, Romans, and 1 Corinthians, just to name a few.

As such, I want those who live on after me to know what my hope is. What my trust is. What I look forward to. And therefore what I do with my body as well as why I do it matters. That’s much more what people need to think about rather than the particular means.

What we do generally is associated with a why, though, and we may not control that why. So the composting company has a why to go along with it’s what, a means of helping people be comfortable with the idea of death itself as well as the particulars of their own death and the aftermath. The article references the idea of a giant circle of carbon exchange moving from the universe and into human bodies and back into the universe. Goodness. Am I really just a collection of carbon molecules? Am I not also spiritual and unique from any other person in all of creation? The Bible isn’t clear as to whether a pattern of carbon exchange will end when my Lord returns, but I’d much rather people understood that there’s a Lord who is returning than provide them some sort of psycho-chemistry lesson!

Not surprisingly, the Catholics are the ones objecting to this new body-disposal system, though I’d argue all Christians should object to it. A brief doctrinal statement on this issue can be found here, and does a great job of explaining why Church traditions are more than just traditions, but means of ensuring the proper message is sent and received by those who live on after the deceased.

It may well be possible for someone to choose the compost option and still strongly convey their hope in Christ through their memorial service. But the problem remains that only the people present for that service are going to hear the Christian message. Others who find out about how my body was made into compost are going to assume – rightly so – that perhaps the company’s way of explaining such an option appealed to me and was somehow my belief as well. That would be more than just unfortunate, it would be unfaithful of me to allow that risk.

I’m not a big one for visiting grave sites. I don’t have a personal need to do that. But I do see a value in having a place not just to be remembered, but to remind people that, barring our Lord’s return first, we’re all going to die. How do we live our lives in a way that acknowledges this without obsessing about it or pretending that our death is somehow made better by being ecologically sensitive? My death is transformed by Christ and him alone. Without such hope, being ecologically conscious or not really makes no difference and has no lasting meaning as we’ll all ultimately be vaporized when our sun explodes.

Covering the Bases

July 2, 2020

As I continue to work slowly through a book on improving my preaching, the next chapter deals with different ways a speaker/preacher connects with the people they are speaking to.

Ethos listeners prioritize the relationship between the speaker and the hearer. If there is a strong connection with the speaker the message will be heard better. Likewise (though not explicitly stated in the book) if the relationship is strained or not good between the speaker and the listener, the listener is going to have a harder time connecting with what is being said. Sometimes this is referred to as an issue of integrity or character on the part of the speaker or the hearer’s perception of their integrity or character. Reaching people who react well based on ethos involves reminding them of this shared relationship. Speaking about we and us as opposed to them or you. Referencing personal stories or the impact of the sermon topic or verses on you personally.

Logos listeners focus on the cerebral or intellectual content of a sermon. They want to be presented with ideas to chew on and mull over or be challenged by. They’re most engaged when learning something new, and sermons that include a focus on information sit well with this group.

Pathos listeners react on the emotional level. They love real-life stories or anecdotes, but they also are most attentive when they are part of the sermon, and can connect what is being preached to their lives.

Ideally every sermon should have some of each aspect in it to best reach as many of your hearers as possible. And that seems reasonable. I can certainly confirm that people who are not in a good relationship with me have a harder time hearing what I say in the sermon, and are more apt to take things the wrong way (or at least in a way I wasn’t intending). Likewise I believe a good preacher should be teaching in a sermon. Not like I would teach a Bible study class, but there should be elements where I’m sharing what I’ve learned rather than just rehashing what I’ve heard all my life from others. The familiar can be comforting but if that’s all I give, people get bored. Or at least I get bored! And I’ve seen firsthand how a good story can really draw people into the sermon.

I like to think my sermons involve all three of these ways of preaching, though certainly the balance will vary from week to week. I also find myself hearing St. Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth emphasizing how we should also be careful not to be too calculated in how we speak the Word of God. Ultimately the power in a sermon is God’s Word and the Holy Spirit at work in that Word. While I want to be a good and effective preacher I also realize I can only control this to a certain extent, and there are limitations to my abilities so that I shouldn’t rely on them.

At the end of the day (Sunday?) I hope people have heard the Word of God applied to their lives in a concrete way. I’m experienced enough to know this can happen when I personally think my sermon stunk. And it can not happen when I think my sermon was a home run. I resonate well with those masters of the preaching craft who insist that if the sermon stinks, it’s my fault. But if the sermon is really good, then God gets the praise and glory. That’s how it should be, not as an excuse for me to neglect my duties or be shoddy in my preparation, but as a means of keeping my humbled and my community focused on what is important – Christ crucified.

Book Review: The Spiritually Vibrant Home

April 8, 2020

The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables and Open Doors by Don Everts

This is the second book related to an original spark of interest in possible discipleship materials.  The first book I reviewed here, and is mostly raw statistical charts with some basic explanation.  I had expected this book to be more application and it’s not.  Whereas the first book had more charts than explanation, this book has more explanation than charts.  It’s a further distillation of survey data and Scripture, wrapped in the kind of anecdotal asides and examples that seem ubiquitous these days (probably because they’re helpful to a lot of people).

Everts distills the survey data of 2400-some serious Christian households into three major areas that are hallmarks of a spiritually vibrant home.  Messy prayers is his term for devotional  and prayer practices as well as spending time together between the members of a household.  Loud tables has to do with spiritual conversations that occur within a household, and open doors has to do with hospitality and the presence of people who don’t live in the house on a regular basis.

So I was disappointed with this book only because I expected it to be the application part and it’s not.  There are some questions dispersed throughout to stimulate reflection and conversation, and he does include some practical tips at the end of each of the three major sections to assist people in intentionally exercising these three areas, but that’s about it.  Having just read the more data-oriented publication, this is mostly a rehash of that data.

My question at this point is whether I require or encourage my members to read this as the first step of a discipling program, laying the groundwork for the  application to follow.  Part of me likes the idea and part of me suspects it isn’t really necessary.  Some folks will be interested in the data that undergirds the premises, but I think the more important issue is that the data reflects what Scripture already leads us towards.  For me, the data is only useful insofar as it demonstrates that we should take Scripture more seriously when it talks to us or describes how faithful households interact.

Next up is to review the actual application materials – the materials my congregants would be using and working through likely in small groups as they digest what changes they might make in their lives in order to grow in these three areas.

Book Review: Households of Faith

April 3, 2020

Households of Faith by Barna Group

I blogged about a month ago about some new resources floating around my denomination that sparked my attention.  I ordered them and have finished the first part of them, this book Households of Faith.  It’s not so much a book as a collection of statistical data resulting from questions posed to 2347 practicing Christians.  The resulting data has been organized by Barna into four types of Christian homes:

  • Vibrant – engage in spiritual practices & conversations and practice hospitality
  • Devotional – engage in spiritual practices & conversations but don’t regularly practice hospitality
  • Hospitable – are very hospitable but participates in either spiritual practices & conversations but not both, or practices neither
  • Dormant – don’t practice hospitality or engage in spiritual practices or conversations

This book provides the statistical data and interpretation for some discipling materials that I’m reading now.  The idea is how to equip Christians to better build homes that include spiritual practices, spiritual conversations,  and engage in hospitality, the idea being that these things can be built on by anyone at any stage of life even if they haven’t been formative aspects of their home previously.

If you like statistics, you’ll enjoy this book.  If charts and graphs are your thing, you’ll love this.  To me, a non-statistician, most of the survey data didn’t seem to be significant.  While there were slight differences, more often than not the responses were very close between varying stages of life, types of households, etc.  By viewing the results as a spectrum to draw broad conclusions from it makes sense, but personally it’s not very compelling.  It doesn’t surprise me that spiritually vibrant homes embody these particular aspects because those aspects seem rather Biblical to me.  In which case, while the statistical data is nice, it’s hardly surprising, and therefore not as necessary beyond telling us what we should have already gleaned from Scripture.

This is not a necessary preface to the discipling materials based on it other than recognizing that there are statistical supports to the approaches used in the discipling materials.

 

 

 

 

Strike 1

March 24, 2020

Although I’m not overly happy with the technical qualities of the first sermon I posted to the Internet, given the last minute rush to figure it out at all I don’t consider it a strike.  But I was very disappointed today.

I’m a Windows user, as far as computers go.  Though I dabble in Apple products (such as their early generation computers were the norm in high school and college labs, and I use an older model iPhone) my daily work for decades has been done on Windows-based PCs.  Although I enjoyed brief experiences with UNIX and Linux, I never considered them reasonable replacements for Windows.  And more and  move I’ve migrated from proprietary software options (such as Microsoft Office) to freeware solutions (such as OpenOffice).  That is also the case for the software I’ve used to generate audio files over the years – Audacity.

So I hooked up the mixing board and mics to a new computer I had installed Audacity on and put together my first Internet-destined audio file.  The only problem is that when I went to upload it to YouTube, it was rejected because it’s an audio file rather than a video file.  Now I have to figure out if there’s a way to fold the MP3 data into a video file that YouTube will recognize and accept.

Some might ask why I don’t just film me doing the Bible study and post said video.  It would be much simpler, ’tis true.  But I’m a rather cantankerous person at times.  I naturally resist the cultural obsession with visualization and our predilection to juding everything by looks rather than content.  As such, I take opportunities to kick against these goads , resulting in the predicted discomfort (such as losing a District election several years ago by one vote, in no small part because I refused to provide a photo to be used with my bio).

The current example is not wanting to film myself.  Go online and you’ll find scads of preacher videos.  What’s the first thing you notice before you hear a word out of their mouths?  What they look like.  Old or young?  Hip or outdated?  Liturgically vested or skinny jeans?  This is how we’re trained, but the Word of God encourages us to move past these surface level things to examine what’s underneath.  Oftentimes a nice exterior hides rottenness within.  Likewise, if we can ignore how someone looks, we might find they have something valuable to say.

My congregants already know what I look like (and I feel bad for them in that regard!), but those who don’t know me (and who aren’t compelled by a divine Call to listen to me on a regular basis!) should judge me not by what I look like or how I dress but rather by what I say and whether what I say is in line with what God says to us in his Word, the Bible.  If I’m going to reach a larger audience, I want to reach that audience not with me, but with Christ.  And while I’m sure there are plenty of preachers who can upload videos of themselves without a hint of pride, I’m not sure I’m as immune to the temptation to value what I’m doing  by the number of views or likes or whatever other means of cultural approbation we come up with.

So I kick, and it hurts.

I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out, but it’s a learning curve I’d much rather not have to be climbing at the moment!  I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, in Britain…

February 10, 2020

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has been banned from a speaking tour in Britain because all seven of the venues he was scheduled to speak at have cancelled.  Lawmakers there several years ago wanted to deny Graham a visa to enter the country.  At issue is the Biblical stance on gender and sexuality which Graham has the audacity to adhere to.

What’s really disturbing is not just how quickly society and culture have changed in the last century.  I mean, Billy Graham visited Britain many times between 1955 and 1989, where millions of people came out to listen to him.  Billy Graham met with Queen Elizabeth on several occasions over the course of his career, and was knighted in 2001.  One wonders if he would be as warmly welcomed today.  Based on his son’s treatment, I’d wager not.  The Queen’s silence on this current manifestation is telling.

But the more disturbing thing is that Christianity and the Bible are being redefined by a small but vocal group of Christians who wish to eradicate clear Biblical teaching on gender and sexuality.  Nearly 2000 years of nearly unanimous teaching and doctrine in this regard are being classified as hate speech because of a small group of Christians in the past few decades who have decided they are free to make such an assertion.

The Church should welcome LGBTQ people.  As the church should welcome adulterers, liars, thieves, murderers, and, well, everyone.  Sin is sin.  The problem is when a small group decides the Bible can be ignored regarding sin.  That we are free to declare sin as not-sin.   That current public opinion overrides the Word of God.

Sinners need to hear the Word of God, because only there will they find the cure for sin and the death it leads to.  That solution is not a demotion of sin to a lesser or non-existent issue, or to determine some sins are no longer sinful.  Jesus is clear this is not acceptable (Matthew 5:17-20).  So I would welcome all kinds of sinners to come and hear the Word of God.  All of that Word.  Because that Word has power, as I suspect those who rejected Graham understand.  Because that Word diagnoses us with a terrible and lethal condition to which there is only on cure.

The cure for sin and the death it leads to are in repentance and trust in the resurrected Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.  Simply declaring we are no longer in need of a cure, or that we can dictate the cure on our terms arbitrarily is ridiculous.  Only when the underlying assumption is that there is no such God and therefore no Word of God and no Savior can we possibly presume to override God’s Word.  The results of this are and will continue to be disastrous.

Telling people what they are doing is sinful is no more hateful than a doctor diagnosing a patient with cancer.  Certainly some Christians and congregations do this poorly.  But to pretend people aren’t dying from sin – whatever that sin might be – is as unloving as a doctor holding back the prognosis from someone with cancer so their feelings aren’t hurt.

Franklin Graham may not get to preach in Britain, but the Word of God continues to go out in myriad forms and through myriad channels.  And when all is said and done, that Word will be the only and final word that stands.  May the world continue to seek solace and peace there, now and eternally.

God Is Good

January 24, 2020

After writing about being tired of casting seed without seeing much growth behind me, God reminded me last night of his love and mercy and grace.  Reminded me that it is not for me to demand or predict the growth, but simply to rejoice when it appears, and for however long it lasts.  Trusting him in this as in all things.

Thursday evenings for the last year and a half have  consisted of a family outreach of ours.  I go to pick up three ladies from the local women’s residential addiction recovery program and bring them over for dinner at our house. No agendas.  No expectations.  I know they are often guests at one function or another where they represent the house and the program.  They’re on display, ambassadors to future and current donors and those who pray for them that the program is working and is worthy and worth supporting.  But that’s not what we want from them.  It’s just a chance to be in a home with a family.  Something some of them have never had, or haven’t had in a long, long time.

Last night we had three women who were relatively new in the program, but something clicked with them.  They talked.  And talked. And talked.  Honestly.  Candidly.  About themselves and how hard it is to step away from the crutches of a bottle or pills you’ve relied on all your life to cope  with things.  How hard it is to live in a house with 20 other women.  Not being negative, but just honest.  Sensing as we sat around the table laughing or  in the living room after that this was a safe place.  A place where they could be honest without being worried about it being used against them in an environment full of people – including themselves – with a lifetime of experience in manipulation.

It was amazing to listen to them, to watch our kids listening, affirming them, reassuring them, encouraging them.  Recovery is a long, hard road, and the odds are stacked against them.  I don’t know what will happen to these three women.  Will they survive the year in the program and graduate?  Will they leave or get kicked out before then?  I don’t know.  I don’t know whether the seed cast in classrooms or in our home will get choked with weeds or snatched by birds or bear a crop 30, 60, or 100-fold.

But for the span of a couple of hours, my family and I got to see God the Holy Spirit at work, and nothing can take that experience away from us or those ladies.  Tangible, audible hope.  A reminder that it’s worth casting the seed.  Worth flinging it far and wide rather than trying to aim it for the ideal demographic or market segment.  Worth being reckless with, because the seed will never run out and never lose the potency of the Word of God that it is.  There is always reason to hope, to look anxiously and expectantly for the growth.  And always reasons to give thanks in those rare moments when we see it.

 

Tired Arms?

January 23, 2020

My  arms felt tired this afternoon.  I sit in a room with 20+ guys ranging in age from their early 20’s to probably their 60’s.  Some of their faces young and fresh and some of them old and haggard.  All of them there trying to shed the demons of their addictions to drugs and alcohol.  All of them nominally acknowledging towards that end their own powerlessness to change their lives and their dependence on some power greater than themselves capable and willing to help them make the change if they will surrender their will to it.

I reach into the book and cast, flinging seed around the room.  The Word of God.  There’s all sorts of soil here.  Rocky.  Packed down.  Weed infested.  But also likely some good soil  as well.  Receptive.  Broken.  Ready.  Hopefully.  The Word goes out.  But I’m tired today.  Tired of the rolled eyes and the exaggerated yawns.  Tired of the side conversations that sometimes are whispered and sometimes not.  Tired of the sharp looks shot at those who do want to talk, interact, respond.

This is my job, to cast the seed, the Word.  But my arms get tired.  Who is listening?  Who hears?  Where does the seed sink down roots and begin to grow, transforming the soil below as shoots and leaves reach towards  the Son?

I think my arm is tired, but really it’s my eyes.  The desire to see that seed begin to sprout and grow someplace.  Anyplace.  The desire to not see weeds choking it out here and there where it once seemed so promising and vibrant.  I’m just the sower. The seed has all the power in it, all it needs to do what a seed is supposed to do.  But I move along, casting here and there,  coming back a week later to cast again.  Some weeks I see some of those seeds sprouting.  Other weeks it just looks like barren, baked stone and rock.

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.

Zinzendorf’s words still haunt me.  I still strive to be faithful to them.  To simply keep casting the seed.  To trust that it will sprout and grow.  Maybe not while I’m watching.  But someday.  Down the road a ways.  Just keep casting, slinging, hurling – in whatever way I can.  Praying for the rains and the sun and the harvesters to do a different kind of work.  Perhaps a work just as difficult in some way I can’t imagine.  Just as vital.  And from my vantage point some days, a lot more enjoyable.

 

Jesus & Me – or Me & Jesus?

January 13, 2020

Here’s a short article referring to a new book by a French photographer chronicling unusual expressions of Christianity in America  (Be warned, if you scroll through the photos associated with this article #7 contains nudity).  The premise is these are all examples of niche-marketing the Christian faith to the increasing number of  self-described unaffiliated Christians – those without attachment to any particular Christian denomination, group or sect but who still describe themselves as Christian.

I’d argue that including the Ark Encounter seems misplaced here, but perhaps from someone outside of our culture the distinction is harder to recognize (or perhaps it’s a distinction less pronounced than I think it is or should be?).  The other examples seem to be another demonstration of personal lifestyle preferences driving theology, rather than the other way around.  Rather than being conformed to Christ, we are instead encouraged to conform to nobody other than ourselves, and Christ, we are assured, will be happy to conform to us.

Problematic, to say the least.  But hardly surprising.  Traditional denominations and Christian groups have fostered this for some time, emphasizing services or programs for various different population segments or demographics rather than teaching that we are all together the body of Christ and warning against narrow association with only people like yourself.  With attendance levels falling across the country (and world) and across the Christian spectrum, an aura of desperation begins to settle in some places.  Why not try clever advertising gimmicks?  After all, the important thing is people hear the Gospel, right?

Yes, as long as they’re hearing the Gospel in the proper context, which is first hearing the Law and receiving a proper assessment of their current condition.  If that condition is happy in their nudity or comfortable in their cars, there’s a distinct possibility they won’t hear the Gospel fully, or the Law at all.  If you aren’t willing to leave your car, chances are you probably aren’t really all that worried about the problem of sin and evil in your heart.

I’m all for taking the Gospel to people, but skeptical of these sorts of gimmicks that easily  confuse the Gospel with other things.

 

Audiophora

January 6, 2020

What sort of new challenges for the new year?  That’s the question I try to ask myself.  What can I contribute to my own growth as well as reaching others with the Gospel in some respect?  For a long time I’ve resisted the trend of jumping online in terms of uploading worship services or sermons to YouTube or other social media.  I’ve long maintained that for an Internet audience, content needs to be created specifically for such an audience.  What I preach on Sunday morning is to my congregation.  It won’t necessarily translate universally (nor should it, I argue).

But it’s also obvious that online resources are a logical thing to do.  What I lack is both technical assistance towards this end or partners in any other sense of the word.  I’d like to do something with people, but that’s not necessarily something I can dictate.

So I’m putting together a light-weight recording studio upstairs at church, and will begin doing short audio recordings suitable for an online audience.  As I’ve considered this, I’ve come up with an idea to go along with it – audiophora.org.  I’ve registered the domain name but haven’t started setting up the site yet, so don’t bother trying to find it  :-)

The idea is that it would be an indexed collection of short (3-minutes or less is what I have in mind) audio files.  Some of it would be definitional in nature  – theological terms and concepts with concise definitions.  Each entry would in turn be cross-indexed with other terms, verses, etc. that come up as part of that definition.  So if I do an entry on salvation, say, then it would be cross referenced to other concepts brought up in the definition of salvation but not themselves defined there (like savior, sin, etc.).

All of this should be searchable as well as hyperlinked, so people can either find something precise or follow the rabbit-hole of hyperlinks as long as their heart desires.

Perhaps there will be full-scale studies here as well, but also broken down into bite size pieces.  Maybe one verse at a time, with a larger file entry for an entire chapter as well, or even an entire book.  I’m open to suggestions, and it would be fun to collaborate with other folks who would like to contribute, either in terms of words, concepts, etc. they would like defined, or who might even want to contribute their own audio  explanations of certain things.

Ah, but that name, tho – audiophora.com.

It’s a combination of audio and adiaphora.  Audio because, well, duh, they’re sound recordings.  Adiaphora is a philosophical and theological term which has come to mean something that isn’t either explictly commanded or forbidden.  So what color carpet should a church have?  That’s adiaphora – there’s wiggle room to make decisions.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t good things to consider, but it means the  answer isn’t a forgone conclusion via Scripture.

I’ll start setting things up in the next week or so and then do some trial recordings.  I’ll be eager for feedback and input if you’re so inclined.