Archive for December, 2008

December 29, 2008

Oxymoron: Failed Evangelism

Our mindset of results, results, results in every aspect of life has paid a terrible toll on our attitudes toward evangelism. Evangelism, of course, requires the actual proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. Any event or series of events that does not lead up to this actual verbal presentation is not evangelism. But that is another blog…back to my point – if you have spoken the breaking news of salvation by faith through Jesus Christ then it can only be one type of evangelism. Successful Evangelism!

I certainly have my preferences about what modes are most fruitful and encapsulate the matching of the presentation to that which is presented. But this hand-wrenching, heart-twisting fretting that we engage in after the fact belays a misunderstanding of what evangelism is. Our heart is always to see other people come to the place where they submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ. But our hope is not placed on people and their decisions – it is placed on the fact that God is the supreme ruler of the entire universe and that one day every one will kneel in acknowledgment of His reign. Here’s a secret – God uses the evangelism event as much for you in your walk with Him as He does for the recipient of the message. So relax – and the leave the results to God. Be faithful and proclaim His Name to the corners of the earth knowing that all evangelism is successful evangelism.

December 27, 2008

Saturdays are for Stories

We were reading the following Scripture before bedtime last week. After I finished reading the word “purification” Charis looks at me and says “I have a recipe for that.”
“You do?”
“Yup.” With that wonderfully smug look that only a five year old can muster.

Luke 2:22-24 “And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD “), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.”

December 26, 2008

Bookends

– Due to my computer taking Christmas off this is a day late, but the sentiment is still as good.

I love the bookends of Jesus’ life. The two most scandalous, offensive events that history has been witness to both are in respect to the person of Jesus the Messiah. May the incredible, indescribable significance of this event of Jesus’ birth be branded upon all of our souls. Through Jesus’ life and death God releases the hounds of heaven – Grace and Mercy – to pursue, overcome, and overwhelm us so that we ecstatically exult in Him who deserves all glory and praise.

Below are the pictures of the end result of the nativity tradition I referred to in my first post this month. Charis, my oldest daughter, was watching a power point presentation on YouTube to “O Holy Night.” As each scene would come into focus she would say things like, “that’s the star that led the wise men to see Jesus” and “that’s the angel telling the shepherds about Jesus’ birth.” On and on she explained the importance of each picture someone else had put together based off our time, as a family, considering the birth of Jesus over the month of December.

Hope your Christmas is as sweet and precious as ours.

– Israel

December 23, 2008

Hope (re)placed

All too often we Christians forget the point of ministry. Ministry is not an end to itself. This reality should have considerable impact – especially on our ministry efforts that focus on non-Christians. We do not give food, clothing, financial aid or a myriad of other benevolent outpourings of love simply for the sake of themselves. The complete revelation of Scripture continually points to the ultimate showcasing of God’s love being proclaimed as glad tidings throughout His creation. Simply, we are to engage in non-Christian ministry efforts with the intent to be able to effectively share, through words, God’s gospel message.

No actions, regardless of intent, can replace giving someone the specific information she needs in order to be in sweet fellowship with her Creator. No material good or defense of the helpless amounts to the paper this blog is written on if it doesn’t point out our incredible wickedness in stark contrast with God’s immeasurable holiness. When ministry is engaged for the sake of itself, it becomes its own gospel. Hence terms such as “the social gospel.”

Christmas is coming – or so I’ve heard. All too often the iconic imagery and tools we use to point to the hope found in the Gospel get in the way. Heart felt, and misplaced, Christian empathy that wants to stop its effort after getting the precious doll in Joanne’s hands or the indestructible fire engine in Jimmy’s hands has failed to cross the finish line. Hope that hopes in human charity is bankrupt.

All this to lead up to this story. I don’t know the people, or the school. I don’t know the particulars other than the story, but it is enough. Based on the information given, I’m going to guess that the Gospel was shared, not only in action but in word. These people crossed the finish line. Check it out and decide for yourself.

December 22, 2008

The God of Cephalopods

Genesis 1:20-23 Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” 21 And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

December 18, 2008

Instead of 12 steps try 4!

STEP ONE:

Till the day he [John Newton] died he never ceased to be amazed that, as he says at age 72, “such a wretch should not only be spared and pardoned, but reserved to the honour of preaching thy Gospel, which he had blasphemed and renounced . . . this is wonderful indeed! The more thou hast exalted me, the more I ought to abase myself.”[68] He wrote his own epitaph:

JOHN NEWTON,
Clerk,Once an Infidel and Libertine,A Servant of Slaves in Africa,Was,by the rich mercy of our Lord and SaviorJESUS CHRIST,Preserved, restored, pardoned,And appointed to preach the FaithHe had long laboured to destroy,Near 16 years at Olney in Bucks;And [28] years in this church.

When he wrote his Narrative in the early 1760s he said, “I know not that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer.”[69] The hymn we know as “Amazing Grace” was written to accompany a New Year’s sermon based on 1 Chronicles 17:16, “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far?”

Amazing grace! How sweet the soundThat saved a wretch like me,I once was lost, but now am found,Was blind but now I see.

The effect of this amazement is tenderness toward others. “[The ‘wretch’ who has been saved by grace] believes and feels his own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of his Lord. This gives him an habitual tenderness and gentleness Spirit. Humble under a sense of much forgiveness to himself, he finds it easy to forgive others.”

He puts it in a picture:

A company of travelers fall into a pit: one of them gets a passenger to draw him out. Now he should not be angry with the rest for falling in; nor because they are not yet out, as he is. He did not pull himself out: instead, therefore, of reproaching them, he should shew them pity. . . . A man, truly illuminated, will no more despise others, then Bartimeus, after his own eyes were opened, would take a stick, and beat every blind man he met.[1]

STEP TWO:

Philippians 3:4-11 “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

STEP THREE:

1 Chronicles 16:12 2 Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth,

Ephesians 2:11-13 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision ” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands– 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

STEP FOUR:

[1] From John Piper’s sketch on John Newton. Read John Piper’s entire biographical sketch Here.

December 16, 2008

The Oral Gospel

America, according to many leaders in the Christian community, is a post-Christian nation. Voddie Baucham is one obvious example just by considering a title of a book he has written, The Ever-Loving Truth: Can Faith Thrive in a Post-Christian Culture? Because of the reality behind this view we, as Christians, have found ourselves in more of a mission field then we might care to admit.

What is interesting then is how we can learn from our foreign missionaries who go to other parts of the world. We can learn from their successes. We can study their integration into the local culture as they share Christ effectively. No doubt, we are intensely concerned with this same effectiveness. My parents being missionaries has helped with my own efforts in seeking out effective tools in conveying the Gospel. Many areas of foreign missions are applicable to our attempts at ministering locally in a post-Christian culture.

However, there is one that I find more notable than the rest. It is the use of the Oral Gospel. It is at the point of “oral” I have lost you. Is it hard to believe that Americans are in need of an oral Gospel? We Americans are noted for our arrogance. However note these interesting points:[1]

  • One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book.
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.

Therefore, it should not be surprising that there are more categories on the topic of literacy than just “illiterate” and “literate.” There are two additional categories outside of the afore mentioned that have relevance to our topic. They are Functional Illiteracy and Alliteracy.

Functional Illiteracy is when someone has the ability to read, but cannot accomplish basic tasks of literacy with ease or even at all. Functional Illiteracy impacts things like technology and accounting, but also impacts the minutiae of life as well.

Alliteracy is closely related to Functional Illiteracy. Alliteracy means that you have the ability to read, but just are not interested to do so. I think it a fair guess to say that most Americans are victims of both attitudes – partly based on statistics such as those quoted above, but also partly based on an obvious distaste in our nation’s psyche for such an “arduous” task as reading. Reading is considered work of the most unrewarding kind. It is often propped up to compete against television, movies, the internet and music in a tilted competition where it inevitably loses.

For Christians this poses a most unusual problem because we base what we know concerning God on the Bible. That is why Heinrich Heppe wrote “The only source and norm of all Christian knowledge is the Holy Scripture.”[2] Sola Scriptura, which is to say that only Scripture carries normative authority in developing of Doctrine. However, if people are not intrinsically literate then how should we convey the Gospel to them?

The answer that foreign missionaries found is one that has been in use for thousands of years – to present an oral tradition of the Gospel. Consider that most who heard the Gospel in the first century were illiterate. Consider that most throughout the world today who are presented the Gospel are also illiterate.

What is the oral Gospel? The oral Gospel is a chronological collection of biblical accounts that are intentionally collated together to lead someone to an understanding of why God needed to send Jesus to die on the cross, as well as how to receive God’s grace via salvation. Here is the rub: there is not any standardized Oral Gospel to present to people. I think this the biggest reason we do not hear more of it in the U.S. The reason is that the oral Gospel takes the culture of the people into consideration. For example, if you are presenting the Gospel to tribes in Amazon who already practice animal sacrifices then you do not need to have prolonged exposure as to why there must be the spilling of blood for remittance of sins (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22). However, in the U.S. this is such an alien concept that extra time and emphasis must be spent on it.

Not only this, but the oral Gospel is meant to be more focused then just to have an oral Gospel that works for the entire nation. Rather, there probably is a good way to do an oral Gospel for Seattle, but another one for New England and yet another one for the South.

The oral Gospel is work intensive. The oral Gospel is meant to take into consideration the expanse of progressive revelation in a chronological order. Here is my question to you: What portion of Scripture would you add to your oral Gospel with your local demographic in mind and why? I have already given you mine – Lev 17:11.
[1] http://bookstatistics.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cfm
[2] Heinrich Heppe, Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformierten Kirche (Neukirchen Kreis Moers: Neukirchener, 1958), p. 10.

December 14, 2008

The raising of children and traditions

Christmas is commercialized. There is a bundle of Christmas…uh-hum… holiday movies opining about the bottom dollar of “the season.” Never mind that the term “season” or “holiday” is so vague it is a wonder why pop culture is so sure there is a reason to the season. How do they know? So here is Hollywood lamenting the raping of the soul of Christmas by making movies that gross millions. Consider Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carey. Its domestic gross sales were $260,031,035 with JC earning $34.5 in the starring role. The ability of Hollywood to be so profitable on this topic shows an understanding that the common American experiences some angst come Christmas. Lucy Van Pelt’s sentiment is stirring, “I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.” And then “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

And this is where we, as Christians, are missing the boat…err…sleigh. We gaff at Jesus missing from the season. But are we so different? Consider these two comparisons (names have been changed to protect the innocent).

Jack and Jill, who both work on the hill, spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in frenzy. The emotions run high as they try to figure out how they are going to fit everyone in – family, friends, and work in both time and money. Each time depression starts to settle in Jill makes a quick dash to the store and spends some cash to raise her moral. The whole family’s self esteem seems to rise to Mt. Mackenzie proportions along with the holiday presents, which used to fit under the Holiday tree. Now they are on the other side of the couch, competing as the iconic symbol of a truly happy holiday. Of course, Jack wakes up every odd day of the week at one in the morning realizing he may have forgot someone – could it be Jill? This possibility only sends him into panic as he races into the office and with the stroke of two fingers – and the blessing of bookmarks – opens up EBay. He mindlessly charges anything that looks like it was intentionally created to reaffirm that a woman’s place is anywhere but in the house – especially the kitchen. Daily, the FedEx guy stops by to drop off more presents, Jill stacks receipts, Jack freaks as he sees the credit card debt build until he races out to buy a triple espresso. Due to excessive jitters he purchases eggnog and bourbon on the way home. They jam their 1.5 kid(s) – not sure if 1.5 should be plural or singular – in the overly sized MINI van and head off to Grandma’s…no wait this time its at Bob’s….or weren’t we renting a club house this year? Oh well, it’s only the last of seven different holiday present exchanges. Jack and Jill spike the kids’ soda with extra sugar just before entry into the house to make sure they are all smiles as presents are torn to shreds. Hugs and kisses given, small pleasantries pretended and everyone goes home. The one thing –the nice thing – that Jack and Jill do, that helps make sense of all the holiday nonsense is that they have a family tradition. They all sit down and watch Grinch together – oh and Miracle on 34th Street and definitely A Christmas Story. Sigh

Barnabas and Chastity also spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in frenzy. Not only do they have family, work and friends to worry about, but they also have church (everyone knows you keep friends and church separate – its in the constitution). They barely can figure out how they are supposed to focus on God as the preacher drags on for an extra fifteen minutes. Barney taps his watch impatiently. He looks over and notices his daughter coloring a dinosaur purple. The family begins to succumb to depression as they realize each person will only be able to have five presents this year – apparently someone was lacking in faith. Still, Chastity’s depression is salved off by sneaking some eggnog shake from Sonic while Barney sneaks out for a midnight puff on a fine Cuban cigar (DO NOT ASK HOW HE GOT IT). The family puts up a Christmas tree, nativity, sends out cards, and then….decides its time to tap into ol’ faithful, their trusty credit card. (Well, you would name him too if you only had one the entire time you’ve been married.) Through December they ram all fifteen kids into a car built for two and make their way, day after day, to a different house. They exchange presents and take pleasantries, no wait….they exchange presantries and take pleasants…oh, I give up! The good news is they have a family tradition. Every year they watch Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown and Rudolph and Frosty. It’s so nice to have the family all together, sharing, in one room.

Realize the importance of family traditions. We all have them. Our lives reveal what we value in Christmas. If our time is overwhelmingly focused on ourselves, with presents and busyness then the message our children receive is that holidays – especially Christmas – are about self gratification or family reunions or overeating or enjoying annual shows or anything but Jesus. Most people use the term “raising kids” in a passive sense, almost as if it is our children who raise us. Passive approaches to traditions results in a passive style of rearing our offspring. Bad idea.

God teaches us the importance of being intentional with the raising of children. And we must be intentional, which means being active. We can be active in our traditions as well. God shows us in His Word that there is value in intentional traditions. In Joshua 4.7 God tells the Israelites to build a memorial out of rocks to remind future generations of the crossing of the Jordan River. In 1 Samuel 7.12 Samuel takes a rock and calls it “Ebenezer” (rock of help) as a reminder of what the Lord had done. In Kings, the Israelites took the worship of God with little seriousness. They knew He was to be worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, they were slow to build His temple and worshipped Him on high places other than Jerusalem (1 Kings 3.3-4). This passive approach to taking God’s directions seriously led to them worshipping the false gods of the area. It was an easy transition because they worshipped their gods on high places on surrounding hills just as the Israelites had taken to worshipping God. In effect, there was no distinction between the worship of God and the worship of the false gods like Asherah or Baal. This building up of memorials a la altars at the wrong locations to different Ancient Near East gods led to the turning of the heart of God’s people away from Him. So much so that Josiah removed an idol of Asherah from the Temple during one reformation (2 Kings 23.6)

The Bible is saturated with the importance of traditions. We have the Passover which reminds all Jews of their deliverance of 400+ years of slavery in Egypt, as well as looks to the promise of the Messiah (Exodus 12.14). We have the Lord’s Supper, which is the culminate Passover meal, which declares the good news every time it is observed (1 Cor 11.26). Every time you take the taste the flour and feel the texture of the brittle cracker in your mouth you are reminded in a tangible way what Jesus accomplished. Every time the tart sweetness of the wine rolls across your tongue you declare the gospel message. Both the Passover in the Old Testament, and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, were traditions directly commanded by God to be observed.

There is no doubt that we are instructed to take the raising of our children seriously (Prov 22.6; Eph 6.4; Col 3.21). When we look to the biblical example we see traditions that have imagery designed to provoke remembrance in order to prepare for the future, as well as a way to set apart as a way to distinguish significance. It is because we desire to prepare our children for success that we must take traditions seriously.

Here are a few traditions we have been doing or are in the midst of establishing to protect our children from our lazy ways of celebrating. For Thanksgiving, a holiday which was established to give God thanks, we build a memorial akin to what is mentioned in Joshua. Our rocks are much smaller (whew). We have painted some rocks and written specific things on these rocks. These “markers” are things that have occurred in the Bible, early church history, as well as our own lives. Our “markers” include God’s deliverance of His people for Egypt, the building of Solomon’s temple, Luther’s 95 theses and Hurricane Katrina. Each year we touch up the paint and add new ones if need be. Then we set each in the center of our table talking to our daughters about what that specific marker means. After our memorial is built we place the cross in the center reminding us of the single greatest reason – and person – to give thanksgiving.

For Christmas, we build a nativity scene out of construction paper onto a large wall. The scene is about 8 feet long and four feet high. Each night we build a different thing in the nativity and talk about just that one aspect of what begins the most scandalous story in history. The first night is the manger. As we build it, we talk about what a manger is (a stable or a barn or like Charis likes to say “a farm”). We talk about the Creator of the universe, who spoke it into existence, coming down and being born in the most embarrassing of conditions. To think that near his head there were animals “pooping and peeing.” Of course, the whole scene builds. We do the night sky with the stars and THE star. One night we do animals, another shepherds, another the magi, another the angels, another Mary, another Joseph and finally Jesus.

Throughout history there have been the weak, the defenseless, the orphan and widow and sick and poor and homeless. We are the depressed and heart-heavy of the world who cry out for justice in utter despair when none around us can give it. We see countless atrocities via man and nature that our minds cannot grasp. Evil, and the world, for everyone, at some time, makes no sense. One day everyone of my children will be away from my keep and will experience the utter, shocking, cold reality that she is powerless and helpless. At some point she will no longer be smart enough, cunning enough, beautiful enough, strong enough, and rich enough; at some point her daddy will no longer be strong enough or man enough to help her, to protect her. What will she decide that day? Will she turn to alcohol or drugs or sex or novels or TV or another man or politics or exclusion or mental insanity or apathy or satire or failing philosophy such as pragmatism? I hope and pray not. Rather, I pray that as a parent I evidence to her that God redeems, that God saves, that there is good news and His name is Jesus and that if she cries to Him she will be saved. And it all this starts right now by being intentional with traditions.

If you need a few pointers, these are my suggestions:
1. Be intentional in delivery. It needs be something that your children can begin to delineate from other days.
2. Be creative. If you think you lack creativity then check out the web. All I know is that what matters is you spending your time with your children on the specific value you want to reinforce and to do it in a way that speaks to them on their heart and head levels. Kids, paint, glue, construction paper, glitter and scissors really do mix (parental supervision please).
3. Be bold. Do not teach your kids that celebrating of Jesus is something to trivialize, privatize or be embarrassed over. Teach them also that is okay to try new traditions and if you mess up so be it. Try something else next year. Maybe your tradition will be messing up one good tradition a year! If you have teenagers maybe you can do a rap song to get their attention.
4. Be biblical. We do all things for God’s glory – all things. While it is okay to be creative in relaying the story I would advise against revising the story. Trust me – a child can be trained to sit still AND pay attention if you evidence time after time the importance of it. I read Matthew 1 entirely to my 5, 4 and 2 year old tonight and they were asking me questions about the different people when we were done. I know Christians my age that cringe at the genealogy passages. Because of this we miss a huge point in God’s word (tradition and genealogies go hand in hand). Additionally, we are evidencing to them that some parts of Scripture are not important.
5. Pray. Specifically I have in mind two things, but the Spirit may lead other items to you. First, I pray that God would help me worship Him in unbridled appreciation concerning the events we are celebrating so that I do glorify Him and so that my kids see the authenticity of it all. Second, I pray for a lasting effect on my family and myself that we will have the fortitude to not grow weary in doing good concerning these things.

I pray that you will not grow weary in doing good. I pray that God will help you filter the good so that you can focus on the great. Have a Merry Christmas!