Thursday, April 17, 2014

Repent! - The E Word - Part 4

I can't remember the first time I met the "Repent!" Guy. 

You know the guy, right? 

Bullhorn in his hand.
Spit flying from his mouth.
Clenched right fist in the air. 
Cardboard sign that matches his words: REPENT!
Crowd of silent listeners and hecklers surrounding him.

Surely you've seen him too. He makes the rounds at sporting events, on boardwalks, outside of concert venues, and at political rallies. 

I might not remember the first time I met him, but I remember one incident from my childhood. It might have been my first encounter. I was on my way to the San Diego Chargers game and I heard him yelling with a snarl on his face, "Sinners will go to hell. REPENT!" 

He said the name Jesus somewhere in his presentation, but I'd never heard the word Jesus uttered with the kind of anger and vitriol he spewed from his mouth. 

The word "repent" carries all kinds of connotations depending on your experience. 

Most often I hear it associated with feeling sorry for the sins we have committed. But repentance is not just about feeling sorry. It's so much bigger than that!

In my last post, I suggested that it's impossible to obey the gospel. How do you obey a piece of news? Instead we welcome, receive, and celebrate news. We can obey God, but it's seems difficult to obey information.

And yet, Peter and Paul command us to the "obey" the gospel in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17. The word obey has several translation options. Most translations translate the word in 2 Thessalonians as "obey," but it can also be translated "to respond" or "to accept."

I still stand by my premise that it's impossible to "obey" good news.

But I believe it is possible, and expected, that believers will "respond" to the good news. And our response to the good news should be repentance. But the kind of repentance I'm referring to is bigger than the "REPENT!" guy on the street corner offers. 

Check this out...

In the Gospel of Mark, the first words out of Jesus' mouth are, "The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news."

It's this exciting announcement that something new is breaking into the world. Things are not as they once were. Jesus has come to bring God's reign to earth. He has come to make things on earth as they already are in heaven. And that's why he doesn't just preach the good news about their spiritual condition. He comes healing people and changing their physical condition.

And what are we to do because of this announcement? Jesus tells us. He says, "Repent and believe the good news." In other words, we are supposed to respond to the good news through repentance and belief. 

As I've said, we usually associate repentance with feeling sorry or asking forgiveness for things we've done wrong. And those things are certainly part of repentance. But repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means "to change one's mind" or "to change one's behavior."

Saying sorry isn't enough. 
Repentance is a change of mindset and direction.

Jesus isn't just trying to make us feel sorry for our sins. Jesus' first words are an exciting announcement about a world on its way that we can live into now. 

In other words, to repent is to imagine the way things will be with Christ returns, and to align our future with God's future. Jesus wasn't wanting a bunch of sorry people to follow him. He wanted to give us a vision of his future and to let us know that the Holy Spirit would empower us to live a life in tune with the way things will be when he restores all things. 

Now, that's good news! 

Good news doesn't demand obedience. Good news demands repentance. Good news demands realignment. Good news demands a new way of life. God is ushering in change and he needs change agents who will join him in putting on heaven on display right here on earth.

And if you don't think good news demands repentance, then you've never had a child.

Holly and I are days away from welcoming our third child into the world. That's right; we're moving from man-to-man to zone defense. 

We announced the good news months ago to our friends and family. No obedience is needed, but you better believe repentance is needed.

Because things are about to change in our lives. Any of you who have had a child know what I'm talking about. It's not enough for us to celebrate the birth of our child. We will have to change quite a few things about our current schedule to live in tune with the good news of a third child.

In other words, our world is about to get rocked whether we want to admit it or not. To repent, in our situation, is to prepare to live in a new way as a result of another child. We have to adjust our budget. We're catching up on sleep now. We moved to a new place so our child would have a room of his/her own. The announcement of good news of a third child has changed everything!

The kingdom needs fewer people calling for repentance with scowls on their faces on street corners and more people calling for repentance with balloons and birth announcements in hand ready to usher in a whole new world. 

The call to repent isn't bad news. 
The call to repent is good news. 

It's a call to align our lives with the world God is going to bring. 
It's a call to practice resurrection. 
It's a call to give people a vision of what their lives could be like.
It's a call for the church to live as a colony of heaven as ambassadors on earth. 
It's a call to live the abundant life. 

So, what are you waiting for? 
Repent and believe the good news. 

Repentance isn't something we yell from street corners. 
Repentance is something we show people that they can't resist. 

It's a call to "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." 
And that's far better fruit than Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. 
It's the fruit of the kingdom.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Can You Obey the Gospel? - The E Word - Part 3

There's this strange phrase that I've come to despise the more I get to thinking about evangelism. You may have heard it before.

"Have you obeyed the gospel?"

It's the language I've grown up with. It made sense at one point in my life. But not anymore.

Let's think about that phrase for a moment: "Obey the gospel"

Have you ever read a birth announcement from a couple who struggled to have kids and thought to yourself, "I need to obey the good news."

No! Tears flood your eyes. You probably utter a word of thanks to God for his answer to prayer. And you celebrate!

Have you ever prayed to God for a job after a long season of unemployment? When the long season of suffering is over and you agree to take that job, has it ever entered your mind to "obey the good news"?

No! You call your spouse and you say, "Put on something nice. We're going to celebrate at our favorite restaurant. No expenses spared. I got the job!"

The gospel is good news. And good news is not something you obey. It's something you celebrate.

You can't obey the gospel. You can respond to the gospel. You can receive the gospel. You can welcome the gospel. But it is impossible to obey the gospel.

We seek to obey the gospel when we misunderstood the gospel.

At one point in my tribe, the gospel was thought of as a 5-step process of being saved.
1) Hear
2) Believe
3) Confess
4) Repent
5) Be Baptized

It's possible to obey a process.

But those five steps are not the gospel. They might be a response to the good news. But they are not the good news. The good news is not about what we are to do. The good news is about what God has already done in Jesus Christ.

The gospel is an announcement. The gospel is the good news.

As I said in my last post, evangelism is not figuring out a way to break bad news to people. Evangelism is about getting to share good news with people who are in need of good news.

The good news will need different emphases for different people.

And that's why a packaged set of 6 Bible studies won't necessarily reconcile the world with God.

Jesus shared the good news of the kingdom of God in several different ways. At different points in his ministry, he compared the kingdom to a pearl, a treasure, and a mustard seed. He told parables about a lost coin, a lost sheep, and a lost son to reveal the good news of the kingdom.

Evangelism doesn't start with a prepackaged set of lessons.

Evangelism must begin with relationship. It is a good idea to get to know someone before you share the gospel with them.

What is his story?
What are her experiences with God?
What are her experiences with Christians?
What are his wounds?
What are his doubts?
What are her interests?
How does her culture impact the way she hears the story?

Your telling of the gospel should have some consistencies. The story is the story.

But I would imagine the emphasis of your telling of the gospel would change based on a person's answers to the questions above.

The gospel should be shared differently with a man on his deathbed and a teenager with her whole life ahead of her. The gospel should be shared differently with an American in New York City and an African who lives in the bush.

Missionaries intuitively know this kind of thing. They face cultural challenges that force them to tell the good news in ways that will make sense in the cultures they seek to reconcile to God.

Guess what? Missionaries aren't just people who leave their home country and share the gospel in a different culture.

You are a missionary.

Get to know the Bible. But while you're at it, get to know your culture. And share the gospel in relevant ways.

I am grateful for the gospel. I welcome the gospel.

The gospel doesn't need obedience. The gospel needs to be shared, heard, received and celebrated.
April 17, 2014

After the feedback of several friends about this post, I became aware of a couple of passages that directly mention "obeying" the gospel. I appreciate that feedback. That's what a blogging community is all about: Communal Discernment and Wisdom. 

Paul talks about the need to "obey the gospel" in 2 Thessalonians 1:8. Peter uses the same language in 1 Peter 4:17. 

Part 4 of this series, "The E Word," continues the conversation. You can read that post here.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Is It Really Good News? - The E Word - Part 2

Evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion, which means good news. But originally, euangelion wasn't a religious term. Euangelion was a political term.

In the first century, when Caesar had won an important military victory, an evangelist (messenger) would brig the euangelion (good news) back to the city of the emperor's victory in battle. In the same way, when one Caesar succeeded another, gave birth to an heir, or achieved another act worthy of celebration, messengers would spread the euangelion.

The early gospel writer co-opted Caesar's term in order to bring the euangelion of another king named Jesus. Evangelism comes from a tradition of sharing good news.

But the method of evangelism most of us grew up with wasn't exactly good news. At least, it didn't start that way, did it?

Most of you remember the first question you were to ask. I mentioned it on the first blog post in the series.

"Do you know where you would end up tonight if you were to die?"

That sounds more like bad news. Because what we hoped the person would say is "I don't know" or "Hell." Because if they responded with either of those answers, you were right on track. Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and Acts 2:38 were in your arsenal and sure to give hope to your unsuspecting "friend."

We knew the well-worn, fail-proof Bible study process.

But as I think about it, I'm uneasy about that whole method.

Here's what I mean...

When I have good news to share with my wife, I don't have to determine a fool-proof way to break the good news to her. I don't have a strategy for sharing good news with her. And even without a strategy, she celebrates the good news with me.

The only time I have to determine my approach to sharing news with my wife is when it is bad news.

Which makes me wonder why we spend so much time trying to deliver the euangelion (the good news) in a such a strategic, step-by-step way. Why does it have to be so difficult? Why do we have to rehearse our telling of the good news?

Are we sure it's good news?

Is it good news?

Karl Marx once said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." It was his way of saying that religion is a way for those in power to maintain the status quo in this world. If the upper classes could convince the lower classes that a better world was on its way, perhaps they would be content to live a less-than-abundant life now.

But Jesus did not come to give us "pie in the sky when we die by and by."

Jesus promised us eternal life. Not eternal life that begins after a life of misery. Not heaven after the maintenance of status quo on earth.

Look at what he said.

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10b).

Jesus came to announce a kingdom that would change everything now. He said, "The kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15b). He prayed, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

That makes it sound like Marx misunderstood Jesus.
That makes it sound like we misunderstood Jesus.

Evangelism isn't about sharing bad news that will eventually turn into good news in another lifetime.
Evangelism is about sharing good news that has already begun affecting our world and will one day fully affect our existence forever.

There is a hard edge to evangelism. The proper response to the good news requires repentance. It requires tuning our lives into the world that God is bringing. But it is a beautiful world that needs more messengers. It's the best news you could possibly share.

We've all been the bearer of bad news. We've all been in the position of carrying bad news to someone who was unaware that the conversation we were about to begin would alter their lives forever.

I've been in hospital rooms with people who have lost family or friends who are close to them. It's hard to lose someone you love. But I've noticed the most difficult expression on their faces often comes when they realize that they have to deliver the message that "Daddy isn't coming home" to the kids.

No one wants to deliver that message.

But I've seen people fight over delivering good news. I've seen my kids fight over getting share good news.

Have you ever seen a young child give a gift picked out for a parent? The gift is wrapped in a way only a mother could love. And before mom can even pull out the tissue paper (Hey! There's nothing wrong with gift bags!), the child ruins the surprise and tells her what the gift is.

The good news doesn't need to be packaged. The good news doesn't need a strategy for "breaking the news." The good news is good news on its own, without our help.

And in that sense, evangelism doesn't sound like a chore. It sounds like a privilege.

You are a messenger of the king. He gives you the honor of announcing his reign. And that reign is better than anything Caesar could conceive of.

Caesar's euangelion might be good news for some.
But the euangelion of Jesus is good news for all.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The E Word - Part 1

It's time that the church had a conversation about the dreaded E-word.

No not that E Word, silly. (Is there an E Word by the way?) I'm talking about Evangelism.

I say that in as hushed a tone as I can because, like it or not, evangelism has fallen on hard times in progressive, grace-oriented Churches of Christ.

There are quite a few reasons for the oversight:

1) Some of us grew up knocking doors. And once we left home, we vowed we would never knock on another door if we could help it.

That's the beauty of text messaging. I text my friends and have them open the door for me because the action itself takes me back to horrible memories. (Just kidding.)

2) When we stepped out of our legalism, we left behind a message that lent itself to hit-and-run evangelism.

What is hit-and-run evangelism? Hit-and-run evangelism occurs when you have no relationship with a person you are sharing the gospel with. It often happens when you ask someone a question like, " Where would you end up if you died tonight?" Who thought reminding people of their mortality would be a great introduction to a meaningful, life-changing conversation anyway? The run part happens after our "target" or "lost person" (Both are odd jargon for someone who doesn't know Jesus. Who thought those terms up anyway?) awkwardly wiggled out of the awkward situation we created for them.

And then we would quote Luke 10, "shook the dust off our feet," and checked one more person off of our checklist. We did our part. That was what was important.*

3) We weren't sure who we were trying to convert anymore.

There was a time when anyone who wasn't Church of Christ was a person who needed to be converted. But when we realized the kingdom was more expansive than our little tribe, we lost the us/them dichotomy that was so clear in the old model.

If we aren't converting all of those people, then who are we converting? We had our notes for how to defeat a Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Methodist. But our playbook for people without a church background was lacking.

4) Others of us discovered that we could tell people that Evangelism wasn't our gift and we wouldn't be forced to do it as long as we used our gifts in other meaningful ways for the sake of the kingdom.

These are just a few of the many reasons we let the E Word disappear from our vocabulary and practice.

Evangelism, in the churches I've spent time in, is all but extinct.

And it's one of the reasons most of our churches are plateaued or declining. Some of our churches have kept the illusion of growth because they are in booming suburbs. Others have benefitted from the implosion of other churches in their area. And a few churches truly have grown through new Christians.

This is the first in a series blog posts I am writing on the E Word: Evangelism.

But I want to begin by confessing my own sins. I am not an evangelist. I did not grow up in an evangelistic household (Mom and Dad, it's one of the very few growth areas I have from the heritage you have passed on to me). But I want to change that in the years to come. I want to change the future of my family and my church toward this goal.

There are plenty of churches out there who are content to reach churched people. As long as they grow, it doesn't matter if the kingdom grows or not.

I don't want to be a part of that church. Do you?

The church ought to be one of the only organizations who exists for those who not a part of us yet.

But these days, I feel like we're a church for Christians rather than a church for the world.

I'm beginning to wonder if our more conservative brothers and sisters have something right that we've lost. A burden for the lost. A passion to give good news to people who need good news.

But I think we can do better than the old methods. And over the next few weeks, I hope to suggest a way forward.

What are your experiences with evangelism? What keeps you from sharing your faith?
*Though I am hard on old evangelistic techniques, I do not mean to suggest that conversions by the old methods are any less important in the kingdom. Jule Miller film strips have saved many people. So has door knocking. People who don't share the good news haven't saved anyone.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

30 Years Old

Today is my 30th Birthday.

In other words, I'm beginning my 4th decade.

30 will sound different to each of my readers. If you are older than me, 30 sounds like I've got my whole life ahead of me. If you are younger than me, 30 sounds like I'm nearing the end of my life.

Everything is relative.

But one thing I am grateful for is all of the Boomers who made 40 the new 30 before making 50 the new 40. Your vanity is my generation's gain.

But all joking aside, I find great value in reflecting on big occasions.

In fact, here are two birthdays I used for reflection earlier in the life of my blog:
Reflections at 22
Reflections at 26

In many ways, I had no business starting into full-time preaching at 24-years old. If Jesus didn't start his ministry until 30, why should anyone else feel they are ready before then? But I am grateful to Littleton for giving me an opportunity to preach. While most of my Bible major friends have already left ministry, I have been given a gift of a firm foundation because of the support of my elders and congregation.

I see 30 as a year to hit reset in my ministry. I first sensed my call to preaching at the age of 18. I have now trained to be a minister for 12 years. The first 6 of those years were educational training. The last 6 of those years have been on-the-job training.

I am now more certain of who I am as a disciple of Jesus.
I am now more certain of the spiritual gifts and abilities God has given me.
I am now more certain of the kind of leader God has called me to be.
I am now more certain of the kind of church I am called to lead.
And I have never been more excited about my future than today.

God has blessed me with so much:
1) A beautiful, godly, incredible wife - Though I didn't know how incredible my choice was at the age of 20, God knew better than I did that Holly was exactly the person I needed. We celebrate 10 years of marriage this summer.
2) Wonderful children - Maddox and Addison are the loves of my life. And I can't wait to feel my heart expand once again as our next child enters the world next month.
3) A supportive extended family - My extended family and in-laws are a joy to be with. Many people dread the holidays, but each visit home is something I look forward to.
4) The world's best calling - I love preaching and leading a local church. It is a joy to search Scripture each week on behalf of Christians who are seeking ways to connect with those who don't know Jesus yet.
5) A supportive church family - God has blessed us with the Littleton Church. As a young minister, I have received all of the support and encouragement I have needed in my early years of ministry. We could not live so far away from our families if it were not for the love we have experienced from our church family.

The One Word that I've chosen for Year 30: NEXT

I can't wait to see what the next 30 years have to offer! There will be moments of pain that God will use to mold me into the person he wants me to be. And there will be incredible moments of joy that God will use to remind me of his goodness.

Here are some goals I have for the NEXT 30:
1) Grow closer to God - I want my actions to align with the words I preach each Sunday.
2) Grow to love Holly exponentially more so that the empty nest is something we look forward to.
3) Raise my kids in such a way that when they don't have to come home, they will want to.
4) Lead the church fearlessly to reach people who are far from God.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Blessing Ranch Covenant Group (Part Deux)

About five months ago, I posted about my initial meeting with a covenant group at Blessing Ranch. You can read about my first group time here. It was a life-changing experience that I would encourage any minister to consider.

Many people don't know about the loneliness of ministry.

Less than 25% of Christian men surveyed have a close male friend right now.

But get this: For ministers, the percentage is even smaller. Less than 5% of ministers have a close friend. In other words in a room of 100 ministers, fewer than 5 of them have a close friend!

There are many reasons for this tragic statistic:
1) Many ministers have been burned by a friend in the past. We don't know who to trust.
2) Some ministers have allowed the institutional hierarchy of his/her church to keep him/her away from meaningful relationships within the body. Who wants to be friends with a minister?
3) Ministers have allowed their ridiculous schedules and inability to say "no" to allow us little time for building relationships. Who has time for a close friend?
4) Some ministers have built a public facade that cannot withstand the scrutiny of a close relationship. If I have a close friend, he/she will see through my stage act.
5) We forget that ministry is about people and not about programs.

Regardless of your agreement with the reasons I've stated above, this trend of shallow relationships for ministers should concern us.

We know how to preach about community, but very few of us have any community to truly speak of.

These stats have to change.

And Alan Ahlgrim (and others) is giving his life to see these statistics change. Alan, the former Senior Pastor of Rocky Mountain Christian Church, has put together several covenant groups in his first year as Director of Covenant Groups for Blessing Ranch.

Today, I am able to say that I am in covenant with three other ministers who are committed to talking monthly and connecting face-to-face semi-annually for several days of reflection, disclosure, discovery, and discernment.

This past week was such a blessing to me. Here are a few pictures I took from my time on the Ranch:

Here is a picture looking from the guest house at the vistas directly above Blessing Ranch:
Here are several pictures I took from from the top of the ridge in the picture above:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Happy 100th Al!

Today at church, we got to celebrate the 100th Birthday of one of our members, Al Chesser.
Al is an incredible man. He's one of those guys who tells you a story and you automatically believe it was true no matter how absurd it would be for a common person. In the words of one of our shepherds this morning, "With all due respect to the Dos Equis guy, Al is the most interesting man I have ever known."

Al was the President of the United Transportation Union. If you've ridden on Amtrak, you can thank Al Chesser for its presence in our world today. He knew every president from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter. Lyndon Johnson was one of his good friends. He rode on Air Force One, batted against Satchel Paige, and was born before World War I began.

Just incredible!

I got the honor of attending Al's 100th birthday party Saturday evening.
And today, I got to interview Al during a celebration at church. He is one of the most optimistic and positive human beings I have ever met. His faith earned him the respect of Christians and non-Christians alike.

And perhaps most impressively, Al just renewed his driver's license through the age of 104.

Al, thank you for a life well lived!