theology

~Falling away~

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My motivation for writing this blog is twofold:  First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations.  Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles.  Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20).  To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.

I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus.  I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do:  make disciples.

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Apostasy means to fall away from the truth.  To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy.  The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence.  Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity.  Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc.  Some churches do this.  Others do not.  But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers.  It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary.  It is aimed at everyone in the church.  But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling.  That’s okay.  But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists?  Are you supporting them in your tithes?  Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?

The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love.  It is what Jesus asked us to do.  People are going to hell.  Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him.  He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well.  This is what He wants.  Is this happening in your life and church?  Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in.  If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.

In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers.  Our comfort is important to us.  But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met.  Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs.   I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in.  Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus.  The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians.  He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment.  He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.

The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more.  For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask.  But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian.  This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.

Is this too harsh?

If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives.  Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ.  For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.

Pastors have a huge job before them.  They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints.  This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians.  Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape.  According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc.  This is truly sad and dangerous.  Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians.  I hope you’re right.  But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.

People are going to hell.  The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society.  Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium.  They are supposed to be fishers of men.  Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion.  This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.

The Christian Church needs to wake Up!

Christianity is under an ever increasing attack.  Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms.  Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms.  Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots.  Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach!  Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working!  Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell.  This is the sign of apostasy within the church!

Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly.  There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word.  There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness.  It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world.  There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before.  Let’s not give up nor become discouraged.  Let’s support one another in prayer.  Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God.  Let’s tithe properly.  Let’s witness.  Let’s take risks for Jesus.  Let’s do what He asks of us.

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).

 

~One Gospel Is Required~

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Two Questions, Three Positions

Three positions abound today on the question of whether Christ is the only way to salvation. All three can be detected by how each answers these two fundamental questions: First, Is Jesus the only Savior? More fully: Is the sinless life of Christ and his atoning death and resurrection the only means by which the penalty of sin is paid and the power of sin defeated? Second, Is faith in Christ necessary to be saved? More fully: Is conscious knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection for sin and explicit faith in Christ necessary for anyone to become a recipient of the benefits of Christ’s atoning work and so be saved?

Pluralism answers both questions, ‘No.’ The pluralist (e.g., John Hick) believes that there are many paths to God, Jesus being only one of them. Since salvation can come through other religions and religious leaders, it surely follows that people do not have to believe in Christ to be saved.

Inclusivism answers the first question, ‘Yes,’ and the second question, ‘No.’ To the inclusivist (e.g., Clark Pinnock), although Jesus has accomplished the work necessary to bring us back to God, nonetheless, people can be saved by responding positively to God’s revelation in creation and perhaps in aspects of their own religions. So, even though Christ is the only Savior, people do not have to know about or believe in Christ to be saved.

Exclusivism answers both questions, ‘Yes.’ The exclusivist (e.g., Ron Nash, John Piper, Bruce Ware) believes that Scripture affirms both truths, first, that Jesus alone has accomplished the atoning work necessary to save sinners, and second, that knowledge of and faith in Christ is necessary for anyone to be saved. The remainder of this article offers a brief summary of some of the main support for these two claims.

Only One Way? The Exclusivity of Jesus Christ and the Gospel

Jesus is the Only Savior

Why think that Jesus is the only Savior? Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.

1. Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

2. Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1; Philippians 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:5), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

3. Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 2:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 9:13; 1 Peter 2:21), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. This prefigured the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

4. Christ alone died a penal, substitutionary death (Isaiah 53:4; Romans 3:21; 2 Corinthians 2:21; Galatians 3:10), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And because Christ lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die. Rather, the cause of his death was owing to the fact that the Father imputed to him our sin. The death that he died was in our place. No one else in the history of the world has died because he bore the sin of others and not as the judgment for his own sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

5. Christ alone rose from the dead triumphant over sin (Acts 2:22; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:16), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The Bible indicates that a few people, other than Christ, have been raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17; John 11:38), but only Christ has been raised from the dead never to die again, having triumphed over sin. The wages of sin is death, and the greatest power of sin is death. So, Christ’s resurrection from the dead demonstrates that his atoning death for sin accomplished both the full payment of sin’s penalty and full victory over sin’s greatest power. No one else in the history of the world has been raised from the dead triumphant over sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Conclusion: Christ alone qualifies as Savior, and Christ alone is Savior. Jesus’ own words could not be clearer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And the Apostle Peter confirms, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These claims are true of no one else in the history of the world. Indeed, Jesus alone is Savior.

Faith in Christ is Necessary to be Saved

Why think that faith in Christ is necessary to be saved? The teaching of the apostles is clear, that the content of the gospel now (since the coming of Christ) focuses directly upon the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, and that by faith in Christ one is forgiven of his sin and granted eternal life. Consider the following passages that support the conviction that people are saved only as they know and trust in Christ as their Savior.

1. Jesus’ own teaching shows that the nations need to hear and repent to be saved (Luke 24:44). Jesus commands that “repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The people Jesus here describes are currently both unrepentant and unforgiven. To be forgiven they must repent.  But to repent they must hear the proclamation of Christ’s work in his name. And this is true for all the nations, including Jews who haven’t trusted Christ. Jesus does not envision the “nations” as already having saving revelation available to them. Rather, believers must proclaim the message of Christ to all the nations for people in those nations to be saved.

2. Paul teaches that even pious Jews, and everyone else, must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Romans 10:1).  Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer is for the salvation of his fellow Jews. Even though they have a zeal for God, they do not know that God’s righteousness comes only through faith in Christ. So these Jews, even though pious, are not saved. Whoever will call upon the name of Christ (see Romans 10:9along with Romans 10:13) will be saved. But this requires that someone tell them. And this requires that those are sent. Missions, then, is necessary, since people must hear the gospel of Christ to be saved.

3. Cornelius’s story demonstrates that even pious Gentiles must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Acts 10:1, Acts 10:38; Acts 11:13; Acts 15:7). Far from being saved before Peter came to him, as some think, Cornelius was a pious (Acts 10:2) Gentile who needed to hear of Christ, and believe in Christ, to be saved. When Peter reports about the conversion of the Gentiles, he declares that only when he preached did Cornelius hear the message he needed to hear by which he would “be saved” (Acts 11:14; cf. Acts 15:8). Despite his piety, Cornelius needed to hear the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to be saved.

Conclusion: Jesus is the only Savior, and people must know and believe in Christ to be saved. May we honor Christ and the gospel, and manifest our faithfulness to God’s word, by upholding these twin truths and living in a manner that demonstrates our commitment to them.

~How Do We Prepare Our Millennial’s For Ministry?~

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In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:

These kids know almost nothing about their faith.

It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.

Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”

Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”

Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).

You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”

There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.

The first goes something like this:  The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.

Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”

I think both approaches are flawed.

Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.

The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.

There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.

Adopt a Different Tone

As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.

This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.

Foster Intergenerational Relationships

I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians by Drew Dyck). If there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.

We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.

The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.

Present a Bigger God

Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.

Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?

Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.

I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.

 

~What Fashions “Your” Beliefs and Thinking?

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In an attempt to improve ourselves and our calling to perform ministry May & I have embarked upon volunteering three days a week at a local church/substance abuse center. We are also performing phase 2 of peer-counseling to enhance our adapting skills to the mission we have been called to perform in our community. Association with many groups has opened our eyes to Social Psychology and how it is used to fashion and shape peoples behavior.

We have ceased to think theologically about the ministry. Instead, we characterize it almost exclusively in functional or institutional terms. There are at least two reasons for this shift in emphasis. On the one hand there are the new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures, and on the other the requests of parishioners, the denominational programs, and the culture of the local community.

 

How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?

These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.

Psychologists are studying how social norms, the often-unspoken rules of a group, shape not just our behavior but also our attitudes. Social norms influence even those preferences considered private, such as what music we like or what policies we support or even what beliefs we entertain as it relates to denominational choices of churchs. Interventions that take advantage of already-existing group pressures, the thinking goes, should be able to shift attitudes and change behaviors at less cost in effort and resources.

Norms serve a basic human social function, helping us distinguish who is in the group and who is an outsider. Behaving in ways the group considers appropriate is a way of demonstrating to others, and to oneself, that one belongs to the group.

But surprisingly little is known about how attitudinal norms are established in groups. Why do some people in a group become trendsetters when it comes to ideas and objects?

“The questions are among the most challenging” in the field, said H. Peyton Young, a professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Dr. Young studies how norms influence economic behavior. “It’s definitely a big open research area where there’s a certain amount of dispute.”

One question is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader.

What is Christian Counseling?

What is Christian Counseling?

Christian counseling focuses on intertwining the disciplines of faith and psychology to provide an approach to mental and emotional health that pulls from biblical teachings. Practitioners of this style of counseling incorporate religious scripture and teachings to guide you through challenging life issues. When facing turbulent life events, incorporating and strengthening your faith may be the missing piece in finding proper treatment.

Origins of Christian Counseling

Rooted deep within biblical accounts, this form of therapy places an emphasis on fundamental values and beliefs that comprise the framework of modern Christianity. Ministers, Reverends, and other religious figures must seek licensed training and accreditation to provide this service to you, much like a secular clinician. In 1968, Christian counselors officially formed the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation to provide a model for current and future counselors. These counselors are bound not only to religious code, but secular standards of ethical practice as well.

Social psychology is “the study of the ways in which the imagined, implied or actual presence of others affects our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As an African American growing up in Washington D.C. (at the time one of most diverse cities in America), My first brush with social psychology was on my neighborhood streets. “On my block alone, there were nine different nationalities represented. “I was used to growing up with all sorts of different kids, dealing with cultural conflicts, celebrating everyone’s different holidays and special occasions—that was the norm for me.”

When I was in third grade, My mom took us to a  multiethnic church comprising four equally proportioned groups: African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and whites. There, I listened to songs and prayers in languages far beyond English. We also had racial slurs hurled at us in a local church’s Vacation Bible School. These and other experiences piqued my interest early on about fundamental questions of social psychology, such as, “Why don’t groups get along?” and “Why do they perceive each other inaccurately?”

Much has been written about various aspects of pastoral theology, but there is a remarkable scarcity of literature that explores the theological issues that lie behind it. The doyen of modern pastoral methods, Seward Hiltner, has said:

Most American ministers—scholars though they may be—are functionalists at heart… . We think and feel or work our way into even the most recondite of theoretical matters only by first exploring them in relation to our functions of ministry.

Much of modern pastoral psychology is an abandonment to this American pragmatism. It is an aping of American scholarship as it demonstrates its pragmatic motivation. There seems to be a disdain for a careful study of the biblical view of the ministry.

Such is the minister’s dilemma. He is faced on the one hand with the traditional biblical definitions (though often poorly developed and frequently caricatured) and on the other with the set of functional expectations by which his service is judged. In addition he is strongly influenced by the attractiveness of new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures. Therefore he faces basic ambiguities in performing his task.

The minister serving in today’s secular culture is also confronted with an eroded image of the pastor. He is no longer the most educated man in the community or the one who elicits the mental image of a paragon of virtue. One is more likely to think about Elmer Gantry(Elmer Gantry is a novel written by Sinclair Lewis in 1926 that satirically represents aspects of the religious activity of America within fundamentalist and evangelistic circles and the attitudes of the 1920s public toward it) or to recognize that a recent Gallup poll showed that only eight percent of the population recommended the role of the clergyman as the preferred profession, far behind the doctor, engineer-builder.

Today , May and I are diligently looking for the reconciling benefits of social psychology, working with groups to raise our awareness of their social mis-perceptions and bringing conflicting groups together to find ways to collaborate. We are reading( Disunity in Christ) Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, is helping churches and faith-based groups transcend deep-seated divisions. it explores how social psychology reveals fragmentation in the body of Christ. Filled with many personal stories, the book highlights, among other things, how differences become divisions, and how the prevailing marketing culture feeds unhealthy competition between groups.

“The cognitive processes that drive categorization are most powerful when they are hidden from sight we have found this to be true within various church communities we frequent. “Once individuals become consciously aware of these processes . . . the processes begin to lose their power.” May and I had the opportunity to witness another facet of cognitive processes helping groups to recognize those assumptions. It was practiced  while working with a Young Life group in a, low-income, mostly African American neighborhood in Riverside Ca., after noticing the divisive ways that the group (8 to 10 African American girls) talked about Somali girls at their school. The facilitator began asking the girls questions that helped them see their assumptions. “When you give people the opportunity to see how others misperceive them, “it makes them more interested in seeing how they misperceive others.”

More Than ‘Unity Events’

As May and I launched our campaign to perform outreach we scheduled several meetings to obtain buy in from various denominations. The joint venture began well, we had gained support to utilize one pastors 501c3 to obtain the needed resources and another pastor support to allow us the use of his church to process the recipients.  “The joint venture began well but soon ended quite poorly, leaving behind a trail of distrust, negative emotions, and bruised egos.”

We shifted our focus of  work with the pastors to explore what happened:

After hearing each pastor’s side of the story, it became clear to me that . . . each pastor had very different ideals about what a leader does and does not do, and each pastor projected his ideals onto the other pastor and negatively evaluated him based on criteria that pertained to those ideals. Essentially, each pastor gave the other a failing grade on leadership because they had very different criteria for evaluating leadership.

By working with us, the pastors uncovered their differing concepts of leadership and how that had led to misunderstanding and failed collaboration.

reconciliation books to read 2014

These are the ten books we plan to read along with an intense daily devotional for 2015.

Cleveland’s work awakens us to the language we use, particularly the ways in which we draw boundaries between us and them. “We must take active steps to expand our category of us, “so that they are now included in us. We’ve learned that the mere act of categorizing Christian groups into smaller, homogeneous groups leads us to devalue, misperceive, and distance ourselves from them.”

Once a divide goes up between groups,  they tend to exaggerate each other’s differences—and cause further division in the body of Christ. Churches, “tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Christianity has been turned into a marketplace in which you can make money off your brand.” Pastors and churches are pressured to distinguish themselves from others, as we compete for the loyalty of members and seemingly scarce resources. We need a theology, deeply rooted in our essential unity in Christ that acts and speaks accordingly, seeking commonality and emphasizing shared characteristics between groups.

Instead of deepening the chasms between groups, we need sustained conversation. I would like to go one  one step further, noting that one-time cross-cultural unity events are “not the way to go.” Although well-intentioned,  such events tend to squeeze minority groups into the majority culture. Rather, healing and witness to unity in Christ comes from the long, messy work of naming issues of power and privilege. What we need are “long-term, ongoing partnerships that are proximal and mutually engaging.”

Alongside sustained conversations, we need ministries on which our groups can collaborate. I recall how many churches in Washington D.C. ran VBS programs with the exact same curriculum at different times. “It’s our empire approach to doing church,”  that fuels such redundant behavior. I also maintain that it’s better for a church to pick a single church of a differing social group (race, ethnicity, or even political inclination) and to deeply partner with that church rather than to host sporadic events with many churches. My experience has shown that churches who immerse themselves in this kind of cross-cultural partnerships never regret it. “Yes, it’s hard,”  “but it’s so much richer.”

The call to follow Jesus, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, is a costly one. The way of Christ is undoubtedly difficult as we lose ourselves, but as we follow in it, we find the abundant shared riches of God’s kingdom. Cleveland’s work rouses us from the patterns of speech and action that we mindlessly fall into within the confines of a homogenous social group. It points us toward healing: the healing of the church, the healing of our neighborhoods, and ultimately the healing of our own fragmented souls. May we have the courage to follow her lead.

~I want to be “Just Like “You”~

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I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris

So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.

Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”

This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

~Giving Life~

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One of the goals of our outreach this year is to introduce us to the four key traits of keeping young adults in church for in a group of people that are pursuing Jesus (healthy) and pursing Jesus’ priorities (missional). December 31 st May and I were given an awesome opportunity to perform ministry with six different churches and I must say they were all tailored to the youth and young adults of those various communities. Having that experience has shifted our focus to a more vast attempt to provide a culture for the young adults and youths of our communities. We are adding a Internet Cafe and Evangelistic preparation environment to our business scope and ministry aspirations. We have prayerfully entreated our God for a name and it will be called “Club Jesus”. We will plan around Second Chance Alliance to incorporate this part of our vision within the re-entry program/ministry.

We believe that when these four elements, combined with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, mark our corporate life here at Second chance Alliance, renewal and revival will break out.
Individual renewal is indissolubly connected to the renewal of the whole church.  We cannot attain the fullness of the Spirit without being turned inside out so that our focus is no longer our growth, but the glory of God and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.
Faith is the main root of spiritual growth. Spiritual disciplines strengthen faith by leading us to prayer and by regularly exposing us to truth, as a solar battery is charged through exposure to light … [individual renewal] … needs to be balanced by the awareness we are spiritually renewed as we are refreshed by the gifts of other believers in community and as the Holy Spirit is poured out in answer to corporate prayer. Spiritual growth is not produced by the transfer of information but by responses of faith.
People leave the church. The dropout issue is well known and discussed widely. Perhaps less known is the high rate of young adult dropouts. Our research reveals that over two-thirds of 18-22 year-olds leave the church. In the short, four-year transitional window of teen to adult, the church loses the majority of its students.

Most of the dropouts do not leave their families during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave their social networks during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave the educational system during this time. But most of them leave the church.

The excuse that the secular society has more to offer than the church simply does not pass muster. Let’s look at four keys that our research shows are critical to keeping young adults.

1. Keep them with biblical depth

Young adults are more likely to stay in church if they are taught the truths of God’s Word. Biblical depth has a sticky quality. Christians who hear sound sermons each week, who are involved in small group Bible study, and who study the Bible on their own rarely drop out. Biblical depth also has an attractional quality. Spiritual seekers are most drawn to churches that maintain this culture of solid preaching and encouragement to study the Word of God. Go deep. Get excited about diving into the Word. And watch God work in not only the younger generation, but with all ages.

2. Keep them with high expectations

Too much of recent American church history has been one of low-expectations. Because the local church is comprised mostly of volunteers, leadership has been reticent to create an environment and attitude of high expectations. As a consequence, membership expectations have been communicated with extreme caution, if at all, lest the members become offended and leave.

This low-expectation environment has been normative for many of the churches in which young adults have attended. Most of them have heard very little, if any, of what is expected of them as a church member. As a consequence they have seen church as a low priority or even optional.

Creating a culture of high expectations is, in many ways, an intangible process. There are many ways to do it. But churches that have this environment of high expectations attract people who are on board with the purpose and mission of the church. Additionally, these churches are more likely to retain those who know upfront that much is expected.

3. Keep them with multiplication

Regardless of perspectives, two realities are clear. First, evangelism is not an option for Christians or for churches. The Great Commission is a mandate. Second, every church we have studied that is effectively reaching and retaining young adults is highly intentional about evangelism. They have a passion for multiplication. They get the action right. No exceptions. Period.

Churches with an outward focus are successful at retaining and reclaiming church dropouts for two main reasons. First, church dropouts are more likely to return to churches that are reaching out to them. Additionally, active churchgoing young adults have an understanding of what God requires of His people. Both groups have a desire to go to a church that is doing what God commands.

4. Keep them with simplicity

Our research has shown that many young people leave the church because they were never truly discipled. They may have been involved in a plethora of activities, but they weren’t growing spiritually to be more like Christ. A church cannot be essential to people unless there is a clear structure guiding them along the discipleship process.

Biblical depth is more important than the discipleship structure of the church. But churches that do not have a structure in place cannot move people toward an understanding of this depth. A culture of high expectations is more important than the structure of a church. Without this structure, however, a church has difficulty communicating these expectations. A multiplying church is more important than the structure. But without structure, people do not know how to multiply. The right structure is not the most important facet of a church, but most churches cannot carry out their most important purposes because they do not have the right structure.

Churches that keep young adults get the content right-biblical depth. They get the attitude right-high expectations. They get the action right-multiplication. And these churches get the structure right-simplicity.

~Reflections For The New Year To Build The Leader In “You”~

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I ON YOUR PATH, O God
You, O God, on my way.
Celtic walking prayer

IT IS NOT ONLY PRAYER that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God glory if being in his grace you do it …

FOR THE GLORY of God is the human person fully alive, and life consists in beholding God. For if the vision of God which is made by means of the creation, gives life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies

MAY I KNOW me! May I know thee!
Augustine, Soliloquies

ABIDE IN THE VINE. Let the life from him flow through all your spiritual veins.
Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

GOD CANNOT be understood by logical reasoning but only by submission.
Leo Tolstoy, Wise Thoughts for Every Day

AS WE UNITE with God, we are invited into bonding rather than bondage.

Flora Slosson Wuellner, in Weavings

I BRING my void here for filling;it is my poverty God needs. With my want the Lord builds palaces.
Kilian McDonnell, from “A Place to Hide: Light On,” in Weavings

GOD CAN’T CLEAN the house of you when you’re still in it.
Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually)

RECEIVING FORGIVENESS requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing.
Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

IF A MAN HUMBLES himself, God cannot withhold his own goodness but must come down and flow into the humble man, and to him who is least of all he gives himself the most of all, and he gives himself to him completely. What God gives is his being, and his being is his goodness, and his goodness is his love.
Meister Eckhart

I HAVE DISCOVERED that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.
Blaise Pascal, Pensées

IT IS NO EASY TASK to walk this earth and find peace. Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest. Desire is always stronger than satisfaction.
Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

ONE OF the uncomfortable facts about ourselves is that we all must live in a way that meets our own approval.
Paul Holmer, Making Christian Sense

DOES DISCOVERING who you are awaken a kind of inner unrest? … If you started accusing yourself of all that is in you, would your nights and days be long enough?
Brother Roger of Taizé, Essential Writings

A MAN’S AT ODDS to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he don’t want to. Best not to look in there.
Cormac Mccarthy, Blood Meridian

ONE OF the strangest things that people say is, “I’m a good person.” I am always amazed when people claim to know that about themselves. … History demonstrates, repeatedly, that if enough people begin to define themselves as “good” in contrast to others who are “bad,” those others come to be seen as less than human.
Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace

THE POWER of temptation is not in its appeal to our baser instincts; if that were the case, it would be natural to be repulsed by it. The power of temptation is in its appeal to our idealism.
Helmut Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father

THE EVIL WROUGHT by those who intend evil is negligible. The greater evil is wrought by those who intend good, and …

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

Neil Gaiman