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Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts

04 May 2018

Don’t exaggerate your testimony. Ever.

Far too many liars are spreading stories about God.

It should go without saying that Christians shouldn’t lie. But we do, for various reasons, all bad. So stop. Wean yourself off exaggerating in order to make yourself look good; wean yourself off dissembling to get yourself out of difficulty. Quit lying. Jesus is truth; Jn 14.6 stick to the truth. There y’go; your mini-sermon for the day.

It should also go without saying we shouldn’t lie when we share our testimonies, and talk about our God-experiences. But once again, we do. Way too many of us do.

It’s out of pure selfishness: We wish we had a good testimony. Or a better one. One where God did something really spectacular. And no I don’t mean “spectacular” as in really great; I mean in its original sense as a serious spectacle, something visible which really gets people’s attention. Like when Simon Peter raised Dorcas from the dead Ac 9.36-42 or something. We want those sorts of stories, because we wanna sound like we have more faith, or more divine favor.

And rather than act in faith, rather than develop our relationship with God so that he’ll grant us greater favors, we take the shortcut and lie. Much easier to do that than behave, obey, take the leaps of faith, or simply listen.

Hence lying testimonies happen all the time. I know, ’cause I’ve heard plenty. I grew up in church. If you have too, chances are you’ve heard dozens or hundreds of testimonies, especially if you’re in a church which shares testimonies on the regular. People get up and share their stories of what God does for them. Some are profound and miraculous. Others are profound, but not all that miraculous—and don’t actually need to be, because they’re stories well-told, and point to God where appropriate.

But Christians tend to covet dramatic, miraculous stories. So if they aren’t miraculous enough… well, sometimes we exaggerate, and make them miraculous enough.

Here’s the problem: Embellishing our God-experiences, or telling fake miracle stories, gives people a false picture of who God is. Because we’re telling lies about him. We’re claiming he did what he hasn’t done. And when we claim God did something when he didn’t, even if we imagine we had the best of intentions behind our false stories, it’s still slander against God. Or to use the older word, blasphemy.

16 April 2018

The instigator?

Why I keep winding up in conversations with strangers about Jesus.

I have a lot of stories in which I’m talking with strangers about Jesus, Christianity, the church, and so forth.

Because of this, y’might get the wrong idea about me—that I’m the one initiating these conversations. That I’m one of those evangelists on the prowl. You know the type of person: If they’re not selling Jesus, they’re selling something, be it cars or timeshares or herbal supplements. In their case they just happen to be pitching salvation.

You’ve met ’em when you were minding your own business at the coffeehouse, nursing a mocha and trying to get a grip on the day. Suddenly one of these yahoos nudges into your “me time” and tries to talk about the eternal destination of your immortal soul. Like you’re ready for deep stuff at that point in your day.

But nope, this isn’t me.

You can probably tell I don’t care for that type of evangelist. I don’t care for that type of salesperson either. Likely neither do you. I’m fine with them on the street corners or outside the grocery stores, asking permission to pitch their ideas, sign their petitions, or buy their Girl Scout cookies. I expect ’em there; I’m fine with them there; sometimes I look for them there when I’m in the mood for Thin Mints.

I’m not fine with them when they’re trying to sell me Jesus in the coffeehouse. And I don’t do that to people either. Ten times out of ten I’m also minding my own business.

Since I’m not a sociopath, I’ll be friendly and accommodating to others: No I’m not in line; yes you can take that extra chair; let me step aside so you can reach the half and half; yes that is a 20-year-old iBook I’m typing on and no it doesn’t get wifi anymore; yes you have seen me somewhere around town before; excuse me but your phone is catching fire.

They strike up the conversations. And since Jesus takes up a significant chunk of my life, if they ask about my life they’re gonna hear about Jesus.

That’s all I do. That’s all anyone need do.

23 March 2018

Pagan and proud.

What to do with a know-it-all pagan.

Whenever I share Jesus with pagans, I run into two types: The open-minded and the closed-minded. Either pagans who are curious and have tons of questions; or pagans who wanna tell me about Jesus, ’cause they already know it all.

The open-minded are fun. I may not get them to believe, or convince them to set foot in a church, but that’s okay: There’s still room for the Holy Spirit to work on ’em. There’s still hope. Whereas the closed-minded are depressing. They suck all the fun out of the conversation. They dismiss or mock what we consider important, and don’t care how insulting and condescending they come across. When Jesus compared them to swine, Mt 7.6 you can see why that analogy has become so popular.

Why are they like that? Pride.

Like I said, they already know it all. They think they have God all figured out. Or at least they have God figured out better than we Christians do. Sometimes they grew up Christian, so they actually do know a few things. Sometimes they didn’t, but they read a book or two about Historical Jesus, and imagine they know who he really is, whereas we Christians just swallow all our religion’s myths whole, and believe whatever our pastors and priests tell us. They’re woke; we’re not.

Every once in a while they didn’t merely read a book or two: They took a religion class. They read several books. They follow some guru who purports to tell them how religion really works. They got involved in some other religion, whether eclectic or organized, which claims they have the corner on the truth, whereas Christians are just sheeple. Sometimes they imagine they’re their own guru: “No, I don’t follow just one guy; every one of them is a little right and a little wrong. I make up my own mind.” Isn’t that clever of them.

So after all their research, they’re an authority on religion and Christianity. They’re the experts. They’re right and we’re wrong.

And if you’re one of those Christians who doesn’t realize we actually are wrong, and figure no, you’re right and they’re wrong: It’s gonna be particularly frustrating, ’cause your pride is gonna butt heads with their pride. I’ve been there. The discussions can get mighty ugly. Humility’s the way to go. But even when we are humble, the know-it-all pagan is still pretty annoying. And often quite pleased we find them annoying: Some of ’em wanna bug Christians. It’s evil fun for them.

How do we deal with ’em?

08 February 2018

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

Their apologetics don’t evangelize you. Why should yours work on them?

About two months ago on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was accosted by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night.

Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish; he stopped me as I was walking past his synagogue.

He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time, and expect I’ll meet a few more this spring. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.

I know: Certain Christians are gonna be outraged that I dared let work get in the way of an “opportunity” such as this. With all due respect, there was no opportunity: In the two minutes we spoke—in which I told him I’m Christian, and he started going off on how we Christians typically (and often inappropriately) set aside the Law—it was made quite clear he wasn’t open to any correction from the likes of me. To his mind he’s right; we Christians are wrong; that’s that.

I’m a naturally curious guy, so I listen to these folks when I can. I learned the hard way it’s a big mistake to go to fellow Christians for information about other religions. Nearly all of us are so biased. Which is fine; nothing wrong with preferring your religion to all others. But too many people think the way you uplift one thing is to knock down all its competition, and Christians are far too willing and eager to slander other religions. Consequently you can’t trust us. Which is shameful; Christians should seek truth no matter what. But that’s just the way things are.

So if I wanna understand Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and heretic Christians, I find there’s simply no substitute for going to people of those religions and hearing it from them directly. Yes, they confuse my curiosity for wanting to convert, which is why I gotta tell them upfront I’m not converting; I just want facts. Usually they’re fine with that… but I can hardly blame ’em for trying to nudge me in their religion’s direction just the same. I would.

First time I tried this was with a Muslim in Sacramento, decades ago. I listened to his testimony… and could totally relate. He grew up in church (same as me) and was put off by the fact his church was full of hypocrites (same as me). They praised Jesus in church, said Amen to everything Pastor shouted at ’em, but it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon before they relapsed to the same pagan lifestyle as their neighbors. Whereas the Muslims he knew, whose mosque he eventually joined, were no hypocrites: They were Muslim all week long. Hey, I couldn’t argue with that whatsoever. (But I’ve met plenty of Muslim hypocrites since.)

I spoke with that Muslim for hours. But I should point out: At no point in our conversation was I remotely tempted to quit Christianity and give Islam a try. Never crossed my mind.

18 January 2018

Sharing Jesus and sucky Christians.

If we make lousy representatives of Jesus, we’re often extra hesitant to share him with others.

There’s a popular saying among Christians, attributed to Ragamuffin Gospel author Brennan Manning:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

It’s popular among wannabe-devout Christians, ’cause it lets us point the finger at irreligious Christians and say, “See, it’s their fault.” (And so much for grace.) But is it true? Has anybody bothered to poll nontheists and ask ’em, “Is that why you struggle to believe in God? Because of Christians who won’t act like Christ?” Have we sought to find out if there’s anything to it? Or is it too comfortable and appealing a “truth” to question?

I mean yeah, irreligious Christians need to shape up and stop treating God’s grace so cheaply. Duh. But I’m loath to park the blame for all the unbelievers in the world upon them. I’ve dealt with nontheists long enough to know better. The reason they don’t believe is ’cause they don’t wanna believe. All their reasons are after-the-fact excuses. Because that’s what humans do. We start with the hypothesis, then pick and choose any evidence which backs it. “The facts speak for themselves” only after we’ve thrown away any facts we don’t like.

Misbehaving Christians have nothing to do with nontheism. Anyone who tells you different, has an ax to grind against misbehaving Christians.

I certainly do, ’cause I used to be one of those misbehaving Christians. I grind an ax against my former self all the time. I tell on all the sins he committed, and use him for illustrations of what not to do. Many Christians do likewise with their former selves: We can do it with impunity, and not appear cruel. ’Cause it’d look totally cruel if we used, say, one of our kids as an example of what not to do. Or some other Christian in some other denomination.

I was a rotten kid in my youth. And yeah, I shared Jesus with people. But I actually got a few of ’em to come to church with me. Despite me. ’Cause that’s how the Holy Spirit works: He takes seriously messed-up humans, and does something good through us. He can, and does, use irreligious Christians to spread his gospel. I know from personal experience as one of those irreligious Christians.

That said, is it ideal when irreligious Christians share the gospel? Of course not. Got way easier to share the gospel when I started to act like Jesus. People don’t mind hearing the good news from good people. But when you’re kind of a dick, the good news doesn’t tend to come across as all that good. Too much hellfire, not enough grace. Too much hate; no love. Too likely to become dark Christianity, dark evangelism, and proselytism. Too likely to reproduce all those bad traits, like Jesus complained about the Pharisees doing with their converts. Mt 23.15

No; ideally we want fruitful Christians to exhibit all the same winsome traits as our Master: Love, kindness, patience, forgiveness, grace, compassion, peace, and joy. Because we’re trying to duplicate that in new believers; not the same fake fruit we find among Christianists, who’ve taken the place of Pharisees in that they’re creating the “sons of hell” nowadays.

Don’t misunderstand me. Irreligious Christians need to repent. But can they share Jesus, his gospel, and his kingdom? Of course they can. God’s used talking asses before, Nu 22.26-30 and apparently he still does.

25 October 2017

Sharing Jesus… with the next town.

Considering how unsuccessful Jesus was in reaching his own hometown, it’s odd how we assume he wants us to nonetheless begin with our own.

Evangelists sure do like to quote this scripture:

Acts 1.8 KWL
But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.
You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”

Why so? Because they quickly follow it up with, “That’s Jesus’s game plan for evangelism.”

Presumably we’re to share him in…

  • Jerusalem, meant to represent our hometowns.
  • Judea, meant to represent our state, county, district, or otherwise surrounding area.
  • Samaria, standing in for the next state or nation over.
  • The end of the world, the rest of the planet.

Hence, evangelists claim, we need to quit sending people on short-term and long-term mission trips to other countries, unless they can first prove themselves with their neighbors. If they suck at sharing Jesus with their own community, why on earth would they do any better with strangers in a strange land?

I have two main problems with this claim. One from experience; the other from bible.

First of all. When I was a kid I had the darnedest time sharing Jesus with people. Mainly because I was a hypocrite: I was a rotten example of Christianity, knew it, and didn’t care to share Jesus with my friends and have ’em respond, “Since when are you Christian?” I settled for inviting them to church; I could do that much. Or that little. (It still totally counts though: If that’s all you figure you can do, that’s pretty good.)

Second of all, Jerusalem was not the apostles’ hometown.

Yeah, you forgot that for a moment, didn’tcha? Only one of Jesus’s 12 apostles came from Judea, Judas Iscariot, who died the same weekend Jesus did, a month before. The rest of them were from a whole ’nother province, the Galilee, which Jesus didn’t even mention in that verse. Even Jesus was from the Galilee; from Nazareth, remember? After Jesus got raptured a few verses down, and angels appeared to the apostles to tell them to get on with it, how’d the angels address the apostles? As “Galileans.” Ac 1.11 ’Cause that’s what they were.

Jesus didn’t send his apostles to evangelize their hometowns. Actually he kinda evangelized their hometowns, during his earthly ministry. But the mission he sent them on was to evangelize another province’s capital. And then a whole different province—one full of Samaritans, a tribe they didn’t consider neighbors, but foreigners.

I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t try to share Jesus with our friends and neighbors. Of course we should. But you remember Jesus tried to preach to Nazareth, and got driven out. He’s famous for commenting how prophets get respect everywhere… but at home, among their relatives, no they don’t. Mk 6.4 He knew from experience. There’s just something in human psychology which makes people take strangers more seriously than the familiar. Familiarity can be ignored. So it often is.

What’s more, familiarity can be extremely intimidating to people who are new at sharing Jesus. Don’t just use my personal example: Let’s say your church tells you to go door-to-door to invite people to some church function. (Like a free movie, a Halloween party, an Easter message, or just outright sharing Jesus. Hey, it’s been known to happen.) Wanna tackle it with your neighbors? Or do you immediately squirm at the idea?

Now, how about doing the door-to-door thingy for another church, in a town 100 miles away, where nobody knows you?

Actually, most Christians have no trouble whatsoever with that idea.

What is that? Well, I suspect it’s again something in human psychology—something Jesus deliberately tapped when he told his apostles, not to go to the Galilee and evangelize their neighbors, but go to Jerusalem and evangelize strangers. Because it’s easier to share Jesus with new people… and easier for them to accept the gospel from strange people.

23 October 2017

“Train up a child…”

It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.

Proverbs 22.6

This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—

Proverbs 22.6 KJV
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.

After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.

In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent ’em to church camps and youth groups and youth pastors who’d tell them about Jesus. Voiced their political opinions, and they’re pretty sure Jesus feels exactly the same way they do. It wasn’t disciplined, focused, intentional, or systematic, but they did kinda lay the groundwork for the kids to come back.

So if the proverb is a promise—and that’s precisely how they cling to it—the kids will one day see the error of their ways, repent, and return to the values they were raised with. The kids’ll go through a brief period of rebellion, their own personal rumspringa, but when they’re old—hopefully not that old—they’ll be back.

The “out of context” header might’ve tipped you off to the fact this view is entirely incorrect. Lot of blind optimism behind it. Lot of wishful thinking. But doesn’t usually happen. I still know quite a few of those youth group kids, now in their 40s, same as me. Still not Christian. Some of ’em think they are, but really they’re just Christianist. Others are “spiritual, not religious,” or joined another religion like Buddhism, or went nontheist.

There are a lot of non-practicing Christians who slide back into Christianity as soon as they have kids: They realize they’ve gotta pass down their morals to their children, and since they have none, they go with Jesus’s… and realize they don’t know his morals as well as they thought, so they go to church to rectify that. Which is great, ’cause it’s what gets young families into the church, and young families help keep a church stable. But my youth group’s former kids? If that was gonna gonna get ’em back into church, it’d’ve happened when they were in their 20s and 30s. It didn’t. They’re still out.

Their parents are likely clinging to the fact the proverb says, “When he is old,” but let’s get real: It’s not happening at this rate. Only way it would, is if the Holy Spirit intervenes with a major course correction. Which he can always do, so never rule out the possibility. It’s just a lot of these drastic actions still don’t convince people to return to Jesus. When a major life trauma (i.e. loss of a job, death of a relative, health crisis, natural or artificial disaster) impacts our lives, people either take a hard left towards God, or a hard right away from him. And since away is the path of least resistance, that’s usually the route they choose.

Does this mean the proverb isn’t true then? Nope, that’s not the problem. The real problem is people are using it completely wrong.

05 October 2017

“I stand at the door and knock.”

It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.

Revelation 3.20

Revelation 3.20 KJV
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This’d be Jesus speaking.

When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart.

I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit.

But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely hope that’s not what they meant; you never know about some adults.

I was told Jesus lives in my heart because I let him in there. ’Cause for those who don’t have Jesus in their hearts, he’s standing at the door of these hearts, knocking. (Unless you’re Calvinist, in which case you believe Jesus already has the key, and comes in whenever he darn well feels like it. Yet some of ’em still talk about Jesus knocking on our hearts’ doors.) Anyway, won’t you let him in?

And of course kids would let him in. Who’s gonna leave Jesus outside, all alone, forced to live in our pancreas instead? Why, he might get attacked by our antibodies. Or get digested; won’t that be embarrassing.

Silliness aside, anyone who’s read Revelation 3 knows this passage isn’t about evangelism. It’s not an invitation to pagans, but Christians.

29 June 2017

Christian jerks.

We’re meant to be kind, but these folks aren’t striving for that.

She. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
Me. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
She. “Oh, you’re not that religous.”
Me. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be even more of a jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

The gist of my pagan friend’s complaint was how Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental—although she tried to make it very clear she didn’t include me.

Which is a fair comment. Plenty of us Christians are totally bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I certainly used to be. I try not to be; I’m trying to overcome all that fleshly behavior. I’d like to think I’m succeeding more often than not, which is why I could object to my friend: “How am I ‘the worst’?” The fact she agreed I’m an exception means I must be succeeding, sorta. Yea me.

And plenty of my fellow Christians also try to overcome such fleshly behavior. Like I said, it’s ’cause we’re religious. We’re trying to do the good works God laid out for us. Ep 2.10 Trying to love our neighbors. Lv 19.18 Trying to be kind.

So it’s not “religious people” who are the problem. It’s irreligious people, who are using Christianity as an excuse to be jerks. It’s unkind people, practicing Christianism.

“So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” she half-seriously said.

Kinda. Some of ’em do have an actual saving relationship with Christ Jesus, so they are Christians too. Some of ’em don’t: Their utter lack of fruit means their Christianity is dead faith.

In both cases—unlike our Lord, who came to save the world instead of condemn it Jn 3.17 —they figure their first duty is to angrily denounce everything in the world which rubs ’em the wrong way. Loudly, just in case anyone didn’t hear ’em, or doubts their authority and sincerity. Since God is anti-sin, they figure they must be just as anti-sin. Problem is, God is kind. They’re most definitely not.

And when we’re trying to share Jesus with people, they’re the ones making our job all the harder.

And when I call ’em out on their bad behavior, they turn on me. ’Cause they’re convinced I should be on their side, joining their campaign, taking up the anti-sin banner… and hammer. If I don’t, “he who’s not for us is against us,” Lk 11.23 so I must’ve compromised the faith, and joined the devil’s side.

Besides, I preach a Christ they’re wholly unfamiliar with. He’s too kind, forgiving, gracious, and compassionate. Probably doesn’t want anybody to go to hell. 2Pe 3.9 Way too compromising for them.

…Yeah, there’s a really good case to be made for the idea they’re not real Christians. But then again, Christ Jesus is forgiving and gracious. Even to them.

31 May 2017

Sheep-stealing: “Hey, those were our sheep!”

Since all the sheep belong to Jesus, what’s the real problem?

Sheep-stealing /'ʃip stil.ɪŋ/ vt. Getting a Christian to leave their church and join yours.
[Sheep-stealer /'ʃip stil.ər/ n.]

My sister and I live in the same town. I’m a member of a small church. She’s a member of another, larger church.

When people hear this, sometimes they respond, “Aww. Why don’t you go to the same church? You should be worshiping together.”

Well, sometimes we do. Sometimes I visit her church. Once, she and her family visited mine. Our churches aren’t in competition, y’know. Mine may be in a denomination and hers isn’t, but both churches belong to Jesus: They’re both outposts of God’s kingdom.

Why don’t we go to the same church? Various reasons. Initially it was because I was giving the churches in my denomination a try before settling on one… and this one fit. (Once it wasn’t, so I hung with the Baptists a few years.) If I had to switch churches, I don’t think it’d be too big a stretch to switch to hers, but I fit better here.

And my church lets me minister. Whereas her church already has plenty of ministers. They don’t need me. Don’t need her either. She and her husband used to help in their area of expertise, music. They were eventually told their help wasn’t wanted.

If I were told that, I’d go find someplace I was wanted; but that’s me. I told ’em my church was looking for musicians. Of course my church, being small, would definitely try to rope ’em into ministering every week, and they’d prefer once a month. (That’s what they’re currently doing: They help out at a friend’s church.)

Now, some Christians would definitely take offense at my inviting them to help at my church. They’d see it as “sheep-stealing.” Because my sister and brother-in-law already have a church, already have a shepherd, and how dare I try to swipe them out from underneath their shepherd?

Um… ’cause we all have the one shepherd.

John 10.14-16 KWL
14 “I’m the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me,
15 just as my Father knows me, and I know the Father. I prioritize my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep who aren’t from this pen. I have to bring them here too.
They’ll hear my voice and become one flock, with one shepherd.”

Churches have shepherds, or pastors; lots of ’em. But all these pastors work for the head of every church, Christ Jesus. And when they’re jealous of one another, or compete with one another, or try to hoard resources which are meant for the whole kingdom and world, it’s wholly inappropriate. So this idea of “sheep-stealing”? Doesn’t come from the bible.

Still, some pastors get downright territorial.

27 January 2017

Deaf ears aren’t opportunities.

Despite the kingdom’s unlimited resources, let’s not be stupid with them.

Matthew 7.6

In his the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the chip and the beam story, Mt 7.3-5, Lk 6.41-42 then immediately brought up pearls and pigs. Or pearls and swine, as the KJV more famously has it. The saying’s only found in Matthew. Figured I’d show it to you in context, since it makes my interpretation more obvious.

Matthew 7.3-6 KWL
3 “Why do you see the wood chip in your brother’s eye,
yet not notice the support beam in your eye?
4 How will you tell your brother, ‘Let me get the chip out of your eye’?
Look, there’s a beam in your eye!
5 You hypocrite, first get the beam out of your eye!
And you’ll see straight enough to get out the chip from your brother’s eye.
6 But don’t give holy things to the dogs, nor throw your pearls before the pigs.
Otherwise they’ll trample them under their feet, and they might turn and attack you.”

See, the problem with the pearls-to-pigs saying, is we regularly forget it comes right after the chip and beam story. Or forget it altogether. Or think it doesn’t apply—when it so often does.

Give you an example. Back in seminary I was at my home-away-from-dorm, a popular coffeehouse. I got to talking with some university students, ’cause they figured out I was a fellow student, wanted to know which college I was in, didn’t know the school… and once they figured I was a God “expert,” wanted to talk God.

A lot of pagans go through a phase in university where they flirt with nontheism. I now realize that’s what was going on: These guys wanted to try out their newly-learned anti-God arguments on the seminarian. Kinda like a kid who just learned a new judo hold, and wants to fight everybody with it… and foolishly picks a fight with the taekwondo black belt. Not that I was a black belt; more like red. I did have a decade of Christian apologetics on these guys. So it wasn’t at all hard to slap their arguments down.

But the arguments get tiresome after a while. Especially since the debate was never gonna go anywhere: They weren’t curious about God. They had no real intent to listen, repent, and become Christians. This was jus an intellectual exercise; they were killing time at the coffeehouse.

Pearls to pigs, I realized. So I called truce. “Wanna talk about something different?” I said. “I mean, to you this is just light conversation, but to me, this is something I take very seriously and personally. I’m having trouble not taking all your God-bashing personally. Wouldn’t you rather talk politics?”

“Yeah, okay.” So we talked politics.

I hadn’t come to the coffeehouse alone. I had two fellow seminarians with me. One was a missionary who was finishing his degree before going back into the field. The other was a fairly new Christian—and hadn’t yet learned the difference between sharing Jesus and proselytism. So he was outraged. To him, this was an opportunity—you keep talking to these guys, wear ’em down, and seal the deal. To him, I just threw away these guys eternal souls.

This was no opportunity, as I pointed out to him then, and as I point out to you now. I was trying to take the chip from their eyes, and they wouldn’t have it. So I was done.

05 January 2017

Carrot-and-stick evangelism. (Mostly stick.)

Why hellfire and brimstone is the worst way to proclaim God’s kingdom.

Recently I got to talking with a member of my church about evangelism. She wanted to know how I shared Jesus. Not to pick up any pointers or anything; she just wanted to make sure I wasn’t spreading heresy. (She’s one of those folks who’s not sure anyone’s doing Christianity right but her.)

So I talked about how I usually lead pagans to Jesus: First I try to plug ’em into a church. Doesn’t need to be mine, but it should be a fruitful church. They’re more likely to encounter Jesus for themselves if the people in the church know him personally, y’know.

She. “And what do you tell them about hell?”
Me. “Not much. They don’t usually ask.”
She. “You don’t warn them about hell?
Me. “I don’t need to. I’ve already got ’em interested in going to church.”
She. “But you’ve gotta warn ’em about hell!”
Me. “Why?”
She. [gonna burst a blood vessel over my perceived stupidity] “Because that’s where they’re headed!”
Me. “Oh, they know that. That’s the one thing they definitely know about us Christians: We think they’re all going to hell. I don’t need to repeat that. Not that they believe in hell anyway.”
She. “They have to believe in hell. The bible says…”
Me. “Half the time they don’t believe what the bible says either. You know how people think nowadays: Books are just the writings of old dead white guys. Seeing is believing. That’s why I’m trying to get ’em to go to church: I want ’em to see stuff. Not that they will, but I don’t just want ’em to take my word for it. Even if I quote loads of bible at ’em.”
She. “If they don’t believe the bible, they can’t be saved.”
Me. “Well, lucky for them neither I nor God believe that.”

Pretty sure I didn’t convince her I’m not doing it totally wrong.

But the reason I share Jesus this way is ’cause I used to do it her way. And didn’t get anywhere. It’s what I call carrot-and-stick evangelism: Heaven’s the carrot; hell’s the stick. And be sure you preach about 75 percent stick, lest they think there are no dire consequences for rejecting heaven.

It’s a common dark Christian practice, and it has the bad habit of creating more dark Christians.

23 November 2016

Don’t just raise your kids Christian. Share Jesus with them.

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Some years ago I was telling a friend about some church ministry I was involved with. He then told me, with a little bit of embarrassment, he wasn’t involved in such thing in his church. Didn’t feel he could possibly find the time.

“Well that’s understandable,” I told him: “You have four kids under the age of 10. They’re your ministry. You’ve gotta make sure they know Jesus, and have a growing relationship with them. Get them solid; then worry about all the other stuff your church is doing. Then your kids will wanna do all those church things with you.”

He was a little relieved to hear me say that, ’cause he’d been kicking himself a little for not doing enough church stuff. You know how some churches can get: If you’re not giving ’em 10 hours a week, they doubt your salvation. But when Paul instructed Timothy on what sort of people oughta serve the church (or deacons, as we tend to call ’em), he pointed out, assuming they have children, the children oughta be well-behaved. 1Ti 3.12 If deacons become elders, same deal. If they can’t even raise their own kids, what good are they to raise a mature church?

So first things first. All that stuff you were hoping to do for your church?—lead music, teach Sunday school and bible classes, participate in the prayer group, contributing to charity, going on a missions trip? Do all that stuff, with your kids, first. Live out your Christianity with them, in front of them, as an example to them, long before you start doing that stuff for your church. ’Cause your first duty is to train your kids to follow your God. Dt 4.9-10 Not to just have ’em say the sinner’s prayer, then hope they pick up the rest on their own.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians prefer to do the sinners’ prayer, and little more. I know from experience. When I was in youth group, a lot of the kids knew nothing about Jesus outside of what our youth pastors told us. And that’s assuming they listened to the pastor’s lessons. They were woefully ignorant of God—but their parents figured they said the prayer, got baptized, went to church, and participated in all the same cultural Christian things they did. Doesn’t that count as raising ’em Christian?

As a result you’ve got a lot of Christians who aren’t really raising their kids Christian. At best, the kids come to Jesus in spite of their parents’ lack of attention. At worst, the kids decide their parents are hypocrites, Christianity is bogus, and turn antichrist.

And their parents, in horror and outrage, can’t imagine they’re in any way to blame for their kids’ seeming apostasy. So they look for other scapegoats: Their pagan friends. Secular schools. Youth pastors who didn’t adequately diagnose the coming problem. Evil rock music and TV programs. Satan. Anybody but themselves. Because they provided their kids a good Christian environment; how on earth could this have happened on their watch?

Easy. They didn’t watch. They assumed the environment would make their kids Christian. Environment does nothing. Discipleship does. Train your kids in the way they should go. Don’t just quote bible verses at ’em, but fail to lead by example.

20 September 2016

“Can I pray for you?”

Most people don’t mind at all if you do.

When you don’t know what to do, talk to God.

Not only is this always good advice to follow, but it’s good advice when dealing with others. When other people share their difficulties with us, we don’t always know how to respond. Prayer’s one of the best responses—if not the best, period. It’s turning to God as our first resort.

I know; plenty of people think they know just what to do when they hear someone’s troubles. That’s why they immediately offer it: Advice. No, the person sharing their woes didn’t ask for it. Often they just wanted to vent to someone. But that’s not gonna stop people from inflicting bad advice upon ’em anyway.

Remember Job’s friends? For a week he kept his mouth shut, Jb 2.13 but then he made the mistake of lamenting in front of them, Jb 3 and it opened up their floodgates of bad advice, naive statements, sorry platitudes—you know, the same stuff people still offer as advice, which just goes to show they’ve never really read Job. It pissed the LORD off, ’cause nothing they said about him was correct. Jb 42.7 Like I said, shoulda gone to him first.

Me, I try to keep the unsolicited advice to a minimum. If you want it, I’ll offer it, with the usual disclaimer that I’m hardly infallible. But really, the best response is, “Can I pray for you?”

And when we offer to pray for them, let’s not do the similar platitudinous “I’ll pray for you.” Mostly because among Christianists, “I’ll pray for you” means one of two things:

  • “I’m really offended by what you just said. Go to hell. No, wait; I need to sound Christian. ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
  • “Oh Lord, I don’t care about all your miserable problems. I’ve got my own stuff to deal with. How do I get out of this dreary conversation? ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Good; now I can leave.”

It’s seldom based on sympathy.

Well, don’t be one of those unsympathetic jerks. If you’re offering to pray for them, no time like the present. Stand right there and pray. Doesn’t need to be a long prayer; doesn’t need to be perfect words. Just needs to be you, telling God to help ’em out.

13 September 2016

We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

Grace is not unique to Christianity. Much as we’d love to think so.

Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace. Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace?

The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.

On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleague, “What’s the rumpus about?” and was told that they were seeking to find Christianity’s unique trait among the world religions. In the straightforward, no-nonsense, commonsense approach that was to make Lewis famous, he immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” As the other scholars thought about that for a moment, they concluded that Lewis was right: It is grace. No other religion had ever made the ultimate acceptance by the Almighty so absolutely unconditional. In other faiths, there is usually some notion of earning points. Whether it was karma, Buddhist-like steps among the path to serenity, or some similar system, the idea was that to receive the favor of the gods one had to earn the favor of the gods.

Not in Christianity, at least not in true Christianity. Hoezee 41-42

Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft at a speech in Calvin College, and no doubt he did. Too bad it’s gotta be bunk though. Told to make C.S. Lewis sound clever—smarter than those religion experts, who had to have heard about the uniqueness of Christian grace from G.K. Chesterton, at least.

But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

22 July 2016

How your politics will kill your testimony.

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Couple months ago I found one of my favorite theologians is on Twitter. I have a few of his books, and used to listen to his radio program—in podcast form, naturally; who listens to radio anymore? So I decided to “follow” him.

About two weeks later I simply had to stop following him.

Why? ’Cause everything he tweets is angry, partisan, hate-filled, deliberately provocative, overly zealous… and sometimes even the reverse of what Jesus teaches. You know, works of the flesh. The times he actually reflected Christ—the times he acted like the thoughtful theologian I originally became a fan of—were once in a blue moon. Now it’s nothing but bile.

What happened to the guy? He got political.

I know. If you’re the political sort, your dander’s probably up already. Might be from the title. “Politics kill my testimony? What, are you one of those [bums from the opposition party]?

Maybe. But no, I’m not saying politics is gonna turn every Christian, or even you, into a fruitless Christian jerk. It’s not the politics: It’s what the politics might turn you into. It’s whether your support of your party, your candidates, your political views, or your “Christian worldview,” ultimately make you unlike Christ. ’Cause it can happen. ’Cause it happened to me.

I don’t have an issue with politics per se. I have political friends. On both wings; I grew up in the midst of the American Christian Right, and I’ve since made lots of friends among the Christian Left. My own irritating politics pick and choose from both sides, based on whether I think they reflect Christ Jesus’s teachings best. The reason they irritate people is ’cause they don’t neatly fit into the popular categories. The reason my friends put up with it (and me) is ’cause a lot of times we do agree. And when we disagree, I’m not a dick about it. (I try not to be, anyway.)

Now, when I was younger, different deal. I was semi-solidly in the Christian Right. I say semi-solidly because while I fully agreed with their moral views, I had big problems with their economic ones—which don’t come from Jesus, but from the party. I had doubts, and rightly so. But I stuffed ’em, ’cause I wanted to be loyal. I zealously supported the party. Too zealously.

Problem is, I didn’t realize zílos/“zeal” is a work of the flesh. Ge 5.20 And why would I? My NIV translated it “jealousy,” and I wasn’t jealous; my KJV translated it “emulations,” and I didn’t know what emulations were. Plenty of Christians believe zeal’s a virtue, though it’s rarely used that way in the scriptures. We figure zeal’s what we should feel for the beliefs we hold, the causes we support, the Christ we worship. It justifies every unkind thing we do in their support.

04 July 2016

Does God actually do anything in your testimony?

Whenever you share your God-experiences, make sure God’s actually somewhere in the experience.

Testimony /'tɛs.tə.moʊ.ni/ n. Public recounting of a religious experience, usually a conversion.
[Testimonial /tɛs.tə'moʊ.ni.əl/ adj., testify /'tɛs.tə.faɪ/ v.]

Usually when people talk about a testimony, it’s a formal legal statement, made before attorneys or a judge, of something you personally witnessed. Christian testimonies aren’t so formal. But they are about what we personally witnessed. We saw God do something. We’re sharing that story.

By testimony lots of Christians mean their conversion story: When we first realized we were Christians, or first decided to become Christians. Some of these stories are dramatic, like the heroin addict who’s decided to kill himself with one massive overdose, and then Jesus appeared to him and said, “Don’t,” and now he runs a megachurch. Some of ’em are a bit more mundane, like mine: I was a little kid, and Mom told me about Jesus, and I asked him into my heart… and I never did get to try heroin. Oh well.

But as I keep trying to remind Christians, conversion stories aren’t the only testimonies we have. Certainly shouldn’t be. Certainly aren’t for me. My little-kid conversion story was 40 years ago, and Jesus doesn’t even make a personal appearance. If the only experience I have of Jesus is that story, I suck as a Christian. What’ve I been doing for these past four decades? Knitting?

God has done a lot of things in my life. I have loads of God-stories. Any time I’m sharing Jesus with some pagan, and they wanna know, “But what can God do in my life?” I can always respond, “I don’t know; that’s between you and him. But I can tell you what he’s done in my life.” And out come my God-stories. When he’s told me stuff. When he’s given me prophecies. When he’s had me pray for people to get healed, and they were. When I’ve witnessed him heal other people. My Christianity isn’t just academic; God’s shown up a bunch. And every time he does, I get another testimony.

What’s God done in your life? That’s your testimony.

Now share it!

28 June 2016

Seeker-sensitivity: Being all things to all people.

And why certain Christians confuse kindness with compromise.

Seeker /'sik.ər/ n. One who’s attempting to find religion: God, truth, peace, or self-justification.
Seeker-sensitive /'sik.ər 'sɛn.sə.dɪv/ adj. Caring about seekers’ feelings, hangups, offenses, needs, or lack of familiarity; adapting one’s message in consideration.
2. Compromising one’s message to make it more appealing.
[Seeker-sensitivity /'sik.ər sɛn.sə'dɪv.ə.di/ n.]

People are more apt to listen to you if you’re like them.

Yeah, I know there are exceptions to this rule. When I’ve been on missionary trips, the locals are kinda curious about the novelty of American foreigners, so they’ll listen to me for a bit. But only for a bit. One of the things American missionaries discovered in the 20th century (and it’s a little dumbfounding it took us so long to discover it, but it’s probably ’cause of racism) is that our missions either grow really slow, or don’t grow at all, when we don’t put the locals in charge. The fastest-growing churches and denominations are run by natives, not foreigners.

St. Paul understood this, and when he went round the Roman Empire founding churches, he recognized the importance of adjusting himself to whatever culture he worked in. Still obeying God, of course; yet living within the cultural expectations of the people he preached to. He didn’t want his obvious differences to get in the way of the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9.19-23 KWL
19 Having freedom in everything, I enslave myself. Because I could get many!
20 I become, to the Judeans, like a Judean. Because I could get Judeans!
I become, to Law-followers, like a Law-follower. Because I could get Law-followers!
21 I become, to Law-breakers, like a Law-breaker—
Not breaking God’s Law, but following Christ’s Law. Because I could get Law-breakers!
22 I become, to the weak, weak. Because I could get the weak!
I become, to whomever, whatever. Because however I could save some of them, I will.
23 I’ll do anything for the gospel, so I can be a part of it.

One of the other things American missionaries discovered in the 20th century… is that the United States is also a foreign culture. No, this isn’t still because of racism: If you grew up in popular Christian culture, you’ve got a mindset which pagans aren’t all that familiar with, don’t understand… and sometimes find wholly offensive.

Ever tried to take your pagan friends to church—only for that to be the week your pastor unexpectedly goes off on a rant about just the issues that’d totally alienate your pagan friends? Might be politics, might be social issues, might even be baseball teams. Whatever it takes for the pagans to have the knee-jerk response, “I’m never coming back here.”

Man alive, have I been there. Took months to coax ’em into the building; took all of three minutes to convince ’em they’d like hell much better.

So this is what seeker-sensitivity is about: Trying not to push people’s buttons. Trying not to alienate potential Christians. Trying to share the gospel, not our agendas. Trying to be kind to newcomers.

Thing is, look up “seeker-sensitive” on the internet, and just about all you’ll find are people who are totally against the practice. Why?

03 June 2016

Jesus harvests the Samaritans.

See what can come out of a brief, but powerful, conversation with a stranger?

John 4.25-42

After meeting Jesus and realizing he’s a prophet, this Samaritan woman he met at Jacob’s Well tried to get him to settle a theological dispute—namely which temple was the correct one, the one at Shechem or the one at Jerusalem. Jn 4.20 Jesus pointed out it’s neither Jn 4.21 —God wants worshipers “in spirit and truth,” Jn 4.22-23 who can worship him anywhere. In temple, out of temple; in church, out of church.

But since Jesus appeared to side with the Judeans, Jn 4.22 the Samaritan did the intellectual equivalent of shrugging her shoulders:

John 4.25 KWL
The woman told Jesus, “I know Messiah comes, who’s called Christ.
Whenever he comes, he’ll explain everything to us.”

As I’ve said previously, Samaritans didn’t believe in a Judean-style Messiah. Their bible only went up to Deuteronomy, so no Messianic prophecies. They believed in the Tahéb/“coming one,” a prophet-like-Moses Dt 18.15 who’d come at the End Times and sort everything out. And since the Taheb was sorta anointed by God, the word “anointed”—mešíkha in Aramaic, hristós in Greek—would be a valid synonym for Tahéb. Maybe she said Mešíkha, which is why John rendered it Messías. Maybe she said Tahéb, and John translated it. Not sure; doesn’t really matter. After all, Jesus is the Tahéb. Ac 3.22-26 So we’re fine either way.

Her response was a bit apathetic. “Till Messiah/Taheb comes to explain God to us, meh: Who’s to say who’s right?”

Hence Jesus’s response.

John 4.26 KWL
Jesus told her, “I am the one speaking to you.”

Mic drop.

Yeah, various skeptics insist Jesus never called himself Messiah. That it was an idea added to Christianity decades later by overzealous Christians. Probably Paul; they like to blame Paul for all the parts of Christianity they don’t like. Ignoring the fact Paul’s letters were written first—if Paul hadn’t spread Christianity in the first place, they’d have nothing to nitpick, redefine, and reshape to suit themselves. Can’t have Christ without his Christians.

True, Jesus doesn’t flat-out say, “I’m Messiah.” You say that in that day and age, you get killed for treason. Instead Jesus makes it as clear as he can while having plausible deniability (not that he ever denied it Mk 14.61-62): “I am the one speaking to you.” It’s as close to a “I’m Messiah” as we can get from him, and the Samaritan clearly understood his meaning—and ran with it.

Literally.

John 4.27-30 KWL
27 At this point, Jesus’s students came back.
They were wondering why he was speaking with a woman.
Yet nobody said, “What’re you asking?” or “Why are you speaking with her?”
28 So the Samaritan left her jar and went back into the town.
She told the people, “Come see a person who told me everything I’ve done!
It’s not Christ, is it?”
30 They came out of the town, and were coming to him.

Like I said, saying “Messiah” might get you killed for treason. So maybe the Samaritan used that word (which John translated “Christ”), and maybe she said Tahéb (which John likewise translated “Christ.”) Can’t say for certain. Again, doesn’t matter. It got the Samaritans’ attention, and they came to check him out for themselves.

01 June 2016

Sharing Jesus… with liars.

’Cause not every irreligious Christian wants to admit that’s what they are.

Yeah, I admit “Sharing Jesus… with liars” is a harsh-sounding title. But it’s accurate. Sometimes when we share Jesus with people, they lie about how Christian they are.

Four out of five Americans consider themselves Christian. That’s not anecdotal; that’s based on surveys. The Pew Forum currently has us at 70.6 percent of Americans. Gallup has us at 75.2 percent. ABC and Beliefnet have us at 83 percent. And the Barna Group has us at 78 percent. Now anecdotally, it’s been my experience that two out of three people tell me they’re already Christian. But I live in California, not the Bible Belt. Stats vary by state.

Of these self-described Christians, there are obviously a number of ’em who aren’t Christian. Do a little prying, and you’ll discover they’re pagans who think they’re Christian. They’re not what I mean by liars. They’re not lying. They honestly do think they’re Christian. It’s just they’re not; they like Jesus, but don‘t believe he’s any more special than any other religious leader, and figure they’re going to heaven because they’re good. And can’t understand their beliefs make us look at ’em so strangely: Doesn’t every Christian talk to their angels?

Nah; by “liar” I mean people who deliberately aren’t telling the truth about their Christian life. They are Christians: They know who God is, what Christ did, how God saved ’em, and all the usual orthodox Christian beliefs. They’re not ignorant about the basics. They totally know what God expects of them. They also know what Christian society expects from them. It’s just they’re not living like that, and they know it. They feel bad about it. Or they don’t; but they don’t wanna get into that with you today. So they conceal. Distort. Misrepresent. Exaggerate. Lie.

They want us to shut up and go away, so they tell us whatever they think we wanna hear. You know, like a lot of us do with telemarketers: “Actually, I’m quite happy with my current cable provider.” Oh, you know that’s a lie. Nobody likes their cable provider.

They don’t pray. Don’t go to church. Don’t read bible. Don’t do good works; they just don’t harm anybody, and figure passive non-interference counts as a good work. Don’t figure they sin as much, swear as much, doubt as much, dabble in superstition as much, as their pagan friends. Figure the amount of religion they can be bothered to engage in, makes ’em WAY more religious than their pagan friends—maybe too religious. (Whereas we religious Christians: We’re beyond the pale. Go to church more than once a week? Yikes.)

But they like to imagine they’re good enough Christians. Good enough for saving. And hey, we’re not saved by being good anyway. We’re saved by grace. They’re not the best Christians, but even the worst Christians are getting into heaven; they’ll just be the least in the kingdom. Mt 6.19 They’re in; that’s all that matters, and it’s none of our business how good they are.