Friday, August 5, 2011

Unprogramming Evangelism

"I love it when a plan comes together," my favorite show of the 80's said. When it comes to evangelism, I think we need both programs and no-programs. On one hand, a plan is needed to coordinate and maximize church efforts with unity and vision. On the other hand, we do not see many plans of evangelism in the Bible. There was organization, though. For example, in Acts 6, the disciples recruited qualified disciples to share the burden of the ministry. What about about evangelism programming?


Henri Nouwen said it well:
We must go out because we want to share with all people the abundant love and hope, joy and peace that Jesus brought to us. We want to "proclaim the unfathomable treasure of Christ" and "throw light on the inner workings of the mystery kept hidden through all ages in God, the creator of everything" (Ephesians 3:8-9). What we have received is so beautiful and so rich that we cannot hold it for ourselves but feel compelled to bring it to every human being on earth.

I like reminding myself to not over program things that ought to be normal for Christians. We must balance organic ministry with planning.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harvey Cox on the False Religion of Today

Many Christians have asked, "What is the most pressing issue facing Christianity?" Harvey Cox, former Harvard Professor of Religion, not only identified a pressing answer to the question, but also brings it to light in a fresh way.

The collection of essays in The Globalization of Pentecostalism examines the changing paradigms of Pentecostalism. Dempster, Klaus, and Peterson have organized the essays around three themes: Changing Paradigms in Pentecostal Scholarly Reflection, Pentecostalism as a Global Culture, and Issues Facing Pentecostalism in a Postmodern World. Each essay is a window into contemporary Pentecostal scholarship that demonstrates vigorous interaction with critical issues.

The final section tackles the issues facing Pentecostalism in culture. Cox provides a provocative and prophetic challenge to the Pentecostal movement. He establishes the premise that the global culture is the form of a false idolatrous religion, which he identifies as consumerism. Consumerism in this context is defined as promoting the interests of self more than God and His priorities. How would you describe consumerism as a false religion? What elements make up a false religion?

This pseudo-religion exhibits all the qualities of a classical religion, Cox says. It has a plan of salvation and an army of missionaries, spreading their gospel by promoting consumer-centered ethics. It has an eschatology, which describes capitalism as the ultimate victor. It even has an invisible hand that guides it, under whose influence "all things work together for the common good."

Cox challenges church leaders to prophetically engage in critiquing this god and its ideology. Christians, however, are not against culture per se, but opposed to the false ethics that dictate the meaning of life. We walk the tension of being "in our culture but not of our culture." We need to recapture our uniqueness as Christians, resist this mainstream god’s values, and renew our commitment to simplicity and communal support, which marked the earliest disciples of Christ.

This issue might not be the most pressing issue of time, but it important to take inventory of what and who centers your life. Is there more to this life than just consuming until the grave? Who is it that orders your priorities?

Monday, July 11, 2011

CARPE DIEM - Nine Essential Preaching Principles

A friend of mine, Nik White, and I recently sat down to evaluate my preaching strengths and areas where I can improve. This is truly a humbling, yet transforming exercise. I initiated the meeting because I was feeling particularly bad for one of the brow beaters I recently delivered to the amazing church I serve. Many pulpits bear an encouragement such as “Preach the Word,” but one pulpit bore an amusing message to the preacher. It was a simple but searching question: “What are you trying to do to these people?”

The evaluation proved incredibly helpful to me. We talked at length about how great sermons marry visceral applications with practical/intellectual applications. This exercise got me thinking about what other authors and teachers have said are the most important preaching principles. What if you could synthesize all the principles down to something memorable?

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society starred Robin Williams as a literature professor and pseudo father at a boy’s boarding school. The movie climaxed when the school administrator dismissed and asked Williams’s character to leave during a class while his students watched. His final words to his passionate students were “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Popularly translated, the Latin phrase carpe diem, means seize the day.

Because of the cultural tectonic shift happening right now, we must return to God’s Word to seize the day for his glory. Carpe Diem serves me as a memorable outline for the nine essential principles of preaching. I have seen and heard these principles discussed in preaching literature for the last ten years. There are more principles, for sure, but these are the ones that consistently make messages and messengers great.

1. Closeness with God - Power in preaching comes from closeness with God and not from trying to impress people.

2. Authentic Delivery - Be yourself. Confidence in our unique voice is a matter of trust in God.

3. Relevant Application - Relevant preaching requires us to live with the chronic pain of merging reflection and biblical application.

4. Pointed Idea - Pointed preaching is difficult because it requires us to identify a controlling idea.

5. Engaging Curiosity - Preachers must generate curiosity for the sermon to be engaging.

6. Dependable Exegesis - A dependable sermon is founded on an accurate exegesis of Scripture.

7. Integrated Process - “Preaching without notes does not mean preparation without notes. Indeed, carefully constructed notes are the basis of freedom from note in preaching.”

8. Evaluative Feedback - The purpose of evaluation is transformation through true feedback.

9. Memorable Intent - Anything memorable has two distinct qualities: It is worth remembering and it can be easily remembered.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wounded Healers

I love how Henri Nouwen teaches how the wounds in our lives can be blessings to others.

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

The Wounded Healer - Henri Nouwen

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hoarders - Spiritually Buried Alive

Hoarding is stocking goods, usually in secret from others, because of it's perceived value. Hoarding is a manifestation of fear. Fearful people are inclined to develop a mind-set that says: "There's not enough food for everyone, so I better be sure I save enough for myself in case of emergency," or "There's not enough knowledge for everyone to enjoy; so I'd better keep my knowledge to myself, so no one else will use it" or "There's not enough love to give to everybody, so I'd better keep my friends for myself to prevent others from taking them away from me."

This is a scarcity mentality. It involves hoarding whatever we have, fearful that we won't have enough to survive. The tragedy, however, is that what you cling to ends up rotting in your hands.

God is a god of abundance, not a god of scarcity. Jesus reveals to us God's abundance when he offers so much bread to the people that there are twelve large baskets with leftover scraps (John 6:5-15), and when he makes his disciples catch so many fish that their boat nearly sinks (Luke 5:1-7).

Henri Nouwen said, "As long as we say, 'I will love you, God, but first show me your generosity,' we will remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance." God is a generous giver, but we can only see and enjoy God's generosity when we love God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength.

*Reflections on Henri Nouwen's book Bread for the Journey.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Don't live your spiritual life alone? (What is semi-Pelagianism?)

I have been reading through Romans lately for personal study and pleasure. My professor, Doug Oss, stirred my mental pot a little on what is commonly called semi-Pelagianism. I did a quick refresher on the 1660 year old argument and decided to pass on the fruit for the one follower I have on this miserable blog (it's miserable because I rarely write).

Pelagius was a British monk who came to North Africa from Rome. Augustine (properly pronounced Au-gust-tin) launched a strenuous literary attack on Pelagianism around the middle of the 4th century. By 419 the Pelagians were banished by the Emperor Honorius, and in 431 they were condemned by the General Council of the Church meeting at Ephesus.

Why? What did Pelagius teach to arouse Augustine’s vigorous opposition? The monk denied that human sin is inherited from Adam. Man, he said, is free to act righteously or sinfully. Moreover, death is not a consequence of Adam’s disobedience. Adam, indeed, introduced sin into the world, but only by his corrupting example. There is no direct connection between his sin and the moral condition of mankind. Almost all the human race have sinned; but it is possible not to sin and some people have in fact lived without sin.

Pelagian also taught that forgiveness comes to all who exercise “faith alone”; but, once forgiven, man has power of himself to live pleasing to God. Thus, Pelagius found no real need for the special enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Many evangelicals, including Pentecostals, consider this semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that Christian life is practically self-control.

All this was in sharp contrast to Augustine’s own experience. He sensed profoundly the depth of his sin and therefore the greatness of God’s salvation. He felt that nothing less than irresistible divine power (grace) could have saved him from his sin and only constantly inflowing divine grace could keep him in the Christian life. His Christian ideal was no self-control but love for righteousness infused by the Spirit of God.

This is how Bruce Shelley sums up Augustine’s anthropology: “In Augustine’s view, Adam’s sin had enormous consequences. His power to do right was gone. In a word, he died, spiritually — and soon, physically. But he was not alone in his ruin. Augustine taught that the whole human race was ‘in Adam’ and shared his fall. Mankind became a ‘mass of corruption,’ incapable of any good [saving] act. Every individual, from earliest infancy to old age, deserves nothing but damnation.”

Romans 8:2 says, For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

We can never satisfy God’s righteous requirements by human effort. Our spiritual life requires a transformation born of the Spirit, by the Spirit, and through the Spirit to truly reconcile us with God. Don't try to live your spiritual life alone. You can't do it. It is the Spirit's fruit working in us that produces the character of Jesus in us (Gal. 5).

Peace

Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, Tex.: Word Pub., 1995), 129-30.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Simple and to the Point

Apple just released a new logo yesterday for iTunes. It has received criticism and praise. I love watching how people respond to both.

The is a blog excerpt from Mac Rumors, a blog I read fairly often on Apple related issues.

"Wired reports that one user sent Jobs an email criticizing the new logo for its design and abandonment of the iTunes brand that has developed over the years.

Steve,

Enjoyed the presentation today. But...this new iTunes logo really sucks. You're taking 10+ years of instant product recognition and replacing it with an unknown. Let's both cross our fingers on this...


Despite all of the activity surrounding the media event, Jobs took the time to respond with another one of his brief, to-the-point emails:

We disagree.

Sent from my iPhone
"

I'm not exactly sure why, but I find Steve's response refreshing.

Peace out!