An Online Learning Community Seeking to Advance the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom in our Everyday Relationships

Helpful Info

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Talking it Over: How would you respond to Jefferson?

In January, a video posted on YouTube by college student Jefferson Bethke, went viral - over 18 million views in less than a month. Needless to say, that's no small feat!

The content? A simple poem that Jefferson wrote and recited about how Jesus and religion are not the same. As you might imagine it created quite a stir, even catching the attention of NY Times Columnist, David Brooks (you can take a look at David's column about this video by clicking here).

In my opinion, Jefferson's message needs to be taken seriously by the people of God, but not all agree. In David Brooks' column, he mentions one Pastor's response that you can read for yourself in full, on his blog, by clicking here. You might want to also peruse the hundreds of comments that people made at the end of David's article and at the end of the Pastor's post - they are most interesting.

Jefferson definitely hit a raw nerve, particularly among the young, but he also ruffled a few feathers in the process!

As you watch the video, keep in mind a couple of questions:
How would you respond to Jefferson? Does he have a point? Are his concerns legitimate? Does he make a credible case for taking a closer look at ourselves or do we just write him off, and others like him, as people on the fringe who are overly idealistic and lacking a thorough understanding of Scripture?
As for the controversy this created, do we dismiss the overall truth of his message (i.e. Jesus and religion are not the same) simply because of the way he chose to express himself? Is truth only truth when an "authority" presents it, or is truth itself the authority even when it's articulated by an "outside" source? At what point do we ask if there's a lesson in here for us as the people of God? Why so little discussion among ourselves about ourselves? Why so much about him and his character and the parsing of words?
Finally, for the sake of the Gospel, how might our attitudes and actions need to change so as to ensure that the clarity of our message is not being muddled by the "baggage" that Jefferson speaks of? As important as it is, is it solely an issue of embracing sound doctrine, or could there be more to this matter that we simply "don't get?" If so, what? 
For further thoughts on religious tradition and how it can muddle the unique and radical message we hold so dear, please see my July 2011 posts entitled: "Our Message - Not Like The Others?" and "Assumptions and Absolutes"

Postscript (Mar 2): My good friend over at the Philippian Jailer Blog posted some thoughts on this video today that are worth checking out. You'll find it by clicking here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Post Plus: Bach Like You've Never Heard Before

Friday, December 30, 2011

Being an Obstacle Remover

Last time, in my post, The Journey Toward Christ, I shared the chart I referred to in my story about Ben & Kathy's journey as told in The Struggle to Believe.

By no means the definitive work on the subject, the chart I posted was simply my attempt to quantify not only what the process can look like in a person’s journey toward Christ, but the believer’s role in that process.

In this post, I’d like to go behind the scenes of the chart, so to speak, to highlight a couple of the big picture implications to us as believers, particularly as it relates to our being an "obstacle remover" in a person's journey toward Christ.

As a reminder, this is not about devising some kind of grand scheme to achieve the noted outcomes; nor is it about manipulating a person through the process.

It's about being cognizant of the "obstacles" that are likely to be present in a person's journey; noticing what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives; and understanding how we can be an "obstacle remover" in that process.

Furthermore, this post is not about how to strike up a conversation and share the Gospel with complete strangers that we meet at the beach, park, or laundromat.

As important as those "divine encounters" are in the overall work of the Holy Spirit, our focus right now is on the people that God has already sovereignly placed in our everyday lives -- friends and relatives (both near and far), neighbors, colleagues, co-workers, classmates, students, teachers, clients, customers, associates, employees, supervisors, club members, community contacts, service providers (barber, handyman, etc), and just about anyone else we have continual contact with during the normal course of life, even if we don't yet know their name!

That's a lot of people!

Now granted, those who are completely indifferent or antagonistic toward all things "Christian" usually don't want anything to do with a follower of Christ, not to mention the fact that we only have the time and capacity to relate to a few anyway. However, since we're talking about people that God has sovereignly placed in our everyday lives, is it at all possible that He might just have something in mind for them, and that it could very well include us?

Though we know with the utmost of certainty that God is at work drawing men and women to Himself from across the globe, is there any reason to believe that it somehow excludes the people in our lives? If they are not there by accident, is there any reason to assume that He does not want to use us in the journey of at least a few?

Assuming He does, how then do we find "the few" amongst the many? How do we know in whose heart God is at work especially if His work is only in the early stages of their journey? Is there a way to identify who it is that God is leading us to so that we can be an "obstacle remover" in their journey toward Christ?

No easy answers, for sure, but perhaps there is a way!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Post Plus: That's My King!

Just in case you have not yet experienced this classic video, there's no better day to do so than today! No matter how many times I view it, I always go away deeply moved - puts all of life into perspective! Merry Christmas!

That's My King! [no live band] from Albert Martin on Vimeo.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Struggle to Believe

NOTE: This is Part 2 of a true story about Ben & Kathy and their journey to Christ. If you haven't read Part 1, Listening-In On The Home Team Huddle, you can do so by clicking here.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The sun was just starting to set as we pulled up to Ben & Kathy’s house. It had been a long drive across the western plains. The kids were tired and we had to get right back on the road the next morning, but tonight was going to be a special time with old friends.

After completing their tour of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, Ben & Kathy returned to Ben’s home town in rural Nebraska, population 300, and we arranged to spend the night with them on our long trek across the country.

It had been 5 years since we last saw them; 6 years since we first met at the seminar.

We kept in touch as best we could over the years – that is, as best one could while living in Japan during the days before the internet – and this was our first chance to really catch-up.

The last time we saw them, they were getting ready to board a plane for their next duty assignment and Kathy’s parting words to me were: “Sorry, Bill, I just don’t buy it!”

Friday, October 07, 2011

Listening-In On the Home Team Huddle

“Can we have a private word with you?”

“Sure, let’s go outside and talk.” I replied, as I folded up the easel and gathered my materials.

Week 3, of my 12-week seminar, had just come to a close and I was feeling pretty good about things. The discussion was lively and most of the 30 or so participants seemed to be enthusiastically tracking with what I was presenting.

Most everyone, that is, except for one couple – Ben & Kathy – who had not uttered a single word the entire three weeks.

Since this was a public seminar offered by the Chapel at a U.S. Marine Corps Base, you never quite knew who would show up. Often, at an event like this, the participants themselves were meeting each other for the first time, and it was only natural to assume that some people would feel awkward opening up in a new group.

“No doubt that was the case with this couple – they’re just shy! Yes, that could be it,” I thought to myself as I closed my briefcase, “but you don’t ask to speak to someone privately just because you’re shy! I’ll bet they’re having a problem with the material I’m covering and want to give me a piece of their mind......ugh! But what could it be?”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Talking It Over: How Would You Respond to Kevin?

A few weeks ago, some good friends of mine received a heartfelt email from their son, who wrote in response to one of my first posts on this blog: “Our Message – Not Like The Others?

Kevin, [not his real name] is in his early thirties and the father of 2½ children. A Bible College graduate who was raised in both a godly Christian home and a Bible believing church, Kevin is a fine, young man who knows Christ and wants to walk with Him.

However, there’s a problem! Kevin and his wife have not attended church in years.

Though they understand the importance of meaningful Christian fellowship and Bible teaching for both themselves and their children, they just can’t seem to find a church in their area that fits who they are.

Of course, this is quite perplexing to his parents, and though they have tried their hardest to help, they just haven't been able to fully grasp the issues or why this is so difficult. 

That is, until recently when Kevin wrote them the following letter:

Friday, September 09, 2011

Foundation Laying and [un]Envisioned Outcomes

We all understand the importance of a solid foundation. Engineers tell us that the Tower of Pisa, which took nearly 2 centuries to complete, was flawed from the start. 

The foundation laid was simply not adequate to support the load, and the structure began to tilt as early as five years later when the second story was being added.

Due to a constant state of war, the tower stood unfinished for many years. When construction resumed after nearly a century of inactivity, the decision was made to deal with the "un-envisioned outcome" by compensating for the tilt rather than by starting over with a proper foundation.

As a result, the walls on each tier of the upper floors were built taller on the near side and shorter on the far side, giving the tower a slightly curved shape at the top.

Modern engineering methods have helped a great deal to shore up the base and correct some of the tilt, but the Tower of Pisa will always be, in spite of its magnificent splendor, the poster child for the importance of choosing a foundation suitable for the envisioned structure.

Though common sense would dictate that the proper foundation be chosen only after the what and where of the structure is fully known, the exact opposite is actually true in the overall scheme of things in God's Kingdom.

It's not the structure that determines the proper foundation in God's economy, but rather the foundation that determines the proper structure.

Paul makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that there can be no other foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christthe chief cornerstone in whom the whole “building” is joined together. In God's economy, the foundation has already been determined and set in place - it's a done deal! 

However, there are two very important elements that we, as the people of God, need to keep in mind:
1) It's up to us to make the deliberate choice to build on THIS particular foundation rather than on one of the many alternatives or derivatives.
2) It's up to us to build on this foundation in a manner that is appropriate for, consistent with, and honoring to the intent of the original design - to choose our "building materials" carefully.
In other words, there is a big difference between Christ being "the" foundation, and Christ being "our" foundation. Jesus may be the foundation, but it doesn't necessarily mean that our foundation is one and the same. We could just as easily have chosen to lay our foundation on one of the many alternatives.

Furthermore, though Christ is indeed "the" foundation, it doesn't necessarily mean that "our" church or ministry is built on that foundation. In fact, the "tilt" that is so obvious in many of our churches today, may very well be the result of a foundation that was laid on one of the many derivatives (which, of course, is simply not capable of supporting, sustaining, and producing the "envisioned outcome").

Several years ago, some colleagues and I did an extensive study of 1 Corinthians together. Most of us were ministering in Asia and the Middle East at the time, so we made it a point to meet each year to study and discuss the issues we were facing on the field as practitioners of the Gospel. Our intent was to go back to the Scriptures with fresh eyes to gain insight, answers, and perspective on the realities we encountered in the rocky soil nations.

One of the many nuggets that stood out to me in my personal study of 1 Corinthians that year was an imaginary conversation that Paul had with his supervisor which I fondly referred to as: “If Paul had a Supervisor.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

For the Sake of the Gospel

A mother staying up all night for the sake of a sick baby; an Olympic athlete training tirelessly for the sake of a gold medal; a fireman rushing into a burning building for the sake of a trapped child; an executive turning down a big promotion for the sake of her family……

We all know what it means to make deliberate choices for the benefit of someone or something that we view to be of far greater value than that which is being sacrificed.

Whether it means realigning our priorities, doing without certain personal comforts, or even risking our very lives, there’s no telling how far the human spirit is willing to go for the sake of someone or something that is held in high regard.

That’s the way Paul felt about the Gospel.

For the sake of the Gospel, he was willing to endure hardship, imprisonment, even death in order to complete his God-given task of advancing the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom.

For the sake of the Gospel, he became a servant to a wide range of people: the religious and non-religious; the moral and immoral; the defeated and demoralized; whoever. He didn’t take on their way of life or change his core message, but he was intent on adapting to people and connecting with them where they were at in life, taking Christ into the context that was most familiar to them.

For the sake of the Gospel, Paul vigorously defended the “purity” of the Gospel by publicly rebuking Peter for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, leading others astray, and even hypocrisy. Though Peter’s actions seemed innocent enough on the surface, Paul saw it as a threat to the Gospel; an unwitting attempt by Peter to impose Jewish ritual on Gentile believers and alter the very heart of “Paul’s Gospel” in the process.

For the sake of the Gospel, Paul also chose, on at least two important occasions, to willingly comply with Jewish ritual: First, by circumcising Timothy near the start of his second missionary journey; then, by freely participating in a Jewish purification rite himself at the end of his third missionary journey. In both cases, his intent was to honor the Jewish community and express his solidarity with Jewish believers by becoming a “Jew to the Jews” so that the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom would continue to move within the Jewish context.

Paul was willing to put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ. He saw himself as Christ’s ambassador; as someone entrusted with both a message and a task; as someone compelled to faithfully discharge the trust committed to him.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Everyday Relational Networks and a Movement of the Gospel

In the 1946 Jimmy Stewart classic “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Angel 2nd-Class Clarence Oddbody is given the arduous task of preventing George Bailey from taking his own life. In a na├»ve, bumbling sort of way, Clarence grants George the privilege of seeing what life would have been like if he had never been born.

At first, George attributes the strange, new experiences to the affects of alcohol, or a blow on the head, but he soon finds himself living a nightmare where every person he cherishes either denies they ever knew him, are dead, or simply don’t exist anymore.

As George is staring at his brother’s grave, horrified by the realization that his brother is not alive anymore because he wasn’t there to save him from drowning at the age of nine, Clarence gently drives the point home:
“Strange, isn't it?” Clarence replies softly. “Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? You've been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you. You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?“
Perhaps I’m just a bit too sentimental, but I never seem to tire of that movie. The message is so very clear, and whether we're aware of it or not, our lives really do intersect with and influence the lives of so many. We can see it at work all around us. In fact, every society on the face of the earth, whether it be Japanese, Iranian, North Korean, or American, is ultimately structured around the very simple principle of interconnected relationships.

Though the Japanese are much more group oriented than we are in the West, the network of relationships nonetheless exist in both, and we can be sure that at least some of these connections are more than mere happenstance. If there's one thing we can be certain of, it's that the Holy Spirit is constantly at work orchestrating relationships.

Whether it be the people of group-oriented Japan, or the people of individual-oriented America, it is precisely within the fertile soil of these everyday relational networks where the untapped potential for a movement of the Gospel waits to emerge.

However, to see the Gospel "move" within these networks, a radically different approach to evangelism, coupled with a whole new way of thinking about ministry, is required. A different mindset, if you will, among the people of God, that is very much in line with the truth of Scripture and the heart of the Gospel.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Implications of a Kingdom Mindset

A Kingdom Mindset is neither American nor European; it’s not the product of twentieth century, first century, or ancient thought; nor is it the property of a particular religion.

A Kingdom Mindset is in a category all its own. It stands in stark contrast to all cultural mindsets because it was neither conceived of, nor developed, in the heart of man.

Cultural mindsets, on the other hand, are very much the product of man. Whether it be:
a Religious Mindset or a Western Church Mindset;
an American Mindset or an Asian Mindset;
a Corporate Mindset or a Political Mindset;
an Academic Mindset or a Military Mindset;
a Modern Mindset or a Medieval Mindset;
an Urban Mindset or a Small Town Mindset;
All cultural mindsets are, understandably so, conceived of and developed in the mind of man.

Furthermore, whereas cultural mindsets change and adapt over time, a Kingdom Mindset remains the same regardless of cultural context. There's no mystery here - the two mindsets are simply as different as, well, apples & oranges!

In fact, if anything does change about a Kingdom Mindset, it's simply our awareness and understanding of how to live out the implications of a Kingdom Mindset within a particular cultural context.

But what happens when a kingdom mindset intersects with, say, a religious mindset, or western church mindset, or even a first century Jewish mindset?

Can we assume that the former will be represented accurately and with high fidelity by the latter?

2000 years ago we got the answer to that question and found out exactly what happens when a kingdom mindset intersects with a particular cultural mindset, in this case, within a Jewish context!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Assumptions and Absolutes

NOTE: This is Part 2 of a two week series. If you haven't read Part 1, Our Message - Not Like the Others, you can do so by clicking here.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Last week, the key point made was that though our message, the Gospel, is wholly unlike any other message on the face of the earth, the forms and practices of our western church system can often have more in common with the "other messages" than with the unique and radical message that we hold so dear.

In this post we’re going to develop that point a step further by taking a closer look at how the traditions and deeply rooted assumptions of the messenger have the potential to hinder the message we hold so dear.

The target audience of this two week series is not so much those who don’t care about the Gospel, but those who, in fact, care deeply. Furthermore, this is not primarily written for those who don’t view the Scriptures as their authority, but rather for those who do.

With that said, I think it's safe to say that all of us who view the authority of Scripture as the supreme authority believe that its teachings must take precedence over all else.

Whether it’s church history, family upbringing or culture, the teaching of a particular denomination, theological system, or Christian organization, we all believe that the teaching of Scripture must, on each and every occasion, take precedence.

That’s not to say, of course, that these other things have no value.

In and of itself, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with living according to western church tradition, a particular denominational system, or even our own personal preferences. Many great men and women of God have gone before us and we have much to gain from their teaching and experiences.

There’s also nothing necessarily wrong with preferring one particular approach over another. That’s what culture is. By and large we live the way we do because we prefer it over any other approach to life. Life is most comfortable to us when approached in a manner that we've become accustomed to. It’s part of our “first birth,” and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.

The problem lies in the elevation of our "preferred approach" to a level that is equal or superior to the Scriptures. As Mark 7 warns:
When the Scriptures are inadvertently placed in an equal or subordinate role to a prevailing mindset, culture, or system we have a major problem indeed. I say "inadvertently" because, after all, no one would purposely set out to undermine the Scriptures unless they themselves were an enemy of the cross.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Our Message - Not Like the Others?

NOTE: This is part one of a two week series. If you want to go to Part 2, Assumptions and Absolutes, you can do so by clicking here.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When crossing cultures with the Gospel just how difficult of a task is it to bring “the message” to a particular people without entangling that message in the “cultural trappings” of the messenger? Does it even matter?

If by “culture” we mean eating with silverware instead of chopsticks, or shaking hands instead of bowing, it’s probably not very difficult at all to leave culture out of the message.

However, if by culture we mean "church culture," that is, the forms, practices, and deeply rooted assumptions of the "western church system," it’s another matter entirely.

Allow me to explain!

The message we bring to the nations is a truly unique and radical message that, in every respect, is wholly unlike any other message on the face of the earth.

Unlike the other messages, God does not respond to what we do, we respond to what God does. Unlike the other messages, the focus is not on the outward, the focus is on the inward.

Unlike the other messages, acceptable worship is not about participation in rituals, acceptable worship is about the response of the heart in spirit and truth. Unlike the other messages, God does not dwell in a building, He dwells in human hearts.

And unlike the other messages, this message is not bound to one particular earthly culture, religious culture, or "church system," it’s bound to a unique culture all its own – kingdom culture!

But wait!

When we stop to take an objective look at the forms, practices and mindset of our western church system what do we see? Is it more reflective of the unique and radical message that we hold so dear, or is it more reflective of the other “messages” that exist in the world today?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Why Blog? Why Now?

What's this blog all about and what can you expect to gain from it?

I'm convinced that we are in the middle of yet another major paradigm shift in church history.

One factor that leads me to believe that comes from what I see God doing as a result of our determined efforts, as the people of God, to take the Gospel into the rocky soil nations within Asia and the Middle East.

The indifference, hostility, and overall lack of Gospel impact over the decades has forced us, albeit kicking and screaming, to go back to the Scriptures for a second look at our deeply rooted assumptions about missions and ministry.

This process of reexamining our presuppositions in the light of Scripture is having a profound impact on our understanding of the Church, the Gospel, and the Kingdom of God.

More than that, we're all being forced to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit in ways never imagined a generation ago. Something marvelous is happening in the hearts of God's people and calling it a shift in paradigm is but one way to describe what God is doing.

Obviously you don’t need to go to Asia or the Middle East to recognize that right here, right now; in our own society in America; we’re facing some of the same issues that missionaries have faced for decades in the rocky soil nations.

The difference, however, is that unlike the rocky soil nations, the church in America not only enjoys a long, proud history of helping to shape western society, but the protection of the State that guarantees, by law, our right to exist.

In the rocky soil nations, the church has never played an integral part in society and there is little or no protection under the law. The kind of issues we're facing in America and the kind of questions we're asking are, quite honestly, pale in comparison to the kind of issues facing the people of God in the rocky soil nations.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Post Plus: Tribute to Tsunami Stricken Japan

In May, my family and I visited our Japanese friends in tsunami stricken Sendai. Words cannot express what it was like to hear the stories and see the devastation in person. A mangled bicycle here, an old photo album there; even a butsudan (a family altar of sorts) lay tangled in the piles of rubble scattered around the bare foundations that once supported dozens of beautiful homes.

Someone owned that bicycle - did they get to higher ground? The people in the photo album - were they spared? The family with the butsudan - will they ever come to know Christ, or is it already too late? It's thoughts like these that flood your heart and soul as you walk amongst the wreckage.

If you want to understand how, without Christ, the Japanese can go on after such a terrible disaster, listen and watch this deeply moving music video done by Japanese, for Japanese. They are an amazing people and I count it an honor to have known and lived amongst them for 2 decades of my life.

Here's another deeply moving tribute using the song of a Nigerian born artist - "How do people live [like this]?"