Archive for Evangelism

The Good News about Bad News

The internet has been abuzz over the last few weeks about the steep decline of Protestantism in America.  There is a growing percentage (up to 15% from 7% 40 years ago) of people that claim “no religion.” This is particularly noticeable among younger Americans (18-22 years old) who are half as likely to be affiliated with a religion as their boomer generation counterparts.

So…not so good news.

But, is it as bad as it seems?  Certainly, numbers don’t lie, do they? Well, maybe not lie, but certainly don’t tell the whole truth.

Now, there is no question that there is work to be done, but is America just years away from becoming the next Europe, like is being indicated? Researcher Ed Setzer doesn’t think so. Click for his USA Today article.

In particular I want to highlight his last paragraph:

So, if not extinction, what does the future look like? I don’t think it looks like Europe, shaped by historic religious wars and legally mandated religion. Instead, if trends continue, I believe that the future will look more like the present-day Pacific Northwest. There, we find a majority of the population is spiritual but not religious, yet vibrant churches and devout Christians abound.

For example, in the Foursquare Church (a mid-size Pentecostal denomination), the Northwest District oversees 150 churches. Fifteen years ago, 66 of those churches did not exist. Those 66 churches alone report 40,000 new believers. Similar examples of such vibrant growth, there and elsewhere, demonstrate the point.

The future of Christianity in America is not extinction but clarification that a devout faith is what will last. Christianity in America isn’t dying, cultural Christianity is.

He believes we will look like the Pacific Northwest across the country. Spiritual but not religious – yet with a number of vibrant churches peppered across the landscape. Interesting.

Sounds like there are lessons to learn from Oregon and Washington right now, even as we in this part of the country are striving to learn, grow and adapt to the changing cultural landscape ourselves.

 

The bottom line of Ed Setzers research and application is this:

“Christianity in America isn’t dying, cultural Christianity is.”

What if we’re coming to a time in American history when the sheep are being separated from the goats?  What if the words of Jesus to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:15) about being hot or cold but not being lukewarm are being lived out in our generation? Many that formally associated with “cultural Christianity” are no longer doing so.

 

I’m thinking that may be a good thing for the American Church?

By “Church” I’m not referring to the “church” loosely connected only by buildings, religious codes, traditions and cultural, historical and family structures? But rather, the “ecclesia” – the true “called out ones” – the congregation of God’s people firmly founded upon the person and purposes of Jesus Christ.

By the way, Jesus is the Christ, upon which God will “build my (Jesus’) church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

That sounds pretty enduring to me.

Purpose-Driven Jesus

In Luke 4 we read of Jesus, full of the Spirit, entering Capernaum. This included a visit to Simon’s house and the healing of his mother-in-law. After a long stretch of ministry (not to mention the temptation in the wilderness and travel from Nazareth), Jesus went into a solitary (quiet) place. The crowds followed him and begged him to come back and continue the “good stuff” he had been doing previously.

Jesus, however, knew that he needed to keep moving to other communities.  His purpose was clear.  Let’s look at it in His own words:

“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” Luke 4:43.

Purpose-Driven Jesus.

It could have been easy (and notably popular) for him to hang out in Capernaum a while longer. He was attracting quite a following because of his miracle-working healing powers. But that was not his primary purpose.

Earlier in Luke 4 we see how Jesus applied the words of the prophet Isaiah to his primary purpose:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim…” (4:18).

Proclaim what?

  • Liberty to captives
  • Recovery to the blind
  • Freedom to the oppressed
  • God’s favor

There are a number of wonderful things that Jesus did while he was on this earth.  It would take considerable space to recount all of his anointed exploits. Nothing that Jesus did should be discounted or minimized, and yet, it would seem that he had ONE primary purpose: to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.

Purpose-Driven Jesus.

What is your primary purpose?  Of course, there will always be secondary, and wonderfully important things that you and I do.  It’s simply not possible for us to do only ONE THING – not even Jesus could stake that claim.  But it is vital for us to follow the pattern of Jesus, who constantly aligned himself to that which the Father called him to accomplish.

Like Jesus, we will find ourselves being pulled and prodded by the whim of the crowds.

How should we respond?

Graciously and intentionally:  “Thank you, but I must stay on task.  God has given me a primary purpose for my life. It is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. Everything else is secondary.”

Imagine what could be accomplished if we discovered our primary purpose and lived intentionally to accomplish it.

The Secular Church

Spend some time with this quote from Reggie McNeal.

As a Christian leader I find it to be upsetting.

But I also think it’s true.

 

Many Christian leaders are uncomfortable with genuine spiritual realities that involve the powerful and immediate presence of God. The truth is, many churches are more secular than the culture.  Everything that transpires in them can be explained away in terms of human talent and ingenuity. It could be a huge mistake on the church’s part to continue its pursuit of programs and methodological prowess (what ‘works’) when the world desperately seeks for God. Only when something goes on in church that can be explained as a God-thing will a spiritually-fascinated culture pause to take notice. Otherwise, those outside the church culture are not impressed with building programs and real estate acquisitions. What church culture people see as evidence of success matters little to pre-Christians.  Reggie McNeal in A Work of Heart

 

Please read it again.  Thoughts?

Good Flight, Huh?

On an Alaska Airlines hopper flight from Seattle to Kalispell, Montana I sat next to a kind, older gentleman. We introduced ourselves quickly and I found him to be a downright pleasant man. When the refreshment cart came to us he asked the attendant how long the flight would be roughly. She answered him, he pondered for a moment and then said, “Thanks. That’ll work…I guess I’ll have the complimentary beer then.” He didn’t want to be tipsy when he got home.

It made me chuckle.

He then asked me what my “e-lec-tronic thing” was. I explained that it was an iPad made by Apple. I think he was impressed…or, frankly, couldn’t have cared less. Not sure.

Then came the moment to settle in with a movie and my drink (no, not the beer…I’m a Ginger Ale man on flights). What followed was my universally understood (so I thought) indicator that I was not “open for business”; that I wanted to sit quietly and privately (as private as one can be in a cattle car)!

That indicator was the insertion of my earbuds.

I tried to drown out the engines roar and various conversations around me with my headphones. I wasn’t up for chit-chat, but my seat-mate didn’t get that memo. He would periodically ask me a question or make a general comment. I could have ignored him, but I chose not to. He was too nice of a guy. So I would pull out the earbuds, ask him to repeat himself, and then we would chat for a bit.

Rinse and Repeat. This went on for a few rounds until he wore himself out and fell asleep.

I was glad to see him dose off, until…

…he extended his right leg fully over the invisible barrier of my foot space.  I thought, “Hmmm, yep, that’s his blue jean covered leg touching mine; pressing me right out into the isle. I’m gonna loose a toe from a passing cart.”

I gave the leg a slight nudge with my knee but it didn’t budge. He was tired and so friendly, so I let it slide for the remainder of the flight. It wasn’t until we had landed that the leg wiggled it’s way back into its own territory with a stretch, a yawn, and a “Good flight, huh?”

Yep. Good indeed. 

As I reflect now, God was lovingly reminding me to be open to interruptions and encroachments upon my time and personal space. Ministry often happens in these simple moments. Joy is to be discovered in the mundane. Life is waiting to be exchanged in common and generic situations.

“Good flight, huh?” Yes, it was.

I learned to be more patient somewhere over Boise, Idaho, and by the time the wheels skidded into Kalispell, I wished I had been even more open and available to my flying partner.

Pretty sure I would have been the better man for it.

Giving Birth to a Church…by Breach

Think for a moment how many churches have been started as a result of a leader going from one place to another and developing a base of operations with people from the previous congregation. There is no way to gather all the actual statistics, but I have to think that the numbers are staggering. Sure, there indeed are congregations that are new plants or pioneer works completely unassociated from any other church. There are also new churches that build and grow exclusively upon fresh converts being added and discipled.

This, however, does not happen 100% of the time.

Many churches begin as an off-shoot or faction of another church. Call it a split.  Call it a splinter. Call it whatever you want…it can be painful and sadly, it’s a part of life.

In my years of pastoral ministry I have watched (from the seat of the youth pastorate as well as the senior pastorate) a few well-meaning leaders go off and start their own works. Some were ready and others were not.  Some of the leaders were disgruntled and others were simple bored. Regardless, people followed that leader (because leaders have influence) and a new church was birthed…by breach.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this in saying, “It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”  In modern circles “building on someone else’s foundation” has been called “fishing in other people’s aquarium,” “sheep stealing,” “fleecing the flock,” and “frisking the Body down.” No matter what you call it, it’s a bummer way to grow the Kingdom. Bummer, but inevitable.

Now, I love church planting.  It happens to be one of the best ways to see many people brought into relationship with Jesus.  With intention, planning, and prayer a new church being planted can be a joy and a blessing.  But when a new church is birthed out of frustration, separation, or dissension then the opposite can be true. It lacks joy and blessing.

How then should we respond?  I want to communicate three “positions” we can and ought to take when a church is birthed by breach.

 

1.  Open-handed:  Always hold people loosely…with open hands. They are God’s people. Not ours. When folks tell me (or I hear it indirectly) that they are “transitioning” to another congregation, I make the difficult (but right) choice to bless and release. Note that:  bless and release.  Bless them in their journey and release them to fully participate, invest, serve, give and love in their new venture.  When you hold people tightly then they will unquestionably wiggle and rip their way out of your grasp, but when you are open-handed with people they will sense your blessing and release. These were folks that probably were not long-term under your leadership anyway.  Secondly, people are more likely to return to a congregation with this kind of open-handedness.

 

2.  Warm-hearted: When a church is birthed by breach the natural reaction for a leader is to be frustrated and act out with distain and speak unkind comments. Fight these urges. You may also think it’s best to rally the troops, communicate the facts, set the record straight and defend your ministry by directly or indirectly demeaning the other. Abraham gives us a good model when he and Lot separated ways, in saying, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”  There are some important lessons from Abraham in this passage.  First, make the choice not to quarrel and, in doing so, you are modeling to your people (herdsmen) what warm-hearted Godliness looks like.  Secondly, the land is big and there are many people that need Jesus. It’s important to work together to accomplish that goal.

 

3.  Clear-headed:  In a time when a church is being birthed by breach, it’s not the time to loose your cool. Be calm and clear-headed. Don’t knee-jerk with erratic preaching (ie: jabs from the pulpit), loose comments that could be inflammatory (emotionally and even legally), or congregational head counts. It’s understandable to want to know “who is for you and who is against you” but it violates being open-handed and warm-hearted. I’m mindful of 1 Chronicles 21 in which David insisted that a census be taken in Israel of all the fighting men.  He wanted to know who was with him. Even though his advisors strongly discouraged him from doing such a thing, he went ahead with the head count. Scripture tells us that David “sinned greatly before the Lord” and that he had “done a very foolish thing.”  Don’t lose your head. Instead be clear-headed which means talking openly with key leaders, staff, and elders. It may also mean cost-cutting, refocusing and renewed vision-casting.

Apple and Discipleship

Not sure where I read it, but I recently discovered that Apple Inc. (the iMakers of all iThings iWonderful) designates 15-20% of all revenue towards R&D (product research and development). This is a remarkable percentage.

I can certainly appreciate the value placed upon product development especially as I type this blog post upon my MacBook Air, while my iPhone and iPad are within reach. One can only imagine the kinds of innovation that we will enjoy in the coming years.

Despite the wonderful success Apple has had in creating game-changing products, their focus must continue to be upon the development of new technology for their competitive edge to remain sharp. Without R&D we might still be typing away on the Apple II (probably not, but you get the point…).

Now let’s consider the church.  What is our product per se?  What are we supposed to develop?

I believe the answer is disciples.

Jesus’ famous last words to his followers were clear: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20).

We are to be about making more and maturing disciples. This is both quantitative (more) and qualitative (maturing). It is quantitative in that we have “all nations” to draw from. That’s a pretty large pool of people!  And it’s qualitative in that the maturity of a disciple involves an initial point of decision (salvation & baptism) as well as ongoing obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the Scripture.

In John 8:31 Jesus says that a person is really his disciple “if you hold to my teachings.”

In John 13:35 Jesus goes onto say that others will recognize a disciple “if you love one another.”

Obedience and Love. Two marks of a maturing disciple and aspects for the church to emphasis as we endeavor to make more and maturing disciples.

As Christians, if our product is disciples then how much are we investing that direction?

Acts 9: Saul the Terrorist

In Acts 9 the spotlight undoubtedly shines brightly upon Saul. His conversion on the road to Damascus is one of the highlights in the Book of Acts and, certainly, a formative event in the genesis of the New Testament church.

The “Persecutor” Saul became the “Apostle” Paul by the power of God. It’s a simply amazing testimony with the classic “before and after” elements, the “I saw the light” moment (in this case, it was literal), and deep heart change.

This conversion, however, didn’t happen in a vacuum. The scripture tells us in verse 10, “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias…”

Ananias. Who is this guy?

The only other reference to him beyond chapter 9 is in Acts 22:12 – “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.”

Ananias was prompted of the Lord to be the first person to go to the Man of Tarsus. Please don’t overlook the implications of this bold move. Imagine the Lord asking you alone to make a house-call to a terrorist. Then imagine prayerfully laying hands upon that terrorist. Continue imagining being the first person to endorse that terrorist as a “changed man.”

Bold.

Ananias could have cried foul. He could have demanded his moment in the sun. After all, HE (not Saul) was devote and highly respected. He could have asserted that Saul had not been tested, nor could be trusted. Let’s be honest, would many of us feel it was our duty to “alert the public?” But instead, Ananias was obedient to the voice of the Lord and he was open to those that God had saved by his grace.

Obedient and Open.

Who will be the Ananias’ today? Who will defy conventional wisdom and listen to the direction of the Lord instead? Who will discover where God is working and join him there? Who will set aside fear (Saul) in order to gain clear perspective on the future (Paul)?

Acts 17: Responses to the Resurrection

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” Acts 17:32

Easter is a big deal.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundational truth of our faith. As Christians, we firmly believe that Jesus is ALIVE. Frankly, if he isn’t than we’re all in a heap of trouble. 1 Corinthians 15:17 echoes this: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

However, verse 20 goes on to affirm, “But in FACT Christ has been raised from the dead…”

Someone say Amen.

Obviously, not everyone would affirm this truth. Acts 17:32 says that a few that heard about the resurrection sneered and mocked. Understandably, everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions. Unfortunately, this is a big one to mock and reject.

Each Easter season the church I pastor mails out a bulk invitation to our community with our special weekend service times. Because we purchase the entire mailing list for particular zip codes, we have no control on who receives our mailing. Therefore, each year we get a number of calls from folks that “would like to be removed from our mailing list.” That’s easier said than done. To be removed from that list would mean they wouldn’t get other mailings such as grocery store coupons, political advertisements and such (on second thought, that sounds like a list I’d like to be off as well!).

So, each year the calls come in. This last week a gal left a not-so-kind voicemail for us. She gave us her name (most don’t), her full address, and an additional message for our listening pleasure. The loud and angry message said this, and I quote: “Jesus is NOT alive. He is DEAD. He has always been dead. He has never been alive, so STOP SENDING ME THIS SH*T!!!!!

This is how some people feel about the resurrection of Jesus.

Some sneer.

My heart was saddened, not because of her anger or cussing. My heart felt like that of Jesus when he wept over the city of Jerusalem and the people that were like sheep without a shepherd. I want this woman (and the countless others that are in a similar place) to know the love of the Lord and the Jesus that is ALIVE.

We The Church are called to reach out to the mockers, as well as “explain and prove that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (17:3) to those that “want to hear more about the subject” (17:32).

Let’s be The Church this Easter season!

Two Tents

kp09I’m writing this blog from a tiny “puddle-jumper” airplane – up around 30,000 feet in the air. It’s a beautiful morning as the sun is coming up over California, and soon, Oregon. Without question, my trip home to Salem is much better than the trip down to California. Not only did I have to blaze out of the 11 am Sunday service quite abruptly, but I then drove with great focus (ie: fast) to the airport. Then I ran through the terminal to get to my gate just on time…or so I thought…unknown to me, my flight had been delayed. There was no way I was going to make my connection in Las Vegas and get to a 6 pm event in California! I quickly switched airlines and destination airports…twice. Finally, with sweat on my brow, I jumped onto a California bound airliner and settled into the only remaining seat next to a young lad and his grandmother.

The young boy was quite active (and I know active ’cause I have three boys!). He was moving and shifting – always turning around to look at and talk to his parents in the seats behind him. This wasn’t a big deal until the drinks were served. He ordered hot tea first and then on the second round he got a glass of Coke. For about an hour those drinks sat precariously perched on the edge of his little tray…with his arms and legs moving wildly…papers and crayons shuffling around…twisting and turning. Now this wouldn’t have been a big deal except I was dressed to the nines, in full suit and tie, all ready to jump off the plane and be a part of a momentous event involving many highly esteemed dignitaries of our Foursquare family.

So there I restlessly sat. I could not relax. Wig-wam, tee-pee: I was two tents – get it, too tense?!? Every sudden move by Boy Wonder caused me to flinch and compulsively reach for the glasses before they could be dashed into my only set of clothes. Now, this story would be so much more dramatic if something legitimately had happened but alas, I made it to LAX without incident…and that’s the point of my story…

• How many times to we allow fear to rob us of our peace and joy?

• Why do we let the unknown drive us into worry and compulsion?

• How much of our life is shaped by unfounded fears – wasting time and energy?

You know, the Bible encourages us to not worry about tomorrow, because today is all we have. Live it. Don’t let fear control it. Let the boy play. Let the drinks spill. What’s the worst that can happen? So often we allow worry and fear to shape and control us rather than placing our full trust in the Lord. Today, perhaps you are facing something that is producing fear and worry in you. The situation may not change but our response to the situation can – we can hold tightly to the Lord – the one who says, “Do not fear, for I am with you.”

Dream Center: Just Like Jesus

wsdc_sdc_logo3Check out this great write up about the Dream Center – a ministry of West Salem Foursquare Church. I love how our church is touching our community. It’s inspirational and incarnational. Just like Jesus.