IYOW

A Dilemma

  ©word-strong.com

 

A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity.

One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, which is the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift only brings insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach.[i]

Adjustment needed

Christian believers need to understand this cultural change, and make necessary adjustments to address it. More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? This is an important question to answer.

Christians need to have a much more global view of the world around them and of God's kingdom. Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language.

A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii] Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

The problem of Christianese

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, these words become foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study. They're called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings within a certain field, or a subculture.

Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

A language of its own

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—or so they think. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently.

Many Christian believers can't explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

Christian clichés and what I call Bible talk,[v] used outside their field of reference (the church), are unfamiliar and difficult to understand.

Subtitle interpretation needed

I've traveled to many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I'm expected to respond. Though I want to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand this language.

The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, yet doesn’t understand the terms themselves. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words but can’t.

Experience—the great teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. If a person can put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words, then they understand them. If not, they don't.

There's a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways.

Learning curve

As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually. I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started.

My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services, which prompted questions. They often asked dad (me) these questions at inopportune times. It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, or so I thought.

With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself unable to explain them in simple, clear words. More than a few times my oldest daughter would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as on my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner.

The reality is, it challenged me, and this changed my whole approach to teaching.

On the job training

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this, while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But, I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases. I got a partial clue early on, while settling into Filipino culture.

Slow to learn

We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained that they sang in English because that's how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of their dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

No more coded language

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, it does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. Although it may seem clear to the speaker, unless the person can explain these same things in simple words, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated.

As Christian believers, we need to speak in simple, clear, non-Christianese words.

What's your experience with using or not understanding Christianese?


This post follows an earlier one called— The Search to Know God

It is another excerpt from my book, which is available in paperback and as an e-book (see sidebar).


[i] There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo

[ii] With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/

[iii] Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.

[iv] Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp (also see “Christianese_glossary” in the Glossary)

[v] Christianese comes in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible, or in reference to texts in the Bible.

 

The Search to Know God

Photo credit: TNValleyTalks.com  

Not long ago, I posted Calvary Chapel—Past and Present as a guest post on Ed Cyzewski's blog. It's easy to reminisce, but I'm not so big on that. Selective memory tends to cloud reality and make things worse or better than they were.

In that post I share a bit of my early history with Calvary Chapel. So, here's a little more of my own life story and search for God. My search proved fruitful, but it met some roadblocks along the way.

It may be history, but it's relevant for our times and a new generation.

The 60's and the Jesus Movement

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.[i] This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression during that decade. Young people, including those known as hippies, joined the developing counterculture of the 1960's and popularized the Jesus Movement. A spiritual vacuum existed in those days.

[bctt tweet="During the Jesus Movement—It’s not about religion, but relationship was a common expression"]

For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era. Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[ii]

My search begins

In my own search for truth, I sampled the wisdom of various religions and philosophies, which surrounded me in abundance and diversity. I was raised in a nominally Christian home and confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at age twelve.

But my Christian moorings were too weak to keep me from drifting into the counter-cultural vortex of the day. Initially, my search produced plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that era.

[bctt tweet="My Christian moorings were too weak for the counter-cultural vortex of the 60's"]

Through it all, I came to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a church in Southern California that grew into a mega-church within the Jesus Movement.

I attended an evening service where a young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he invited us to “accept Christ.”[iii] But, I wasn’t ready to do this.

Questions, questions, questions

After the service, I asked many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible-answer-man of sorts, so I continued to ask questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

[bctt tweet="Answering questions with Scripture quotes, with no explanation, is not helpful"]

Each time I asked a question, he quoted a Scripture in response. I heard a round of “amen’s” and some cheers, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, then how would you tell me you truly know God?” He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

More wandering

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus. I continued to read the Bible and pray, but didn’t give up the other counterproductive activities and experiences to my spiritual growth. My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, I left the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend to search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt.[iv] I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices. Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold. This text showed me I was on the wrong path and it led to destruction.

[bctt tweet="Do you expect some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience from God?"]

A new path and new door

I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God. My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living. I began to give up the old habits of my previous lifestyle and develop new ones.

On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom. I had closed the door on my old life as a new door to a new life opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God. I began to serve the Lord[v] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I were full-time volunteers overseeing the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

Years later, I’ve wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual committing of my life to Jesus could have been much shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

[bctt tweet="For many, Jesus is a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery"]

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel. For many people, Jesus is a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

I believe every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon. Is this possible? Absolutely!

[Check out Acronym-ically Speaking for how this is possible!]

This post is an edited excerpt from my book. If you'd like to read more, it's available in paperback and as an e-book.


[i]The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]

[ii]The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— http://goo.gl/HwxIJ| http://goo.gl/0vA5T. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here are some links to articles about MTD— http://goo.gl/pJLgY | http://goo.gl/RvllH

[iii]“Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] Reference— Exodus 3:1-6

[v]“Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”

Re-framing John 3:16—a follow up

Photo credit: lightstock.com How can we (believers) communicate the truth so others hear it and understand it well? There are many different forms of communicating the truth of God's Word—conversation, tracts, Bible studies, preaching, biblical storying, blogs, and more.

We need to choose a way that fits the person we're talking to and the situation at hand. Using only one approach or method forces people to fit into our grid, as if one-size-fits-all. Each of us is different in our own way, and so are the people we come in contact with everyday or randomly.

So, we need to be ready to share our faith, and share the truth of God's Word, with whoever we come in contact with, wherever we might be.

Re-framing John 3:16

Last Monday's post included some practical guidelines on making the truth of God's Word (the Bible) simple and clear. This is a follow-up to provide an example of following those guidelines. Hopefully it will help you communicate Scripture truth so others hear it and understand it.

[bctt tweet="There are many different forms of communicating the truth of God's Word"]

Here are the summarized guidelines—

  • Read (or listen to) the Scriptures in different versions of the Bible
  • Identify key words in a verse and how they are interrelated
  • Use a dictionary and thesaurus (for word meanings including Bible dictionaries)
  • Reframe words and phrases within an expanded picture explanation
  • Understand the Scriptures in your own words (IYOW)

[see the second half of last Monday's post for more details on each guideline]

Making it simple and clear

[bctt tweet="We need to share the truth in a way that fits the situation and person we're talking to"]

I'll apply these guidelines using John 3:16 as an example—

Read (or listen to) the Scriptures in different versions

[All references taken from https://www.bible.com/ | for audio versions try– Listener's Bible]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV) [also available in audio]

  • For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. (John 3:16 AMP)
  • God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NCV)
  • God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. (John 3:16 GW)
  • For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NLT) [also available in audio]

Identify key words in a verse and how they are interrelated

  • Key words– God / so loved / world / gave / only Son / whoever / believes / not perish / eternal life
    • most of these words are straight forward, but some need further insight into their original meanings in the Greek, which I've put in bold
    • one of the best online Bible text study tools can be found at– My Study Bible (when you hold your cursor over a specific word, a pop up box will give you further insight into its meaning)
    • the progression of words all stem from the first key word– God
      • God so loved the world
      • God gave His only Son
      • whoever believes in the Son (God's only son) should not perish
      • whoever believes...have eternal life

Use a dictionary and thesaurus (for word meanings–including Bible dictionaries)

  • Ex– believe from <G4102> (pistis); to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by implication to entrust (especially one's spiritual well-being to Christ) :- believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with
    • [this is taken from My Study Bible and shows the Greek word (pistis) and the corresponding number (G4102) in a Strong's concordance]
  • Ex– only from <G3441> (monos) and <G1096> (ginomai); only-born, i.e. sole :- only (begotten, child) [also taken from My Study Bible]

Reframe words and phrases within an expanded picture explanation

This is especially important with words that are somewhat generic or have broad meanings, like God, love, world, gave, only Son, etc. Here are a couple examples of what I mean by reframing and expanding the explanation with a picture.

  • Ex– God Which God? One of the millions of Vedic gods of Hinduism? Or the God of Deism? It's important to consider words from the perspective or point of view (POV) of others (especially non-believers).
    • In John 3:16, the apostle John speaks of the Father, who is also the Creator– (see John 1:1-3, 14)
  • Ex– love Which kind of love? In NT (koine) Greek, there were four different words describing for kinds of love— agape, philia or phileo, storge, eros. In John 3:16, the Greek word for love is agape (agapao), which is often referred to as unconditional love, or a love that is willed more than felt.
    • God has an all-encompassing love, which is non-exclusive, intentional, and unconditional. It is similar but greater than a mother's love for her child (Isaiah 49:15-16a)

Understand the Scriptures in your own words (IYOW)

  • Here's my IYOW version of John 3:16—
    • The Creator of the universe showed great compassion on those whom He created by sending His one and only true Son as an expression of His love, so those who put their trust in Him will not experience eternal judgment, but everlasting life beyond their life on this earth.

Keep it simple and give it a try

I've given a lot more information than you might want to use, but I wanted to provide some clear ideas about how I approach putting the truth of Scripture in my own words (IYOW).

You don't need to go through this long process each time, especially as you become more familiar with the whole Bible. As you gain more experience and understanding in God's Word (2 Tim 2:15 NIV), and read various versions, it will become more natural.

Again, keep it simple, but give it a try!

Post your own IYOW version on social media or in the comments section below.

Feel free to share this post with others– http://word-strong.com/re-framing-john-316-a-follow-up/ –and thanks for reading!

Getting Beyond "John 3:16"

john316sign When we hear something over and over, we tune it out at some level. It becomes too familiar, or we tune it out because we don't want to hear it.

This is what children do with their parents. "Are you listening to what I'm telling you?" Uh, that would be no! When we hear an ad or announcement repeated ad nauseam, we tune it out as a means of self-preservation.

Perhaps this is why people are indifferent to the good news of God's redemption. They either tune it out because it's redundant and repetitive, or they just don't want to hear it. Then again, it could be something quite different.

Signs of the times

Christian believers and non-believers alike, tend to tune out redundant, repetitive Scripture quotes. This is especially true for quoting Scripture references. The ubiquitous signs at sporting events are more of an irritant than inspiration.

[bctt tweet="People tend to tune out redundant, repetitive Scripture quotes"]

Do people with Scripture reference signs really think they communicate the gospel? They don't. Only those familiar with these references know what they mean. Are sports fans suppose to have their Bibles handy to look up these references?

For me, this is spiritual laziness. It is useless effort. It doesn't communicate the truth of Scripture. (Want to know I really feel?...lol)

[bctt tweet="Do people with Scripture reference signs really think they communicate the gospel?"]

Tuning in

If a believer is genuinely concerned about lost souls hearing the truth of the gospel, then they need to communicate it well. How can a person share the truth of God's Word so others hear it and understand it?

I'm a believer of reading and hearing God's Word (the Bible) in different versions. It helps me see and hear the truth in a fresh way and in different wording. It keeps me from tuning out what I think I already know.

[bctt tweet="How can a person share the truth of God's Word so others hear it and understand it?"]

I found this helpful while teaching in the Philippines where English is a second language. Language is often a barrier to understanding, especially going from one distinct language to another. But obstacles exist within the language that's most familiar to us.

Often, certain words or terms are misunderstood or not understood at all. Here is where we need to learn to communicate the truth of God in a simple and clear way.

[bctt tweet="Certain Bible words or terms are misunderstood or not understood at all"]

Making it simple and clear

How can we communicate the truth so others hear it and understand it well? Here are some suggestions I've found helpful while teaching in the US and in cross-cultural settings.

[bctt tweet="How can we communicate the truth so others hear it and understand it well?"]

I'll give you an example in my next post, so stay tuned!

Give it a try yourself!

 

What Makes Faith Authentic?

© Dayna More Photography Do we really understand what faith is? What makes faith authentic? How do we know if we have genuine faith?

Perhaps the first thing is to see if we understand what faith is. This can be seen by how we explain it to others, especially young children.

How do you describe faith?

I've found children grasp the idea of faith much easier than adults. I suppose that's at least one reason Jesus used a child as an example of who is greatest in the kingdom (Matt 18:1-5).

So, how would you describe faith in God to someone who is a nonbeliever?

Could you describe faith without using Christian clichés and quoting Bible texts? When you can explain biblical truth in your own words (IYOW), nonbelievers are more likely to understand what you mean.

The four men mentioned in the first few verses of Hebrews 11 show us what true faith is. Abel was the first son of Adam and Eve who was murdered. Enoch was a righteous man who didn't experience physical death. Noah had a great mission from God to keep humanity from further corruption. And Abraham was considered the friend of God because He trusted God.

Their faith made these men extraordinary, not the other way around. They weren't extraordinary men with faith, they were people like you and me. They were commended and accepted because of their faith in God.

What is not faith

Faith is not the product of good effort, moral goodness and rightness, or right beliefs about God. I think people are often confused about this, including many Christian believers.

Many Christians seem to have a more Buddhist view of faith than a biblical one. Somehow it gets mixed up with pop culture views of so-called faith.

Forrest Gump's view of faith was a mix of chance and destiny, “a little of both.” Sci-Fi films like Matrix and Star Wars present an impersonal and self-will driven belief—“trust the force, it will be with you.” But these ideas are the opposite of biblical faith, the kind of faith we see in men like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham (Hebrews 11:1-8).

The past few decades have seen an abundance of self-help or instructional teaching on spiritual truth, yet many believers are weak in faith. Worry, stress, fear, and questions dominate thoughts and weigh down the hearts of many believers.

 Are we expecting faith to produce a risk-free Christian life? If so, it is a denial of genuine faith.

The nature of faith

The earliest teaching I remember about faith focused on the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1. This describes faith, but in a somewhat impersonal and technical way.

When we approach spiritual truth with an analytical mindset only, it leads to an impersonal, technical sense of truth.

An impersonal faith is no different from that of the Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, realist or moralist. It reduces faith to a self-determined belief, or a faith in faith itself.

Faith must be based on and directed towards God in a personal, relational manner (Hebrews 11: 6). It is spiritual in nature, because God is Spirit (John 4:24). Authentic faith is also relational in nature, because God is the one, true living God (Gen 1:26-27; Josh 3:10; Psa 42:2; Jer 23:36; Acts 14:15; Heb 10:31; Rev 7:2).

Faith is trust in God Himself

An inherent element of faith is trust—a willingness to risk everything for God.

Faith doesn’t grow from a risk-free mindset, but a risk-all trust in God. Genuine faith brings a sense of security that is paradoxical within this world and our American culture, but not to the kingdom of God.

True, authentic faith resides in the heart—the inner, spiritual part of a person—a person who trusts in God, the living God.

How do we get this authentic faith?

The four men mentioned above (Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham) demonstrate a genuine and personal faith. Five elements of faith are revealed in the first several verses of Hebrews 11. These five elements of faith are key to exercising authentic faith.

Next regular post I plan to look at these five elements of authentic faith. Until then—

What proof of faith exists in your daily life? How would others see faith at work in your life?

_________________________

My posting schedule got derailed this week by a home-remodeling project. I hope to get back to my regular schedule next week. Thanks for reading! Share with others what resonates and encourages with you!

Simplicity and Power

©tkbeyond/word-strong.com Stories have both simplicity and power. They engage the heart and mind. (Click to Tweet) This is what makes biblical storying so effective.

Biblical storying is the purest form of sharing the gospel. (Click to Tweet)

Simple, yet powerful

Here's an excerpt from a newsletter (from Simply the Story) about a Filipino pastor I've partnered with for many years. I have been his mentor, but he's also my mentor through his example of bold leadership and vision.

We continue to pray for those in the Philippines who were devastated by the typhoon. A week before the typhoon, our amazing STS instructor (who leads workshops, plants Oral Bible Schools and tells STS stories on weekly radio programs) wrote us.“

"The pastor of ___ church called me last night and told me that he changed. ‘'I listen to you, and so do other pastors of my denomination. I noticed in your program that you never talk any doctrine. I always try to answer your questions by my doctrines, but I find my doctrines are not in the Bible.'’ [His denomination is not considered by some to be Christian.]

"“My radio program encouraged him to read the Bible. He and those pastors asked me for training so they can learn how to be closer to what the Bible teaches."

Influence that lasts

Few people have this pastor's vision, discernment, and resourcefulness. He doesn't pastor a large church, nor oversee a large network of churches.

Yet, his fruitful influence exceeds more well-known ministries. Why? He practices what Jesus instructed his disciples, "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matt 10:8 NIV)

He doesn't hold on to people or resources. He's willing to cross lines drawn by others to serve and teach whoever is hungry for the truth. (Click to Tweet)

Effective discipleship is color-blind, non-partisan, and inclusive of all ethnicities. (Click to Tweet)

True discipleship ignores cultural barriers and socio-economic status. It is the essence of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). (Click to Tweet)

Discipleship is the practical application of God's love to whoever will receive it. (Click to TweetLove is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.... (1 Cor 13:4-5 NIV)

This is the heart of God as seen in His Son Jesus, as He discipled those who followed Him.

God's story

Jesus told stories with simplicity and power. The gospel is not a collection of theological truths, but the revelation of God's personal and redemptive love. (Click to Tweet)

The entire Bible is God's redemptive story. All of it, even the parts that are hard to understand or accept. (Click to Tweet)

When we (teachers, pastors, leaders, etc.) reduce God's grand, all-encompassing story of love to propositional truths, we rob it of its power, we corrupt its simplicity. (Click to Tweet) The way Jesus went about His ministry was so simple and powerful, it drew people to Him. (Mark 1:21-28) (Click to Tweet)

No need for improvement

And yet, the church and its leaders keep trying to improve on how ministry is done. Talk about being missional and intentional sounds good. But has the gospel become more relevant? (Click to Tweet)

Have we only managed to complicate it? If so, we've put it out of reach for millions. Make that billions. (http://www.peoplegroups.org/)

The gospel has always been relevant, because it is personal and true, simple and powerful. (Click to Tweet)

How well do you know the gospel? Do you know how to share it with anyone, at anytime, anywhere?

You can't, and you won't, unless you know it in your heart, not just in your mind.

Read it. Hear it. Share it. Then let it become embedded in your daily life as you follow Jesus.

More resources—

Blue Letter Bible– www.blueletterbible.org/

Daily Audio Bible–  http://dailyaudiobible.com/

Orality Network– http://www.orality.net/

Speaking of Jesus

Photo credit: www.dvdactive.com It's not often I win anything in a contest. For one thing, I don't enter them but occasionally. As they say, "you can't win if you don't enter."

I casually entered some type of drawing  for a book through a missions newsletter. One day I received a book in the mail that I didn't remember ordering. It reminds me of the dad in "A Christmas Story" who won a lower tier prize and was beyond excitement about it. "Amazing! I won something!"

I won something I wasn't expecting. The bigger surprise was my delight in reading the book.

The book and the author

http://www.carlmedearis.com/

The book is called, "Speaking of Jesus," and is written by Carl Medearis. He is an expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. His expertise comes from experience as a missionary on the field in Lebanon for twelve years, and he continues to work with international leaders to promote cultural, political, and religious dialogue in the Middle East (taken from the back cover of the book).

The book was sent by the author in a manila-colored envelope with his return address. Since I didn't know the author, nor remember why I received the book, I contacted him. I set it aside until I could commit to reading it through.

I'm glad I read it. It was refreshing. (Click to Tweet) The author expresses many things I'm in complete agreement about regarding Jesus and Christianity.

As with other books and blog posts I've read on this subject, the author challenges the use of Christian terminology (Christianese), and the representation of Christianity, in general. Much of it I agree with, though at times, it seems a bit overboard to me. Perhaps I'm just not that dogmatic about it... yet.

But I am passionate about not using Christianese and focusing on Jesus rather than theology. Here, I am in complete agreement with the author, as you might gather from some of my own posts.

It's all about Jesus

The chapter titled "Unfair Advantage" sums up what I like most about the book. Carl tells the story of his involvement with an interfaith dialogue in his hometown of Colorado Springs, CO. He portrays himself as someone who doesn't quite fit on the panel.

When asked, "How do you get to heaven?" His answer was, "Well, it's Jesus. He didn't start a new religion.... Believing in Him and following Him is the way. He takes us to heaven, not a religion." I couldn't agree more.

Carl does a great job of bringing the reader back to the central issue, over and over. Jesus. It's refreshing to see this point made in so many ways without being redundant. He does this with stories from his own experience, and is honest about his own shortcomings.

The book begins with what is missing from typical presentations of the gospel. I'm big on this, as anyone who's read my posts and my book (The Mystery of the Gospel) will know.

Carl tells of a discussion with students in a missions school of a large church. He asked them "what is the gospel?" After about five minutes of responses, and some moments of silence, one student asked, "How come none of us mentioned Jesus?" Carl's response. "Exactly."

I've had similar experiences in classrooms and small group discussions. This is a real issue with Christian believers in America. A big issue.

The book's value and purpose

I see the value and purpose of the book as a big poke. Not in the eye, but in the heart.

There are some things that are likely to offend some, well, many. But that's a good thing. We need to be shaken at times.

Christian believers need to consider what they believe and why they believe it. (Click to Tweet) This won't happen without a fresh processing of what is often too familiar, but not well understood.

Some of my favorite chapter titles are— "What's Missing in This Gospel?", "Unfair Advantage," "Speak of Jesus... Not about Jesus," "You're Under Arrest... for Speaking Christianese," and "Gays, Liberals, and Muslims." That last one should catch your attention, and its content may surprise you.

http://www.carlmedearis.com

The book kills some sacred cows that American Christians hold dear. It stirs things up about matters of faith and belief. Even the subtitle sounds almost sacrilegious, "the art of not-evangelism."

Carl takes an honest look at how we (Christians) go about evangelism and portraying Christianity. I hope you'll read it, ponder it, and allow him and what he says to move you towards speaking of Jesus in a way that attracts others to following Him.

After all, it is all about Jesus and following Him! (Click to Tweet)

 

Need Some Help on Sharing Your Faith? (part 2)

©word-strong/tkbeyond 2013 Several years ago I escorted a couple young missionaries from our Bible College in the Philippines to Thailand. These two young women were graduates, and were called as missionaries to Thailand.

They grew up in very simple and poor homes (by American standards). They weren't highly educated, but did well in their studies and ministry at our school. I helped get them settled in Thailand with the American missionary who oversaw their internship.

[This is the second part (follow-up) post of an earlier post this week.]

I knew this missionary from previous ministry trips to Thailand, and through relationship with others in ministry. He had several years ministry experience within Thailand and was fluent in the Thai language (a complex and tonal language).

He briefed them on what life would be like in Thailand, the challenges they would face within the culture and with the language. They would begin with at least six months to a year in language school. He also made it clear they would not be able to do much in the way of sharing their faith. This proved to be partly accurate.

A real-life example

It was a big adjustment for these young Filipino women. They had not lived on their own and away from their families. They experienced the sense of isolation all missionaries encounter living in a foreign country. But Filipinos, by nature, are very social beings. They are gifted (I believe by God in a strategic sense) to learn other languages and adapt to other cultures easily.

In the small sparsely furnished apartment they lived in, they began to build relationships. Soon they offered to pray for the landlord and her family. In a fairly short time, they led one of their neighbors into a personal relationship with the Lord. They had developed great favor with the Thai people they lived among.

This is no small thing within Thailand, a staunchly Buddhist nation. In fact, to be Thai is to be Buddhist. Many Thais who hear the Gospel are open and responsive, but afraid they will be giving up their Thai identity if they are no longer Buddhist.

Following Jesus' example

Consider how this took place. These young women reached out in friendship to the Thai people they were living among. Since they were learning the language, they did a lot of listening and asking questions. It sounds like what we read about Jesus as a young man in the temple (Luke 2:41-50).

Too often, what is simple and almost effortless is unappreciated or discounted because of its simplicity. (Click to Tweet) I believe personal, intentional evangelism is one of those things.

Sharing your faith in this simple manner requires no extensive training or education. It requires a willing heart and an interest in others, including their eternal destiny. A knowledge of your own life story, and of God’s story, is also important.

It is helpful to have a sense of how to share your own life story in a simple, brief and genuine way. (Click to Tweet) **

This would take some thought, maybe writing a few things out to be ready to share it with others when opportunity comes.

Knowing God’s story is gained by reading through the Gospels and becoming familiar with God’s story of redemption for humanity. Of course, knowing God’s story can be developed further, but it’s not a requirement to share the Gospel in a simple and genuine way.

©word-strong/tkbeyond_2013

The hardest part is to just do it

Being ready and willing is important, but at some point there is the step of actually engaging someone in conversation that requires action on our part.

It's much easier to learn to engage people in conversation without the pressure of having an agenda to “save them.” (Click to Tweet)

Showing interest in others is the first step. Just as the young women did in Thailand, adapt your approach to the people you want to engage in conversation. This requires observation. Get to know them as they are, and relate to them in a way that best connects for them.

It also coincides with the first step of the basic call of discipleship, “If anyone would come after me, let him (her) deny himself...” (Matt 16:24). In other words, learn to be more interested in others than yourself.

Look beyond your own agenda or scheme of sharing your faith. Engage people at their level of faith (or lack of it), and their life experience.

Sharing your faith is not complicated, it's simple. (Click to Tweet)

Here's a summary—

  • Know God's story and be able to tell it in your own simple words (IYOW)
  • Build relationship with others– get to know them as a person
  • Be genuine
  • Keep your own life story short and simple
  • Be ready for whatever opportunities come to share your faith

** Here is a simple outline for sharing your own life story (testimony)— Guidelines-Pers Testimony_2013

If this post (parts 1 & 2) have been helpful, please share it with others.

You can use the share buttons at the bottom of this post, or copy and paste the link into your own post or comment on the social media of your choice. Thanks for reading (and sharing)!

How Does Someone "Accept Christ?"

Photo credit: http://tw.gs/Q6t0ix We live in an exceptional time. If you're not sure how to do something, just ask! Nearly endless online help is available to guide you through car trouble, DIY (do-it-yourself) projects, romance, and even religious concerns.

Is there online help for becoming a Christian? Sure! Of course there is, this is the 21st Century!

I looked up a well-known Christian phrase and found more information than I wanted. It included varying and even opposing thoughts. I'll spare you all that, though you could explore it yourself if you're so inclined.

One of the earliest questions I remember during the Jesus Movement (late 60's through early 70's) was, "Do you want to accept Christ into your heart?" Many variations of the phrase exist, such as, "Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" But I don't want to travel down the path of examining all these related phrases. It's a long one.

I'm more interested in finding ways to explain and communicate common Christian phrases and Christianese into simple and clear words. Or, as I like to express it, IYOWin your own words.

Here's what I put in the glossary at the end of my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel"—

Believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior by faith, usually by saying a prayer of confession and trust (also called the Sinner's Prayer). [Common Christianese Terms, page 205]

As with many words and phrases, other terms and expressions are associated with the idea of "receiving Christ." But how does a person put such a popularized phrase IYOW?

I won't give a sure-fire bullet list of steps, but I'll give a brief walk through of the process I use.

What does it mean?

First, I need to understand the intent of the term used, whether it's a word, phrase, or cliché. This requires some thought. For me, asking questions helps me process things.

Where did this term come from? Is it (or something similar) found in the Bible? If so, how and where is it used? If not, how was it coined? And most importantly, what idea, thought, or truth is it supposed to convey?

You would need to adjust the questions to fit the term or cliché used, but the idea is to explore the meaning for yourself.

Put it in your own words (IYOW)

Then I need to come up with a non cliché version in my own words (IYOW). This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is vital.

You'll want to avoid making it a technical definition. The goal is to make it clear and interesting, not obscure and boring. Keep who you want to explain it to in mind, or else, they'll be indifferent and uninterested. You don't want to hear, "What are you talking about?"

More and more people have less and less knowledge about the Bible, Jesus, church, and Christianity in general. Even though they are familiar with certain terms, they often don't understand them.

Give it a try

Lastly, you need to try it out. Make the effort to ask or answer a person in simple, non-religious sounding words. It will take some practice, but most people will appreciate your effort. I've had people within the church and outside of it tell me so.

Also, try to avoid answering people's questions with Bible verses. If you need to refer to a Bible verse, put that IYOW too. And give some frame of reference (context) to the verse. But please, don't bore them with lengthy exegetical explanations and definitions of Greek words. It will not help your effort to make things simple and clear.

So, how would I explain "accepting Christ?"

First of all, I try not to use terms like these, even among Christians who are familiar with them. It's how I practice putting things in my own words (IYOW).

Generally, I want to talk with them about having a personal relationship with God, and how Jesus, His only Son, is the personal link to that relationship. It is by having faith, a confidence in Jesus being who He said He was in the Bible. If they ask about what Jesus said, then I need to be ready to tell them—in my own words.

So, I want to convey the idea that what a person "accepts" is the freedom from sin that Jesus' death and resurrection brings into a person's life, spiritually. Depending on how the conversation goes I'll give more insight as they ask for it. I don't want to overwhelm them with too much information at one time, nor push to "close the deal" by getting them to pray right away.

Now you try it!

________________

Here's some resources you may want to check out related to "Accepting Christ" and Christianese (just click on the link or copy and paste it into your browser)

How do I accept Jesus as my Savior? — http://www.intouch.org/you/article-archive/content?topic=how_do_i_accept_jesus_as_my_savior_article

http://www.eternallifeministries.org/wfb_evang.htm

http://www.bible.ca/g-sinners-prayer.htm

http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

Does Anybody Really Understand?

Photo credit: Bing search We live in a specialized world. We are way beyond information overload. It's now over the top.

YouTube videos show you how to do, well... almost anything. News media parade experts on top of experts with conflicting and opposing views, and the amount of websites, blogs, and email traffic number in the billions.

Are you worried about the rising oceans from global warming? Forget about it! We're flooded with a tidal wave of information inundating our lives every day, enshrouded in terminology and acronyms that require an interpreter.

Does anybody really understand what's going on?

It's the language

It would be easy to jump off from here into a discussion on the end of the age, and signs of the Lord's return. Especially with all that's going on in the Mid-East.

But I want to talk about the importance of language. Not the need for becoming bilingual or multi-lingual, although that would be valuable and advisable in our current times.

The language we use in everyday life is what I'm interested in.

Over the past several months, I've had the pleasure of interacting with many people of different backgrounds from mine, in various work environments. I've gained insight into the inner workings of street gangs, and gained some perspective on the current worldview of twenty-somethings.

Working three part-time jobs has given me this opportunity. Each work and social environment has its own collection of terms and catch-phrases. Thankfully, when I ask for explanations and clarification, people are happy to help me. Some also admit their own ignorance of these things at one time.

But there is one field that uses specialized terms and catch-phrases, and over used clichés, where ignorance seems to be bliss. I'm referring to Christianity.

An Illusion

A typical American Christian uses obscure, even archaic, language with the expectation everyone knows what is being said. But this is an illusion.

It may be a self-imposed, although I suspect for most it is unintentional. As a general rule, Christian believers are oblivious to this illusion. Because I'm in contact with non-believers and nominal believers in God, I'm keenly aware of this.

Photo credit: www.briancromer.com

When talking to non-believers I find it necessary to use simple, non-Christian wording to explain spiritual truths and concepts. When I answer a question about why the Bible says this or that, I'm intentional to explain things without the usual Bible terms, common clichés, and phrases Christians often use.

Does it matter? Yes it does...a lot!

An obscure language

I read somewhere this week that an obscure language in a far away land will become extinct soon. Why? Because only a few people know and speak it, and they will die soon.

In a way, this is my hope for Christianese—the general term for all those Bible words and Christian catch-phrases and clichés. I would like to see Christianese become a dead language of sorts.

It's already dead in one sense—only those who speak it know what it means. Even many of those who speak it don't understand it well. It's self-limiting in that way.

Why? Because it closes off understanding for those who don't know anything about God, and confuses those who have a limited knowledge of God.

Is there a solution? Yes!

Christian believers need to use simple and clear words when they share about their faith in Jesus. Even the simplest of words, like faith for instance, need to be explained without quoting Bible verses and or using theological terminology. It's ok to use those terms and biblical wording, just make sure to explain what they mean with simpler words.

So "stay tuned to this station," I'll be coming back to this topic from time to time as I mentioned in a previous post.

In the meantime...

What is your experience with confusing Christian lingo?

I'd love to have you share it in the comments, and maybe I'll write on one of your experiences. ;-)

Thanks for reading and feel free to share this post!

"Have You Been Born Again?"

Image credit: compuinfoto / 123RF Stock Photo Back in the 1980's, I saw a news account of a group touting a new method of resetting a person's consciousness.

The person was to climb into a hot tub and close the lid, naked I believe. Then the person would be submersed under the water representing their mother's womb, though I'm not sure what instructions were given for when to breathe. (lol)

At some point their consciousness of the past would be cleared and they would come out of the tub. It was to be a new start in life and they were proclaimed as "born again." I'm not kidding, I really did see this on a news program. Where? In Southern California, of course!

The term born again

Charles Colson, legal counsel to former President Nixon, wrote his book Born Again in the previous decade. It tells his story of spiritual rebirth following his imprisonment. It's a clear, compelling book that I recommend.

Nothing against hot tubs, but Colson is more on target with what Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of John, when he told the Jewish leader Nicodemus that he needed to be born again. (John 3:1-10)

The term born again has been misconstrued and misused often. My story of the hot tub is a clear example. When Jesus uses this term Nicodemus is puzzled by the idea of being born twice, as many of us might be.

I've heard complicated and technical explanations, but they aren't much help for non-believers or even young believers.

Jesus gives His explanation

So how does Jesus explain it? He uses natural and simple words, and reinforces what He says as one simple truth. For me, I need to read and reread what Jesus says until I can see the simple truth with God's Spirit as my guide.

Two words form this simple expression of born again. The idea of being born isn't complicated, my grandkids can grasp that. New life comes as a result of birth, whether it's a person or an animal. So the first word doesn't require much explanation.

But the second word isn't as simple as it looks. The word again, as it's translated in most common versions, doesn't mean repeat or replicate. Nicodemus, a learned leader of the Jews, struggled with this expression. But Jesus pressed on and repeated what He said in different words to express what He meant.

Jesus talked to Nicodemus about life in God's kingdom. It is spiritual in nature, so a person needs a spiritual birth, different from the natural, physical birth all humanity experiences. This spiritual birth comes from God. It's from above. The basic meaning of the second word again is literally from above or anew.

How can we understand this term?

How does Jesus explain this to Nicodemus? He uses an illustration from nature and speaks of the wind which is invisible. We can't see it but we see the effect of its action. Then Jesus says, "That's the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:8 GW)

It helps to look at Jesus' words as reinforcement of one simple truth, rather than many details to be analyzed. Rereading through John 3:3-8 in other versions and translations will help with the process of seeing the simple truth Jesus intended.

Making it simple to understand

Here's the process I use. First, I read and reread the full Bible text where the word or phrase is found. Then I look for the simple and natural meaning intended by whoever spoke or wrote it. When I gain more insight, I write out (or speak) it in my own words (IYOW). Try it. If you have a simpler way, go for it.

Here's my attempt— God's kingdom is spiritual in nature, so I need a spiritual nature to see it and enter it. I can't cause this spiritual birth myself, but I can receive it from God by faith.

How would you tell someone who is a non-believer what it means to be born again?

I bet someone out there in web-land can do a better and simpler job than I did. Give it a try. Put your IYOW version in the comment section. I look forward to seeing your creativity!

Acronym-ically Speaking

Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo Acronyms. Gotta love 'em… lol (laughing out loud)! Whether it's government agencies or texting lingo, they've become an integral part of everyday life, at least for most of us. Like them or hate them, they are part of our information-overload culture.

But acronyms, as a rule, are context dependent. Unless you know the context they're used in you won't understand what they mean.

I know a group of believers and a ministry that goes by CIA—Christians In Action. Of course, when most people see these initials the Central Intelligence Agency comes to mind. BTW (by the way), that reminds me of a great line from the movie, Red October— Capt. Bart Mancuso: "Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms."

Acronyms

Terminology and phrases used over and over often get shortened into acronyms.

When I did some work in the chemical dependency field we wrote reports for intake and assessment interviews. Comments were made about a client's social history (Hx) and recommended treatment (Tx). These abbreviations are common within social services and helping professions.

Acronyms are shorthand abbreviations for terms. It saves time and energy. But if you're not familiar with the context they're used in, it can cause confusion.

Christian lingo

Herein lies one of my pet peeves—the use of Christianese. It is a generic, catch-all phrase for Christian lingo and terms. I also call it Bible-talk. For the uninitiated (non-believers or new Christian believers) it is unintelligible talk. It doesn't make sense because there's no frame of reference to understand these terms and phrases.

As with most things I learn, I stumbled into a way of dealing with the overuse and abuse of Christianese. It wasn't discovered through research and study, but a desperate attempt to help my students understand the Bible and theological terms.

In 1995, I established a Bible school in the Philippines with a curriculum based on the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) approach. Working with students for whom English was a second language (ESL), I needed to find a way to help them learn beyond the typical transfer of knowledge—copying and repeating.

How could I get them to understand well-known Bible verses beyond a surface familiarity? How could I help them understand what it means to be born again or what redemption is?

IYOW

I developed the expression IYOW, for In Your Own Words. I asked the students to define words and express Bible verses in their own words. It proved to be a challenging yet fruitful process.

Several years ago we had a group of Americans come over on a short-term mission (STM). They went out with our first-year students for an outreach mission in another area. As part of our curriculum, the students had a class on personal evangelism along with the outreach (OR). This class required them to redefine common Christian terms related to personal evangelism.

I was glad to see how well the students did, but confounded by how the Americans struggled with the assignment. They had a hard time transferring what they knew into words of their own. They seemed to be bound by unspoken rules, as if it wasn't proper to decode these terms into simple words.

A useful tool

I realized I had stumbled upon a useful tool for teaching the truth. Not only for my students, but those who think they know the truth.

You try it. Take a common biblical term (i.e.: salvation, communion, etc.), Christian expression (i.e.: altar call, accept Christ, etc.), or well-known Bible verse (like John 3:16) and put it into your own words (IYOW). You may find it more challenging than you expect.

Next week I'll begin a new category of posts called, IYOW. From time to time I'll try to decode certain terms used in Christian circles (ie: church). I hope it will be helpful and insightful, and maybe a little fun along the way.

What are some Christian expressions or biblical terms you'd like to understand better?

Let me know. Just put them in the comment section. Maybe I'll use one of the suggestions in another post.


For a fun look at Christianese check out this video (still one of my favorites)— Christianese

For a more in-depth view of Christianese, here's a resource in development that might help, and give you a chuckle or two— http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

The Search

©CCCM – the Tent

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.

This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression in those days. Young people popularized the Jesus Movement, including those known as hippies who joined the developing counterculture of the 1960s.

A spiritual vacuum

A spiritual vacuum existed in those days. For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era.

Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[i]

In my own search for truth as a youth, I sampled wisdom from various religions and philosophies that surrounded me in abundance and diversity.

Raised in a nominally Christian home, even confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at the age of twelve, I found my Christian moorings too weak to keep me from drifting into varied experiences, philosophies, and religious encounters. These encounters brought plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I had developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that time.

Through it all, I was coming to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a certain church in Southern California, which later became a mega church within the Jesus Movement.[ii]

Thrown out

I attended an evening service where a very young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he gave an invitation to “accept Christ.”[iii]I wasn’t ready to do this.

After the service, I began asking many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible answer-man of sorts—I continued asking my questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

Each time he quoted a Scripture in response to my many questions, I could hear a round of “amen’s” and some cheering, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, how would you then tell me how you truly know God?”

He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

The wrong way

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord. I continued reading the Bible and praying, but didn’t give up the other activities and experiences that were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.

My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, leaving the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend, I went on a search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).

I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices.

Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I had considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold.

This text showed me I was on the wrong path that led to destruction. I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God.

A changed life

My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living.

I began to give up old habits of my previous lifestyle and developed new ones. On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom.

I had closed the door on my old life as a new door opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God.

I began serving the Lord[iv] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I became full-time volunteers who oversaw the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

A better way

Years later, I’ve often wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual commitment of my life to Jesus could have been shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel.

For many people, Jesus is only a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

Every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon.

Is this possible? Absolutely!


[i] The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— Barna article. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here is a link to an article about MTD

[ii] The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]

[iii] “Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] “Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”


This is another excerpt from my book— The Mystery of the Gospel