Book Excerpts & Reviews

Easter Morning—a Restoration of Hope

  Photo credit: unsplash.com_RBV

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the current acrimonious political scene, it's good to focus on a real hope. Hope that is living and eternal. Hope restored.

This is what the Christian faith has that no other religion can offer or know. It isn't a human hope, yet it's a hope for all humans.

Here's a story of hope restored, when all seemed lost.

Early remembrances

As a young pastor, Easter sunrise services were memorable occasions, especially when our children were young. We have four children within two and three years of one another, so many preparations were made the day and night before Easter. My wife laid out what everyone would wear, and food was prepared for a meal following the service.

Many Easter mornings were cold, even freezing, as we departed into the darkness of the early morning. We packed the children into our small car with blankets, along with my guitar and other things prepared ahead.

Although the early disciples didn’t drive their car to the tomb, I tried to imagine what it was like that first Resurrection Day as we drove to the service. I was excited to celebrate and remember the day that changed history.

Many of our sunrise services were held on a hillside in the southern California desert, somewhat similar in terrain and weather to Israel. Arriving as the first rays illuminated the sky, my heart anticipated the moment the sun broke the horizon.

Waiting for the sunrise seems to take a long time, but when it appears it bursts above the earth as a new day begins.

Hope Lost and Restored

The first disciples didn’t know what to expect that early morning. It was a long night of despair, perhaps sleepless, for it seemed all hope was crushed. The One they believed to be Messiah was crucified and buried on the day Israel celebrated their annual Passover feast.

He who would deliver them from oppression and obscurity had died, and their confidence died with Him. The One to  whom they devoted their lives—believing in Him, leaving all, and following Him—was gone. The night might have dragged on, but when the sun rose things happened fast and unexpectedly.

The women were the first to know about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). In accounts from another Gospel, we are told they met Jesus in person after His resurrection (John 20:11-18).

Women had very little status or standing in Jewish culture in those days. Concerning spiritual or religious matters, women were considered unimportant. Yet, these women were the first to know and believe the truth about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This alone is extraordinary.

Foretold, but unexpected

Everything about Jesus defied the expectations of others and went against conventional wisdom. He began preaching the Kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, far from Jerusalem where the Temple and religious leaders were.

He chose men as His closest followers who were not inclined nor equipped to study the Law and its many interpretations. Some of these men were uneducated fishermen, some religious and political zealots, and one was a hated tax collector. And one betrayed Him.

Instead of resisting an unlawful and unjust sentence of death by crucifixion, shameful and deemed a curse by the Law, He willingly submitted to it. On the day of His miraculous resurrection from the dead, He didn’t appear first to those closest to Him, nor to the important Jewish leaders, but to a few women, even one with a shameful past.

The resurrection of Christ caught everyone involved by surprise, even those who stirred up the crowd and called for His execution. Yet, Jesus spoke of His future resurrection from the dead often and in many instances.

Three written accounts are recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 16:21). Most likely He spoke of this at other times, since the women knew of this when reminded by the angels (Luke 24:6-8).

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life (John 6:35-40). He used a metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which caused many disciples to quit following. As He taught this, Jesus made four references to the resurrection related to the eating and drinking of his flesh and blood.

And yet—both His death and resurrection caught everyone by surprise.


What about you?

What surprises you about the Lord and His resurrection from the dead? Is His resurrection a living hope in your heart? Have you experienced His resurrection power in your life?

May you have a blessed Resurrection Day! Everyday!

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, except for the questions at the end, which I've added for this post.

What Can We Learn from Dead Churches?

Photo credit: unsplash.com KHillacre Throughout the history of the Christian church, there have been cycles of life and death. Cycles of revival and decline are evident by their impact upon the culture around them—both good and bad.

What about individual churches? You can find similar cycles of revival and decline. Some churches seem to thrive, while others struggle to survive.

Is death and decline an inevitable destination for every church? Not if we're willing to learn from history.

Thom S Rainer's book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, doesn't sound like a fun read. I wouldn't call it fun, but it is enlightening, and in the end, encouraging.

I could easily see various churches I've known or been involved with that identified with Rainer's post-life church assessment. These are actual churches Dr Rainer worked with and knew.

He begins with a story of a church as if it had been a patient, in denial of her real condition. She no longer had vision and followed a familiar path to death. It's a sobering look at fourteen different churches who died. The author provides insights as to why, and later gives twelve responses to the question, "Is There Hope...?"

What is learned from the autopsy

Amazon-Autopsy_ChurchAll the insights Rainer writes about are helpful, but a few struck home in a sad way. He speaks of the Slow Erosion (Chap 2) that takes place, and of the inward and rigid focus a church develops.

In the The Past Is the Hero (Chap 3), a fixation develops on the "good old days." I've seen this too often in churches who experienced high points during the Jesus Movement, but this applies to other churches also. Rainer says this was the "most pervasive and common thread" in all of the autopsies, which created a backwards-looking vision.

This nostalgic, inward focus eventually leads to a church with ...No Clear Purpose (Chap 10). I've seen this way too often, churches that "do church," but have no clear direction or purpose except to exist.

Out of place and out of sorts

Rainer's small, succinct chapters yield insights into churches who didn't change, though the community around them did (Chap 4). Other churches rarely prayed together (Chap 9), and others became ...Obsessed Over the Facilities (Chap 11).

A chapter that struck a sad, familiar chord is where, The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission (Chap 6). As a missionary and pastor, this one grieves me the most. The focus of the church becomes so inward that the command to "Go!" is set aside and forgotten.

I see this in both a lack of local evangelistic outreach and disinterest in world missions. This is pervasive throughout America today, along with a diminished focus on discipleship and equipping God's people.

Another great insight looked at the life stages and decrease in pastoral tenure (Chap 8). Rainer lays out five general stages of relationship between a pastor and the church. From my own experience, I found these to be accurate and remember going through or seeing each stage.

Is there hope?

An autopsy isn't fun, unless you're a forensic doctor I guess. So the book doesn't end on a down note but with hope.

Rainer lays out twelve responses to give hope. These are laid out in three categories of churches— those with sick symptoms, very sick, and dying.

You might think the last category isn't going to have much hope, but you'd be wrong. It's all a matter of focus and perspective, which is lost in a sick or dying church.

Final thoughts

I was sent this book by my friend, Pastor Bill Holdridge, who established Poimen Ministries, and graciously allows me to be part of this ministry to pastors and churches. He's seen all of this more than I have. If you're a pastor and concerned about the health of your church, I encourage you to contact Bill or any of us with Poimen Ministries.

So I recommend Dr Rainer's book for any pastor, no matter what your current role may be in church. It is well worth the read.

Here's a blog post of Dr Rainer's that echoes much of the same issues in his book– 8 Reasons Many Churches Are Living in the 1980's

Another resource I recommend is the blog of Pastor Karl Vaters, especially for pastors of small churches– New Small Church. Karl has a clear focus and purpose that is healthy and outward, and is a great encouragement to many.


If any of this post encourages you, or you see its value for someone else, please feel free to share it! Thanks for reading!

 

Here's the Reason Discipleship Can Be Difficult

Photo credit: unsplash.com_GRakozy We Americans live in a culture focused on self. More and more, the concept of team or community is just that—more of a concept than reality.

Self-identity is an industry, not just a psychological term. More attention is given to individuals than groups. We fawn over star-power, whether it's American Idol, fantasy sports leagues, or CEO's pulling down outrageous salaries and bonuses.

Yet, focus on self isn't just an American cultural phenomenon, it's a human issue. Self-interest has been with us since the first humans on earth.

Just follow Jesus

When most everyone around you is focused on doing what's best for them, following Jesus can feel a lot like swimming against the tide. It can wear you out fast. Unless you learn how to do it from the Master Himself.

Believers and followers of Jesus need help, His help. Jesus is the core of the Gospel, and the core of the Christian faith. By Christian faith, I mean all the theology, doctrine, and practice known as Christianity. Jesus is the core of the Gospel and He calls each believer to follow Him.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the gospel and core of the Christian faith"]

His call is a personal one. It's a call to surrender our free will to Jesus, and put Him first in our lives. Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. But this involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

This is difficult, no, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally, but it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment"]

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus can bring this about. But He chooses to do this through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly and dying to a life fixated on this world.

Are you confused?

Why does the world have so many different ideas and misunderstandings about Jesus and Christianity? Perhaps it comes from the body of believers who profess to be Christians.

What message does the world receive about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Christian Faith through the followers of Christ? What is the church’s living example?

If there is confusion about who Jesus is among Christian believers, it's communicated by speech and example to others, and confuses those who seek to know Him.

[bctt tweet="If we're confused about who Jesus, it's communicated by speech and example to others"]

Jesus, the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, is the core call and purpose of a believer’s life. By core, I don’t mean the center, but the central strength and nature of life in Him.

This could be likened to the nucleus of an atom, defined as “the central point of the atom.” An atom’s particles, protons and neutrons, are bound and held together around the nucleus by a nuclear or residual strong force.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, and core of a believer’s life"]

These properties of a nucleus and atom always remind me of this description of Christ in Colossians—

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17 NIV)

Jesus at the core

Perhaps what Jesus expressed about His own self-denial in going to the cross helps make this clear—

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

Looking at a kernel of wheat, or the seed within a fruit like a peach, the importance of the core is easy to see. The very life of a peach tree is in the core of the fruit itself. The flesh of the fruit surrounding the seed is eaten, and the seed is thrown away.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is not just what we focus our lives on, He is our source of life"]

When the seed is planted it grows into a tree, but the seed has to die before it can germinate into what becomes a tree. This is God’s design. It’s God’s continuing illustration within nature of the importance of the core.

This illustrates the simplicity and necessity of keeping Jesus as the core of the Gospel. He is not just what we focus our lives on, He is the source of our life.

More than a belief

Our daily life example needs to match what we tell others. God’s Story is more than a belief to hold onto, or something to be done—it's a personal relationship with Jesus who transforms our life.

When we can express the simple truths of the gospel and others see Jesus at work in our life, it is an easy and natural thing to share our faith with other people.

[bctt tweet="God’s Story is more than a belief, or something to be done—it's a relationship with Jesus"]

Jesus is the core of the Gospel. He is the Savior of all people and the Son of God. He, God the Son, came into the world, died upon the cross for all humanity, and rose from the grave victorious over death.

He calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing.

Each follower will need to give up his or her own selfish ways, the natural lifestyle of this world, and trust only in Him for all things, in every way, every day.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing"]

Jesus honors this commitment with life beyond anything the world has to offer, and a life beyond this world. He alone is worthy of a person’s unreserved trust.


This is the last in a series of posts taken from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here are links to the previous posts—

Who Is Jesus…Really?

Who Jesus Is

A Culture Conflict

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share these posts!

A Culture Conflict

Photo credit: Unsplash.com_TLefebvre A culture shifts and changes with time. It often changes when there is some conflict with established cultural norms. This was seen in the 1960's.

But many cultural changes are less obvious, they are more like subtle shifts than an abrupt turns in direction. Perhaps the 1990's are the most recent example of that.

Not all changes in culture are the result of external forces or conflicting trends. Cultures can also change when one person's values change and their internal change influences others. 

A basic call to all

The basic call of discipleship is quite opposite from what our culture expects. The same was true for the disciples then. It is true for any people, anywhere, and at any time. All people are born with an innate selfish nature.

In Christian terms, it is the sin nature or the flesh. Whatever term is used, it’s true. A simple observation of toddlers and two-year olds will confirm it. What word is expressed early on? “No!”—the first expression of the selfish, self-centered nature of every human being.

Jesus tells those who want to follow Him three things that are needed—

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

Another way to express this is to deny our selfish nature, die to our selfishness, and surrender our self-will to Jesus.

But this is easier said than done. Why? Because it goes against all we know and experience in life within this world. Is it even possible?

Surrender is not defeat

Jesus goes on to clarify it—

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NLT)

Here Jesus gives an explanation of His original call of, “Come follow Me.” He’s says, “If you want to continue trusting and following Me, you need to exchange your self-centered way of life for a life centered on Me, then you will be transformed.”

The key is surrendering the self-will to Jesus. This is the difficult part. An honest question would be, “How can this be done?” The answer is more about what not to do. Denial of self—the selfish nature and self-centeredness—is an internal action, not external.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial is an internal action, not an external one"]

Internal not external

Most efforts at self-denial are focused on external changes in behavior, the self-effort of trying to lead a pleasing life for God.

The season leading up to the observance of Good Friday and Easter is called Lent. Many observe this season by denying themselves some pleasure or usual part of life, offering it to the Lord as a form of fasting.

This form of self-denial is not bad, and may bring about some good realizations and insights. A person may find they are too dependent on something in life, or can do without certain things.

Unfortunately, focusing on outward efforts of being good, as a means of denying the selfish nature, leads to a performance-based Christianity—something akin to Buddhism.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Buddhism this way: “a religion of eastern and central Asia growing out of the teaching of Gautama Buddha that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by mental and moral self-purification.”

When good isn't good enough

Many people live good lives, at least outwardly. One of the best-known examples in the past century is Mahatma Gandhi, who grew up in a Hindu family, but later followed his own mixture of Buddhism and Christianity. He was known for his non-violent example and influence for world peace.

Self-denial goes deeper than what is done outwardly—it must go to the core of who we are. How? By surrendering the self-will to the Lord daily, even moment by moment.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial goes deep to the core of who we are, that's why it's hard"]

Jesus shows us how

Jesus shows the way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though He knows the Father sent Him to die on the cross, He asks the Father if it can be avoided. A spiritual battle ensues and Jesus asks His closest disciples to come pray with Him.

Three times He lays His request before the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Each time Jesus returns from prayer, He finds the disciples asleep.

At one point Jesus admonishes them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). Another version says, ”Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (NLT).

Why it's not so easy

This speaks to the heart of the matter. What we may intend and want to do is difficult because of our natural weakness—the weakness of self. Our natural disposition is to put self first above all else and everyone else.

Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually.

[bctt tweet="Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually"]

This is why Jesus calls each believer to follow Him with a personal call—to surrender our free will to Him, and put Him first in our lives.

It is a call to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. It involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

Impossible, and yet doable

This is difficult. No, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally.

When we surrender to Jesus it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus does this. But He chooses to do it through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly, and dying to a life fixated on this world.

[bctt tweet="Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts"]

What is your greatest internal challenge to surrendering to Jesus?


This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's the link to the previous excerpt before this one— Who Jesus Is

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Who Jesus Is

Photo credit: unsplash.com People have sought spiritual truth for centuries. Make that millennia. Philosophers, theologians, and religious people of all persuasions. For the most part, spiritual truth has passed from one person to another, both in oral and written forms.

The truth of the Bible is unique. It was first passed down from God to humans, then from person to person. Of course, many philosophers and theologians who do not accept the Bible's veracity dispute this.

Beyond rhetoric and posturing, the Bible tells the story of God Himself appearing to humanity. This was confirmed by sources other than those who accept this revelation within the Bible, as well as the Bible's internal evidence. And yet, there's even more to the story than many people realize.

The second question

Last week, we looked at the first question Jesus asked His followers, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” People today have lots of different opinions about Jesus, just as they did then. What's important for us is to understand where people stand, what their understanding of Jesus is.

We need this understanding before we launch into any attempt share the gospel with them. People need a frame of reference to understand things, especially spiritual truth.

But when the opportunity arises for us to share our faith in Jesus, we need to be clear about who He is. As we pick up the story in Matthew's gospel (Matt 16:13-20), we look at Peter's answer to Jesus' second question.

The right answer

Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question gives a compact, complete understanding of the Lord. Jesus commends Peter on his answer, but tells him the source of his understanding was not Jesus’ physical presence, but a direct revelation from God, the Father.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17)

Peter’s response is more of a declaration than a simple answer. He declares what he and other disciples had come to know. Jesus says it’s not Jesus’ physical presence among them, but revelation from God the Father.

Does this seem contradictory or paradoxical? Perhaps, but it is the same for any believer sharing the Gospel—spiritual truth is made known by God’s Spirit, not mere words, nor physical proof.

The Messiah

Two important truths are declared in Peter’s answer. They are not two separate truths, but two parts of a whole truth. First Peter says, “You are the Christ.” The title Christ is an interchangeable term with Messiah. Then he says, “ . . . the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus is both Messiah and God’s Son. Most people are familiar with the title Christ, meaning Anointed One. Christ is taken from the Greek word, Christos. Messiah is taken from the Hebrew word, Mashiyach, or more commonly, Mashiah. Although the term or title Christ is more familiar, the title Messiah helps keep the context of Peter’s declaration more precise.

This Anointed One was the Hope of Israel, long-awaited by those looking to God for deliverance. The Messiah would come as the direct representative of God—a Prophet-King, a Deliverer and Savior—made known to the Jewish people.

The Son

The second part of Peter’s confession, “Son of the Living God,” speaks of who Jesus is in nature—the personal presence of God upon the earth. Jesus and the Father are of one nature.

Although Christian believers are spoken of as children of God, even sons, we are not by nature God. When someone is born again, they receive a new nature and become a new creation, but they don’t become God in nature.

People are human in nature. When a person becomes a genuine believer, a new nature is brought to life internally. They are born again.

The expression, “...Living God,” is a more familiar Jewish sense of God. Israel was to be a “light to the Gentiles,” because they worshiped the One, True, and Living God.

Israel was to be distinct from all other nations (people groups) as God’s Chosen People. This was God’s purpose in establishing the people of Israel as a nation.

The Rock

Jesus’ response to Peter’s declaration of faith includes something not easily understood—the Lord’s play on words with Peter’s name. His name is taken from the Greek word meaning rock or stone. Jesus says, “you are Peter (a stone), and on this rock I will build My church.”

First, Jesus speaks of those included in the church Jesus would build and their need to believe this truth Peter declared—that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Secondly, Jesus is the Rock the church is built upon and no one else. The important thing is having a personal relationship with Jesus, which is only possible by God’s grace, through faith.

The apostle Paul speaks of the church being built upon “the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Note verse 20 (italics mine)—

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV)

Jesus also says His church will have a prevailing power, which indicates there will be a spiritual battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. It is a great assurance to know the church will prevail against the devil and his kingdom of darkness.

The right answer, the wrong time

What the story says in verse 20 is surprising.

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Matt 16:20

Imagine you are with the disciples at that moment. Jesus commends Peter on his answer, and makes other strong statements related to it. The disciples would be encouraged and excited, especially Peter. After all, Peter came up with the right answer!

But, following all of this discussion, Jesus tells the disciples to keep this revelation to themselves. He doesn’t just tell them, but commands them. It seems opposite of what we might expect. I imagine it surprised them too.

It was the right answer, but it wasn't the right time. Not yet. In a matter of months, Jesus would be arrested, sentenced, and crucified. But there's more to the story, much more, and that will have to wait for now.

Has God revealed the truth of who Jesus is to your heart?

Are you ready and willing to share who Jesus is with others?


This post is another excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel.

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Who Is Jesus...Really?

Photo credit: Unsplash.com_mhull Surveys. Opinion polls. Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite to know what other people think about... fill in the bank.

For all the mining of opinions and the flood of information available, what do we really know? Are we truly the most informed generation in history?

We know a lot of minutiae about a lot of things. This helps us in trivia games, but doesn't answer life's big questions.

A valuable question

At the beginning of this story (Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus asks His disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He wanted to know what the disciples heard among the people.

Yet, He was far more concerned with what the disciples thought, as seen by His second question to them.

In sharing the gospel with others, we need to be mindful of what people are thinking and saying about who Jesus is. It is valid to ask people what their perception of Jesus is before launching into a presentation of the gospel.

Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should be a factor in how the gospel is told or related.

[bctt tweet="Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should factor into how we share the gospel"]

The wrong approach

When zealous believers approached me during my spiritual search, I would hear, “you can become a Christian and still have fun!” One time I was approached while in an altered state of mind and told I could still “own a sports car and become a Christian.”

Having a sports car was the farthest thing from my mind at the time! It did not attract me to Christianity.

Although well-intentioned, this approach to share the gospel was off target. My biggest need was getting my eyes off what I wanted, or what I thought could bring fulfillment in my life.

A frame of reference

Genuine questions can reveal where people stand on spiritual matters, and their opinion about Jesus.

Asking about a person’s life can open them up to hear God’s Story. If a person’s life story is full of difficulties, or reveals a searching for spiritual truth and significance in life, it opens an opportunity for connecting them with God.

Presently in America, more and more people, especially young adults, have a limited understanding of Jesus. They may know more about Buddha or Mohammed than Jesus. Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth.

[bctt tweet="Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth"]

Spiritual truth is conceptual, abstract, and intangible, yet we live in a material world. If we don’t perceive what their perception is about Jesus, the Bible, or other spiritual truth, we give them information they can’t process.

We need to know

In contrast, we may pay more attention to what others have to say than we should. Many people are intimidated to share their faith story, fearing rejection. Others are unsure of what to say or how to say it.

Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed—an understanding rooted in a genuine personal relationship with God.

[bctt tweet="Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed"]

When the gospel is shared with sincerity of heart and in simple words, it is more apt to be heard.

Who do You say Jesus is?

Then Jesus asks His second far more pointed and important question, “Who do you say that I am?”

It was a question of progress for the apostles. Were they grappling with the same question, or were they sure in their hearts? Ultimately, everyone must answer this question. One day, all people will answer this question in God’s presence.

What is your belief?

Other opinions aside, what is your belief? What others say may be of interest, but what is your own belief? How would you answer the question of who Jesus is?

If you are a Christian believer—that is, you have a personal relationship with the Lord, and you’ve experienced a spiritual rebirth—you should be able to answer this question. But, how would you answer? How would you describe who Jesus is to someone else?

Truth is revealed by God

Spiritual truth can only be conveyed if a person understands it in his or her own spirit. As the apostle Paul says, “ . . . not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:13).

It is not knowledge of words, written or spoken. God through the Holy Spirit must reveal spiritual truth. It is expressed in words, but understanding and acceptance is God’s work in a person’s heart and mind.

What are your thoughts about Jesus? Do you know who He is?

Do you know Him personally and tell others about your relationship with Him?


Next week I'll continue to look at who Jesus really is. This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's another related post– The Core of the Gospel

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

 

Is There Any Other Message?

Photo credit: youinsport.com In the book of Second Samuel, a messenger named Ahimaaz (A-hee-ma-oz) wanted to bring a message to King David. His father was an important priest named Zadok whom the King trusted. However, the news to be sent was not good, so King David’s general, Joab, chose to send a different messenger.

In those days, certain messengers were sent based on the content of the message; one was sent when it was good news, another with bad news, and another who could bring either good or bad news. Ahimaaz was a messenger for good news.

An incomplete message

The story unfolds in the eighteenth chapter of 2nd Samuel, after King Absalom died in battle. He was David’s rebellious son who stole the hearts of Israel and staged a coup that sent King David running for his life. Though Absalom had become his enemy, he was King David’s favored son. Joab knew the news of his son’s death would devastate David, so he wanted to send a more neutral messenger, a Cushite. (1)

However, Ahimaaz, because of his devotion to King David, wanted to bring the message. Joab’s response was, ”Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?" (2) Since Ahimaaz insisted on running, Joab gave him permission.

Ahimaaz out runs the Cushite and arrives first, but is told to stand aside because his message is incomplete—it lacked the news most important to David—news about the life of his son, Absalom.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

In many ways, Christian believers are more like Ahimaaz than the Cushite. When delivering the message of God’s story of reconciliation (the gospel), it is often incomplete. The part left out of the gospel is the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.

The resurrection

The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin, and the believer’s hope in eternal life. It also gives insight into the mystery of this earthly, physical body being changed into a new, indestructible body, which enables a person to enter and live in the presence of God.

[bctt tweet="Many deliver an incomplete version of God’s story of reconciliation"]

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth about the foundation of all he taught them. He exhorted them to continue to believe in the full truth of this gospel and not listen to teaching contrary to it. If they allowed false teaching to influence them, it would jeopardize the work of God’s grace in their lives.

[bctt tweet="The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin"]

God's story

Additionally, Paul delivered the gospel they heard and received in person. This may seem incidental but is very relevant. The gospel is not just truth about God passed on by any means available, it is God’s story—the personal testimony of God. It relates how God rescued humanity through His Son, Jesus. God's story is most effective when it’s told person to person.

[bctt tweet="The gospel is God’s story—the personal testimony of God"]

The believers in Corinth heard the gospel preached to them with apostolic authority. God gave this authority to Paul, His apostle and messenger, to preach the gospel to the Corinthians. It was God’s story relayed by God’s messenger.

Once they received the gospel as true, they began to live their lives in a different way. The foundation of their lives was a new destiny, one of eternal life in the presence of God. Paul exhorted them to continue, not only to believe but to live according to what they believe, “unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1, 2).

3 Important truths

Paul reminded them of three things about the resurrection and the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-3)—

  1. It is the most important truth
  2. He personally received the gospel from God
  3. It agreed with the OT Scriptures

[bctt tweet="The gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers"]

First of all, the gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers. All other teaching must be considered in light of the gospel. Secondly, Paul passed on what was revealed to him by God. This is what all believers are to do—share with others what God reveals to them.

Lastly, the truth of the gospel is found in the Scriptures given to the chosen people of God, the Jews. The history of God’s first relationships with people is linked with the gospel.

Adam, the first man, had a face-to-face relationship with God prior to sin’s interference. God’s relationship with Abraham was significant, because Abraham was considered righteous on the basis of his personal trust in God. Both men and their relationships with God are found in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Experiencing God's grace

Many of our national staff at Rainbow Village Ministries were staunch Roman Catholic, but they lacked the assurance of eternal life. Entrenched in their religious beliefs and traditions, they refused to consider a personal relationship with God by grace. Anya (her nickname) was a faithful Roman Catholic who would argue dogmatically against the “Born Again” gospel of grace. (3)

But during a women’s retreat hosted by another ministry, Anya came to believe in Jesus in a more personal way—based not on religious conviction, but on God’s grace—His unearned favor. Her testimony for days and weeks later was, “I feel so different inside.”

She experienced a spiritual transformation in her heart that changed her entire life. She continues to live as a born again believer, because she experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in her life.

[bctt tweet="Have you experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in your life?"]

Are you ready?

I mentioned in a previous post about the vanishing hitchhiker who announced the Lord is coming soon, which prompted the question, "Are you ready?" Indeed, we do need to be ready for the Lord's return, whether you're a believer or not.  But there's another readiness all believers need—a readiness to share God's story with others.

[bctt tweet="All believers need to be ready to share God's story with others"]

This is a major point in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story. I don't see this readiness in many believers, as mentioned above. Many believers are like Ahimaaz, their version of the gospel story is incomplete.

How about you? Are you ready? Ready to share God's Story with others?


(1) Reference— 2 Sam 18:19-33– The context of this story makes this distinction most clear. The Cushite (a foreigner) could bring either good or bad news, whereas Ahimaaz was more known for good news (note verse 27).

(2) Reference— 2 Sam 18:22 (NKJV)

(3) “Born again” is the common tag for evangelical believers or those of the Protestant faith within the Philippines, as a distinction from Roman Catholicism. This is a reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and what many evangelicals tell Catholics they need.

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.”

Review of A Christian Survival Guide

Photo credit: Kregel Pub This week a writer friend, Ed Cyzewski, released a new book titled, A Christian Survival Guide. I had the privilege of getting a pre-release copy to review it, so here’s my review. I posted an interview with him earlier this week, so this is a follow-up to that post. At first, I thought, "do I really need to read this?" I’ve been a Christian believer for a few decades and done ministry most of my adult life. As I dove into the book, I found myself getting more and more drawn in by Ed’s writing style and content.

Ed has a great combination of genuine openness about his own struggles with faith, and self-effacing, sometimes biting humor. It makes what could be heavy reading into a thought-provoking exploration of some areas of faith that are difficult for many.EdCyz

Even the book’s chapter titles and subtitles are engaging. It starts off with “Prayer: A Still Small Voice for Big Loud Problems,” where Ed shares some of his issues with prayer shared by most of us. "Violent Bible Stories: Deliver Us from God?” is one of my favorites. Especially as we look at the world around us today, it’s relevant in both a personal and cultural sense.

“The Bible and Culture: Less Lobster, More Bonnets,” is another favorite of mine. It deals with literalism and culture in a humorous way. The book has two parts—Christian Beliefs and Practices. I like that there’s a practical, as well as, theological view of the Christian faith. In the practical part, issues such as sin, money, church community, evangelism, and the Holy Spirit are looked at.

Although I don’t struggle with the Christian faith in general, I appreciate the insight gained in this book. For those of us who have been believers a considerable time, it’s easy to get into a rut or become oblivious to what others may struggle to understand about God and faith.

This isn’t just a book for young believers. It’s a genuine look at the Christian faith, and questions or issues that get debated, yet aren't always discussed with openness and honesty. I believe Ed does that in this book.

He does not give trite nor clichéd answers. In fact, he makes a point of encouraging discussion and reliance upon God to gain answers. Ed doesn’t skirt difficult issues, but lays them out to consider, perhaps for some of us, in a new light.

I’m glad I read A Christian Survival Guide. It’s given me a fresh look at things I’ve set aside, and given me a new outlook about the faith struggles I once had. It’s also a good reminder of how to encourage others in their faith. Coupon Blogger ad 450x150

A Lifeline to Faith and Growth

What enables some to survive as Christians when so many others falter?

Would you like some guidance on hard to understand issues with the Christian faith, but without cliché or pat answers? I think there's a lot of people in that category. But where does that person turn? The Bible? Well, that's a great starting point, but what if you don't understand all that you read, or even get confused by what you do read?

There's a new book, just released this week, that doesn't resort to empty answers, clichés, relativism, or smug certainty. Does it answer every and all questions a person might have about God, faith, the Bible and what it says? No, but it gives you a starting point for thinking things through from a fresh vantage point.

Something new

This is something new for me and my posting—an interview. Originally, I wanted to do a "live" interview on Skype, but that will have to wait for now. So, this is a written interview, you know, like you see in magazines.

So... pretend you're reading a magazine at a dentist or doctor's office, and hopefully it will take away some of the anxiety that scenario brings up.

I'm interviewing Ed Cyzcewski, a freelance writer and theologian-for-the-times. The last description is my own, not Ed's, but I think it fits him. Ed speaks to issues of our times from both a theological and cultural framework.

Ed is married and the father of two children, the youngest is, well, really young, hence the need for a written interview.

Interview with Ed Cyzewski

TK– Ed, would you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and how you got into writing Christian books?

Ed– Thanks for hosting me Trip!

I grew up Catholic, got "saved" in a Baptist church, and married into a charismatic family. I suppose it's not shocking that we've ended up in a Vineyard church that has a little bit of each. I never really knew what to do with myself, but in retrospect, I was always writing or journaling or reading. In searching for a "career," I settled on ministry because I at least liked the Bible. So I went to seminary, worked at a church, and realized halfway through that I'd made a huge mistake.

Nevertheless, I'd always wanted to write a book. It was that annoying pipe dream: "I've always thought it would be cool to publish a book." I had no idea how much work it would be, not did I know how emotionally taxing it would be. However, when I gave up on the ministry as a career, I started looking into writing full time. My seminary degree helped me get started into Christian publishing with my first book Coffeehouse Theology.

Questions

TK–  How much do you think your eclectic background plays a part in your writing, and was there anything in particular that prompted or stirred you to write, A Christian Survival Guide?

Ed– One of the key messages of the Survival Guide is the broad range of beliefs among Christians that speak to many different people with varying experiences and backgrounds. I see the diversity of belief and practice in Christianity as a real asset for survival. Having seen Christians thrive as Catholics, Baptists, and charismatics, I'm hopeful that person who finds liturgy constricting can find life in a church like my Vineyard. However, the person who finds my Vineyard chaotic will perhaps find life in the order of liturgy.

A Christian Survival Guide doesn't aim to shut down conversations or to fully answer questions. Rather, I'm pointing people in several helpful directions so that they can seek God in their communities. This is a book for people who feel stuck or at a dead end. They need to know that there are so many answers and options within the various Christian traditions.

TK– Ed, I've enjoyed your humor throughout the book, which prompted a couple of questions for me. So, this a two-part question...

In light of the difficulty of these topics, which chapter or topic was the most difficult to work on and why?

Ed– The chapter on suffering (Is God Late?) was really tough because it's hard for me to imagine God sitting back and watching horrible things happen that he has the power to prevent. I am not a Calvinist, so I don't believe God orchestrates every tragedy in the world. I believe in free will, and I believe that God imparts his Holy Spirit as a way of changing the world relationally, from the ground up.

So while I struggle with the thought of God watching suffering unfold, I think God's solution is a grass roots, relational path to change. I want a quick fix. When I shout, "God, why aren't you doing anything?" God turns that question around. "Good question, Ed. I gave you my Spirit. Why aren't you doing anything?"

Was there any chapter or topic that was easier or more fun to write than others?

Ed– The chapter on the Bible and culture, (titled Less Lobsters, More Bonnets) has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and teasing out the quirky ways we apply the Bible selectively proved to be both fun and challenging to write about. I mean, if we're honest with ourselves, following the New Testament "literally" would result in a church planting manual that depends on sending letters and preaching short sermons. We all know from Acts that preaching a long sermon killed someone.Dealing with the inconsistencies of strict biblical literalism is like shooting fish in a barrel.

A brief summary

TK– I know you cover this in your introduction to the book, but would you give us a brief summary of your primary hope for those who read, A Christian Survival Guide?

Also, who do you hope will read it [other than everyone, because that's a no-brainer (lol)], and what kind of feedback have you gotten so far, good or bad?

Ed– This book intends to help Christians who are struggling with doubts or feel unable to move forward in their faith. However, I've found that most Christians have questions simmering in the back of their minds, but they've been avoiding them for fear of what they'd find. This book attempts to address both the doubts and struggles of the first group and the pressing questions of the latter group.

I don't set out to give neat, final, conclusive answers. Rather, it's a book that starts a discussion and helps people take the next step. In fact, many of these readers, I think, would put the book down immediately if I started offering, neat, tidy, and definitive answers. I've also heard from people who left the faith and found my book helpful to begin exploring a return.

All that to say, people who love old school apologetics and who believe the Bible provides simple, definitive answers for all time will really, really hate this book. I already have a one-star review on Amazon, and while I have not read it, I presume this person found my book too wishy-washy and prone to compromise.

Wrapping things up

TK– Ed, I really appreciate you taking time out for this interview since I know you're busy with your writing, and life with a young family. So, tell us what else you've written and what you're working on now. Also, are there any special offers connected to the releasing of, A Christian Survival Guide?

Ed– I have written several other co-author books, including The Good News of Revelation with Dr. Larry Helyer. It's a brief commentary on several themes of the book that asks what we can learn from Revelation today if we read it through the eyes of its original readers--readers who actually saw it as good news. I also write short fiction to introduce each chapter and to help undo some of the misconceptions we've gotten from the Left Behind books.

I've also recently published a book called Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus that asks what kept people from following Jesus and whether the same things could be obstacles to our faith today.

This week a bunch of my other books are on sale for $2.99 on Kindle, so this is a great time to pick up a bundle of books for the price of one.

Thanks so much for hosting me at your blog. I'm really grateful that you took the time to ask about my books!

All the best, Ed

TK– Hey Ed, it was my pleasure to host you on my site, and hopefully we can do a face-to-face interview in the future!

I trust your book will help people who are either adrift or struggling to keep their head above water with their faith. I think you did a great job addressing issues that just don't get talked about enough in a genuine way.

_______________________

I do hope you'll give Ed's book a read, especially if Christianity is a puzzle or frustration for you.

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The Road Trip That Changed the World

Photo credit: jrwoodward.net

Paradoxes exist throughout life within our world. They can be traced back to a fateful day in the first garden on earth. The day the first humans ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2;17; 3:6).

Mark Sayers, in his book The Road Trip that Changed the World, gives great insight into a polarizing paradox. We all contend with it, but probably don't understand it. Too many are unaware it exists.

What is the dilemma?

Mark Sayers does a great job of bringing awareness and understanding of a present dilemma within the church. What is it? The impact of secularized culture on the theology and practice of the Christian faith, particularly in America.

This secularization began in earnest following World War II. Sayers tells us theologian Elton Trueblood spoke of it coming in his book, The Predicament of Modern Man (written in 1944). Sayers says, "Trueblood feared that as the West secularized, it would attempt to retain the morals of Christianity, yet detach itself from faith. ...a new kind of believer would emerge, one who did not need Church or a faith community, but instead who followed a self-constructed form of religion."

This issue has been addressed by many, yet the problem persists. Sayers helps us understand how it developed and what its impact is at present. This is expressed in the subtitle of the book, The Unlikely Theory That Will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and Most Importantly, Yourself.

"...a new kind of believer would emerge, one who did not need Church or a faith community, but instead who followed a self-constructed form of religion."

Two roads

The book begins with the story of two road trips across America. These road trips are tied to two authors with two very different perspectives on the cultural direction of postwar (WWII) America. Mr Sayers does a great job drawing the reader into the story.

The book is divided into two main sections. These can be summed up by the first two chapters of each section—"A Tale of Two Roads" and "The Road Home."

The paradox of secularism and the Christian faith is developed with surprising parallels and contradictions in the first section. It begins with a road trip and ends at the Cross. This road trip travels through the life and writing of Jack Kerouac, American culture, and the church.

Mr Sayers does a great job drawing the reader into the story.

The Road Home

The "Road Home" starts the second section offering a simple way back out of secularism and into genuine faith. The book ends with the poignant story of Takashi Nagai, a survivor of the initial atomic blast that devastated the city and people of Nagasaki, Japan.

Sayers reminds readers of the choice each believer faces. One choice is the popular road of a shallow form of personalized Christianity. The second and better choice is the road that leads to a deep faith, devotion to Christ, and community of believers who embrace the Cross.

Every believer must choose between the shallow road or the road that leads to a deeper faith

An important read

I read this book during my recent travel to the Philippines. It captured and held my attention well, and I look forward to reading more from Mark Sayers.

It is an important read for any believer, especially those unaware of this dilemma of secularism and faith. It is a must read for those committed to a faith that transcends and transforms culture.

What road are you traveling on?

Is yours a personalized Christian faith, or a deep faith rooted in relationship with Jesus and His church?

I highly recommend The Road Trip that Changed the World, by Mark Sayers.

The Resurrection Isn't Just an Easter Sunday Thing

IBS_trainersAs director of a Bible school in the Philippines, I got together with a group of teachers every Friday afternoon. We talked about the progress of the students, challenges in the classroom, and it was a time for me to mentor them. We worked on ways to improve our teaching and mentoring of the students. At one of these meetings, I shared about the importance of having a message theme—the primary truth and focus of a message.

I had them review Peter's message, as he spoke to the crowd gathered at the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-16). The goal was to identify Peter's message theme (Acts 2:22-36). At first, they had a hard time with it.

Sometimes we miss the obvious

They came up with all sorts of ideas the first time they reviewed the text. None of them saw the focus of Peter's message.

Sometimes we listen or look so hard at the truth, we miss the simple and obvious.

I encouraged them to look through Peter's message again, and to look for the truth repeated throughout it. I told them to look for five obvious references to this truth.

One by one, they looked up as they realized what it was. It was so clear and obvious but seemed hidden from their understanding. Why? They were focused on what they were convinced of already.

I've found this to be true over and over again, both for myself and others in the process of discerning the truth in the Bible. It's hard for us to set aside preconceived ideas and assumptions.

It's hard to see beyond what we've been taught to see.

Photo credit: creationswap.com ©joelMilhouse

Seeing the obvious

Last week my post ended with a short quiz of two questions, one multiple-choice and one open-ended. The first question had five choices and asked which important truth gets neglected.

I really enjoyed the responses and input I saw, and hope it got you thinking, even if you didn't respond. The second one asked what the central most important truth is in the Christian faith.

Getting back to my story with the teachers, what was the primary focus of Peter's message? The resurrection of Jesus!

Peter makes at least five explicit references to the resurrection in his message (Acts 2:24, 25-27, 30-31, 32, 33, 36).

How the resurrection is essential

I see the resurrection as essential to the other four truths in the multiple-choice question. Actually, the resurrection is essential to the gospel and the biblical story of redemption throughout the Bible.

When the truth of the Lord's resurrection is over-looked or neglected, it has a major impact on both our theology and walk of faith. Here's a few of the impacts—

  • The central focus of the gospel message of the early church, as seen throughout Acts, is diminished (Acts 1:21-22; 2:22-36; 4:10, 33; 10:34-43; 13:26-39; 17:22-32; 23:6).
  • The effective work of the Lord's death on the cross is nullified (1 Cor 15:14-17).
  • It's directly connected with the reason why we have a living hope—our own resurrection and hope of eternal life (1 Peter 1:3).
  • The resurrection is essential to our relationship with Jesus in our everyday life (Eph 2:1-10; Col 2:11-12; 3:1-4).

The resurrection is essential to the gospel and the biblical story of redemption throughout the Bible

Connected and essential

So, how is the resurrection of Christ related to the other four truths from the quiz last week?

The fear of God—the impact of Christ's miraculous resurrection reminds us of God's awesome power and might.

A call to repentance—the promise of new life, reconciliation and restoration through redemption requires repentance, which was an essential part of Jesus' gospel message.

Eschatology and prophecy—the central message of many of the parables of Jesus, and the OT prophets, is that an end of the age is coming with a final resurrection.

Prayer—our vital communication with God is founded on trust in Him based on hope. Why do we hope? As Job said in the midst of his suffering, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth" (Job 19:25).

Looking ahead

As mentioned above, the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead enables us to have a true, living hope—to be confident of a future in this life and beyond.

My hope is that some of what I've shared will help you see how vital the resurrection is to our relationship with Jesus. I also hope to explore more of this in coming weeks.

At least two of these truths are either neglected or misrepresented, so I want to look at them more closely—the fear of God and repentance. When was the last time you heard a message on either one of these?

Again, let me know your thoughts and feedback. If this post (or this blog) is helpful, please share it with others.

Here's a chapter excerpt from my book on one of the chapters about the resurrection—feel free to download it—Chap-11_A-Living-Hope Also, if you like it, consider getting the whole book—the e-version is only 99 cents!

Thanks for reading... and sharing!

Missing the Obvious

Photo credit: http://radicalart.info/kinetics/gravity/Drop/MotionLawExperiments.html Some things are as plain as day and easy to grasp.

We've all experienced the effect of gravity, either by dropping something or something falling on us. But understanding what causes the force of gravity requires some knowledge of physics, and yet is still a theoretical mystery.

Understanding truth, theological or biblical truth, is similar. A certain level of understanding is plain and obvious, but a fuller understanding may elude us.

 An encounter with Jesus

On the same day Jesus rose from the dead, two of His followers travelled from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles away. As they walked, they tried to sort out everything that had taken place.

Jesus came along and joined them as they talked with each other, but they didn’t realize it was Him. “You seem so absorbed with what you’re discussing. What are you so concerned about and why do you look so sad?” Jesus asked.

The two halted and Cleopas said, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened recently?!” Jesus simply replied, “What happened?”

They answered with amazement, “All that’s gone on with Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet working powerful miracles, and who spoke the truth with real authority! He was highly favored by God and the people respected Him, but our ruling priests and leaders had Him arrested and insisted He be put to death. So He was crucified, but we had believed He was the One who would deliver and restore our nation, Israel.

It’s been three days now, since all this took place. But today we were shocked to hear some of the women, also His followers, had gone to His tomb and found it empty! When they returned from the tomb, they said they had seen angels who told the women Jesus was alive! Some of His apostles also went to His tomb, but found it empty just as they said, and didn’t see Jesus.”

Then Jesus spoke sternly to them, “You are thinking like little children, unable to believe everything spoken through the Prophets. Isn’t it clear the Messiah needed to suffer all these things before His glorious reign?”

Then Jesus explained how the Law and the Prophets pointed to all of this, and gave them understanding of the Scriptures that spoke of Him as the Messiah. (Luke 24:13-27 paraphrased*)

[*This paraphrase is taken from my bookThe Mystery of the Gospel]

Heard but not understood

This dialogue between Jesus and two of His followers is revealing.

Jesus told His followers what was going to happen to Him before it took place, on more than one occasion (Matt 16:21). These two disciples retell what Jesus told them, though they didn't realize they were talking to Him.

They heard. They believed in Jesus. Yet, they only believed at a certain level. They didn't comprehend what they were told and heard.

Is this not you and me?

As Christian believers, we may hear the truth and believe it, until something happens counter to our understanding of it. This was the case of these two followers.

So, why does this happen? Why do we miss the obvious more times than we'd like to admit?

The simple answer is because we are human, not divine. We are more familiar with this world than the Kingdom of God.

This sets us up for disappointment when it comes to spiritual truth. Why? Because we often have misconceptions based on false expectations of our own.

Some simple things seen in this story

  • The disciples retold the gospel message, but didn't fully understand it (Luke 24:19-24)
  • Jesus rebukes them for not believing and understanding what they were told (Luke 24:25)
  • Jesus explains what happened to Him as He told them before (Luke 24:26-27)
  • It was through personal revelation that the disciples understood the truth (Luke 24:30-32)

How can we stop missing the obvious?

I don't know of any short cuts to stop missing the obvious with biblical truth. But, here are a couple things I've learned from this story that might help—

  • Read and reread the scripture you're studying in different versions—observe it again from different views
  • Learn to put biblical truth in your own words (IYOW) [reading other versions will help]— by doing this you will process (purposely think about) what you are reading
  • Go back to what you know already (see Luke 24:30-32 & John 6:5-12; 35-40)
  • Pray! Ask God to reveal things to you by His Spirit

[If you'd like to read more about this, consider buying my book, or downloading it as an e-book]

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Here's another take on this story and the topic of this post— click on this link– http://goo.gl/g4L2fo and scroll down to the link titled– "The Doubters on the Road to Emmaus") — It's a chapter from the book Unfollowers, written by a writer whose blog I follow— http://edcyzewski.com/my-books/

Waking from a Deep Sleep—part 2

dark_worshipGod instructed Abram to prepare a sacrifice of a calf, a goat, a ram, a mourning dove, and a pigeon. Abram brought these and laid them out before God. Soon, birds of prey swooped down to eat them, but Abram shooed them away. As the sun began setting, "…a deep sleep—a dreadful deep darkness—came over Abram."

God then spoke to Abram of a time of darkness for the nation of people descended from him. It was a time centuries in the future beyond Abram's lifetime. It all came to pass, but it seemed God hadn't answered Abram's question. It seems God only added to the mystery. And then the unexpected happened.

[this is the continuation of last week's post, a draft from a book I'm working on]

In the darkness of the night, a fire from heaven came down and passed through the animal pieces Abram had laid out. Once again, God reassured Abram of His promise. "I will give this land to your descendants. This is the land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates." [Gen 15:18 GW]

God knows we need reassurance along the way (Click to Tweet)

Any of us who trust God must walk a similar path as Abram. It is how we learn to trust the Lord in a deeper way. We profess our faith. He tests it. We fail as often, or more often, than we hold true to our faith.

God understands. He knows us better than we, or anyone else, will ever know us. (Click to Tweet)

It may seem as if God is stringing us along with promises and reassurances, but it is not that way. It is a learning process. Each person learns at a different pace, and in a different manner. And though every believer will endeavor to live by faith, it is somewhat different for each of us.

At times God will ask us to do things that make no sense. He will bring us through dark times of the soul that puzzle us. But He is there all along the way, drawing us into a deeper trust, a deeper relationship with Him.

Faith is always about relationship. (Click to Tweet)

As humans, we are prone, no, we are bent on performing in some way. This is not all bad, it is natural for us. We need a sense of purpose.

The question to be asked is, "What's our motive for doing what we do?"

Are we driven by an inner turmoil and quest for acceptance and approval? Or, are we walking forward in faith as best we know how?

Sometimes the best thing to do is gaze into the night skies with all our internal struggles, doubts and questions.

God knows. God can handle our questions. And He always desires to draw us into a closer relationship with Him. (Click to Tweet)

What are your struggles with faith?

Have you gone through times of darkness and doubt? Undoubtedly. It is the nature of our human condition, and the process of a genuine faith.

It seems counterintuitive, at least illogical, from our earth-bound perspective. It's only when we stop our own striving, and strain to gaze into the heavens that our view of things will change.

Do you need to wait till it's dark and look up at the stars? Not really. It could be the ocean, or the mountains, or some other environment that enables you to look beyond yourself. But that's the key—to look beyond our self.

If you can't look beyond your own sense of who you are and what you want, you will ever struggle with the reality of faith. (Click to Tweet)

The story of Abram is a story of faith. A faith that grows beyond a man, so he would become a father of many peoples.

Even at an old age, Abram grew in his faith and his life was extraordinary.

This is possible for anyone. Anyone willing to trust in God, even as Abram did.

What will it take for you to wake out of a deep sleep?

It may be a sleep of indifference or ignorance, or of simple unbelief. It may be a spiritual dullness, wilfulness and pride, or because you resist letting go of a destructive lifestyle.

Whatever the cause, the solution is simple.

Trust God in a humble, childlike simplicity. He will bring you along in the path of faith that leads to life—real life.

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not  receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10: 15 ESV)

A Deep Sleep—part 1

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech Most of us are enthralled by a beautiful starry night sky.

The immensity of billions of stars, galaxies, and nebulae mesmerize us and draw us into its majesty.

This is as it should be.

I remember looking up into the night sky as a child, and over the years in different settings. Looking at constellations framed by coconut trees in the Philippines. Floating on a darkened ocean and seeing the stars empty into the nighttime horizon.

It's a scene portrayed in many stories and movies. Why? It stirs imagination and touches a deep part of the human soul.

God, the great Creator, hung every star in its place and named each star. Now that's hard to imagine. But this is what is recorded in God's Story.

The creation is a constant reminder of a Creator, even when He is not acknowledged. (Click to Tweet)

Abram, nomadic follower of God

Abram,* the nomadic follower of God, was given a great promise. One day he would become a father, not just of a son, or a nation, but of many nations. Only one problem. He had no children of his own.

He had many slaves and a faithful life-partner in Sarai, but no children. He longed for a child. He was promised many children. But when? He was getting older, as was Sarai.

It's common to feel as if God has forgotten us. It's easy to get swallowed up in our own perspective on things, as limited as it is.

Is God too busy? Is my life too insignificant? It is neither.

God has a timing to His purposes that extends beyond our comprehension. He is eternal, infinite. We are not. (Click to Tweet)

This is when a little star-gazing is helpful, to remind us God is much greater than our perception of Him, otherwise He wouldn't be God.

A genuine conversation with God is also valuable. How does this conversation take place? It depends on how far your relationship with Him has developed.

Abram had no written Scriptures to rely on, so prayer and worship were the primary vehicles of communication with God. Somehow, in some manner, he understood when God was speaking to Him, and God always knew when Abram spoke.

Abram, man of faith

Abram was a man of faith. He trusted God in a simple and real way. He demonstrated this by his responses to God's direction.

God reassured Abram along the way, even when Abram doubted.

Though God reassured Him, "Abram, don't be afraid. I am your shield. Your reward will be very great." [Gen. 15:1 GW] Abram questioned God.

From Abram's view of things, having no children, it seemed the only wise thing was to make preparations to leave his family and wealth in the hands of a trusted male servant.

But once again, God reassured Abram. How? He told Abram his plan was not needed, and had him look up at the sky, "…count the stars if you are able to count them. That's how many descendants you will have!" [Gen. 15:5 GW]

At this point, Abram believed the LORD—the Eternal One, the God who is Self-Existent—and received God's unconditional approval and acceptance. God knew Abram trusted Him, so God acknowledged Abram's faith.

God also reaffirmed His promise to Abram. Abram would possess the land promised to him when God led him out of Ur of the Chaldeans.

Though he had faith, Abram didn't understand. Once again he questioned God, "…how can I be certain…?"

Isn't this our perpetual question, even though we believe?

This is the nature of faith. It is a trust in God Himself, not in our own sense of assurance. (Click to Tweet)

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This is the first part of a draft from a new book I'm working on. The story is taken from Genesis 15. I'll do a follow-up post next week, which will be part 2.  I'd appreciate any feedback or thoughts you might have.

Also, do you have a story of your own where God has made Himself known to you in connection to the universe or creation? If so, please share it with me, either in the comments section or by sending me an email at– trip@word-strong.com

*Note– Abram is what Abraham's name was before God changed it (in Gen. 17), and his wife's name, Sarai, was also changed to Sarah.

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos Saying the world has changed may seem an understatement, an obvious one. But Paul Borthwick is a world-renown teacher and consultant on world missions, and this statement is the recurring theme of his book. He isn't referring to technology, nor culture per se. It's a declaration about global missions. And he ought to know, he has much experience to back it up .

While reading through his most recent book, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global mission, such as myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, I had a vested interest in reading this book and I was not disappointed.

I've already recommended it to others, and wrote a review on Amazon. But I wanted to make a recommendation here on my blog. The subtitle alone challenges the reader with a question too often unconsidered— What's the Role of the North American Church (in Global Mission)?Western_Mission_cover

Having been a church planter in the US and trainer of church planters and leaders in SE Asia, this is a vital question to be answered. Mr Borthwick does this well in several ways.

He begins with broad views of the church in North America and the Majority World, and how they fit into the state of the world. He sees Nine Great changes in the world that are Great Challenges for the church worldwide (pages 33-60).

  • The Great Transition— the worldwide church is primarily non-white, non-Western, and non-wealthy
  • The Great Migration— there are vast movements of people from nation to nation
  • 2 Great Divides— an Economic Divide and a Theological Divide
  • 2 Great Walls— the first being a wall between the gospel "haves" and the gospel "have-nots," the second is the effect of environmental impacts on the poor.
  • The Great Commission— the church has not done a good job making disciples, either in North America or the Majority World (making converts is not the same as making disciples).
  • The Great Compassion— seeing beyond the need of salvation to see people in their need of many things for daily life (yet without causing a dependency).
  • The Great Salvation— a personal worldview that serves as a reminder and motivation for going out into the world with the gospel.
  • The Great Celebration— having vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

The author goes on to give "An Appraisal of the North American Church." It is one I found to be both confirming and challenging. Then "An Appraisal of the Majority World Church." This was both refreshing and disconcerting, and it confirmed my thoughts that the great need in the Majority World (I call it MOTROW) is the need for sound equipping of leaders.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to seeing how to move forward to meet these changes and challenges. There are plenty of open-ended questions and penetrating insights given by Majority World leaders to foster discussion and consideration. The author adds stories of his own that give vivid insight into the learning curve presented in this book.

His extensive experience in many countries and continents with various leaders and people groups qualifies him to not only make statements, but pose important questions. He gets into specifics and provides practical queries and guidance.

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Not only does Paul Borthwick make his case well and graciously, it lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 20+ years, including 15 years as a resident in the Philippines.

I don't just recommend this book, I believe it is a must read for anyone in North America who wants to keep in step with God's plan for His Great Commission, especially western-culture missionaries.

A continuing theme throughout the book is, "The world has changed." So has the church worldwide, and the world mission movement.

America has a role, but it's not out in front taking charge, directing, and funding everything. It's in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

I hope you'll take time to read and thoughtfully consider all that's presented in this book. The world has changed and it's waiting for us to catch up with it.

Awareness

DSC_0188I have a memory of looking up into the darkness of nighttime, into the heavens, and being scared. I was four-years old and with my parents in our front yard. We were gathered under the stars to watch a lunar eclipse with our neighbors. I wasn't afraid of the moon becoming dark. This intrigued me. But my dad told me the darkness of the universe, with its scattering of stars, never ended. It scared me that it was so big and I was so small. This is my first awareness of the immensity of the universe.

I wondered if a person could drift off into space and be lost forever. I think my dad reassured me gravity would hold me to the earth, so I didn't need to worry. But that feeling of smallness never left me. It was the beginning of my sense of being part of something greater. Somehow I realized, as young as I was, that this vast and endless universe was created.

At an early age I realized the existence of God. It wasn't a concept taught to me, it was a realization deep within me. Somehow, my tiny soul was connected to this vastness. It wasn't something I articulated or thought on until later in life.

Your Life Do you have a recollection of God as a child? Perhaps you were brought up in a religious, God-believing family. Perhaps not. My wife, Susan, had a sense she was part of a big storybook. That her life was being watched by someone reading this storybook as she lived her life out.

I didn't grow up in a religious family, but we believed in God. Well, sort of. My mom had a definite belief based on her up raising, and yet, her dad, a family physician, had a more scientific mind than spiritual. My dad had a belief, but it was wrapped up in Christian Science religious thought. More science as spirituality, than traditional religion.

What was your family like? Did you grow up believing God, or ardently not believing? Was there a general indifference towards God in your family? Perhaps you saw children going to Sunday school and families going to church, and wondered what that was all about. I don't know until you share your story with me.

I'd like to hear your story... really.

Just put it in the comments section or send me a message via email– trip@word-strong.com — Who knows, it just might make it into a book!

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This is an excerpt of a first draft of a book-in-the-writing. I'd appreciate your feedback (constructive please) ;-) via the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Hope Lost and Restored

Sunrise_RainbowAs a young pastor, Easter sunrise services were memorable occasions, especially when our children were young. We have four children within two and three years of one another, so many preparations were made the day and night before Easter. My wife laid out what everyone would wear, and food was prepared for a meal following the service. Many Easter mornings were cold, even freezing, as we departed into the darkness of the early morning. We packed the children into our small car with blankets, along with my guitar and other things prepared ahead. Although the early disciples didn’t drive their car to the tomb, I tried to imagine what it was like that first Resurrection Day as we drove to the service. I was excited to celebrate and remember the day that changed history.

Many of our sunrise services were held on a hillside in the southern California desert, somewhat similar in terrain and weather to Israel. Arriving as the first rays illuminated the sky, my heart anticipated the moment the sun broke the horizon. Waiting for the sunrise seems to take a long time, but when it appears it bursts above the earth as a new day begins.

Hope Lost and Restored

The first disciples didn’t know what to expect that early morning. It was a long night of despair, perhaps sleepless, for it seemed all hope was crushed. The One they believed to be Messiah was crucified and buried on the day Israel celebrated their annual Passover feast.

He who would deliver them from oppression and obscurity had died, and their confidence died with Him. The One to  whom they devoted their lives—believing in Him, leaving all, and following Him—was gone. The night might have dragged on, but when the sun rose things happened fast and unexpectedly.

The women were the first to know about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). In accounts from another Gospel, we are told they met Jesus in person after His resurrection (John 20:11-18). Women had very little status or standing in Jewish culture in those days. Concerning spiritual or religious matters, women were considered unimportant. Yet, these women were the first to know and believe the truth about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This alone is extraordinary.

Everything about Jesus defied the expectations of others and went against conventional wisdom. He began preaching the Kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, far from Jerusalem where the Temple and religious leaders were. He chose men as His closest followers who were not inclined nor equipped to study the Law and its many interpretations. Some of these men were uneducated fishermen, some religious and political zealots, and one was a hated tax collector. And one betrayed Him.

Instead of resisting an unlawful and unjust sentence of death by crucifixion, shameful and deemed a curse by the Law, He willingly submitted to it. On the day of His miraculous resurrection from the dead, He didn’t appear first to those closest to Him, nor to the important Jewish leaders, but to a few women, even one with a shameful past.

The resurrection of Christ caught everyone involved by surprise, even those who stirred up the crowd and called for His execution. Yet, Jesus spoke of His future resurrection from the dead often and in many instances. Three written accounts are recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 16:21). Most likely He spoke of this at other times, since the women knew of this when reminded by the angels (Luke 24:6-8).

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life (John 6:35-40). He used a metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which caused many disciples to quit following. As He taught this, Jesus made four references to the resurrection related to the eating and drinking of his flesh and blood. And yet—both His death and resurrection caught everyone by surprise.

What about you? What surprises you about the Lord and His resurrection from the dead? Is His resurrection a living hope in your heart? Have you experienced His resurrection power in your life? May you have a blessed Resurrection (Easter) Day!

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, except for the questions at the end, which I've added for this post.

At the Feet of Jesus

Last week someone wrote to call me out about a phrase I used, saying it seemed like Christianese. It was, but I did give a simple simile as explanation. But I thought it might be good to explain it a bit further. I said that if there's something you (anyone) is struggling with, "Lay it at the feet of Jesus."

As I mentioned in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Christian believers tend to use a set of words and phrases laden with meaning, but not understood by others. Even believers who use these expressions don't understand all that is said. Christianese is a general term describing words, cliches, and expressions used by people in the Christian faith. The use of Christianese isn't bad, it's just puzzling for those uninitiated to it. One of my favorite takes on Christianese is the short video produced by B.A.D.D. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the watch, funny and makes the point. Another good resource for understanding Christianese is a site called Dictionary of Christianese. If you click on the link, it will take you to a site where you can download a 30-page sample.

As I said, using it isn't bad as long as the words and expressions are explained for those who don't understand. These expressions are a form of figurative language, the use of figures of speech. All of us use figurative language in one form or another. Why? Because it paints a picture and becomes an abbreviated way of saying things. In fact, a figure of speech can make a point more clear than a lengthy (often tedious) explanation (think—listing off statistics versus illustrations of comparison).

A couple of stories So, back to the expression of "lay it at the feet of Jesus"—what does this mean? The best way to describe it is found in a couple of stories that illustrate it. Many stories could be used, but two stand out to me.

In Luke's gospel (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus goes to the home of a Pharisee (religious leader) to eat. While He's there a "woman of the city, who was a sinner," comes and anoints Jesus' feet with oil, and washes them with her tears and hair while kissing them.

Jesus is reclining at a table with His feet extended out, and she comes to express her appreciation and devotion to Jesus—at His feet. This, of course, causes the Pharisee to judge Jesus, which leads Jesus to tell the man a parable about forgiveness. Do you see the picture? Reading the whole story may help the picture come into focus better.

A second story involves two sisters well known to Jesus, Martha and Mary, and is found in Luke 10:38-42. Martha is busy with the work of the household (as to be expected), but Mary "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching." The place of women in that day was to serve in the household. The place of men was to listen to the teacher. It's as if Mary has forgotten her place.

Martha complains to Jesus, but He doesn't give the response she expected. Instead He tells her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

Coming to Jesus isn't just about laying our needs before Him, but of being with Him, listening to Him, worshipping Him. It is an expression of trust, of implicit faith in Him. Sometimes we may need to bring whatever it is we struggle with to lay it at His feet, to entrust it to Him. But our trust and confidence to bring our needs to Him this way is built up as we spend time at His feet.

And so, the more we are like Mary than Martha, and more like the woman of the city, the more confident we will be to entrust our life, our needs, our heart to Jesus. Then we will also find Him stepping in on our behalf when others accuse us, including the enemy of our soul (the devil). The illustration (above) from one of Dore's woodcuts gives us a picture of the Lord's intercession. It depicts Jesus' forgiveness for the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). He defends her against her accusers and extends mercy to her.

Jesus shows us great mercy and blesses us with immeasurable grace, especially when we learn to trust in Him in greater and greater ways—as we learn to sit at Jesus' feet and to lay our lives at His feet.