self-focused

The Core of the Gospel

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Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions.

Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion.

Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance are overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?


This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story

Footnotes for this excerpt are below—

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— William Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc

A Failure to Communicate

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unsplash.com-3gens_LAnderson

Communication is vital for many reasons. This isn't just well known, it's obvious. As vital as it is, it's difficult to do well. Language is often a hindrance, but not nearly as much as other common culprits.

Things like pride, arrogance, and stubbornness are major factors in poor communication. This is illustrated well by a short dialog from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke. The chain-gang boss Captain says, "What we've got here is... failure to communicate."

The number one most helpful and critical need for good communication is listening well. Marriages fall apart when spouses stop listening to each other. Negotiations break down when either or both sides are only concerned with their own agendas.

Listening well is a skill that requires time and willingness to develop. It's not a means to an end but a way to begin genuine communication.

The number one most helpful and critical need for good communication is listening well

Communication gaps

As new generations emerge a disconnect is common between younger and older generations. It was true when my generation (boomers) came of age, and it's true today.

Typically, each generation blames the other for various and perceived wrongs. The result is the inevitable generation gap. But is a generation gap inevitable or just typical? Either way, it's a gap that can be bridged, but it's a bridge that needs to be built from both sides of the divide.

I've read several articles and posts addressing the departure of millennials from the church. Depending on whose point of view, it's often a list of perceived complaints or criticisms. A lack of listening is a common complaint.

Listening well is a skill that requires time and willingness to develop

Of course, one generation blames the other. And, well, both are right because neither wants to listen to the other. It's like two young boys fighting over the same toy. When an adult intervenes and encourages them to apologize and shake each other's hand, each boy says, "I will if he will."

Part of the solution

No doubt you've heard the cliche, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." When it comes to pursuing the common ground of understanding, listening well is key. It's a gateway to being part of the solution.

Years ago I heard a veteran missionary friend of mine speak on personal evangelism. He used the term hot communication and spoke of the importance of listening. The concept isn't new and it's an acronym with a few different meanings. One explanation I like best is—Honest, Open, Two-way.

Much of the time, communication is one-way or unidirectional. That's called a monolog.

When communication is a two-way street it's called dialog. But the listening part needs to be honest and open to facilitate hot communication, or else it remains cold and likely won't lead to true understanding.

Much of the time, communication is one-way or unidirectional—monolog

Humble enough to listen

My friend Danny also gave the example of Jesus as a twelve-year-old in the Jewish Temple listening to and asking questions of the teachers. Those in the temple were astonished at what He understood and how He answered (Luke 2:46-47). What's astonishing to me is the humility of the Lord.

Paul, in his plea to Philippian believers, also uses the example of Jesus. He reminds these brothers and sisters to have the same mind or attitude as Jesus—

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

Understanding one another, the intended goal of true communication, requires both humility and mutual respect and consideration.

If one generation wants the respect of another, then respect needs to be extended, and it needs to be mutual, not unilateral. This is what people saw in the twelve-year-old Jesus and the one who ate with sinners and healed the poor and hurting.

Understanding one another requires humility, mutual respect, and consideration

Communication failure

I see a communication failure when it comes to reaching the millennials and the next generation with the gospel.

Those of us in older generations can find fault with self-focused younger generations, but this only shows our own lack of humility. We (boomers) were once that self-focused younger generation.

If we refuse to listen and respect those younger than we, we remain just as self-focused but older. Those of us from the Jesus Movement ought to know better. We need to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Too often it's the opposite. 

In my own involvement mentoring people of younger generations, including millennials, listening and observing are essential when working with them.

Next week I want to begin exploring ways to reach younger generations with the gospel, especially those without a Christian frame of reference and those who've walked away from the church.

Listening and observing are essential when working with other generations

Until then...

Are you a good listener? Are you willing to hear more than being heard?

Remember, we were created with two ears and one mouth!