teaching

Wise Counsel

What is your source of wisdom?

How can anyone resist the pull of peer pressure? It’s easy to say, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!” But resisting the influence of others is not so easy.

At times, the forcefulness of other people intimidates us. Some people sound so convincing when they present an opportunity or plan as an adventure or a sure bet we need to get in on.

Sometimes, we don’t want to be left out of a group of people who seem to have something special. These are some of the ways we get pulled along in a way we should not go.

Here’s where wise counsel comes in but where to find it? God’s design is for parents to be a source of wisdom and guidance for their children. But not all parents are suited to do this nor do all children have parents present to do so.

The Proverbs of Solomon provide one source of wisdom, often given as a father to a son or in the figurative sense of a woman calling out to anyone who will listen. Here is a father’s admonition to an older son—

My son, listen to your father’s discipline, and do not neglect your mother’s teachings,

Continue reading this post on Medium—click here— Wise Counsel

Go! Get Out of the Bubble!

Bubbles_Juneau
Bubbles_Juneau

No doubt you've heard the phrase, living in a bubble or something similar. It was coined a few decades ago, based on the movie of a boy with an underdeveloped immune system who had to live in a bubble-like environment.

This made-for-TV movie came out in 1976 (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), combining the life stories of two boys with rare diseases. Of course, the movie dramatized the story (added some fiction) and a romantic theme far from reality.

But the concept of living in a bubble—like an incubator—caught hold as a cultural expression. In real life, these boys were unable to venture out of their bubble-like environments without fatal consequences. And yet, their great desire was to live outside the bubble.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a sterile environment without physical human contact. 

Living in a bubble

It wasn't long before people applied the phrase living in a bubble to other situations and people. For example, the office of the U.S. presidency is bubble-like, with the 24/7 Secret Service guard, and screening of people with whom the president will come in contact.

Today it could apply to people focused on their cell phones, gaming, and social media in a virtual bubble. The phrase came to describe anyone isolated from the world around them.

Living in a bubble can describe anyone isolated from the world around them

Sadly, this describes many Christian believers.

Many Christians live in an insulated Christian world surrounded by other Christians and locked into Christian-oriented media and music. And, many Christians like it this way. They don't want to leave this protective bubble—their faith bubble.

And so, the world around them is untouched by their Christian beliefs and values. Why? Intentionally or not, we've constructed an ivory tower of faith.

Not as Jesus intended

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. Not at all.

This bubble-like isolation isn't reflected in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God. What Jesus intended for His followers is seen in several parables and other teachings.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out twelve disciples to "preach the kingdom and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-6). Later, in the last year of the Lord's ministry on earth, Jesus sent out seventy others in the same way (Luke 10:1-12).

Here are His final instructions to those who would lead the church after His departure—

But the Holy Spirit will come on you and give you power. You will be my witnesses. You will tell people everywhere about me—in Jerusalem, in the rest of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. (Acts 1:8 ERV)

This is echoed in all four of the gospels and termed the Great Commission. Jesus intended for His followers to be empowered and go out with His message to the world around them.

Jesus wanted His followers empowered to go into all the world with His message

Getting out of the Christian bubble

For the "Boy in the Bubble," leaving the bubble put him at risk for his life. But it's different for us followers of Christ. Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

We need to engage people who have different values and beliefs than our own. Here's a blog post by Pastor Cary Nieuwhof that addresses this— The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having.

I've posted similar or related articles related to sharing your faith without being aggressive or overbearing. But, we still need to get out of our faith bubble to engage people who don't share our faith. How will they know if we don't share God's redemptive message with them?

Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

One simple question— 

Are you willing to get out of your own faith-bubble to engage people about faith?


A Results-Based Dilemma

unsplash_number_keys-ABranch

unsplash_number_keys-ABranch

Let's face it. America is locked into results. We measure and quantify everything, even our leisure time. Think not? We post life events or moments on social media, then check to see how many "likes" we've received. It's an epidemic and it's not healthy.

Christian believers are not immune to this epidemic. It infects churches and other ministries. We measure the sizes of congregations and buildings and responses to various types of ministry efforts.

Jesus wasn't results oriented in the way we are. He did expect results but not the kind we do.

One of the Lord's closest followers betrayed Him, the others abandoned Him at a critical point, and then He died. From a human point of view, that would seem like a failure. But of course, there's far more to the story than that! And far more to Christianity than measuring results.

Dwindling results

Much has been written about the dilemma American churches face today. In general, Millennials are not too interested or engaged with church, many in older generations have given up on church and become part of the Dones, and the majority of America's pastors are getting grayer.

Personally, I see this stemming from a lack of personal, intentional discipleship, which requires long-term investment in people and commitment. This is what we see the Lord Jesus model in His ministry on earth, but it's not easy to measure in terms of progress.

Perhaps this stems from the approach the church takes with evangelism—presenting the gospel, God's redemptive message.

American-style evangelism

Evangelism in America reflects our national cultural roots. We tend to be confrontational and analytical, so we present the gospel as if it was a legal argument in court or a debate that requires a yes-or-no answer.

Decisions can be measured, like the responses to a large-scale crusade or an altar call invitation at the end of a church service or evangelistic outreach.

I'm not saying these approaches are wrong. They reflect our historical and cultural identity and they appeal to our inclination to measure results.

How can we quantify God's Kingdom?

But is the Kingdom of God quantifiable? Was Jesus concerned that His followers—His church—be able to measure the results of their efforts at fulfilling the Great Commission?

Instead of counting decisions as a measurement, we need to make disciples who will also make disciples. There is no measurement that brings a point of completion for this, it will continue till we see Jesus face-to-face.

Another approach of presenting the gospel or sharing one's faith falls into the category of friendship evangelism. A current trend of personal evangelism is summed up with the unverified quote attributed to St Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."

Life example is vital for being a living witness of Jesus Christ to others (Acts 1:8), but words are essential for communicating the truth of the gospel.

A better way, or another way?

I love preaching and teaching and know they are still viable and valuable to present the gospel to others. Most people who respond to an invitation at a crusade or evangelistic rally, or in a church setting were brought by a friend or a family member.

But the evangelical church as a whole is not reaching the present generations as well as we could.

Is there another, better way? How about asking—Is there another approach to presenting the gospel to a postmodern, nearly post-Christian generation?

There is and I'll look at one such approach next week. But let me be clear. This is not the next best thing, it's just one more approach to presenting the gospel, and it has a biblical foundation.

Are you curious? Check back next week!


Talking Into the Air

unsplash.com_JRosewell

unsplash.com_JRosewell

Engaging someone in a conversation can be very satisfying, even when there's a difference of opinion. There's a sense of give-and-take, of listening and responding. This is true dialog.

On the other hand, you've probably experienced a more lop-sided conversation where you're doing all the listening, or perhaps you're doing all the talking. One-sided conversations aren't really conversations, they're monologs and aren't very productive.

What's even less productive than a monolog is when one person talks over another without listening. Even worse is when a person speaks in another language or uses terminology foreign to whoever is listening. This is like talking into the air.

Another language

One day while walking across a small island in the Philippines, I engaged a young man in conversation as we both carried a cooler full of drinks and food. He listened and nodded as I went on and on.

Years later, he told me how little he understood of our conversation at that time because he didn't understand much English. I spoke little of his dialect but thought he understood me. In reality, I was just talking into the air while he listened.

Since then, we've known each other for over 20 years and developed a fruitful relationship of mutual respect. I've learned to listen more and he's become more confident in communicating what's in his heart and mind. In the beginning, I was the teacher and he was my student. Now we are friends and partners in ministry.

4 Insights for more effective communication

This story illustrates and provides a few insights for me that I'll share here. These are some basic things to help make communication more effective so we're not just talking into the air.

  • @@Language and wording are important, that is how we convey what we say to someone@@
  • @@We need to know and understand our listeners to whom we're trying to communicate@@
  • @@We need to find a common point of reference or interest with whoever we speak to@@
  • @@Find the most effective means or way to express and convey what you want to say@@

As pointed out last week, effective communication needs to be a dialog, not a monolog, and listening well is essential.

Language

@@Words and phrases are like containers for our thoughts@@. Even with sign language, each gesture expresses some meaning or idea. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make it easy to open these containers that convey our thoughts.

Two simple ways to make them easy to open are—use simple words and translate terms and expressions or idioms into our own words.

Working overseas with students who are non-English speakers I ask them to put answers to my questions in their own words (IYOW–in your own words). This requires them to process what they are learning so they understand it better.

Putting things in simple wording also requires us to process what we're trying to communicate, and helps us to hear things more from the point of view of those who hear us. When we bring things it a simple level, we make it easier for others to understand what we're trying to say.

Understanding

As a pastor or teacher, or with any public speaking opportunity, I observe who I'll be speaking to before I get up to speak. I consider the demographics of the audience. Who are they? Where do they live? What to they do in life?

Basically, I'm looking for the most common factor among those gathered. When working with the division of fractions in arithmetic, we look for the lowest common denominator. That's the idea I have in mind.

I look beyond the better-educated people and those who seem like they'll grasp what I say more easily. I aim for those who might have a harder time understanding what I want to say to the whole group. If it's a church, I look for the younger believers and whoever might be non-believers and aim my message at them. They're my most important listeners.

Common point

@@Part of understanding who I'm speaking to involves finding a common point of reference@@ with them as a group, or maybe a couple different points of interest. If the people are older or younger, I try to relate things so they will receive it best. I tailor illustrations, examples, and stories to fit them. I even try to use idioms and words that are most familiar to them.

Jesus is our prime example for this. It never seemed to matter who was in front of Him, He knew how to communicate so they understood Him. What Jesus said to the woman at the well (John 4:7-26), is different than how He spoke to Nicodemus (John 3:1-12), or how Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus who climbed up in a tree to see Him (Luke 19:1-10). 

I don't speak to young IT students the same away I do to farmers in the mountains of the Philippines. I need to adjust what I'm saying and how I convey it in a way that relates to them best. Believers can quote Paul who said, "I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22), but do we really do this?

Ways of communicating

All of this leads up to how we communicate to others or the way we convey what we have to say. @@Different situations or circumstances also impact how we communicate@@. I'm not going to preach a sermon to a small, informal gathering. I'd rather engage people in discussions rather than talk at them.

Some of the ways I'll speak and communicate with people is to use stories, questions, or find some way of listening and responding to them. Basically, whether preaching, teaching, or just talking with someone, I want to engage them in dialog in a way that interests them.

Jesus used questions and provocative statements many times with His disciples and even in public gatherings (Matt 16:5-12; John 7:37-39). He used stories (parables) that connected with the people who gathered to hear Him (3 parables in Luke 15). As noted above, sometimes Jesus simply engaged people in conversation.

@@I've found people much more open to hearing God's redemptive story after I engage them in genuine dialog@@ rather than to immediately launch into a presentation of the gospel. I've also used each of these ways to engage people while traveling and while teaching and training leaders.

Final thoughts

These four ways of developing effective communication are useful in whatever role you have in life or in various life situations. They work for pastors, teachers, cross-cultural missionaries, writers, supervisors or staff, coaches or teammates, leaders at any level, or those who listen.

Again, @@listening well is critical to good communication. It shows people we're interested in them@@ rather than our self or our own agenda.

Practical application

@@Discipleship is a long-term investment, not just a training course to equip believers@@. Pastoral care involves understanding, patience, listening, along with a practical application of mercy and grace.

Good teachers build a strong foundation and framework for learning before delving into a deeper understanding of the truth. Cross-cultural missionaries need to find bridges and points of connection between their culture of origin and the culture of the people they want to reach.

Effective leaders need to understand the goals, passions, and struggles of their staff or team members. People in the trenches of life and work need to understand what's expected of them.

All of these life roles and situations work better when communication is done well. Those of us in roles of leadership at any level need to model these ways of making communication more effective.

For example, as a teacher, when my students aren't understanding what I'm trying to teach them, then it's my responsibility to find a way to help them understand. I need to model for them what I want them to learn to do.

When we can connect with people in these ways, we'll communicate better and make the world better around us.

How about you? How can you put these insights into action in your life?


Resources–

  • Here's a simple Glossary for some Christianese terms from the addenda of my book
  • If you'd like to know more about developing questions for an interactive Bible study, check out the Bible studies under Inductive Bible Study on the Resources page.
  • If you'd like to know more about how to tell stories in your own words (IYOW), contact me via email through the Contact form at the bottom of the Resources page.

Who's in Command?

lightstock.com

lightstock.com

The movie "Captain Phillips" presents a comparison of leaders in command (an American and a Somali) plunged into a tense struggle for survival. A great contrast is seen between the American captain and the Somali warlord, of whom we only see a glimpse, in how they handle their crew.

The captain understood his role, yet cared for the welfare of his men and ship. The warlord intimidated his crew and used people for his own gain.

Solomon reminds us that a person's character is revealed by how they treat people, and even animals (Prov. 12:10).

Servant leaders

Another genuine man-in-command was finally awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor and care for his soldiers. It took four years to be recognized.

Why so long? He spoke the truth and it cost him.

This last example personifies the type of leaders God desires for His kingdom. People who are willing to lay down their lives for others and who uphold the truth.

Of course, this is what we see in Jesus. Many Bible quotes could be given, but I'd prefer you'd discover these on your own by reading the gospels.

Jesus is the epitome of the true servant leader. He knew His role and He showed His great love for His followers, including all humanity.

As far as command, Jesus would be a general, not a captain.

Jesus is the epitome of the true servant leader

But what about those of us who are not generals?

A leader of leaders

Our classic example, after Jesus, is the apostle Paul. Stripped of his role and authority as a defender of the Jewish faith, he was humbled and set aside for a time (Acts 9:1-9; 26-30). Then God raised him up as a leader of leaders.

This is seen in his admonition to Timothy, his son in the faith—

Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses.

Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. (2 Tim 2:1-2 NLT)

The text above is what's in my heart for the ministry of Word-Strong because discipleship is more of a way of life than anything else. This is what we see with Jesus and His followers.

The idea is not just teaching and training to raise up leaders, but mentoring people who also mentor others.

Great leaders teach, train, and mentor others who also mentor others

This is what Jesus refers to by calling Himself the Vine—

“I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me. 

You give glory to my Father when you produce a lot of fruit and therefore show that you are my disciples. I have appointed you to go, to produce fruit that will last...." (John 15:5, 8, 16 GW)

Results or relationship?

We, generally, focus more on results than the development of our relationship with the Lord. Next week, I want to look at what is vital and essential for discipleship the way Jesus made disciples.

Based on what Jesus says in the text above, what do you see are two vital elements of discipleship?

Keep in mind, the Lord is far more interested in the process of being a disciple than what results from it.

The Lord is far more interested in the process of being a disciple than results

Can our priority for discipleship match the Lord's? Of course... if we're willing to see what the Lord sees as essential to discipleship.

What do you think are two vital elements of discipleship?