Category Archives: Evangelism

The Problem With Being A Good Person

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For several years I worked in college ministry in the city of Chicago. Every year we would host various outreach events which were aimed at answering peoples’ questions about the Christian faith and introducing them to Jesus.

During one of these meetings I was approached by a young man who had a very good question.

I don’t know why Jesus is necessary. I mean…you guys keep saying that we need to believe in Jesus in order to be saved, but I just don’t know why. Why isn’t it enough to just be a good person?

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It’s Back!!! It’s BACK!!!

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
~Jeremiah 20:9

Yup.  It’s back.  The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it.  But now it’s back.

You’re probably wondering, “What?  What’s back?”

The fire is back.  It’s in my bones.  I feel it when I wake up.  I think about it throughout the day.  It’s back.

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“We Pledge Allegiance to the __________________?”

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“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
~1 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV)

Early this month we, as a country, celebrated the Fourth of July and I have to admit that, since becoming a Christian, I have struggled with how best to honor this holiday.  The reasons why are multiple, but perhaps the biggest reason is because of the tendency, in many American Christian circles, to blend nationalism and faith.  The most recent example of this was Holly Fisher’s 4th of July Twitter post of her posing with a flag, an assault rifle, and a Bible.  Over the years I have heard too many of my brothers and sisters in faith parade out Bible quotes in support of a nationalist political agenda and question the faith of those who don’t hold those particular political views or whose theological conclusions seem to challenge or question conservative political values, especially on issues of social justice, racial reconciliation, poverty, war & peace, and immigration.

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Toward a Lutheran Legacy

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Logo of Reformation500 at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis

The Crisis of Our Present Time

In 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. As I have been reflecting on my time at Concordia Seminary I am acutely aware of the fact that I will be ordained 500 years after the young Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg. With this single act, Luther began a spiritual, social, and intellectual revolution that single-handedly reshaped Western history and the nature of the Christian Church, the effects of which we are all heirs.

As such, the question that I have to ask myself is, “What will our legacy, as the religious descendants of Luther, be in the next 500 years of the Reformation?” This is a pressing question for us in the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod. While the Lutheran Church, like many churches, is growing rapidly in the Majority World, in the West we are in a state of decline. Fully 2/3rds of our congregations worship 125 people or less on a Sunday morning, and are not even able to financially support a full-time pastor. And if these trends continue then it means that this generation of seminarians will most likely minister over the death of at least one congregation over the life of their ministries.

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First Day @ The Mighty Fortress

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This past Monday was my first day of class at Concordia Seminary.  The past two months of test prep and paperwork have been building to this:  the start of the academic year.  Like orientation, it was a cross-cultural experience for me.  While my lectures were pretty straightforward, it was chapel service that was the biggest surprise.

After the opening music played everyone stood up, grabbed a book out of the back of the pew in front of them and began opening the pages.  Before I knew it the whole congregation was reading and chanting in response to the words of the chaplain.  They stood or sat on cue.  Prayed and sang on cue.  The whole time I was lost, flipping through pages wondering how everyone knew where to look and stealing glances over the shoulder of the person in front of me to find the page numbers.

That’s right, they were using the Lutheran Service Book.  I am ashamed to admit that this was the first time I had ever used one in a service.  I’ve seen these volumes sitting on the shelves of pastors and worship leaders and occasionally heard reverent references to the letters LSB, but I’ve never worshipped using one.  My home church has always projected the liturgy up on a screen as a way of helping newcomers follow along and to facilitate more audible congregational singing.  So using LSB was a surprise and a little disorienting.  I was so busy turning pages and trying to keep up that I really couldn’t focus on what was being said or the meaning behind it.  I’ll be honest, I walked out of chapel feeling frustrated and a bit ashamed.

Now that a few days have passed I’ve had some time to reflect on that experience a bit and here is what I’ve come away with.  On the one hand, I’m glad I had that experience.  After all, I am at a Lutheran school to learn about the rich history and heritage of our denomination as well as its theological underpinnings.  I’m proud to say that by day two of chapel I figured out LSB and could follow along with the rest.

On the other hand, though, it reminded me of just how disorienting walking into church can be for those who have never been raised in a Christian home nor come from a churched background.  The sense of isolation and disorientation that I experienced is just what so many people outside of the church feel when they walk in our doors.  It was a powerful reminder that we cannot assume that everyone is like us.  Not everyone was raised in our traditions.  Not everyone comes from the same background.  And if we want to reach those outside the church, we must give careful attention to how we articulate and explain our faith.

This goes not just for our worship services, but extends into every area of life.  Too often we Christians use a kind of religious language that is foreign to others.  We don’t pause to ask ourselves, “Am I explaining the truth in a way that it can be heard?  Am I taking into account my hearers so that my language doesn’t become a barrier to the Gospel?”  Now, I’m not suggesting that we water down the truth of the Gospel nor that we dodge the difficult subjects.  I don’t think we would be faithful to our calling as witnesses if we did.  What I AM suggesting is that we should give careful thought to how we present our faith.

The apostle Paul was an excellent example of this.  It is fascinating to compare how he talked about Christ with Jewish and Gentile audiences.  For his Jewish listeners he would take them to the Scriptures and highlight how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that we find there.  For his Gentile listeners, however, he did not start with the Scriptures.  He started with philosophy, poetry, or natural revelation (see Acts 14:8-20 & Acts 17:16-34).  He was doing what missionaries call “contextualization”.  He started with where his audience was at spiritually and presented the Gospel from there.  This is why he says,

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

(1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

Paul understood that our religious traditions and ways of speaking can, at times, be a hindrance to the work of the Gospel if they prevent people from hearing it in a way that they can understand.  Chapel was a powerful reminder of this lesson.

So, while I look forward to future chapels so that I can learn more about our tradition, I also hope that Seminary will be a time of giving careful consideration to how we might reach the next generation for Christ.  This was what was promised in our orientation last week.  This is what I hope we will pursue over the next several years.  May we learn to be all things to all people so that by every means we may save some.  To God be the glory. Amen.

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Religiously Diverse, Spiritually Hungry

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” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
~Mark 1:38 (NIV)

“The Gospel is good news – a message to be proclaimed, a truth to be taught, a word to be spoken, and a story to be told.”
~Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, Total Church

In past posts I’ve given everyone a snapshot of the historical, social, and architectural backdrop of our new town, but I have yet to give everyone a spiritual snapshot.  If I had to sum it up in one phrase it would be this:  “Religiously Diverse, Spiritually Hungry”.  When walking around University City and the Forest Park area it is not uncommon to stand in lines at the DMV with Muslims, check out library books next to Orthodox Jews, play at the park with Unitarians, or get an impromptu visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Furthermore, downtown U-City is host to a Scientology center, an Orthodox Synagogue, and a plethora of churches.  We live in a cosmopolitan town and that is reflected not only in the nationalities and ethnicities present, but also in the religious communities represented.

Now, some of my readers will say, “What a minute!  The Chicago suburbs are like that too!”  And I would say, “Yes, but with one key difference.”  What is the difference?  People here want to talk about it.  Their religious and philosophical identities are worn on their sleeves.  There is a willingness to share their spiritual stories with complete strangers and listen to the other person’s perspective.

While my this is purely anecdotal, my sense was that the Chicago suburbs are marked more by an air of hyper-civility which proclaims, “To each his own.”  Very little open dialogue around faith (or non-faith) happens and, when it does, it is often strained and awkward.  Not here.  Talking about personal backgrounds and engaging each other in conversation about faith, family, and life in general just seems to happen.  Furthermore, in each of these conversations I see a deep hunger to explore spiritual truth.

Have I mentioned that I love this city?

But there is more to this story.  As I’ve found myself getting into these kinds of conversations with my neighbors, I have noticed something else within myself.  These conversations are matched by a growing curiosity and love for those around me as well as a deepening desire to share my own faith.  While I could write this off as simply a function of a new and more open environment, I think there is more to it than that.  Over the past several weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time in Scripture and prayer.  As I have, I’ve had a growing desire to get to know the people around me, hear their stories, and share where my own life and faith intersect.

Oftentimes we think of evangelism as something that we have to work ourselves up to.  We build up all of this stress and anticipation and, when there seems to be an opening to share the Gospel, we spit it out, awkwardly change the subject, breathe a sigh of relief and hope to God that we won’t have to do that again for another couple of months.

However, my experience over the years has taught me that evangelism, at its very best, is born out of the overflow of a deep connection with God.  This relationship naturally ends up spilling over into our relationships with others as we begin to see them as God sees them and love them as he loves them.  When this happens evangelism takes place naturally.  We begin to share the Gospel not out of guilt, obligation, or with any desire to win an argument, but because we genuinely love those around us.

When we do so, we begin to reflect the priorities and passions of Jesus.  If we read the gospels carefully, what we see, over and over again, is that Jesus had a deep desire for people to know the truth about him and his Father.  At one point he even tells his disciples that the primary reason that he has come is to preach the gospel (see Mark 1:38).  Yes Jesus performs miracles.  Yes he preaches about justice and morality.  Yes he forgives and heals.  But in each of these he matches his actions with words of truth which point the people back to him and to the life that he offers them.  Our lives are meant to reflect this same passion.

But it has to start in the most foundational of places:  a growing, thriving relationship with God.  As we begin to taste and see that the LORD is good, we begin to naturally see the spiritual hunger and curiosity in those around us and respond with the words of grace:  the words of the Gospel.  That is what it means to be an evangelist.  That is what it looks like to bear the good news.

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