Thursday, September 30, 2010

Social Media & Spiritual Disciplines

THE TROUBLING SITUATION


Tweetingre-tweeting, status-updating, going viral, texting, Skyping, blogging, chatting, DMing, IMing -- it is the world of social media today (but maybe not 5 minutes from now).  It is a world that has taken over what it means to be human, to be a friend, to be present, to stay-in-touch, to follow Christ. Not, I suppose, the whole world over, but much of it.  Perhaps more that you think. Do keep in mind that I'm writing as someone who spends much of his time with immigrants, many of whom have spent the last couple decades in refugee camps.  And, I never had to teach anyone how to use Yahoo Messenger, and they turned me on to the world of text messaging.

The evolution of social media has been and is so rapid that significant changes to it are literally occurring all the time. It isn't possible to keep up. And yet, this is our world now. And as Lars Dahle points out in his excellent article "Media Messages Matter: Christ, Truth, and the Media", (a Lausanne 3 Advance Paper), "a critical and creative engagement with the plurality of media messages is an integral part of making the case for the truth of Christ in a globalized world." I agree that to ignore the media world today is tantamount to retreating from the world Christ has called us to be engaged redemptively with. But the problem is that we do not know how to engage well.


This seems to me to be especially the case when it comes to social media.  And by that, I mean just about everything: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, mobile devices that can do just about anything, blogs, and so much more (even the Lausanne Global Conversation) are all a part of this rather ambiguous world. But, we in the body of Christ simply don't know how to deal with this reality.  I became convinced of this during the past several months in my experiences with short-term missionaries that we hosted here in the field. My long-term staff had loads of frustration with volunteers who were expected to be fully engaged with their immediate surroundings that were frequently texting, Tweeting, checking their Facebook profiles, snapping and uploading photos, and more.  Blog articles and other kinds of messages were often posted online that were not always sensitive, fully accurate, kind, or wise.

Of course, I haven't been immune.  Recently, I upgraded to one of those mobile phones that can do all and be all. I find myself inundated with media as a result -- texts, tweets, emails, pics, and even phone calls.  It has become so clear to me that this is a significant issue, that I've suggested some of our mission agency's leaders that part of the summer missionary orientation be devoted exclusively to the topic of social media.

WOODLANDS CHURCH'S FACEBOOK FAST

Pastor Kerry Shook
(Woodlands Church)
So then I heard about what Woodlands Church in Houston, TX was calling for -- a national day of fasting from social media.  In the words of their pastor, Kerry Shook, "We're forgetting the amazing power of connection found in looking into someone's eyes, giving them our undivided attention, sensing their body language and being in their space . . . the transformative effect of an embrace, a handshake or a hand on someone's shoulder. As much as we want to tell ourselves otherwise, rewarding and healthy relationships take time and effort."

As I reflect on this, I recognize that there is a very important insight in this concept of fasting from social media. Namely, that the integration of spiritual discipline with our social media activity is necessary for the Christ-follower who desires to be led by the Spirit rather than overcome by the world of social media.  But the "Facebook Fast" does not go far enough.  It is an echo of my frustrated missionary colleagues who say to their younger counterparts, just turn off your phone.  It isn't a true integration of the Christ-life with our social media activity, but rather more of a separating of the two.  It may perhaps have the effect of relegating the Christ-life to a totally distinct sphere of existence. If you want to commune with Jesus or really be engaged in what He's doing in the world, you must unplug.

And I agree with the concerns.  I also agree with a friend of mine who is a rather well-known missiologist who sees in the evolution of social media a great tactic of Satan to disconnect missionaries from the immediate, physical context of their ministry and thus create all kinds of difficulties related to missionary retention, cultural adaptation, incarnation, and more.  But, I feel in my hear that unplugging isn't the answer.  This is an important historic juncture for the Church -- it's movable type, motor cars, and microchips and my call is to incarnate. To engage the world as it is because that's the ripe harvest.  Not to form a commune in Wyoming and wait for Jesus to come.

But if we are to engage the social media, we must do so with the Christ-life.  We must consider what it means to integrate spiritual disciplines with our social media activity.  And for this, I call upon (with my small, small voice that depends on your re-tweeting, commenting, posting, and otherwise sharing to gain volume) those spiritual formation heavyweights in the Church to really engage this issue with us.  I am not one of those, but I have some thoughts that I hope will get our conversation really going.  The question is:

WHAT DOES A SPIRITUALLY DISCIPLINED ENGAGEMENT OF SOCIAL MEDIA LOOK LIKE?

And, I must confess, I don't know the answer.  I've never seen it. And, as these thoughts are basically new to me today, I've never really practiced it with any intentionality.  But as the practice of spiritual disciplines (like prayer, fellowship, meditation, etc.) is about the Christ-follower moving towards a greater imitation of Christ in their own historiocultural contexts, I offer the following six reflections upon how this movement should look as it relates to social media:


1. We must move from triviality to truth (Titus 1:9-10, 3:1-9)

The lure of triviality is very strong in the social media world.  Every second, countless vain messages in every conceivable form flood our networks.  The Christ-follower must recognize such things for what they are and move away from them.  Moreover, we should strive not to add to the triviality by producing and posting even more of the same.  Truth should be a goal in our engagement with social media.  I appreciate the criterion that Lars Dahle has provided in this regard. The Truth that Christ-followers share is (1) clear and consistent, (2) corresponding with reality, and (3) possessing the power to transform lives. What will my Facebook profile look like if I move from triviality to truth?


2. We must move from narcissism to prayer and worship (Matthew 5:3, 2 Tim. 3:1-7)

Perhaps the original sin of social media is it's seemingly inherent narcissism.  Self-interest is built-in to even the names of sites like MySpace,Facebook, and YouTube.  Some have seen Twitter as the narcissistic social media tool par excellence in which people "follow" the 140-character updates of friends, celebrities or strangers who "tweet" about everything from standing in line at the coffee shop to sleeping in late.  It actually seems to sometimes transcend mere naval-gazing because through Twitter we're actually trying to get others to look at our naval with us. So much social media activity is driven by the a natural sinful desire to get others to look at us, listen to us, respond to us, pay attention to us.  The Christ-follower must move away from this and seek to use social media to shift the attention of the nations towards the only one worthy of such devotion.  The spirituality behind our social media engagement should be, "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30).

Of course, there is a challenge in the fact that this is "social" media. That is, we are talking about media that is designed to facilitation communication between people. The assumption is that people really do want to connect with me, get to know me, and otherwise utilize social media to facilitate a relationship with me.  So there is a balance to be maintained. I should be sharing my life through these means (1 Th. 2:8), but this must always remain penultimate for us.

3. We must move from lust and licentiousness to self-control (1 Th. 4:3-8)

Much has been written and said about the dangers of sexual immorality on the internet.  I won't add to that here except to remind us all that with the rapid evolution of social media comes ever-increasing availability of sexually perverse materials and opportunity for immorality.  This, of course, calls for self-control.  But, beyond that is the attitude of licentiousness that seems to permeate social media everywhere.  There is a kind of anarchy -- an antinomian spirit that dominates.  People feel free to be dishonest and abusive while commenting on a YouTube video or sending a Facebook message; others feel it is always appropriate to receive and send text messages (even while driving or during a worship service); still others ignore the possible negative consequences of what they post on their blogs or elsewhere.  Christ-followers must move towards self-control and must consider regular fasting as a means to facilitate this move.

4. We must move from greed to giving (2 Cor. 9:5-11)

Simply put, consumerism is not difficult to find in the social media world.  Many engage with the desire to make money or get stuff.  We must be careful and instead seek to utilize social media as an opportunity to exercise the spiritual discipline of giving.  As a matter of fact, social media can provide a great way to facilitate stewardship in the Global church as never before.  We must prefer this concept -- social media as a potentially great facilitator of Kingdom stewardship-- over the spirit of greed that see social media primarily as a means to get stuff and make money.


5. We must move from distractedness to intentionality and mission (John 20:21) 


6. We must move from noise and superficiality to shalom and presence (Psalm 46:10)

I want to address these last two together in part because I've been writing a long time now and I'm tired. But also because I see them as so closely related that I'm really not sure where one ends and the other begins.  The point is that social media tends to distract us (the chime of an incoming text for example), make our lives generally noisier, and gradually erode our connection to our immediate physical context.  This has a devestating impact on our ability to be still and simply rest in the presence of God.  It likewise hinders our ability to become truly incarnate and thus missional.  Ultimately, while incarnation may require the engagment of social media, it always will mean that the Christ-follower enters fully a specific, historic and physical context.  How do we move away from the noise and towards shalom and God's presence?  How do we move away from disconnect and towards incarnation and mission?

__________________________________

Okay, there you have it.  I really got to rambling today, eh?  Well, for those of you who have made it thus far, congrats!  Please do leave me your feedback.  This must be only the beginning of the conversation.  The Church in the World needs to reflect on these things now! Please take time to answer the key question, "What does a spiritually disciplined engagement of social media look like?"

FURTHER READING:

Media Messages Matter: Christ, Truth and the Media by Lars Dahle
Christians, Social Media and the Loss of Privacy by Sharon Hodde Miller

The Exegetical Method

(By the way, I'm in the slow and tedious process of moving my entire blog from one site to another.  As I do, I'm sure some broken links and lost articles are going to result.  Please be patient and do me a favor - let me know if you find any of those. As I move things over, I'm going to periodically post some "blasts from the past" - blog posts that have been particularly helpful to people from the previous blog.  Now on to today's post. Enjoy!)


The Exegetical Method

exegesis (lit. lead out) a critical interpretation of a text
Want to be more effective in mining truth from the Bible?  Here's a 6-step process that I use when I really want to go deeper into the Word of God.  I'm also going to embed some links to resources on the web that I like that can help you in your study.  Enjoy!

Step 1. Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring understanding of the passage of Scripture to your mind and heart.

Step 2. Read

Read and reread the text aloud a number of times. (For great free Bible software go to http://www.e-sword.net/)

Step 3. Observe

What do you see in this passage by asking who, what, where, when, and why questions.  Look for the author’s structure, repeated phrases/words, comparisons and contrasts, and figurative language.  Usually, I’ll just write these questions right on the page of my Bible. Another idea is to print the text out, double-spaced, on a separate piece of paper and write between the lines and in the margins. Sometimes I’ll use different color ink for each time I read through the text.

Step 4. Interpret

What do you think the author of this passage was saying to the original audience and what did they understand it to mean?  This step involves trying to answer the questions raised in the previous step in order understand what the author was saying to the audience.  That is, just go through each question you previously raised and try to answer them.  I recommend using Bible dictionaries, Greek and Hebrew tools, and Bible maps for this step.  (E-sword has all of these kinds of resources for free, go to http://www.e-sword.net/ ; Baker’s is a pretty good resource too http://www.studylight.org/dic/bed/ ; or you could try Holman http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/ .  A lot of good resources are also available at http://net.bible.org/dictionary.php .  I went ahead and spent a bit of money to purchase New Bible Dictionary)

Step 5. Apply

How does this Scripture apply to your life and mission context?  Remember that not everything that applied to the original audience will apply to you.  What are you walking away with that you can obey?  What have you learned about who God is, what He’s like, and what pleases Him? Write this stuff down!

Step 6. Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to let His word sink down deep into your mind and heart and change your life.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What we are reading right now . . .

Greetings followers, friends and web-crawlers! Today I want to bring you a very special post to encourage you to read.  At TIBM, we encourage and even require that all our staff members be active, lifetime learners.  Everyone on our team must always have something that they are doing intentionally to learn. Just recently, I asked everyone to bring with them up to three books that they were currently reading.  I thought some of you might be interested in such a list, so here it is.  The following is a list of the things we at Trinity International are reading right now:
The brief and informal reviews were all pretty positive for these books.  I can't really call them official recommendations, but I think we're all finding these books to be quite helpful in different ways.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alpha and Omega Ministries, The Christian Apologetics Ministry of James R. White

Alpha and Omega Ministries, The Christian Apologetics Ministry of James R. White

I only want to say that I love and highly recommend the ministry of James White.  Follow his blog, check out his books and debates, listen to the Dividing line.  Be blessed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Henri Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus

I've been meaning to throw up a quick blog in reference to Henri Nouwen's great little book, In the Name of Jesus. I know it isn't a new and cutting edge kind of thing, but you'll just have to get over that with me.  I don't often read books when they are hot-off-the-press.  I prefer to let them steep awhile.  Well, Nouwen's book has had plenty of time to do so.  The full title is In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership and is taken from a presentation that Nouwen gave on "Christian Leadership in the 21st Century" on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Center for Human Development in Washinton, D.C.
The book is a quick and weighty read, providing reflections on Jesus' post-resurrection encounter with Peter -- his so-called "reinstatement". Nouwen reflects on just a few phrases of Christ warning his readers against oft-overlooked temptations of leadership and challenging them to pursue the spiritual disciplines of contemplative prayer, confession and forgiveness, and theological reflection.  I've actually read this book twice -- a rarity for me -- and loved it both times.  It is the kind of book that really demands to be read and re-read again and again.  It is a call, really, to a spiritual leadership.  As Nouwen puts it,
"The central question is are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God's presence, to listen to God's voice, to look at God's beauty, to touch God's incarnate Word, and to taste fully God's infinite goodness?" (p. 42)
And . . .
"It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks, 'Do you love me?' We ask, 'Can we sit at your right hand and you left hand in your Kingdom?'" (p. 77)
So, here's a hearty thumbs up and recommendation of Henri Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus. It is an excellent careful read for any Christian leader.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The North American Bed Bug Summit

Hey everyone! I just heard that the North American Bed Bug Summit is going on right now here in the Chicago area.  I couldn't be happier to hear that such a thing exists.  Bed bugs are becoming a major problem in the U.S. today and I believe that we need to begin seeing this as an issue of social justice and compassion that the Church -- yes, the Church -- ought to take seriously.  The fact of the matter is that while the bed bugs resurgence likely didn't originate as a problem of the poor and immigrant, it is they who are most vulnerable.  Eradication is extremely expensive and this grows more difficult in older and more communal living spaces such as those often used by the poor, immigrants and refugees.  A middle class person who gets bed bugs can spend hundreds of dollars on an exterminator.  A refugee from Burma or Nepal cannot.
I for one hope that the legalization of DDT and other similar chemicals will be on the table.  I understand that there are environmental concerns with these kind of chemicals, but I am frankly much more concerned with people that I am with plants and animals.  Don't get me wrong.  I love God's creation and feel we have a critical mandate of stewardship of it.  But paramount in this must be our concern for those who are made in God's image.  The Church must muscle past our cringe factor and stand up for the poor on this issue through advocacy, education, and practical help.  In the process, we will undoubtedly get the bugs in our own homes.  That's okay.  It is called solidarity.
I want to point you to a website for more information.  It is Bed Bug Central.  Probably the best place to go for A-Z on bed bugs.

Monday, September 20, 2010

YouTube - Dr. Jeffress Responds to Dallas News Columnist

YouTube - Dr. Jeffress Responds to Dallas News Columnist

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tall Skinny Kiwi

Tall Skinny Kiwi

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ajith Fernando: Towards a Theology of Frustration & Fatigue

I'd like to set the stage today with this thought.  I know missionaries, pastors, and other Christian leaders and workers that have issues.  As a matter of fact, I have them to.  I mean to say that I've seen them crying, melting down, withering, despairing.  They get frustrated.  They feel weary.  They have tremendous anxiety.  They even feel depressed, angry, and sad.  I hear them say, "There is just something wrong with me -- I'm so messed up." And I think they are right.  They talk about leaving the mission field or ministry and I wonder if it might not just be a very good idea. After all, most of the voices I hear from the world around me seem to be saying that if you are suffering under a great deal of stress, frustration, disappointment, and tiredness -- well, then, you just aren't in a good situation.  Something has gone terribly wrong.  You must move away from such things.  And you certainly aren't in the will of God.  Enter the puzzling Paul . . .

"As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger . . . " (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

And again . . .

" . . . in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:27-28)

Now, prison and beatings and stonings are one thing. These noble forms of suffering for Christ have long-been accepted as more than legitimate -- as badges of honor for the faithful.  But what about sleepless nights?  What about anxiety and daily pressure (i.e. stress)?  What about worry and frustration (2 Corinthians 20-21, 1 Thessalonians 3:5)? What about just being tired (1 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:8)?  Somehow these seem less noble, less legitimate.  They seem things signs that we're doing something wrong.  They seem to be antithetical to the life that is filled and led by the Holy Spirit.  And yet, there's Paul, boasting.
Ajith Fernando, author and Sri Lanka's National Director of Youth for Christ, has noted this seeming conundrum and has called the Church to a new vision of "vocational fulfillment" a vision which integrates frustration, fatigue, anxiety, and suffering in general.  Writes Fernando, "The cross must be an essential element in our definition of vocational fulfillment" ("To Serve is to Suffer", 2010). In a recent interview (13 Sept. 2010) with the Lausanne Blogger Network, Fernando elaborated on this concept,

"Ministry and frustration go hand and hand. And I was very much concerned that people were interpreting frustration as a sign that this is not where God wants them to be. And because of that I felt that many people were leaving the call that they had gotten and were missing God’s best for their lives . . . what I found was that people were leaving for the wrong reasons . . . . I really felt that those of us who are trying to serve God, whether it is in vocational ministry work or in the marketplace or wherever need some sort of theology of suffering . . . of frustration—to help us to stay in the difficulties that we encounter."


A "theology of frustration"? Wow, what a concept.  Now, Ajith Fernando's Global Conversation article, "To Serve is to Suffer" is four short pages of truly rich insight.  I struggle to know what to quote here. But there was one paragraph that I just had to ask him about,

"I get the strong feeling that many in the West think struggling with tiredness from overwork is evidence of disobedience to God. My contention is that it is wrong if one gets sick from overwork through drivenness and insecurity.  But we may have to endure tiredness when we, like Paul, are servants of people."


I had to ask Ajith what he would say to a Christian worker who was struggling with tiredness, stress, anxiety, frustration, and the like.  What would he say to the one who just couldn't shake the thought that there was something wrong with him or her?  Fernando responded:

     "I think we have to suffer from tiredness out of a balanced life. Now I define balance in terms of obedience in everything -- not ‘everything in moderation’ but obedience in everything. Within a balanced life there would be a Sabbath, for example. If people don’t take a Sabbath, that is disobedience to God. So they must ensure that some of those basic things are in place. And also that there is a community that supports us and shores us. Because when we are in ministry some of the suffering that we have is unnecessary—that we could have avoided if we had gotten advice from our friends. I think that is very important.

     Now I have a group of friends who advise me on my scheduling on what I should accept, what I should reject. I don’t accept any major invitation without the approval of my group and my colleagues. I could [otherwise] unnecessarily put myself in situations that I don’t have [time for]. So that’s one side of it.

     But the other is that I think we have to remember – don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Just today I was reading Ezekiel for my devotion, and God tells Ezekiel, ‘Groan in front of the people. And wail before them.’ Now today, if a person is groaning and wailing, we would say, ‘Hey, go to a psychiatrist.’ So this idea that in the Bible we find raw life . . . [people] who get upset, who get hurt, who fight among each other, and make huge mistakes."

Fernando continues to say that we need a large view of God’s grace. That we are all “holding on to Jesus” and pressing on not because we have it all together but because of grace. This made me think of something Steve Brown says a lot, “Cheer up! You are worse that you think you are. Cheer up! God’s grace is bigger than you think it is.” Fernando concluded,

     “In other words, what I’m talking about is that we shouldn’t expect life to be all so neat. Yes, we should work on ordering our lives, but when we work with people, some of those things go away. Look at Jesus’ life, how he had to go through so much change because of the needs of people. So, what I would say is to try and find the balance between the masochist’s approach that says, ‘I have to suffer. This is normal.’ And on the other hand of thinking things must work out well or else something is wrong.”


If you've been working with people for a while in ministry, you don't need me to tell you how insightful Ajith Fernando's comments are.  I commend his paper to you and also encourage you to take time to look at the posts from other members of the Lausanne Blogger Network on our interview.  I will leave you today again with Paul who encouraged us not lose heart over what we are suffering as we serve Christ.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16)

May it be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Calling the Church to Confession and Revival

"The message of Jesus Christ cannot be proclaimed by people who have nothing to repent of." -- John Raines


Let me begin by directing all of my readers to two important places.  First, much of what I'm about to write is coming from my time of carefully and prayerfully reading through Christ Wright's critically important Cape Town 2010 Advance Paper entitled "Calling the Church Back to Humility, Integrity, and Simplicity." So many great papers have been submitted for the upcoming Lausanne Congress, but this is one that I especially hope the Global Church -- including yourself -- takes very seriously.  What Wright has done in highlighting and commenting upon thepoints in the Lausanne Covenant that express sorrow and failure may seem immensely simple, but it is nonetheless poignant and timely.  If you've not had a chance to read Wright's paper, I sincerely recommend pausing at this point in my article and doing so.

The second and (Wright would agree) more important place to point you to today is the Lausanne Covenant itself.  If you are not familiar with this, the Lausanne Covenant is a masterful work of the global Church created through the first Lausanne Congress in 1974.  The covenant has now become one of the most influential documents in modern Christianity. The Covenant is more than a statement of faith, it is a commitment (hence, "covenant") to a missional course of life. I and Trinity International Baptist Mission commend to you the Lausanne Covenant.  Our church and mission team has spent the past several months studying the covenant and have now officially adopted it, incorporating it into our church constitution.  I wish more churches and ministries would do the same.  It has been especially helpful to use John Stott's study guide of the Covenant, The Lord We Love, to guide our study.

What I offer to you today is perhaps even more simple than Chris Wright's paper.  I can only hope that it is somewhat as helpful. As I read through Wright's paper, I found myself writing down notes in my journal -- questions really -- related to each point of failure, sorrow, and shame that he was mentioning.  One thing led to another and I ended up with a list of self-examination questions.  My second step was to seek out pertinent Scripture verses and passages for each question.  Having done that, I took the time to sit before the Lord, reading and reflecting on the Scripture and confessing my sin.  The whole experience was quite important for me.  So much so that I've shared the list of questions and Bible verses with our church family encouraging them to do the same.  And now, I want to share this with you.

The reason is simple, there is a relationship between confession and revival.  They tend to lead to each other.  As Wright already referenced several Scriptural examples of this in his paper (specifically Deuteronomy 29-31, Joshua 23-24, 2 Kings 22-23, and Nehemiah 8-10), I'll cite a different kind of example. Take a look at the first six minutes or so of this interview with Ray and Anne Ortlund as they recount their experience of what happened one cold week at Wheaton College in 1970.





Note the connection between confession and revival, revival and confession.  It got me wondering.  God has done great things through such revivals in the past, but He's never before gathered such a group of leaders as what will come to Cape Town next month.  More than 4,000 of the best leaders the global Church has, from 200 nations.  What if God did more than inspire and enlighten our minds?  What if He started a revival among us?  What if?

Well, it is in that spirit that I offer you the following list of questions and Scriptures.  My encouragement to you all is that you will take the time to sit before the Lord (whether you are actually going to Cape Town or participating from afar) and ask yourself each of these.  Prayerfully read the accompanying  Bible verses as well.  Confess your sins and failures.  Let God cleanse you and revive us.  May He do so on a global scale.

Questions for Self-Examination & Confession
  1. How have we become conformed to the world? (Romans 12:2)
  2. How have we withdrawn from the world? (John 17:15-18)
  3. How have we concealed the cost of discipleship? (Matthew 10:38)
  4. How have we betrayed the gospel? (Galatians 1:6-9)
  5. How have we lacked a living faith? (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
  6. How have we lacked genuine love for people? (Romans 13:8)
  7. How have we lacked scrupulous honesty? (Ephesians 4:25)
  8. How have we identified the Church with specific cultures, political groups, or ideologies? (Matthew 6:33, Isaiah 55:9)
  9. How have we failed to respond to poverty? (Isaiah 61:1-3)
  10. How have we failed to respond to injustice? (Isaiah 61:1-3)
  11. How have we failed to adopt a simple lifestyle? (Matthew 6:19-21)
  12. How have we pursued church growth at the expense of church depth? (Colossians 1:28-29)
  13. How have we led as dominators rather than as servants? (Mark 10:42-45)
  14. How have we been deceptive about the Bible and gospel? (Romans 16:18)
Questions for Prayer, Discernment, and Obedience (following Chris Wright's "three key challenges" mentioned in his paper)
  1. How do we move from the idol of power to humility?
  2. How do we move from the idol of success to integrity?
  3. How do we move from the idol of greed to simplicity?
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."  (1 John 1:1-2:2)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Postmodern Pluralists: The Intentional & Unintentional

Today, I am writing in response to an important paper submitted by Carver T. Yu for the 3rd Lausanne Congress coming up in just about a month.  Yu's paper is entitled "Truth Matters, Stand Up for Truth" speaks to one of the major issues facing the global Church today -- how do we make a case for the truth of Christ in the pluralistic and globalized world of today? I highly recommend that you go and check out Yu's paper at the Lausanne Global Conversation right now!

Now, as I read the paper myself, two very different kinds of people came to mind. Both of whom may be thought of as devotees of the postmodern, pluralistic worldview that Carver Yu describes in his paper.  A worldview in which truth is proclaimed as "a cultural construction valid only for the culture that constructs it" and having no bearing on anyone else. This view sees all truths as relative to each other and presumes that the individual person is the "ultimate ground of reality. . . the postmodern pluralist believes that each and every individual creates her own logic and makes her own rules in constructing her own world of reality and virtue." Volker Roggenkamp illustrates this worldview as something like a child who first discovers the game of soccer. In the beginning, the child just kicks the ball anywhere and shouts, "Goal!" The door is a goal, the fence, the wall, the tree, the family dog, etc.  As the child matures, he or she realizes that in truth a goal isn't just whatever someone says it is, but that there are universal rules and standards that make the sport meaningful, enjoyable, and sustainable.  The postmodern pluralist wants to engage life in the same way a small child plays soccer.

The two people that come to mind for me as I think about this worldview are two main types of people who make up the global mission field of postmodern pluralists.Thus, those of us who are concerned about world evangelization, must carefully consider who these people are and how we can proclaim Christ to them.
The first is embodied by a sociology professor I once had. Highly educated, militantly atheistic, openly and publicly antagonistic to the Christian faith – a conscious, intentional proponent of this worldview – he publishes books and articles about it, blogs it, tweets it, teaches it, etc. The second however, is embodied in an individual that I know who has recently left his wife for another woman. When confronted as to the moral aberrancy of his conduct, though not consciously a postmodernist, he responded in a way that typifies the worldview. Phrases like, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but it is my business”; “I have to follow my heart”; and “If you don’t like my life then get out of it” are met by platitudes from like-minded peers such as “Don’t worry about what anyone else says”; “Be true to yourself”; and the like. This second individual is unintentional, unversed in postmodern theory, and often unable to articulate the rationale behind his values and beliefs.

I want to state simply that the Church must seek to answer both types of people. From personal experience, I would testify that what we find effective with the first type will not often be so fruitful with the second.  I'll admit, I have more questions than answers on confronting these two types of postmodern pluralists.  But here is where I begin:

First, I’d like to see the Global Church make an effort to identify, affirm, and meaningfully support those among us who are the truly great apologists of our day. Then to call on them to redouble their efforts to (1) give public and compelling defenses of the faith that are of irreproachable soundness and quality and (2) equip the whole Church to effectively join the battle for truth in our day.

Second, we must have a related but nevertheless distinct strategy to win the hearts and minds of the masses of unintentional postmodern pluralists who are especially plentiful in Western society today. Who is good at this? Who has thought through this particular issue that can share with the rest of us? We need to hear from such leaders. If you know someone with a track record of effectively engaging what I'm calling the unintentional postmodern pluralists, please direct them to this post and ask them to leave some feedback.  In response to my question on this issue of the second group, Carver Yu commented: "This is perhaps more urgent. The mass of unintentional or unthinking pluralists are expanding. A new breed of evangelists has to be nurtured to understand the heart and mind of this group. How do we do it? I need help here."


Okay, then. So, my excellent readers. Please do help us out on this issue. I look forward to hearing from you.

Answering Muslims: Burqa Banned in France

Answering Muslims: Burqa Banned in France

Friday, September 10, 2010

To Burn or Turn & Other Thoughts on Evangelism

Today will, I believe, be a truly rambling edition of "The Ramblings."  I want to share some thoughts today about evangelism in the 21st century.  That is, what does it mean for us to be a faithful witness to the Lord Jesus Christ in our world today.  As I write this (9/10/2010 at 5:54PM CST), the very latest news out of Gainesville, Florida is that Terry Jones has indefinitely suspended his planned "Burn the Qu'ran Day" event.  That's a relief.  Of course, the news on Jones has been changing pretty quickly, so I'm not holding my breath.
But, I think there is in this whole, ridiculous affair an important question about evangelism.  In the mind of Jones, burning the Qu'ran was a necessary step in proclaiming the truth about Jesus in our world today.  In his own words, "Why is there always room for discussion and discussion and discussion . . . why is there not sooner or later a time when we climb upon the mountain and we tear the altar down?"  Dr. James White, on the contrary recommends an approach that is drastically different. He believes that mature Christians should actually read and study carefully the Qu'ran in order to demonstrate to Muslims why it is not truly the word of God.  So the question with regards to the Qu'ran is, do we burn or turn -- the pages that is.  Jones and White recently had this brief exchange on the Aramaic Broadcasting Network:



I think the point made by David Wood at the end of this clip is quite compelling. Islam depends on the existence of uneducated and immature Christians who know neither the sound teachings of the Bible nor the actual teachings of Islam in order to spread.  Let me add to this a great insight made by Jochen Katz on the subject:

"Ideas cannot be fought by burning the books that contain them. Ideas and ideologies have to be fought by putting sound arguments against them. They can only be overcome by exposing their errors and/or immorality."

I commend to you the entire Katz article, "Cancel the 'Burn a Qur'an' Day! When Irresponsibility Meets Irrationality". It is well-reasoned and well-written.  At the end of the day, I come down well on the "turn" rather than the "burn" side of this debate.

Now, if you are looking for a bit more positive, I want to commend to you another article.  This is one of the advance papers for the 3rd Lausanne Congress and entitled "A Fresh Approach to Witness for the 21st Century: A Global Perspective."  It has been submitted by Rebecca Manley Pippert and Bishop Benjamin A. Kwashi, two of the truly great evangelistic leaders of the Church today.  The article does a great job of illustrating the need for the Church to have a renewed vision from the Lord about sharing the gospel.  The authors point out that "less than 2% of Europeans call themselves Evangelical Christians" and less than 5% of Australians attend church.  They articulate concern over the "prosperity gospel" that is often being proclaimed in Africa and much more.  The following video is meant to provide an introduction to the problem of "prosperity preaching" in Africa:
Pippert and Kwashi also make some great points about contextualization such as, "There is no such thing as a Christian culture or civilization." The provide some snapshots of evangelism issues from different parts of the world and ask compelling questions such as:
  • How do we communicate the absolute uniqueness of Christ in a country where there are many faiths or as in India, where there are literally thousands of gods and goddesses to worship?
  • How do we respectfully share our faith when our family is of another faith and where there is deep misunderstanding and prejudice concerning Christianity?
  • How do we present Christ to someone who finds the claims of truth offensive?
  • And more.
Most important for me where the comments made about confidence.  That followers of Christ must become confident that the gospel is not only for us but for the whole world.  That we must become confident in the fact that there is no greater power in the world than the power of the Holy Spirit.  That we must become confident in the power of the gospel message itself.

So, do take time to read the Pippert and Kwashi paper. And, I would love to hear from you any comments, questions, or views that you'd like to share on the issue of evangelism in the 21st century.

Mahamantra

Here's a very simple Christ-centered Mantra -- the first I learned.
Trinity International Baptist Mission

Cancel the "Burn a Qur'an" Day!

Excellent article:

Cancel the "Burn a Qur'an" Day!

Answering Muslims: Gospelophobia Spreads from Dearborn to Kansas

Answering Muslims: Gospelophobia Spreads from Dearborn to Kansas

Thursday, September 9, 2010

YouTube - The Original Burn the Quran Day

YouTube - The Original Burn the Quran Day