Habits of Evangelistic Christians

From Kevin DeYoung’s blog:

Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway, argues that the secret to being an evangelistic church “is really no secret at all. Ultimately evangelistic churches see more persons become Christians through the passionate efforts of highly evangelistic Christians.”

And what characterizes these highly evangelistic Christians? Read on (bold type added for clarity).

1. They are people of prayer. They realize that only God can convict and convert, and they are totally dependent upon Him in prayer. Most of the highly evangelistic Christians spend at least an hour in prayer each day.

2. They have a theology that compels them to evangelize. They believe in the urgency of the gospel message. They believe that Christ is the only way of salvation. They believe that anyone without Christ is doomed for a literal hell. Continue reading Habits of Evangelistic Christians

Guitar Hero & Open Heart Surgery

Jeremy Berg:

A repost from my youth pastor days. God bless all you youth workers in the trenches. -JB

Originally posted on Daily Illumination:

“I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people and I will be their God” (Ezek 11:19-20). 

Many still view youth ministry as a second-class calling, a holding tank for immature, video-playing adults who couldn’t quite make it in “real ministry” who end up playing dodgeball and Guitar Hero through their 20s and eventually go on to more respectable work in their 30s or maybe even grow up into “real” pastors with a more wounded-heart1respectable salary. 

Now I am a bit biased, or course, but I personally think youth pastors have much more in common with heart surgeons than community recreation directors.  Every Wednesday night dozens of fragile, broken, confused, hurting teenagers come to our gatherings, hungry for meaning, purpose, self-worth, love, acceptance and a word of hope.  In the…

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Worship at the Altar of Self

Here’s a repost from 2009. Enjoy! -JB

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.” -Jesus

As fall stares tired youth pastors in the face, weary from summer trips and fun-in-the-sun adventures, we try to take a deep breath, grab a mini vacation before ramping up for another year of bringing the good news of Jesus and the realities of the Kingdom of God to our students. What keeps me going and fuels my ministry attempts is plain and simple: I really believe truth matters, eternal life is at stake and the world bombards our teens (and all of us) with many messages that lead us in the opposite direction of the “abundant life” found in a right relationship with the true and living Creator God. 

I am preparing to teach out of Paul’s Letter to the Romans this fall.  I will be focusing on some of the similarities between the ancient culture of pagan Rome that Paul is confronting with the message of the gospel and our own 21st century world growing rapidly more pagan and religiously pluralistic.

The gospel confronts all rival truth claims. The gospel unmasks all attempts to create our own religion in our own image. But the gospel is being softened and twisted by the dominant philosophies of the day. Believers and unbelievers alike have been drinking deep from the waters of modernity and postmodernity. We are swimming in their ideals and interpreting the world through their ideas. Like the proverbial fish in the aquarium, we are so immersed in the water that we don’t see it — but rather we see everything else through it.

photo-scot_mcknightScot McKnight had a piece in Our Of Ur blog recently called “Self in a Castle: How Modernity and Postmodernity Have Conspired to Warp the Current Generation.” He describes one deep influence of our current postmodern landscape. He speaks of the toxicity of self-serving (and we might say “self-enslaving”) individualism and the elevation of self as the final authority on personal faith and belief. As you read this lengthy excerpt join with me in asking yourself how we (especially youth pastors) can speak the truth of the gospel in love to students who themselves are the most passionate believers (though often unknowingly) of this new kind of self-made faith in the gods of our own culturally-shaped images.   Continue reading Worship at the Altar of Self

Community: When ‘Togetherness’ Isn’t Enough

The human ego is a sly and persistent bugger. Our bent toward self-centeredness is an ever-present menace in times of well-intended Christian living. You never know when and where the individual ego, under the strong influence of the Enemy, will take and distort an otherwise good, God made gift. The Enemy will often lead our dry, thirsty souls to water. But then instead of drinking our fill we end up splashing around and skipping rocks, leaving more parched and thirsty than when we arrived.

This is certainly the case with some forms of “community” we are finding within the life of the church. Our culture of fast-paced, career-driven, materialistic lifestyles has left many people with a great sense of emptiness and a longing for connection and belonging. When we spend our waking hours as cogs in the machinery of various businesses, corporations and organizations, many begin to yearn for a more soul-enriching purpose and to be placed within a different story and community.

More Meaning than The Quest for the American Dream

The church offers such a place. The church stands at the busy intersections of our daily jobs and family lives, and invites the weary soul to become part of a community with a purpose—a deeper, more satisfying purpose than the world offers. The church tells another story that gives our lives more meaning than the quest for the American dream.

However, some of the community we experience within church circles still fails to rescue us from the individualistic, self-centered orientation of the world. All too often we simply bring the worldliness and “fleshly” mindset into our Christian community gatherings and never see God’s gospel and Kingdom reality radically transform us into new people filled with new perspective, values and commitments reshaped around the Christian story and simple obedience to the Way of Jesus.

In their bold, prophetic book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon offer a sharp and timely warning to Christians to beware of a pseudo-community that can offer us a form of “togetherness” that our lonely hearts crave but nevertheless leads us no closer to Christ. If we’re not careful and vigilant, all kinds of so-called Christian communities — Bible studies, book studies, small groups, youth groups, house fellowships — while good intentioned nevertheless are built upon and centered around all the wrong things. In their words: Continue reading Community: When ‘Togetherness’ Isn’t Enough

LIFE VERSES 6: Romans 8:11

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In this series I am sharing some of the passages of the Bible that have most impacted my own life. We call them Life Verses.  

I was 21 years old. I was in the honeymoon period of my newfound faith. I can still remember how exciting it was reading my new Study Bible back then. Everything was new. I had highlighter in hand. Underlining relevant passages. Pondering remarkable truths.

I get emotional pulling out that old Bible from back then, and remembering the moment I first underlined this or that passage. God was speaking to me. I was reading His love letters and falling deeper in love with my Savior.

Over time, the longer you are a Christian, the more familiar the Bible becomes. This is a double edge sword. While familiarity with God’s truth is certainly a wonderful thing, it does come with one drawback: overfamiliarity. Dallas Willard warns us of the problem when certain biblical truths become too familiar. “The major problem,” says Willard, “is precisely over-familiarity. Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity, and then contempt.”

Contempt is a pretty strong word. Maybe he overstated his case a bit. But I am convinced that too many believers are carrying around a small paper bag of half-believed, inch-deep Christian cliches they are reaching for to navigate life and faith. Many of us are content to splash around in the kitty pool of faith rather than plumbing the depths of this Christian life and the life-transforming power available to us. We give lip-service to many Christian truths but don’t truly let them shape and guide our actually lives and decisions.

But then there are those moments. Epiphanies. Ahas!

Sometimes God breaks through and gets our full attention. Sometimes the coin drops into the slot and we finally truly get it. There are those rare moments when we’re taken up onto the mountain and get a glimpse of Jesus all aglow. We get a passing glance of God’s backside as his glory passes by. Every once in a while we might hear God say to us what he said to peter, “Blessed are you! Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven” (Matt. 16:17).

Romans 8:11 was one of those illuminating mountain top revelations that took my breath away. Continue reading LIFE VERSES 6: Romans 8:11

Q&A – What about those who’ve never heard the gospel?

Question: What about the people who were born in the deepest jungles or in some rural African village? They never heard of Jesus, and no one has ever shared with them the “way to salvation” through Jesus Christ. Will they spend eternity in Hell for not believing in something they never heard about?

Answer: There are a few different positions held by Christians on this issue. I will mention just two. Continue reading Q&A – What about those who’ve never heard the gospel?

BOOK REVIEW: Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification

Enjoy a book review of Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification edited by Donald Alexander.  The 5 representative views include the Lutheran, Wesleyan, Reformed, Pentecostal and Contemplative traditions.

SUMMARY OF VIEWS

I. Lutheran View. Gerhard O. Forde emphasizes the centrality of Christ’s righteousness as imputed to the believer for their justification.  Sanctification is not something distinct and subsequent to justification.  He warns against the notion that ‘justification is God’s part, while sanctification is our part’.  No; instead, he defines sanctification as merely “the art of getting used to justification” (13).  The believer must simply accept the unconditional grace of God in Jesus Christ.  “Because Jesus died and rose, therefore God here and now declares you just for Jesus’ sake (not even for your sake, but for Jesus’ sake)” (18-19).  For Forde, the good news of Christ is that we are freed from living a life under the Law, or in a state of conditionality. The greatest temptation is to fall back into a life of conditionality, or Law, by which we try to achieve righteousness by our own efforts.  Thus, Forde is critical of all approaches to sanctification that stress any human initiative and effort towards holiness.  Forde asks, “Why work at becoming just if you are already declared to be so” (24)?    Forde stresses the tension of being simultaneously just and sinner.  As far as progress in sanctification goes, there is only “growth in coming to be captivated more and more…by the totality, the unconditionality of the grace of God” (27). Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification

Why the A.D. Series is ‘Must See TV’

ad-bible-continuesAs a Bible geek, I’m also a Bible movie geek. Movies have the power to bring written story to life in living color. In a visual culture this is an especially important medium for introducing people to the story and claims of the Bible.

So, I’m definitely hoping Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s latest work A.D. The Bible Continues — the sequel to their 2013 success The Bible — will be widely viewed and well received by the masses if not the critics. Now, after two episodes I’ve already read some typical Hollywood pop-culture entertainment reviews. They are focused on the casting, acting, screenwriting, storytelling, and other typical measures of good art.

As one random example, take an Entertainment Weekly review by Jeff Jensen:

Interesting in theory. But A.D. is one more piece of Christian pop that’s poor in creative spirit and poorly served by true-believer passion. The production is chintzy, the acting is too broad or too earnest. The writing dotes on emotions and lacks sophistication. Superficial characterizations abound. The risen Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) is so soft, so beatifically delicate, he might blow apart with a sneeze. “It’s time we shut this story down!” thunders Pilate at one point. A.D. is more proof that it’s time for Christians to tell their stories with more artistry.

Regardless of one’s evaluation of “creative spirit” and production value, I hope viewers and reviewers will also enjoy pondering the historical events and claims that stand behind it. Here’s some reasons I think this series is unique and important to take seriously — for believing Christians and your average unbelieving or skeptical TV viewer. Continue reading Why the A.D. Series is ‘Must See TV’

Church Under a Bowl

Reposted from April 2011. -JB

In my experience, the church has tended to adopt a “come to us” posture toward a lost and hurting world.  We prefer the “light house” image of church where the church is a sanctuary that houses the light of the gospel.  Our mission then becomes inviting others to “come to church” to encounter the light.  There is nothing wrong with this approach….but is it the most biblical image?  Is is the most effective approach to reaching people in our culture?

For both biblical and cultural reasons, I believe the church in post-Christian America needs to exchange the “light house” image for the image of a rescue boat. Jesus invites us “into the boat” (Mk 4:35) to become “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19) to “go out and make disciples” (Matt 28) by engaging lost people “in the marketplace daily” (Acts 17:17).  In a culture that is receptive to spirituality and Jesus, but largely disinterested or even turned off by “church”, we cannot wait for lost people to come to the church.  The church — Jesus’ followers — must go to them.

I was reading a well-known statement of Jesus this week that took on fresh meaning as I read in light of these observations above and the vision of MainStreet Covenant Church we’re forming in Mound, MN.   In Matt 5:14-16 Jesus says,

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

In light of my observations above about the church exchanging a “come to us” approach to a “go out” approach, Jesus’ words seem to offer a similar challenge to the church today.  I offer the following insights/challenges from Jesus’ words words: Continue reading Church Under a Bowl

Wedding Parable of the Grandfather Clock

Here’s a parable I wrote for a wedding homily. -JB

Once there was a newly wed couple who only weeks after their wedding day inherited their grandfather’s beautiful old house in the country. Overflowing joy filled the old house on the day they moved in to begin their new life together. To their great surprise, they discovered in the attic left a magnificent hand carved old grandfather clock of enormous value and beauty. They were certain that this clock was to be a treasure they would cherish together forever.

What they did not yet realize was that this grandfather clock was a very complex machine comprised of endless knobs and switches and levers and other finely tuned mechanisms that all needed to be in working order for the clock to perform as designed.

It wasn’t more than a couple weeks until they were rudely awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of uncontrollable gonging and clanging and ringing. The newly weds grow impatient with the situation, began yelling and screaming, and pushing every button and pulling every lever trying anything to get the clock to be quiet and work properly.  Eventually the noise stopped and all was calm again.

After a few similar episodes with the malfunctioning clock, the newlyweds asked grandma if she could help figure the old grandfather clock out. “Oh, yes,” grandma answered, “The original instruction manual for the clock is hidden inside the back of the clock and will help you get it working properly.” Continue reading Wedding Parable of the Grandfather Clock

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life.

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