Thursday, March 31, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: The Theory of Christianity

Several years ago I became interested in evolution. I had a feeling I needed to be able to understand and explain the science behind the theory. The more I read about evolution and the more I challenged some of the assumptions of evolutions at an online discussion forum, the more I realized many of the claims made by Darwinian evolutionists were based on faith more than actual science.

Something more interesting than what I discovered about evolution happened, though. By being critical of the claims of evolution, I also started to realize that there are many claims made by Christians and Christian Pastors that are based more on wishful thinking than is actually supported by the evidence.

Paul McHugh writes in the weekly Standard an interesting article called Teaching Darwin. Mr. McHugh does a very good job of describing the controversy behind the science and assumptions of evolution. He concludes his piece with this paragraph:

“Scientists as they engage in dialogue with others should abhor attempts to close off the conversation by excessive claims for any privileged access to truth. Scientists should tell what they actually know and how they know it, as distinct from what they believe and are trying to advance. If all of us, scientists and non-scientists alike, accepted that guiding principle, the 80-year history of attempts to use law to stifle the teaching of science--stretching as it does from the courtrooms of Dayton, Tennessee, to those of Cobb County, Georgia--could perhaps finally be brought to a close.”

I’m not sure the controversy regarding evolution will ever end, at least not in my lifetime. However, I do think if we replace the word “Scientists” with “Christians” in the above paragraph, believers would have a much better chance of fulfilling the great commission. We should be diligently presenting and arguing the facts. However, when we present theory as fact, we are doing more damage than good to our cause.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dear David: Voting Advice

Rob Asghar in this weeks Ashland Daily Tidings makes some very good points about how public opinion is affecting politics. Here is how he ends his piece:

"Illiberal democracy was Zakaria's term for democracy run amok, a public that was more interested in its own whims than in what might be best, a public that has to be restrained through bills of rights and constitutional protections.

Are you and I, Joe and Jane Sixpack, fit to overthrow tyrants? More often than not, yes. Are we able to judge which wine has the finest topnotes? More often than not, no. Can we judge which opera singer is the most skilled? Nope. Do we understand the complexities of a euthanasia case as well as professional judges trained in the nuances of the constitution? No chance in hell.

The first step toward making an illiberal democracy liberal again is to encourage humility on the part of its bosses: the general public. It needs to stop taking its pulse so constantly. It needs to begin to place at least a small amount of trust in its designated experts - judges, wine critics, the whole snobby lot of them - and stop believing that majority opinion is the only measure of decency or success. "

I agree with Rob that as a society we are placing way too much emphasis on quick polls. We should be placing more emphasis on reaching the right solution which may or may not include a public consensus. Many matters, such as abortion, have been complicated by the changing tides of public opinion.

There is no quick fix for this manifestation of mob rule, but there is a long term solution that will reduce the problems associated with knee-jerk legislation and arrogant judges. The only way to have better government in the United States is to have better legislators and the only way to have better legislators is for us to reconsider the way we, as individuals, decide who gets our vote.

As long as we continue to vote for politicians based on where they stand on the issues, we will continue to get legislation that is based on public opinion and polls. In America we want leaders, but we elect followers.

Maybe if we focus less on where a candidate stands on the issues and if we focus more on a candidate’s character, we will start to get political leaders who are not as easily swayed by uninformed public opinion. Maybe if we start listening for how much a candidate knows and if we start listening for how much a candidate is willing to criticize their own party, we will start to get leaders who aren’t as easily swayed by the winds of political change.

Maybe if we started voting for the best person and if we started making candidates earn our votes with their exemplary character instead of their campaign promises, we will start to get leaders who can withstand the hot wind of public opinion, and do what is in the best interest of our country, not what is in the best interest of their political career.

Monday, March 28, 2005

My 2 Cents: The Lagging Public

One of my observations from serving on several juries in criminal cases is that jurists will often make statements that aren’t related to the charges or the facts in the case being decided. I’ve heard many jurists make a comment similar to this, “If I were Joe Suspect, there is no way I would have done “------.“ Others have made statements like this, “I can tell Mary Witness is lying because I never would have done what she said she did.” All of us go through life everyday witnessing others make decisions and take actions that are completely different than what we would do, but for some reason, when people serve on a jury, they filter the evidence based on what they would or wouldn’t do in a similar situation.

I’m convinced that the public opinion regarding the fate of Terri Schiavo is being formed based on this type of jurist mentality and it is being affirmed by the shallowness of the mainstream media. The public has not had time to digest all of the relevant facts regarding Terri’s case. Therefore, the public is mostly responding to whether or not individually they would want to be kept alive in a bed with a feeding tube for fifteen years. However, I’ve also noticed there is quite a breadth of support for saving her life. There are many politicians, leaders, and thinkers, who I normally would not agree with who have come out in support of saving Terri’s life or at least reviewing all of the facts before allowing her to be starved to death.

I feel very sad for Terri and her family. However, at the same time, I am very encouraged by all that has happened as a result of her case becoming public. I am also very hopeful that as a society we will start to get matters regarding the sanctity of life, and matters regarding the obligations of legal guardians, right more often than we get these matters wrong.

For the first time in a very long time, some politicians got out ahead of public opinion. This could be a sign of a new era of leaders being willing to lead. Families are now having conversations about their own wishes regarding life. Matters of life and death are being seriously discussed.

It may take a few decades, but as people and families grapple with the decisions to sustain life through medical advances, more and more people will choose life, and more and more people will recover, and at some point the depth of opinion will match the breadth of opinion to error on the side of life. I am almost certain that as public opinion in America matures, Terri’s death will result in many more people being saved.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

My girls with the Long Beach Pyramid in the background. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Social Contract?

Jude Blanchette on Social Security on National Review Online:

"I would like to reflect for a moment on exactly what he thinks we have to gain and lose from keeping the current system as is.

The first thing we gain is a legal dependent - our grandparents. Of course, it's not called dependency; rather, Social Security represents a "social contract between the ages." Like most social contracts, however, it's neither social (government coercion rarely is), nor is it a contract (I don't remember signing it). Instead, Social Security is little more than glorified income redistribution. The young pay the old and hope that someday there are enough youngsters to do the same for them. Ethical, it's not. What is just about one human being coerced to subsidize another, I don't know, but certainly there is something even more unsettling about the younger (and therefore relatively poorer) subsidizing the older (richer) to take Carnival cruises. (According to Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson, 20 percent of senior citizens do.) "

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

My 2 Cents: Living Will

If I have to live in pain or by using artificial means for an extra 10, 20, 30, 40, 50…100 years, please let me live. I have eternity to spend in heaven. Any amount of pain and suffering, regardless of the severity or length, will be insignificant compared to the joy of eternity.

If my family and friends are not able, or are unwilling, to pay for the methods required to keep me alive, please let me die. I have eternity to spend in heaven. Any extra years spent on earth will be insignificant compared to eternity.

Please do not ever use a penny of tax payer dollars to keep me alive through any artificial means. It is not morally right to force others pay for my medical care. After all, heaven, not earth, is my home.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Family Values?

“Anything worth doing is worth doing right!”

“Anything worth having is worth working for!”

Recordings of my father’s admonishments have replayed in my mind so many times that I long ago quit questioning the validity of his warnings and have made them a part of my very being. Everything that I consider worth my time gets my complete effort. Everything that gets my complete effort is done as well as I can do it. “Good enough” is not good enough unless I can’t do any better. Everything that has value to me is something I planned and something I achieved. Once acquired, I spend as much time maintaining my things as I spent getting them. Giving my best is who I am.

I didn’t like my father very much when he was teaching me to be an adult. Life as a child would have been so much easier for me if he would have allowed me to give less than my best effort. Life as a child would have been so much more enjoyable if I didn’t have to earn the things I received. Completely finishing a project is easier for me as an adult than leaving a task undone. As and adult, it is more enjoyable for me to earn a reward than it is for me to enjoy a gift.

My two little girls are hearing most of my father’s advice and even more from me. They have both responded by being exceptional at their school work and almost every other activity. As their father, I am very proud to see them give so much effort and achieve such good results. However, also as their father, for the first time in many years I am starting to question the wisdom of the values I am passing on to them.

I don’t want my girls to grow into adults who place more value on completing a project than they do on the people working on the project. I don’t want my girls to grow into adults who take so much pride in their own achievement that they can’t feel good about aspects of life that have nothing to do with achievement. I don’t want my girls to learn any values from me that get in the way of the values that are important to God.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Our own conflicting values

Each of us is driven by what we consider valuable. Most of our values aren’t really good values or bad values; they are just OUR values. Some of us want to appear successful, while others want to be successful. Some of us want to appear wealthy, while others want to be wealthy. Some of us want lots of friends, while others want fewer friends. Some of us prefer work to leisure, only taking time off to rest. Others prefer leisure to work, only working to pay for more leisure.

Conflicting values often prevent us from extreme behavior. The desire to look successful is tempered by the desire to be responsible in most people who want to look successful. The desire to acquire wealth is tempered by the desire to provide for a family, or to spend earnings on other things, in most people who want to acquire wealth. The desire for leisure is tempered by the need to work in most people who desire leisure. The list of conflicting values that protect us from extremes is almost endless.

There are some people who are so focused on one value that they become a sociopath. Some people who focus only on acquiring wealth end up cheating and stealing and taking advantage of others in order to acquire the most wealth. Some people who focus only on leisure end up cheating and stealing and taking advantage of others in order to avoid work. Some people who focus only on work end up neglecting their family. It’s clear that conflicting values protect us from ourselves and also protect others from us.

Can any one person have too many good values? More next week…

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Tim Chambers at DSG

Tim Chambers has started a series of guest columns at Dime Store Guru today with a piece titled: The Greatest -- and the Most Good - Story Ever Told. His first column has really caught my interest. I can't wait to find out what else he has to say about evangelism.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Boot Camp

Dear Lord, will you do to me today and everyday what needs to be done in order to make me the man you want me to be?

Not everyone recruited to be a Marine becomes a Marine. Some of those recruits who want the glory are not willing to pay the price. Nobody is born to be a Marine. Even the best of the best must die to their need for comfort, and die to their need to go it alone, in order to become a Marine. Quite often, the High School football star washes out while the High School misfit finds a way to endure through the training in order to get to the end of boot camp and become a Marine.

Marriage is a boot camp for the Kingdom of Heaven. Most everyone wants the bliss of a good marriage, but not everyone is willing to pay the price. Committing to another person of the opposite sex for the rest of our lives would be so much easier if the commitment wasn’t to a person of the opposite sex. Raising children to be responsible adults and mature Christians would be so much easier if our children were not our own offspring and so much like ourselves.

We may have a hormone induced attraction to the opposite sex, but we have nothing but our will and our values to sustain us during the times we desire more comfort, more self, and less commitment. Rarely do second, third, or fourth marriages work any better than first marriages. The ex-married tend to blame their partner instead of the institution; when it is really the institution more than the partner that makes marriage difficult. Each partner must die to themselves in order to become the person God wants them to be. Dieing to ourselves is much easier when our partner has something to offer in return, but dieing to ourselves is much more important when our partner is irritating and difficult and has nothing to offer in return.

My children have been a mirror into my heart and my soul. They have allowed me to see myself as others see me and it’s not always pretty. Since my girls exhibit some of my behavior, I can now see how my temper and focus, and my drive for perfection, that I have always considered positive attributes also have a very dark side and are a cause of difficulty in my marriage and my other relationships.

I probably still have a long way to go before my boot camp ends, but I am committed to endure until the end and become the man God wants me to be in HIS Kingdom.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: The Parable of the Lazy Farmer

In the “Parable of the Sower”, Jesus describes how a farmer scattered some seed. Some of the seed fell along a path, some of the seed fell on rocky soil, some of the seed fell among thorns, and finally, some of the seed fell in good soil. The seed that fell on the path was trampled and eaten by birds, the seed that fell on rocky soil died quickly because of a lack of moisture, and the seed that grew along with the thorns was choked; only the seed that fell on the good soil yielded a crop much more than what was sowed.

After being questioned about the meaning of the parable by his disciples, Jesus explained how the seed was his words and the different descriptions of the types of soil were those who were listening to his words. He told them: the seed that fell on the path were those who hear his word but never believe; the seed that fell on rocky soil were those who believe him at first, but their belief doesn’t last; the seed that fell among the thorns were those who believe, but do not mature; and the seed that fell on good soil were those who believe what he taught, retain his teachings, and then through perseverance, produce other disciples.

Clearly, Jesus meant this parable primarily for those who were listening to him then and also those who would hear his words as told by his followers and recorded in the Gospels for us today. If we are to call ourselves disciples, we must believe, retain, persevere, and pass it on.

However, there is also another way to look at this parable, which Jesus may or may not have intended. When we look at the parable from the perspective of the farmer instead of viewing it from the perspective of the soil, we could call it, “The Parable of the Lazy Farmer”, or from the perspective of today’s Christians, we could call it, “The Parable of the Evangelical”.

Notice how the farmer didn’t do anything except toss the seed. He didn’t prepare the soil, he wasn’t careful with the seed, and he didn’t remove any of the thorns after his seed had sprouted. He could have removed the rocks and the thorn bushes before tossing the seed, but he didn’t. He could have been more careful to keep the seed from falling on the path, but he didn’t. He could have also removed some of the thorns after the seed had sprouted, but he didn’t. If the farmer had prepared the soil, and if he had been more careful with the seed, and if he had nurtured his seedlings, he would have gotten much better results.

Do we make the effort to really get to know people; their desires, their heartaches, their disappointments or do we assume others want what we want? Just as importantly; do we let them know us, both the good and bad, before we start tossing bible verses and suggestions? Are we careful to only toss our words of wisdom to those who are ready, so we don’t end up wasting our seed and creating side effects, or even worse, starting a plant that quickly withers? Are we there to water and prune and remove some of the thorns and weeds, or do we walk away just when we are needed the most? Are we prepared to endure for the long haul, or are we the seed that fell amongst the thorns? Maybe it’s just too much to try to be, and do, all it takes to manage a farm. Maybe we could use a little help. Maybe evangelism really does take a team to prepare the soil, and nurture the plants, and bring in a harvest.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Several years ago my eight-year-old daughter received her first bicycle from Santa Claus. For several weeks after Christmas, she loved riding it around the block. After that, it mostly just sat in the garage. Occasionally, I would try to get her to ride without training wheels. The episodes always ended up with her mad at me.

Last Christmas my five-year-old daughter received her first bicycle from Santa Claus. She pretty much duplicated the behavior of her older sister. It was great for a few weeks, and then it sat in the garage.

Sunday, my wife suggested that we walk over to the girl’s elementary school and ride bikes. My oldest daughter resisted at first, but she eventually agreed to go. When we got there, I took her training wheels off her bike, held her up by the seat, gave her a gentle push, and off she went; it was like she had been riding her whole life.

My five-year-old then demanded that I take the training wheels off of her bike and let her ride without them. I didn’t think she was ready to ride without them, but I agreed to let her try. For the next thirty minutes, I ran around the playground holding on to the seat of her bike and occasionally letting go. Just as soon as I let go, she would quit peddling and crash, then she would cry, then she would yell at me that I wasn’t doing it right. We finally decided that enough was enough and we went home.

On the way home, she complained to us that her ears were really hurting. She had been fighting a cold all week, so my wife took her to the urgent care center at our doctor. The doctor confirmed that both ears were infected and she needed to start taking antibiotics.

After getting back home she begged me to take her back to the school and try again. I was sure I was wasting my time, but how could I say no to my little girl right after she got back from the doctor.

The first several tries ended up like all of the ones earlier in the day. Time after time, I told her to keep pedaling and time after time she panicked and fell down. Just when I was ready to give up again, she finally kept pedaling, and off she went, head first into a water fountain. With her face covered with tears, snot flowing out of her nose, she got back on the bike and demanded to do it again. For most of the rest of the afternoon, she seemed to have an unnatural ability to hit the most unlikely obstacle. Once, she ran into the basketball goal pole so hard it sounded like a huge bell. Each time she would cry, wipe the snot from her nose, and get back on the bike to do it again. By the end of the day, she could stop and start by herself.

I think I need to make sure I keep her pointed in the right direction for the next few years. However, this week at least, I am one proud marine.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Eugene Peterson Interview

Hat tip to Steve for this interview in Christianity Today with Eugene Peterson.

Eugene Peterson answers questions about spirituality, the church, and even has a few things to say about evangelism. Here are some of my favorite parts:

"Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.

It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.


I think people are fed up with consumer approaches, even though they're addicted to them. But if we cast the evangel in terms of benefits, we're setting people up for disappointment. We're telling them lies.

This is not the way our Scriptures are written. This is not the way Jesus came among us. It's not the way Paul preached. Where do we get all this stuff? We have a textbook. We have these Scriptures and most of the time they're saying, "You're going the wrong way. Turn around. The culture is poisoning."


But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we're just exacerbating the self problem. "With Christ, you're better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy." But it's just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.

We've all met a certain type of spiritual person. She's a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She's not a selfish person. But she's always at the center of everything she's doing. "How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person's problem better?" It's me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.


What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church.


I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience. We have a goal. We have a mission. We're going to save the world. We're going to evangelize everybody, and we're going to do all this good stuff and fill our churches. This is wonderful. All the goals are right. But this is slow, slow work, this soul work, this bringing people into a life of obedience and love and joy before God.

And we get impatient and start taking shortcuts and use any means available. We talk about benefits. We manipulate people. We bully them. We use language that is just incredibly impersonal—bullying language, manipulative language.


Whenever guilt is used as a tool to get people to do anything—good, bad, indifferent—it's bullying. And then there's manipulative language—to talk people into programs, to get them involved, usually by promising them something.


One test I think is this: Am I working out of the Jesus story, the Jesus methods, the Jesus way? Am I sacrificing relationship, personal attention, personal relationship for a shortcut, a program so I can get stuff done? You can't do Jesus' work in a non-Jesus way and get by with it—although you can be very "successful."


Read the whole interview, if you have the time.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Prophets and Home Towns

Chapter four in the Gospel of Luke records how Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and led by the Holy Spirit to teach in Galilee, the region around Galilee, and then in Nazareth. According to the account, Jesus became recognized and praised and honored by all of the people of the region of Galilee. However, the response to Jesus and his teachings in Nazareth was completely different. Those who heard him marveled at his words, not because of what he said, but because of who he was; after all, he was the son of Joseph; one of their own. After he was finished speaking, the Nazarene crowd tried to kill him because he made it clear that he was not one of them, but he was the ONE who was the fulfillment of Scripture; He was the Son of God. Before he was run out of town, Jesus made the statement that a prophet is never welcome or accepted in his own home town.

As a contrarian, I love this account in the life of Jesus. It affirms to me, that I don’t need acceptance in order to express a valid point or proclaim a true idea. In fact, it has been my experience over the years that truth has nothing to do with popular opinion. Sometimes the majority gets it right and sometimes the majority gets it wrong. As a contrarian, I am encouraged that it is acceptable to not be accepted.

As a believer who is committed to the spread of Christianity, I also love this account in the life of Jesus. It affirms to me that there will be times when the truth is rejected by the people who look at who I am instead of who HE is. As a believer, I am encouraged that the results I produce are not always a reflection of the validity of my message, but sometimes rejection is part of the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Also, as a believer who is passionate about doing things right the first time, designing and refining the best methods, measuring results, and avoiding side effects, there is a cautionary note to this account. If the Son of God could not even place a small crack in the hearts of the community he knew and was a part of up until he started his ministry, then maybe sending new believers right back to their family and friends to proclaim the Gospel may not be the best or most effective way for them to use their gifts and talents for the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe in order to avoid and prevent the side effects, new believers need to be encouraged to take a little time before proclaiming the Gospel instead of jumping head first into a shark infested pool.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: First Impressions and Figuring it Out

It has been said, “We never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” While this statement is not always true or absolutely true, it is mostly true. We don’t eat at a restaurant a second time when we had a bad experience the first time, we don’t usually watch a television program a second time when we weren’t impressed with the first episode we saw, and we rarely give a church a second chance to get it right if our first experience didn’t meet our expectations. Like it or not; people do judge based on first impressions.

I have a testimony that I am ready, willing, and able to give each and every time I am asked why I believe what I believe. I expect the blogsphere to become an excellent medium for delivering and understanding personal testimonies. It is off to a good start and I plan to play a part. However, I no longer force my testimony on anyone who doesn’t ask, and I no longer feel obligated to ever share my testimony except on the rare occasion when I have an interested listener and I feel I have the right message to deliver. I trust the Holy Spirit to make such arrangements. Manipulation is no longer part of my repertoire no matter how good or how sacred the cause.

It doesn’t happen very often, but I do occasionally get asked about my faith by non-believers. However, I have never been asked by an evangelical to give my testimony as a non-believer, either before or after I crossed over from non-belief to belief. So to answer the challenge posed by blue fish, in this comment, I do have a testimony for non-believers, but I also have a strong testimony for evangelicals, if they would only care, hear, listen, and understand.

Evangelicals need to get over the arrogant and misguided belief that their individual life is attractive to non-believers. They also need to get over the false and misguided notion that their words are persuasive to non-believers. In most cases, my life is not attractive and my testimony is not persuasive to a non-believer and neither is anyone else’s. It is our relationship with God and our relationship with other believers that can be attractive when we occasionally get it right. However, when we start trying to convince others how great we are, we stop being attractive. Non-believers are smart enough to figure it out without us shoving our theology down their throat. When are we going to become smart enough to start figuring non-believers out?

For decades, we have developed and nurtured a Church culture that is always ready to tell others what to believe, when we should have been developing and nurturing a Church culture that is always ready to listen and welcome and only occasionally ready to tell. We need to quit believing non-believers are stupid and even more importantly, we need to stop treating non-believers like they are stupid. A little humility on our part will go a long way towards helping us to make a better first impression. After all, we spend way too much effort undoing bad first impressions because we never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Responding to Comments

Hammer asks:
Can we agree that the statement "Jesus never meant for evangelism to be an individual pursuit" should be changed to "Jesus never meant for evangelism to be exclusively an individual pursuit."
Absolutely, "exclusively" is exactly what I mean. Each of us have individual talents (spiritual gifts) we can use for the cause. Some of us should be on the front line and some of us should be in the rear. We need everyone to contribute to the cause by doing what they do best. We will have more success if everyone is doing what they are gifted to do and we will have more success when leaders stop coercing believers to do what the leaders want instead of what God wants. There is no reason for anyone to feel guilty when their family and friends don’t respond to their gospel invitation. There is no reason for any believer to open their mouth out of a false sense of obligation. Instead of most everyone feeling defeated, we will become energized when we start viewing evangelism as a team pursuit.

blue fish challenged:
But... you also talk about how your family was faithful in praying for you... for several years. That is a strong witness. It is a demonstration of their love for you and their faith in God. I do not know your history, but I'd assume that you had some knowledge that they were praying for you and that they loved you. While you may have chosen to ignore it at the time, I find it difficult to believe that it played no part in your decision to turn to Christ.
As a believer now, I listed everything that could have been a factor that led to the point in time when I accepted Christ. I am thankful for all of their prayers. However, as a non-believer then, my family, friends, and acquaintances where hindrances to my being able to make a decision for Christ. I had a lot of effort and time invested in disagreeing with them. The more they approached me about Jesus, the more reasons I found to NOT believe. The more they prayed, the more foolish I thought they were. This may not make sense to some readers, but it is the truth. It may not be true for all believers, but my guess it is true for many non-believers who are as head-strong as me. The way we approach non-believers is very important and it takes more than good intentions. It takes a little talent and it takes the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure everyone who is told to witness has what it takes.

Buz repeated:
“I will be pleasantly surprized if you find something which will work more effectively and produce better enduring results than one person living a committed life and telling his friend what peace and joy Jesus has brought.”
There are probably some people who can see Christ in individuals. I never have and I don’t think I ever will. I see attributes of Christ in some believers now, after I have crossed the line and after I have joined the ranks. As a non-believer, and even as a new believer, I thought Christians were icky. As a non-believer, the only time I saw Christ was in a community of believers (Church). As a new believer, I didn’t experience Christ until I attended Church. Individual Christians who think they are most responsible for people coming to Christ may be much more of a problem than a solution.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Salvation Factors

It is impossible for any of us to know all of the factors or combination of factors that led to the point in time when we accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior. We all have our theories, though.

My family was very faithful in praying for my salvation, but all of their prayers took years before any of the results were apparent. I was also lucky enough to observe and experience a community of believers who loved and cared about each other in a noticeably different way than other communities I had observed. I can now look back and I can guess that observing their love for each other played a part in my salvation, but it was years after I observed their behavior, before I finally ended up on my knees.

In my early 30’s my life had unraveled to a point where I realized I had lost control. My craziness could have been God calling me back, or it could have been God punishing me for my sin, or it could have been God abandoning me; like I had abandoned him so many years before (and like my dear brother had been praying to happen to me). Sure, I had to make a decision to get down on my knees, but to be honest, I did it as a last resort, and I didn’t want to be on my knees even when I knew I was unable to solve the problems with my heart on my own. There never was a Christian, not a single one, whose witness effected my decision. If anything, individual Christians made it harder for me to get down on my knees and come to Christ.

Other believers have different experiences, different testimonies, and different theories about why they are saved. Some Christians don’t even remember a time in their life when they came to Christ. They just always believed. Other Christians had a good friend who exhibited a type of love that was contagious. Some Christians come to the Lord through an intellectual epiphany. Some believers insist they were called by God, while others insist they had to choose God.

Prayers seem to be a fairly consistent factor, but not every believer had someone praying for them. I would never say prayer doesn’t always work, but it does seem that there are people who die without accepting Christ who did have Christians praying for them. Personal relationships and testimonies sometimes work, but often don’t. Witnessing sometimes works, but it comes with side effects that drive some people further from God.

When I observe the community of believers, I see many different shapes, sizes, attitudes, and personalities. I love the diversity in Christ’s church. Some of us have a need for many relationships, while others of us can only tolerate a few good relationships. Some of us live mostly in our brain, while others of us live mostly in our heart. Some of us are artists, while others of us are technicians. And guess what; non-believers are just as diverse and just as different.

The Christian who is most able to form and maintain a relationship with a non-believer is often the Christian who is least able to explain the implications of the Gospel. The Christian who is most able to appeal to the mind of a non-believer is very often the person least capable of capturing the heart of the non-believer. There are some Christians who are capable of appealing to the hearts and to the minds of non-believers, but not many. Jesus never intended for evangelism to be an individual pursuit. Jesus established the Church for evangelism because evangelism is a team game. Isn’t it time to start building strong teams, and start doing what is best for the team? Isn’t it time we quit trying to do evangelism on our own unless we are capable of appealing to both the heart and the mind of the non-believer?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Atheism in decline worldwide?

This is a very interesting story on the decline of atheism worldwide. I think it would be wise to be just a little skeptical of most of the claims made in the story. Atheism is a only a subset of non-believers.

World -- Crisis for the Godless: Atheism in decline worldwide

"Atheism as a theoretical position is in decline worldwide," Munich theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg told United Press International Tuesday.

Contrarian View From the Pew: The Passage of Time

There was a time in America when most vacuum cleaners were sold door to door. The most effective method for selling the vacuums was for the salesman to throw a little dirt on the carpet of the house he had just entered in order to show how much better his product was than the vacuum the home owner was currently using.

30 years ago, Amway had made so much money selling home cleaning products through multi-level marketing that a full time teacher and part time insurance salesman in Georgia found a better way to sell life insurance. He found that the most effective method for selling life insurance policies was to recruit new part-time life insurance salespeople.

Walking door to door with a hand full of dirt was not the goal of the vacuum cleaner salesman. Selling the vacuum cleaner was the goal. Throwing down the dirt was the method. Recruiting part-time salespeople was not the goal of the Georgia salesman. Selling insurance policies was the goal. Recruiting part-time salespeople was the method.

Nowadays, vacuum cleaners are sold in department stores right along with other home products because door to door vacuum cleaner sales declined when home owners quit opening their doors and letting salespeople in with a hand full of dirt. Insurance sales are again made mostly by professionals because people found out how hard it was for amateurs to sell life insurance and they were less willing to buy a policy from someone offering them a chance to earn a second income.

As believers, we need to be committed to the cause of spreading Christianity throughout the world until our Lord returns. However, we should not be committed or married to any one method. The multi-level marketing method of evangelism has run its course. It is no longer as effective as it once was. Jesus is still as important now as he has been to believers for the last 2005 years. We need to modernize our methods and let the world know.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Side Effects lists the possible side effects of vioxx as: abdominal pain, tenderness, or discomfort; nausea; blood in your vomit; bloody, black, or tarry stools; unexplained weight gain; swelling or water retention; fatigue or lethargy; a skin rash; itching; yellowing of your skin or eyes; "flu-like" symptoms; or unusual bruising or bleeding. The side effects for other prescription drugs are very similar. In fact, most drugs come with a complete list of miserable sounding side effects.

I sometimes wonder if Pastors should be required to affix a warning label of side effects on all of the new believers they send out in to the world to convert the lost. I sometimes wonder how many non-believers are missing from the kingdom of God because of something stupid a well intentioned, but ignorant convert said in the name of Jesus. I sometimes wonder how much crap has to be unlearned before any new non-believer can be converted.

While it is certainly true, Jesus is the best medicine available, there are many who have bought the generic substitute and there are many more non-believers who have decided they want nothing to do with the cure. I’m not claiming my theology is pristine and everyone else’s is rancid, but I have talked to enough non-believers to know, Christ is nowhere near the hurdle to a belief in our Savior that Christians themselves have become. Most people who I have questioned about their beliefs want to believe in God, but they don’t want to have anything to do with Christians; especially Christians who won’t stop pestering them about Jesus.

Another side effect of sending new believers into the world to proclaim the Gospel is the effect it is having on the new believers themselves. Most of us have known plenty of new believers, including some we have led to Christ, who were on fire for the Lord, only to find failure and disappointment when they approached others about their new beliefs. Their fire is always dimmed and in some cases, it is extinguished altogether.

If we continue to do evangelism the way we have done evangelism for the last 50 years, we won’t get better results. As time goes by we are getting fewer results. Blaming disobedient believers for the lack of success will only make the problem worse. Leaders who send new believers into the world to proclaim the Gospel are the ones who need to be shamed, not the new believers who are doing their best.

Well meaning Christians have done an admirable job spreading the Gospel for the last 50 years. But it is time to change the paradigm if we want to accomplish more in spreading Christianity. Individually, we don’t represent Christ and we never will because we never can. At best, we can represent a single attribute of Christ. The Church, all of us working together, is what Christ left to do his work. All of us together represent our Lord. In order for non-believers to see and experience Christ, they need to start seeing more of Christ in our Churches. Our Lord is an easy sell when we start becoming the Church he intended us to be; not the multi-level marketing organization we have become.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Status Quo?

I still have more to say about evangelism, but before I continue with any additional posts, I think I need to back up a little and hopefully clarify my perspective by addressing a few of the comments I have received.

I have no idea when the concept or belief that we are all evangelists started, because it is not a part of the epistles, but it is a belief that dominates practically every Church I have ever observed. For years followers have been taught, and most Christians believe, something similar to what Teresa believes when she wrote, “I am NOT and evangelist, but because of my relationship with Christ, I am compelled (by my heart)to share the gospel whenever the opportunity arises. I am not "gifted at house-cleaning, but I have a responsibility to do it.” Jennifer, who believes something slightly different wrote, “I think we have ALL been given the gift, and the mandate, of evangelism via the Great Commission. If you have accepted Christ as Savior, you have everything you need to be an evangelist.”

When I wrote about the “Bring a Friend to Church” Sundays I realized after I had posted most of what I had to say that I needed to make sure I didn’t give the impression I was against inviting friends to Church. Now, I need to also make sure I don’t give the impression that I am against friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor, and door to door evangelism because I am definetely for evangelims in all of its forms. However, I think there is a better way to conduct evangelism that is more Biblical and will also be more effective.

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to make the things that are important to me better. Sometimes, when I try to make things better, I make them worse for a while, but eventually I get it right. I have never made anything better by continuing to do anything the way I have always done it. I have always needed to make a change in order to make an improvement.

There was a time in America when most Americans did all of their home maitenance. As our society evolved, most people found that they could better use their time by hiring a specialist to work on their home maintenance while they concentrated on their own specialty. I like doing my own home repairs, but I am not under any illusion that I can do any of it as well as a professional.

As a believer, I want Christians to set the standards, not follow the standards set by society as a whole. I am not satisfied with the results of modern evangelism. I think we can do better. I think the way to do better is for the members of our Churches to start specializing in what they love doing and what they have been gifted to do.

More on Evangelism to come…