Tag Archives: evangelism

Participation: invitation or imposition?

So why am I writing my weekly blog post on December 29? For one thing, I should be out jogging off the extra five pounds I put on during the holiday. But for another thing, who in the world is going to sit down and read this post? It is December 29!

This is the bane of the info age, isn’t it? People are pumping out info from all the programs they use and then using their increasingly high-tech analytics to see if anyone is listening. The whole info machine is designed for people who want to participate. But does anyone want to participate?

Avoidance as a survival skill

I am not so sure people have the participation time or interest necessary for all the participatory things being pumped out. If I am any indication, a lot of us are not that interested in being wired up and analyzed all day. (That would make me “apathetic” on the analyst’s chart, I think). I think a lot of us are already on to the game and resist most of what is trying to get us to stop resisting and participate!

Pretty soon, I suppose we will all be required to participate just to get paid. And I don’t mean just do a job and get paid, I mean serve the ends of the product like you LOVE it. For instance, the newest business technique is to get all the corporation’s employees to be boosters online so advertising is organic and culture-creating. For instance, a consultant says: “a highly engaged workforce is also your most potent marketing tool to help build, promote, and evangelize your brand.” Tweet the product, pin it, post it, Instagram it. Capitalism meets social media. You”ll wake up in the morning and type up some cute thing your boss at Halliburton said so people will see the human side of Deepwater Horizon.

When a lot of us get wind of all that requirement our response already is, “Whoever, meet my blank screen. I’m out.” One of my friends says that the major psychological trait of the present generation (unlike the narcissism of the Boomers) is avoidance. Is the main communication skill required these days managing to avoid all that communication?

info overload

Can Jesus hope for participation?

I am especially interested in this because I am a communicator (I am typing this on Dec. 29, after all), and we, as Circle of Hope, have come up with a very participatory kind of church and a map for 2015 that requires a lot of participation which will mean a lot of communicating. Did we just get organized for a generation that is not interested in listening for more than 140 characters? — or, even more, who don’t listen at all, just consume images?

I think we might be that weird.

The corporations are actually going to try to steal our word “evangelism” and apply it to consumer offerings, as if what they produce will save people. So that’s one thing. But the other thing is that everyone with a smartphone (almost 60% of the population and escalating) already has skills in blocking out unwanted material, which is most of what’s coming at them. Yet here we are asking inundated people to believe we are not just branding Jesus and believe they should participate in his mission like the valued people they are.

How do you think that is going to work out?

Does God care if our church exists?

logo 2007Every once in a while we need to ask the Lord if we should just close up the enterprise and do something else for which we are better suited! There is nothing worse than a church that doesn’t need the Holy Spirit to keep functioning, right?

So I asked a few questions of our Leadership Team the other day which I had been asking myself.  A few people got right back to me with some encouraging answers. I am sharing them with you, basically unedited (but anonymous since I didn’t ask them) to see what you think. What would you add?

I know people read this blog from all over, but I hope you won’t tune out. It would be interesting to hear what you say. We’ve been told we are full of it before, so no need to be shy. But also, what you see from far away might be helpful for us who are way into this quadrant of the Church over here. Leave a comment or send me a note.

Continue reading Does God care if our church exists?

Theorists in casual Friday dress wreck evangelism

christian theory for theoristsSome of my cohort were intrigued when I was aroused from my inattention last week during our final  intensive. My professor (who I like very much) was, for some reason, veering into theology. I considered it practicing outside her expertise so I had to say, “I just don’t believe that.” She had already told us that when we consider God we need to start with a theory, “Everything starts with a theory.” That was supposedly from the Bible and not from Enlightenment rationalism. She went on to write a subject on the board, draw a line under it and have us fill in the subtopics, like we were the first scientists labeling the world. Only she was working on the concept “sin is sin,” working on the theory that anything not righteous is sin and blaming her kind of thinking on the Bible writers.

Theorists are theorists

I did not really dispute her conclusions too much, although I was afraid she would soon need to put mass murderers in the same category as fibbers because that is what her theory demanded. What I objected to was ignorantly applying a theory to the Bible and calling it revelation. She pinched the evangelist in me and I said “Ouch” (rather too loudly and strongly, perhaps incoherently, as I recall it now). Several friends rushed over to inspect the theological boo boo on my scraped soul. When the Christian experts, liberal or fundamentalist (like my teacher), keep passing out Christianity in a 17th century wrapper, it is very hard to make an actual, Bible-following, Jesus loving, Spirit-filled convert these days.

Modern Evangelicalism has been seduced into secular rationalism and still doesn’t seem to know it.  Evangelicals surrendered the soul to intellect and began to try to play their religious game on a rationalist field. Their time and energy was spent proving that God fits right in to materialist philosophies, and documenting the factuality of the Bible as applied to every possible discipline, as if the Bible were actually considering all the myriad specialties invented by scientific rationalism. Now they are church planting as the “neo-Reformed,” delivering the “word” while softening the fundamentalist packaging with work shirts and nice production values.

Jesus is better than rationalism

For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom not of this rationalistic world (my expansion of John 18:36). The “soul life” or “psyche” Jesus does not want us to lose feeds on the Spirit, and on revelation it does not produce. Freud and other scientists intellectually colonized the territory by proposing that dreams are neurobiological phenomena. But the Bible writers know better. They are not talking theory; they are talking about the experience of God that Jesus brings into human dialogue. We live in a kingdom suffused with the Spirit of God. We swim in a sea of revelation. It is a bit like being a receiver in an atmosphere full of radio waves.

I think people were sick of Christians fighting about their words and theories a long time ago. I know I am. Thus I confronted my teacher with my unbelief and protested the imposition of the teaching as if it were straight from God. When I was in the maelstrom of rationalism in seminary, I wrote one paper that has always stuck with me. What could Paul be talking about when he says,

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

It surely can’t be charting out a simplistic theory of reality on a white board!

In the name of evangelism, Christians theorists have fed back the spirit of the world dressed up like the Bible. It did not make believers understand the words taught by the Spirit. The faith landscape is littered with the lives of former believers who ultimately couldn’t buy the arguments. The whole church is arguing itself to death on the battlefield of 18th century thinking as we speak! I still want to do something else by responding to the great revelation I have received.

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Four more reasons people might not care to be radical Christians: Part 2

Who are radical Christians? They may not look as wild as you might expect, or be famous for being “out there.” But, like I said last week, they will have some basic characteristics. For instance:

  • They are devoted to being at the heart of the kingdom and to having the kingdom at the heart of them.
  • God is not trying to get them to do things with moderate success; they are trying to get God to do things.
  • Following Jesus is not a side job, it is their vocation.
  • The church is not one of many options; it is their tribal identity.
  • Mission is not a leisure time activity; they will use their money-making work to make it happen.
  • Believing is not exhausting for them; it is exhilarating

My whole Christian life has been devoted to being a regular guy who is a radical Christian. When I became a Christian, I never thought it was about joining a club or being on the right team. I just picked up on what the Bible was saying and went with it. And I did not miss that the Bible was written by regular, flawed people who were saved, not superpeople, or people who even thought they could get it right. It seems to me that the Bible is written “in the face” of people who think they are great or who think they need to be great to make God look good. Regular people who are filled with the Holy Spirit living heart to heart with God: that’s radical. What they do may never get into the news cycle, but that’s not the point for them. The are at the heart and they do from the heart like good trees bearing good fruit, their roots sinking down into eternity.

But there are reasons people might not want to be radicals these days. Here are four more, that are a bit more personal:

5) They probably don’t have a taste for community

So many churches in the past fifty years were just political fronts for the Republican party or the new age movement — they weren’t communities gathered around Jesus. One time I had to demand that my deacon not put local Republican voting guides on the church’s info site – that in a supposedly Anabaptist-tradition congregation! More often I have had to defend why Jesus is the loving center of what we are all about and not just a figure of intolerance — and that to people in covenant with me! It is no wonder that people feel liberated when they get out from under the thumb of the church’s dialogue-stifling system– if that is Christian community, count me out, too! But as people get free of the nonsense, they often end up inoculated against true Christian community by the faux community they have experienced.

Even more, in general, “churched” or not, the population seems to be losing their capacity to connect (could this be true?). People have grown up in detached families. They are immigrants who have left their culture. They have moved to the city to get away from community and be themselves. They live virtually. The hand held computer has taken all their attention. The church comes around and wants consistent relating and it seems like it might be from another planet. But they are going to be gone for the next three months on a job anyway, so the temptation to care about that is fleeting.

church scene of the crime6) The church was the scene of a crime.

This might be the most under-reported reason why people lose their faith. Something bad happened to them while they were part of a church and they did not have the resources to get over it without leaving the church – or the church did not have the resources or opportunity (see the first point) to help them.

  • They got a divorce and only one of them got custody of the church.
  • They had a messy break-up with someone and couldn’t face sitting in a meeting with them.
  • They had a conflict and never faced it or forgave it.
  • They unwittingly got connected with a mentally ill person and didn’t want to handle it.
  • Their children did not get along with other children.
  • The leader said something that didn’t sit right and they were too afraid of him (generally) to talk about it.

If you have a relationship difficulty, it is tempting to not grow through it but to just move on. Most conflicts require confronting something in oneself, but the habit for many is to blame and cut off. People tend to be “slash and burn” relaters. We’ve all become samplers. So it does not take much to scatter us. Once we get scattered from the church, it is easy to see it as the scene of the crime we are trying to escape.

7) Perfect love does not cast out their fear.

Being a radical Christian is not a sociological phenomenon. If the society is open to Jesus or not, following Jesus is still going to be a matter of having a living relationship with God. One will have to lose their life to save it. Jesus will have to be accepted as Lord. It is a scary proposition.

  • If one lives by the detailed laws of science and relies on a few significant relationships for comfort, then the demands of Jesus are very big. Not only does Jesus insist he is the law and the most significant relationship we have, he insists from an eternal perspective.
  • If one is convinced that being an individual is the height of self-realization, if one is acclimated to the rewards of the economy, and if one believes love is all you need, then Jesus might seem like he is way too abnormal.
  • If one is mostly reacting rather than thinking and feeling things through, Jesus is way deeper than what seems possible.

Faith can be overwhelming for some people. They don’t have the heart for it. They are even defensive that I said that and then talked about saying it.

Christ’s love is the key to being other than what I just listed. Otherwise, being a Jesus follower from one’s heart is too huge to try.

8) Church people will not do evangelism.

Given all the problems enumerated above, and last week, Christians are loathe to make disciples. Just the thought of “making a disciple” seems like it must be against the law, or certainly some relic of a colonial past. They won’t even tell their story of faith, since it is up against the big alternative narratives that have taken over the airwaves. They wonder if everything that is important to them is just socially constructed anyway, so why would they infringe upon what someone else has constructed for themselves from all the bits and pieces of spirituality readily available? They won’t even give people a chance to discover the Gospel and change.

I think the main reason people might not want to be radical Christians is that they don’t really  know one. They may never have a dialogue in which the Holy Spirit gets to play an intimate part. All those spiritual experiences they are having may be left to be organized by their own imagination rather than the risen Lord. They will still be interesting, mysterious and moving experiences, but they won’t be radically Christian.

I think all Christians should speak up about what brings them life — especially the radical ones guarding the integrity of the faith for the next generation.

Thanks for all the dialogue last week about these ideas. The process of thinking together makes being a new people in Christ possible.

The story: What DID God see in you (and in us)?

C. 1400 Ravanica Monastery, Serbia
C. 1400 Ravanica Monastery, Serbia

Jesus sent a man who was blind from birth to the Pool of Siloam and he came up out of the cleansing bath with his eyesight restored. We have been talking about it ever since.

When we tell the story, we usually focus on what the newly-sighted man saw in Jesus. What we don’t usually talk about is what Jesus saw in him.

We learn to see ourselves through  Jesus lens

As John tells the story, it is obvious that John admires the formerly-blind man very much. His telling gives me the idea that Jesus must have spoken about him fondly, too. Maybe the former blind man even became one of the disciples who travelled with Jesus, and John was telling his friend’s story. Someday in eternity maybe I’ll find out about all these details.

Jesus saw something in that man who later on saw something in Jesus. I wonder what he sees in you.

As I was saying last night, as the first day of the blind man’s sight wore on, his insight and boldness grew deeper and more impressive. The Pharisees were sure Jesus had done something evil to open his eyes, especially since the Lord violated Sabbath rules to do it. But the former blind man did not bend under their pressure to take their interpretation of his reality. Instead, he learned how to see and speak stronger and clearer. The man’s replies to his abusers became so profound they bear quoting:

Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
  He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
  Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
  The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
  To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out (John 9:26-34).

I have no way of knowing this for sure, but I still think that Jesus discerned what kind of sight he was going to give this blind man when he first saw him at the side of the road. We are so astounded by the tangible miracle of a man receiving his sight and so interested by Jesus spitting into the clay earth and making mud (reflecting how God made humans out of dust), that we miss the miracle of what new physical sight unleashes in this man’s heart and mouth.

On his first day of sight his parents don’t get too involved, the leaders of the synagogue attack him, and they finally throw him out of the synagogue for not denouncing Jesus. It is a big change from making a living as an invisible beggar! Through it all, the man just keeps gaining more faith and voicing it – and this is even before he meets Jesus face to face. When Jesus comes and finds him, the man sees what is in Jesus and worships him. Jesus saw something in the man and the man saw something in Jesus and life was never the same again. I think Jesus knew this was a man whose eyesight would lead to heartsight. I think he noticed a person who would hold on to the truth in the face of upheaval and opposition. I think Jesus expected him to connect with him, as the man did.

What’s your story?

The man just kept telling his story all day, and I feel like telling it too. But what I really want to get to is your story. What do you think God saw in you when you two ran into one another? Maybe you were actually sitting on some curb somewhere. Maybe you were not even looking for a Savior and were quite acclimated to your condition. What did he call out in you? What is he still calling out? Someone, maybe even one or two of your own inner voices, is probably telling you, “You’re sinful. Shut up or get out!” But what did Jesus see in you in spite of all those voices?

When we were telling our stories at the Love Feast last Saturday, I had to think, “And what did God see in us?” Not too long ago we were a semi-disabled, little group of people sitting by the side of the road. Jesus decided to stand us up, enable us and send us. I don’t think we imagined what would become of us: nearly sixty cells, four congregations, creative compassion teams, including our thrift stores and counseling center, so much community, sharing and vision! But I think Jesus saw the possibilities. We have some traits just like the blind man he restored.  Here are three:

1) We can tell stories. We do it in our meetings, face to face in our cells, through music, through acts of compassion, through writing and all the virtual processes. One of our friends was saying last week, “When I first visited you guys, I knew I needed to move here and be a part of what God is doing.” He got it.

2) We don’t give in to the irrational demands of the powers that be, either. Like the man said to the religious leaders, we say things like, “So you think that is true?” or “You think that will work?” Right now a bunch of us are on the street trying to get the powers to think straight about public education. Shalom House cancelled their potluck tonight so they can get engaged with drones! God’s miracles get discounted every day and we deal with that. We are not easy to divert from our radical ways.

3) And we are also still asking whether someone wants to be one of Jesus’ disciples, even though people seem to think evangelism is illegal! The former blind man certainly knew what he was doing when he asked the furious leaders if they also wanted to be one of Jesus’ disciples. But he did it. Why not? He was not really looking for a whole new life when he met Jesus, either. But he was glad he met him, anyway! There are no doubt a lot of other blind people hoping to see.

Overcoming the fear of getting out there

Do YOU have something to say? You could be a guest contributor, too. Here is a piece from Howard Pinder struggling with how to make connections when his Christian friends have strict rules of engagement.

I remember the first time I got thrown out of Starbucks for trying to post a “religious” flyer. I was devastated. I thought I was a bold person, but being rejected like that got to me. The employee wasn’t particularly rude but all sorts of feelings rushed to the surface as I awkwardly left, until I was practically in tears on the sidewalk. I was suddenly awash in doubts and thought I might just be too afraid to put myself out there again. I took heart though. My mentor reminded me that evangelism is about looking for people who are looking for Jesus. And they are out there. I had been out there once too.

Lately I have been working on an events team. Hosting events is another way I am trying to put myself “out there.”  Our team has had some good ideas. I loved advertising the “unorthodox art” show we had last Saturday. It’s fun. There are a lot of reasons we’re doing it, but the main reason is because we want people to find out about Circle of Hope and we want them to know Jesus. We’re not screening them at the door for receptivity, but we’re making friends and we’re friends with Jesus. It is a simple connection. At least I think it is obvious. Recently someone questioned my wisdom because I wanted to promote Jesus and Circle of Hope in our own events. They were afraid we’d offend somebody. Their questions offended ME! They’d promote any unorthodox artist in the neighborhood, but don’t let Jesus get in there because promoting him would be offensive.

I explained why I thought we should promote Circle of Hope and Jesus in all of our events in one way or another. My main argument was: “Knowing Jesus and helping others to know Him is the most important thing about life.” My friend told me that my thinking puts me in the minority. (Is that true?) Their main argument was that bringing out Jesus was not being sensitive. They said if I was really conscious of others I would see that dropping Jesus on unsuspecting people was not the best way to express my faith.

Well, I can imagine having a problem between Jesus and people. But why would I predict that? Besides, sometimes when we claim we are being sensitive we are actually being fearful – fearful of being labeled, fearful of rejection, fearful of turning someone away from faith because we are fearful we are just that bad! It’s not like I was suggesting I get on a soapbox and preach condemnation and promise people hell (I’m not even sure where one gets a soapbox, these days!). What’s the problem with being who I am?

I hear a lot of fear when I talk about revealing my faith right out there in public. We have all heard about the stereotypes of Christians causing more harm than good. Maybe we don’t want to be associated with that type of expressing. But I don’t want to live my life as a reaction to misguided Evangelicals, either. I want to live through my relationship with Jesus. My fears run deep, but I want to take heart and overcome them with Jesus, not just get run around by them. I want to act out of a deep assurance that I am safe, and out of my new security in the fact that I will spend eternal life with God. What could make us afraid after knowing that?

Let me be clear here. I’m not saying, “Let’s get out there and see how many people we can  coerce into being a Christian!” I’m talking about speaking freely about the truth of Jesus as it has been revealed to us.  How does your relationship with Jesus make a difference in your life? What, exactly, are you protecting people from by never talking about that? Do you really love the people you claim you are being sensitive to if you aren’t willing to tell them the truth?

Maybe my experiences are a big anomaly; maybe they aren’t indicative of the state of your faith. But what do you think? I think we’re too afraid to get out there. I’m afraid, too. I don’t want to condemn anyone who is digging in their heels, since I suppose there are more reasons than I could imagine for that behavior. But I do feel held back when you hold back. I feel out on the limb when you tell me I shouldn’t get out there. I think we need to confront this compulsive fear in ourselves.

Jesus does not condemn us for messing up his mission. When I came to Jesus after feeling like a failure outside Starbucks, he was tender with me. I felt like He took my hand and said, “All will be well if you keep following me.” That’s the Jesus I want to show people. I feel compelled to get out there and show them. I echo Paul when he says that he must express what he’s received and express it boldly. We are all grappling with this in our own way. When, in our grappling, we tamp down someone else’s enthusiasm, we might be acting out of fear and blocking Jesus’ mission. The only way through our fears is to get out there, with Jesus right beside us.

These older posts might interest you, too:

Getting Out There in the Face of Fear http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/getting-out-there/

Henry Tanner Lets Jesus into PAFA: http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/henry-tanner-lets-jesus-into-pafa/

Winning the Right to Be Heard: http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/winning-the-right-to-be-heard/

Billy Graham and the Unintended Consequences of Exerting Influence

The Cell Leader Coordinators were discussing a recent spate of articles last week. They were all quoting the Pew Foundation’s research on the impact of evangelicals on evangelism in the United States. Then up popped Billy Graham, the evangelical par excellence, in the Sunday paper (most likely fronting for his son, Franklin). I want to talk about the Pew study in a minute, but first I want to dispute with Rev. Graham’s exhortation, which is a good example of what the study is talking about.

For one thing, no 93-year-old should have such a beautiful head of hair. Very disturbing. I will dare attribute it to the blessing due a tireless evangelist.

But as for some other things…

1) When did the American people have their hearts turned toward God? Was it when they considered slaves 3/5 of a person? Was it when they were cleansing the continent of Indians? Was it when they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki? A lot of Americans have been Christians, but the government was not designed too well to reflect their faith, or at least it rarely has — maybe when the Marshall Plan bailed out Europe, or maybe when George Bush decided AIDS was actually a problem. There are exceptions to the godless rule, but what era are you remembering?

2) How people have sex, how families are made, and whether the government can dictate our convictions are important “issues.” But I can’t see why they make this election “critical.” For an evangelist the question should start with Jesus, not issues. Why in the world did you not mention the fact that the person whose stand on the issues your prefer happens to be a leader in a non-Christian religion? There’s an issue for you.

Unless something has changed in Barack Obama’s life since 2008, his Christian testimony is well known. You can watch him say it on YouTube. If the evangelist is going to get involved, one would think he’d vote for the evangelized. Just saying. I’m not matching your thinly-veiled endorsement of Romney with my thinly-veiled endorsement of the drone president. Just saying.

3) For a Christian to try to exert political power in the name of his “definitions” seems so worldly to me! Saying that the Bible “speaks” still seems like a strange anthropomorphism to me. The definitions are not Lord, Jesus is Lord. The Bible doesn’t save me, the resurrected Jesus saves me. Any power we, as the church, exert in the election should come through the example of our self-giving love that we can define for people who are moved by the presence of God’s grace in it.

There is so much that is disturbing here. But I will pray with you that America and the whole world turns their hearts toward God. Some of the Christians will indeed, be turning back.

But I want Pew to talk to you, too.

The October 10 issue of Newsweek is an example of what many publications are printing. The Pew Foundation found that “Nones” are on the rise. That is, for the first time, there are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are white evangelicals. Both groups make up about a fifth of the population. The number of Americans without religion is on track to surpass the “born-again” population. About a third of adults under 30 don’t associate themselves with any faith, compared with only 9 percent of those over 65. This is not, the report suggests, simply a result of a general youthful tendency toward irreligion. “[Y]oung adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives,” the report says.

Some theorists believe young people are rejecting religious labels precisely because they have become intertwined with so-called conservative social policies. The report quotes Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell’s book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which argues that as the religious right gained power, young Americans “came to view religion … as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political.”  You think?

People of the dominant strain of Evangelicals have become the anti-evangelists of the age. Perhaps the cost of full-page political ads all over the country could have been used for better ends. At the end of September the candidates had also expended a lot of money on influence: 1.3 billion dollars on the publically accountable campaign, another 65 million dollars by unaccountable PACs on Mitt Romney’s side. Do evangelists think anything about that?

The ABCs of the E Word — EU: The good in good news

The word “evangelism” comes from a collection of Greek words rooted in eu-angelos or good-news. The E in the ABCs of evangelism is EU – as in good, but also, as in YOU.

Good News by Jack Diamond

It is GOOD news.

What followers of Jesus have to share is not a painful confrontation. News in democratic/media culture is often just political wordplay. Christians have tried to play that game with their evangelism a bit, or at least the people I know are deathly afraid they will need to play if they open their mouths. They are scared that as soon as they talk about Jesus, they will need to have good answers for questions on sex, war, right to life, or any of the myriad “issues” that people think people should be talking about if they are being serious. Serious news is, essentially, bad news — or it is at least it is about conflict and likely mayhem. All we followers of Jesus are saying is that a new king is on the throne. It is good news. Things are going to change. There are some politics in that, of course, but it isn’t something we will be voting on. It is just good news. If you have ears to hear, listen.

It is GOOD news because it is full of joy.

At least I am happy about being saved. Strangely enough, we followers of Jesus need to remind ourselves we are happy, sometimes, so we can keep the good in good news. I wake up in the middle of a conversation sometimes and tell myself, “Don’t let them steal your joy.” For some reason, I can feel obligated to be downhearted, because not being so would violate my friend’s sensibilities.  They think the world sucks, so I should, too. My “silly” words about Jesus aren’t making it for them, so I should adapt to their way of handling the mess they are in. It sounds like a simple choice to “don’t worry, be happy” but it is more complex than that. I need to skillfully deploy my joy; but I sure need to hold on to it, regardless.

It is GOOD news because it is undermines the ungods.

My simple, persistent good newsing is one of the best things I can do, in my finitude, to stay in the fight against the anti-Jesus forces. It is being good. Jesus did not end the war with his resurrection, he began it. Humankind has a chance, now, against the forces bent on their destruction. I think we followers of Jesus think of ourselves as so miniscule, we don’t think that what we say means anything. In these postmodern days when philosophers doubt words have any lasting value to communicate truth, we get a lot of encouragement to take ourselves lightly. But the way God sees it, we are very important to his cause. Our lives tell a story and we tell the story of our lives. It is a re-telling of THE story of life. The process opens up the possibility for more people to get in on what Jesus has done.

It is GOOD news because it is you.

That’s my main point. You put the EU in good news. As soon as I wrote that, I got the feeling that someone was saying, “Oh brother.” But I am sticking with it. Thinking we are not good thwarts evangelism. You have to be saved to tell a salvation story, obviously. If we can’t confidently stand before God in his grace, knowing we have been forgiven, rescued, and welcomed into the kingdom, where we live, now – then that’s an issue. If, when we open our mouths to speak a good word for Jesus, we are worried about how good we are at it, if we don’t trust Jesus to take our capabilities and multiply them – that’s an issue, too.  But if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, that is enough faith, Jesus says. We are good enough, and Jesus is good in us.

I have been talking about the ABCs of evangelism in an attempt to normalize the E word a bit. I think we need to think about it more and figure out how we can practice it, in our own way. I was really motivated to speak up when I picked up Guy Kawasaki’s book and found out he called himself an “Apple evangelist.” What with the Christians scared to use the word and the marketers stealing it, I was afraid we would lose it altogether. But the family business is still the redemption of the world. We need to at least learn our ABCs – all of us.

The ABCs of the E Word — Devote

The D in the ABCs of evangelism is for devote. We can never face the task at hand and access the inner resources we need to do it unless we come to it from a place of deep devotion to prayer. Evangelism is first about prayer because it begins in God’s own heart.

There are two kinds of prayer that we can apply to our family business of redeeming the world and spreading the blessings of the kingdom of God.

The metaphor for the deepest kind is “as old as the hills:”

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
   which cannot be shaken but endures forever. Psalm 125:1

Martin Laird teaches about this deep devotion in his book Into the Silent Land. It is “mountain prayer”:

“Allow to arise whatever arises, without determining what is allowed to arise in awareness and what is not. Meet everything with a steady, silent gaze. What notices the mind game is free of the mind game.

            A mountain does not determine what sort of weather is happening but witnesses all the weather that comes and goes. The weather is our thoughts, changing moods, feelings, impressions, reactions, our character plotted out for us by the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs. All of these have their place. But they are only patterns of weather. There is a deeper core that is utterly free and vast and silent, that no thought or feeling has ever entered, yet every thought and feeling appears and disappears in it.”

Evangelism brings up our deepest spiritual distress, probably because it is the most profound spiritual act in which we engage. I’ve been calling it the “E word” because many of us can’t even say it because it brings up so many distressing thoughts and feelings. These are the weather, but we are the mountain. For some of us, the thought of evangelism is spiritual stormy weather, but we are the mountain in Jesus, nonetheless.

Paul speaks very eloquently, I think, about “being the mountain” when he speaks about bringing the message of Jesus to people:

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:4-8 

I think, for many followers of Jesus, they mostly pray out of their weather and not as the mountain. We might still be practicing the prayer we learned as a child. Personally, I think God is fine with that. I think he loves children – I’m one of His.  Laird might call that level of devotion “surface,” in that it is more about our thoughts and feelings rather than about our deep spiritual awareness. He’s right, of course. But the more “surface” work of intercession, of pleading for people who need God is important work that everyone can do, even beginners in faith. I wouldn’t dismiss it as mere “weather.’ 

So to devote oneself to evangelism, try both weather prayer and mountain prayer. 

Try to get through your own stormy weather. 

Dare to talk to God about what troubles you about being part of his stubborn attempt to redeem creation. Let’s face it, a lot of us don’t like the assignment and don’t participate in it, even though we are very glad, ourselves, to have been welcomed into eternity. Some of us might not even like to pray because we might get a marching order and we don’t want to feel guilty for not obeying it. 

If we can get through that cloudburst of resistance, we might want to concentrate on who it is we would like to see come to know Jesus. Make a list. Listing is a risky business, of course, because it implies that we will someday see someone crossed off the list — better to have not made a list at all than to bear the shame of not completing the task, right? But intercession is about what God is going to do, not us. The benefit to us is that interceding softens our heart and directs our attention to where we need to be devoted. Praying for others often opens up our heart and broadens our horizons so we become more loving and imaginative partners for God. Besides, God loves to give gifts to his children, why wouldn’t he answer us if he has decided to partner with us? 

Better, I think to get to mountain prayer as soon as possible. 

As the mountain we receive our rest and confidence in the silence. When our ambitions and fears do not control us with their incessant dialogue, we demonstrate the mystery Paul was talking about and our inner prayer becomes impact. 

While contemplation is not, itself, purposeful, I think we carry people with us into our unshakeable Zion of the heart. The deepest intercession might be to let go of the many people we love and work for as we are being in Christ and see them held in the light of God’s love and truth.

The ABCs of the E Word — Connect

I love imagining Jesus walking through Jericho and spotting Zacchaeus in the tree. Unlike the popular children’s song, I don’t think the Lord wagged his finger at him and told him to, “Get yourself out of that tree shorty!” I’m not even sure Jesus knew Zacchaeus, personally, yet. But the Lord apparently at least knew his name, because he calls to him and tells him he’ll be at his house shortly!

So why did Zacchaeus immediately get down out of the tree and “receive him gladly” as it says? I suppose we’ll have to ask him in the age to come to know for sure. For now, I imagine it was because Jesus connected with him. 

First, of course, Jesus showed up on the streets of Jericho; he didn’t just connect virtually, like you and I are doing. More importantly, Jesus looked Zacchaeus in the eye and they connected, heart to heart. I think people could tell Jesus loved them just by looking at him — because he did. Jesus was out seeking the lost and he connected with a person who was ready to be found. 

The C of the ABCs of evangelism is Connect. 

Nate had a great time connecting a reporter the other day. Circle of Hope showed up in the county records because we are prospectively showing up on one of the crossroads of South Jersey when we take possession of that former firehouse. Here’s what he said about the interview: 

I spent some significant time with a reporter…this morning. He frequently reads the law notices for the region, and found Pennsauken Twp’s approval of the firehouse for a church last week.  He thought that was a story in and of itself and called me because he’s convinced there’s not another church out there that has ever reclaimed a firehouse…

He just kept saying, “You are so interesting! This is so awesome! I can’t believe you exist!”  I described the ideas of reclamation, restoration, and redemption simply as us doing with a building what Jesus is doing in the world.  He couldn’t get over how loving it was for a church to use what’s there rather than build yet another building.  He couldn’t believe that we’d plant something new rather than outgrowing the firehouse.  He was amazed at the lack of “programs” and the strategy for relating face to face.  His admitted cynicism about the church in general combined with his extensive knowledge of the region were very encouraging.  He assured me of what we have long suspected…that our particular location (on Marlton Pike by the 130 corridor) is perfectly situated for us to be and do what I described to him.  He wasn’t interested in doing it…but he was interested in making us known.

I doubt that the reporter would have been so interested if Nate was not so interesting. More importantly, he wouldn’t have cared so much if Nate had not cared about him. The reporter asked, “Is it OK if we talk about things that have nothing to do with my article?” A fifteen-minute interview turned into over an hour.

To connect, we’ll be going some places where people don’t know us yet. More importantly, once we get there we will openly show whatever truth and love we are carrying and see who is interested. God was disconnected from his beloved creatures. He came as a person to reconnect — and to reconnect us. He walked through Jericho that day and made a person-to-person connection with Zacchaeus. That’s elemental to evangelism. Just like Jesus, we have no lack of opportunity to connect; we run across people every day unless we are hiding out. It is mainly a matter of showing up in love and spotting the people who are up a tree. Sometimes they are stuck, sometimes they are looking for someone; we need to keep the love in our hearts in our eyes so when they see us they connect with who they need.

First step – Go to some “lane” where people don’t know you so well. In our region, that should not be too hard, since there are about six million people nearby. Be there to connect in some way. It is OK to talk to people who are waiting in line with you for coffee. You can go to a block party and introduce yourself to everyone who is there. You can ask someone, “How’s it going?” when you are at the park and mean it. This will take some courage, so take the…

Preliminary step – Connect with God from your own perch up some tree so you have something of the Spirit that can be noticed.  Don’t worry that whatever small love you share with the Lord will be too small or uninformed.  Just let people connect with whatever faith you’ve got. Someone is likely to receive it gladly. I received it gladly when someone showed up and we connected.