Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Baptism Today from Clothes Closet Ministry

Many months ago a woman came in to our clothes closet who was desperate, fleeing a very bad situation. She needed professional clothes for interviews, and was able to get them through our clothes closet ministry. We helped her in some small ways as well at other times.

This woman has told me about a very kind older man named Pete deLackner who had helped her. She had talked with him about being baptized. And today, she called me to tell me that he was ready to do this. He was baptized into Christ at 2:00 PM today!

What a wonderful story of how others whom we have helped are reaching out to people. The gospel spreading from person to person--kind of sounds like the book of Acts, doesn't it? Praise God!

Isn't this a great story?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Jesus Must Be at the Center of Our Faith

Tomorrow I'm speaking on Jesus, the Center of Our Faith. It may seem strange to say that Christ is the center of Christianity. But this needs to be said, for far too often Christ has been forgotten in Christianity.

There can be no doubt that Jesus was at the center of the early Christian movement. Nothing else could generated the fiery zeal, compassion, love, and martyrdom of the first followers of Jesus. Nothing else could have caused a movement to begin with. Passion for "doctrine," worship issues, leadership structure--these would not have caused anyone to even get out of bed.

The time from Constantine through the Reformation was not merely a long time of apostasy, as I was sometimes taught. Many great things happened during this time. Christ became known around the world. Hospitals were started because Christians wanted to care for the sick and wounded. Governments, under the influence of or led by Christians, began to provide for the poor. The Bible was translated into the native language of many peoples, with missionaries sometimes spending decades learning a language and loving a people so that they might write the Bible into their own words.

But somewhere along the way, Christ was at times lost as the focus of the faith. When the cross was put on the shields of Constantine's troops, Christianity became intermingled with politics, force, and power--hardly Jesus' approach to the world. The Medieval world so much focused on the church and its representatives that Christ was surely secondary to the machinations of power. The Reformation and Renassiance focused upon the individual and the glorification of humanity and the arts and sciences. Many great discoveries were made, paintings painted, and sculptures sculpted in the name of Jesus. But it is easy to imagine that these devotions merely drew upon the cultural material that was available in that day. The colonization in the 17th-20th centuries was as much about spreading Western way of life as it was about sharing Christ.

When the European soldiers of WW I saw the bloody mess where Christian nations all came together to kill one another, most did not ever return to their faith. Surely this was not what Jesus was all about. This, coupled with medieval history, is why to this day, institutional Christianity is absolutely dead in Europe.

WW II, Vietnam, Watergate, televangelists, AIDS, poor media coverage, the moral majority, and a million other things, all happening on Christianity's watch, have led to a general distrust of Christians and Christianity.

9/11, just remembered yesterday, also did something. While for a brief amount of time it caused some people to remember God and affirm that there is good and evil in the world (President Bush called those who attacked the US "evildoers," invoking biblical language), it's more lasting impact was to create the New Atheism. This new, resurgent atheism points to 9/11 as evidence that all religion is inherently violent, oppressive, and a threat to humanity.

Our young people are growing up now in this new postmodern world. A world that has shed many of the sins of modernism--pride, arrogance, racism, secularism--that now faces the challenges of skepticism, relevatism, and distrust towards virtually all organizations--especially, perhaps, religious organziations.

If we want to reach people today, Christ must be at the center of who we are. Our young people know if we are passionate about Jesus and his way of life--helping the poor, loving the broken, depending upon the father--or if we just give Jesus lip service. They know if we are really more interested in politics, money, or lesser doctrinal issues that are constantly fought over.

Jesus ought to be at the center of our faith. This has always been the case! Today, however, we have no choice if we want to retain our children in the faith or reach those on the outside.

Do you think Christ is at the center of most churches that you have been a part of and most Christians that you know? What is the evidence for or against this?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Names of Jesus

Jesus has many names. Here are a few of them listed below.

God - Jesus is the almighty God who became human for us (John 20:28).

Immanuel - Immanuel means "God with us." In Jesus, God came to be with us as he became human, and he is still with us today (Mt. 1:23; 28:20)

Lord/Master - Jesus is Lord, master, the one to whom we owe our obedience--not Caesar or any other earthly power (John 1:1, 14).

Messiah/Christ - Messiah means anointed one. In biblical times, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed, showing their special role from God (John 4:25-26). Messiah is the Hebrew word for anointed one. Christ is the Greek word for anointed one.

Alpha and Omega - As the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus is eternal, a characteristic of God (Revelation 1:8; 22:13).

Savior - The word Jesus literally means "he who saves." As Savior, Jesus saves us from our sins (Mark 10:45, Titus 2:14).

Shepherd - As shepherd, Jesus knows his sheep--us--and lovingly and gently calls us, protects us, and binds us up when we are wounded (Jn. 10).

Light of the World - Jesus is the one who shows us how to live and who God is, bringing light to the world (John 8:12; 3:19-21).

Living Water - Jesus is the one through whom we are filled with the Spirit, welling up inside of us (John 4:10).

King of Kings and Lord of Lords - Jesus is ruler of the rulers, the greatest of all (Mt. 19:16)

Lamb of God - Jesus is the one who sacrifices himself for us, the humble lamb of God (Revelation 3:14).

Mediator - Jesus is the one who mediates between God and humanity--our "go-between" (1 Timothy 2:5).

Bread of Life - As the bread of life, Jesus is the one who feeds our souls and gives us salvation (John 6:35).

Way, Truth, and Life - Jesus is the only pathway to the Father, the only one who can really show us how to live (John 14:6)!

Which of these names stands out to you or do you find interesting?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Swine Flu Alert!

If you wake up looking like this, don't go into work! You may have the swine flu.

(Thanks to Linda Hardin, our secretary, for sending this.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sharing Stories Builds Community

Community is a key factor in reaching people for Christ. Few people come to faith without first encountering some form of Christian community. So what is it that builds a sense of community?

The article (cited below) gives five elements that research from Howard Thorsheim and Bruce Roberts shows helps people feel a part of a community. The article writer applies this to creating a sense of community at family reunions. Here is what the article says were the five most important elements in creating a sense of community:

- Knowing names. "That was the most powerful predictor" of happiness and well-being within a community, Thorsheim said. And it's simple to promote at a reunion. "Name tags are important, with big, bold letters."

- A sense of belonging. Name tags can include additional information, such as the person's hometown, home state and parents' names, to help people make connections. Before the Solingers' family reunion, members were invited to contribute material for a family history; the book was a great conversation starter, Donna Solinger said.

- A sense of caring. Before the Solingers' reunion, every family member received a call seeking their input, Donna Solinger said. The reunion opened with a ceremony at which candles were lit to honor each family member who had died in the four years since the last reunion. "The candles and bonfire stayed lit all weekend," she said.

- Linking. A meaningful reunion requires "some way to make a connection with others," Howard Thorsheim said. Asking people to bring something to share, whether it's food, music or a story, helps facilitate that.

- Helping - both asking others to help and being asked to help. But when you're the one doing the asking, make sure it's a real job that contributes something to the event.

As we seek to reach people for Christ, let us remember these elements that go towards creating a sense of community. Potential converts need to know members of the church community by name, and they need to feel that they belong amongst the members. A sense of caring should go without saying. Linking, however, could easily be forgotten. Potential converts need to have opportunities to share with the community and to provide assistance, which helps bind them to the community. So we should send potential converts out on workdays and invite them to serve even before they are baptized.

The postmodern truism, "They must belong before they believe" is true for a reason.

How do you think that we can create a greater sense of community for people who whom we are seeking to share Christ with?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

FriendSpeak Training Live!

(Note this was blogged live last Saturday, but delayed in actual posting)

I'm at the FriendSpeak training seminar at the High Pointe Church of Christ. FriendSpeak is the domestic version of Let's Start Talking, a way of sharing one's faith by helping people people practice their Englush. This is done in one on one conversations with readings from the gospel of Luke.

Ben Woodward, the national FriendSpeak director, is our presenter. Ben and I and our families spent a lot of time together from Let's Start Talking.

Ben is sharing some interesting statistics about language in the US.

- 53.3% of foreigners were born in Latin America
- 25% of foreigners were born in Asia
- After Spanish, Chinses is the 3rd most spoken language in the US
- In Texas, 30% speak a language other than English in their homes
Obviously, there are huge opportunities here to share the gospel through conversational English! Present today are Jim and Donna Hannah, Courtney Berry, Bill Goodwin, Dan Rodriquez, Jane Tallant, ima Jean Reynolds, Steve Goff, and Betay Viana. Several others have expressed interest but could not be present.

I am excited about the restarting of this ministry!