Atheism, de-conversion, and The Puppy Who Lost His Way

This Sunday I’ll be preaching for St. Petersburg Presbyterian Church for the third time. I’ll be wrapping up a series on faith and doubt. Thanks to a facebook friend, who actually happens to be a real life friend of mine-though now separated by 900 miles-I came across this article of an Atheistic de-conversion. It is the journey from faith to doubt to disbelief (although if you read the article it does seem that doubt preceded disbelief for only a very short period of time). I love reading articles about conversion, particularly someone coming from a hostile atheist background to saving faith in Christ. But I think these articles of de-conversion are also helpful, even though they can be quite discouraging. We can still usually learn something from them.

Here are some things I took away from the article, aside from simply being saddened by this dark descent into disbelief.

1.) The relationship with one’s father is often key.While this gal couches her disbelief in science and rationality, I think there is much more going on.
According to one pastor who started an outreach ministry, asking a friend or neighbor about his/her father opens the door to understanding barriers to a relationship with God. For instance, people often reject faith because their father rejected faith. It is of course no tit-for-tat, but there does seem to some connectedness. Understanding that relationship can help you minister to that person.
When I read in this article that this gal ran away from home and has no relationship with her father, I cannot assume that had nothing to do with it. Yes her mother is a Christian, but how much of her rejecting God is her rejecting her father? I wonder. 

Bad relationships with fathers seem to be incubators for doubt. But, according to this pastors experience in ministry, they can also be open doors to faith based discussions.

2.) I don’t think anyone makes a decision to follow or un-follow, believe or disbelieve in God or specifically His plan of salvation through His Son from an entirely rational basis. I’ve heard atheists on a discussion panel explain that they got into Atheism because their friends were such. This story of de-conversion is not a treatise on a pure quest for rationalism. Now I think she advertises it as such, but there is too much baggage she is so quick to leave behind. And I don’t blame her for some of this seems pretty sad. But there is an emotional experience she is quick to leave behind, and I don’t think it is simply because “the bible lied to me.”

3.) What question is the person really asking? In general the post-modern mantra is “does it work or help” (pragmatism) more so than “is it true” (modernity/rationalism)? This gal seems to fit into the modernist quest. I just read Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide, and he argues that most people simply want to know “does this work.” But I find very rarely does someone fit into a purely rational or purely pragmatic category. Where I live now, and when I lived in Bradenton, I found skeptics to fit into more the modernist rational variety. Many people do ask the question, “Would I like what I would become?” So we have to make sure to present the gospel in such a way as to respond to these “defeater” beliefs (what Tim Keller refers to as the barriers we have to deal with before we can actually get to the gospel). For the Jews, Paul discerned it as “power” for the Greeks it was “wisdom.” (I Cor 1). What is it for your friends?

4.) Where was the gospel?  This gal was allegedly raised in a grace-less home. One always needs to consider the source (an estranged daughter), but it is hard to misinterpret 10-15 beatings based upon a child not obediently responding the first time. Regardless, from her perspective, there was plenty of law but not a lot of gospel or good news. And regardless of whether or not the dad felt like he was showing grace, the message perceived (which is still important, for if someone doesn’t feel like we’re showing grace, maybe we’re not!) was I’m proud of your performance. Not a delight in the person but a delight in the performance of your child. That’s not grace. As a parent, that’s something I never want my kid to think. I was only proud of how well he did and not simply that I loved him simply because he was my son.

Would a gal be so quick to “jump ship” if she had at least had an experience of grace, where she could honestly struggle and question? I would like to think so. But in the end, I think what this gal is rejecting is more than just a belief in God; she is rejecting a form of moralistic behavioral performance based Christianity that has at the very least been perceived as Christless.

5.) Don’t be so quick to jump ship. Doubting is not a bad exercise. But doubts are best done within the community of faith. If you try to discern whether or not God exists, and you posed certain question, and you don’t get satisfactory answers, then it might be good to look a little bit harder.

…This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?

Alex had no answer — and I realized I didn’t either. Everyone had always explained this problem away using the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice meant we wouldn’t have to follow those ancient laws. 
But that wasn’t an answer. In fact, by the very nature of the problem, there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity.


I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness. The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you.

Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked.

That’s not a big question of mine. I have them. Plenty of questions, but they are more of the “why did this happen variety” (which ultimately reveals a latent belief anyway but that is for another post) than of the philosophical variety like this. But as Billy Madison so eloquently argued in reference to the book The Puppy Who Lost His Way, “You can’t give up looking for your dog after half an hour, you have to put up some signs, and get your butt out there and find your bleeping dog!”

 I know this gal had grown up believing the bible, but according to her own words, she disbelieved very quickly and in isolation from real gospel centered community.

If answers aren’t satisfactory, we have to spend time and be willing to spend time with doubters. There are people smarter than us who have asked harder questions and have found intellectually satisfying answers. CS Lewis anyone? Please don’t be like the boy in The Puppy Who Lost His Way and give up after half an hour. Don’t let doubt grow into disbelief in the matter of minutes, hours, or even days. Let’s put up some posters and find, or help others find, that bleeping dog.


Tebow v Barkeley?

A little while ago, I came across this article on  regarding Philadelphia Eagles (formerly USC) quarterback Matt Barkeley. In it, Mike Florio compares him to Tim Tebow.

But Matt Barkley, a former USC quarterback, is a devout Christian.  He won’t, however, be vocal or demonstrative about it. Barkley tells Methuselah (a/k/a Larry King) in a sit down that the former Trojan shares the religious views of Tim Tebow.

“We have similar beliefs, and I’m very passionate about my faith,” Barkley said.  “Maybe not as outspoken as Tim is, he’s a passionate guy.  Maybe different in how I approach that.  But I’m very faithful in multiple ways, both to my team now that I’m in Philadelphia and to my God and Jesus Christ.”

This particular writer, and I gather he’s probably not in the minority actually prefers Barkeley’s more less “demonstrative” approach to football and faith.

From time to time, we (or at least I) have criticized athletes who fly their flag of faith a little too aggressively and zealously and openly.  And of course I end up being accused of hating Christians, even though I am one.

The many mixed signals in the thousands-year-old book to which we look for life guidance extend to the manner in which we should outwardly project our inner beliefs.  On one hand, we’re supposed to try to persuade others to believe the same things we do.  On the other hand, we’re not supposed to pray or engage in charitable works for attention or credit.

It’s a fine line, and I personally prefer Barkley’s approach.  Anyone who opts to make a strong and clear and public demonstration of faith needs to understand that some Christians will be skeptical and suspicious, in part because the thousands-year-old book in one specific portion advises us to be.

I appreciate Florio’s candor and exegesis of scripture in his expression, “we’re supposed to try to persuade others to believe the same things we do.” If by “the same things,” he means, “repentance and faith in Christ alone,” we’re on the same page. Obviously many Christians have many differences in minor matters of the faith-and for those I won’t waste time “persuading.” Often times those differences can be helpful since it allows us to reach different people. 

Florio also refers to Jesus’ command to serve and pray in private. I’m feeling a Tebow shot here, and if so, that’s a bit unfair since I don’t think Tebow tries to draw attention to himself. 

I don’t know exactly what Florio means when he says Barkeley won’t be “demonstrative” about his faith. I think we’re all demonstrating faith in something at all times. But perhaps he is referring to the Jesus soundbytes?

Regardless, just because Florio says, “I personally prefer Barkeley’s approach,” that doesn’t mean Barkely is selling out. The takeaway for me is that both Tebow and Barkeley have a common Savior. How they serve that Savior in the NFL, in some ways, is the same: do all for the glory of God and work as they are serving Jesus (I Cor 10:31; Col 3:23). But in some ways, their methods are quite different. Barkeley may not say “Jesus” every time he gets a microphone. Tebow probably will. But who knows what is going on behind the scenes in their relationships with teammates? I have no reason to think that both are being anything less than faithful in following their Savior.

Some Christians, by virtue or platform or personality, will live out their faith and it will look differently. And that’s not a bad thing. Both people may have an effective witness to their football teams, families, neighborhoods, friends, co-workers and draw widely different audiences. 

Once again, as the “thousands year old book” reminds us, the heart is the heart of the matter. Does the heart seek to bring honor to Jesus and see others honor Him? How it looks to be burdened by that call is not the point, but rather that we are burdened-or rather freed-by the call is what matters. Two different approaches but the same Jesus.

Not as free as a bird: Reflections on a dove stuck in my garage

This weekend a bird flew into our garage. That’s OK with me. I’m happy for birds to come and go as they please. As long as they go. But this one stayed for a while. Both garage doors were up, but he kept flying around in circles and continued to come back to where the garage doors lay when they are in the up position. It didn’t make sense. He kept trying and trying and trying, but would not fly low enough to go free. And then he just gave up. After I discerned him to be out of the garage, he showed up again the next day when the property appraiser showed up (I’m assuming wildlife ups the home value a bit, right?). Again he did the same thing. It flew around in a circle, but never low enough to actually fly out of the garage. He was stuck yet again.
Then the property appraiser led me to the real identity of the bird. What I had thought was a pigeon was in fact a dove. And then it all made sense. I confess I don’t know much about doves, but the word on the street is that they fly erratically. They don’t fly straight, but are pretty much all over the place. Silly and senseless. They don’t go from here to there, but from here to there and then back to here. This bird ended up going nowhere, flying all over the place, but never to the right place (the huge opening), and so ended up in the wrong place. 

It reminded me of the story of Jonah, at least a little bit.

Jonah’s name means “dove.” That’s no accident. Jonah is all over the place. He heads to Spain but ends up near northern Iraq, the very place he was trying to avoid. In some ways, Jonah was like that bird. Even though he may have sensed and tasted some sort of faux freedom, all he was ultimately doing was flying all over the garage. It seemed like freedom but in the end, it was slavery.

I really wanted this bird to experience the freedom a bird should experience. The freedom that a bird is created for: to fly in the sky. Birds aren’t made for garages. But this bird just didn’t get it. Just like Jonah. And it kind of made me sad (I’m not a dove hunter). Freedom awaited it, but freedom it refused. It wasn’t a free bird. Just like Jonah. 

Freedom for the bird is flying where it has been created to go. Freedom for man/woman is not absent of restraint but presence of opportunity. Now that’s not all that freedom is, but I think that’s the part that James brings to the conversation.
But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. 

Properly understood in the context of belief in the gospel, the law offers freedom, not slavery. Slavery is flying around senseless in a garage like a dove, but freedom is following Jesus experiencing the life he designed for us.

And it was also a good reminder to consider non-Christians like doves trapped in a garage. While not dismissing their culpability, I should be quick to remember how sorry I felt for this silly and senseless bird. Many people are flying around in circles going nowhere, not tasting true freedom. May we be saddened before we become angry with them. Sadness leads to prayer and moving towards them in love. Anger leads to judgment and separation.

What the Packers and Seahawks teach us about grace

For those who opted to stay up late to watch the Monday Night Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks game, you were rewarded with perhaps the worst call since the infamous Bert Immanuel catch (#5 on the NFL’s most controversial calls,which mind you, prompted a rule change; the “tuck rule” was never amended after Tom Brady’s fumble that wasn’t). 

If you didn’t see it, Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings came down with the final pass of the game in his hands. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had one hand on the ball but was rewarded with the game winning catch. Things got so bad that some packers considered drastic measures like kneeling down every play until the replacement refs are sent back to the high school and Pop Warner fields from whence they came. 

To make matters worse, Golden Tate blatantly shoves down another defensive player, completely taking him out of the play. That is called “offensive pass interference” in most people’s “books,” though admittedly is rarely called at the end of games.

So Golden Tate was rewarded with the touchdown, even though someone else secured that possession for him. Tate received something good, because of the work of someone else. He received the fruit and credit for the labor of another.

Not only that, but he clearly disqualified himself by pushing down another defender in order to try and secure possession of something that was clearly out of reach. He should have received a penalty. Instead he is rewarded and blessed.

Does this sound like something that has happened before? It should.

It’s the gospel. It’s grace. Getting something good when you deserve something bad. Getting something good because the real winner chose to lose and take the bad for you.

Philippians 3:9

“….and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

 Colossians 2:13-14
   13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 
The Seahawks clearly were the recipients of grace in some form.

In a Jim Rome interview, one player felt particularly angered. But anger boiled up in this man not primarily because of the bad call, but because of the Seahawks disdaining the grace bestowed upon them. Instead of owing the victory to grace, several Seahawks claimed that this was simply the result of hard work, dedication, and drive.

Quarterback Russell Wilson claimed someone “made a play.” Coach Pete Caroll affirmed that it was the right call. Golden Tate wouldn’t fess up to his shoving the other defensive back to the ground.

That’s what angered this player so much. Taking credit for something it is clearly grace.

A few thoughts:

1.) Grace does make people mad, particularly those who think they’ve earned something. The older brother in the Prodigal Son story was angered by grace. He didn’t get anything good despite how “good” he thought he’d been. If you believe grace, preach grace, show grace, you will make people angry. If you tell them that they need grace, or still need grace, you will make people mad. We’re a messed up bunch, but we don’t like to hear that!

2.) On the same note (“G” for Grace), when you recognize your own need for grace, folks will find something offensive, much more attractive. It would have done much to disarm the situation if several Seahawks simply said, “Yep, we were given a gift tonight.” Grace was offensive, but it would have disarmed a lot of angry people to admit they needed it. If we preach grace to “people like you, people that really need it, people like _____,” then we will inevitably get an angry “You think you’re better than me?” But if grace is for people like “us,” well then, that goes a long way. It’s good theology as well. Romans 3:23.

3.) We ought to get as upset with ourselves as the Pack did with the Seahawks when the latter denied the grace that had been shown to them. It made me sick to see how much credit Seattle took for their victory. Does it bother us as much when we forget that any spiritual victory is the work of Christ in us? It’s His work in us that we celebrate. He has taken possession of salvation for us and now puts the “ball” in our hands. Only we rejoice with Him who has taken possession of what we could never hope to possess.

How to point people to a church without Arrogance or Ignorance

When talking to unbelieving seekers or Christians without a church home, there are always two extremes to avoid. The first is to assume that all churches are doing the same thing and preaching the same thing. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, as many churches and denominations have certainly abandoned the gospel. That’s ignorance.
The other extreme is to assume that your church is the only faithful church in the area. Now of course this is possible, but to assume that is the case without any evidence falls on the same side as arrogance. People can pick up on arrogance and most folks aren’t big fans of it.
There can be a weirdness when it comes to pointing such a person to a church. You do have to acknowledge that not all churches preach Christ and Him crucified, but you don’t want to sound (or be for that matter) arrogant, divisive, and say, “It’s my church or one that has gone apostate. Those are your options.” Both can be destructive for the seeker. You could end up affirming falsehood or reinforce their suspicion of “You just want me to come to YOUR church.”
So what can you do?
Last night a good friend of mine really offered a great idea. Simple but really quite good as it affirms the truth while graciously avoiding error.
1.) Explain the gospel to the seeker. Whether he/she is a believer, seeker, or just thinks he/she a Christian, you have the opportunity to say, “I would recommend you go to a church that really preaches the gospel. Not all churches do these days. Here is what I think the bible says about the gospel.” If he/she is asking about churches to go to, you have the open door. Thoroughly explain the gospel message.
2.) Challenge the seeker/believer to really listen to the sermons and see if what is being preached is the gospel. Tell him/her to go to church where the gospel is preached. Explain the difference between moralism and true repentance and faith. Let them know the difference between universalism and the truth that only Jesus can save. Let them know that they should be able to hear the difference between grace and simply “try harder and be nice” or “do this and God will love you more.” If they know the gospel, they will be able to smell moralism, universalism, and legalism.
3.) Listen for exegesis more than opinions or good advice. Don’t say “exegesis.” But you can tell them that a gospel centered church will always be centered around what God’s Word really says. If a passage is read but not expounded and applied, then you are left with opinions and advice.
4.) Follow up with him/her. You can always say, “I can’t speak for all the churches in the area. I’m sure there are good ones. But here is my experience with mine. If you’d like to come and check out my church, if for no other reason to help you confirm you’re in the right place, we’d love to have you.” If not, you can still ask him/her to describe his/her experiences so far.
If you live in a churched area, chances are you will have such opportunities to direct people to churches other than yours. But in such opportunities, you may end up with an opportunity to share the gospel, direct people to other good churches, or eventually plug them into your church community. The latter is not a bad goal if you truly believe that it is the best place for them to grow in Christ.

If you center everything around the gospel, and help point them to church that preaches the gospel-regardless if its yours or not-it’s a win for the home team.

NFL Live, Authenticiy, and Tebow

The Denver Broncos, the team that my three year old sometimes calls the “Tebows,” backed into the play-offs this year by losing three straight games. Fortunately for them, the other teams in their division also lost. As a result they will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. 
Their QB Tim Tebow has played very poorly lately. He’s not shown the 4th quarter magic we’ve become used to the last month or two. I would imagine that as quickly as people have jumped on that Tebow bandwagon, they will jump off when/if the Broncos start losing again.
However, not all will jump off. The crew (Trey Wingo, Marcellus Wiley, Mark Shlereth) from NFL Live absolutely sang his praises several weeks ago, but it wasn’t because of his play; it was his personality. The word that they continued to come back to was “authentic.” They piled on with the usual expressions: what you see is what you get; he doesn’t change to fit some mold; he is who he is. And he doesn’t apologize for his personality, which is of course, largely shaped by his faith in Christ.
Authentic is perhaps the most over-used word in our post-modern world. Nevertheless, it is obviously still culturally apropos and it is a word-or at least a sentiment-that people cherish. 
Authenticity is really only cherished nowadays because of post-modernity. So this vague  post-modernness (still pretty hard to define) is not all bad, but the ever-cherished post-modern term brings both challenges and opportunities.
Some of these guys probably don’t share the same faith as Tebow. They may not-though I can’t assume one way or another-enjoy Tebow calling them to faith and repentance. But that is irrelevant. The content of his faith, or the fact that his faith shapes his personality is not important. So that can present a challenge when we share our faith. There is gospel content which needs to be embraced for one to be saved. Yet what is important to many is simply whether or not someone is authentic. If that faith makes you authentic, good. That’s the goal.
Authenticity is valued more than love. This shouldn’t surprise us at all. So Tebow can be authentic as well as love and respect others, while someone else can be authentic but say F*&$ you to anyone who anyone who threatens to constrain their autonomy. They are both authentic. 
In addition, it is in the name of authenticity, that folks feel the need to be true to themselves and so they justify divorce just as quickly as sending back cold food at Applebees.
Still, I think the opportunities that the ever popular “authenticity” brings far outweigh the challenges. For instance, here is a guy who is unashamed to mention Jesus’ name any chance he gets, and one of these lads actually uses the picture of he and Tebow as his twitter avatar. 
Authenticity will often give you a chance to at least be heard. Even though what people want is the authenticity more than the Christ who alone can free us to be authentic AND other-centered at the same time, the conversation can begin. The freedom to be who we are called to be, will often give us a platform. You don’t have to be a good quarterback. People listen to authentic people as well as crave to be authentic themselves. It is in Christ that we can speak of a freedom that is truly free but not autonomous and self-centered.
Authenticity appreciates brokenness over moral perfection. There are obvious blatantly hypocritical Christians who will not be heard by anyone. But these lads are not lauding Tebow’s moral perfection. They really aren’t. They aren’t saying he’s flawless. They like the fact that he is free to be who he really is. So if they see Tebow sin, it doesn’t destroy his witness to them. Authenticity admiring folks don’t need to see perfection. They need to see repentance. They actually give Christians more of an opportunity to fail. And that’s good. We can sin before others. 
Steve Brown recounts a story in his book Scandalous Freedom where a Christian woman slept with her boss and eventually repented before him, explained why it was so heinous, and led that man to Jesus. I think that kind of thing probably happens more in an authenticity craving culture. 

So postmodern catch words, or at least postmodern influence on culture, has shaped even NFL analysts. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, I it really does bring more opportunities than challenges.

Modnik Update: Compassion and Application

Here is the final update from our Jr. High youth retreat. The other one’s are here, here, and here. The final talk Sunday morning centered around some motivations and applications of how to actually go about changing or influencing the culture.

Compassion: How do the kids look upon people who don’t know Jesus and “do the things” they do? Are they judgmental and angry at kids who simply are doing what non-Christians do (not following Jesus)? The correct response should be compassion. When Jesus looked upon the crowds, he didn’t see a bunch of idiots, or yahoos, or even simply a bunch of sinners, he saw people who were helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9). He had compassion upon them.

One heart at a time: There is no need to assume that youth will necessarily see people come to Christ en masse and whole middle schools will be changed instantly. The challenge that he left them with was to think through one or two of their friends who need Jesus. Instead of judging them, spend time loving them, serve them, and begin to communicate the gospel message. Instead of having nothing to do with non-Christians, begin to pray compassionately for them, move towards them, and live out their faith before them. Darkness needs light. That which is stale and bland needs salt. Compassion motivated, not guilt, or results motivated. 

My thoughts:

I liked David’s approach once again.

The storm hell with water guns, rah-rah approach just doesn’t seem to jive with anyone anymore. I also appreciated his non-triumphalism, as though we’ll have this whole Satan influencing culture thing down pat in a few years. Unless you are a post-millenialist, you realize that the church will advance and have some effect on the surrounding culture while at the same time Satan will see major advances. I don’t know who will be in the “lead” when Jesus comes back. I also don’t care, as its really none of my business. Jesus thinks the same (Mark 13:32).

Nevertheless, one heart at a time, does really make a difference. When God calls us out of the kingdom of darkness, he brings us into His glorious Kingdom (Col 1:13). People can see that. Some will like us even if they don’t like what we stand for. They will like us for our love. When people like you, they usually will at the very least listen to you. So the opportunity for impact is fairly large even with one heart at a time.

Ultimately, David’s cultural approach can be summed up (as I see it) by “live out your faith among your  Christian and non-Christian friends and let your faith make a difference in your schools, sports teams, neighborhoods, and families as much as the Lord sees fit. In the music, art, business you make/create or take in, let Jesus be Lord. Even just a few people who are Christians in a college religion class, where God’s Word is the subject of ridicule, does make a difference. I know from experience. The same is true for middle schoolers.

Some final thoughts on applying this

1.) Are middle schoolers ready to live out their faith among the world? That’s got to be entered into carefully and prayerfully. Maybe yours is not. Maybe yours is. Parents have to make that decision, but don’t assume that youth are necessarily too young to influence their friends for Christ.

2.) Middle-schoolers, like all Christians, need fellowship. They can’t ONLY be around non-Christians. Youth groups are key. So is church worship. So are other fellowship opportunities. So are godly families. If you and your youth are ready to be used in reaching out to others, they need to grounded in solid fellowship. And the flip is also true: if they are grounded in good fellowship, then they can probably can step out in faith and make a difference without being overwhelmed.

3.) Take advantage of outreaching opportunities. Invite unchurched youth into your fellowship. They don’t need to go on secret one-on-one missions, but instead can reach out with their fellowship.

  • Hospitality: Simply having one of your kid’s friends over to your house, and living out your faith before them, is a good place to start. Have them over to eat, or come to spend the night, and go to church the next day. You can control, to a degree, the environment this way.
  • Wyldlife: Christian kids can have an impact in their culture simply by inviting their friends to Wyldlife, the middle school version of YoungLife. Their friendships can play a part in leaving people to Jesus, and then to the church. All it take is a friendship and invitation. You need not fear the environment-though it can get a little messy on certain occasions!
  • Youth Group: This is an untapped resource that I really challenged the kids to think about. Invite friends to youth group and they will get to hear the gospel as well as see what fellowship looks like. The early Christians seemed to do lots of fellowshiping, but obviously didn’t neglect evangelism. I think fellowship and evangelism probably happened in the same place.
  • Church: While I don’t think this is the only outreach attempt we should make, we should still be open to inviting folks to church. Youth will often come if invited. Particularly if they spend the night. 

In the end, God can use Middle Schoolers in a bigger way than we might have assumed. As families, you can be a part of something bigger than just hoping they good good grades and do well in sports. You have the opportunity to be involved in something big. Huge. Don’t waste or wish away the middle school years, because God can redeem. 

We’re not the same but we can be friends

This is probably my final 9/11 thought for a while. Most likely.
Last week I came across this article on the CNN belief blog titled “How 9-11 eroded our shared faith and American identity.”
The writer laments how the attacks of 9-11 distanced the Christian-Muslim-Jewish communities from each other. And obviously he is right. Folks are probably more wary of Islam than when I was in college in 1999. They may see more of a distinction with this religion. If branches of Islam lead people to fly planes into buildings and also kill other branches of Islam, then obviously that doesn’t seem like the same faith. 
And the truth of the matter is that he does have a point. Not all branches of Islam, particularly in America advocate violence. Nevertheless some do, and go on killing rampages like the disaster at Ft. Hood. And of course, “Christians” in the name of “Christianity” kill people in Jesus’ name.
Upon first glance, you could argue Christianity and a western form of Islam have some commonalities in regards to ethical claims like loving others and taking care of the poor. The writer goes beyond ethical claims to point out that the two faiths are essentially the same. Writing about his interfaith family:

Our mini “melting pot” succeeded because we focused on the commonalities between Islam and Christianity, the most obvious being that we worship the same God. How could we not? After all, we share almost identical prophets such as Moses, Abraham and Jesus.

If the bible depicted Jesus solely as a prophet, it would be a little harder to disagree with him. But we studied Colossians 1:15-18 in our CD (community/discipleship) group last week:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
If I’m praying to Jesus, who is more than a prophet, but the 2nd person of the Trinity, then its pretty hard to argue that someone who says, “Nope, Jesus was just a prophet, and a heck of a nice lad,” is praying to the same God. If Jesus called Jews who didn’t believe in Him “children of the devil” (John 8:44) and that our shared history of Moses and Abraham did not mean Jews and Christians were “on the same page”-Abraham rejoiced at seeing Jesus (John 8:56) then I don’t think it would be a great leap to think Jesus would have said the same things about a future religion which shared common roots but minimized or disbelieved in His deity.
We can just agree to disagree and still be friends, and extended family members with cordial relations, can’t we? Do we have to agree in order to be friends? While that’s a present American fallacy, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t this way when we started. Regardless, Jesus prayed for those who ignorantly disbelieved in Him, and so can we (Luke 23:24). 

The problem is that there is no American paradigm for disagreeing with someone’s religion or sexual preference but at the same time still befriending and getting to know them. What that means is that Christians have an opportunity to prayerfully, lovingly, and patiently introduce and demonstrate that to our culture.

Do you guys baptize adults in this place? Part III: Learning from Puddy’s apathy

This is the third post on adult baptisms and the dearth of them in some Presbyterian circles. It is ironic, or maybe just apropos, that last night I watched one of the few “spiritually” minded Seinfeld episodes. Elaine eventually realizes that her churl of an on-again-off-again boyfriend David Puddy, is a professing Christian. It took the “Jesus” fish and pre-set Christian radio stations for the sirens to finally sound in her head. 
In all of the humor of the episode, and it is a fine one at that, I found it raised some wonderful concerns and questions about evangelism. Puddy, with his outwardly, culturally Christian indicators like Christians music, memorabilia, utterances of the 10 commandments when it suited him, displayed a quality consistent with many true Christians today. He didn’t care one bit about Elaine’s eternal salvation.
In fact, Elaine calls him on this, and posits this contradiction present within many of us: “If I am going to Hell, which I’m not, but if I am, you should care that I’m going to Hell.” Wow. How true.
While I’m not going to psycho-analyze a fictitious character, I think we can at least see WHY he didn’t care about the salvation of his girlfriend. And from that, how WE can care more about the salvation of our friends and neighbors.
1.) Outward Christian signs don’t necessarily reveal any spiritual depth. The “Jesus” fish, the Christian music, even facebook posting of bible verses (I’m obviously pro-bible verse posting and am often encouraged by such verses; however, we shouldn’t NECESSARILY equate their posting to the Spirit working) are all accepted, and sometimes expected forms and demonstrations of personal faith. Yet it is possible to display such signs, even good signs, without the Spirit really at work changing our hearts. That is one reason we often don’t care: the Spirit isn’t at work in our lives and His fruit has been tossed aside and ignored so that we can focus on external demonstrations.
2.) The outward keeping of the God’s law, which is a good thing (His Law), can also lead us to care less about the salvation of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Puddy told Elaine to steal her neighbor’s newspaper. Elaine responded, “But that paper belongs to Mr. Potato guy. Why don’t you steal it?” Puddy quickly retorted,” Sorry, Thou shalt not steal.” Outwardly he didn’t steal, but inwardly he was obviously breaking the heart of the commandment by trying to get Elaine to steal it for him. Sometimes the outward conformity to God’s law, or simple morality can become an enemy of love for others, because we are in actuality, missing the arrow of God’s law: pointing us to Jesus. Hard to love others when we don’t see Jesus love for sinners like us.
3.) No grace, no care. Puddy then explains why it is OK for her, but not for him to steal: “Why does it matter if you steal it; you’re already going to Hell?” Obviously he has no concept of grace. If Puddy does break God’s law, he is hurting His chances of going to Heaven. So at this point, he knows nothing of grace. God has offered a salvation plan, which means following Jesus example. He doesn’t want to depart from that path because He doesn’t want to miss out; the doesn’t want to get zapped. That’s not grace. It’s no wonder he doesn’t care. That’s not really good news: do your best and don’t mess up or you’ll be cut from the team like an injured NFL star. 
On another Seinfeld episode Puddy declares, “I got nothing.” He’s got nothing to share because he hasn’t tasted grace. When we don’t regularly taste grace, that we can’t screw up our salvation, we will care to share. We won’t care less, we’ll care more.
4.) Know grace, care. Finally at the end of the episode, Puddy has his heart broken as the priest delivers him the bad news: because he and Elaine are sleeping together, they are both going to Hell. At one point, this is beautiful. You see someone so confident in his good works realize that his sins have disqualified him for heaven. Unfortunately the priest tells them nothing of the gospel and so Puddy is left with nothing.
If he were a believer he could say, “I do need to repent from this sin of shacking up. And I will. You’re right about that. But no sin disqualifies me from Christ’s one time atoning sacrifice. I’m repenting and resting in Him.”

But because Puddy knows religion and not the gospel he is left hopeless. He didn’t care to share the gospel because he didn’t understand the gospel. He didn’t care about the life of his friend because He didn’t realize what Jesus has done for his people already. In order for our lives to demonstrate a greater concern for those outside Christ, we have to go back and see ourselves in both Elaine and Puddy. We do sin, and sin quite often. And we do many times follow the law, but our hearts have various motivations. 

Yet the offer of the gospel is for the licentious and the religious, for people like you and me. And once we see that no one can say to the true believer, “You’re going to Hell,” that God would be even be acting unjustly to send the believer to Hell because he doesn’t re-punish sin, we will begin to see our apathy evaporate.

Do you guys baptize adults in this place? Part II: Desire

This is a follow up post on why someone may not have seen as many adult baptisms in a Presbyterian setting as in a Baptistic church. One reason, and I don’t think its the only reason, is that there just might be fewer conversions. 
However, I want to depart from comparing denominations or convictions on baptism. Comparing theological differences, particularly when they deal with gospel truncations can be helpful. And comparing evangelistic strategies can also be helpful as we have much to learn from each other. But comparing the “results” of evangelism, which are ultimately the Lord’s work (Acts 13:48), can lead to either pride or jealousy. So I’ll focus particularly on why we don’t see more conversion than we would like, and not on why we don’t see more conversions than them
All Presbyterians-and when I say that I don’t mean folks who necessarily subscribe to the polity or theology of the P.C.A., but who are currently attending/members of such a church-should at least consider why we don’t see more conversions.
Here are a few possibilities. In no ways am I zeroing in on evangelism to the neglect of other ministries of the individual believer and the church; it just happens to be the a pertinent issue when dealing with a dearth of conversions. All of these particular possibilities are couched in lack of desire.
1.) We don’t care that much, so we don’t pray that much. This sounds un-spiritual, and that’s because it is. But it may very well be a good representation of our hearts-mine included. Perhaps we just don’t care as much as we say we do. If we’re not regularly praying for specific people to come to faith, we should probably not be surprised when specific people don’t come to faith. If we don’t have specific people we would like to see come to faith, and plug into the life of the church, then we need to ask God for specific people to come into our lives. God is cool with that: He’s opened some doors for us recently. 
Then open up your eyes and see who’s there. And if you need the faith to believe a specific someone could come to faith, you can ask for that too. I think we all have people we deem “un-reachable.” I guess sometimes you could say our lack of conversions may stem from lack of faith as much as lack of desire. It has for me.
2.) We don’t care that much, so we don’t prioritize any time for such relationships.
Time is precious. We have family. We have work. We have hobbies which help burn off stress or help us spend time with family. You can’t invite your friends to work, but you can invite them to things that are currently in your schedule. Checkers motto, “You gotta eat” rings true. Invite them to things you already do and you’ll find you actually do have the time.
3.) We don’t care that much, so we aren’t inentionally trying to move our non-Christian relationships to the next level of verbally sharing the message of the gospel. This is where I stink. I’m great at building relationships, pretty good at inviting folks to church, but often don’t find myself being as intentional with my questions that till the soil for personal gospel sharing. Praying for desire is still a legitimate prayer in this stage.

4.) We don’t care that much, but we never recognize our apathy. As a result, we don’t repent of it. None of us probably care as much as we think we do. Again, I’m not highlighting evangelism above leading your family, honoring Christ at work, mercy, discipleship, but simply want to raise the point that many of us probably don’t care as much as we think we do. Perhaps that’s one of the main culprits.