“I don’t know.” She stares out over the river, her mind distant. “I mean, I try to do good. But my mind keeps on doing things. And I’ve done things.” She lapses into silence again. “I mean, I’ve done things that are bad. Really bad.” She looks down. “If it’s the Ten Commandments, if it’s really the Ten Commandments, I don’t know what I’d do.”
And I tell her.
I tell her it is the Ten Commandments. God says, “Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He says, “Do this and you will live.”
I really don’t have any hope, either. Not if it’s based on the Ten Commandments. No way. “The soul who sins is the one who dies.”
But then I point her to Jesus. “So, Jesus was holy. He was perfect. He really deserved life! And do you know what happened to him instead?”
She nods, a little hesitant. “He died on the cross.” (more…)
“Pastor, what do you teach about baptism?”
That wasn’t the question I was expecting. I visit a medical rehab hospital twice a week and talk to anyone who wants to talk to me. I usually have good conversations and lots of opportunities to present the Gospel. People ask me questions all the time, and spiritual questions aren’t uncommon.
I think this is the first time I’ve been asked about baptism, though.
I answered, “Well, I believe what Peter writes in First Peter – that ‘Baptism now saves you.’”
The old man nodded, a smile on his joyous face. “That’s right! Baptism washes your sins away in the blood of Christ, right?”
I grin. I run into a lot of people. Many people who don’t know Jesus, but also a lot of Christians from very different backgrounds. Most don’t get the Sacraments, so this kind of surprises me. “That’s right!” I answer. (more…)
Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying churches
by Mark Clifton
Every year hundreds of churches close their doors for good. Right now there are thousands of churches in the States that are irrelevant; if they closed for good, maybe two dozen people would be affected, and the neighborhood wouldn’t even notice. Does it give glory to God to close a church? Does it give glory to God to merely survive? In Reclaiming Glory, Mark Clifton outlines a process to help replant churches, showing that the goal must be to give glory to God, or else it’s just an exercise in idolatry.
In general, I really wish I’d had this book a number of years ago. I’ve already learned a number of these lessons the hard way. His characteristics of a dying church are spot-on: “Dying churches love to discuss, debate, define, and describe” (22). “They value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached” (23). “They see the community as the resources from which they can grow, when in fact they need to understand that the truth is just the opposite. The community is not there for the church; the church is there for the community” (27).
Clifton’s “Six Replanting Imperatives” are also exactly what’s needed: Pray without ceasing. Love the church’s remaining members. Exegete the community. Simplify your strategy. Focus on reaching young men. Make disciples who make disciples. (more…)
“So he started by telling me that Goliath was the descendant of aliens that sought to enslave mankind. He showed me all this, um, proof that there were giants that were from other worlds. He went on to tell me that Jesus was not God, and that he got all his ideas from Buddha.”
I look around at the council. All of it is true. He had wanted to talk to me, and we’d arranged to meet at Waffle House. (Look, if you want to see Jesus quicker, eat at a Waffle House. You’ll be dead soon enough.)
I continued, “When I shared the Gospel with him, he insisted that we couldn’t trust the Bible anyway. I lined up all the textual and manuscript evidence we have. He accepted that Jesus was seen after the crucifixion, but only because Judas purposely betrayed the wrong man, and the rest of the apostles had paid off some guy to die in Jesus’s place. After Easter, Jesus went to France and had a bunch of babies with his wife.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Also, this man claims to be Roman Catholic.” (more…)
The Monday Morning Church: Out of the Sanctuary and Into the Streets
by Jerry Cook
The church’s power isn’t in what happens Sunday, but in living Christian lives and loving on Monday. But how can the church be empowered to be the church on Monday? In this book, Jerry Cook takes us through the book of Ephesians, showing how God has transformed who we are. Being the church on Monday is simply knowing who you are in Christ.
Let me sum up my thoughts on this book: kljalkjaslkjjash;kjblvlkj
Move Toward the Mess: The Ultimate Fix for a Boring Christian Life
by John Hambrick
Jesus wasn’t boring. If he was, he wouldn’t have had the following he had. If Jesus was boring, the religious leaders would not have sought to kill him. So why is it that so many Christians are bored in their faith lives? John Hambrick tackles this challenge, pointing to grace from God and grace to our fellow humans as a stunning answer.
Overall, this book is pretty solid. I appreciate Hambrick’s repeated stress that we are forgiven in Christ, and that motivates us. He includes a chapter on guilt, showing that it should not be our motivator. We don’t do anything to gain forgiveness, after all! “God is bigger than the mess. And that confidence enables us to invest in things like self-control. It’s not so we can earn God’s favor. It’s because we already have it” (64). (more…)
Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant
by Ken Ham
“The gospel message hasn’t changed, but the way in which it needs to be presented in a secularized culture does need to change” (10). Ken Ham attempts to show why our culture has changed and the necessity of changing how we present the Gospel, and then shows how that change should occur.
I got this book free in the mail, unsolicited. Apparently Answers in Genesis will occasionally send out free copies of books to local pastors, and I qualified! The entire book took me maybe an hour to read; it’s slim!
Ken Ham compares the Acts 2 sermon that Peter gave to Jews to the Acts 17 sermon that Paul gave to the Greeks. Ham rightly says that Peter didn’t have to explain concepts like God or sin because the Jews already had that basis; Paul had to set out the foundation because the Greeks had not been taught them. Ham then shows evidence that we now live in an Acts 17 culture, and as such we cannot assume that those we speak to understand basic concepts like God and sin.
So far so good. (more…)
I would be willing to die for my faith. At least I think I would be; if God is real, he is worth dying for. But watching adults who have lived twenty or thirty years longer than I have act as they are acting right now makes me wonder if this whole Christianity thing is real at all. If older Christians are showing me where this faith is going, I don’t want to go with them. I don’t want to be on that team.
That’s Rebecca K. Reynolds quoting a college student she worked with in her book Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World (my review shall be forthcoming!).
The young woman’s emotions strike me. I agree with her.
I look at the many apathetic Christians that line the halls of the many churches I’ve belonged to. Don’t the get it? Jesus is so much bigger and more exciting and important than weekend sports (every weekend) or work (did you ask about getting the shift off or did it not matter?) or sleeping in (I get it. Sleep is important. I’m a new dad again. I miss sleep.).
I think about how many leadership teams are stressed about what’s going on with the church-as-organization but don’t seem to get invested in Jesus-as-head-of-church.
I think about how many people seem to limp through worship. The Law doesn’t seem to cut. The Gospel doesn’t seem to revive. The music doesn’t seem to touch them, and the prayers are something to be mumbled. And Communion? Oh, it’s Communion week again. Sure. Whatever.
Do they not get it? (more…)
Meet Generation Z
by James Emery White
Millennials are important, but they’re no longer the largest generation. That would be Generation Z, those born from 1993 to 2012. They are the first truly post-Christian generation in the West, and they will change how churches speak and do evangelism. Who are these people who are already changing our culture, and what should churches do?
Most of this book is fantastic. It uses population and census data along with some well-researched surveys to show how the upcoming generation is different than previous generations. It highlights the differences between Generation Z and Millennials, showing that churches that are going after Millennials may well miss the next generation. It makes fantastic applications of this information, as well.
For instance, the book shows that the majority of those who are Generation Z have not even heard of the shadow of the Gospel. That changes how we do evangelism; we cannot assume any base of knowledge. “The heart of any evangelistic process is going to have to major in explanation. Everything must be explained, from music to messages, symbols to ritual, because so little is understood” (110, emphasis in original). I have to admit that the book is really preaching to the choir with me on this particular point, but I think it needs to be stated over and over again. As someone who moved recently, I think I drove the PTA president up a wall because I kept asking what certain things were that he assumed everyone knew. Sorry, I’m new here! And how much more frustrating if the place doing it is a church! (more…)
I invited four families. Not one came. One responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” to the invitation, and that was the only one I really counted on showing up. But… not even them.
And it wasn’t even to church.
Sure, it was a church outing. It was to a baseball game with tailgating ahead of time. And the church was covering all the expenses. Free.
So at this event designed to just introduce guests to our church family… I brought no guests. And at this great event… there was exactly two guests. Plenty of members, but only two guests.
This whole “Go into all the world thing” ain’t working out so well. (more…)