If Jesus Is Real

brown wooden church bench near white painted wall

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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…)


Review: Meet Generation Z

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…)

And No One Came

baseball bleachers chairs close up

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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…)

Review: Other Sheep

Other Sheep
by Arnold H. Schroeder

Pastor Arnold Schroeder served as an institutional pastor for forty-two years, starting in 1938. In Other Sheep, he talks about the many different people he brought the Gospel to, from asylums, to hospitals, to rest homes, to orphanages. Throughout, he continues to praise God for loving sinners and calling lost sheep back to their Shepherd.

I was honestly surprised about the content of this book; I had expected it to be sharing how to share the Gospel in some very challenging situations, with some real-world examples. Instead what I got was story after story of how the Gospel worked. Schroeder tells most of his stories within one or two pages, but don’t think you’re getting Chicken Soup for the Soul here. This is not only heart-wrenching, but drenched with the Gospel. Schroeder isn’t afraid to let us see what sin has done, but he also shows how wonderful Jesus’s forgiveness really is. More than once tears came to my eyes as I read his vivid descriptions. He talks about veteran’s homes, asylums, hospitals, and the people that lived there.

The book isn’t just amazing stories. It shows pastoral care in action. It talks about how a pastor talked about Jesus, how the Holy Spirit used that Word, and how that Word grew into action in many people’s lives. I’m actually sad that I hadn’t had this book recommended to me at the Seminary; it provides so many good case studies!

I also enjoyed seeing history come alive in this book. This man started his ministry before the States entered World War Two! There’s been a lot of change in how we as a nation treat those who are unable to care for themselves. Our culture has changed so much, too. This is no nostalgic look back, nor is it condemning, but a simple, “This is how things were.”

And over and over again, Schroeder shared not only the stories of the people he ministered to, but how he shared Jesus with them. This is the Gospel in action, connecting Jesus’s death on the cross with living people and changing them.

If you’re looking for a straight-up practical theology book giving direct pointers, this isn’t for you. But if you want to see theology in action, to see how Jesus touched people throughout the 20th century, this book is well, well worth your time.

As Serpents

We had a visitor at church tonight! He showed up with ten minutes left of worship. Came in huffing and puffing. Joined the conversation and the singing and the praying. He joined us for our confession of sins and our absolution, hearing directly what Jesus did for us.

After worship, my evangelism chairman introduced himself and a couple other people. I let them take point; it’s good for others in the congregation to get involved. After taking care of some other business with members, I approached and this visitor told me his sad, sad story: He rode the bus all the way to our town from the other side of the state and walked from about two miles away to get to our church (which is why he was so late), but he left the envelope with his money on the bus and now had no way to get home. (more…)

Review: Authentic Christianity

Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World
by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton

People are burned out on churches. They’re taught that things are a matter of opinion, and what churches teach are spiritual, divorced from “hard reality.” Is the answer for churches to update what they do to try and reach the current culture? Authentic Christianity proposes something different: Teaching what Lutherans have taught for hundreds of years. It tackles big modernist and postmodernist beliefs, and shows how Lutheran theology perfectly answers both.

I’m not sure that the subtitle fits. While it does talk a lot about postmodernism and how it shows up in our world, as well as the vestiges of modernism that still attack, the focus seems to be in… a slightly different angle. Much of this book shows how Lutheranism is a physical religion that takes real things and deals with them in real ways. It shows how Jesus became flesh. It shows that the body is not a bad thing. That God chooses to become physical. The book then explores how that effects life in many, many ways.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying the book is bad. It was very good and gave me a lot of things to think about! I’m just saying I’m not sure the subtitle was the best choice to reveal what the book was about. (To be fair, a book talking about how Lutheranism combats neo-gnosticism probably wouldn’t sell well.) (more…)

His name is Doug.

It’s about eleven in the evening. I just got home. My wife is not very happy with me. The last thing I texted her was that the tow truck had just pulled up. That was over an hour ago. I should have been home at least half an hour ago. She thought I drove off a cliff on my way home.

Well, I didn’t.

The tow truck pulled up. Guy hopped out and took a look at the van. Pronounced it dead. Hooked it up for the tow to the shop. Thankfully due to the kindness of some others, I’d been able to get home and get my sedan earlier. The rest of the family was safe at home. Then it was just waiting around for the truck to arrive. And now, here he was! Didn’t talk much as he looked at the van. Reminded me a lot of my brother-in-law, in fact, in mannerisms and such. Got the van up onto the bed of the truck.

And then we started talking. And talking. And talking. About an hour of talking as we stood in the frigid parking lot and people left the bars on either end of the strip mall. (more…)

Review: Of Other Gods and Other Spirits

Of Other Gods and Other Spirits
by E. H. Wendland

E. H. Wendland served as a missionary, stationed in Lusaka, Zambia, during the 1960’s and 70’s. In this book, he speaks of what he’s discovered of the people he was sent to share Jesus with. He focuses on their culture and religion, talking about both good and ill. As he goes through, he shares many excellent evangelism principles. Short chapters address the general attitude toward religion, spirituality, marriage, children, and so on. Wendland constantly returns to Scripture to guide his discussion, always trying to find the best way to share Jesus.

I’m currently also reading the Confessions (you’ll hear more on that in upcoming weeks!), so I wanted to grab something short and sweet. This slim book was certainly a fast read, but it’s anything but shallow! As I read, more and more quotes popped out at me.

When speaking about the necessity for the African church to stand on its own, to be self-supporting, Wendland writes, “A church can be ever so self-supporting, yet if it is simply a carbon copy of something soming [sic] out of another culture, a mimicry of expressions from another society, the local people will never really feel at home in it” (87). Should the African church look like the churches that planted it? Should it look European, or should it be its own thing? Wendland clearly advocates that it should find its own way – though in context, he clearly intends that it stays in Scripture and base what they do in what God has clearly spoken in the Bible: “Lutheran World Federation members were similarly reminded not to start with culture, but with Scripture, not to look for an ‘African theology,’ but a ‘theology in an African setting’” (89). (more…)

Review: UnChristian

UnChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity …and why it matters
by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

Barna Research asked over 50,000 people who aren’t Christians what they thought of Christianity. This book is the result of the research. It highlights the most common responses, as well as what proper responses are. The most common responses were: Hypocritical, Conversion-Focused, Antihomosexual, Sheltered, Too Political, and Judgmental. After some introductory chapters, lengthy chapters focus on each word, giving ample time for those outside Christianity to explain what they mean and why they say it. Each chapter then concludes with reactions from Christian leaders. The book then wraps up with a summary chapter pointing the way ahead.

There are two bad ways this book could have gone. It could have wrung its hands saying, “Look how terrible it is for the church! We need to change the way we do everything or we’ll be forgotten!” It could also have brushed off the complaints: “Clearly these people have no idea what Christianity is, so we need to double down on what we do.” Instead, it walks a narrow middle ground: “If this is their perception, we need to deal with it. And is this an opportunity for us to do some soul-searching? Are their perceptions accurate?” And rather than turn to popular opinion, the book urges us to turn to Christ to see the way to go.

I appreciated the balance a great deal. The book take a look, for example, why Christians are regarded as “hypocritical,” giving several examples of why outsiders view Christians that way. It then warns that outsiders will never understand Christians fully, as they do not know Jesus. And then – gasp! – the book asks the reader to evaluate their actions in the light of Christ, and rather than do what a congregation might want, see what Jesus would do. (more…)

Review: Fusion

by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson

How many first-time guests enter your church, never to return? How are we valuing these gifts from God, these opportunities to share Jesus? In this book, Searcy shows his method for turning a first-time visitor into a second-time-visitor into a regular visitor into a member. He gives the specifics of his congregation’s approach, explains the reasoning behind it, and how to get such a program started. He walks through how to engineer positive first impressions, generate a willingness to be contacted, and how to help ensure that visitors join the community of the congregation. The book includes a helpful appendix that summarizes the various resources found in the book.

The book offers exactly what it says it offers: a method of follow-up that’s pretty good. Searcy backs up his reasoning well with various surveys and shows so many good examples, I feel I could replicate his method fairly accurately. His approach is very seeker-friendly, for better or worse. It has nothing to do with what a church teaches or what a congregation’s creed is; all he’s interested in here is getting visitors to come back. (more…)