Friday, August 24, 2007

A both/and mission trip

Something happened to missions in the church. I don’t know if it’s a symptom or a cause (probably both), but you see it in our mission trips. When we returned from Argentina, I was soon invited to go on a mission trip to Mexico. It wasn’t until it was almost time to go that I realized that the whole trip was going to be about building houses. That’s all the kids would do. Very limited interaction with the local members. Almost no interaction with outsiders. No sharing their faith verbally (I’m trying to choose my words carefully).

We have a generation, or seemingly several generations, that gives little importance to verbal proclamation of the gospel. Yes, we preach with our actions. I know the phrase “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” But honestly, people need both. Samuel Shoemaker, instrumental in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrote: “A good life can testify to the belief in some kind of Higher Power… I do not know any mere example that can quite tell people that we believe God spoke in Christ to all men forever, or that Christ is His incarnate Son, or that the cross saves you and me from sin, or that the Resurrection is the crowning article of faith for us Christians.” (Extraordinary Living for Ordinary Men, p. 71) We live out the gospel, but it takes our words to explain it.

I work for Herald of Truth, a non-profit that does mass media ministry around the world. A few years ago, the leaders of our group toyed with the idea of becoming a relief organization. Why? Because it’s easy to raise money for relief. Show people a picture of a hungry child, and they’ll give you money. Talk about wanting to take that child’s family the message that will transform them and their people forever, and people yawn. After the tsunami in 2005, money poured in to help that area. A missionary to that area sighed and said, “Why can’t we even raise a fraction of that for Bibles?”

When we tell our kids that they are going to do missions, then the only tool we train them to use is a hammer, we are affecting their idea of evangelism for the rest of their life. Why not create opportunities for our kids to share their faith through their actions and their words? Must it be either or?

In college, I went on a 5-day mission trip to Hartford, Connecticut. We worked in a soup kitchen. Volunteered with retarded kids. But we also canvassed a neighborhood, inviting people to a seminar at the newly planted church in that area. It can be done.

Let’s recapture missions in the church. Let’s teach our people about evangelism. Let’s turn our mission trips back into mission trips.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Curse of Knowledge

When I’m reading an interesting book, I drive my wife crazy by quoting bits and snatches to her (this is just one weapon, of course, in my drive-my-wife-crazy repertoire). Lately I’ve been doing it with the book Made to Stick.

Find this book. Read this book. Anyone who shares ideas with other people could benefit from reading this book.

One concept used throughout the book is the concept of The Curse of Knowledge. The authors illustrate this problem in the following excerpt:

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: "tappers" or "listeners." Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as "Happy Birthday to You" and "The StarSpangled Banner." Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table). The listener's job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped. (By the way, this experiment is fun to try at home if there's a good "listener" candidate nearby.)
The listener's job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton's experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120.
But here's what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?
When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Go ahead and try it for yourself — tap out "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's impossible to avoid hearing the tune in your head. Meanwhile, the listeners can't hear that tune — all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of bizarre Morse Code.

There are lots of good points in this book, but this one jumped out at me. It’s so hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those who don’t know what we know. Have you ever tried to explain the gospel to someone who knew nothing about the Bible? Have you ever tried to tell the message of salvation without using church words?

Sometimes I think we’re preaching “Amazing Grace,” but the world hears “Happy Birthday.”

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Powers That Be

Is it too late to apologize to King George III? And, of course, return to British rule here in the States. No, wait... Texas should return to Mexico. No, wait... to Spain. No, wait... let’s take it all the way back. Let’s all be Romans!

There are a lot of people who want to read Romans 13 as a commandment for all times. While I think the teachings and principles contained in Romans 13 speak to us, I believe that Paul was speaking to a specific situation. I don’t believe in the “divine right of kings.” I don’t believe that it was God’s will that Hitler come to power, nor that we can hold Him directly responsible for every king that ever walked the face of the earth.

Paul writes to the Roman Christians that should submit “to the powers that exist.” I believe that they were not to rebel against the Roman empire, that they were to follow the laws of the empire. This would facilitate the preaching of the gospel and postpone the inevitable persecution. I believe that he was giving a teaching for that specific situation.

He goes on to say: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
(Romans 13:3-4) Are we willing to say that Paul, Peter and all of the Christian martyrs were wrongdoers? If they had done good, they would have received the approval of the emperor... if this passage was meant to apply to all situations at all times. We can’t apply this passage universally without being forced to make some ridiculous statements about who did good and who was a wrongdoer.

And that doesn’t include all the questions that arise during civil wars, revolutions, coup d’etats, etc. Even wars are problematic... If one authority orders us to attack one of the other “existing powers,” should we obey? Or are we going against God’s appointed?

Let’s read this passage in its context. The principles of respect continue. The principle of following laws that don’t go against God’s law continues. But let’s not get too carried away with applying this passage.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Some Practical Conclusions

This is not the end of my study of this matter, but I want to draw some closure for now. Here’s where I am, based on the two months we’ve spent looking at this topic

  • As we look at worship in the Old Testament, I think it is the feasts of the Mosaic Law which teach us about our assemblies. None of the other aspects of Old Testament worship seem to have much to say to us about our regular assemblies (I know, I know… some point to the sabbath, others to temple worship… I just don’t see it)

  • I think the Lord’s Supper is our feast under the new covenant

  • I don’t see the New Testament as offering a command as to frequency. However, I think the two passages that speak of the first day of the week are important, as is John’s reference to “the Lord’s day” in Revelation. There is no room for law on this matter, since the New Testament lays down no such law. And I can’t throw out Acts 2:46, referring to daily gatherings, quite possibly involving the Lord’s Supper. I think the early church gathered at least once a week to share the Lord’s Supper

  • This series has focused on whether the weekly assembly should be the main activity in our Christianity, the center of everything, the mark by which we judge faithfulness. The answer, in my opinion is NO. Jesus didn’t die to sanctify a people for weekly assembly; He died to redeem a people eager for good works (Titus 2:14). Paul says we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). We are to meet together to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). I am not denying the need for worship, but assembled worship is not the main purpose of our existence as Christians. As said in the comment section of the last post, I think the measure of our faithfulness as Christians is how we live out the Christian life. That meshes well with what the prophets said time again, like these words from Micah: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)

Like I say, that’s not “the end of the matter,” nor has all been heard. But that’s where this study has brought me.