Friday, October 28, 2005
This week, while dreaming and planning the course of ministry, I took a tally of the amount of time we spend as a ministry setting up and breaking down our meeting room on a weekly basis. I was amazed at what I discovered, and I must confess that I was a bit discouraged.
It turns out that over the last 4 years, we’ve spent over 890 hours setting up and breaking down our room for the weekly service (we are borrowing facilities to hold church services as we do not have a building of our own). Now if you do the math, it comes to over 5 ½ MONTHS of 40 hour work weeks. It happens to be over 6 times how much time we actually spend in teaching and 9 times how much time we spend singing worship.
All that time, just to get back to the starting point: a room that serves as a meeting hall. We are constantly suffering burnout and frustration as we spend nearly 6 hours each week, just so we can have 90 minutes with our students. In addition to that, we are constantly breaking equipment that really wasn’t designed for continual movement. It often feels like an exhausting (and expensive) effort.
But it got me thinking about the reality of the Christian life and my own commitment to the life of God. Am I willing to suffer the mundane to accomplish the significant? Am I willing to endure a little inconvenience to have enough time to deliver truth and love to the students that God has given me? As Christians, are we willing to suffer the little inconveniences of life’s daily pressures to be who and what it is that God has created us to be?
Maybe the whole setup and breakdown thing is just God’s way of reminding me that my faith and life in Christ will cost me something, and I’m just a whiney, sniveling, spoiled little kid compared to those in our world who are truly suffering for the Gospel. Maybe… But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop dreaming…
Please visit us at www.PleaseConvinceMe.com
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
I often get into long email exchanges with visitors to this site. Many are atheists, many are seekers, many are members of other relatively recent cult formations of Christianity (i.e. Mormons, JW’s etc.). Sometimes these exchanges are civil and honest; sometimes they are simply rants and monologues. We welcome all of the above. But these email conversations often boil down to a demand on the part of the emailer that we PROVE our point. Why is Christianity the answer? Why should I believe? There are times when I am more than willing to shoulder the burden of proof, but there are clearly times when that is not my responsibility.
While I may often decide to present a reasonable defense (for a number of reasons), I do believe there are some logical ground rules here. When a new ideology comes on the scene and declares that the existing ‘truth’ is actually incorrect, then I think that the burden of proof is on the new ideology to make its case. Why should I move from what I have believed to be true to a new way of looking at the world? I do think the burden of proof, for example, lies with Christians when we are dealing with Atheists, or even Jewish believers, for that matter. Christianity unfolded onto the scene as these pre-existent worldviews were already in place, and declared that there was a new truth that needed to replace an older way of thinking. The burden was (and is), therefore, on Christians to argue why this new reality is (in fact) true. After all, it is Christians who are arguing that people with established beliefs should move away from these beliefs toward something more accurate. It is fair then, to expect the advocates of the new ideology or truth to shoulder the responsibility of proof.
But when dealing with groups who have modified or added to the Christian worldview, Christians simply do not shoulder the burden of proof. In these situations, we Christians are the ones who hold the pre-existent orthodox view, and it is our Mormon and JW friends who are trying to tell us that something ‘new’ has emerged to replace or dramatically alter our present understanding of things. OK, fine. If that is the case, then the burden of proof remains with the holder of the more recent ideology. Why should I move from orthodox Christianity? What has changed that requires a response from me? It is not my burden to argue for change. It is the burden of the person who WANTS the change.
Our website is often a place where affirmative arguments must be made, and we try our best to do that with atheists who visit us. But our articles related to Mormonism (while they are often important to Mormons who are coming out of Mormonism) are designed as much (if not more) for inoculation purposes as anything else. Christians are approached everyday by Mormons on their doorstep who want to convince them that they should move away from what they know is true, to something new. The burden of proof is, therefore, on the Mormon to convince the holder of an orthodox position to move away from that orthodoxy. Our articles are designed to help Christians understand what Mormons really believe and why these beliefs are based on a lie (the life and teachings of Joseph Smith). It is the responsibility of Mormons to explain to Christians why we should trust Joseph, just as it is the burden of Christians to explain to atheists why they should trust Christ.
Please visit us at www.PleaseConvinceMe.com
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I often read bloggers who argue that evangelicals have no right to push their faith on people who don’t first ask. Many of these bloggers are Christians who have grown tried of traditional evangelicalism and traditional approaches to apologetics and outreach. If you read enough of this stuff, you start to sympathize with their position. Many have seen fellow Christians arrogantly club non-believers with the Gospel. Many have simply succumbed to cultural pluralism and are now very sensitive to the perception of intolerance that is often leveled at then. But I recently had an experience that revived my love and respect for old fashioned evangelical outreach.
We took our youth group to Hollywood a couple of weeks ago and spent the afternoon with the “Set Free” Hollywood Church. Set Free Ministries is on the ground their in the city of Hollywood, reaching out to the homeless, the drug addicted, and the hopeless in a way that is remarkable and inspiring. Lives are truly being changed as God is using this group of recovered addicts and previously homeless Christians to share the truth of the Gospel with those in need in the city of Hollywood. We brought sixty volunteers to the church and worked with six ministry volunteers from Set Free to scour the streets of Hollywood and simply spend some time talking to people who are presently living on the street. We then found a way to invite them to a very simple church service where Pastor Ron Thomas delivered the Gospel.
Ron understands what living on the street is all about. Just three years ago he was addicted to rock Cocaine and living in a box. One day God changed his life with a simple invitation and a simple message of grace, forgiveness and a future. Now Ron is pasturing both the Hollywood and Skid Row Churches. What makes Set Free special is the fact that they not only preach the truth, but they offer the homeless a chance to saturate themselves in this truth. After every service, the church offers to take those who are ready to change their life to a ranch about 130 miles outside of the city. It is a place where the Word of God is of singular importance. It’s “beans, rice and Jesus Christ”. Simple. Effective. After 60 days at the ranch, Set Free helps place graduates in working situations, and their success stories are very powerful. We met and worked with many on the afternoon that we visited the church.
But what was most impressive was the way in which our young people eagerly shared their faith, and the way that people responded. It was nothing short of amazing. I soon realized that we really didn’t need to train our students to share their faith. When young people are inspired by God, they simple stand aside and let God speak through them. We saw that over and over again. And we also realized that we didn’t need to focus on delivering the Gospel. Instead, we simply LIVED the Gospel by loving and touching people who hadn’t been loved or touched in an awfully long time. We simply took the time to talk and listen, and at the end of each conversation we submitted a simple invitation to church that evening.
And that got me thinking. At some point during the afternoon, I realized that these folks were all too eager to respond to our invitation. And it was the invitation to hear the Gospel that ultimately brought them to a place of surrender and decision. If we had simply fed them or comforted them or listened to them, yet never shared the Gospel with them, we would only have offered an afternoon of love. But by sharing the Gospel with them, we got the chance to share a lifetime of love and grace. And you know what? We shared the Gospel with them before they ever asked for it. We didn’t wait for them to ask, because we knew from the very beginning that these folks were dying, just like us. Many of them were starting to realize that, but others weren’t quite there yet. And we also knew that we had the cure. So we shared that cure, even before they asked for it. I think we realized that as humans, we could do something powerful for them, but God alone had the power to heal them. Our love was so important, but the truth of the Gospel trumps all.
Please visit us at www.PleaseConvinceMe.com
Sunday, October 02, 2005
I was watching a cable talk show the other day and they had fitness legend Jack Lalanne on as a guest. It was amazing to see this 91 year old legend on television pumping and promoting his juicer and talking about health and fitness. But I couldn’t help but come away with a feeling of sadness after listening to what Jack had to say.
I couldn’t really put my finger on it at first. Here was Jack, talking about all the ways he has learned to stay healthy and enjoy a long life. He was showing pictures of his younger years; all buffed out as a weight lifter, doing amazing and incredible physical stunts on every birthday, showing the world that he had somehow halted the aging process. I too remember watching his daily show as a kid. Heck, he was already in his late fifties and early sixties at that time and you would never have known it. I’m sure that many people listening to his conversation on the talk show, all these years later, would feel a certain degree of joy and admiration for Jack. Somehow, however, I still couldn’t feel anything but sadness.
The thing that seemed so clear to me was the truth that no matter how hard you try to be young, even if you go to the extent that Jack has (eating a strict diet, training daily, and resting properly) you still end up 91 years old. You simply cannot hang on to the vitality of your youth, now matter how hard you try. Yet Jack has made this his life’s goal and ambition. And he has encouraged many of us to do the same: get fit, stay fit, be young. That still seems to be his message today.
Isn’t that a good message? Shouldn’t that bring us great joy? So, why was I feeling such sadness? I think it was simply because I felt a certain futility in trying to cling so desperately to this temporal life. To hang on so passionately to every moment, trying to extend this life so passionately, trying to gain just another year, another month, another day. It almost seems silly listening to a 91 year old man talk about what it takes to retain his youth and extend this temporary existence. The truth is that we have more than 91 years of life. We’ve got more than a million and 91 years. Eternity is a reality for all of us. And as we start to think about how long eternity really is, this life becomes infinitely insignificant in many ways (not all ways, but many ways).
I’d love to see a 91 year old man talk not about how much he has done to cling to his present life, but how much he has done to prepare for his next life. I’d love to see a 91 year old guy share not his worldly physical accomplishments, but his spiritual aspirations and preparations. Maybe that’s why I was feeling a little sad after watching the interview with Jack. It seemed sad to me that so much effort and time had been focused on such a temporary moment in our eternal existence.
Please visit us at www.PleaseConvinceMe.com!