Archive for the ‘The Life of a Christ-follower’ Category

Apologist to Apologizer

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

In my early 20s, I started getting serious about my faith again. Like many Christ-followers I found myself attracted to apologetics (defense of the faith). The goal of apologetics is to defend orthodox Christianity from outside attacks. Apologetics develops arguments to counter the anti-Christian arguments of secular philosophy and other religions.

There are two reasons why apologetics was so attractive to me. First, I like to argue. Growing up my dad and I would choose opposite sides of a subject simply so we could argue about it. Second, I like research. I’m kind of a nerd. I enjoy studying. I enjoy digging into books and learning new things then presenting my findings. A good apologist is will also be good at argumentation and research.

I dove into apologetics with gusto. I read everything I could. I learned the classic arguments. I studied the arguments against Christianity and learned all the holes in them. With my arsenal of arguments ready I set out to prove the legitimacy of orthodox Christianity. I was convinced that if I could present unassailable arguments for faith in Jesus that people wouldn’t be able to deny Jesus and would have to trust in him. I presumed that I could argue people in heaven.

In that time, I won a lot of arguments.

During that same time, I lost a lot of friends.

As I came to this realization, God slapped me across the face with John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). I was known for a lot of things at that time. I was known as someone who was convinced of the truth of the Gospel. I was known as someone who could and would happily share every argument as to why you should believe in Jesus. But, I was not known as someone who loved.

God changed me with that verse. I no longer try to argue people into heaven. (It’s not possible anyway.) I no longer work to be known as someone who can defend every nuance of orthodox Christianity. My goal is to be known as someone who loves. My goal is to be known as someone who shows love to everyone with whom I have the privilege of spending time.

I’m no longer an apologist. I don’t work to defend Christianity anymore. Jesus doesn’t need me to defend Him.

I’m an apologizer. I apologize for all the times my life has not reflected Christ. I apologize for when my fellow Christ-followers (whom I love dearly in Christ) have failed to reflect Christ. If you’re not a Christ-follower, please note that although those of us who are Christ-followers don’t look like it all the time, Jesus still loves you and wants a relationship with you. As Christ-followers we fail at this a lot, but we are trying diligently to show you the God who loves you, died for you, and wants a relationship with you. Please don’t let our failings keep you from the God who loves you and never fails.

And if you’re one of those people I was a jerk to when I was an apologist, let me take this opportunity now to apologize to you. I’m sincerely sorry. Please forgive me.

Defining Discipleship

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

What is discipleship?

This is the question that I’ve been wrestling with for the last two months. As chaplain at Southfield Christian school, I’ve had to look at this through new eyes. In general, we all tend to define discipleship as “growing in Christ-likeness” or other similar language. In the church world, this is usually equated with a Christian Education or Small Group program. The presupposition is that these venues will create environments through which the Holy Spirit will work to transform our lives or teach us how to be more open and submissive to what the Holy Spirit is doing in us.

There are two problems with this approach. One, it leaves the definition of discipleship so vague that virtually anything could be defined as success. Two, it focuses on academics and observable behavior rather than an internal transformation of values and attitude.

Sitting in a Christian School looking to disciple students, I’ve seen these problems first-hand. Without a clear definition of what “growing in Christ-likeness” looks like there is no way to effectively evaluate the discipleship efforts of the organization. Furthermore, students that spend their entire school-day in an environment that focuses on academics and observable behavior, in the aggregate, don’t look any different than any other group of church-going students. This leads me to one of two conclusions. Either our general approach in the United States to discipling young people is incredibly effective and getting repeatable sustainable results or it is completely ineffective and getting repeatable sustainable results.

Unfortunately, based on my observation of American teenagers’ attitudes, values, and propensity to dismiss or justify sin issues, I’m inclined to believe the latter. The first step to improving the situation is redefining discipleship. We’re still working on a definition that communicates clearly and provides a way to evaluate the systems and programs we implement, but here is the concept around which that definition will develop at Southfield Christian School. Discipleship is leading another to grow in their love for God and others.

What do you think? Is this definition helpful to you? Do you think that this definition is a good foundation for building effective discipleship ministries?

The Fourth Place

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Recently the idea of the “third place” has become popular in ministry circles. I’ll try to give a quick definition of the concept here. In the US, we live in three places; home, work, and the third place. There are a variety of expression of the third place; the local coffee shop (think Friends), the corner bar (think Cheers), the local lodge (think The Flintstones). The third place is where people go to socialize. It’s the hub location for their “tribe.”

In ministry circles there have been a lot of conversation about how we should make the church the “third place.” This, theoretically, is a good idea. If people are spending their “third place” time at the church they can connect to the community and grow spiritually.

I’m a little leery of this idea. If I’m spending all my time at home, work, and church, when do I engage with people who aren’t Christ-followers? Yes, I know work is a good place to do that. The people there are stuck with me. I will also concede that the workplace is part of our “mission field.” But is it the most effective place to share Christ? I find the conversations that most often turn to spiritual things are not at work. They’re at third places with third place people. If the church were to become my third place then when would I have these conversations?

I think maybe the church should be the fourth place. We should carve time out of our schedules to engage at church and in church activities but not let it monopolize our time outside of work and home. Prioritize church but don’t make church your third place. Find a place where you can naturally build relationships with people who don’t know Christ and use that “third place” time as mission time. Here are a couple of examples:

• Coach soccer (or whatever)
• Study martial arts
• Join a book club

Don’t make church your third place. You’ll miss way too much of what God is doing outside the walls of the church building. Besides, if the church is people, can the church really be a third place or any place at all?

What are some other third places where you’ve been able to share Christ and see God working?

A-Bombs, H-Bombs and F-Bombs

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Several months ago, I was enjoying the hospitality of a local coffee house late into the evening as I finished up a paper for school. On this night I had forgotten my ear-buds so I was able to hear the conversations around me much more clearly than usual. Something about what I heard was particularly shocking to me. I’m used to hearing teenagers spew profanities like a drunk sailor, in an adolescent attempt to sound more adult. That didn’t shock me. I was incredibly surprised by the same type of language being spoken by adults. I kind of thought that somewhere in your mid-twenties you grew out of that realizing how stupid you sound by limiting your vocabulary so drastically. I was obviously wrong.

Then it hit me. No, this is not a post about the moral depravity of our society. I’m not going to jump up on a soap box and extol the virtues of clean language. For me, the problem wasn’t the language, although I do think there are more intelligent ways to communicate.

It hit me, why am I shocked by this language when no one around me seems to be? My life is incredibly cloistered. I spend most of time around Christ-followers. This is not a good situation in which to be. What good is salt in a salt mine? What good is light in a well-lit room (Matthew 5:13-15)?
Since then, I’ve tried to be more conscientious about how I choose to spend my time. It’s been hard. Launching a ministry that helps churches (insert shameless plug for Jericho Ministry Solutions). My target market is leaders in the Christian community, most of whom spend the least amount of time among people that are not Christ-followers. Yet as a member of the Michigan Air National Guard, I’ve had several opportunities to get out of my normal community and routine. In those times I’ve had several opportunities to be salt and light and share Jesus. I’ve also failed many times and been an a … er … jerk ☺. In spite of my failings however, in those times I’ve felt closer and more useful to God.

If you find yourself in a similar situation… if you find yourself spending a lot of time in salty well-lit areas, let me encourage you now. Break the routine. Leave the comfort of the familiar and go be who God intended you to be.

By the way, have you ever thought about the fact that salt in large amounts is poison? Or, that light in large amounts is blinding? Just sayin.

The Most Christian Thing You Can Do is Go to a Party.

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Yesterday I attended a birthday party with my 4-year-old daughter for one of her friends. Now, anyone who knows me knows that parties are not my thing. I’m naturally an introvert so even the idea of a bunch people crammed into a small space is exhausting. In fact while I consider the birthday-boy’s mom a friend and I like being Uncle Bryon to the young man, the main reason I attended was because my wife was feeling under the weather and not up to taking our daughter to the party.

Today as I look back on the events of yesterday and my response to the party, I’ve got to confess I’m a little ashamed. All the people at that party are people of infinite value to God but for the most part I didn’t see that. They were just people sharing the same space with me. My focus was 100% on my daughter and I didn’t even attempt to engage anyone in a real conversation. I didn’t treat them with the dignity that they deserve as people created in the image of God.

To be a Christian isn’t merely intellectual assent to a set of propositions (although those propositions and assent to them both have value). A Christian is one who follows Christ; one who longs to be closer to him and be more like him. A cursory reading of the gospels will show that Jesus loved a good party. He never missed a chance to spend time with people, because he saw their infinite value.

Now, I’ll always be an introvert. That is who God created me to be. I’ll never be the life of the party. Those are things that I cannot control. However, I can control how I interact with people at parties. I can control whether or not I show them God’s love or not. The next time I attend a party, I pray that people see someone who values them for who they are rather than someone in a hurry to leave.