Posts Tagged ‘following Jesus’

Like That Only Better

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

I’m a big fan of C. S. Lewis. There’s nothing of his that I’ve read that I didn’t enjoy. My six year old daughter is developing a love for him as well. About six months ago I started reading her The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She was absolutely enchanted with the story. Since I’ve been reading her a chapter of Chronicles of Narnia almost every night before bed.

As you may or may not know, Lewis wrote the Narnia stories as an allegory for the Christian faith. The other night my daughter and I were reading a chapter from The Silver Chair (Narnia). At a key moment in the book the lead characters, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole (from our world), Puddleglum the Narnian Marsh-Wiggle, and Prince Rilian of Narnia have been captured by an evil witch in underworld. They’ve been enchanted by her music. The witch is trying to convince them that the land on the surface, where they’re from, is only a dream.

In their enchanted stupor the try to convince her of the truth of the overworld. They try to describe the sun to her. In so doing they use a lamp as an illustration. It’s like the lamp, only better. Then they try to describe the great Aslan to her. He’s like a cat, only better.

Often, I feel like Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian when I try to explain to people about my life with Jesus. It’s like ordinary life, only better. But like the witch, why should someone believe me if the only way I can describe following Jesus is by saying it’s like that only better. Who can blame people for reacting like the witch and saying what a lovely dream that must have been.

Ultimately, Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian would rather hold on to their dream than submit to the dull “reality” of the witch. Once they’ve committed to this they are able to defeat the witch and are vindicated when they return to the surface.

It reminds me of Pascal’s wager. Pascal, the French philosopher, mathematician, and Christ-follower, argued that following Christ is a simple choice. In Pensees he argued that it only makes logical sense to follow Jesus whether it’s true or not. He said if you follow Jesus, you have the potential to gain everything but no matter what you lose nothing. If you don’t follow Jesus, you have the potential to lose everything but no matter what you gain nothing. How about you? How would you respond to Pascal’s wager?

Kosher Shoes

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I heard a really interesting interview on NPR this weekend. In their money segment on Sunday mornings they’re running a series on faith and money. This weekend they talked to a young Jewish couple who run a kosher food truck in LA and their Rabbi.

What stood out to me was the practical ways in which the young couple being interviewed applied their religious principles to their lives. These principles, by the way, are the same principles that Christ-followers should apply as well. We are all reading the same book after all.

A comment they made early in the interview was that as practicing Jews it was easy for them to determine what to buy at the grocery. Yet, it wasn’t so easy at Best Buy. That struck me as kind of funny. I had never thought about whether a TV could be kosher or not. I’m still not sure if it can, but that’s not the point. The point is that for them shopping involves intentionality. Shopping is and exercise in mindfulness. That’s the first lesson I drew from the interview.

Are you mindful when you shop? Do you consider the full implications of the purchase you’re making? Do you consider how this purchase affects other people? I wish I could say I do. But I don’t. You see, it’s not just about getting the best deal on the product you want to enhance your life. Every purchase we make is a moral choice.

There was a second point that they made. It has to do with the value of the service provided by the people selling the product. The young woman talked about making a shoe purchase. Very stereotypical I know, but it’s true. Anyway, virtually any shoe you can find in a shoe store can be found online.

If getting the best price on a pair of shoes were the only goal, then it would make sense to buy shoes online. Yet, shoes are very personal. You have to try them on before you buy them. There’s a simple solution of course. Go to the shoe store. Find the shoes you like. Try them on. Then go home and shop online to get the best deal.

Yet, what does that strategy communicate about the value of the person trying to sell you the shoes in the store? Do you see how dehumanizing that strategy is? You would be making that person work for free (shoe salespeople generally work on commission). That strategy communicates that the service of the salesperson is of know value. That strategy, moreover, violates God’s principles of caring for people. The service that people provides has value and they should be paid appropriately.

Every dollar we spend communicates something about the person we are and the person we are becoming. We need to shop intentionally and, to the best of our ability, spend our money in the most morally responsible way. We also must remember that every person is valuable and they deserve to be compensated for the work that they do. These two principles should affect how we spend money every day.

Do you have any stories of how you have shopped mindfully or made a point to value the work that someone has done for you?

Review of “They Like Jesus Not the Church” by Dan Kimball

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I first heard about it when it came out in 2007. I wish I had read it then. It would have helped me a lot in the process of developing the vision for Agape Ann Arbor.

The book is well written. Dan’s style is easy to follow and the stories he chose are both compelling and relevant. Overall, I like the format too. He broke the book down into three sections. The first section sets the context of the book by describing the culture and lifestyle of young adults in the 21st century. Section two focuses on specific views that young adults have of the Christian church. The final section offers advice to churches and Christians based on what Dan has learned over his many years of ministry.

The first section does a very good job describing the situation of a young adult in the 21st century. It describes well the cultural phenomena that have shaped this generation and the behaviors that this generation has developed. The one thing that I struggled with in this section is the overall tone. I’m well aware of the statistics that highlight that phenomenal lack of church participation among the 20 – 35 age group. What I remain unconvinced of is the uniqueness of this phenomenon to this generation. It’s become commonplace to bemoan the lack of religiosity among the younger generation. The builders did regarding the boomers. The boomers did regarding GenX. Now the boomers and GenX do regarding the millennial generation. Yet, I haven’t been presented with evidence that religiosity among the 35 – 50 age group is dramatically less than that group was 10 or 20 years ago. In other words, people have and keep coming back to church.

With that said, I don’t think we should dismiss what Dan and other authors are saying about young adults. Young adults have and will always react to their parents culture. The flappers did in the 20s. The boomers did in the 60s. What we’re experiencing now is the second verse same as the first. Yet with every verse, we have to learn. We have to learn new ways to reach the people who are responding negatively to the way things are today. That is where this book and the others like it are so important.

The phenomenon we’re experiencing isn’t anything new, but we still have to respond to it and do something about it. If we don’t we may experience something new. This group of young adults may not follow the normal pattern and return to the church. Moreover, every person that has ever lived is important to God and as Christ-followers it is our job to point them to his love. With every generation we need to learn to speak a new language that will point them to God’s love.

That’s where the second and third sections of Dan’s book are so important. His experience has been confirmed by a great deal of research and my own anecdotal experience. If you take the time to read the book, I bet your experience will confirm it too. Section two puts words to what we’re experiencing. Dan makes it concrete so we can address it. He provides the opportunity for all of us to open our eyes and understand “these kids” so we can communicate God’s love to them. Finally, he provides some advice on what to do about it.

I highly recommend Dan Kimball’s They Love Jesus but not the Church. Anyone who seriously wants to see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven needs to read this book and consider seriously what they are going to do about what they learn.

The Way of the Cross

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

This year I’m going to be live blogging the Way of the Cross to celebrate Good Friday. Throughout the day I’ll be posting meditations based on the traditional Roman Catholic Stations of the Cross. I invite you to join me on this meditation and please post your thoughts and meditations as we worship King Jesus together.

Mission or Business?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

“It’s good for the business of the church but bad for mission.”

That’s what Jen said yesterday as we were talking about the church building as a “third place.” Ministry strategy has been a regular topic of conversation for my wife and I as we launch Agape Ann Arbor. She’s helping me hone the language I use as I communicate what we’re doing.

OK, back to this whole church as the third place thing. The “third place” is a sociological theory popularized by the author Ray Oldenburg. In a nutshell, Oldenburg has observed that in the west we inhabit three places; (1) work, (2) home, (3) and the third place. The third place is the place we inhabit by choice. It is the center of our social life. Think Cheers or Central Perk in Friends.

Many contemporary American evangelical churches have created a ministry strategy around this observation. The philosophy of these churches is that their worship facility should be a third place. The strategy is to create environments and activities in the building that will draw people to the building. The goal is to make the physical structure in which the church meets so attractive that people want to spend time there. It’s great for business. The church members meet at the building for Bible study and buy coffee in the cafe. The church members lives revolve around that physical structure and typically they’re willing to pay for the services they receive in that place.

It’s a good business strategy. It’s a bad mission strategy. The mission of the church is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). You can’t make new disciples if all the Christians are spending all of they’re limited unallocated time with each other in a third place that non-Christians will never choose.

The theory is that if we create cool, comfortable enough environments non-Christians will join us in our cozy little third place. But why would they do that? Do we really think we can compete with Starbuck’s or the comfortable pub on the corner? The only people that want to come to our church buildings are people who are positively predisposed to them. Virtually by definition, this excludes people who are not a part of our Christian community.

This is why Agape Ann Arbor does not inhabit a specific space especially designed for our community. We want to make new disciples. This means we spend time in places where we can meet and connect with people who are not already a part of our community. We inhabit spaces inhabited by people who are not yet Christ-followers. We seek to build relationships there. And, rather than presuming that everyone there is looking for an invitation to be a part of our community we strive to be the kind of people they want to invite into their community.

Think about this: How many stories are there in the Gospels about Jesus inviting people into his community? How many stories are there in the Gospels about people inviting Jesus into their community?

Here’s a challenge for you. Read through the Gospels this week and notice all the parties that Jesus attended. As you read those stories write down where those parties are held and who hosted them.

What do you think? Is the third place a good mission strategy or a good business strategy?

I want to see the wonders of God’s great love.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

During my regular quiet time today I read the first half of Psalm 17. In this prayer David comes to the Lord and asks to see the “wonders of his great love” (Psalm 17:7a NIV). Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t all of us that believe there is a God want to see the “wonders of his great love?” I know I do. That’s why I moved my family to Ann Arbor to launch Agape Ann Arbor. I want to see God’s love manifested in this city. I want to see my friends, and neighbors experience God’s love. I want to have a deeper, fuller experience of God’s love. I want to experience God like Jesus did when he was here.

If we all want to see the wonders of God’s great love, why don’t we here more stories of people seeing it? Is God hiding it from us? Is life some cosmic game of hot and cold with the prize an experience of God’s love?

No. God’s not hiding his love. I think we’re just looking for it in the wrong places and the wrong way. I think a clue to seeing the wonders of God’s great love can be found in Matthew 9:35-38:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus experienced the wonders of the Father’s great love because he loved the same things the Father loved. When’s the last time you looked at the people walking down the streets of your town and felt compassion for the ones who don’t know Jesus? When’s the last time you tried to show someone the Jesus’ love them? If we want to see the wonders of God’s great love, we will see it when we express it to those he loves around us. As we express God’s love to the people he loves we will experience the wonder’s of his great love.

What’s one thing you can do today to express God’s love to someone you live near or work with?

The Missional/Incarnational Cycle

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

In the past several weeks I’ve had many opportunities to describe what we’re doing at Agape Ann Arbor. It’s been a fun a challenging experience to try to explain this idea that we have. Fundamentally our goal is to live the Jesus-life in Ann Arbor and invite other’s to do the same. In so doing, we will build a community experiencing and expressing God’s love.

But how does that work? What does that look like?

It starts with individuals intentionally living the Jesus-life in whatever context in which we find ourselves. We focus on getting out into the community, building relationships and loving people. As we build these relationships we invite people to spend time with us.

Mostly, this means we have parties. And truthfully, what’s more Christlike than having a party? Don’t believe me? Take some time to read the four stories of Jesus life, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. You’ll find that Jesus loves a good party.

As people connect together socially with us and our friends and start showing some interest in Jesus, or Agape Ann Arbor, or just express curiosity about religions, we invite them into our community. At these gatherings focus on learning who Jesus is and what it means to live the Jesus life. The goal of our community gatherings is to encourage, equip, exhort, and empower people to live the Jesus life.

The people in our community then go out and live the Jesus-life in whatever context in which they find themselves, and the missional/incarnational cycle starts over again.

How the Evangelicals Lost Christmas

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

This Christmas season in evangelical churches all over the United States you’ll be able to hear amazing well written sermons about how Jesus was born in a manager, lived a perfect sinless life, died on the cross to atone for our sins and arose on the third day proving he had defeated sin and death. While all of these things are biblically true they have nothing to do with Christmas, except for the born in a manger part.

We evangelicals have lost Christmas. We are so caught up in the atonement that we forget the incarnation. Even in our Christmas sermons we blow by Christmas to get to Easter, because that’s the good news after all. Or is it? Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him with the message that the good news was being proclaimed (Matthew 11:5). The message that Jesus proclaimed wasn’t that he was going to die to save us from our sins (Although this is very good news and I don’t mean to minimize it). The message that Jesus proclaimed was that the Kingdom of God was near (Mark 1:14 and many others). The Kingdom of God was manifested in the life of Jesus.

The incarnation is about communication. The incarnation is about displaying a life lived in the Kingdom of God. Jesus lived his life in full submission to the Father and invites us into that life, the life that the Apostle John termed eternal life. Christmas is about God “making his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The incarnation shows us how to live in relationship with God. The incarnation is a model for our lives. Then on the cross Jesus redeemed us restoring our relationship with God and after the resurrection he ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to live that life.

As Christians, we’re called to live our lives from the perspective of the incarnation. The community we’re forming in Ann Arbor is all about this kind of incarnational living. Agape Ann Arbor is a community experiencing and expressing God’s love as modeled by Jesus in the incarnation. We would love for you to join our community. There are several ways you can be a part of this incarnational ministry. You can contact us to find out about our next meeting. You can join our prayer team and commit to praying for us. You can support our ministry financially.

More importantly, however, you can make the choice this Christmas to reclaim what we’ve lost. During this Christmas season, don’t skip to Easter. We will celebrate the glorious resurrection of our messiah soon enough. This Christmas, celebrate his incarnation.

Christian’s in a Zoo

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

A couple of months ago on one of our trips to the zoo we had the opportunity to pet a learn about an opossum (which we found out is different than a possum). We see opossums all over the Midwest. In particular, the little critters love to dig through our garbage and make a mess of things. An interesting fact I learned about opossums is that they’re not originally from the Midwest. They migrated here from Central America. As immigrants to our region of the world they’re not well adapted to our climate. Opossums in the Midwest are often very thin compared to their relatives to the south and the damaging effects of frostbite can be seen on many of them.

We’re a lot like the opossums in the midwest. We weren’t created to live in a fallen world. We were created to live in a sin-free world in a close relationship with God. We’re, therefore, not well adapted to live in this environment and the damaging effects of sin affect our lives. They can be seen in the anxiety we experience, or in our struggles to maintain healthy relationships. We all carry the scars of sin like midwestern opossums cary the scars of frostbite.

In the zoo, opossums are protected from the dangers of the Midwestern climate by zookeepers who love and care for them. In Christ, we have access to a similar kind of protection. God loves and cares for us. By sending Jesus God created a zoo for people. In the zoo, we are free from the power of sin. We can live in a close relationship with God. Jesus’s death on the cross opens the gates to the zoo and allows us in. To enter the zoo we walk through the gate by trusting that Jesus’s sacrifice paid for our admission. We stay in the zoo by choosing to live our lives the way Jesus lived his.

We all belong in a zoo. Are you in the zoo?

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?