personal witness

Acronym-ically Speaking

Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo Acronyms. Gotta love 'em… lol (laughing out loud)! Whether it's government agencies or texting lingo, they've become an integral part of everyday life, at least for most of us. Like them or hate them, they are part of our information-overload culture.

But acronyms, as a rule, are context dependent. Unless you know the context they're used in you won't understand what they mean.

I know a group of believers and a ministry that goes by CIA—Christians In Action. Of course, when most people see these initials the Central Intelligence Agency comes to mind. BTW (by the way), that reminds me of a great line from the movie, Red October— Capt. Bart Mancuso: "Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms."

Acronyms

Terminology and phrases used over and over often get shortened into acronyms.

When I did some work in the chemical dependency field we wrote reports for intake and assessment interviews. Comments were made about a client's social history (Hx) and recommended treatment (Tx). These abbreviations are common within social services and helping professions.

Acronyms are shorthand abbreviations for terms. It saves time and energy. But if you're not familiar with the context they're used in, it can cause confusion.

Christian lingo

Herein lies one of my pet peeves—the use of Christianese. It is a generic, catch-all phrase for Christian lingo and terms. I also call it Bible-talk. For the uninitiated (non-believers or new Christian believers) it is unintelligible talk. It doesn't make sense because there's no frame of reference to understand these terms and phrases.

As with most things I learn, I stumbled into a way of dealing with the overuse and abuse of Christianese. It wasn't discovered through research and study, but a desperate attempt to help my students understand the Bible and theological terms.

In 1995, I established a Bible school in the Philippines with a curriculum based on the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) approach. Working with students for whom English was a second language (ESL), I needed to find a way to help them learn beyond the typical transfer of knowledge—copying and repeating.

How could I get them to understand well-known Bible verses beyond a surface familiarity? How could I help them understand what it means to be born again or what redemption is?

IYOW

I developed the expression IYOW, for In Your Own Words. I asked the students to define words and express Bible verses in their own words. It proved to be a challenging yet fruitful process.

Several years ago we had a group of Americans come over on a short-term mission (STM). They went out with our first-year students for an outreach mission in another area. As part of our curriculum, the students had a class on personal evangelism along with the outreach (OR). This class required them to redefine common Christian terms related to personal evangelism.

I was glad to see how well the students did, but confounded by how the Americans struggled with the assignment. They had a hard time transferring what they knew into words of their own. They seemed to be bound by unspoken rules, as if it wasn't proper to decode these terms into simple words.

A useful tool

I realized I had stumbled upon a useful tool for teaching the truth. Not only for my students, but those who think they know the truth.

You try it. Take a common biblical term (i.e.: salvation, communion, etc.), Christian expression (i.e.: altar call, accept Christ, etc.), or well-known Bible verse (like John 3:16) and put it into your own words (IYOW). You may find it more challenging than you expect.

Next week I'll begin a new category of posts called, IYOW. From time to time I'll try to decode certain terms used in Christian circles (ie: church). I hope it will be helpful and insightful, and maybe a little fun along the way.

What are some Christian expressions or biblical terms you'd like to understand better?

Let me know. Just put them in the comment section. Maybe I'll use one of the suggestions in another post.


For a fun look at Christianese check out this video (still one of my favorites)— Christianese

For a more in-depth view of Christianese, here's a resource in development that might help, and give you a chuckle or two— http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

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For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27

POP!

Pop! The sound of a cork escaping the confines of a champagne bottle. The brilliant explosion of fireworks across a deep black sky. A splash of brilliant color on a stark white page. Even the sound of Rice Krisipies in a bowl when fresh milk is poured over them. (Are you old enough to remember the old jingle, "Snap! Crackle! and Pop!"?)

All of these catch our attention for different reasons. They're different than the norm. Well, maybe not the Rice Krispies. I've read and heard that writers, bloggers, journalists, speakers, pitch men (err, pitch-persons) are supposed to start their verbiage with some attention-getting hook—some type of "pop!"

Pop or popped?

So, why are pop music or pop culture, and other such things, designated with a pop prefix? Especially when they don't stand out as anything special? Most pop-this-or-that seem pretty bland, middle-of-the-road, dull, or even blah.

In the 80's, mixes of several songs with different beats and rhythms were popular. Sometimes the songs were indistinguishably mooshed together. I hated those. It ruined the identity and distinctness of the songs for the sake of who knows what.

Popular or mediocre?

And that's exactly what happens with most things pop—they lose identity and distinctness by appealing to a wider slice of what's popular. When that happens a dilution of value takes place. They lose their pop! for the sake of popularity. It reduces things down to a state of mediocrity.

This contrast of "pops" illustrates a contrast of choices in this life. You can go with the flow and walk with the crowd, or choose a different way.

When I was wandering and lost in life, one Scripture passage stood out to me—Matthew 7:13-14. It speaks of two different gates leading to two different roads, which lead to two different destinations.

I realized that I needed to make a choice if I wanted to escape the mundane life of this planet. A life different now and forever.

A different way

When I hear too much Christian pop music, it bores me. And nowadays, too many Christian talks or messages (that used to be called sermons) do the same thing.

They bore me because there's not much depth or substance to them. But they sound good and appeal to a broad section of people (I guess). In other words, they are popular, but lack pop!

What path are you traveling in life? A path that is popular or one less crowded?

Does it lead to fullness of life here and beyond?

If not, maybe it's time to make a different choice.

Thankful?

What are you thankful for? Are you thankful? I know, Thanksgiving is past, but I thought I'd ask after all the hoopla of the weekend. Sadly, a holiday set aside for national gratitude and reflection has been usurped. It's typically referred to as T-Day or Turkey-Day and has become an excuse for excessive eating and spending, with a lot of football watching and beer drinking. 


It's easy to become cynical and pessimistic about the state of the world around us, which inevitably breeds the same in our heart and mind. It leaks out through our words and permeates our thinking. The only solution and resolve is choosing to be thankful—grateful for what is good in our life. This was the intent of the first national observance by President George Washington, and the later proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. [For more historical insight, check out Wikipedia's Thanksgiving link.]

Perhaps it's my 60's-era perception of it, but it seems like the whole weekend has become way too focused on materialistic pursuits. Black Friday used to start at 5:00 am, but now it's midnight. Sadly, I must admit that I'm not immune to it, but it still bothers me to be so pre-occupied and seduced by it all.

Sad or glad? It's a choice. I'll choose to be glad through gratefulness. One of my favorite verses in the Bible on thankfulness is found in Colossians 3:15-17. It intrigues me that in each admonition of all three verses (in most versions) is the exhortation to be thankful. The other practical element of these verses speaks to how we are made.

In the margin of my Bible(s) I wrote three words— heart, mind and body. The encouragement of verse 15 is to let the Lord's peace rule (like a football ref) in our heart— and be thankful. The next verse admonishes us to let God's Word dwell—live in and permeate—our thoughts in a full and deep way. And don't forget—with thankfulness! And finally, whatever you do (word or deed-wise) do it so that God is honored in your life example. Again, do it with thankfulness.

This isn't a self-help formula or DIY plan. It says "let...." That is, allow this attitude to govern and prevail in your heart, mind and actions. It's a choice. Have a Happy Thanksgiving every day!

What input do you choose for what rules your heart, mind and actions? The kingdom of the world around you, or God's kingdom? Cynicism or thankfulness?

I know what I choose, especially when I find myself drifting into the prison of pessimism. I choose the prism of praise. It's healthier and much more fun.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:15-17 NIV84)

Stop it!

©123RF

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems—"Stop it!" If you've never seen it, click on the link ("Stop it!") for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life's problems were that simple! Well, in some ways it is. But, alas, many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. Why? Why don't we just stop doing some things, or start doing other things? The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church (Rom 7:15-19). What got me thinking on this line was my reading in the book of Hebrews. It's a comprehensive look at how Jesus Christ fulfilled and superseded all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. After remembering the many heroes of faith in Israel's history, a strong exhortation is given in the next chapter.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 GW)

Over the years I've found that many Christian believers try to live as good Christians. My advice to them is—Stop it! Many might say, "But aren't we to lead lives pleasing to the Lord?" Of course we are, but we go about it the wrong way.

Being a Christian is not about trying to do better, it's about being. The popular saying of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's was, "It's not about religion, it's relationship." My children are my children, regardless of their behavior—they just are. They were born into our family, and although there was some labor on my wife's part, they did nothing to become our children and do nothing to maintain their place in the family as our children.

Over the past 20+ years, Susan and I have worked with abandoned and abused children and young women. Without exception, the most important thing for each of them was being connected to their family. In many cases, they needed a substitute family through adoption. It is amazing how strong a bond this is—the bond between child and parent.

In the case of the abused girls or young women, Susan and I, along with the extended family at Rainbow Village, became a surrogate family. This was and is important. We are known as "Mama and Papa" because of the relationship we have with them. This has been an important element in their recovery from abuse.

It works the same way with believers within the Body of Christ, the church community. It is an extended family. It is to be a place of healing and restoration. A place of nurture and growth. A place of belonging.

OK, so what about moving forward in this relationship with the Lord Jesus? Is it possible to just stop it when it comes to our struggle with sin and personal issues? This text in Hebrews (above) indicates this—at first glance.

Go back and look at those three verses (Heb 12:1-3) and observe it more carefully. There are a couple important keys to running the race and growing in faith. Next week I'll go over this. In the meantime, if you're trying real hard to be a Christian—stop it! Just be one. Just be a child of God who trusts in Him.

Community

Last night I enjoyed a great evening with some good friends whom I've known for more than 20 years. They are part of the community of believers I've been connected to in Dumaguete City (the central Visayan region of the Philippines), our home of 15 years. Food is usually found in almost every gathering of Filipino's, but it's the people gathered who are most important. It's one of the many things I love about Filipino culture and why this place (Dumaguete City) remains home to my wife, Susan, and I, along with our two daughters who spent 18 years here.
We have been part of the community at our church (Calvary Chapel Dumaguete City), the community within the ministry we founded and still oversee (Rainbow Village Ministries), and the greater community of Dumaguete City. This includes another ministry established in 1995 (CCTC) that I continue to be a part of, which extends beyond Dumaguete throughout the Philippines and into Thailand through the students I had the privilege of teaching over the years. The church, God's church, is not a building or institution, but an extended family—it's a community of believers.

I say all of this as an introduction to the following excerpt from my soon-to-be-available book (hopefully next month!). It's now at the printer, and I'll announce when it's available to the public! Thanks for reading, as always!

The practicality of Christianity is by design—God’s design—not an institution or spiritual leader. It is similar to God’s purpose for the natural world around us. The apostle Paul says all of us are able to know God, “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom 1:19-20 NLT).
How are people a vector? God has chosen to put His presence and power within believers, who become living declarations of Him—His agents, His personal emissaries. He began with one man, Abraham, and his descendants who became the nation of Israel. He sent His Son so all people could be included within His family. God’s purpose for His church is to be a worldwide community of believers, as expressed by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10 GW.
The gist of what Peter says is simple—as a person is personally related to Jesus, he or she becomes part of a larger community of believers. Jesus is the core of this community. He transforms lives from darkness into rays of light within the darkness of this world. Though the world may reject God and His Son, this community of believers become a people special to God and treasured by Him.
God builds His kingdom within each believer, and within the community of believers. It is a kingdom of light. This light penetrates the surrounding darkness. The light of God shines through this community as they live to honor the One who accepts them as His own treasured people.
But howdoes this take place? The first step is to knowGod—develop a personal relationship with God by faith. If a person believes God exists, and that He responds to us as we seek Him—God will honor that faith.[i]It’s also important to learn who Jesus is—the Son of God who came into this world. The four Gospels are the best place to start—they contain the very words and works of Jesus.[ii]
The Christian faith is not to be lived alone, but in community with other believers. Community begins by connection with God and His people, the church family. Each believer needs to be part of a greater community of believers. This brings an identity and belonging with others who have the same Father. It is an interdependent relationship as demonstrated by the early believers, which is seen in Acts 2:42-47 GW.
Which church community should you join? The important thing is joining other believers who choose to live in humility and genuineness while honoring God—people with whom you can build healthy relationships. The Holy Spirit who lives in you and in them will give you an inner witness (by His Spirit) where you belong, and confirm it in your heart. Each person needs to intentionally seek this out.
Are you part of God's family, God's community? It's an extended family that reaches around the world and beyond.

[i]Reference— Heb 11:6
[ii]Reference— John 1:14, 18, 29; Matt 11:28-30; John 5:39-40

Spiritual Journey

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Severe power outages crippled the Philippines in our first year there. Power outages continued in our city as more generating stations were built elsewhere. A geothermal plant in the mountains above us generates our island’s power. The steam is harvested from natural vents from a dormant volcano, a continual source of available energy. And yet, the power outages continued because of inefficient infrastructure to deliver the electric current. They were called brownouts because the power fluctuated so low that light bulbs and fans had too little power to run. Just before the outage, lights would dim and flicker before going out. When the lights go out it is pitch dark. The entire city is plunged into darkness so there’s no diffused light from other sources. The darkness is intense and disorienting. Until we had automatic emergency lights (with battery backup), everyone scurried around searching for a flashlight or emergency lamp to conquer the darkness. Even when an emergency lamp was found, it was typically uncharged and useless. Imagine this scenario with babies and young children frightened by the sudden darkness, crying, even screaming, as the search for light went on. Confusion reigned!

My spiritual journey was similar—a lot of confusion. Of course, not everyone gets thrown out of a church and called the devil,[i] but everyone deals with misunderstanding. A spiritual journey can be like groping for a flashlight in the darkness. When the flashlight is found or the light turned on, it’s much easier to see everything. All spiritual journeys aren’t dramatic, but can be disorienting.

Well-intentioned believers who spout Christian clichés contribute to some of the confusion, but they’re not the only reason for misunderstanding. When a person doesn’t know the way out of confusion, and can’t see beyond the darkness, help is needed. Until light and direction come, the way seems hidden.

Spiritual truth is a mystery to those who don’t understand it. That was my problem, and it’s a dilemma everyone faces. The Bible uses words like mystery and revelation, so it’s no wonder it seems like a mysterious book. The Greek word for revelation means a mystery that is revealed—it was hidden before, but is now revealed. God is a mystery to many, but He’s not mysterious. He is the One who reveals Himself and His truth, and desires all people to know Him personally and know His loving kindness.[ii]

But how does God reveal Himself and His truth? This question is at the heart of the spiritual journey—understanding the mystery of God and the mystery of the Gospel. God provided three primary means for people to know Him, with people the vector for all three—nature (creation), the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.

The work of creation was not complete until people were created, then God rested. Human beings, guided by God’s Spirit, recorded the Scriptures. God placed His Spirit into people who trusted in Him through His Son—after he sent His Son to live among people.[iii]

What's your spiritual journey been like? Do you feel you've arrived somewhere...or are you well on your way? How has God intersected with you in your life?

If you have a personal relationship with God already and are assured in your heart about eternity, look for someone to share it with, look for someone who may still be finding there way and be a light to them.

This is another excerpt from my book to be published soon. I'm also writing from the Philippines where I'll be doing some ministry for 3 weeks. Thanks for reading! ______________________________________

[i] A reference to my personal story in Chapter 1.

[ii] References— 1 Cor 2: 10, 14; 2 Pet 1:19–21; Acts 2:38-39; Ezek 18:23, 32; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9

[iii] References— Gen 1:26-31; 2 Pet 1:19–21; Gal 4:4-7

Are You Ready?

In the book of Second Samuel, a messenger named Ahimaaz (A-hee-ma-oz) wanted to bring a message to King David. His father was an important priest named Zadok whom the King trusted. However, the news to be sent was not good, so King David’s general, Joab, chose to send a different messenger. In those days, certain messengers were sent based on the content of the message; one was sent when it was good news, another with bad news, and another who could bring either good or bad news. Ahimaaz was a messenger for good news. The story unfolds in the eighteenth chapter after King Absalom died in battle. He was David’s rebellious son who stole the hearts of Israel and staged a coup that sent King David running for his life. Though Absalom had become his enemy, he was King David’s favored son. Joab knew the news of his son’s death would devastate David, so he wanted to send a more neutral messenger, a Cushite.[i]

However, Ahimaaz, because of his devotion to King David, wanted to bring the message. Joab’s response was, ”why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?"[ii] Since Ahimaaz insisted on running, Joab gave him permission. In the story, Ahimaaz outruns the Cushite and arrives first, but is told to stand aside because his message is incomplete—it lacked the news most important to David—news about the life of his son, Absalom.

In many ways, Christian believers are more like Ahimaaz than the Cushite. When delivering the message of God’s story of reconciliation (the gospel) it is incomplete. The part left out of the gospel is the Lord Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin, and the believer’s hope in eternal life. Not only this, it gives insight into the mystery of this earthly, physical body being changed into a new, indestructible body that enables a person to enter and live in the presence of God.

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth about the foundation of all he taught them. He exhorted them to continue to believe in the full truth of this gospel and not listen to teaching contrary to it. If they allowed false teaching to influence them, it would jeopardize the work of God’s grace in their lives.

Additionally, Paul delivered the gospel they heard and received in person. This may seem incidental but it is very relevant. The gospel is not just truth about God passed on by any means available, it is God’s story—the personal testimony of God, and how He rescued humanity through His Son, Jesus. His story is most effective when it’s told in person to a person.

The believers in Corinth heard the gospel preached to them with apostolic authority. God gave this authority to Paul, His apostle and messenger, to preach the gospel to the Corinthians—God’s story relayed by God’s messenger.

Once they received the gospel as true, they began to live their lives differently. The foundation for their lives was a new destiny—a destiny of eternal life in the presence of God. Paul exhorted them to continue, not only believing but living their lives according to what they believe, “unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1, 2).

Paul relayed three things about the gospel—it is the most important truth; he told them what he personally received from God; and it agreed with the OT Scriptures. First of all, the gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers. All other teaching must be considered in light of the gospel. Secondly, Paul passed on what was revealed to him by God. This is what all believers are to do—share with others what God shows them.

Lastly, the truth of the gospel is found in the Scriptures given to the chosen people of God, the Jews. The history of God’s first relationships with people is linked with the gospel. Adam, the first man, had a face-to-face relationship with God prior to sin’s interference. God’s relationship with Abraham was significant, because he was considered righteous on the basis of his personal trust in God. Both men and their relationships with God are found in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Many of our national staff at Rainbow Village Ministries[iii] were staunch Roman Catholic. But they lacked the assurance of eternal life. Entrenched in their religious beliefs and traditions, they refused to consider a personal relationship with God by grace. Anya (her nickname) was a faithful Roman Catholic who would argue dogmatically against the “Born Again” gospel of grace.[iv]

But during a women’s retreat hosted by another ministry, Anya came to believe in Jesus in a more personal way—based not on religious conviction, but on God’s grace—His unearned favor. Her testimony for days and weeks later was, “I feel so different inside.” She experienced a spiritual transformation in her heart that changed her entire life. She continues to live as a “born again believer,” because she experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in her life.

I mentioned in a previous post (another excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book) about the "vanishing hitchhiker" announcing the Lord is coming soon and prompting  the question, "Are you ready?" Indeed, we do need to be ready for the Lord's return, whether you're a believer or not, but there's another readiness all believers need—a readiness to share God's story with others.

This is a major point in my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story." I don't see this readiness in many believers. Unfortunately as mentioned above, many believers are like Ahimaaz, their version of the gospel story is incomplete. How about you? Are you ready? Ready to share God's Story with others?

I'll be making an announcement for the release of my book when it's published...stay tuned and thanks for reading.


[i]Reference— 2 Sam 18:19-33– The context of this story makes this distinction most clear. The Cushite (a foreigner) could bring either good or bad news, whereas Ahimaaz was more known for good news (note verse 27).
[ii]Reference— 2 Sam 18:22 (NKJV)
[iii]Our staff in the Philippines at Rainbow Village Ministries— www.rainbowvm.org
[iv]“Born again” is the common tag for evangelical believers or the Protestant faith within the Philippines as a distinction from Roman Catholicism. This is a reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and what many evangelicals tell Catholics they need.

The Hitchhiker and The Cross

On a hot summer day, I drove across the lower desert valley towards Palm Springs. In the lower desert, summer days can be exceptionally hot! Summer days in the southwestern desert of America are intense—like opening an oven set on high, then sticking your head inside it. If you’re out in that kind of heat it can do some harm! It dries you out quickly, causing heat stroke or worse.

I was a Christian believer involved with a nearby church and retreat ministry and spotted a hitchhiker along the road. I decided to have mercy on him. I also saw it as an opportunity to share my faith. He got in and we exchanged the usual greetings. As I drove, I asked him about his life and if he knew the Lord. I had plenty of witnessing experiences, but was unprepared for what unfolded.

The young man took great exception with what I said and began arguing with me. Actually, he began cursing my religion and me. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “How can you believe in a God who would kill His own son in such a bloody sacrifice?” As we approached a busy intersection, he opened his door and jumped out of the car before we had stopped. Walking across the adjacent lane, he continued shouting and cursing at me. His reaction stunned me.
Many people find it difficult to understand why God would allow His only Son to die a horrible death upon the Cross. Plenty of people reject Christianity for this very reason, though not as vehemently as this hitchhiker. The whole concept of Jesus’ blood cleansing someone of sin is hard to comprehend, especially in our day of advanced technology and education. The idea of a blood sacrifice was not hard to accept in Jesus’ day, and was common among ancient people. Even today, people in other cultures are familiar with sacrifices involving blood.

My personal observation is that many believers do not understand the essence of Christ’s death. Many focus on His physical suffering and gruesome death, but it is the spiritual truth—the purpose for His death—that is most important. In theology, it’s called the Atonement of Christ.

His death is the pivot point for understanding Jesus' great reconciling work on the Cross. The text of Hebrews 9:11–10:18 sheds light on the uniqueness of Jesus as a Savior, portrayed as the High Priest who offers a perfect sacrifice for the atonement of sin. He is the very sacrifice Himself.

A deeper significance to this atonement is His blood—the requirement for true reconciliation according to the Old Covenant. His blood establishes a New Covenant—a new relationship of commitment between God and those who trust in Him by faith. This change in covenants moves relationship from a requirement of obedience to empowerment—from restriction to freedom.*

The Father's redemptive heart demonstrated through the love of His Son Jesus upon the Cross encompasses more than forgiveness of sin. It certainly includes forgiveness, an all-inclusive forgiveness for the world (John 3:16). But it is also a turning point in how people can be in relationship with the one, true, and living God. Though often misunderstood and misconstrued when viewed through the lens of humanity, it is a powerful expression of love beyond our full comprehension.
There is both a simplicity and depth to the reconciling event of Jesus' death on the Cross. It's seems too simple a solution. And yet, when a person begins to understand some of its depth and fullness, it is humbling.
What's your view of the Cross? How has it liberated you? How does it empower you in your relationship with the Lord and in daily life?

*another excerpt from my upcoming book, now in it's final editing for corrections process

A Spiritual Encounter

During the sixties and seventies hitchhiking was common for young people searching for adventure or the meaning of life. An urban legend among the Jesus Generation featured an angel of God visiting people as a hitchhiker. The story goes like this—someone is driving along a road, spots a hitchhiker and stops to pick him up. As they travel along, the hitchhiker turns to the driver and announces, “The Lord Jesus is coming back soon!” In the next instant, the driver turns towards the hitchhiker but he’s vanished. The meaning of the story was simple—be ready for the Lord’s return! I did my share of hitchhiking in those days, and I picked up plenty of hitchhikers, but I never had this experience, nor could I verify the story of the visiting, hitchhiking angel.[i]

Recently, a good friend of mine gave a first hand account of a visiting angel. This is no urban legend, but his own account of someone who visited his mother in a hospital in Georgia, as she lay ravaged by cancer. Mario was near the end of his training in Navy flight school in northwest Florida. When it was clear his mother was near death, and against the advice of his instructor, he abruptly took leave to visit his mother before she died.

Mario’s mother read the Bible every day for as long as he could remember, but she didn’t have a personal assurance in her heart of God’s forgiveness. It was a Saturday morning, and the hospital chaplain had promised to stop by for a visit, but something came up and he couldn’t make it. Another pastor, an African-American man dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans, arrived at her room unannounced with balloons and flowers. He told them they were for someone else who was already released from the hospital. Mario’s mother, Frances, was in a room near a nurse’s station at the end of a closed corridor. Another nurse’s station sat at the other end of the hallway where the elevator was located, with a waiting room and the only access and exit door for the floor.

As the pastor came in the room, he saw Francis was near death. Greeting her by her first name, which was not posted anywhere outside or inside the room, she rose up in bed and smiled. This alone amazed Mario since her body was riddled with cancer, with her spine no longer able to support her. The pastor asked her if she was ready to meet the Lord, and she admitted her uncertainty. When he offered to pray for her, Mario’s mom gladly accepted his offer and entered into a personal relationship with the Lord that morning.

The pastor completed his visit and went out of the room, off to whatever else required his attention that day. As the hospital door shut behind the pastor, Mario followed right after him. Opening the door, he didn’t see the pastor in the hallway. He went to the nurse’s desk to ask where he had gone, but they hadn’t seen any “man in a red shirt and blue jeans.” Puzzled, my friend proceeded to the other nurse’s station, near the waiting room with the elevator. They had not seen the man, nor did they have any idea where he went.

My friend and his sister went over and over the details of the pastor’s visit. They had seen him, talked with him, heard him greet their mother and pray with her. How could he just disappear? Even to this day, Mario and his sister talk with reverence about this encounter with the mysterious pastor. Was he a visiting angel? They never tracked this man down to verify it, but their hearts tell them he was.

In my book (now in final editorial review!), this is the introduction to what I call the encounter on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-33. Jesus appears and joins two of His disciples on their way from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus about seven miles away. The disciples don't recognize Him until they later break bread (eat supper) with HIm. Then their eyes open but He disappears from their presence. They realize it was HIm all along because their "hearts burned" while He explained the Scriptures related to His death and resurrection.

Maybe you haven't experienced a visiting angel (Heb 13:2), then again, maybe you have. But have you ever had a sense of God speaking to you "after the fact?" At the time He spoke you didn't realize it. There wasn't a loud speaker or sign in the sky, but later you realized God was revealing Himself, a truth, or He giving you some insight.

Belief is not a matter of intelligence quota or lack thereof. It is a deeper spiritual knowledge. When it's a belief in the one, true and living God it's called faith. How does it develop? The more we know Him, the more it deepens. How do we know Him? Through revelation by the Holy Spirit, understanding of His written word (the Bible), and living our lives in faith—an implicit, developing trust in Him.

Have you had any spiritual encounters like my friend Mario or these two disciples? Maybe it wasn't quite so obvious or dramatic, but if you have, if your heart has "burned" with the presence of God, appreciate it. It's part of how God makes Himself known and real in our lives.


[i]“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” is an urban legend having different versions with some history — http://goo.gl/35tZl | http://goo.gl/3aHCp

Our Story and God's Plan

 

The movie, “The Passion of Christ,” surprised many people with its success, especially its strongest critics. It’s vivid portrayal of Christ’s death stirred strong emotions and was spoken against by believers in Christ and nonbelievers. Its purpose and intention was misunderstood by many people.
Some spoke blasphemous, sacrilegious things about the movie and its content, while others saw it as sacred. It impacted all who saw it one way or another, shocked by the graphic portrayal of the suffering and death of Jesus the Messiah. Many were moved to great emotion both during and following their viewing of it, and it took a personal toll on the director-producer and the star who portrayed Jesus.
Similar reactions can be seen in the account of Matthew 27:27-56. My question is, what follows the reaction? What impact lasts beyond the reaction? Unless it is understood, a person may be left with unresolved questions—What does it all mean? What makes this so significant? This story needs to be heard by the heart.
My wife and I have collected many stories over the years, while ministering in the Philippines and working with abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. Each child, young or old, has a story. Some stories are intensely heart wrenching. Freddy’s saga is an incredible story of neglect, tragedy, and disappointment, with an extraordinary resolve.
Freddy is one of three brothers who came to Rainbow Village. His older brother, Wilmer, was deaf and could not speak clearly. Both the younger brothers spoke with the same guttural, indistinguishable sounds as the oldest. When the brothers came to us, they were quarantined for a week out of concern for infectious hepatitis. Their father died of hepatitis after their young mother abandoned them. Their elderly grandparents cared for them the best they could, but locked them inside a small nipa hut all day as they went to work.
These boys had never seen white-skinned people before our family, nor electricity or indoor plumbing, and were unprepared for living in a clean, stable environment. They were scared, terrified, and they freaked out! Thankfully, we all survived that first week.
Not long after they arrived, we discovered the oldest brother had a major heart problem that required surgery we could not afford on missionary support. Amazingly, God provided the means for the surgery. It was successful, but there was a long recovery, and only a few months afterwards, a tragic fire swept through our new building. Freddy’s two brothers were among five children lost in that fire. We were all devastated, but Freddy had lost his only family.
Within a month after the fire, an Australian mission team arrived to help with the rebuilding process. One of the Aussie’s had taken a real liking to Freddy and believed he and his wife were to adopt him. Because Freddy was older (five years at that time), the Australian government wouldn’t allow a normal adoption. It’s a long convoluted story, but the only workable solution required Helen and Ferg to move to the Philippines for processing the adoption.
They were committed to it, so Ferg sold his business, moved his family to Dumaguete City, and worked alongside us for a couple years. Ferg and Helen were a great blessing, as friends and coworkers, but the adoption hit another snag. The Australian government was still unwilling to accept their case because of bureaucratic red tape. They were disconsolate and moved back to their home in Australia with their hearts torn out, as was Freddy’s.
Because Freddy’s case[i]had gone on so long, the adoption board insisted on matching him with a family, even if the family was not a great match. Freddy was excited—at long last he would have a family of his own! The wait was excruciating for him, for all of us. Finally the day came for his family to arrive, but the union did not go well. Nevertheless, Freddy put his best smile on and went off with the family, leaving his Rainbow Village family and home.
Less than two weeks later, the mother decided she didn’t want Freddy. Although rare, failed adoptions happen. Once again, Freddy was devastated. He was kept in Manila for therapy and placement, but we prevailed for his return to Rainbow with much pleading and intercession. Freddy returned, but a noticeable sadness and disappointment lingered in his heart.
One day, Susan sat on our porch watching the children play in the yard. Freddy ran up to her, handed her a crumpled paper, and ran back off to play. Scrawled on the paper Freddy had written, “I miss my mommy, my daddy, my lolo and lola (grandpa and grandma), Jesan and Wilmer (his brothers).”
Susan’s heart sank as she wondered, “How can I encourage him, Lord?” The story of Job came to mind, so she searched through the children’s Bible storybooks she had, but couldn’t find Job’s story—it’s not the usual child’s story. Eventually she found a readable version to share with Freddy. He listened to Job’s story of loss, injustice, and grief followed by great restoration. He turned to Susan and asked, “Does this mean I’ll have my own mommy and daddy and family again?”
“Yes! Yes,” Susan exclaimed! Freddy ran off all smiles with simple trust in this promise.
Soon Freddy was his usual charming and mischievous self, as he grew through puberty. And yet another twist in the story came, as if scripted for a movie. At a conference, the head of adoptions in Australia met the head of the international adoption board of the Philippines. Freddy’s case came up and they began to work on a solution—surely there was a way to legally place this young man with a family who loved him and never gave up on him. Amazingly, after much heartache and loss, Freddy had a family!

It was quite the reunion when Ferg and Helen traveled from Australia! Everyone at Rainbow was thrilled, though a little sad to say goodbye after so many years. We had a great sending off party, and Freddy and his folks have since returned for several visits. It is a remarkable story of hope lost and restored. Of course, there are many questions as to why God allowed so many roadblocks along the way? But, God had a plan all along.

What's going on in your life story? Are you wondering if God has a plan at work, or does it seem like your life is a random set of circumstances? Nothing takes God by surprise, though we are often unsettled by what takes place in our lives. Faith requires trust. Faith enables us to see beyond circumstances to see God's hand at work (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

This is another excerpt from the book to be published soon.


[i]Each child that comes to Rainbow Villageis under our care through the authority of the Philippine government’s Dept. of Social Welfare Development. Each child has a case file that tracks their life until they are adopted or reunited with their biological family.

What Would Mom Do?

My wife returned from the Philippines this past week after six weeks. Nowadays we're blessed with the ability to communicate through Skype (when internet connection is sufficient), email, and texting. But it's great to have her home and by my side! We've been partners in life and ministry for forty years. An element of our partnership is the agreement that I'm the spokesperson, the public persona of our relationship and ministry together. Adjustments have come over the years to how we relate to each other and even our roles at home. This was more apparent than ever while she was gone these past few weeks (overseeing our ministry in the Philippines). As I faced certain situations at home or with the family I often wondered, "What would Susan do?" And even asked my daughters when faced with domestic duties, "What does Mom do with...?"

Not long ago I wrote a post titled "WDJD?" related to the Christian WWJD fad a while back, and based on the classic book, "In His Steps" by Ptr Charles Sheldon. If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. Recently, as I read through 1 Corinthians, I came across Paul's admonition, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor 11:1) Sadly, this verse has been misconstrued and misunderstood by many, and has brought abuse and outright rejection of spiritual authority.

During the 70's, a controversial (and divisive) style of ministry flourished that took this idea of imitation to an extreme. It was termed "the Shepherding Movement." It was very authoritarian and emphasized submission of every believer to an elder—a shepherd—in everything. This movement distorted spiritual leadership into a pyramidal form of petty authoritarianism.

Some of the teaching instructed believers to seek counsel on all decisions in life—job changes, marriage, buying and selling, and so forth. It got pretty ridiculous leaving many believers and families confused and abandoned as "damaged goods." I had some personal encounters with it, seeing its devastating effects on people firsthand.

So what did Paul mean saying, "Be imitators of me?" He was personalizing what Jesus said to His own followers, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt 16:24 / Mark 8:34 / Luke 9:23) This is more than a Christian platitude, it is the Lord's basic call of discipleship for all believers. The question is—How is this supposed to work? How do we follow Jesus?

This is the heart of discipleship—intentional, relational discipleship—what Jesus did. It is also the responsibility of leaders, and it's what helps make Christian communities (churches) healthy environments for all believers, just as in the early church (Acts 2:42-46).

While Susan was away and I faced some domestic dilemma, like how to cook something, I found myself asking "How does Susan do this?" I looked to a familiar, personal example. This is what Paul was encouraging the Corinthian believers to do. This is the responsibility of every believer in some sense.

But, what if my example (the one I'm following) uses poor judgment, loses their cool, or some other life action lacks spiritual inspiration or integrity? The key is "as I am of Christ,"  or follow me as my example matches what you see in Jesus. Whether you are an example for others (and you are for someone!) or you're following someone's example, the key is modeling the heart and character of Jesus.

How do we know what His heart and character are like? Read (or listen to) the Gospels. As Jesus said to the hyper-religious spiritual leaders, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me...." (John 5:39)

Whose example do you look to? Who looks to you as an example? The more we learn of Jesus, the truer discipleship becomes. Whether we are leading or following, we always focus on Jesus.

God Speaks

Times_Times-Changing_collage I came of age during the tumultuous sixties. The Vietnam War began in the middle of that decade. Prior to this, America was immersed in a promising rise in economic power. The growth of the middle class was the engine that powered the American economy after decades of depression and wartime economies.

Along the way, America seemed to lose its soul. Social protests marked the latter end of the sixties and became a cultural undercurrent against racial injustice, materialism, and a war far from home.

This undercurrent created a spiritual vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. It was quickly filled with a myriad of philosophies, religious movements, and lifestyles.

A culture shift

The range was staggering—eastern religions and philosophies, a resurgence in witchcraft, experimentation with illicit drugs, communes, and along came the Jesus Movement that challenged the traditions and status quo of Christianity.

This cultural shift wasn’t restricted to the US, but found its way throughout the world.

The Beatles mystical involvement with Transcendental Meditation and drugs led them to India for an audience with an Indian yogi. Their songs reflected this personal and famous cultural shift, while visiting the infamous Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.[i]

Prior to this, songwriters like Bob Dylan and other folk singers challenged America’s status quo on issues of social conscience, and Time magazine announced the spiritual vacuum with their cover declaring—God is dead. Inside this issue noted theologians touted the loss of America’s spiritual soul.

These were some of the prophets of that decade.

A breath of fresh air

In the midst of all the protests came a breath of fresh air spiritually. Waves of young people dropped out of the middle-class march and pursued all that reared its head at the time—including meditation, drug use, and free love.

Out of this move away from middle-class America, many turned to God and joined the Jesus Generation that launched what became the Jesus Movement.[ii] Although more well known and popular on the west coast, it took place across the nation, and spilled over to the next decade and into other nations.

The Olympics of 1972 (in Munich) were tragically marred by a terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team. But God’s counter was to send a ministry called YWAM (Youth With A Mission), which sent well over a thousand young people into the midst of millions from all over the world, and shared the love and hope of Jesus.[iii]

The Second Coming

A primary influence of this movement was an interest in the return of Jesus Christ—the Second Coming—when God returns to bring those who love Him to heaven, and also brings a final, apocalyptic judgment upon the earth.

It paralleled fears about over-population, famine and environmental ruin. Once again, God brought an answer to the world’s self-destructive spiral into despair—hope in His Son’s return to save the world from itself.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb 1:1-3)

Are you ready for the Lord's return to earth?

If so, how are you using your time and living that shows your readiness?

If not, what hinders you from opening your heart to God?


This is an excerpt from my book. Thanks for reading!


[i] The Haight-Ashbury district became a famous staging ground for the hippie movement, especially known for love-ins and hallucinogenic drug use

[ii] The Jesus Generation was a name given to the (primarily) young people in the Jesus Movement

[iii] For background on YWAM see this link– History of YWAM

Christian Language and Gospel Ignorance

A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity. One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Many sources discuss this at length, but I won’t here.[i] Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift will only bring insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach. Christian believers need to understand this and make the necessary adjustments for addressing this major change in culture.

More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language. A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii]Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, they become a foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study and called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings. Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—at least it appears that way. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently. Many Christian believers cannot explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

When Christian clichés, and what I call Bible talk,[v]are used outside their field of reference (the church) people unfamiliar with these words and terms will not understand them. Having traveled many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I am expected to respond, and though wanting to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians often put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand what is being said. The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, and doesn’t understand the terms they themselves use. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words and can’t.

Experience—the Great Teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. Can a person put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words? It’s a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but is not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways. As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually.

I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started. My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services and have questions, and ask dad these questions at inopportune times.

It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, so I thought. With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself fumbling to explain things in simple, clear words. Apparently, I hadn’t learned my lesson with the Sunday school class well enough.

More than a few times my oldest daughter, Becky, would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner. The reality is, it challenged me, and brought a change in my whole approach to teaching.

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases.

I got a partial clue early on, getting settled into Philippine culture. We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, and where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children whom I’d seen singing. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained they sang in English because that’s how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of the dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, this does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. It may seem clear to the speaker, but can the person explain these same things in simple words? If not, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated unless someone explains it to them.

This is another excerpt from my upcoming book. I'm in the final stages of rewriting it, but the last couple weeks have been sneak peeks. I appreciate any feedback—constructive, please ;-)...


[i]There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo
[ii]With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/
[iii]Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.
[iv]Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp(also see “Common Christianese Terms” in the Glossary)

[v]Christianese can come in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible or in reference to texts in the Bible.

 

How Do You Share the Gospel?

Over the past few years I've been writing and rewriting a book. I'm in the last major rewrite (hopefully) before I submit it for publication. I want to start posting some excerpts from time to time ahead of publication. So, here's an excerpt from the Introduction of the book...
How would you answer someone asking, “What is the gospel?”

No matter how specific and accurate a definition might be, it won’t convey the essence and full truth of the gospel to everyone. A simple answer is—the “Good News.” Yet, someone might ask, “The Good News about what?” A generic evangelical[1]definition might be, “the Good News of salvation by grace through faith.” This is almost word for word out of the Book of Romans.[2]
Perhaps a person is seeking spiritual truth, but has no Christian background. Jesus may be just another teacher or prophet like Buddha or Mohammed or Confucius. Another person may have some Christian background, but is part of a non-orthodox or pseudo-Christian religious group, such as the Christian Science Church or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.[3]
If you begin with, “It’s the Good News of God to all people,” or something like, “Jesus died for our sins,” would this communicate the full truth of the Gospel? Could a person make an informed decision about who Jesus is, what He did upon the cross, and why it is of value to them?
I am concerned that we, the evangelical church, are simply not communicating the gospel very well. Many possible explanations and justifications exist, but the question on my heart is—
Are we, as Christian believers, able to express the gospel to someone else in a simple and clear way?
My wife, Susan, is a great example of a living testimony of Jesus, her Lord and Savior. This is not my own opinion, but of many people who know her. I whole-heartedly agree having seen her lead and encourage many others into the Kingdom of God over the past forty years. She’s not given to much talk, nor is she a big fan of social gatherings. She calls herself a “homebody.”
She’s also not comfortable with “witnessing” or handing out gospel tracts on a street corner in the stereotypical manner.[4] More than once she’s told me, “I don’t have a mind for memorizing Scriptures or remembering where to find certain Bible verses. I only know how to put what I know about Jesus in my own simple words.”

That is my hope for everyChristian believer—to share the truth of God’s Story with anyone, at anytime, and anywhere, in his or her own words—simply and clearly, even without a Bible in hand.

How would you share the Gospel with a non-believer?



Introduction (endnotes)
[1]Evangelical is a broad term that includes all Protestant groups centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but especially those churches and organizations born out of revivals in the 18th and early 19th centuries. [http://www.theopedia.com/Evangelicalism]
[2]References— Romans 3:21-26; 5:1-2
[3]Pseudo-Christian groups are those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ (being God in nature), and focus on certain beliefs and behaviors distinguishing them from orthodox Christian theology. [http://waltermartin.com/index.html| http://carm.org/]
[4]Sharing one’s faith in public is called witnessing, and may consist of handing out Bible tracts, posters, street preaching, or conversations involving a person’s testimony (faith journey or story).