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The Gospel and Western Culture

February 18, 2012 Leave a comment

I have begun reading a book for one of my seminary courses, Foolishness to the Greeks, The Gospel and Western Culture by Lesslie Newbigin.  I have just begun to read the book, but it has already raised a good deal of questions in my mind.

The western world has come so far in science and reasoning that we find ourselves living in a society where facts rule the public arena and we relegate values to our private lives.  We no longer need to seek new knowledge for ourselves; we just listen to the experts and trust them to tell us what is true and what is not.  Furthermore, because of our advanced understanding, each individual has the right to determine what is right or wrong, to determine his or her values and worldview.  We can believe whatever we want, just as long as we keep it to ourselves and not try to impose our values and beliefs on others.

But try to take our beliefs into the public square and now we are preaching heresy in a world dictated by facts.  How dare I try to impose my values on others?  Have I not read the latest issue of so-and-so magazine that says religion is only for those who are weak minded and cannot think for oneself?  Oh, how ignorant of me to think that we should live in a society of common norms and values.  That would be imposing my religion on everyone’s right to live his or her own life.  Society cannot tolerate such thoughts.

Is it any wonder that Christianity is losing ground in the western culture?

Categories: community, discipleship, faith

Is a community of believers the answer we should seek?

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the challenges many church leaders face is developing communities of believers within our churches. It is the topic of many discussions. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation revolving around this topic. We talked about a couple of books that discuss doing church as described in the book of Acts. As I continued to ponder this throughout the day, something came to mind. Is it possible to do church in the same fashion as it was in the first century? Since there are a few modern-day examples, I used to think so; but it does not seem to be the norm. Now I am beginning to question this idea.

In today’s society, people are busy. Some would say that we are too busy. We spend a great deal of time away from home working at our jobs. Add the fact that many people commute 50 or more miles to work each day, and the workday can be 12 hours or more. When we get home, many of us spend our evenings chauffeuring our children around to different activities such as soccer practice, baseball practice, youth group, scout meetings, and other similar activities. By the time we get home from all of this, it’s time to retire for the evening so we will be ready to begin again the next day.

In my neighborhood it is not uncommon to see people drive down the street toward their homes, watch the garage door open as they pull into their driveways, and then close once they are in the garage. I never see the person. I would be challenged to recognize many of my neighbors if they were to walk up to me and say hello. I used to frown on this when thinking about how churches can reach people in our neighborhoods. After reflecting on it a bit more, it is easy to understand why churches struggle with building communities when people find it a challenge just to spend time with their immediate family. Many people simply do not have the time to be a part of a faith community, much less doing so in a similar manner as described in the book of Acts.

When describing most churches, we see people gathering for an hour to an hour and a half every Sunday morning. They arrive at church and greet one another as they find a place to sit. During the worship service, it may be customary to have a time when everyone stands to say hello to those sitting near them. After the service, they may have a couple of brief conversations as they leave the church to return home. All in all, many people spend only a few minutes actually interacting with other people, yet we expect to create communities of believers under these circumstances. Is it any wonder people feel uncomfortable when placed in small groups where the only thing they have in common is the initial of their last name or the zip code in which they live?

When we look at the community as described in Acts, we see the people of the church eating together and spending time in fellowship. In the first century, people lived, recreated, and worshipped within walking distance of their home. Everything was located nearby, and people rarely ventured more than a mile from our home. It was much easier, and some would say necessary, to be a part of such a fellowship. People today no longer live in organic communities as the people did in the first century.

So what is the answer to building a community of believers? I am beginning to wonder if we are seeking the wrong answer. Perhaps the answer is not to build (dare I say) artificial communities of believers within our churches. After all, they barely know one another. Perhaps the answer is equipping and encouraging the people of our churches to bring their faith and beliefs outside of the church into the community in which they are already a natural part. Hmm, sounds like discipleship is the answer we should be seeking.

Some final thoughts

January 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Some final thoughts on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne…

Osborne wraps up this chapter writing,

It’s imperative that we somehow find a place where our reality speaks louder than our image, where the upside of positive peer pressure spurs us on to greater heights, and where we’re positioned to receive the help we need the moment we need it. (p. 69)

It is in small groups that we have the best opportunity to develop and cultivate the close and transparent relationships necessary for this to happen. It’s not something that happens overnight; in fact, it may take a long time. But we are talking about eternity, are we not?

Speaking from the perspective of a man, I find these types of relationships very difficult to find. Friends like those that Osborne describes are the ones you can pick up the phone and call anytime. They are the friends you can talk to about anything; no matter how difficult the subject.

I remember a day when I was sitting with my wife talking (probably over a fine cigar and a cup of coffee) and I confessed to her that I don’t have many friends. I had even fewer that I would consider close. People who know me would find this hard to believe with my charming and winning personality; but Beth knows me well enough to know this was absolutely the case.

As we continued talking, I recalled the many friends I had in the Army. Unfortunately, relationships in the military are short-lived. Just as you get close to someone, one of you rotates to a new assignment. Even so, these relationships were strong because we depended on each other in order to accomplish our mission. Even after ten years, I still long for the camaraderie of the Army.

…On a side note, I was recently contacted by one of my army buddies. He called me out of the blue after more than 15 years. He now lives in another part of the country. It was great to hear from him, and we continue to talk every now and again. Anyway, back to what I was saying. What was I saying? Oh yeah, I don’t have many friends…

A few years ago I had a few friends like the type of relationship we are discussing; but, as you may have read in a previous blog, I lost contact with most of them. I am currently working to reestablish connection with them.

My point is it takes time to develop the kind of relationships we need to grow spiritually. With all of the commitments we have, we simply don’t have the time. Or is it that we don’t prioritize our time in order to make time? That’s what I think it is. We only have so many hours a day and we have lots to do. We have to make choices.

Drawing from my time in the army, perhaps we need to look at our spiritual growth as a mission. Do I dare say, “A mission from God”? We need the camaraderie of other Christians in order to accomplish the mission He has given us. Perhaps if we depended on each other as I used to depend on my teammates in the army, we would develop the life depending relationships we need.

I shared this with my wife, and she brought up a good thought. We talk a lot about missions overseas, and other things of that magnitude, but we don’t talk much about our mission right here in our homes and neighborhood. We have a mission to raise our families in a Godly manner. We have a mission to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. We have a mission to continue to grow spiritually. Small groups are the best way to accomplish these missions. Perhaps we need to be a bit more diligent in accomplishing the mission close to home.

And those are my words… Or in this case, those are our words…

Honesty

January 14, 2009 2 comments

Continuing with our series on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne…

The third accelerator Osborne refers to when discussing the purpose of small groups is honesty. Osborne writes,

If I want to grow spiritually, I must be honest enough to let people in on the issues I’m facing and the reality behind the image I portray. I also need friends who are honest enough to tell me the truth—even when I don’t want to know it, or it hurts to hear. (p. 67)

He goes on to say this type of honesty is hard to come by. Of the three accelerators, it’s my opinion that this is by far the hardest to accomplish.

The kind of honesty we need is the kind we can only get from close and transparent relationships. We need brothers and sisters in Christ who know us well enough ask those difficult questions; the things other people may find offensive. We need brothers and sisters that love us enough to be honest.

Typically, we don’t find these kind of relationships in a once a week visit to church. When we see people in church, the common greeting is “How are you?” Our typical response is “I’m good!” Is that the honest truth? Perhaps. When we ask others how they are doing, do we really want to know or are we just being sociable? I would venture to say most of the time we are just being sociable. In a public setting where we see people only occasionally, this is appropriate. But if we are serious about our spiritual growth, we need more than just casual relationships. We need relationships with people we can be honest with.

We find this kind of relationship in small groups. Over time, people in a small group come to know each other intimately. They develop close and transparent relationships; one in which people have trust and love for each other. In these relationships, people really do want to know how the people in their group are doing. In order for us to have this type of relationship, we must be vulnerable and transparent; and in this world, that goes against the norm. Paul teaches, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2 (English Standard Version). There comes a time when we need to ignore what the world thinks and focus on what God thinks.

Honesty is not easy; it means being vulnerable and transparent. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what we need to continue to grow spiritually.

Next time, I’ll wrap up this look at “Velcroed for Growth.” Until then…

The Upside of Peer Pressure

January 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Continuing with our series on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne…

The second accelerator Osborne refers to when discussing the purpose of small groups is peer pressure. Osborne says close and transparent relationships allow peer pressure to be used as a positive force in developing spirituality (p. 65). He cites Hebrews as an example of positive peer pressure:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (English Standard Version)

By continually meeting together, we develop close and transparent relationships and encourage each other to grow spiritually.

Parents understand the concept of positive peer pressure. We constantly keep an eye on the friends our kids hang out with. We drive them back and forth to youth group so they will be with other Christian kids. We talk to their teachers and coaches to see what kind of people they are. We have their friends over for dinner so we can get to know them. We do all these things so we know the type of influence their friends have on their life. We want them to have positive peer pressure. If we do this for our kids, shouldn’t we do this for ourselves?

Have you ever hung out with someone from Georgia? It doesn’t take long before you begin speaking with a southern accent and drinking sweetened ice tea. I have friends and family in Texas, and if I spend any time with them I begin speaking in a Texas drawl and rooting for the Cowboys. Y’all know what I mean. It rubs off.

Peer pressure works the same way. When we hang around people who are strong in their faith and character, it rubs off on us. Osborne writes, “The best way to produce [a long-term, life changing] kind of spirituality is to hang around those who are already experiencing it” (p. 67). The more we hang around with spiritually strong Christians, the stronger we become.

In small groups we hang around people who encourage us to love one another and to do good works. In small groups we develop close and transparent relationships with other believers. In other words, small groups create the positive peer pressure we need to be spiritually strong.

Next I’ll reflect on the accelerator honesty. Until then… Y’all be good now, ya hear?

The Velcroing Power of a Small Group

January 11, 2009 1 comment

Continuing with our series on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne… The first accelerator Osborne refers to when discussing the purpose of small groups is connectedness. According to Osborne,

“The primary reason to be in a small group setting is not to learn more biblical information. It’s not to develop great friends. It’s not even accountability. It’s connectedness. Belonging to a small group, small church, or any other form of close and transparent relationships velcroes me to the people and information I’ll need when a need to grow or need to know crisis shows up.” (p. 64)

A friend of mine used to say, “Now don’t hear what I didn’t say.” In other words, Osborne is not saying Bible studies, friendships, and accountability are not important aspects of small groups. What he is saying is connectedness is the primary reason to be in a small group. The other things are secondary. I would go further in saying the other aspects are results of being connected. Bible studies are always more affective when we know the people we are studying with. We feel comfortable asking questions or sharing ideas. Real friendship only comes from being connected. True accountability only comes from real connections. How many of us can say that we have connections like this?

Keeping with the focus of Osborne’s book, the people in our small group are the ones we should turn to when in need. They should know us well enough to know when something is bothering us. “When we’re in a place where relationships are genuine and transparent, there’ll always be someone ready to give us what we need.” Whether it is a shoulder to cry on, or words of wisdom, people we are truly connected to will be there to help.

Over the past couple of years, I was so busy with my career that I lost the connections I had with a core group of men. I was trying to do too much, and it consumed me to the point that I no longer had time for friends. Last August something happened that made me reevaluate my life, and I made a decision to make some changes. Making these changes provided me the opportunity to renew connections with my friends. It will take time to reestablish these connections, and some may be lost forever; but I know God will bring people into my life that I need. I just have to be sure to develop and nurture my relationships so there will be true connectedness. And through these connections I will once again have the spiritual growth, friendships, and accountability that God desires us all to have.

Next I’ll reflect on the accelerator peer pressure.