Tag Archives: evangelism

The end of Christian supremacy: New hope for resurrection

After our great sunrise meeting in the park on Easter I ate all sorts of delectable things I had missed for a long time. It seemed like a good time to exercise off a few pieces of candy, so Gwen and I took off for our nearby forest path. On the last leg, we went by Treetop Quest, the zipline and ropes course fun that opened not too long ago. I wondered what all the cars were doing parked along Chamonix Dr. on Easter Sunday. Treetop Quest was not closed for Easter.

I think you need to be a pretty old Christian to be surprised at what is open on Easter Sunday. My grandson kept looking at his father’s watch to see if the family brunch was going to end in time for him to make his soccer practice…on Easter Sunday.

The end of Christian supremacy

I had a job titled “youth director” for much of my twenties. Just for a reference point, Ronald Reagan ousted Jimmy Carter as president in 1981 when I was 27. Not long before then, I had an unforgettable conversation with a high school girl about the resurrection of Jesus. She had never heard of it. She literally did not know what the word “resurrection” meant, for sure. I remember going home to Gwen and talking about this experience, after I changed a couple of diapers. I told her this was the first rivulet of a flood of newness coming upon us who were used to our environment being saturated with Christianity. Jimmy Carter, the real Christian, who later went on to prove it, was replaced by Ronald Reagan, who’s soulmate, Nancy, consulted astrologers for auspicious times for Ronnie to do things. Reagan begat Bush who begat Trump.

I should not be surprised about Treetop Quest being open on Easter or that atheists and Muslims often protest when the government persists in putting up Christmas trees and, even worse, Nativity scenes in December. The big news in the social scientist sphere last month was that the regular census of religious adherents in the U.S. showed for the first time that over half the country are not church members.

Let’s be clear, Gallup has been measuring “church membership” for 80 years and plenty of megachurches do not even have a way to be a member, formally. One’s attendance is their membership; being on the mailing list or fundraising list is one’s membership. But plenty of long-lived churches have seen a decline in their membership; it is minus 25% in Philadelphia’s region in the last decade. Non-college graduates and unmarried individuals showed the greatest decline. Declines were proportionately smaller among political conservatives, Republicans, married adults and college graduates. Those groups have the highest rates of church membership, along with Southern residents and non-Hispanic Black adults.

All this data might be more about how people do not affiliate than about the prevalence of Christianity. It might be about how people are freeing themselves from heretical American theology and fraudulent church systems rather than deserting Jesus. But my anecdotal experiences of a rivulet of unbelief among high school students in the 80’s became a river among Gen Xers in Philadelphia in the 90’s. It feels like a sea change in the 2020’s. Christian supremacy is dying in the United States. It died a long time ago elsewhere.

Resurrection in post-Christian culture

My historical heroes are Desert Fathers and Mothers, Benedictines, Franciscans, Anabaptists, Wesleyans and others who always took the Jesus way between church factions fighting for or submitting to political power. Even when fighting for social justice I never thought winning the fight was anyone’s final solution. So I remember sitting in the front yard with my buddies back in my twenties, plotting what we should do now that Ronald Reagan was ushering in a new godless era – how’s that for prophecy! The part of the church that decided to defend Christian supremacy eventually helped elect Donald Trump! As Dr. King taught us, it is good to be on the “right side of history” – that is, to keep making history in collaboration with Jesus. I still find great joy in being on that quest.

I am happy the church is finally more like a minority group in the United States. For one reason, it is very clarifying. You can’t assume someone even knows it is Easter. “Christmas” is fully superseded by “holiday” and thinking Sunday is a day of rest, or special (besides being the weekend) makes one weird. I forgot about my cell meeting one time after it became another TV show/Zoom last year — and I was in charge of it! Suddenly, being an actual Christian takes some effort when it is uncommon to be one. That effort is so good for us.

Parents now need to nurture faithful children rather than just send them to church. My parents were early adopters of post-Christianity. They probably would have been great modestly-believing church members if they had been able to get along with hypocrites. I could “go to church” as an act of differentiation. But no one would just send a kid to church these days; who knows what might happen to them? The children won’t hear about the resurrection in school, so they’ll need a parent. Our situation already sounds more like the Bible, doesn’t it?

The writers of the New Testament represent a tiny minority from a tiny part of the Roman Empire. They are not going along with what was going along. Jesus calls his way “narrow.” The broad way is leading to destruction, as in global warming and the cultural captivity of the church, among other things. Their message leads off with the incarnation of God and ends up with his resurrection. They never talk about going to church or taking over the government — they are the church and eventually undermine the government. Their message is so strong it keeps rising from the dead. American slaves get it, toss the faulty vessel in which it arrives and come up with their own improvement — they are still the most Christian element of the U.S. population! The liveliest parts of the 21st century church are in all the places European Christians brutally colonized the world in service to their idols. Jesus overcomes the world.

Being in the treetops on Sunday has a lot of merit and running around after a soccer ball could be a good thing. People have decided to follow Jesus under worse circumstances. Like I said, their master might not let them learn how to read or their colonizers might organize conflict between the people groups you just spent generations to reconcile. Jeff Bezos might spend his billions figuring out how to get more out of you. Another pandemic is not unlikely. In the face of all that, Jesus followers keep saying, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” echoing that first minority group writing the Bible:  

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5

Anything might work because nothing really works.

We had a sweetly earnest cell plan intensive the other night in the basement of 2212 S. Broad. All those couches reminded me of the youth group I used to lead! I suppose that’s why I remembered a lesson I learned very early in my life of mission.

Here’s the lesson: Anything might work because nothing really works. What I mean is: God works. I am just a vehicle, an opportunity, a marginally-capable participant. In the cause of redemption, God has used a lot more surprising partners than me to get things done.

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The cell leaders were mainly talking about how to make connections with people without seeming like Verizon trying to get someone to switch. [Hate this commercial]. They were lamenting those awkward conversations when they suspected someone felt weirdly pressured to sign on the dotted line when they were only being invited into a cell group — a group that would likely feel like a precious gift after a few minutes or meetings. “The ask” is always so hard.

So I told a story about being a youth pastor and feeling compelled to make new relationships with high school students. I used to somewhat-illegally go to Arlington High School and sit at one of the lunch tables hoping I would connect with someone. It was, of course, awkward enough to go to lunch when I was in high school. This was even more awkward. And more than a few kids let me know how weird it was, including the ones I already knew! But I also made some new friends, and many of them became friends just because they appreciated just how far I would go to get a chance to meet them [Love this commercial].

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I had learned a lesson from Jesus and I was just determined enough to apply it. Jesus also went to great lengths to get to know us. One time he found someone to heal in Jerusalem and the leaders were mad because he did it on the Sabbath. He told them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (John 5:17). Then they were mad that he said God was his father. Nothing worked with these people! He might have gone to a meeting in a basement and lamented that his healings resulted in too little and people responded poorly when he called on them! I would do that and have.

At the same time, I heard what he was saying and went out and tried again. Because the Holy Spirit has repeatedly made it plain that God couldn’t care less about the rejections and absurdities that people throw against Love and Truth. God is at work, so I can trust that. “My Father is still working” — and if that doesn’t work, then nothing works.

The fact is, I throw out a lot of resistance and nonsense myself! And what I come up with as a strategy is usually weak, at best. If I were basing my next move on my predicted effectiveness, I would certainly do nothing. I can demonstrate how ineffective I am (even when others think I’m successful!). Fortunately, God could not care less about my estimations of myself. He died for me when I was turned away and uses me in spite of myself, repeatedly.

That motley, beautiful crew in the basement had a shocking number of success stories to tell the other night — that is, if you consider God transforming lives to be success and you don’t restrict Jesus to making your plans for world redemption work out properly. You could tell we thought very little of our successes. The stories were told to encourage us not to give up, for the most part.

When we prayed, I silently hoped that we would see you at work, Lord. Anything we do is just for revealing you. If people don’t see you at work, what is there to do but heal them, or at least be at the table when they show up for lunch and provide the opportunity for living bread?

Nothing works. People will reject a healing done before their eyes by the Son of God! But anything can work: a prayer, a meeting, a note, a cold call, a random encounter, a song, because God is at work and Jesus is alive in his people. Why wouldn’t we just take the best shot we can according to whatever we have available at the moment? Stranger things have introduced people to eternity.

The ask: The background music of multiplication

Garden at the end of a tunnel of decay

One time a striking circle of ten got together for a late-night brainstorm about the future development of Circle of Hope Broad and Washington. It was stimulating. While we were discussing great things, there was a little emotional tune playing in the background. It was almost like a minor-keyed theme in a mystery movie that lets you know something scary is going to happen, a note of fear [or 30 minutes of it!]. Growing a church to hiving size means making new relationships, which most of us like, but making new relationships includes something most of us don’t like: the ask. The tune kept building to the point when all the ideas would come down to the ask. Then it got loud.

The tragedy of NO

My mother liked taking me shopping for groceries as child. For one thing, my mother was so extroverted she didn’t like to do anything alone and I was available. But I think the main reason I got to go was that I was rather entertaining as I interacted with the various people we would meet in the aisles. I would ask people about themselves, ask about their clothes, ask about their groceries. And if they wouldn’t talk to me, I would ask my mother about them. My mother found this boundary-breaking amusing. The downside for her was that I would also ask for every single thing on the shelves that looked mildly interesting or tasty. So very early on, I had a lot of experience with the word NO. I could see my self not long after when I was buying snacks for the Sunday Meeting. A young boy was lying in the candy aisle screaming under the watch of his bemused dad because Skittles were not on their list —  the tragedy of being told NO is still very real for the under-six set.

I was relatively oblivious to being told NO as a child. I just kept on expressing my hope for Skittles until I got a YES. If I got one YES out of a hundred NOs, that kept me going. But as I got older and understood that NO often has more meaning than whether I am going to get a piece of candy, I got a LOT more reticent. I began to feel rejected by NO. One hundred NOs of rejection were not balanced with a single YES. I began to feel generally rejected and didn’t want to ask at all, lest I get rejected some more. The scary tune of the ask became background music in my brain.

Having intimates who lived a general YES to me did not necessarily make up for the times they dared to say NO to me. Even having a God who Paul could say this about didn’t solve all my problems:

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.”  For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:19-20

Even God did not consistently convince me that being rejected, being an “imposition,” or being “unwanted” was less important than being free to be myself, being confident that I am safe no matter what, and living in a state of grace that is “YES” to me. I still was nervous about asking.

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Fear of the ask throttles church planting

This nervousness about asking makes church planting hard (I know this personally!).  Some of us are loathe to ask someone to come to an event (like our cell or the Sunday Meeting) because it seems so aggressive and could easily incite rejection. But our fear can be even more fundamental. Even when some people get a turn to tell their story, they are still reticent to ask someone to listen. If Jesus is included in their story, then they often feel like they are being too aggressive!

Meanwhile, church planting is all about the asking. It never really gets that easy for most of us. Because we usually experience many forms of NO before we get to a YES. Should we therefor learn to avoid asking so we avoid suffering? Should we just pass by the Skittles without a peep of desire? Should we just pass by people who might like to know Jesus because we have learned never to risk loving someone who might reject us?

I told the circle of hive-interested people that night about when I was an evangelistic wildman in college. I had days when I vowed to ask everyone I met to come to our new Bible study in our side-by-side apartments. That meant I would be asking all sorts of people I was sure would say NO, unless a miracle happened. Many did say NO. But a surprising number didn’t and an even more surprising number became new disciples of Jesus.

Its been more than a few years since I was in college. Since then advertisers have become so oppressive (i.e., AT&T Station is still travesty!) that anyone with love in their heart feels like they should not add to the asking. That’s just a general, devilish thing that has happened to us to make us keep quiet. No one even gets to hear the YES we have for them because we are all too busy telling AT&T NO for the millionth time, like some five-year-old in the store who never learns. It is tiring. We don’t want to add to the asking, even if we are asking in the name of Jesus! Someone might think we are merely marketing!

Authentic Google Jr. Highers

NO is even harder to bear in the love zone

Even more so, it is hard to ask because we don’t like getting rejected. Asking in the name of Jesus is more like asking, “Do you want to make love?” than it is asking, “Do you want to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies?” (Samoas are still the best. A man came up to me in Fresh Grocer a few weeks ago and asked me to buy some from his daughter. I did). Works of faith are intrinsically intimate. They are in the love zone.  If we ever hive off another congregation, it will be because a substantial number of people trust the YES in Jesus enough to bear the NOs of people who aren’t ready yet or, for whatever reason, don’t want them and Jesus right now.

Nevertheless, like perpetual askers at a middle school dance, we’ll get up and cross over to a person who has a lot of power over our emotions and ask them to dance. There’s no hiding it; we’re asking because we like them. In Christ we love the about-to-be-asked, already, even before we find out what their response will be. We aren’t selling a mere product; we can get hurt if they reject us! Our love for Jesus and them is built in to the  “product” if we are “selling” at all. And it is a hurtable love, just like Jesus is a hurtable God. So asking is no small thing. The music of the fear of NO could drown out the dance music!

It is no wonder that we sometimes hate to ask. But if we don’t ask, it could hurt even more. It will certainly hurt our chances of multiplying if we won’t do it. I am going to keep meditating on that YES I can count on from God so I don’t pass by too many more seekers fearing they might reject Jesus in me.

We need evangelized: 3 things that show it

evangelized rodents

Every day, I need evangelized. Like Paul said of Abraham, the faithful friend of God:

“He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).

I am also not wavering. But I need to be strengthened. I need to be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promises. This strengthening and persuasion happens every day.

To be honest, we, as a church, need to keep the spark of evangelism stoked among us and through us or we might “waver through unbelief” like Paul fears the Romans might waver (or why bring up Abraham, right?). If Paul looked over our church, he might be writing a letter to our leaders and to all of us when he saw the kinds of things we do rather than persuading people that God has the power to do what he promises through Jesus Christ.

Here are three things we tend to do these days that show we need evangelized — no judgment, just things to think and talk about.

We manage lovelessness

This week, all sorts of people are going to bring out the four horsemen in their relationships at home, in your cell and with the leaders. We are going to be tempted to manage the symptoms of their lovelessness rather than teach a better way. Rather than reconcile after our teaching causes conflict, we will be tempted to keep things calm by not confronting the life-sucking lack of love and keeping our mouths shut. We try to manage the lovelessness. This managing rarely succeeds and the territory of the loveless expands rather than stays in the boundaries we set. Basically, we spawn a dysfunctional family like that from which many of us came.

Continue reading We need evangelized: 3 things that show it

Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

Our last day in Zambia was full of constrasts — and Lusaka’s traffic jams! We shopped at the mall with the rest of the 1% and looked over an unpaved alley full of vendors. We had our last baked beans for breakfast, lunch on a posh balcony, and had a farewell dinner at The Retreat — a poolside eatery inside a walled suburban tract.

Levison Soko, Lusaka area overseer for the BIC

While sitting in traffic we had a lot of time to check out the sites. One of the surprises was to see three large mosques in the downtown area. During lunch, I asked our guest, the district overseer for the BIC in Lusaka, if he felt the impact of Muslims in Lusaka. He immediately became more animated. He told us that big spenders were coming in (reportedly from the Middle East and Indonesia, we heard) to put up big new meeting places. To go with them, they attach free schools and often free clinics. Poor people, mostly Christians at some level, are taking advantage of the free gifts, since they have nothing else. Soon their children are followers of Islam. This is the strategy: convert the children of Zambia, village by village.

We told him that some people in the U.S. doubt the evangelistic value of MCC, which supplies our compassionate mission, complete with schools and health care components. They think the ministry of the word is enough. He was flabbergasted. He could not understand how the spoken and enacted word could ever be separated, and reinforced that the BIC in Zambia consider MCC and the BIC to be one movement. Then he quoted the word to us as a final admonition: “If you have done it to the least of these you have done it to me” (Matthew 25). Works of compassion are the first steps of evangelism; isn’t that why the Lord’s teaching often follows an act of healing or dispossession?

I received his admonition. But as a church planter, I have to admit, my competitive juices also began to flow. Will we actually concede Southern Africa, where we have been supporting successful church planting for over 100 years, to the Muslims? Have we conformed to the world so completely that we would follow liberal irreligiousity or conservative protectionism instead of following Jesus, who is waiting for us to unite his resources in the cause of redemption? We have capable partners already in Zimbabwe and Zambia, I have learned. But they certainly don’t have our resources — or those of the local imam’s apparently!

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.


April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers


April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

Going around doing good

In Acts, Jesus is described as “one who went around doing good.” And yet I regularly hear some suspicion about MCC because their main gift to the church is leading us to go around and do good — in a professional, creative , personal, inclusive way! They are accused of being unevangelistic, even though they stamp everything they distribute “in the name of Christ.”

Rather than being unevangelistic, I would say that MCC and other ways the church expresses God’s love in practical ways are the MOST evangelistic things we do in an age that is suspicious about words in general and particularly Christian ones. I don’t know how much personal evangelism you do, but when I get an opportunity I often hear about how uncompassionate the church is. Many people think we hate gay people and immigrants and anyone who does not agree with us. They think we are fierce competitors for government power to enforce the morality we don’t completely agree on among ourselves. We lament the shrinking church in the U.S. — I still think the antidote is intercession and compassion.

When I was connecting with the BIC about 30 years ago one of the main reasons I did it was because they were part of MCC. My friends had been to Kenya to study.  One of the things they described were these great missionaries who went about doing good, were close to the people, and had a better reputation than other missionaries who seemed more concerned with building their organization than serving –they were called MCC, whatever that means. So I am glad we are hanging in there with MCC in a rather selfish age. I want to show people Jesus, especially the neediest.

I guess that’s what people say while on an MCC learning tour. We see a lot of good being done in our name. Today we visited the Zimbabwean bishop, were taken by his wife to visit the needy, visited with a peacemaker trying to undo the trauma visited on Matabeleland (having been in prison for his passion) — and that was just part of the day. The church is making a lot with the little they have. Jesus saves.

Here are two other special moments.

Sibo Ncube has been leading the BICC Compassionate Development Services for three years. My poor picture does not reveal what an articulate, passionate, intelligent leader she is. She is combining the elements of the hospitals, MCC projects and other efforts in a coherent framework. It is part of a new commitment to compassion by the church. She laments the lost generation who have grown up without integrity in a sea of corruption. She sees them enslaved by an atmosphere of fear and despair. She plans to lead the church to restore their historic character as a peace church and so restore the country. I pray she succeeds.

The National Parents of Disabled Children Organization has a big name for their struggling but blessed ministry. MCC had been funding a larger organization of parents with severely disabled children. The director stole the organization’s money and sold the van!  A segment of the betrayed parents reorganized, found a man to build them a house and donate a van! In a country with completely inadequate and unaffordable health care, this is what you do. I am moved by them. They radiated joy. As we said our goodbyes several workers sang a song of love and danced in praise. That was worth the whole trip.

These people are going around doing good with Jesus in a needy, traumatized, and abused place. I am delighted MCC is in league with the BIC in Zimbabwe and so allows me to go around (and dance) with them as they do it.

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.


April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers


April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

April 30
Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

Are we visible enough?

Mike Brown vigil

We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us.

But are we “visible” enough? Are we a “contrast society” like we aspire to be? Perhaps the most visible we were last year was during our Mike Brown vigil outside the future police headquarters.  It made some of us feel like, “Finally! We made ourselves known in some way.” Others are still talking about the relational damage they experienced when we appeared to be anti-police and declared some extreme versions of a political stance.  Some of us are eager to be visible. Others seem opposed to it or experience being visible as being exposed, even shameful.

Visible as radicals

These are thoughts we considered when we did some theology last week around the question, “What is radical?” We had John Wesley for our example of someone who fits the criteria for being such a person. Part of what made him so radical was his willingness to be visible, and often in striking contrast to both church and society. For instance, Curtis Book quoted him saying, “Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way to my heart.” That certainly contrasts with common sense in the U.S.!

Wesley’s sincere convictions made him notorious. But there is a much more common form of being visible that we want to avoid. A contrast society is not visible in the way the world vies to be more notorious than someone else.  Take Justin Bieber and Adele for example. They  have been competing for #1 on the charts with songs about being forgiven, of all things! We are all for forgiveness to get on someone’s screen, right? But we hardly want to make the forgiveness of Jesus visible like a pop artist gets famous, do we? There are certain kinds of visible we just don’t want to practice: publicity-seeking, or political theatrics, or “show,” in general

Matt 6:3-4: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We think seeking notoriety or fame is a temptation, not an aspiration. A contrast society built by Jesus needs to rely on its radicality becoming visible, not rely on visibility to make it seem radical.

The little way

We agreed that the “little way” is better. It is the way of not trying to be visible. If you are trying to be visible, you probably have nothing from Jesus to show. The kind of contrast that makes us visible is: our palpable authenticity — you know it, you see it, there are no deceptive frills, it is frank. Our radicality says, “Do you want to? I do!” It is sincere. We need to let that smallness become visible, something like the widow’s worship became visible to one with eyes to see it.

Mark 12 :41-44:  “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

We build the visible people of God. That's our lead.When we tried to figure out what, if any, balance there was in all of this, we decided that being visible is a matter of what we lead with. We could lead with techniques that make us visible. Or we could rely on the revelation to push us to make it known. Our lead is very rooted, practical and, by nature, visible. We build the people of God – that’s the lead. Other things might follow or coincide, but being “the together,” the anti-polarization – that’s contrast. This thought matches 1 Peter 4 10-11 in that it shows how the outward (people who yearn to be visible) and the inward (people who fear the attention is contaminating) connect:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks [an outwardly visible act], they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves [a small way to be called], they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Some people will be, by nature and gifting, more “visible” (like Gandalf) and others will be, by nature and gifting, “smaller” (like Frodo).  We are all both, in that we share in one body and seek one end.

Visible and small together

Leading by building the church is always going to be radical, and so prone to temptation and danger. When it comes to building the church with new disciples, the “visible” people may be prone to wanting instant results in response to a speech, or an ad, or an action. The “small” people are more likely to be content with the more common reality that conversion is, more times than not, about “Chinese water torture” evangelism – drip by drip. We do not change quickly. We may have to drag many people along the way until they can walk. When it comes to keeping the church built, the “visible” people may want to show the sword and induce a miracle to solve problems. Sometimes they should. The  “smaller” might try to diminish our polarized environment, in which every problem becomes a me-centered social justice issue. Sometimes conflict should be avoided, too.

We did not come to every conclusion needed. But we were glad for our ability to do some theology. We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us. So we were glad that we could conclude where Wesley did, even when he was content to work among the smallest and yet became so notorious. He was fond of quoting Paul in the middle of temptation and danger: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).


Top ten posts of 2015 and before

You may have missed some of the posts others found interesting in 2015!

1. Obama runs over Jesus in victory lap

Even though I give the speech a high rating (which I am sure Barack is waiting to hear), and even though I can whip up some admiration for the president’s audacity, competitiveness and attention to some of my greatest irritations, the speech made me glad, as usual, that Jesus introduced me to an alternative way of life and glad that Circle of Hope keeps giving me a chance to practice it.

2. If I tell you not to watch Kingsman will it make you want to see it?

One thing Kingsman did for me is energize me to get our message out as well as I can. I want to be one of the King of King’s men and keep putting myself in the path of the evils that are rolling over a lot of more-vulnerable victims than I am.

3. 5 reasons some people are tired of being a Christian

Being countercultural and at odds with both post-Christian culture and institutionalized church, leads to  isolation all around.

4. Rachel at one month

Being a woman pastor is still odd. We just had the Pope come through and remind us that in most places it is forbidden like forbidding it is in the Bible! We called her to lead us and she said yes. That is a big deal and I think everyone reading this should be proud of themselves for making it happen.

5. I am not Indiana

The issues of faith , hope and love are bigger than the Constitution. I think criticizing Indiana’s lawmaking is important, but I know I will do more good, ultimately, if I follow Jesus more fearlessly in the face of bad laws. If I expect the powers-that-be to stop doing what the fallen powers of this world do, I will ultimately be less influential for good in that murky arena, too.

6. Fast or furious? Quakers and Puritans keep arguing.

In 2 Corinthians 9 he charts middle ground by telling everyone to become like everyone for the sake of the mission — not merely because of empathy or tolerance, but because of Jesus. Paul puts himself firmly in the freedom/prophecy/filled-with-the-Spirit camp. But he uses his freedom to firmly protect those who don’t feel it. There is no point in having freedom if one uses it to win a point or to dominate everyone else. Freedom is for love.

7. Our evangelism nightmare

You can Google all this, of course. But you might not bother because you have become what many call “hypermodern.” Modernity and postmodernity are both the the past for you. They are, essentially, irrelevant because you believe that what took place in the past took place under “lesser” circumstances than now, and is irretrievably different.

8. Did Taylor mean to run over Jesus?

Is Jesus getting rolled over by who-knows-how-many concert trucks parked at Lincoln Financial (there’s an homage for you) Field? Maybe. Whether Taylor means anything by her songs and videos or not, they mean a lot when they are so influential they override the sensibilities of the impressionable.

9. Tagged with “cult”

An accusation is often as good as a conviction these days. People who are falsely accused seem to be filling up the jails. Tales of being  falsely accused at work and becoming the subject of an investigation are not that unusual. Circle of Hope has been taken down with false accusations a few times in the newspaper. So excuse me if I seem a little hypervigilant when I hear it through the grapevine that we are being accused of being a cult.

10. Iraq Aftermath — six things Christian peacemakers can practice right now.

How about stepping back, looking at a bigger picture and asking, “How about dismantling structures of violence that caused the conflicts and fuel the violence?” Remind people that violence does not save, Jesus saves. Stand up to other narratives as well, such as the “brotherhood of soldiers” story that gets soldiers to do things their hearts would resist if they were not “protecting” people in their squad from “savages.”

Before-2015 posts that people keep reading

1. David Bazan and the Dialogue about Lost Faith

2. Spiritual Midwives

3. Is God going to punish me?

4. Would God send Gandhi to hell? 

5. The Difference between Acceptance and Agreement

6. Don’t let the loneliness organize you.

7. Prayer: Walk by faith, not by sight

8. Why I Love (but might not altogether like) Narcotics Anonymous

9. What If I Don’t Feel God Anymore?

10. Narcissism and Telling Our Stories

Our evangelism nightmare: Hypermodern voices take over the airwaves

I heard Dwight Schrute, I mean, Rainn Wilson, on NPR as I was driving around somewhere. What he said is stuck in my head. He is known for being an outspoken follower of the Ba’hai faith — it is the “outspoken” part that is stuck. At one point he said that people “threw up in their mouth a little” when he started talking about his life with God at parties. So it is not easy for him to talk about what he believes. He does it, but it is not easy.

Wilson’s claim to fame, The Office, began in 2005, about when we moved into our South Broad location. It makes me wonder if that TV show was riding the zeitgeist of dodging people who make you “throw up in your mouth a little” — like White Goodman (above) and Dwight Schrute. Christians (and I guess the followers of the Bab) started getting on the list of people who make you vurp — at least the ones who talk about their faith as if they actually believe it.

Old evangelism stories are out of date

I was telling old stories to Aaron the other day about talking to people as if you actually believe that Jesus will raise you from the dead, and such things of faith. At one point he looked a little uncomfortable. I don’t think he was vurping, but he reminded me that things have changed a bit since I was his age. Some of my stories seem out of date when I start talking about the Jesus movement, which might as well be the French Revolution as far as twentysomethings remember it. We are experiencing more of an evangelistic nightmare than easygoing chats about Jesus.

Twentysomethings were born into a profound philosophical discussion. Their churches, for the most part, were holding on to a Christianity that was conformed to philosophical paradigms from modernity like rationality and hierarchy. In the late twentieth century, postmodern thinkers came to the fore and staged a short-lived rebellion. They taught everyone to consider their “values” and argued that values have the meaning we assign them, but no meanings that last; we cannot discern truth but we can play with the nonsense. They wanted to emerge from modernity with its faith in progress and empowering the individual. We had “emerging churches” for a hot minute to match that movement.

The dialogue out there is all hypermodern

You can Google all this, of course. But you might not bother because you have become what many call “hypermodern.” Modernity and postmodernity are both the the past for you. They are, essentially, irrelevant because you believe that what took place in the past took place under “lesser” circumstances than now, and is irretrievably different. You think artifacts from the past (like the Bible or “faiths”) that clutter the cultural landscape are to be reused to generate something better.

Wikipedia quote: Hypermodernity has even more commitment to reason and to an ability to improve individual choice and freedom. Modernity merely held out the hope of reasonable change while continuing to deal with a historical set of issues and concerns; hypermodernity posits that things are changing so quickly that history is not a reliable guide. The positive changes of hypermodernity are supposedly witnessed through rapidly expanding wealth, better living standards, medical advances, and so forth. Individuals and cultures that benefit directly from these things can feel that they are pulling away from natural limits that have always constrained life on Earth. But the negative effects also can be seen as leading to a soulless homogeneity as well as to accelerated discrepancies between different classes and groups.

So if you feel like people will consider you a Dwight Schrute at a party if you talk about Jesus, you might be right. You are acting like an historical artifact (Jesus) has meaning. You seem to be fighting the inevitability of change. You are saying that life on Earth has meaning and we don’t have to fight its constraints as if we should have power over it. You are standing out against the backdrop of gigantic institutions enforcing soulless homogeneity on us in the name of progress. And so much more.

It is an evangelism nightmare. Hypermodernity assumes everyone is an idiot if they are not hypermodern, like the cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo who responded to people praying for Paris after the recent attacks (above). For him, religion is modern, the past. Paris is freedom and joy, the future. Religion (a modern umbrella under which all “faiths” belong) is the seedbed of terrorism = faithful people are in bed with terrorists = You make me sick you Christians!

Jesus does not need to make people vurp

What to do? I’d hate to terrorize a party! I hardly want to stand in the way of progress. I don’t even understand all this philosophy.

Four suggestions, for now.

  1. Talk this over. Things ARE changing fast. We need to keep talking about what is happening, like I am talking right now about how Aaron was schooling me.
  2. Remember that Jesus is present, even if people try to make him an historical artifact. Even if people have repeatedly subjected him to the latest philosophy, the Lord rises in each era and has been incarnate in them all. You don’t have to argue the Lord into existence.
  3. Have a story and tell it. Jesus is going to be found in a loving relationship of trust in which God can be spoken of as the lover God is rather than a mere philosophical argument, a value, or political statement.
  4. Pray. Like right now. Jesus will be revealed and you will be inspired to live a life of creativity, free of shame and free to share.

The Great Commission: Facing threats to fulfilling it

My last seminar at the Mennonite World Conference was one my friend told me I needed to attend, since it was by Wes Furlong, pastor of an unusually large Mennonite Church in Florida. I was eager to see how the Anabaptists were trying to come to the megachurch picnic.

MWC in the Farm Show Complex

I was disappointed because Furlong did not show up. The replacement said he was still with his family after his vacation and felt it was better to stay with them. This was ironic, since part of his material included  asking a good-hearted skeptic to tell you what your church is like after they attend a meeting for the first time. I was the good-hearted skeptic at his meeting this time. Not showing up made a big impression. Come to find out Furlong has gone to quarter time at the church and started hiring himself out as a consultant and as one of the architects of the new splinter-group Evana. When I googled him, the first thing that came up was Wes Frulong.com. He’s his own brand.

There is a lot I learned from my seminar experience, but let’s give the material his substitute offered some respect. He wanted to explore how Anabaptist assets can serve the cause of fulfilling the Great Commission.  This is always a good topic of discussion. We do well to think about it because, I think, Circle of Hope and BIC assets are deep, but they are often poorly delivered in service to the cause. In the case of the BIC, I think the assets are well described, but the organization has been talking about itself for a decade or so instead of mobilizing for action. The BIC has hired a lot of Wes Furlong types to get ourselves going, but the denominational culture has become even less about our historic or actual assets, it seems to me.

The teacher talked about three things that are special threats to Anabaptist types if they want to fulfill the Great Commission. These are threats to most other churches, as well.

1) The original vision of a founding pastor/formation team or of a denomination tends to move toward institutionalization. The goal line might be clear and the way to get there might even be clear, but the requirements of the institution are too distracting to make enough good plays to get the ball over the line. To get anywhere, the homeostasis needs to be disrupted, but the system is designed to preserve itself.

2) Fear of authority. The baby boomers are in charge and they have taught their children to be even more suspicious of anyone in charge than they are. Unless you are an especially skillful or charismatic person, a leader in the church spends a lot of time figuring out who is in charge at a given moment and making all their many bosses happy. They never succeed in making everyone happy so they are on a hamster wheel of failure until they burn out. Nothing can be mobilized.

3) The lack of clarity between modality and sodality. This is about being a people and being a mission. Obviously we should be both: a missional community. But often the modality (the church as a means to the end) is more important than the sodality (that singular cause for which the church exists). Churches get on the bus and then decide where to go rather than being invited onto a bus that is already scheduled for a destination. We end up with a covenant to confab rather than convert.

In the face of these threats to meeting the Lord’s goal, what must be done?

1) Trust the Holy Spirit to start a movement. You can’t do anything right enough to make the plant grow, but you can prepare the soil, sow, and till.

2) Understand that a lot of it depends on the hearts of the leaders. If they don’t want to go where Jesus is going and they can’t bear the rejection they will bear when they go with him, there is not going to be enough passion to sustain mission (like enough of THE Passion).

3) Our perception of ourselves in Christ will probably need to change. The teacher gave a metaphor of the Mennonites (and I think the BIC have this disease a bit) as being the quiet people of the land because they have the tongue-screw still applied from their days of being quieted by persecution. It is hard to get the assets on the road if you can’t talk about them. People are worried about how the gospel is communicated but that can’t be the main concern; we should know who we are and let the communication be contextual and variable.

4) The organization will need to change to facilitate the goal, not vice versa. The Cape Christian church went to local officials and other neighbors and asked what big need in their area was going unmet. They found out that it had to do with families, especially foster children. They took on the task. They built a new building that included a splash park. Soon families were coming to their church after going to the splash park. What’s more, they got committed to fostering and ended up responsible for 50-60% of the foster family placements in their city of 175,000 people. Their goal changed everything.

What does it take to help people know Jesus and become fully-functioning members of the body of Christ — not abstractly, but in our location? Serious answers to that question could arrive at serious goals that are worth our lives – the lives Jesus gave us to live, not to waste while we aspire to live in some more-perfect future – like the future when some renowned presenter shows up to encourage you to show up.