We must pursue vulnerability (pt. 1)

Jesus' teaching confuses me sometimes. Often, really.

On the missions trip, I really struggled to grasp his teaching on God's posture toward the poor. He seemed so naive. "Blessed are the poor...blessed are the hungry." Have you met the poor? the hungry? Confusion.

Sometimes, I understand things, but can't explain them. They're too deep. The person isn't ready to hear it. I get shy.

But I feel this enormous pressure to project confidence, to have answers, to be convincing, powerful.

I want to come in confidence and power, with smooth presentation. I want my message and my preaching to be with memorable and applicable words...

Contrast me and Paul:
I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. - 1 Cor. 2:3-5

Paul is able to be vulnerable. Why?

I think Paul's vulnerability flows deeply from his conviction that his mission depends on God's activity. Whenever vulnerability thrives in my ministry, an awareness of God's activity will already be there.

If this depends on me, I've got to be on.
If this depends on God, I can be my limited self: confused, temporarily rebellious, unfinished, insufficient, vulnerable.

And the irony is that, to do what God's called me to do, I must be becoming the person God wants me to become. And I can't be becoming if I'm constantly pretending to have already arrived.

We must pursue vulnerability.


Paul seemed to value vulnerability in ministry.

I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. - 1 Cor. 2:3-5

But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. - Rom. 15:23-24

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. - 1 Thes 2:8

This vulnerability runs counter to so much of ministry culture in the circles in which I run. We preach with confidence, even when we're not confident. We instinctively mask financial asks. We hide our real lives so that people will respect us.

Why do we resist vulnerability? What can we do to live vulnerable lives in ministry? Why should we make ourselves vulnerable?

Time is not on my side

When was the last time I just wandered somewhere? These days, I always seem to have somewhere to be, something to do.

Time seems scarce. Why is that?

I don't have less time. Do I?

Years ago, I encountered Eugene Peterson's idea of the "unbusy pastor." Peterson claimed that he became busy for two reasons: vanity and laziness. He nailed me.

Seth Godin mentioned the same problem of busyness recently on his blog: "I'd like to posit that for idea workers, misusing Twitter, Facebook and various forms of digital networking are the ultimate expression of procrastination. You can be busy, very busy, forever." He nailed me.

My busyness, my time-poverty fuels my insensitivity to the needs of people around me. I walked past that homeless lady because I had somewhere to go. And that's okay. We don't have to be constantly interruptable. But we lose something significant when we are never interruptable. The artist and the zealot will live lonely if they don't find a way incorporate strategic interruptability into their passion.

Time is neither linear nor constant, it only seems that way. Some say that God exists outside of time, but that's not quite accurate either. The beauty of the Incarnation reveals that God also exists inside of time. Time matters to God. Time matters to God if for no other reason than that time matters to us. For us to be the sort of people God is calling us to be, to engage God's mission as God's people, we need a new relationship with time.

We need time to be on our side.

They aren't real people to me

They aren't real people to me.

That realization really sunk in during the homelessness simulation we did during the missions trip to DC this week.

The team gathered at Union Station after a full day of service, hungry and tired. We were given $2 each, split into groups of 3, and told to purchase dinner for ourselves and for someone on the street. And we had to walk to Chinatown.

I felt terrified. Initiating with strangers causes my heart and brain to freeze. Although I really long to share my life and to live authentically with my students, I struggled to communicate my fear to Levi and Eric (the two guys who were paired up with me during the simulation). Fortunately, they understood without my having to say anything.

A wrong turn gave me an extra half mile to get used to the idea of talking to a stranger. We were going to do this! We were going to walk to Chinatown, meet someone and have dinner. Adrenaline pumped.

Maybe that was why I just smiled at the woman who asked if we had any change. We were going to walk to Chinatown, meet someone and have dinner...in that order, I guess.

After a few blocks, I got to thinking: "Maybe we should have stopped and talked to that woman." I wonder if that itch of a thought was God tweaking my conscience. We were trying to notice actual people. I kept walking on by.

In fact, while God tweaked my conscience, I kept tooking for another homeless target. As block stretched onto block, I started to get tired, tired and frustrated. I found myself wishing that, on this cold night, someone would be stuck sleeping outside so I could buy them dinner.

They aren't real people to me...at least, not yet. At least I'm aware of it now.

They aren't real people to me...but they matter to God. I've been saying and thinking this all week. But I don't want to admit it to myself. I don't want to face the truth.

They aren't real people to me.

We should care about people

Luke 16:19-31

"They will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead." Spoiler alert. Thanks, Jesus.

A wide chasm (like the Gap, only larger) separates paradise from hell, the side of Abraham from the place of torment. Perhaps the only chasm wider is the chasm between the place of the living and the place of the dead.

The rich man (who gets no name) and the poor man (Lazarus) end up on either side of this chasm. And this passage proves difficult.

Do the rich go to hell? Do the poor get a free pass?

This isn't a passage on soteriology, it's a passage on justice and repentance.

The rich man wasn't right with God. The only evidence we have of that is that he ended up in the place of torment. How could we know while he was alive? Well...he wore fancy clothes and ate well while a man was laid at his gate, hungry and clothed in sores. He missed a great opportunity to "go and do likewise" (as we saw yesterday).

What opportunities do we miss?
Where are there Lazarus' in our lives?
Who do we need to notice?

We should care

Luke 10:25-37

A discussion is roiling. Which law is the most important law to keep? Who is my neighbor?

Jesus and this legal expert are going back and forth, verbally dancing around a deep and beautiful well of truth. As he frequently does, Jesus tells a story.

A man is jumped by robbers on this way to Jericho. Beaten and left for dead, he is overlooked and avoided by first a priest and then a Levite. Both men were probably maintaining their ritual purity. But then a Samaritan comes by, an enemy to the beaten man, he acts like a neighbor to him, taking care of him.

What would happen if we stopped asking "Who do we have to serve?" and started asking "Who can we serve?" What if this duty felt more like a privilege? What would happen to the world? What would happen to us?

God is concerned for the poor

Luke 14:12-24

Jesus is speaking to a crowd at a banquet. Conversation turns toward banquet etiquette and eschatological eating arrangements.

Jesus tells a story to the gathered guests, a story of a great banquet. A certain man invited many people to come to his banquet. Although they initially agreed to come, each backed out at the last minute. The man's servant sees nothing but an empty table. So, the man sends his servant to collect the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame in order to fill his table.

The excuses given by the bail-out guests were all good excuses: business, business, marriage. These were the people who had the good excuses. I wonder if their financial and social wealth routinely got in the way of their attendance at banquets.

God seems, throughout Scripture, to take a special interest in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. He wants them to be taken care of, to be invited to banquets, to fill up banqueting tables.

Do we share his concern?

The System is broken, but we struggle to see it

Did Jesus ever know someone who was poor?

I mean, seriously, where does he get off saying some of the things he says?

Check out Luke 6:20-23:
20Looking at his disciples, he said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

23"Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

There's a part of me that wants to challenge Jesus in this. The poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the hated: they aren't the blessed. The ones who are blessed are the wealthy, the well fed, the happy, and the loved. Isn't that what it means to be blessed?

Somewhere along the way, we got our understand of what it means to blessed a little off kilter. The easy life is not the blessed life. The blessed life is the life where God takes care of you and is involved in your life.

We struggle to see this.

Our hope, as we serve in DC, is that God would help us to see how The System is broken. We're not going to fix The System this week. We probably won't make even a dent in the massive amounts of brokenness created by The System. But the brokenness of The System might become real to us in a new, more helpful way.

I imagine what will happen if the broken system receives a face, connects as a real story...
--- political solutions will seem too impersonal
--- change will seem impossible without God
--- we'll pray, talk, and serve a little bit differently.

But before we can do anything, we first have to see.

The System breaks people, but God cares about people

I never know if I should capitalize the word 'System.'

The System runs people over. It probably creates poverty, but if it doesn't create poverty, it certainly reinforces it. There are forces in the world that are resisting the American dream and they're not limited to recessions, Hollywood, or those sneaky, sneaky Communists.

I expect us to see some people this week who have been broken by The System. Maybe their minds aren't working quite right. Maybe they are all alone. Maybe they see no other options. Maybe they have no hope.

This afternoon, we're going to play a game of "Manipulated Monopoly" and reflect a bit on the power of The System. As (relatively) wealthy folks, I think we tend to over-estimate our agency in the arena of wealth creation and under-estimate the impact of The System. This game of monopoly will involve Becca and me rigging the game (or trying to) and arranging the rules to create some folks that The System works for and others whom The System works against. I'm interested to see how this goes.

If The System breaks people, what does God do? His word is crystal clear in saying that he cares for people. The passage I'll be speaking on this evening comes from Luke 12:22-34. In it, Jesus tells the crowd "Don't worry," and I find myself rolling my eyes and waiting to hear him say "Be happy, mon."

Why do I do that? Well, it seems easy for Jesus to say "Don't worry." He has access to incredible resources. He's God, you know. And him saying "Don't worry" sounds like the sort of thing someone would say if they've never been poor a day in their life. So, I roll my eyes.

But Jesus was poor. I think the Bible teaches that. So, maybe he has a different perspective on this whole thing. Maybe he realizes that our worry masks God's care. What would it look like to do worry-free service? What would it look like to enter into service confident that God is currently at work to care for the needs of the people we're serving? What if it wasn't all up to us, really?

The System can't break people beyond God's care. God won't ignore The System. He knows what we need and he cares. That's starting to sound more and more like "good news."

Marvelling at God in DC

Is 13 an unlucky number? I hope not. Thirteen of us are going to Washington DC tomorrow to "go as servants where we would normally only go as tourists" and to marvel at how God is currently caring for the poor through the church.

College students have almost unlimited options as to how they could spend their breaks. But these folks have decided to spend their time with the Christian community, serving the poor, connecting with God.

And I'll be there too.

So, we're going to have shorter, written-in-advance blog posts until Wednesday. I'll be sharing a bit about what I've been thinking through and what I'm hoping to teach over the course of the week.

As with all missions trips, who knows what will actually happen? God, yeah, he probably knows. That's actually very comforting right about now.

--- And yes, I used the awkward word 'marvel' in order to juxtapose Marvel and DC...I'm a nerd, there's nothing I can do about it (as far as I know) ---

We share because God cares

Doing a heart inventory of the reasons why I share the gospel was very revealing. So often, I share because I feel obligated (and guilty because I haven't already). This motivation leads to me doing the minimum it takes to meet the obligation (and assuage the guilt).

This principle is almost always at work. When obligation and guilt become primary motivators, minimum performance without enthusiasm flourishes.

But what if there were other reasons to share the gospel?

I mentioned some of them yesterday, particularly the idea the God deserves to be praised.

At Large Group tonight, I wrestled with Luke 17 and the concept that we share the gospel because God cares about people. In the passage, you see him caring about the people he's healing and inviting the disciples to care about them as well. What if we saw evangelism as a sign of our God-given care for our non-Christian friends? If I didn't care, I wouldn't share.

Subscribe to the podcast or check out the talk here:

We share because He's worthy

God is worthy of worship.

God's worthiness provides us with one of our main motivations to evangelize. We want to see people praise him. We want others to praise the people and things we love and consider praise-worthy. This motive for sharing applies to April's Cinnamon Twists, Seth Godin's blog, and the fact that the University will let people in ministry use their gym for free...not just God. I've shared enthusiastically about all four of these this week.

Tomorrow, I'm going to be speaking on this passage from Luke 17:
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

And I'm torn. There's a lot going on in the passage, a lot that we can learn and be challenged by:
---the significance of faith
---the mercy of God
---the need for gratitude.

Can you see how I could preach on those things, how they flow from the passage?

But I think I want to take a different angle. I'm not sure that the angles I'm looking at are more central to the story and the context. It's tough, but here they are:
God is worthy of worship and that's why we "find people"
We share because God cares

I feel like there are five sermons floating around in this passage and that God's laid it on my heart to preach the last one: We share because God cares. But I know I'll end up mentioning that God is worthy of our worship.

One of the ways Jesus frames evangelism is as finding people to give praise to God. To adjust a quote from John Piper: "Evangelism exists because worship doesn't."

Bye, bye law...bye, bye happiness

Frustration must have shown on my face. Marshall reads people well. He sure read me.

It had been a long evening. Marshall and I, along with hundreds of students and dozens of InterVarsity Staff, were in the middle of a week at Rockbridge. I had just narrowly survived a question and answer session. And I was fuming.

My frustration probably had as much to do with my inability to explain what I was trying to explain than anything else. But I was frustrated. As I talked to Marshall about what happened, he said something that was so brilliant and wise that I forgot he was an alumnus of UNC:

"It sounds like they want a new law."

Little did I know that Marshall was about to introduce me to Derek Webb's "New Law" off of the Mockingbird album and a major theme in Paul's epistles.

For generations, the law - with its commandments and regulations - was a source of great happiness in the ancient Jewish community (no, not Florida). Sure, it was at times guilt-inducing, but it created an easily defined circle, an in-group, to which you could belong. The folks on the in in that in-group could connect with God. The outsiders couldn't. And you could use the law to tell the insiders from the outsiders.

Jesus has changed this. Insiders and outsiders are now determined by connection first. You're in if you're united to Christ. If you're not united to Christ, you're out...at least for the moment.

Ephesians deals with this topic well. Read chapters 2 and 3. Paul's mysterious revelation is that the Gentiles connect with God while remaining Gentiles. They are brought near, included. The law is rendered inactive. Christ destroyed all the walls. Amazing!

Colossians follows Ephesians in this.

Galatians deals with this topic in its own way. Folks are trying to reassert the law. This conflicts with the gospel. The gospel that Paul taught won't endure legal boundary-markers and obedience-based justification. Rules around eating: discard them. Angelic sermons: ignore them. Circumcision: might as well go the whole way. Paul is wildly resisting this attempt to reengage the law.

Romans deals with this topic in a way that almost always gets ignored. For most of my life, I've read Romans as being Gospel (ch. 1-8), Confusing stuff (ch. 9-11) and Encouraging/application (ch. 12ff). But why is it that Paul feels necessary to remind them of the gospel? I think the answer has to do with chapters 9-11 and the relationships between Jews and Gentiles. The gospel levels the ground between Jew and Gentile and provides both with beautiful access to Christ.

Philippians deals with this topic offensively, at least it would have been perceived as such in the ancient world. The Hymn in Phil 2 depicts the deity shedding himself of all sorts of privilege in order to connect with humanity. It is echoed in chapter 3 with Paul's casting aside of all of his law-credentials, poking at "the mutilators of the flesh" as he does so. Paul won't boast in his living in such a way that would earn him access. He will only boast in Christ.

This is just a sample of this major, major theme in Paul. What might it mean for us?

Mediation between Paul and Jesus (Newhart style)

Good morning. My name is Steve Tamayo and I will be your mediator today.

Mr. Christ and Mr. de Tarsus, I want to start out by commending you for agreeing to participate in mediation, which is a rigorous and occasionally successful process. Since you both voluntarily agreed to participate, I know that you are committed to allow the system to work for you and to find the best resolution for your dispute.

Mr. de Tarsus, Mr. de Tarsus, oh, excuse me, Paulie, would you mind putting down the tent canvas while we're in mediation? I know you don't want to ask the churches in Greece for financial donations, but we only have a limited time and I'd like for your full attention to be on the process.

Now, where was I going? The dispute, yes, yes, Mr. Christ. So, I see you're familiar with the process. Been to mediation before? Oh, really. Oh. But not licensed in Virginia. No, why would you? Haha.

So the dispute was over the law. You both reference it in your writings, this 'nomon.' Yes, Paulie, your Jamaican accent is delightful. Oh, Jesus, yours is too. Me? Well, I guess I could add: wi gwaan hab a bashment time here at da mediation. Speaking of mediation...I know, I know. I'm all business.

When you said 'nomon,' Jesus, to what were you referring?

I see. And the Prophets, of course, it's right there in the Matthew recordings. Slang for the Old Testament in your neighborhood. I see. The OT. No, I've never seen the OC. No, sir I swear and I know you'd know if I was lying.

And Paulie, do you have a problem with the OT? I'm sorry, I meant the Old Testament. Do I really say my "t's" like "c's"? I'm self-conscious all of the sudden.

Thanks, Paulie, I guess I'd never thought about how salvation by grace connects with my speech disorders. So, the OT? You're cool with it. Like it? Uh huh. Love it? Okay. We're getting somewhere. Oh, no, I didn't ask you if you wanted to marry it because I know your position on marriage: God didn't make Adam and Pentatuch. See, I can joke back.

But, seriously, Paulie, what did you mean when you said Jesus abolished the law? Can't exactly make up your mind? Well...that's why there's Pauline scholarship, isn't that right? Heh, oh. Sore subject, huh.

So, either we're looking at the end of covenantal nomism or the revelation that there are two laws in the Law (one ceremonial and temporary and the other eternal and essential) or some Reformed clarification of the utility of the law post-crucifixion. I see. Or some combination of the three? Wonderful.

Well, either way, you two don't seem to be in conflict here. Have we resolved the dispute, then? Well, that's fine. That'll be three dollars and I don't make change.

What did Jesus and Paul actually say?

Here is a simple word study that attempts to bring some clarity to what, in English, seems like a contradiction between Jesus and Paul:

"Do not think I came to abolish [καταλῦσαι (katalusai)] the law or the prophets..." Mt. 5:17

So, Jesus said he would not καταλῦσαι. Remember that.

"[Christ Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing [καταργησας (katarghsav)] in his flesh the law..." Eph 2:15

So, Paul said Jesus would/did καταργησας.

Jesus and Paul said different things
'καταργησας' is not the same word as 'καταλῦσαι.' Sure, they start the same: 'kata.' But that doesn't mean they mean the same thing (think 'cataract' and 'catapult'). Post-'kata' we see 'arghsav' (Paul) and 'lusai' (Jesus). Digging into etymology and word construction can, a veces, mislead/prove useless (think 'aract' and 'pult'), but might help in this case.

'Arghsav' prob. has 'argeo' as its root: meaning "to be idle, inactive, to linger, delay." 'Lusai' prob. has 'luo' as its root: meaning "to loosen, undo or dissolve anything bound, tied or compacted together."

So, maybe Paul's word is softer that Jesus' word. Maybe, if you asked Jesus for clarification, he might say that, while he won't καταλῦσαι, he'd be totally down with καταργησας.

καταλῦσαι appears again in Matthew's Gospel, in 26:61 where we hear: "This man said, 'I am able to destroy [καταλῦσαι (katalusai)] the temple of God". The One who would not καταλῦσαι the law or the prophets was accused of threatening to καταλῦσαι the Temple (and this generated momentum behind his execution). καταλῦσαι seems like a strong word.

Intermission: Cards on the table

So, I'm wrestling with this question Zach posed the other day: Did Jesus abolish the Law or didn't he (ie. Did Paul contradict Jesus)?"

There are many ways to wrestle with this question and not all of those ways will come to the same conclusions. The theory that Paul created Christianity is wildly popular. Check the Christianity section in Barnes & Noble and you'll find loads of books claiming that Christianity should really be called 'Paulianity' (or 'Constantinianity', or 'Robbellianity').

But I don't buy those theories. And I certainly don't approach these questions from a point of objectivity or neutrality. I'm postmodern enough to say that I don't believe that questions like these can ever be approached with neutrality. An awareness of one's presuppositions can be very helpful when wrestling with questions like these. So...here're some of mine.

1) Neutrality is overrated
2) The New Testament was written in Greek, not English
3) Words matter
4) Jesus meant something
5) So did Paul
6) Their intentions matter
7) The Bible is perspicuous
8) There is a right way around the analogical circle of predication
9) Bombasticity can make you sound pretentious
10) The Bible was written over time
11) The Bible was compiled over time
12) The folks who pulled the Bible together did so intentionally
13) They didn't see any major contradictions
14) 'Major' is a major word
15) Jesus doesn't say "major" even once
16) Jesus did have a lot to say
17) Some of those words are recorded in the Bible
18) Jesus spoke to a particular primary audience
19) Paul wrote to a particular primary audience
20) Their audiences weren't the same audiences
21) Those primary audiences weren't us
22) Their words still matter to us
23) The Bible is our rule for faith and practice
24) The Bible contains no contradictions
25) At least, not on anything important
26) When Jesus and Paul appear to contradict, keep digging
27) By digging, I mean googling, word studies, and asking questions
28) I can't do this digging by myself (not smart enough)

I have a lot more cards, but I thought it might be helpful for you to see these before we move on.

Did Paul contradict Jesus?

I had an interesting discussion with Zach Nix tonight.

This happens from time to time. Zach's brilliant and wise and also a Colts fan (so he's had a rough week). He led Small Group this week in one of my favorite passages: the second half of Ephesians 2.

Now I've read Ephesians a lot. I focused on it for almost three years between undergrad, grad school, and coming on Staff. I used to have it memorized. I've read commentaries on Ephesians. But Zach raised a new question for me, one I'd never considered.

In Ephesians 2:14-16 we see this:
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

So, Jesus abolished the law. Cool. Thanks, Paul. That makes a lot of sense. The law provided a barrier between Jews and Gentiles and, in doing so, kept Gentiles from accessing God. No law, no barrier, nor problem.

But Zach pushed this one.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

So, did Paul contradict Jesus? I'm going to have to think about this one.

Thanks, Zach.

God wants our community to be about mercy, not sacrifice

What is the Christian community known for?

This is a tricky question. Ask the average person (as some researchers did in the book unChristian) and he might say "Hypocrites who are obsessed with politics, irrelevant, and hate gays for some strange reason." But then again, so many folks - when rough stuff happens in their life - turn to God and the Christian community. Churches were full on September 11th.

The community God's raising up at W&L, especially through GCF, is a community that is marked by mercy, compassion, and love. We forgive each other. We're patient with each other. We give each other second and third and 539th chances.

We follow Jesus. Jesus was all about mercy. And he demonstrated this beautifully in his interaction with Matthew.

Check out the audio from tonight's talk:

Video recommended by Brad Mullinax

At dinner the other night, Brad Mullinax drew my attention to this video from Penn Jillette: magician, comic, atheist

Is this my best news?

How do we decide who to share the gospel with?

It's easy to pass over this difficulty, to say "We share with everyone" or "We share with whomever we can." But is that true? It's not for me.

Today I talked with a mentor, two waitresses at Redwood, a pastor, four faculty members, two GCF students, an IV Advancement Director, a youth leader from church, a server at Wendy's (the really nice one) and my wife. I don't know that I really shared the gospel with any of them. I mean, Bill and I talked about Jesus during our mentoring time and the faculty guys and I talked about Jesus during our lunch, but I wouldn't count those as evangelistic conversations.

Is this just me? Am I the only one who isn't sharing the gospel with everyone? Am I doing something significantly wrong?

Jesus tells us not to cast pearls before swine, but I don't know anyone I'd consider "swine." I mean, not really.

In fact, the last person I shared the gospel with (not counting preaching) was a guy I was visiting in the hospital. And he's a follower of Jesus! I shared the gospel with him because it was the best news I had to share with him. He was hurting, physically and emotionally, and I didn't know what else to say.

And I think I stumbled upon something. What if the gospel wasn't just for non-Christians? What if the gospel was the best news we knew? What if the gospel was still the best news we knew even when we're in a Christian context? What would happen if we started sharing the gospel with each other?

I think it would be easier to talk about the good news with folks who've never heard it if we regularly talk about it with people who already believe it. Maybe the reason I don't share the gospel more often is because I believe it's only news for people who are definitely not Christians and you can't always tell by lookin' at them.

I need to dig around in this a bit. How do I decide who to share the gospel with? Is this my best news?

Podcast plug

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Notes from this morning's sermon

After a wild and crazy weekend, I had the opportunity to preach at church this Sunday. Our pastor got stuck in VA Beach in what is now being called Snowpocalypse 2010 and somehow I got the chance. I love to preach, but I always feel that there's got to be someone more qualified to be preaching. It's difficult for me to accept that I'm preaching, not because I'm the most qualified, but because I'm the one who was asked (and said "Yes!").

The sermon was from Luke's Gospel, chapter 24, verses 13-35, the story of the two disciples' encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. I'm always trying to teach out of what God's teaching me and this notion of Christ-centeredness has been laid heavily on me as of late.

The idea I wanted to communicate was simple, really: Jesus is alive...and this changes everything.

v. 13-24 Jesus' resurrection changes hopelessness into hopefulness.

The two disciples were on their way to Emmaus, this despite reports that Christ's body is missing and that people are claiming to have heard he was alive. These two seem to have given up. They'd placed such great hope in Jesus, and that hope was dashed by the death-sentence and crucifixion. The resurrection reality, that Jesus is alive, literally turned them right around. They went to Emmaus hopeless and returned to Jerusalem hopeful.

In our lives, we face things that seem immovable and immutable, problems that seem intractable, physical and social diseases that seem, despite our efforts, incurable. We see poverty and homelessness, political deadlock, racial gridlock, broken systems, broken families, broken lives, overwhelming pain and need and heart-wrenching loneliness and death and we are tempted to hit the road to Emmaus, to leave the place where we hope in Jesus to change us, to change the world. But Jesus is alive. Intractable, immovable death has been sent rolling, thundering, crashing away from that empty tomb. And so we hope. One thing has changed. Death does not have the final word. Jesus is alive. Change is possible. And so we hope.

v. 24-27 Jesus' resurrection changes Scripture from abstract to personal

These disciples had heard God's word. They grew up hearing weekly (or maybe more often than that), teaching from Moses and the law and all the prophets. They were immersed in it. And we have no reason to assume that they didn't try to live in accordance with and response to what they heard. But they believed in a What, an idea, an ethic, a covenant, a promise, maybe even a God-person, but an abstract God-person. That's one layer to Scripture, but it's not the only and it's certainly not the primary layer. Jesus "explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." He is the center and he is helping, this person who is very much alive.

Scripture easily becomes dry and stale. We don't need more ideas. Most of us don't even need to hear the ethics. We've heard more than we will ever be capable of obeying. We need to see and hear and experience the living Jesus. He makes this book unique. Without him, it's just another religious text; maybe a good one, maybe even the best, but just another one. But what if we read Scripture in the company of the One who has died and is alive again? What if he is unpacking it for us as we read? What if it's all about him? That would change everything about my experience of Scripture. At least for a while. I don't have any grand ideas that the changes will be permanent changes (else I wouldn't need him anymore), but I need them. Does Jesus being alive impact your reading of Scripture?

v. 28-35 Jesus' resurrection changes the daily minutae from meaningless to meaning-filled

He was recognized when he broke the bread. I still can't wrap my mind around that. They didn't recognize him when he showed up. They didn't recognize him by his teaching. But when he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Jesus constantly took the little things around him - mud, spit, children, fishes, storms, coins, stones, crosses, and daily bread - and filled them with significance. This person who gave daily bread deep meaning, this person died. And the meaning died with him. Why ask for daily bread if your days are firmly numbered? But Jesus is alive.

His life means so much to us. We proclaim to the world: "Jesus is alive." But we don't live daily as if this is true. Wendy Hunter pointed this out to me after the sermon. We forget (willingly or unwillingly) and drift into the kind of lives that can be fully explained even if the body of our Lord rotted in the tomb. But he's alive and this changes everything. He won't long let us live mundane, meaning-emptied lives. All that we touch and all that we do is swept up into his massive, sovereign communion with us. We eat bread. He opens our eyes.

Jesus is alive...and this changes everything.

Good reads in Evangelism

I'm a reader. My friend Robert always said "Leaders must be readers." The phrase rhymes, so it must be true. But I was a reader before I was a leader.

Here is a list of some of my favorite IVP books on Evangelism:
I Once was Lost by Doug Schaup and Don Everts
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by JI Packer
A Credible Witness by Brenda Salter McNeil
Tell the Truth by Will Metzger
Get the Word Out by John Teter
Out of the Saltshaker by Becky Pippert

Up next on my Evangelism to-read-list is The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George G. Hunter III and Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg (I know...can you believe I haven't read that yet?).

Feel free to suggest additional books, but tonight I'm reading for fun: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers (on John Calvin's recommendation).

Because Jesus says "Follow me," we say "Come and see"

Christians are followers of Jesus. That's what we're talking about when we talk about "Discipleship." We follow Jesus. We're his disciples. He asks disciples "to be with him" (Mk. 3:14), to "remain in [him]" (Jn. 15:4, 9), and has even promised that he will "be with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mt. 28:20b).

Last week, we connected the dots that, because we want to be with Jesus and Jesus is out there sharing the gospel, we his disciples become evangelists. But it goes deeper than that. How we evangelize is shaped by this relational reality.

If Jesus is a person and not an idea or a philosophical system, then our evangelism needs to be centered on him, connected to him, leading people to him. We need to invite, to invite people to "come and see." Wherever people can "come and see" Jesus, that's where we need to be directing them. That's why we value Scripture. That's why we value Small Groups and GCF and God's global church.

Invitational, "come and see" evangelism...this is the something different I've been hinting at all week. It's not our only, but it is our core.

Check out the audio from tonight's talk:

What's wrong with apologetics? (Part Two)

Dear Sirs.

I am.

Sincerely yours,
Steve Tamayo

(Couldn't resist...200th post, depending on how you count)

What's wrong with apologetics?

I ate a lot of steak growing up. I don't know if that's actually true (so don't criticize my mom), but it sure seems like it in my memory. If it were up to me, I think I'd have eaten nothing but steak from the time I was 8 until I was 13. But Mom wouldn't let me. Vegetables.

There's something wildly necessary to diversity. Whether you're talking about food groups or multi-ethnicity or evangelism: a deficit of diversity diminishes.

So, our imaginative exercises this week have been instructive. Tracts in isolation fall flat. Crusades in isolation fall flat. What about apologetics?

Well, it is possible to overestimate the reach of argument. I've done that before. I've thought that I could argue someone into a relationship with Christ. Can you imagine? That wouldn't work in a romantic relationship, why would it work in a spiritual relationship?

Second, we easily drift into thinking that Christianity is primarily an idea or a philosophical system, rather than a spiritual-relational reality. Is Jesus an idea or a person? If he's an idea, Christianity is a system. If he's a person, Christianity is a relationship. (I know it's both, but I'm talking about primacy) Apologetics can set us up for this drift, especially if it becomes isolated from other evangelism.

Lastly, apologetics and debate can be super short-term. Once you make your point, then what? Say the person agrees with you. Then what? Apologetics as a step works, as a means works, but there's always got to be something beyond it. Relationship. Church. Vegetables.

One of the huge hindrances to evangelism in our generation is an over-estimation of apologetics. We argue and wonder why we don't see any change. We train folks to answer tough questions and wonder why they're afraid to share. We debate and grow more and more shallow ourselves. No, we can't practice apologetics in isolation.

We'll do something different.

You'd better apologize

Everyone has questions.

And we have answers to some of those questions. Isn't that crazy?

Two of my co-workers, Becca and Kevin, are going to be leading a seminar on Tough Questions at the Winter Conference this weekend. Kevin's done like a million of these and Becca, well, Becca knows this stuff inside and out. They know how to handle questions with both gentleness and respect.

That phrase - "gentleness and respect" - applies to Becca and Kevin and it should apply to all of us when we deal with people's tough questions. 1 Peter 3:15-16 encourages us in this:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

There is a connection between setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and being prepared to always give an answer. And this is apologetics. It's not saying you're sorry; it's defending, explaining, and maybe even persuading.

I love the feeling of being able to answer questions for people as they move closer to Jesus. There's a part of me that always wanted to be a teacher or a professor, to wear sweaters and jackets with elbow patches and grow a beard and smoke a pipe and answer questions. There's something glorious and beautiful to helping people in this way.

That's one of the reasons I love apologetics. I love helping people in this way. But what if this were the only way? What if all I did evangelistically was to engage in apologetic discourse? What could you infer about my motives for evangelism?

Well, you might think that I was wanting to show respect to the asker of the questions by providing the response they asked for. In responding to real questions that are really being asked, we are affirming the intelligence and dignity of the people we are speaking with. And rendering a thoughtful apologetic, answers like the ones Kevin and Becca will be providing, communicates that the asker asked questions worth our paying attention to. And, yes, prepositions end every sentence in this paragraph and none after.

Secondly, you might think that we believe the gospel to be simple enough to explain and complex enough to need explaining. And that is what we believe. Christians are always maintaining this tension: perspecuity and illumination, conversion and sanctification, local and catholic.

Lastly, you might think that we engage in evangelism because we believe in truth and absolutes and right and wrong and that it matters if people believe in things that are real. And that is what we believe. Ideas have consequences and wrong ideas have bad consequences. The debating element of Christian evangelism reveals that we engage in evangelism because ideas matter to us.

But there's more to it than this: more positive (if I had more time to write it) and some negative. Actually, there's enough negative that I don't think I'll be doing straight apologetics anymore...and I don't think that you should either. We need to rethink this a little. And if we do...

We'll do something different.

Apologetics examples:
Did anyone listen to The Great Debate (Bahnsen v. Stein)? How about Hitchens v. McGrath? Palin v. Biden? Okay, that last one wasn't an apologetics debate, but it was very funny (and maybe just as helpful for bringing folks to Jesus).

Short post: apologetics

I felt so bad about breaking Stephen Hulme's foot that I took up apologetics.

Now, that's not exactly the way it worked, but it's surprisingly close. My boss Joe jokes from time to time that apologetics is how men adjust to not being able to wrestle like little boys anymore. Why do I love apologetics?

And this is where we're getting closer to Thursday's talk and the stuff I've been wrestling with over the last month. Why is it that apologetic arguments rarely convince people to follow Jesus?

Because I love apologetics, this is going to take a couple of days to unpack.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the positive contribution.
Wednesday, we'll talk about why we need something more.

Tonight, I'm going to bed. Short post!