MENU

THE ONLY TWO LABELS THAT COUNT: ‘LOST AND’ ‘FOUND’

Once, after reading the Bible, Gandhi went to a church in his village only to be denied entry. He was told to go and worship with his own people. He said in response that if “he had never met a Christian, he would have become one.” Apparently, blocking anyone entry to a church or even a country because of his or her race or religion is the worst witness, not only to human decency, but to the heart of Jesus.

Jesus once addressed His disciples about this precise issue during the week of His passion when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

I believe we can discern two critical evangelistic maps from those 29 words Jesus uttered, as recorded in John 15:5.

The first critical evangelistic map we can glean is that prayer and evangelism are inseparable. #Abiding

The truth is, we do not pray as an end in itself, but rather as a means to stay close to Jesus and abide in Him. This is not astrophysics; it is just basic logic: the closer you are to Jesus, the more you’ll lead to Jesus.

Clearly, the usher in India who denied Gandhi entry did a whole a lot of doing without much abiding. A similar spiritual epidemic is infecting our churches, conferences, and theological institutions, subtly and subconsciously, as a parade of religious activity continues to replace God.

This subtle yet very prevalent absence of the presence of God in our spirituality mirrors that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, whom Jesus compared to tombstones in a graveyard where the ancients used to bury their dead (Matt. 23:27).

The second critical evangelistic map we can glean is that prayer allows God to interrupt our plans for His plans. #Pliability  

The Apostle Peter, while praying on the roof of the house of Simon the Tanner in Joppa, as recorded in Acts 10:1-48, was interrupted by the Holy Spirit with a vision instructing him to eat non-kosher animals. Peter rebuked the vision, believing it was an attack and seduction of the evil one (I think he was really tempted by the BBQ Pork), saying “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!”

The Spirit said to him more than once, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Because we have the luxury of hindsight today, we know that this moment was another unprecedented move of the Spirit in the New Testament since Pentecost. The gift of salvation now extended to all the nations of the world (Gentiles) and was no longer exclusive to Israel.

An angel led a God-fearing Roman commander name Cornelius and his family to find Peter. They heard the gospel for themselves and were the first non-Jews to come to faith in Christ. Again, this was unprecedented. For the first time in history, God’s family on earth was no longer culturally singular, but now multicultural! Peter was able to join what the spirit was doing evangelistically in Cornelius and his family because he stayed close to Jesus through prayer.

Conversely, Peter could never have imagined the incredible missiological significance this one divine interruption would have on the global stage one day, as literally billions of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation have now discovered the beauty and glory of Christ as a result.

Mark Twain once said that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of people and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

This was exactly what Peter experienced when he traveled to Cornelius’s house from Joppa to Caesarea. God began to uproot his deeply embedded prejudice and bigotry and He awakened a new profound love for all the nations!

Doing apart from abiding only ends in us resisting God Himself, but doing while abiding saves us not only from our human folly, pride, and toxic insularity, it also unleashes the manifold wisdom of God in Christ that is reconciling the world to Him once again. 

Jesus clearly warns us that if we fail to keenly discern what is emerging from within our own formation, our spirituality will become toxic and hazardous to ourselves and to others. Doing apart from abiding only ends up interrupting God’s work and quenching gospel renewal. 

Although there are billions of prodigal sons and daughters roaming the streets, desperately lost in every crevice and corner of the world, God Himself is a prodigal father who will never stop searching for His kids. That’s why the gospel is the good news.

The Father does not categorize. There are no liberals or conservatives, blue states or red states, and even Christians or atheists. He only sees Lost or Found. These are the only labels that heaven counts.

What do we count? How do we keep tallies? Does it reflect Abba’s heart, or something else?

-Sam Kim

Published on by Cassie Littel.

No Comments

Using Interest in the Paranormal as an Entry Point to the Gospel

The New York Times recently featured an article that seized my attention. It read: “Elon Musk’s Plan: Get Humans to Mars, and Beyond.” The headline seemed more appropriate for the entertainment section than for a featured piece in the Daily Science Segment.

The article covered last month’s 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, where SpaceX unveiled plans for interplanetary space travel for humans in less than a decade. Elon Musk said that the first passengers to Mars could take off as soon as 2024! It won’t be long before a mars candy bar becomes the snack of choice and “The Martian” becomes passengers’ favorite in-flight movie.

When science fiction transcends fantasy and begins to flirt with reality, it can really awaken people’s imaginations. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis notes that “reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.”

The truth is that our culture’s desperate search for meaning points to a haunting in all of us that is almost primeval. It is simply instinctive for us to seek meaning outside ourselves, because we know for certain that we’re living in a story we did not write. G.K. Chesterton once put it this way: “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.”

This is exactly the reason our culture is so captivated by the metaphysical. We are obsessed with any other world besides our own. It is an obsession that goes from the Marvel Universe to documentaries on ancient aliens building the pyramids, and continues on to a fascination with NASA’s Hubble Telescope discovering a gargantuan ocean named Europa on one of Juniper’s moons.

Imagination is scratching an itch that reason cannot, and in a subtle way, Star Wars, the X-Files, and Battlestar Galactica do not seem so far-fetched.

I believe there are two ways we can all grow in our evangelism to serve a culture desperately searching for meaning and purpose in the paranormal.

First, St. Augustine named this deep angst we all feel a “Holy Haunting.” If we use this beautiful theological reality as our primary evangelistic lens, we’ll begin to recognize that the culture is actually giving us the key to its heart. It is the very key we need to unlock the buried treasure within the human soul.

In the past, we were (and still sometimes are) haunted by the transcendence of sex. As G.K Chesterton once posited, “Every man knocking on a brothel is looking for God.” Similarly, everyone looking for aliens and UFOs is also looking for God. The scenery has changed, but not the desire.

This presents us with an amazing opportunity to share the gospel. How? We must recognize the culture’s obsession with the paranormal as a holy haunting rather than whacked-out conspiracy theories. We can only open the hearts of others to the gospel when we begin to value and respect their journeys.

Second, we must revisit and repaint our creation narrative. In Genesis 1:1 it is written, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We skim over cosmology and move too quickly to anthropology in our theology. Scientists calculate that there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, each one overflowing with stars. There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all of Earth’s beaches combined. In that sense, we’re a minuscule part of the story compared to the heavenly bodies surrounding us.

Perhaps ancient alien and UFO conspiracy theories capture the imagination of our culture because our communication of the metaphysical is too sterile. Astrophysicists have discovered our sun is one of at least 100 billion stars, and that’s just in the Milky Way!

If our narrative of creation cannot transcend that of SpaceX and Marvel, interplanetary space travel and Star Wars will seem like better alternatives than the God of Abraham.

My friend Darrell Johnson, long-time Professor at Regent College in Vancouver and Bono’s former pastor at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, was studying to become an astrophysicist before he was seized by the beauty of God’s transcendence. He notes in his book Trinity: “At the center of the universe is a relationship, for this, we were created, and for this, we were redeemed.”

It is all in how we tell it. Interest in the paranormal will increase with astonishing velocity as interplanetary space travel becomes a reality; new and more creative conspiracy theories will dominate the headlines and in turn capture the hearts of a generation.

More than ever before, we are in desperate need of artists, scholars, and theologians in the Church who can repaint the transcendence of God in a way that can recapture the imagination of the culture. I call them “Theonomists,” that is, believers who can bring theology and astronomy to a confluence in the public sphere, because, as Jim Kirk says in Star Trek, “Space is our final frontier.”

Published on by Cassie Littel.

No Comments

Heroes of the Christian Faith: G.K. Chesterton

 

I love to kick off every wedding I officiate at with a potent quote from G.K. Chesterton. I did so a month ago, and will do so again this weekend at a beautiful outdoor wedding in a botanical garden in New York City. On one occasion, someone called my homily “pure genius” for indirectly quoting Chesterton as follows: “The worst day for the atheist is to be truly thankful, but to have no one to thank.”

G.K. Chesterton, the jolly English journalist who was well known for his sharp wit and self-deprecating humor, was considered one of the greatest writers and Christian influencers of the 20th century.

This was the man who wrote The Everlasting Man, a book which led a young atheist named C.S. Lewis to eventually become a Christian.This was the man who wrote a novel called The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which inspired Michael Collins to lead a movement for Irish Independence. This was the man who wrote an essay in the Illustrated London News that inspired Mohandas Gandhi to lead a movement to end British colonial rule in India.

I believe there are three inherent qualities that made G.K. Chesterton so beloved, even by the most committed atheists of his day.

First, Chesterton won the acclaim of many of his literary contemporaries (Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy L. Sayers, T.S. Eliot, and C.S. Lewis, to just name a few) because of his masterful subtlety.Chesterton did not commercialize the gospel as many do today. Instead, he weaved the Christian narrative implicitly in all he did. He didn’t shake, push, or sell the gospel as if it were a product; rather, he spoke of Jesus as a good friend he had just met for afternoon tea.

Lewis once commented on reading Chesterton, “I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.” Chesterton had learned to be masterfully subtle, which clearly made his witness winsome to so many.

Second, Chesterton was deeply beloved even by his opponents, because of his contagious and playful joviality. T.S. Eliot said that Chesterton “deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.” As one of his opponents, renowned atheist George Bernard Shaw, said, “The world is not thankful enough for Chesterton.” Everyone really seems to have been enamored with this man’s sincere joy; it was literally contagious and the joy of the Lord really was his strength.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy: “His humor was of the kind I like best—not ‘jokes’ imbedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humor. Moreover, strange as it may seem, I liked him for his goodness.”

Sincere evangelism is more about representing Jesus than talking about Jesus. We usually fail to lead more to Jesus because, for the most part, we get in the way. We can arduously study apologetics or even perfect our gospel pitch, but the problem is not our theology, it is our ontology. For Chesterton, the congruence of his life and faith greatly advanced his witness.

Third, Chesterton’s warm reception by a very broad audience was directly connected to his mastery of light-hearted self-deprecation. In Orthodoxy, in his usual witty and self-deprecating style, Chesterton outlines his long and onerous faith journey to the very obvious as follows:

I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

Chesterton never took himself too seriously and this precisely is why so many others did, and why they also discovered a beautiful orthodoxy in their faith journey, just as he did.

Published on by Cassie Littel.

No Comments

The Church Today in Cultural Captivity

Kate Bowler, a Professor of History of Christianity at Duke, recently wrote a New York Times op-ed pieceabout her experience with the prosperity gospel in America. She shared a story that left me deeply ambivalent. It actually made me laugh out loud at first because of the irony, but saddened me a moment later because of its tragedy.

She said, “No word of a lie: I once saw a megachurch pastor almost choke to death on his own fog machine.”

The fact that Kate had to inform us that this wasn’t a hyperbole suggests that even she had a hard time believing what she was seeing. I guess it is a little difficult to believe that something so incredulous could happen in the church. Or is it?

In the acclaimed novel The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, the character Bill asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” Mike answered, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

How did a megachurch pastor almost choke to death on his own fog machine? “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” This is the culmination of the unholy marriage between American consumerism with the American Church.

Christian apologist Os Guinness asserts that when we look at evangelicalism today, the world and the spirit of the age are dominate, rather than the Word and Spirit. The Church in the U.S is strong numerically, but weak because it is worldly. The American Church is in the world and of the world; and as a result, it is in profound cultural captivity.

I saw this cultural captivity with blazing perspicacity when I read a recent Lausanne report about howunderground Chinese church leaders have asked why mega-churches and ‘missional’ churches in the West are not sending any missionaries and wondered what can be learned from such shallow faith.

All I could think about at that moment was the megachurch pastor who almost died from choking on his fog machine and how trying to get the 20-somethings in my church to tithe often feels like I’m fighting Alien, the Terminator, and the shark from Jaws (sometimes all three when I bring up monogamy as an actual value!).

This question haunted me. It was as if they were asking me directly. I had to repent in tears.

The goal was always to make disciples; this is what Jesus commissioned before Constantine in Rome and the Church Growth Movement, as the church ontological identity subtly shifted from being sent out to where you sat down!

I believe there are two ways the Church can be liberated from this profound cultural captivity, especially culminated in Millennials.

First, we must aim to create ambassadors, not customersIn a church in profound cultural captivity, this is almost transcultural. It will go way over people’s heads at first.

The evangelical community cringed when Tim Keller started Redeemer in the late 1980s without a worship band and opted for classical music in Manhattan. Tim reasoned that urbanites would know Mozart but not Don Moen. It worked. Droves of secular people came to faith. Redeemer sacrificed its preferences and became a church not for itself, but for the city.

Is this not the way of Jesus? The prerequisite to following Christ requires a certain death. “Only those who lose their lives for the gospel will find it.” It’s ironic, but the Church’s current captivity is in her inability to sacrifice herself for the world. Death is the only antidote from the spirit of the age.  

Second, we must challenge the sovereignty of the individual. We cannot equate cultural engagement with mission. If Jesus becomes just another option because it works for the moment, then we’re only contributing to this profound cultural captivity.

Prolific Dutch Statesman Abraham Kuiper notes, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

The sin of omission replaces the Great Commission if the sovereignty of the individual is not being fully surrendered to the sovereignty of Christ.

The Lordship of Christ is the Great Commission. Jesus said to make disciples, not crowds. The current crisis in the Church is that we have many crowds, but few disciples.

I’m deeply grateful to the underground Chinese leaders for helping me see the absurdity I have subtly come to embrace and moving me toward a radical reorientation of the gospel.

Published on by Cassie Littel.

No Comments

Leading With The Gospel | Lead More Like Jesus, Lead More To Jesus

I grew up in uptown Manhattan, right on Broadway, and what makes the Big Apple one of the most coveted cities in the world is not its influence or affluence, but its confluence of ethnic diversity and cultural creativity, creating perhaps the world’s greatest Kitchen.

However, the downside of walking into a legitimate ethnic restaurant is that no one really speaks English. In fact, the poorer the English, the better the food. As a result, ordering can be a frustrating experience. I always laugh when people visit and experience this obstacle, but some don’t find this amusing like I do—they find it appalling. They mutter, Don’t they know this is America?”

This is a tragic picture of the culture set in some of our congregations when lost people visit our churches.

I believe authentically leading a congregation in a lifestyle of evangelism involves creating a culture that desires to “lead more like Jesus and lead more to Jesus.” This has been Arrow Leadership’s mantra since its genesis, which Leighton Ford, lifetime Chairman of the Lausanne Movement and the brother-in-law of Billy Graham, founded 25 years ago.

Leading More Like Jesus

As the late Peter Drucker reminds us, leading more like Jesus is not about doing things right, but rather doing the right things. It addresses the adopted cultural values in our churches. What do our congregations really communicate when lost people visit us?

When I was in college, I brought a lost friend to my church one weekend, only to be interrogated about his baggy clothes and numerous tattoos. He never came back. People usually know when they’re not wanted. Our character is tested when we’re up against it and not in our vision statements or websites.

No matter how fervent people are about evangelism in a congregation, apart from an intentional commitment from its leaders, as Stephen Covey puts it, “Management without effective leadership is like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.”
In essence, even passion for evangelism can’t compensate for failure in leadership. Leading a congregation to love evangelism rises and falls primarily on the leaders to lead more like Jesus.  

Leading More To Jesus

We would certainly lead more to Jesus if we better understood that sincere evangelism is more about representing Jesus than talking about Jesus. The latter is about programs, but the former is about relationships. Our witness is tested when lost people come through our doors, not on what we print on our bulletins. We fail to lead more to Jesus because for the most part, we usually get in the way.

After reading the New Testament, the great Indian Civil activist, Gandhi, went to church only to be told to go worship with his own people. He said that if he “never met a Christian, he would have become one.”

We can arduously study apologetics or even perfect our gospel pitch, but the problem is not our theology, it is our ontology. The lack of congruence between our values and our lives end up imploding our witness.

Are lost people really welcomed in our congregations? Jesus says in Revelations 3:20 that the greatest longing of his heart is to dine with anyone willing to accept his invitation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

How much should we value relationships if the King of Kings is willing to stand up from his throne to personally welcome others? To lead more to Jesus, we must create a culture where lost people are welcomed as much as Jesus values them.

I still wonder what India would look like today if a Mahatma Gandhi Evangelistic Association was established. This little church in India could have led one of the greatest leaders in history to Jesus if only they represented Jesus better.

But in light of all this, there is still good news! We as leaders have the power to create and recreate the culture set in our congregations to lead more like Jesus and lead more to Jesus. I pray that as leaders we would not allow either an iconic revolutionary or even a seemingly frivolous wayward teen from meeting Jesus. Both are equally valuable to the Father, for this is the Kingdom of God.

Published on by Cassie Littel.

No Comments

Making Jesus Our One and Only Hero

The Bible clearly teaches us that God's power is made perfect in our weakness and not our strength. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9: 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Ironically, this seems to go against not only our natural inclination, but that of our churches as well. What is usually valued and honored in Christian spirituality is neatness, an obsessive form of meticulousness that leaves no room for ambiguity or brokenness. However, not only is this unbiblical, but it is far removed from reality and completely delusional. The truth is that life is full of ambiguity and messiness. It is naive to believe you can divorce one from the other. 

The good news of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus came for those who are sick, sinful, and broken, not those who are healthy, moral or whole. The latter creates a culture of isolation, deception, and manipulation. But the former emancipates us from the Christian game of perception and liberates us to live in authentic community, truth, and sincere love. 

The late Henri Nouwen used to say: 

"As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their "right" place.” You see we’ve got to remember:

The church was always meant to be an ER for the sick not a fashion show for the moral elite.  (Tweet this)

I deeply believe we can all contribute in some way to make this a reality again, for a world desperately in need of grace. 

First, let's work to confess our struggles to one another than try to hide it. 

This is not only biblical, but also foundational in creating a culture of grace. Yes, it will hurt our pride, but that is exactly why we should do it. It will bring light into the darkness and with it, healing and restoration into our lives. Now, some have called this a revival and others, a few other things, but whatever it is, it's a God thing and that is always good! 

Second, let's work to make Jesus the one and only hero of the church.

There a subtly, yet pervasive narrative influencing the church today and it is directly responsible for grace continually falling by the wayside. This narrative is perpetuated by all of us in the church photo-shopping our brokenness to the world and each other "so we don't look too bad."  

As the selfie generation, we've become experts at editing our photos on social media and now we can add manipulating "sins" to that list. We don't realize that when we euphemize our sins, we greatly diminish the glory of the cross and the one who once hung there. This is precisely why apostle Paul says that:

"he boasts all the more gladly about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on him."  

Beggars can't be choosers, but it would seem we have too many of us who are pretending to be rich when we're clearly broke. 

Lastly, this is why when we boldly boast in our weaknesses we eliminate any ambiguity to who the hero is in our story. #Jesus (Tweet this) 

Yes, I know this is easier said than done, but the truth is humility never once felt good to me or anyone else. It is poisonous to our pride and lust for control, but that is exactly when grace begins to take its stride and keeps it falling by the wayside.  

Perhaps, that is a tough pill to swallow, but revival at the cost of our pride seems like a win/win for the church, the kingdom of God and our world. 

 

Sam Kim
@Sam180church

Published on by Cassie Littel.

No Comments