Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Our Christianese? Arrgghh!

Avast me Hearties! (Dear Friends),

Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh! Last Friday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day which I’m certain you all celebrated and just so happens to be one of my favorite holidays. When I was a young lad my career goal was to become a pirate and while things didn't work out like I'd planned, it's probably for the best since it would be difficult for me to type this with a troublesome hook in place of my right hand. But I still love watching the old Errol Flynn pirate movies, I live my boyhood dreams on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and every September 19th I can thoroughly annoy my loved ones by talking like a pirate. Aye, me Beauty, whars me grog? (Singing) Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me..

What does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Pirate jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people laugh. Christian jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people confused.

While us believers don't yet have a secret handshake, the secret language that we use to communicate with each other can be just as exclusive and alienating to those who may be outside the clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you've been with other people who unintentionally excluded you from their conversation by speaking in a language you didn't understand, you know what that feels like. 

Our “Christianese” can exclude the very people we are trying to reach. If I invite someone to “ask Jesus into your heart,” she may have no idea what I'm talking about. If I tell her that “Jesus was the propitiation for her sins,” she'll need a dictionary to understand me. If I tell her that “Jesus made atonement for her so that she'll be justified, redeemed and sanctified,” her eyes will glaze over.

But what if I tell her that “Humans have been separated from God by our rebellious nature and that’s what we call sin. And, Jesus, through His sacrificial death upon the cross, paid the penalty for our sins. When we accept and believe in Jesus, then our relationship is restored with God and we will have eternal life.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our using the beloved words and phrases that describe our beliefs and how we live out our faith. It's all biblical and it's the language that we use to effectively communicate with each other. But when we're speaking to a non-Christian, or a new believer unfamiliar with Christian jargon, we should remember to speak their language, not ours. 

Whether giving someone driving directions, talking politics or matters of faith, communication has not taken place unless the person we’re speaking with has understood what it is that we’re attempting to say.

When communicating the “Good News,” always try to think about what you are saying from the perspective of the person to whom you are speaking. 

Pirate Version: Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy! Arrr..? 

English Translation: Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone! Amen..?  Colossians 4:6 (NLT)

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This is an edited and updated version of the September 19, 2012 Amen Corner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Let's Be The "Nordstrom" Church

Dear Friends,

Melissa was in her favorite Nordstrom store in the upscale part of the San Fernando Valley. She was browsing on the floor where the most expensive dresses cost thousands of dollars. The elevator door opened and out stepped a woman obviously homeless. Dirty, cast-off clothing that had been slept in.. Matted hair.. The odor of life lived in back alleys.. The picture of despair and hopelessness. Melissa cringed when she saw the woman and fully expected store security to converge on the bag lady and quickly hustle her out and back to the street where she belonged. 

Instead, a tall, sophisticated saleswoman approached the bag lady, smiled at her and said, “How can I help you, Ma'am?” The bag lady said, “I'd like to buy a dress for a party.” The saleswoman said, “You've come to the right place. We have some of the finest dresses. Let me show you some.” Melissa couldn't believe what she was seeing and hearing. After the bag lady selected two that she liked, Melissa was shocked to see the saleswoman take the expensive dresses into the dressing room so that the bag lady could try them on. The beautiful dresses would be ruined once they touched her open sores and unwashed body.

In a few minutes the two women came out and the bag lady said, “I've decided not to buy a dress today.” The saleswoman replied, “That's quite all right but here take my card and when you come back to Nordstrom, I'd consider it a pleasure to wait on you again.”
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The man and woman walked hand in hand toward the gleaming, white Protestant church in the San Fernando Valley. This was their first visit and they were immediately confused about where to go. The front doors at the top of the trash-covered steps were closed and seemed to be unused. Everyone was going in the propped-open side door so the new couple followed some people into the church. An usher with an annoyed expression came hurrying down the aisle toward them, handed them a bulletin and went back to sit in the darkened lobby by the front door. It was clear that the new couple had upset the usher by coming in the “member's” door when they should have entered through the front “visitor’s” door. They were surrounded with about thirty people talking, greeting and hugging each other and carefully ignoring the visiting couple. Had they suddenly become invisible? After standing awkwardly in the aisle for a few minutes and hoping to find someone to talk with, they began to feel like they were uninvited intruders who had stumbled into a private family function. The couple sat down quietly in a pew and waited for the service to start. After the service, light refreshments were served on the outside patio and a few people welcomed the couple, shook their hands and then immediately walked away to join their friends. The couple stayed there a year and remained the “outsiders,” welcomed to worship alongside that church family on a Sunday but never invited to join the family. When the couple finally gave up and left, no one called to find out why. Did anyone even notice?

And the question is this. Who was more Christlike in welcoming the stranger? That church family or the Nordstrom saleswoman? Which one was demonstrating God’s unconditional love? My understanding is that the Nordstrom story is true. Both Rhianna and I can attest to the truth of the church story because we were that couple. 

The church pastor and leadership were puzzled why they were not growing. But they had become an ingrown church family, and while they would have never posted a sign that said, “GO BACK – YOU ARE NOT WELCOME,” that was how they treated their visitors. Their church vision proclaimed that they were a lighthouse beaming the love of Jesus out to the “sinners.” The reality was that they had become a private social club for the “saints.”

I'm not picking on this church but using them as an example of how the majority of small to medium-sized churches “greet” their visitors. At New Hope Family Church, let's be the “Nordstrom” church welcoming everyone unconditionally. Because if our visitors don’t feel the love of Jesus radiating out from this body of Christ, then I’d be the first one to recommend they go find a church where they do. Thank God our church is small enough that each one of us has the opportunity to warmly greet our visitors. Find out their name and introduce them to others. After the service, don’t just tell them about our hospitality time but walk with them and sit with them. Treat them like a member of your family. In God’s eyes, they already are. Amen?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sin Stickers

Dear Friends,

I've got these little stickers in my back yard. I hate them. My dog hates them even more. They’ve got a long spike as sharp as a hypodermic needle. Step on them and it hurts. It hurts even more when you pull them out. When my dog and I are outside and I see her freeze in place and not take another step, I know that she's just picked up a sticker.  

For years, when she got a sticker, I'd immediately go to help her, but she'd limp away from me as fast as she could. A sticker in your paw is painful, but she knew how much it would hurt when the sticker was pulled out. And she associated me with the pain of its removal and not with the absence of pain that would occur as soon as the sticker was gone. She'd be terrified and tremble as I lifted her paw. 

But over the years she's learned that when she has a sticker, I can make that pain go away. Now when she gets a sticker, she just lifts her paw and stands there on three legs and waits for me. I grab the sticker and it's gone. One second she can hardly move because of the pain and in the next, she's running and dancing around the yard again, instantly healed. In her mind, it's a miracle.

Kind of like the process of sanctification. So many times we are limping around with sin stickers stuck in our soul. We can't avoid them. We are imperfect humans falling well short of the glory in this life that will be ours in the next. So one moment we're running joyfully through life and the next moment we've succumbed to a temptation, picked up a sin sticker and we're skidding to a stop. If we fear the painful removal of that sin sticker, we will find ourselves settling for a flawed and compromised relationship with God. The process of sanctification can be uncomfortable. It can be confrontational. In fact if we're being honest about it, many of our real encounters with God are somewhat painful. And knowing that the Holy Spirit will confront us and convict us of our sins, we too often limp away as fast as we can to avoid Him.

Many of us just pretend the sin stickers aren’t there and we’ve learned to limp so artistically that none of our friends have noticed. And some of the best “church-going” Christians have become experts in “sin management.” We walk painfully through life and know that we’ve fooled others. And, we can only hope that we’ve fooled God as well. So in our whispered nighttime prayers, we hide the sins that our lips tremble to name because we cannot bear to bring them before Him.

We find ourselves running from God instead of running toward Him. We tremble at the approach of the Lord and fear the pain of removal when He reaches down and pulls those sharp little sin stickers out of our soul. But when we submit to God and allow Him to do so, as soon as we have been cleansed of our sin, we are now running and dancing and joyfully thanking God for pulling out our sin stickers.

The word "Sanctify" means to be set apart and made holy. Sanctification is the process of growing in Christ through divine grace following salvation. Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin to spiritually grow as we learn how to live and love like Jesus. And in our humanness we stumble, fall and pick up a sin sticker and once they’re there, they don't fall out on their own. They have to be pulled out. Sanctification is the process where both you and the Holy Spirit are working to remove the sin stickers. God will reach down and pull them out for you. But you can't be pretending the sin stickers don't exist or try to run away from God. You're going to have to stand still and lift your paw so that He can get to it.

Be honest with God. Remember, you’re not telling Him anything about you He doesn’t already know!  Don't ever be afraid of deep and abiding intimacy with God. When your Heavenly Father looks at you, He sees right through your mask. (Psalm 139:1-7) He knows who you are. And He loves you unconditionally. At the end of each day, ask Him to show you where you’ve missed the mark. (Psalm 139:23-24) Name the sin. Take responsibility for it. Own it. Confess it. Then ask Him to show you what you need to do to change that habit or avoid that temptation. (John 14:13-14) And finally, receive His forgiveness (Isaiah 43:25) and thank Him for His mercy and grace. Amen?