Friday, August 17, 2007

Religious Conversion Code of Conduct: Part 4 – Breaking the Holy Huddle.

Dahlia of the day: Nanekazi. I have over 50 different varieties of dahlias in my garden. I am sharing a different dahlia each day until the season ends or I run out of dahlias.

The August 7th edition of Presbyweb carried a link called, “Progress Seen Towards a Christian Code of Conduct on Religious Conversion.” Yesterday I talked about “sheep stealing.” Today I am going to continue looking at ways Christians can be respectful of a person’s beliefs and still seek to introduce them to Jesus Christ.

I am getting more and more convinced that most non-Christians do not have any good friends that are Christ-followers. Christ’s followers are to blame—not the people who do not know Christ!

Christians tend to form into holy huddles. The longer that a person knows Christ the less non-Christian friends they have. Let’s face it; everyone likes to hang out with people who are like them. We talk the same language, read the same Book, like the same Christian music and go to the same concerts, etc. Before you know it the Christian has few if any non-Christian friends—they have holy huddles.

In last Sunday’s sermon I mentioned that most Christ-followers have few if any non-Christian friends. The looks I received were very interesting. I know… I know… I can’t read minds. It is just that I have had conversations with several people at our church on this very subject. Many, if not most, of the looks I received seemed to be say, “What’s wrong with that?” I honestly believe that most Christians see nothing wrong with having ZERO friends who aren’t Christians.

There are legitimate (seemingly) reasons for not having non-Christian friends:

  • Not enough time—There are only so many hours in the day and I can’t even spend enough time with my family and Christian friends. I heard a T.V. preacher tell his flock to only spend time with their brothers and sisters in Christ because there was so little time on earth to prepare ourselves for heaven. Give me a break!! We all waste lots of time during any given week. We spend time doing things that are a priority to us. We have time to watch sporting events on T.V., go golfing or hunting, work on cars, work in the garden, go to a coffee shop, do scrapbooking, read a book, play an instrument, etc. We make time for the things that we value. We would make time to spend with a non-Christian friend if we put a high value on it!
  • I don’t have anything in common with those who aren’t Christians. Bull!!! Jesus is the only thing that we don’t have in common. Christians and non-Christians enjoy doing many of the same things. One reader of this blog enjoys fly fishing—he caught a salmon last week. There are lots of non-Christians who enjoy fly fishing. I know a Christian that plays basketball every Monday night during the school year. There are lots of non-Christians who enjoy playing basketball. I know a lady that enjoys knitting. There are lots of non-Christians who enjoy knitting. We can do the things we enjoy doing with people who do not know Christ. Bill Hybels (of Willow Creek) loves to race sailboats. Intentionally, many of those who crew on his boat are not Christians. Many years ago while serving as the Associate Pastor at a different church I got to know Doug. Doug went to our church and loved to hunt. He had over 100 goose decoys. During the long goose season he would hunt every Saturday. People from his work (who were not Christians) would practically beg him to take them hunting. Almost every week he would take guys out who weren’t Christians. If you had asked those guys what they had done on Saturday morning they would have said, “I was hunting geese with Doug.” I you had asked Doug what he had done on Saturday morning he would have said, “I spent Saturday morning sitting in a goose blind talking to a non-Christian friend about Jesus and my church.” Christians have a lot of things in common with non-Christians.
  • I don’t like the language that non-Christians use. True, there are many non-Christians who cuss; there are also a lot of Christians who cuss. Get over it. I helped pay for my college education by working as a logger. I worked for the same logging company for four summers. The crew I worked with found out that I was a Christian within a few weeks of starting the job. By the end of that first summer there were some changes that had taken place on the crew. I was a choker setter on a skyline system. When the landing was 500’ or 600’ feet away we would split the crew into two “sides” as pre-set the chokers (we could work much faster that way). There would be two of us working on one side of the skyline and two on the other side of the skyline. The one or two guys working with me would stop cussing when they were working with me. I never asked them to stop cussing. They would talk to me about troubles in their relationships and their dreams for the future. We would laugh together. We would tackle serious subjects. Not a cuss word or dirty joke would come out of their month. Using the “language” excuse is lame!

At my first call as a pastor I made friends with a guy that wasn’t a Christian. His wife wasn’t a Christian either. As individuals this couple had some “baggage” in that community. Many of the people at the church were openly displeased that the pastor and his family was spending time with this couple. They both became Christians. They came to church—you would have thought that the antichrist had come through the door. They never came back to that church.

The most effective method of “evangelism” that leads to “religious conversion” is spending time with a Christian. Live your Christian life in their presence. Talk about the wife you love, the kids you love, the God you love. Be there for their question. Love them. Pour your life into them. That’s the ethical and moral way to be about evangelism.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Religious Conversion Code of Conduct – Part 3

Dahlia of the day: Cheyenne.

The August 7th edition of Presbyweb carried a link called, “Progress Seen Towards a Christian Code of Conduct on Religious Conversion.” Yesterday I talked about “sheep stealing.” Today I am going to begin looking at ways Christians can be respectful of a person’s beliefs and still seek to introduce them to Jesus Christ.

We used Rob Bell’s Nooma DVDs for our devotions on our recent sailing trip. One of the DVDs had man in his home getting ready to go somewhere—I thought he was getting ready for work. Rob starts talking about a man who stands on a street corner “witnessing” to passers-by with a bullhorn. It turns out that the man in the video was getting ready to go to a major sporting event—he was bullhorn man.

“Guy” worked for the college where I was the Chaplain. Guy was raised in a home that was VERY anti-Christian. Guy was “good” in every sense of the word—and, he wasn’t a Christian. You see, he was afraid that if he became a Christian he would have to stand on a street corner, yelling at passers-by that Jesus loves them. (Note: Guy became a Christian after another staff person and I spent many hours with him—doing normal, “non-spiritual” stuff. We talked about what Jesus meant to us when the opportunity presented itself.).

It is unfortunate that so many Christians believe that “evangelism” is an event instead of a way of life.

People talk about those things that excite them. The last few days I have been talking with a person who is EXCITED about baseball—from little league to the professional ranks. Another person was excited about cars and that is what he talked about. Still another was talking about a grandchild. Still another was talking about going down to a nearby river to read his Bible.

What are you and I excited about? What are the members of our church excited about? All we have to do to find out what excites a person is to listen to them for a while. If Jesus doesn’t come up in the conversation periodically then I would suggest that they aren’t excited about him.

I think that one reason our evangelistic efforts don’t respect people is that they are programmed “events” that force a believer to do something and talk about something that doesn’t excite them. The first step in having a great code of conduct in evangelism is for Christians to fall in love with Jesus all over again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Religious Conversion Code of Conduct – Part 2

Dahlia of the day: Rae-Miester.

The August 7th edition of Presbyweb carried a link called, “Progress Seen Towards a Christian Code of Conduct on Religious Conversion.” Yesterday I talked about “sheep stealing.” Today I am going to look at the “obsession of converting others.”

Here is a quote from the Presbyterian News Service about the conference:

“Kicked off in May last year at a meeting near Rome that affirmed freedom of religion as a “non-negotiable” human right valid for everyone everywhere, the group at the same time stressed that the ‘obsession of converting others’ needs to be cured.”

Here are some quotes from the Bible on the subject:

John 3:16-- "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 6:22-23 – “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

John 14:6 -- Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Romans 3:21-24 – “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Matthew 28:19-20 – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

God is obsessed with our following him and being reconciled to him. Jesus is obsessed with our present situation and our eternal situation. Without Jesus we are facing a “crisis in eternity” (Bill Hybels). Scripture is clear and consistent in calling us to be in the disciple-making business. One of the steps in the making of a disciple is conversion!

Many denominations have moved away from having an “obsession of converting others.” The former “Mainline” denominations are excellent examples of this move. Most (if not all) of the denomination that have made this shift have experienced catastrophic membership declines in the past forty years.

The PCUSA needs to regain an “obsession for converting others.”

Tomorrow we will look at ways of doing this with love and dignity.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dahlia of the day: Hot Number.

Religious Conversion Code of Conduct

The August 7th edition of Presbyweb carried a link called, “Progress Seen Towards a Christian Code of Conduct on Religious Conversion.” Presbyterian News Service ran the article by Juan Michel (World Council of churches media relations office and a member of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina) which was also carried by several other news outlets (here, here, here and here). This three year study process is aiming to have a code of conduct on religions conversion by 2010.

There has been relative silence on this topic since August 7th. The conference has been over of two days and the silence continues.

Horrible things have been done in the name of Jesus Chris throughout the ages. Missionaries demonized indigenous cultures as they sought to spread the Gospel. In Southeast Alaska (in the late 1800s) the Presbyterian missionaries would not let the Tlingits speak their native tongue in the boarding schools. This “style” of religious conversion was common commonly practice.

Things have changed tremendously since that time.

The article raises several issues that need to be examined. Today I will be looking at “sheep stealing.”

The first time that I heard the phrase “sheep stealing” was in seminary. The pastor of a church was complaining that another church was “stealing the sheep” from his church. Throughout the years I have heard complaints of “sheep stealing” on numerous occasions. Can one church really “steal” the sheep of another church?

As a Presbyterian pastor I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God. God is the prime mover. God is the one who draws us to himself. God is the one who has led me to the churches I have served as pastor (yes, a Pastor Nominating Committee was used by God). I firmly believe that it is God who leads people into, and away from, our churches. Therefore, I struggle with the notion of “sheep stealing.”

The phrase “sheep stealing” implies that a particular church “owns” the people that attend or are members of the church. Christ’s followers are one church—they just happen to worship in different local expressions of that one church. A Christ-follower is a bond-servant of Jesus—not a local church! God is the only one who “owns” the followers of Christ—and it is a voluntary “ownership” at that.

Setting the notion of ownership aside, our churches like to lay claim to a “set” of folks. Some of these people are members of the church and others are not members. Some of these people attend every week and others walk though the doors once every year or two. A church’s ego (or the pastor’s ego) likes to “claim” all of these folks as a part of the congregation. Nothing could be more absurd.

This past Sunday a person attended our church. This person attends church about once a year. I am sure that if you asked this person if they had a church home they would say that Evergreen Presbyterian Church was their church home. How can Evergreen be their church home if they attend once or twice a year? In truth, they do not have a church home!! This scenario is played out in every church and denomination. The membership numbers of most churches are do not reflect the actual attendance numbers, plus shut ins who cannot attend church for health reasons.

It is not “sheep stealing” when an infrequent church attendee begins going to another church. Do you know what it is? It is a time for rejoicing! The person has been led by God to a church where they can be fed on a consistent basis.

The whole “sheep stealing” issue is big in South America. Large portions of the continent have historically been Roman Catholic. Or have they? Just because a person was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church does not mean that they are Roman Catholic.

Many years ago the Committee on Ministry of Alaska Presbytery asked me to attend the final worship service to be led by a designated pastor in a village church and to moderate the congregational meeting that would immediately follow worship. It was the pastor’s last Sunday at that church. The church was averaging less than eight people in worship. Many of the people who had attended that church in the past were currently attending other churches in the town. Had those other churches “stolen” the people away from the Presbyterian Church? Many of those people hadn’t stepped through the doors of the Presbyterian Church for years and years.

Large numbers of Roman Catholics in South America are Catholic in name only. These people were baptized as infants in the Catholic Church. These people will have their marriages performed in the Catholic Church. These people may attend Mass on Christmas and Easter. These people will have their funeral services in the Catholic Church. Yet, in reality they are not Catholic. In reality, they are not a part of any church—they are unchurched!!

The Bible says that there is much rejoicing in heaven when one sinner is saved. The Church needs to get to the point where we rejoice like they do in heaven. Evergreen needs to praise God when someone who infrequently attends Evergreen comes to know Christ through the ministry of another church—even if they begin attending the other church. God used us to plant the seed—a different church was involved in the harvest.

On another note, some people leave a church for other reasons. Sunday I was told that a person was leaving Evergreen. He doesn’t like our music. In our worship we try to sing the best of the traditional hymns and the best of contemporary worship songs and hymns. We have worshipped this way for seven or eight years. We have done a survey of the congregation and only four people prefer a totally traditional worship style. This gentleman is never going to like the music at Evergreen. He regularly complains about our music. If our music is standing between him and God then many be the best thing is for him to attend another church. If he does… that other church will not be “stealing” one of Evergreen’s sheep!