Month: October 2013

some Captain Obvious tips for sharing about Jesus

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I’m no expert when it comes to sharing about my faith in Jesus with the people God puts in my life. It doesn’t come naturally to me — at least not in the way it seems to for some people.

Even so, most often I find the challenge isn’t the knowing what or how. It’s just embracing the obvious and doing it!

Along these lines, here are some really pretty obvious things I’ve been (slowly) learning to implement — whether I’m having coffee with someone or standing on the footpath in front on my house:

1. Quantity Time Begets Quality Time

This applies in all sorts of areas of life — romantic relationships, parenting, reading the Bible, even managing a business!

So it’s sort of a no-brainier that it would apply to sharing about Jesus too.

And yet I still have to actively plan (and fight the urge to make pious excuses) to spend enough time with the people in my life to give those ‘quality conversations’ a chance to emerge naturally.

2. Be Interruptible

Christians bang on about how we need to learn from the way Jesus prioritised his time alone with God (or even just his time to rest and sleep).

Now if that’s true, then — based on the New Testament Gospel accounts — we’ll need to learn to be a whole lot more interruptible than we are.

Because Jesus every time slunk off alone to pray, needy people seemed to find him anyway.

And you know what he didn’t say to them? He didn’t say, “Sorry guys. I’m having my special day with God. Come back later.”

3. Lower The Bar

For a long time, I think I operated on the assumption that if the conversation felt like it might even start to get deeper, then I had to lean in and go for the jugular.

Now there’s a time to seize the moment. And – yes, there’s stuff in the New Testament about making the most of the opportunities we have.

But what I’m discovering is that a lot of the time I’m much more effective at securing a ‘We’d like to hear you again on these things’ response of I simply aim to keep the conversation going.

Mostly, I’m finding that the key to this is having something substantial (and preferably personal) to say — but deliberately reframing from saying everything as soon as I get a whiff of opportunity.

4. Cultivate A ‘God Talk’ Habit

A surprising number of doors are opened by making it a habit to talk about the things in my faith that ‘live’ and are meaningful for me.

There are better and worse ways to do this, of course. And there are times when I’ve got to reign in my tendency to be a Christian jargon-spouting bore.

It even turns learning to mention God, the difference Jesus makes to me at a daily level, and the things I’m thankful for (or praying for), is actually just good for my own heart.

5. Practice Talking About Jesus

There are lots of situations where a little story from the life of Jesus would go a long way.

Whether it’s in drawing a parallel with something we’re talking about, shedding light on why Christians might want to take a stand on a particular issue, or answering some question or objection about the faith, it’s good to have a kit bag full of ‘gospel bites’ (as John Dickson calls them).

So it’s handy to be familiar with the Gospel stories about Jesus. And to practice telling them — relating them to contemporary events, questions, and situations.

Because ultimately that’s what I want to be doing with the people in my life. So I figure, why not just start talking about Jesus, instead of waiting for him to ‘come up’?

instruments in the Redeemer’s hands

A friend recently handed me a copy of Paul Tripp’s book, Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands. And it’s got me really excited.

I know it’s not exactly a new book. So it’s a good thing this isn’t exactly a book review!

I simply want to share what’s got me excited about it so far. And that is that it’s a practical theology of every-member ministry that’s word-focused and body-contextualised — a la Ephesians 4.

I’m going to try to break this down for you. But before I do, let me give you a little taste of it’s awesomeness:

We are too easily captivated by our self-centred little worlds. But Ephesians 4 propels us beyond a life consumed by personal happiness and achievement. Your life is much bigger than a good job, an understanding spouse, and non-delinquent kids. It is bigger than beautiful gardens, nice vacations, and fashionable clothes. In reality, you are part of something immense, something that began before you were born and will continue after you die. God is rescuing fallen humanity, transporting them into his kingdom, and progressively shaping them into his likeness — and he wants you to be part of it.

Why am I so excited by this?

1. It’s practical theology.

As you can hopefully see even from this brief excerpt, it’s neither a dense theological textbook nor a lightweight toolbox of pastoral counselling resources with the thinnest of theological groundings.

2. It’s all about every-member ministry.

Picking up on the clear emphasis of Ephesians 4 (not to mention the repeated refrain of the various church and ‘one another’ passages in the New Testament), each one of us is addressed by the ‘demanding comfort’ of this announcement that we’re part of something bigger — and called to live out this larger vision of being human.

3. It’s unashamedly word-focused.

Lots of every-member ministry stuff moves very quickly to the diversity of gifts. But that’s not what Ephesians does. And neither does Tripp. Instead, he majors on speaking the truth in love to one another as every-member ministry. Which is awesome.

4. It’s body-contextualised.

Balancing the previous point, it refused to rip its focus on word-ministry out of the context of necessary interdependence, mutual responsibility, and diversity that the body metaphor provides. This is how Tripp resists the tendency to slide towards a ‘one size fits all’ approach to bringing the word to bear on one another’s lives.

So stay tuned…

There’s much more to come!

maybe I’m more Lutheran than Calvinist

A bunch of critical questions about Calvinism have appeared in my Facebook feed lately — usually posed by people who consider themselves Calvinist/Reformed. (If you’re interested in catching up there was THIS, <a href="THIS“>THIS, and THIS.)

Co-incidentally (or was it predestined?) the next question I was asked to address in the church bulletin at one of my partner churches was this:

Last week’s reading in Acts we saw that Jesus’ death and resurrection were God’s plan from the beginning, however Peter holds the crowd responsible for that sinful act. How do we reconcile these things?

Here’s my response. You tell me — am I more Lutheran or Calvinist in my approach to God’s sovereignty?

Continue reading

what if Mr Rudd was right after all?

I wrote this piece for the weekly bulletin at a Melbourne church that generously supports and prays for me in the work I do with the Christian Union at La Trobe University.

“The Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.”

This is how our former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, responded to a question on Q&A just before the recent election.

Watch it in context here:

As you can see, Mr Rudd’s response was greeted with rapturous applause.

He went on to offer this justification: “Because St Paul said in the New Testament, ‘slaves be obedient to your masters’. And, therefore, we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US war. I mean, for goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change…”

Since then, his response has come in for serious (and much-deserved) questioning.

So was Mr Rudd right?

Was Mr Rudd right to equate the slavery spoken of in the Bible with slavery in pre-Civil War America?

Historians will tell you, the answer is ‘No’.

There were major differences. For example, slaves in the Roman Empire enjoyed many freedoms mostly because they weren’t obviously identified on the basis of their skin colour.

Was Mr Rudd on shaky ground when he took one of the specific biblical instructions to slaves and turned it into a general endorsement of the condition of slavery?

Absolutely!

The Bible speaks in some detail about what to do when someone is murdered. But it is not endorsing murder when it does so. It is attempting to retrieve some good from a tragic situation and avert a miscarriage of justice or full-scale blood feud.

Much the same could be said of slavery.

Did Mr Rudd get his ancient sources scrambled?

It’s possible. The Greek philosopher Aristotle explicitly calls it a natural condition.

But the Bible does actually say that slavery — of a certain kind — is a natural condition.

In fact, Jesus himself says it: “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8.34)!

According to Jesus, slavery — spiritual slavery — is the ‘natural condition’ of anyone who sins.

It wasn’t what God intended. It wasn’t how we were made. But it’s where we all find ourselves anyway.

Any yet it is precisely this ‘natural condition’ that Jesus came to free us from.

But Jesus goes on: “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8.35-36)

Gloriously, Jesus came to free us from our spiritual slavery so we could become God’s children!

And it’s this message of liberation and adoption that shapes what St Paul says about economic slavery.

For example, speaking to Philemon about his runaway slave Onesimus (who’d become a Christian), Paul says: “Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Philemon 15-16).

Ultimately, this basic biblical message of liberation and adoption in Jesus calls the entire institution of slavery into question. (And it was this, not a revisionist impulse to set aside the teaching of Scripture, that propelled the likes of Wilberforce to overthrow institutional slavery when they had opportunity.)