BROKENNESS

28 12 2010

“In every generation, the people who have found God have been those who have come to the end of themselves. Recognizing their hopelessness, they have been ready to throw themselves on the mercy and grace of a forgiving God.”–A. W. Tozer

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A SOCIAL NETWORK CHRISTMAS

18 12 2010

From Igniter Media, an interesting take on how the story of Jesus’ birth might have been told had there been a social network at the time. Click the link below.

http://www.ignitermedia.com/flash/player-licensed.swf





3 KEYS TO IGNITE TH EVANGELISM PASSION IN YOUR CHURCH

16 12 2010

How did I coach passion for Evangelism?

In my church, I would occasionally preach on Sunday morning, and then nearly every Sunday night for our 2nd service.

Here is how I coached an evangelism passion when I was the regular preacher.

1.  Model personal evangelism

This was somewhat unintentional, but happened in my sermons.  At least 2-3 times a month I’d share a conversation I had had with someone.

Personal evangelism is something I do, it happens in my life, and some of those conversational encounters would be connected to the sermon theme.

These conversations were often part of the overflow of my study of Scripture and sermon preparation.

They were part of the overflow from my networking and reading books out in public spaces like Starbucks.

I’d often connect the conversational encounter to the text, and then share my thinking process as I debriefed the conversation with the congregation.

For example:

  • What was that person’s spiritual thirst?
  • What was the Holy Spirit sharing with me?
  • What is the connection to Jesus and to the text?

I’d share the

  • Conversations that were fruitful
  • Conversations that were failures and laugh at myself.
  • Conversations that were adventures in missing the point.
  • Conversations that I wish I had, if I could do it over again.

All illustrations were to highlight the text I was preaching, not a “look at what I did this week” type.  In other words, I wasn’t bragging about what I was doing, but connecting my stories to the text from which I was preaching.

I found that most of the heart issues that the Bible texts raised could be  illustrated by a conversation I had had with someone.

Instead of asking the congregation “who did you talk to this week,”  I simply shared the conversations I was having.  It modeled personal evangelism instead of telling them they needed to do it.

2.  Repeated Exposure

These types of illustrations would creep into sermons 2-3 times a month.  By regular modeling of personal evangelism in my sermons, a funny thing happened.

People in the congregation eventually started telling me of their evangelism conversations with people.

The debriefing questions that I used in my sermon would start being reflected back to me, as the people were thinking themselves about these themes.

I’d ask follow up coaching questions to help my people grow in their processing skills.

My congregation began to reflect the modeling I did in my sermons and small group leadership.

3.  Connecting the text to my prayers for people who don’t know Christ.

Nearly every theme for biblical preaching can be connected in a sentence or two to an evangelistic prayer.

For example, perhaps you are preaching on forgiveness.

You’ve shared how you found forgiveness, you’ve shared how Christ forgives our sin.

You could simply add, “I long for my friends and family to know this same forgiveness that I’ve found.  I pray that they find this forgiveness and that the Lord would use me.”

Or I would often add: “This is my prayer for my neighbor: that they too would discover . .  . ”

What I found is that with this kind of thematic connection, people in the congregation would begin to think of their neighbors and non-Christian relationships more often.  They would begin to share with me how they were praying of their neighbors, and often their conversations with people.

During your sermon preparation time, ask yourself, how does this principle point fuel my prayers for my unsaved neighbors and relatives?

Simply make that a passing sentence on a regular basis and if your congregation was like mine, you’ll find that the congregation will begin to think the same way.

Post written by Chris Walker THE EVANGELISM COACH. This is a web site with tremendous resources.

 





PAUL AT MARS HILL – CULTURAL APOLOGETICS

15 12 2010

Athens at the time of Paul was a city that in many ways lived in the past. It had ceased to have much economic importance. The school of Alexandria surpassed it in many ways. Still, however, the great Parthenon towered over the center of the city on the great rock of the Acropolis covered with the wonderful friezes that now are the prizes of world-class museums.

If it dazzles the eye still with its beauty in its nearly ruined state, imagine how it must have appeared to Paul when it was still in one piece. Though looted many times, pagan benefactors who honored the classical period had also filled Athens with temples, theaters, and art work to honor the intellectual gifts of Greece to Rome. The marketplace was still there and if it was less busy than before one could still remember that here Socrates had begun philosophy. The type of Athenian porches (stoa) that had given their name to the Stoic school could still be enjoyed to beat the heat.

The Academy still carried on its mission, even if it had little to do with the actual teachings of Plato, a short walk away and on the walk one could remember the teachings of Aristotle. In between the great Acropolis and the marketplace stood a small hill which the ancient Athenians called the Areopagus. It had served from deepest antiquity as an Athenian court. On the hill of the Areopagus, the archons, the members of the court, met and even under the democracy they retained some power especially over murder and sacrilege cases. By the time of Paul, it was a favorite meeting place for intellectuals where the judgments were more over ideas than men. So Saint Paul would have walked through the marketplace where philosophy was born to the hill where religious judgments had traditionally been made in the shadow of the greatest temple of the religion of Homer and of Delphi. Athens was still symbolically one the great centers of ancient paganism and as a symbol had no equal for it contained great icons of both pagan religion and pagan philosophy. The Areopagus, Mar’s Hill to the Romans, stood right in the center of the life of Athens.

Like Socrates, who was also accused of worshipping strange gods, Paul is brought to the Areopagus. Some question whether the site of Paul’s sermon would have been the literal hill of the ancient Areopagus as opposed to a meeting of the council of Areopagus , though the hill is marked as the site by the modern Greeks with a plaque containing Paul’s message. In any case, case Luke uses the literary symbolism well. The physically unimpressive Paul was to stand before the Athenians as a symbol of the new and greater philosophy.

Paul’s message is deceptively simple. Rhetorically, he uses the same technique that worked so well in his debates with the Jews. Paul will divide his audience winning the majority by implicitly attacking unpopular but still numerous minority opinions. In the case of the Jews, Paul divided the Pharisees from the Sadducees by appealing to his common doctrinal beliefs with the Pharisees. Here he will split the neo-Platonists and the Stoics from the Epicureans by appealing to his common ground with the neo-Platonists and the Stoics against the Epicureans. He was spectacularly successful.

Paganism and pagan philosophy never recovered from Paul’s message. When Paul begins his sermon by saying that he perceives that the men of Athens are very religious he is placing a wedge between the popular religion of Delphi and the religion of the persons on Mars Hill. Paul decries the idols in the city of Athens. Since Luke intentionally points out that Stoics and Epicureans are present, and Paul will quote a Stoic poet Aratus, the reader can be sure Paul knows that the Stoics are not idol worshipers. In fact, Luke is at pains to show Paul’s erudition as he also has the Apostle quote Epimenides, a sage of the sixth century. So at the very start of the speech, the compromise with Delphi is exposed and used by Paul to make a point. No Epicurean or Stoic believes in idols, but over their shoulders looms the great temple of Athena and all around them is a city given over to the worship of objects made of matter.

Philosophy has allowed the city to continue full of idols. The common people are permitted to continue in their gross ignorance to the benefit of the establishment. Through fear and through hope for gain, philosophy has allowed herself to become co-opted by evil. Christianity as presented by Saint Paul does not need this compromise. The great thinkers and the common church goers will have the same beliefs. There will not be a God of the philosophers that is distinct and hidden, in fear, from the person who kneels at the Christian alter.

Paul then mentions that he has “found” an alter with an inscription to an “unknown god.” In all probability Paul has seen one of many alters to unknown gods and has made the perfectly logical move that an alter to unknown gods is also an alter to an unknown god! The unknown gods in Greek thought are those that are propitiated in order not to accidentally miss a local or obscure divinity and so bring down divine wrath. It is not so much a god that anyone is looking for but one about which the locals might be ignorant. This is a point that Paul makes when he says that what they once worshipped in ignorance, he will now proclaim to them openly. This openness of proclamation is also an attack on the Gnostics who hide their gospel from public view.

Paul then points out that the true God cannot live in any temple made by humans and that no human could ever serve him. This was an obvious philosophical truth. If there is a God, then no temple can hold Him. He also creates all things and provides a basis of unity for all men who are His children. Paul is establishing points of agreement between his gospel and some of the philosophies of the Greco-Roman world. There is nothing in this sermon thus far that would have offended or even educated a good neo-Platonist or Stoic. Paul’s statement that the God is “creator” might have been controversial if it were understood as Paul meant it, but both Plato and the Stoic philosophers demonstrate that they would use language of “creation” even if they did not believe in a literal first moment in time or creation out of nothing.

Paul’s discussion that men are called to seek God with the hope of finding Him has Socratic echoes. Paul recognizes that there is a quest for the Divine and does not believe that this quest can be ended by any human effort. Instead this knowledge will come as a product of divine revelation an idea that Plato seemingly allows for in construction of the liver in Timaeus. Four centuries of interaction with philosophy had now proven beyond a doubt to the Greco-Romans on Mars Hill, man is not only political, not only desires to know, but he is also religious. Man wishes to know God. Paul has not found God, but God has found Him.

At this point, Paul has utterly separated himself from the Epicurean philosophers. They cannot accept his religiosity. He will increase that gap by quoting from the Stoic sage Aratus who says that in the god, “we live and move and have our being.” Any neo-Platonist present also can accept what is being said since, as we have seen, neo-Platonism has been deeply influenced by Stoicism.

Paul’s call for a day of judgment also can be understood as being compatible with Stoic teaching. The Stoic cycle that ends in fire could easily be perceived as a day of doom for this present existence. However, Paul then presents the offense of the gospel to the persons on Mars Hill. He states that a man will judge the world and that this man can be known to be divine by the fact that God has raised him from the dead.

At this point the Epicureans can have nothing but mockery for Paul, but the Stoics also are also unable to move forward. Their atomist view of the soul makes any idea of the personal survival of any individual after death difficult though until the conflagration perhaps the good souls may survive for a time. From the return to the Divine Fire no man or soul can survive. As a result, Paul’s placing the man Jesus as the judge at the day of doom is incompatible with Stoic doctrine. They cannot accept Paul’s teaching.

The philosophical integrity of the Athenians saved some of them from missing Paul’s message. Paul argued well and many wanted to hear more of his message. In this sense, they were the pagan equivalents of the Berean Jews who sought out the truth of Paul’s message in the Sacred. The main group well positioned to hear Paul would have been the neo-Platonists. These thinkers could allow for the personal survival of a human soul for all eternity. (Phaedo) They had access to creationist language in Timaeus. They had a notion of a final judgment in the Republic’s myth of Er. The unity of humankind was not foreign to them.

What did they lack? They had not concept of the God becoming man and then providing a way for man to become like God. The idea of the Incarnation linked to theosis (man becoming like God) was exciting. That the divine Creator should “appoint a man” to judge the world at the Day of Doom and by doing so raise this man to divinity was beyond novel. In many ways, the Christology that lies behind this part of Paul’s remarks, uniting the Divine logos with man forever is the answer to the dilemma of Plato’s Cave. It is no shock that at least some of the persons on Mars Hill came to faith quickly. In the conversion of Dionysus the Areopagite, we see the model of the Christian Greco-Roman world to come.

Persecutions lasted for three hundred years, but the faith continued to spread. It was particularly successful in attracting tough minded and rhetorically skillful defenders. Christianity was bubbling with ideas, some heretical, and some not. It had the intellectual and moral energy that paganism and philosophy had lost. As a result, it began to attract the first rate intellects of the day. More and more frequently, Christian bishops would make spectacular advances in theology appropriating the philosophical language and techniques of the pagans to their own ends. These dazzling intellectual structures, the formulation of the two natures of Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, would become the basis for Western and Eastern Christian thought.

In the face of this accomplishment, Constantine the Great become convinced that only Christianity could preserve his Empire. Though inconsistent in his practice of the faith, after all there were no Christian emperors to serve as role models, he established a Christian foundation for an Eastern Roman Empire that would preserve learning, philosophy, and faith for one thousand years, eventually passing these riches on to the Islamic Empire and the West.

This post is from the blog SCRIPTORUM which is sponsored by the Torrey Honors Institute. It is written by John Mark Reynolds.





WHEN NOTHING CREATED EVERYTHING

14 12 2010

Christians are frequently criticized for their belief in the Intelligent Design explanation of Creation as opposed to the prevailing materialistic belief of persons like Stephen Hawkings.  Catholic writer Joe Carter has a great “counter argument” in the form of a parable.

When Nothing Created Everything
Dec 8, 2010
Joe Carter

Throughout history people have been awed and thrilled by retellings of their culture’s creation story.

Aztecs would tell of the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes, Phoenicians about the Zophashamin, and Jews and Christians about the one true God—Jehovah. But there is one unfortunate group—the children of atheistic materialists—that has no creation myth to call its own. When an inquisitive tyke asks who created the sun, the animals, and mankind, their materialist parents can only tell them to read a book by Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins.

But what sort of story are they likely to find? Should they be told, as famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking claims in his recent book The Grand Design that “the universe… create[d] itself from nothing”?

Since Hawking’s explanation is a bit too drab and nospecific for bedtime reading I’ve decided to take the elements of materialism and shape them into a purportedly accurate, though mythic, narrative. This is what our culture has been missing for far too long—a creation story for young atheistic materialists.
******
In the beginning was Nothing, and Nothing created Everything. When Nothing decided to create Everything, she filled a tiny dot with Time, Chance, and Everything and had it expand. The expansion spread Everything into Everywhere carrying Time and Chance with it to keep it company. The three stretched out together leaving bits of themselves wherever they went. One of those places was the planet Earth.

For no particular Reason—for Reason is rarely particular—Time and Chance took a liking to this little, wet, blue rock and decided to stick around to see what adventures they might have. While the pair found the Earth to be intriguing and pretty, they also found it a bit too quiet, too static. They fixed upon an idea to change Everything (just a little) by creating a special Something. Time and Chance roamed the planet, splashing through the oceans and sloshing through the mud, in search of materials. But though they looked Everywhere, there was a missing ingredient that they needed in order to make a Something that could create more of the same Somethings.

They called to their friend Everything to help. Since Everything had been Everywhere she would no doubt be able to find the missing ingredient. And indeed she did. Hidden away in a small alcove called Somewhere, Everything found what Time and Chance had needed all along: Information. Everything put Information on a piece of ice and rock that happened to be passing by the former planet Pluto and sent it back to her friends on Earth.

Now that they had Information, Time and Chance were finally able to create a self-replicating Something which they called Life. Once they created Life they found that it not only grew into more Somethings, but began to become Otherthings, too! The Somethings and the Otherthings began to fill the Earth—from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the sky. Their creation, which began as a single Something, eventually became millions and billions of Otherthings.

Time and Chance, though, where the bickering sort and were constantly feuding over which of them was the most powerful. One day they began to argue over who had been more responsible for creating Life. Everything (who was forever eavesdropping) overheard the spat and suggested that they settle by putting their creative skills to work on a new creature called Man. They all thought is was a splendid plan—for Man was a dull, hairy beast who would indeed provide a suitable challenge—and began to boast about who could create an ability, which they called Consciousness, that would allow Man to be aware of Chance, Time, Everything, and Nothing.

Chance, always a bit of a dawdler, got off to a slow start, so Time, who never rested, completed the task first. Time rushed around, filling the gooey matter inside each Man’s head with Consciousness. But as he was gloating over his victory he noticed a strange reaction. When Man saw that Everything had been created by Time, Chance, and Nothing, his Consciousness filled with Despair.

Chance immediately saw a solution to the problem and took the remaining materials she was using to make Consciousness to create Beliefs. When Chance mixed Beliefs into the gray goo, Man stopped filling with Despair and started creating Illusions. These Illusions took various forms—God, Purpose, Meaning—and were almost always effective in preventing Man from filling up with Despair.

Nothing, who tended to be rather forgetful, remembered her creation and decided to take a look around Everything. When she saw what Time and Chance had done on planet Earth she was mildly amused, but forbade them to fill any more creatures with Consciousness or Beliefs (which is why Man is the only Something that has both). But Nothing took a fancy to Man and told Time and Chance that when each one’s Life ran out, she would take him or her and make them into Nothing too.

And that is why, children, when Man loses his Life he goes from being a Something created by Time and Chance into becoming like his creator—Nothing.

Joe Carter is web editor of First Things. His previous articles for “On the Square” can be found here.