Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Harry Potter and Spirituality

I just finished reading the 7th Harry Potter book. I know I'm a little late on the scene, but what an amazing piece of literature. Good writing makes you feel like you're there, and the Harry Potter series definitely succeeds at that. I started reading because I was watching too much tv, and I wanted something more productive for relaxation. I actually feel really good after reading the series, kind of encouraged in my spiritual walk. Maybe that sounds strange, but I think just about anything can bring you closer to God if you approach it right.

I guess there's been a lot of religious debate over the series, since it uses words like "magic" and "witchcraft." However, if you've read the books you know that the kind of witchcraft presented is not near the kind the Bible is against. It's not about some kind of religion, but fantasy. In that way it's no different from Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, both authors being professed Christians. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, also claims to be a practicing Christian, and some Christian themes come out especially in the last book.

I got several things out of the series. First, I love the picture of Dumbledore in the books. He is the representation of wisdom and good, who eventually dies on purpose in order to help extinguish evil (sound familiar?). Like the lion Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia, the fictional character has two characteristics that paint, in some ways, a representation of God's nature. First he is strong and wise, his power demanding respect from everyone he encounters, even from the most vile characters in the book. But he is also a loving character, well-liked. He takes special interest in Harry, later on showing much trust in him and being open with his affections. God also carries these two qualities seamlessly: love and power. He demands respect by His power, creating worlds by mere words. But we also see Him hugging lepers, and letting people beat, mock, and belittle Him in order to save mankind. I love this about God, that He is supreme and approachable both.

I also love that in the book, the main characters are some of the most unlikely to do great things. Harry is an orphan who was treated badly by his aunt and uncle, and he doesn't show particular talent in most areas. He seems to be an unassuming teenager struggling with identity and relationships and other things that most people can relate to. But this concept (the unassuming becoming heroes and saving people) was not thought up by Rowling first. God has always worked that way. The Old Testament is full of such stories. I think immediately of Gideon, very young and from an obscure family. He goes on to lead Israel in victorious battles. I think of Amos, a seemingly random farmer and shepherd from the country, whom God uses to confront a nation. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty." Most people love the idea of weak people doing great things, but I believe that's because God wrote it into us to love it, because that's how He works.

And finally, I love the idea of another world, an enchanting and magical world. This alone, I think, has made the world of Harry Potter so alluring and interesting to millions of readers. People love the idea of other worlds, whether it be the idea of aliens and other planets or from pure fiction. The Lord of the Rings and many other fantasy stories are enchanting, because they appeal to a part of our soul that God made to feel wonder and be curious about something beyond what we are experiencing. C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." And, of course, we were. This world is not meant to be the end. Mankind was made to be with God, to live on in eternity. God built in us that desire, which excites us even on a fictional level. If authors can think up such interesting and engaging worlds by their own imagination, imagine what the real world will be like thought up by the God who created imagination itself?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Less Theologians, More Disciples

I've been thinking for quite some time about this topic. What is it God wants me to be? What exactly is a Christian? What should my goals be? What makes someone great in the Kingdom of God? What makes someone a "mature" Christian?

Our religious world is eaten up with study. We love it. The Evangelical world today is a largely academic one. We have degrees in theological studies, Biblical studies, divinity, and loads of others. Even much of what we do when we gather together is sit and learn. We listen to someone speak on Sundays and we sit in classes. We are encouraged to "study" our Bibles.

I'm not saying all this is evil. I am saying that religious academics don't necessarily produce better Christians. In many cases it may actually create worse ones.
It's amazing how much we love learning but hate doing.

I go to an official Bible school, and when I'm finished I will receive a bachelor's in Biblical studies (which I am grateful for). But with an academic approach to the Scriptures comes certain tendencies of thinking. I once heard a fellow student say, "I wonder what I need to study and how much I need to know before I become a great theologian." I've wondered a lot since then how God felt about that statement. I'm sure this person had good intentions and today wouldn't say that again, but I couldn't help but feel bothered by that statement. "I want to become a theologian. I want to have all the right answers." That was his goal. What does God want me to want? To know as much religiously as possible? Or to become as much like Jesus as possible?

Society today holds academic achievement in the highest regard. Some parents will absolutely lose it if their children even consider not going to college. But academic achievement means nothing in the Kingdom of God. In His Kingdom we are to be like little children who only want to make our Father happy. We need not understand His commands because we are too concerned with obeying them. It's amazing to me how Churches' requirements for ministry positions are religious degrees, and on top of that they pay them more the more they know. Does having more degrees make you a better minister? I'm not saying it doesn't, I'm just not saying it does. The fact that I could be a complete scoundrel but have a doctorate in divinity should tell me something about credentials in the Kingdom of Christ.

I know that there is a certain amount of academics needed in Christianity. But we are called to be followers of Jesus, not scholars of Him. While knowledge and study may better equip and stimulate our obedience, it's still a means to an end. The end is to be a devoted and loving follower of Jesus Christ. Knowing Him and His commands make that clearer, but they aren't the thing itself. There are far too many of us who know plenty about God, but know Him personally no more than we could personally know a textbook.

Filled minds do not produce spirituality.

Knowledge is a dangerous thing when it comes to God. It killed the Pharisees, and it's killing us. It's a strange thing, isn't it? To make ourselves somehow superior by having knowledge we received but did not create. Anything I know about God or His Bible I know because He let me know it. How can I feel arrogant or more mature because I learned something? The essence of learning is submitting yourself to something higher than yourself. You are taking in something that you did not make.

My primary goal in life is to be a devoted follower of Jesus in every aspect of my life. I want to have His priorities, His heart, His way of thinking, the identity He wants me to have, and everything else in my life that needs to be affected by Him. Good theology creates that. But if my study isn't increasing my discipleship to Jesus, why am I doing it?

I am convinced that the Church needs more disciples, and less theologians. Jesus' final call was to go into all the world and make more disciples. Good disciples may make good theologians, but good theologians don't always make good disciples.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I've been thinking about holiness a lot lately. The word literally just means to be different. Christians are to be different, separate in quality, from the way this world is run.

Have you noticed how we tend to mark our spirituality or holiness by how we are in comparison to other people? Even non-Christians do this. If you start talking about God, Jesus, and sin people tend to have this common response: "Well I haven't killed anyone. I'm a decent person, and I try to do the right thing" as if them "trying to do the right thing" should merit entrance to Heaven.

It really is a silly idea when you think about it. In response to utter perfection, the God of the entire Universe, the One who gave us a mind to think about right and wrong at all, we have told Him that we actually have something to offer Him. It's like letting someone borrow 20 bucks and them getting all excited, thinking they've earned it. Then, after they've paid you back, wanting some kind of congratulations or gratitude because they gave you what was yours in the first place.

But we can't even give God a cent back. We use the verse a lot that says "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But I'm not sure we always realize how big a deal this really is. God created us to love Him, obey Him, and stay in fellowship with Him. But every time we sin we tell Him, "I really don't like your way right now. My way is better." The very fact that God forgives any of us at all is a testament to His unlimited love and grace. To say we don't deserve forgiveness is a gross understatement.

When you understand how big of a deal sin is, you understand just how amazing grace is. Religion is doing good works to earn merit, but that's not Christianity. We're all totally lost and in the same boat, but Jesus came to bring us all forgiveness. There is no such thing as a good person outside of Christ.

Moving on to Christians, I tend to still think the way the world does about this. As long as I'm more active or faithful than the person next to me, I'm doing good. And if I have higher moral standards than the world around me, I'm doing really well. But God didn't just call me to become better, but new altogether.

This world has been completely ruined by sin. Our way of thinking and doing life is completely flawed. So, when we come into Christ, it is not an improvement He's after but an utter renewal. It is a complete tearing down of the ruin, and a rebuilding of what we were meant to be in the first place.

I wish I thought this way all the time. I'm amazed at some of the movies we allow ourselves to watch as Christians, or the amount of time we just completely waste on ourselves. We even have one holiday a year when (in the name of Jesus) we spend large quantities of money on an overflow of materialism. There's a load of other things that we accept as good in our culture that trickles into our standards as Christians.

Are we comparing ourselves to God, or to the world around us?

I mean, just think about one area alone. How much do we laugh at sin? Tons of TV shows (that are completely culturally acceptable) lay waste to God's name and proudly glorify sin as a source for laughter and entertainment.

How do we expect to save people from a devil's Hell when we laugh at the very things that send them there?

I'm not trying to be legalistic here. I'm not saying we need to be mean Christian nazis who constantly look down on others for their standards and actions. But we do need to look inwardly. What are we honestly basing our standards on? What in the Bible have we completely overlooked and excused away because we just don't want to deal with it?

Renewal isn't an easy thing, especially in our pleasure-centered culture. America is all about you. You deserve happiness. You deserve lots of money and a comfortable job. You deserve retirement. You deserve a pretty spouse, and if they aren't pleasing you, you deserve to get a new one. Life is about you.

But this stands in complete contradiction to the Bible. Life isn't about us. It's about God. We're not even close to being the point. The Bible is not about people being saved. It's about God's name being glorified, and He is good. He is the point of life, and we are so privileged to enter into Him, to be friends with Him.

What in our lives is comfortable, but not holy? In what way have we been comparing ourselves to others, instead of looking up? What does pursuing holiness look like in our culture? If we're trying to be like Jesus, what needs to be removed from our lives? What do we need to be practicing?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Intentional Mentoring - Part 3

How To Mark Your Mentoree's Spiritual Progress

This is the final of my three-part post on intentional mentoring. This is in no way exhaustive, but I do hope it gives you some tools and thoughts in how to disciple another person.

When you're mentoring someone it can be difficult to know if they're growing or not, and if you're doing a good job. There's four main things I try to keep in mind to encourage in them. I try to encourage these things in whatever context I'm with them in: relaxation, Bible study, service, or ordinary life.

1. Understanding - This may be the most important. When I'm mentoring someone I need to make sure they're understanding the things of God. Do they really get what the Gospel is about and how it applies to them? Do they understand who God is? Do they understand what it looks like to live for Christ? Do they see what God is doing in this world, and how they're a piece in that puzzle? Do they have a clear understanding of the Bible? If the answer to any of these are no, I know what to focus on in our studies.

2. Action - Once someone understands the concepts of the Bible, it's vitally important to make sure they're living lives that reflect this understanding. Are they serving others? Are they kind in speech? Do they love other people? Do they genuinely care for how other people are doing? Do they hold lives of integrity based on their love for Jesus? Are they praying and reading their Bible on their own? Are they sharing their faith with others? Are they taking the things we're studying and trying to match their lives with it? What am I doing as a mentor to encourage them to live like Christ practically? Am I modeling this? If the answer to any of these is no, then I have something to talk to them about. I may even have to specifically show them what living like Christ looks like (like, "hey follow me, watch as I genuinely listen to what this person has to say before I answer them.")

3. Desire -
I also want to make sure that this person is not just understanding the facts about God and applying them, but that it also reaches their heart. This is a real intangible one, and can be really difficult to know how to encourage. Some people just aren't emotional people, and that doesn't make them less spiritual. But do they have a deep desire and conviction to love God and please Him? Is my teaching and example stimulating this desire or choking it? When they are excited about something about God (even if you find it immature or incorrect) try to encourage their excitement. Zeal is a good thing, because you can then direct it at falling in love with Jesus and living committed to Him.

4. Following your example - I want to see that someone I'm mentoring is actually trying to follow my example. If they're not, I have to ask myself what kind of example I am leading. Can I really tell them like Paul did, "imitate me as I imitate Christ"? This can look like a lot of different things. One of the guys I was mentoring started to take on my teaching style, and it would have been really easy for me to poke fun at him for not being original or something. But instead I rejoiced that he looked up to me enough that he wanted to be like me. Mentoring is trying to bring someone closer to Jesus as you're trying to get closer to Jesus, so it's good if they're trying to be where you are.

I hope these things help stimulate some thought about discipleship for you. I'd love to hear any of your thoughts if you're willing to share them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Program-based to Discipleship-focused

Paul asked me to share my opinion about how a youth ministry could transition from being program-based to being discipleship-focused. Let me first say that my ideas are completely theoretical since I have almost no full-time ministry experience in the States. So take it for what it's worth.

First of all, I would like to define terms a little better. I think it should actually be program-focused to people-focused. Because here's the deal: with programs you're successful as long as (a) you have lots of programs and (b) people are showing up. But when you're focused on people, your ministry is only successful if people are becoming more like Jesus.

In most current models, you can come to church and be "involved" all your life and never experience any actual spiritual growth at all. And worst of all, no one will even notice. One Sunday night in a large congregation I ended up talking to an elderly woman who had been coming all her life. When I mentioned I might like to go to Mexico to do mission work she said something like, "all those people want is your money." Here was a woman who came to church all her life but hadn't made it past step 1 of the Gospel. She was still racist for goodness' sake! Something's wrong with what we're doing if you can call a ministry successful when a large majority remain untransformed by the Gospel.

Moving on to youth ministry, you may not like my ideas. Anyway, here's my four steps for transitioning.

  1. Get everyone on board. You can't press forward with anything in a church until the congregation understands what's going on and why. Spend some time teaching and preaching about the nature of the church, as well as the problems with what we've turned church structure into. Explain that the church is a family, and that quality matters more than quantity. Then explain that in light of these facts we will have to change (ow, the church cuss word) the structure to make our church more like what God wants.
  2. Integrate the ages. Separating people by race has been somewhat abolished (we still have white and black churches) but we have completely segregated churches by age. Youth are basically in their own church, and we have classes divided up into 20s, 30s, young marrieds, 40s and so on. In our culture youth are raising themselves with almost no adult influence whatsoever. What should be the solution? Kill the youth ministry. It's not healthy. Stop separating everyone by age and move people together. The Church is a family, but we don't act like one, and neither do we gather like one. Classes, small groups, and fun activities should be mixing ages and not segregating them.
  3. Impress on parents their responsibility for their childrens' spiritual growth, then give them the tools to do it. In our culture we have handed off virtually every aspect of parenting to "trained professionals." Right or wrong, when it comes to education on science, history, English, math, and so on we have brought them to a school for other people to do it. We teach them sports by enrolling them in leagues. And we train them in spirituality by handing them off to youth ministers. But God has given that role to parents. Regardless of what we do with science and sports, It is the parents' responsibility to impart the glory of God to their children. Parents are the youth ministers in God's eyes, regardless of what we have paid other people to do. However, in my experience many parents are clueless in how to parent their children, let alone disciple them. They need to be trained in godly parenting and discipleship.
  4. Facilitate times when the older are with the younger in smaller numbers. Though parents have the primary responsibility of imparting the glory of God to their children, some people don't have godly parents. The Church can be that family, full of acceptance and an adopting spirit. I am so thankful that people have adopted me in the faith, welcoming me to their homes and sharing their lives with me. We should facilitate times where the older can impart their wisdom, transparent faith, and lives to the younger. This doesn't mean that the older are perfect, just more experienced. Whether its Life Transformation Groups, small groups, or assigned mentors, this should be pursued. You are hindered in growing in your faith if you're never around those with more maturity than yourself.

Our culture has failed miserably at the older imparting wisdom to the younger. For example, my dad has built houses all his life. He can build a house from the ground up, and in fact he's done it many times. But guess what? I couldn't build a house to save my life. I didn't learn building homes by osmosis, like just being around my dad would make me a skilled builder. I have to be taught. So you know what? His building skills will likely die with him. They won't continue because he hasn't passed them down.

What about handing down living for Christ? We have done exactly the same thing. We have largely focused on our private spiritual growth, but we must be concerned about the next generation. Have we learned nothing from Israel? How could a generation rise up that "did not know the LORD" so quickly? The people of God did not pass down and invest in the next generation, and we are doing exactly the same thing today. The worst part is that our own church structure actually promotes this.

Youth go on camps, have devotionals, classes and everything else with almost no adults present. There are some adults who go along with these things, but in my experience these are usually the ones who never grew up anyway. They're trying to "relate" to the kids, and so are not helping them mature at all. They're just gaining from the kids' immaturity.

We need godly men and women who will invest time in their own children first: training them to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And we need churches that don't just focus on evangelizing the outside, but making real Christians of the people who are already there. We need churches that adopt their own in the faith with all the love and adoption the Gospel creates.

"We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." - Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Intentional Mentoring - Part 2

Finding Someone to Disciple/Mentor

In Luke 8 Jesus tells a story about soils. A man throws out seed which falls on the various soils, some on the path and were taken up by birds, some on a rock that died without root or moisture, some fell among thorns and the plant choked and died. Then there was the seed that landed on good soil and yielded crop a hundredfold what was put into it.

Now, in this story the seed is the Word of God. And the different soils are the hearts of men. Some have bad hearts, which will either reject God's Word altogether or hold onto it for a little while before getting distracted, bored, or overwhelmed with the world. So there's bad hearts that won't accept the Word of God, but some... some will accept it and put out a hundredfold what you put into it.

Which one do you think is the best candidate for you to mentor?

I want to share with you how I go about looking for the good soil that is worth investing time into.

The first thing to do is to start praying that God leads you to someone with a good heart whom you can influence. A good heart doesn't equal a good person. In fact, people who have a lot of visible sin in their lives sometimes have great hearts. They don't pretend like the most of us have learned to do. A good heart is just one that deep down wants to change, and who will accept God's Word when it's presented in a way that makes sense to them.

These are the two primary things I'm looking for when looking for someone to mentor:
  • Interest in Spirituality - Notice again from John 4 that Jesus brought up something spiritual, and the woman at the well responded with spiritual questions. I use this same method when feeling people out to see who might be receptive. Bring up spiritual things (not forced) often and see who responds. This is my way of throwing out the seed to see what happens. Even if at first they don't respond, keep praying and talking about God-things. For example, for someone I'm mentoring now, I taught class and he came up to me afterwards wanting to talk about atheism. It wasn't an in-depth discussion by any means, but it showed me he had spiritual interest.
  • Interest in You - It doesn't really matter if someone is interested in spiritual things but they're not interested in you. If they don't trust and respect you, they'll likely not want to meet with you, nor will they listen to what you have to say about life. There's lots of ways you can connect with people, though. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul talks about "becoming all things to all men." Study that passage. You can connect to others without giving up your identity, integrity, or convictions. For example, one of the guys I'm mentoring now was obviously looking for a role model. He likes converse, and when he saw my converse glasses he thought they were the coolest thing in the world. Well, I used that. That was an entrance into a growing friendship with him. We were friends before we ever studied together.
You really need both of these to mentor someone. The bottom line is that you can't disciple someone who doesn't want to be discipled. If someone is interested in the spiritual but you two don't connect, you're going to have a really hard time mentoring them. Become friends first, no matter how long it takes. If they're interested in you but not the spiritual, use that. Be transparent about your walk with Jesus and spiritual thoughts. Eventually they will either lose interest in you, or you'll influence them to start thinking about important things in life.

Let me just add that at this point I'm usually not concerned with if someone's a "Christian" or not. Most "Christians" don't read their Bibles or think spiritually anyway. Just focus on their heart and you can help them along to Christ, wherever they are in relation to Him. It's easy if you're looking for it.

Once you've found someone you think God has led to you, invite them out to coffee, dinner, or to your home. I'll often ask about their lives and share some about my own, and especially what led to me becoming a Christian. Then I'll ask if they'd like to start meeting (weekly or every other week) and studying the Bible together. Sometimes they're not ready for that. Not a problem. Just keep praying that their heart will be opened, and keep trying to influence them for Christ.

A general rule for me is that I only mentor guys who are younger than me. There's just too many problems in mentoring a female, namely the high risk of her building an unhealthy attachment to me. You can usually find a godly woman who will mentor a girl anyway.

These are just the basics I know, but hopefully this will help give you an idea of some things to keep in mind when looking for someone to mentor.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Intentional Mentoring - Part 1

I've been greatly affected by godly mentors in my life, men who have invested real time, emotion, and insight into my life. But if you're like me, you might feel like "mentoring" sounds exciting but vague. How do I intentionally mentor another person in the faith? I wasn't taught how, and I'm certainly not well-experienced in it. Yet, I have learned some very important principles in my own limited experience. I've mostly gotten these principles from 1 Timothy 4:16 which says,

"Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers."

The two main ways we influence other people is through teaching and example. These are the four ways I try to put this verse into practice as a mentor:

1. Fun and Relaxation Time - It's important when mentoring someone to have time where you can just relax and have fun in everyday settings, doing things like: playing video games, going out to eat, hanging out, going to the park, spending time with your family, fishing, or whatever else you like to do for fun. This is important for two reasons: (1) It's important that people don't feel like they're projects. When you're just hanging out they'll feel more like friends and less like a student. They'll know they really matter to you. (2) It's important that people see how you, as a Christ-follower, live in ordinary life. They can see how you react to tough situations, treat other people, have fun, and even fail as a Christian.
  • Example: Before having a Bible study I like to do something fun with someone I'm mentoring like throw a football around, go see a movie, or just hang out around my other spiritual friends.

2. Structured Bible Study -
One-on-one Bible studies might be the most effective of all of these principles. The Word is extremely powerful, and by ourselves we are completely unable to transform the lives of others. But the Word working through us can, as well as it exampled in our lives. I tend to start by going through an overall context of the New Testament, next to God's overall plan in the Gospel, and then on to how to become a Christian. After that, it really depends on where that person is in their faith. But I try to make this a weekly event, even if the other three aspects can't always be there.
  • Example: Each week I try to get together at my house with the person I mentor for coffee and Bible study. Sometime I buy them a Bible, and we walk through it together taking notes and having interactive discussion.

3. Spiritual Conversations - I got this concept from John 4 with Jesus and the woman at the well. When he brought the conversation to the spiritual, she brought out a flurry of spiritual questions she had probably always wanted to ask. He simply gave her a context to ask them. Jesus also did this with His disciples, always using everyday situations as excuses to relate spiritual lessons to them. Much of ministry (in my experience) is the art of asking spiritual questions. You can always bring the conversation to the spiritual if you're genuine and do it on purpose. This doesn't have to be some weird gimmick or trick, but instead an honest effort to be focused on Christ in everyday life.
  • Example: I like to ask questions like: Is it hard being a Chrisian at school? Do you have many Christian friends? How do you think Jesus would act if He were in your shoes? Do you pray much? Had any hard times lately? Questions like this usually lead to spiritual conversation where I can give some kind of advice from something God has taught me in my life.

4. Belief in Potential -
If you're male, I highly suggest reading Wild at Heart. The author talks about how particularly men get their independence, identity, and courage from older men. Most men don't realize this, so they tend to cut down and make fun of younger men, which is debilitating for life. But mentors don't do this. They intentionally build up their mentoree instead of cutting them down, even if they're just messing around. They constantly point out situations where they believe in their potential to do something well. They also say out loud that they believe in them, and they always congratulate spiritual progress.
  • Example: I try hard not to sarcastically cut down people, but especially someone I'm mentoring. Even when they do something stupid or mean (that I may have to confront) I always follow up with "but I still think you're a good guy, this isn't like you." Always be encouraging about successes, but don't cut them down for their failures.

Of course, these are just the principles I try to focus on. But if you're passionate about helping others grow in Christ you'll probably do these things whether you realize it or not. The hardest part about all of this is time. We all have such hectic schedules I know, but it's a matter of priority. Are you willing to adopt one or two younger Christians and help them along in the faith? Jesus did it with twelve, but even if you focus on one you're doing more than most Christians are willing to do.

The main thing assumed in all of this is love. People can tell when they're just projects. But when you really love them, they'll feel inspired to do absolutely anything. I love it when Paul writes, "we were well pleased to impart to you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had becomes so dear to us." Isn't that beautiful? Paul didn't view people as programs or projects, but as dear friends. The most effective mentor is the one who genuinely cares for his mentoree.

This is part one, but the next two posts will be on how to find someone to mentor and how to mark your mentoree's spiritual progress.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Principle of Ministry #2: Real loves tells the truth.

I heard of a church once that made a list called "100 ways to reach your neighbor." They had many things listed like: make a pie for your neighbor, invite someone over for dinner, or rake your neighbor's leaves for them.

All of them were good, but you know what was never mentioned? Telling them about Jesus. It wasn't on there. "Study the Bible with your neighbor" didn't make the list.

I was talking to a Christian recently who was doing homeless ministry. She loved going there and loving the less fortunate, giving them food, praying with them, and caring about their problems... but she felt something was missing. She said, "I'm glad they can see a difference in me from the world. But they still don't know the reason for that difference. They're content knowing I'm a really kind person."

Because of arrogant Christianity, I'm afraid some of us have swung to the other end. Instead of teaching people, we've opted to "teach with our life" instead. But we can't have one without the other. We can't be hypocrites with our lives, but we can't make it about us either. A gospel that simply makes me look really good is no gospel at all. It's not about us. There's a reason for our good deeds: God has saved us! And, friend, He can save you too.

I gave some advice to this girl doing the homeless ministry. I told her, "It's amazing what you're doing there, but you're doing no favor by letting someone go to Hell unwarned. You have to, maybe with tears in your eyes, tell him the truth. It's good news, but he may not see it that way at first."

And so, it's true with all of us. Being kind isn't enough. Notice Jesus. He loved people so intensely, but it's precisely because of this love that he risked the relationship and told the truth. Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as sin. And we do no favors by letting someone drown in it. Being kind is only halfway; we must risk our friendship with others if it means saving their lives.

This goes with Christians and non-Christians both.

Aren't we glad Christ didn't leave us in blissful ignorance? I am so happy He didn't leave me as I was, but led others to me to confront my reason for existence.

The world is asleep in sin. God has called His followers to go around and wake them up. With kindness and love, yes, but some people don't like being woken up. Nevertheless, our calling is still to awaken the sleeping.

May we have the love of God so deeply rooted within us that it overflows into everything we do. May we love someone enough to tell them the truth, regardless of what it does to our relationship with them, because we love them too much to see them drown.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Random Principle of Ministry #1

Your relationship with God must come before other people's relationships with God.

Paul, who wrote half the New Testament, was deeply concerned about being "disqualified for the prize." This man preached to many and wrote Scripture, yet he knew how fragile he was. Preaching to others does not guarantee right standing before God. It's easy to get so wrapped up in "ministry" that it becomes more about the ministry than the God who makes it all possible.

It doesn't matter what we say about God if we never talk to Him.

I've noticed when I give real, emotional time in prayer to God, offering myself to Him, I have much strength to minister to others. But when I stop praying, feeling like I've "got it all together" I start to fade in passion and zeal. It's so easy to get caught up in what's going around us that we forget the invisible. We give so much attention to our lives, yet we neglect our relationship with the Father, the only part that really matters.

Whatever you need to do to nourish your soul, do it. Pray, really meditate on Scripture, read Christian books, have spiritual conversations, go by yourself in the wilderness, whatever. Sometimes taking a day off for a real Sabbath is healthy for the soul. And it's productive.

What will it matter if we convert the whole world, but everybody gets to Heaven but us?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is there such a thing as a "professional" Christian?

Are all Christians ministers, or just some?

What is ministry?

Share your thoughts, please.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Mere Christianity" - A Synopsis

This is the first Christian book I read after really deciding to follow Jesus. I remember walking through Hastings and how shocked I was to see that C.S. Lewis had written a Christian book. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, so I had to see what it was about. I must admit the first time I read it, it took me several months to get through it. But it was enthralling. This book, far more than any other besides the Bible, has greatly influenced my outlook on life. If you have not read this great piece of literature I highly suggest that you do.

Most of this book is just talks that Lewis gave over the radio, especially to troops. In it he sets out to "explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." He does so masterfully. While intellectual, this book explains the heart of Christianity in non-theological terms. Using metaphors throughout, C.S. Lewis uses real life experiences we already understand to help us understand Christianity. It is simple, or "mere," Christianity. It is divided into four parts:

This first section has helped me more than anything else in believing there is a God, and that He is Good. Scores of books are written to "prove" God with science (i.e. intelligent design). While creation does point to a Creator, this method only works effectively if you are a scientist. If you are not, you really have to go on what other people have told you about it.

But Lewis works on a different premise. Why do we all feel there is such a thing as 'right' and 'wrong,' even if we disagree on what it looks like? If one of our friends punched us in the face we would be angry. Why? Because friends don't punch each other. But why do we have that idea within us? Why do we have this idea that people ought to act a certain way and not in another? And why is it not just in our society, but everywhere? We didn't put it there, so Lewis reasons that something else, something greater than us, must have.

And if that Greater Something put this idea of right and wrong in us, it must be on the 'right' side of things. That is, it must be 'good' because it is the one that gave us the idea that some things are 'good' and some are not. Something good would reveal itself to us, not just leaving us here to figure it all out. And this Good Something has. It is God. Lewis then reasons that the most probable explanation must be Christianity, because it is the only answer that really makes sense.

Here Lewis goes through the process of examining atheism along with different conceptions of God. He goes on to say that atheism is too simple. Many atheists' main reason for their belief is that the world is too unjust for a god to have made it. But what gave man the idea of just and unjust? So atheists argue that God, who gave them the very idea of right and wrong, does not exist because the world is too wrong. This may be an accusation against God, but He is the one who gave them that idea in the first place.

Another idea about God is that everything lovely and beautiful is "God" in some sense, so as long as we are all living good lives we are living true religion. But this is a candy religion. It is all rewards and requires nothing. After dealing with even more views Lewis says that the final view is the "Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been."

And finally he goes on to explain the Gospel, the heart of who this Jesus is and why He came. He writes, "The perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man. Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures."

This is a great section in which Lewis explains the implications of God. He deals with some basics of morality like: faith, forgiveness, love, hope, sexual morality etc. I think up to this point in my life (before I read this section) morality seemed like such a cut and dry, boring thing. In Bible classes I mostly heard these terms defined, sometimes applied, but almost never why we should choose one over another.

Lewis' classic view of morality is this. God made us to live a certain way, and only living this way will bring us happiness, contentment, and meaning. The human machine is meant to run on God. Anything else that is put into it will eventually make the machine sputter out and die, even if at first it seems to do better.

He also explains it like taking a dog for a walk. If the dog gets caught on the other side of a pole, it will likely keep trying to push forward. If you try to pull the dog back around the pole it will think you don't want it to go forward, when really pulling back for the moment gets it around the pole, and further than it could possibly go with the leash in the way. This is sort of how morality works. No denial of a sin is fun at the moment (lust, greed, lying etc.) but in the end God is just trying to pull us around the pole to get us where we wanted to go in the first place: everlasting joy.

This is definitely my favorite chapter, and contains my favorite chapter in all books: Nice People or New Men. Many have the idea that religion is all about becoming nicer and giving God His due. Or that Jesus had some good social teachings and if we all just took His advice we'd be a better society. But that's not what God's after. Those are all by-products only. We have been self-polluted by sin, and it's only by becoming something completely new that we can be made whole again.

Lewis gets into a lot of theology, but from a very practical and reverent perspective. "The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." He has already done the work for us; we have only but to accept it. Here Lewis explains that we're all very much like tin soldiers. If you were to try to explain to a tin soldier (if it could speak) about what real people are like, and that it could become one, it might not much like the idea. It would be a long, painful process of veins coming in with bones and everything else. It might be quite unpleasant. But if he would just let it happen, he would experience something far greater than he could ever have imagined as being a mere tin soldier.

We are all in the same place, even though we tend to rank people. We tend to look at some people as more evil than others. But we're all tin soldiers without Christ. It's only through the Gospel that we become real people, sons of God. He then writes, "A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world - and might even be more difficult to save."

In conclusion Lewis explains that the seed of real life was started in Christ, and that we merely need to accept it to start transforming into a creature with a nature like God's. We are born spiritual babies through Him, but if we keep walking and trusting we will eventually become just like Him, though likely in the life after this one.


Of course I just skimmed the top of this wonderful book. If you want more detail I suggest reading it. I think I have read this book at least once a year since I gave my life to Christ. No book seems to stir me like this one does. Here Lewis talks about Christianity likes it's both real and poetic, like it's inspiring yet intensely practical. I love that.

He's a bit like Shakespeare. If you read Lewis enough you start to think like him, just like I've found myself thinking a little in Old English if I read Shakespeare very much. Once you're in his own version of the English language, his writing is like a refreshing glass of cold water. It is as if he knows real English, and that you've been taught a plastic version all your life. Writing like that about something as grand as Christianity, the reason for existence, really helps make Christianity seem a bit like that as well: the only life that really makes sense.

If any of you have read the book I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

What's your favorite Christian book, and why?