Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gospel Essence (continued)

Back to my musings on the essence of the gospel (see the previous post.) We, who believe the Bible, all agree, of course, that there is only one gospel and that is very important to “get it right” (Galatians 1:6-9.)

It may be helpful to think of the gospel in terms of its essence and the fullness. On one hand, one can distil the gospel to its essential core. We may not say it exactly the same (every time). But the essential elements would always be there. That is why Paul could write 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, a clear statement of his essential message. That complements nicely Jesus words recorded in Luke 24:45-49 (see below.)

But there is a fullness to the gospel, as well. Its truths, themes and implications are so vast that it would take a lifetime to explore. Indeed, we never master the gospel and move on (to some other truth). It is not merely the initial message for the follower of Christ, it is the only message. We are gospel people. And so, we dig deeper and deeper and become richer and richer, always growing in our understanding. For an analogy, think of a gold mine. The deeper you go, the richer you become, not because you are mining something different. Rather you are simply getting more of the same pure gold. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are more full (and narrative) presentations of the same gospel truth as Paul proclaimed. The book of Romans is all gospel truth, unpacked in its theological implications (as is Galatians and the other epistles.) Jesus enabled the disciples to see that the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms (the OT Scriptures) all spoke of him (that is, gospel truth.) The Bible, from beginning to end, is gospel truth!

While I don’t want to press this too far, I would suggest that it is our understanding of the essence of the gospel that enables us to communicate accurately, while it is our growing understanding of the fullness of the gospel that enables us to communicate relevantly. We get the message right if we understand the essence, but we can share that in a wide array of effective ways with its fullness. Thus you can tell the story of redemption (the biblical storyline), or you can explain the gospel thematically (perhaps the theme of the promise of the Spirit – Acts 2 – or using Steps to Peace with God – Billy Graham). You may share it testimonially (as the Samaritan woman) or theologically (as Paul does in Romans. Think of how many have come to faith simply reading the truths of Romans.) It remains the same essence and but the audience or communication context determines what form of presentation is most appropriate.

So what is the essence? Compare Jesus’ summary statement in Luke 24:45-49 with Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. There are common elements:
  • Who is Jesus: The Christ
  • What has he done: Died and rose again.
  • Why: Forgiveness of sins
  • How do we know: OT Scriptures and resurrection appearances
  • How are we to respond: Repentance (Luke) and Faith (Paul)
Do we find these same essential elements in our Four Gospels? Certainly. Think of Mark, for example. The first eight chapters move thematically toward the answer of “who is Jesus.” As Peter said, “You are the Christ.” From that point, it moves toward the cross and his resurrection (three predictions of his death and resurrection in chapters 8-10, followed by their fulfillment in the remaining chapters.) Mark is a narrative of who Jesus, what has done and why – the essence of the gospel.

If this is accurate, then our witness is always who is Jesus, what he has done and why. But we have an unending array of possibilities as to how we can accurately and relevantly communicate and apply this gospel.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Essence of the Gospel

Are you equipping others in evangelism? Here is an experiment for you. [I just did this with 19 seminarians in a class.] Ask them to write a statement of the essence of the gospel. (BTW – How would you state yours?] Have each one share their “essence.” Then make observations as a whole, as well as, about each individual.

What do I predict you will see?

There will be significant cultural influence in (many of) the statements of gospel essence. Many (most?) sound (predictably) like contemporary discussions of evangelism. This is not wrong in general, nor necessarily unavoidable.

There will also be a tendency toward making gospel presentations, that is, expressing the gospel as we might in our witness. This is, of course, a necessary task for the “evangelist,” but not the assignment in this case. It’s our natural tendency (reinforced by our contemporary Christian culture) to think of the gospel as a simple presentation.

While all (most?) will reflect “gospel truth,” some will sound quite different from the others. Are they communicating the same gospel? Or how is this phenomenon to be explained?

The exercise can uncover how (culturally) we understand the gospel, and how well we really grasp the essence of it.

So what is the essence of the gospel and what does it matter? Stayed tuned for my next post.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Reflections - Acts 6:1-7 & Table-waiting

In my reflections, I sense the voice of God’s Spirit, speaking softly but with increasing clarity, through these words (Acts 6:1-7) to me.

  • Table-waiting is a God-given assignment, not to be neglected or undervalued.
  • Table-waiting’s significance is linked in two effects: enables something more important to be done by others (the primacy of prayer and the ministry of the word) and the satisfaction of real needs (in this case, hunger.)
  • Table-waiting meets real needs (not just satisfying someone else’s desires and expectation.) Food is a real need. Most of us are never without an adequate supply of it. But these widows were.

A significant portion of my current “assignment” involves a table-waiting role within the body (servant-leadership). God still grants me plentiful teaching opportunities. And, with my beloved (and others), I continue to participate in the spiritual labor of prayer. But much of what I do, I do so others can do what is more important – devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.

For many years, that was my primary assignment. But for this season, I am serving (perhaps 70% of my time and speaking/teaching perhaps 30%). (BTW - contrast to apostolic ministry in 5:42 where "every day, in the temple and house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."

Am I clear on my current assignment, before the Lord? Yes, it is clear and I continue to embrace it. Is something more important being done by others because of my service? By the grace of God, yes, and the evidence is often humbling. The number of disciples (Christ-followers) appears to be increasing (and my role apparently contributes). Am I meeting real needs? Hmm… I must think more on this. Or is it, I must listen more closely? The Spirit speaks…

Monday, January 15, 2007

Spiritual Journeys - Conversations

I flew today. That's not too unusual, it about a monthly occurrence. I always wonder who I will sit next to and whether God will have a purpose in it. Sometimes they go to sleep. Sometimes we engage in conversation. Sometimes it gets significant. Today was like that.

I sat next to K., an engineer in the defense simulation industry. He is originally Muslim, from Palestine. I won't trace all the conversation. But the most profound came after discussing the five tenets of Islam, I asked him what his experience of God has been like -- He is the creator, provider, judge who watches everything, his will is always done, etc. I asked if I could share my experience - how I came to know Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord and how he has changed my life. I don't know if the light of the gospel shone through my life and words. But I know it was a delightful conversation. Since K. lives about five miles from me, its likely that we will visit again. We exchanged contact information, so the door is open.

My next conversation was with L., a gun dealer from Oregon; a member of the Latter Day Saints. We talked about his work and mine. He was intrigued by our ministry - seeing students lives transformed by Christ. I discovered the source of his interest -- his own children are his concern. They are not embracing, nor living the "faith" he has sought to teach them.

My final flight (it was a long day) I sat next to a young couple - followers of Jesus.

Three conversations. Three examples, once again, that everyone is on a spiritual journey. We don't always get to enter into that journey with others. But we can be confident, they are on a journey!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Leadership Development - "Amazing Grace" Movie

Thursday, I attended the screening of a great new Leadership Development movie - “Amazing Grace”, the life of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, of course, was the Englishman who led the fight for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire at the turn of the 18th century.

This movie is a great case study on the life of a leader – ideal for leadership development. Take a group of leaders together to view it and then sit over coffee and talk of leadership insights and lessons.
  • Explore the relationships of a leader -- relationship with God (he was a man of faith), with others and his own character.
  • Then discuss the roles of a leader – A Direction Setter: How was direction set? A Coach: How was Wilberforce a leader to those within the Abolitionist movement? A Spokesperson: How was he a spokesperson to those outside, eliciting support and alignment? A Change Agent: How did he help bring about change in society?
  • There is plenty to discuss about the responsibilities of a leader— vision-casting, aligning, motivating, and strategy formulation.
  • And, of course, the results of a leader—History has been etched with the lasting influence of this man and the movement which he led.

This is a very good movie about a great subject. It’s well done; though I’m quite sure it won’t compete for awards nor will be a box office blockbuster. But that is primarily because its subject matter won’t appeal to the masses. But if you want to be inspired by the life of a leader, it’s worth the ticket price. And, if you want to build into your leaders, it’s worth a group outing!

Other possible connections for you:

  • Integration of faith and social impact (a man of faith changing society. Hmm…Can you serve God and humankind?)
  • Social Justice (after all, this was the cutting edge of the abolition movement)
  • Spiritual journey (the title should give this away)

Both of my thumbs are up on this one. BTW - It will be in theaters later in February.

Monday, January 8, 2007

National View: Evangelistic Momentum?

Okay, I can’t help it. I could wait and investigate more. But I am so encouraged—no, excited, I’ll at least whet the appetite.

Four years ago we launched an effort to create “evangelistic momentum” on the college campuses. That initiative involved five areas of intentional focus:
  • Aligning and providing resources for leaders
  • Creating a learning culture focused on evangelism today
  • Innovation and resource development
  • Solving systemic problems
  • Leading national evangelism initiatives

Like an avalanche, we knew it must begin with slow, even imperceptible motion, but movement in the right direction. I said we should begin to see tangible results in the second or third year (that was last year.) While we had seen progress in setting the stage and on certain fronts, there still wasn’t tangible evidence of trueevangelistic momentum. That is, until today.

We have work to do to get to the hard facts, but if what I saw today could be the early evidence that momentum is building.

Stay tuned. More to come.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Reflecting on Jesus at Work


Just read Mark 7:37 – They said of Jesus, “He has done all things well.” The people, of course, were “astonished” by what Jesus had done – healing a deaf man. And this was in the region of Decapolis where he had previously delivered the man from a “legion” of demons. That story had also caused people there to marvel (Mark 5:20). As people saw Jesus in action, compassionately meeting needs and transforming individual realities, people recognized, “he has done all things well.”

I am three plus decades into my journey of following Jesus. As far as I know, he has not enabled me to do same astonishing works of power. At least that has not been my experience. But he has “created me… for good works which he prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). I have had opportunities to compassionately meet need and see lives transformed.

And he is at work in and through me as I do. While not an apostle, I should seek to follow Paul’s model and “not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring (others) to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 5:18).

So, my question for myself this morning (and you can reflect on your own experience), as others see me serving in ministry, do they see Jesus at work, the one who “has done all things well”?

Saturday, January 6, 2007

From the Lab - Soularium

This week, our Research and Development team was synthesizing the feedback from a new tool designed to facilitate significant spiritual conversations for evangelism. Soularium is “A Dialogue in Pictures.”

The product of an Art & Evangelism initiative, Soularium was conceived in Western Europe, evolved in campus ministry projects in NYC over the last two summers, and is now being developed for broad use nationally and internationally. Fifty photographic images are used in response to 5 dialogue questions. The field test involved over 25 campus ministry locations in the US and internationally.

So how was the response? The field testers were enthusiastic, ranging from positive to extremely positive. One commented that this was the best evangelistic tool since the Four Spiritual Laws. (Actually it isn’t an evangelistic tool – it’s a pre-evangelistic conversational tool.) But they enjoyed using it for conversation with others and the others enjoyed having it used with them. Most conversations were laden with gospel connections. But one need was exposed – the need for believers to be equipped in how to make the most of the conversational connections to the gospel that arose.

Now Soularium goes into the final stage of development, refinements based on the feedback of the users. Keep in your eyes open. It should be available in March, 2007.