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Written by: C. W. Booth

March 5, 2007

Hereís Mud in Your Eye

Many of the expressions we use today have a known modern meaning, we just forget where they originated. For example, "Hereís mud in your eye," is a glib, if not popular, toast when drinking alcohol. It means, "To your health," or, "May you be healed of whatever bothers you." That expression is derived from John 9:6. Jesus made a salve of mud from the soil and His own spittle and then applied it to the blind manís eyes, causing his eyes to be healed.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans," likely has its roots in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. "All things to all men" is essentially a quote from 1 Corinthians 9:22. Today these expressions are often twisted to excuse acting silly, or worse, but Paul simply meant that he adheres to the culture and laws of the land (where they do not conflict with the commands of Christ--Romans 6:15) so as to be winsome with the gospel to everyone. In other words, he would give up his own comfortable human traditions and adopt those of his host country to "fit in" for their sakes, and to not be seen as offensive.

This whole topic of adjusting the American church to postmodern culture is often lumped into 1 Corinthians 9 with the blanket assumption that the church will become irrelevant unless it conducts church as the pagan culture directs. This is specious reasoning. Paul conformed his own personal habits to the culture of the land, however, he forbade the church to do the same during worship. In 1 Corinthians 14 he outlines how worship is to be non-chaotic and purposeful, with the goal of edifying (instructing) the saints. If unbelievers do attend the service, he says, the convicting power of the words exposing their sin will drive them to their knees in repentance. That is the only accommodation to seekers which Paul commended. Drive seekers to their knees by helping them understand their sin.

Virtually the entire book of Romans is dedicated to this principle: the Gentiles can be and are saved in the same manner as the Jews are saved, but they must live in holiness even within their culture. Salvation from sin is relevant in all cultures, as is sanctification. To be sure, the Lord does not care what kind of building we choose to meet in, nor what hours we set for teaching, singing, and praise. But He is concerned that when we meet, we teach the sinner to be saved, we encourage the saints to avoid sin, and admonish false teachers to stop their deceptions. No degree of cultural sensitivity can overrule Christ. He alone controls how large His church will become--there is no need or warrant for us to cram it full of unbelievers in the hopes, that if we entertain them long enough with culturally popular singing and lighthearted fables designed to make the masses chuckle, that they will see the error of their ways.

The unsaved in this American culture will see their need for a Savior when they see their sin displayed before them. Not seeker sensitive enough? Neither was putting spit and mud on someone's eye, yet it was a blessing all the same. Well, hereís mud in your eye.


March 7, 2007

Amazing Grace -- One Christianís Movie Review

Many decades before Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the USA via presidential edict, England was brought to the point of social outrage and shame such that their parliament voted to abolish the slave trade throughout the empire. One of the drivers behind Englandís progressive moral stance was William Wilberforce, the subject of the movie, Amazing Grace.

This stunningly articulate and realistic film is a joy to watch and to feel--it is simultaneously inspiring and tear-evoking. Casting is superb in every part, from servant to the main character, whom some will note also played the lead character in the mini-series, "Horatio Hornblower." Direction is impeccable, keeping the story moving smoothly. The writing is believable, and in spite of the sober topic of the whole, has moments of humor that strike true. Visually, the look of the film is excellent; the cinematography is obviously subdued so as to not compete for attention with the story. It does a wonderful job transporting the audience back to the 1800ís.

Even better, this movie does an elegant job telling its story. William Wilberforce was a politician who found faith in God, which led to his subsequent passion for ending the slave trade, which was but one among several of his sociopolitical "campaigns." A twin theme of "never surrender" and "itís never too late to serve God" can be seen woven throughout the film.

This is not an evangelistic film, and the gospel is more alluded to than spoken. Nonetheless, the Christian faith of Wilberforce is well on display. It is a thought provoking piece, and meaningful. There is no nudity, no graphic violence (though it is often spoken of), and boasts largely inoffensive language.

My opinion is that this a must see film that will likely inspire some to step forward and say, "And Lord, what is it you would have me to do for your Kingdom?"


March 15, 2007

Letting the World Define the Mission -- A Strategy of Failure

In my many years of working in Fortune 500 companies, a marketing saying was frequently used to justify many product decisions: "Let the market tell you what to do." Also known as "Give the people what they want." That mentality has not merely slipped into the church, but is dominating its evangelism strategies.

Recently, I have been reading a fair number of leadership, evangelism, and church strategy books. They are loaded with this one highly pragmatic theme, "Concentrate your evangelism on the youth because they represent the future." This is generally justified by appealing to the fact that college students are more open than their elders to new ideas and evangelists can quickly build ministry numbers (i.e. "success") through that approach. George Gallup, Jr. even posted a web article discussing how difficult it is to bring the gospel to Japan. Gallup states, "The focus of evangelistic efforts should be on young people. They are the future leaders, and will set the moral tone and direction of the nation of Japan in the immediate years ahead. Young people in Japan are desperately in need of the healing hand of Jesus."

Fascinating! Simply fascinating. These books and articles present little, if any, useful strategies for evangelism to the general community, which by the way is populated in largest measure by baby boomers (over thirty). Instead they choose to look for the quick sell. Youth buy, so sell to the young.

There is no question that college students are intrigued by the new. Theyíre young. Everythingís new! Yes, theyíll listen. To anyone. Youth, due to their lack of deep roots that come with time, also can be a bit gullible. They buy but they do not commit. After graduation, they drop those things which do not contribute to their bottom line (remember, they learned pragmatism from us, now, didnít they?).

How do I know the young do not commit? Because for decades the church has focused strongly on college student evangelism with the assumption that if you win the young, they will change the world as they age. Recall the campaigns of the past few decades initiated by Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes? Yet, we are now at a time in our history when our churches are filled with the unchurched, and interest by the population at large (which grew up with those campaigns while they were young) is waning fast. Far from saturating the world for Christ by targeting the young and the "brightest," we succeeded in alienating or ignoring some two-thirds of the population, who now see the church having no significance for their age group.

For the sake of honesty, this is not an indictment on the sincerity or passion of many students or youth outreach organizations. Indeed, Christ has been preached and souls won. Praise God! Yet, the church has not recognized what Jesus taught.

Go into all the world. Not just to college campuses.

The fields are ripe for harvest everywhere, not just in schools. The woman at the well was quite "old," but the first one whom Jesus said had already begun bringing in the ripe harvest.

Jesus made many "older" men into apostles, not merely the young. Paul was called to salvation and to missions work well after his education was done and long after he had climbed into the ranks of the elders of the land.

I offer this observation: If your church is not actively laboring to win and to train the 30-somethings through the retirees, while also harvesting college-age youth, then much of the harvest already ripe which was available to your church will be neglected and this nation will continue to see a decline of interest by adults in things of the Lord over the next three decades.

Our churches need to contemplate how to build adult ministries that are as strong and well resourced as they do their youth ministries. They need to encourage adult evangelism as heavily as they encourage campus outreach. They need to value training adults in lay ministry (and assist them in transitioning to full time ministry) as much as they value doing so with teenagers.

Praise the Lord He did not come to win and to train only the young. Men and women of all ages need the healing hand of Jesus.


March 21, 2007

Why Do Adults Attend Sunday School?

Reposted March 23, 2007

Note: This blog posting has been updated to correct a substantive definitional error I made. Even in its corrected form, I suspect that some will continue to find the topic indigestible. My apologies for the original posting, its errors, and the confusion it caused.

Lack of Purpose

When asked, "Why do you come to the morning church service?" the predominant answer is "to worship." Fair enough. When asked why the same people attend adult Sunday School, the predominant answer, assuming that any answer is forthcoming, is most often, "to socialize," or, "because it is expected."

My recent academic plunge into church strategy books has made me sit up and take notice of such answers. When thinking back over Scripture and the most successful of the Sunday School groups which I have led or attended, a common thread is found. In the successful groups, the purpose for meeting was readily understood and easily repeated by the members. These attendees understood their personal motivation as well as the overarching purpose behind the offering inherent in the group. In less successful groups, the answer was either, "to socialize" or "I am not sure."

Some books call it "casting a vision." I prefer to think of the concept more simplistically, namely, that all members know the explicitly published purpose for which they meet. Sunday morning services generally are focused on three aspects of worship: praise, instruction, and fellowship. Fellowship, to be clear, is not socializing. Fellowship means "to contribute" and "to participate." Contribute to the equipping of the saints for service, such as by giving a teaching or applying a Scripture. Participate, as in offering up a prayer or a word of encouragement. Fellowship is co-laboring in Christ.

Lack of understanding or a lapse in knowing what the purpose of the group is leads to lack of attendance and limited commitment. The same is true of a "social group." Groups that meet for the express purpose of socializing (having a good time) often lack longevity without a persistent objective (like playing a revolving card game or participating in a league). So undirected socializing is not a strong motive for group participation and prolonged cohesion.

Fellowship, unlike socializing, can and must be accomplished across a broad spectrum of church attendees. One limited size group will not be entirely fulfilling for long, and most certainly will not meet all the spiritual elements that unite us in participation in Christ, and will make it more difficult over time to contribute to the edification of the saints as we ought.

The Purpose

In the most successful small groups/Sunday Schools the attendees understood the published purpose of the gathering to be "to learn the Scriptures more deeply than I ever knew them before so that I am better able to do ministry and actively work at intentional fellowship." In such a setting, there is no apology for delving into the Word (or theology) because that is the stated reason why the group has assembled. It is not considered "too academic" or "too dry" because those who have chosen to attend are interested in enhancing their ministry abilities and assisting others meet their spiritual objectives.

Finally, a happy outcome of such an intentionally focused group is fellowship, inside and outside the meeting room. Far beyond socializing, this is fellowship that is generated because the attendees have a common goal and a common mission that binds them. Socializing is not the group goal, Bible study and improved ministry service is the true motive. Fellowship is the good and necessary fruit, and mode of service, that is born from co-laboring together and being enjoined in mutual spiritual battle.

Without the intent to perform ministry better as a primary driver behind ever deeper Bible study, can the group long survive? Small group meetings must have works-enabling edification (a sincere form of fellowship) as their reason to exist, or they will lack the drive and binding property to be meaningful in the lives of Christís servants. Just as attendees of Sunday morning church services know why they come to morning worship, these same attendees ought to, and need to, know why they attend Sunday School.


March 29, 2007

Teach Us To Number Our Days -- Interesting Illustration for Use with Youth

Assume you wish to impart to your youth the desire not to waste time on frivolous activities and desire for them to begin to consider, on their own, how they might deliberately use their time wisely (Ephesians 5:15-16, Psalms 90:12). This illustration might be useful.

This illustration works best just before a major holiday break from school, or before a long weekend, or perhaps just as Summer vacation begins. Any time where the youth are eagerly anticipating getting time away from school.


March 31, 2007

Did Jesus Die on the Cross, or, did He Flee to Japan and become a Rice Farmer?

In northern Japan, on a mountain surrounded by rice paddies, a monument to Jesus has been erected. Japanese legend (mythology would be a more appropriate word) tells an amusing story of Jesus leaving Jerusalem before His execution--one of His brothers died in His stead, as the myth explains. He traveled across the Asian continent until He sailed to Japan, where He married a Japanese wife, farmed rice, and died at over 100 years of age.

It is reminiscent of the French fable that describes Jesus fleeing Israel with Mary and finding refuge in France. In New York state, USA, a modern religion was started that described a mythical tale of Jesus coming to North America in 33a.d. and converting a band of sea-faring Jewish explorers to Mormonism. Similarly, the Islam religion, some 500 years after the historical events of Jesusí death actually took place in Jerusalem, began asserting a revision of the gospel that claimed Jesus had never been crucified. In fact, I wonder if one dug deep enough into any culture anywhere in the world whether it would be possible to find a "Jesus did not die, but He came to live here" story?

Of course, during Jesusí own day, it was not possible to make the claim or to tell the fable that Jesus did not die. Everyone who had an interest in the events saw the trial and execution of Jesus for themselves. The military conducted the execution and oversaw the burial of the body, as did the temple leadership, as did the apostles, as did the mother of Jesus, as did the original authors of the four gospel accounts. Therefore, when Jesus resurrected, a bribe was paid to the military to claim that unarmed religious fanatics stole His body while the soldiers slept during their own guard duty watch.

Why do non-Christians crave an alternative (and creative) account with which to replace the written gospel reports of Jesusí death and resurrection? It is simply that they understand that any "person" who claimed to be God, lived a sinless life, died the death that Isaiah foretold, and rose alive from the grave (in both body and spirit) must be God Himself. And, if He is God, then He lives still and we are all accountable to Him to both worship Him and to live the manner of life He commanded.

On this very thing stands the Christian faith: that Jesus was born into human history, lived a sinless life, was executed on the cross (as a sacrificial payment for our sins), was buried for three days, then bodily arose from His grave by the power and will of God, and met with hundreds of real people to prove Himself alive. No mythology, no fables, no clever stories, just history. If these things did not happen, really happen on Earth, then we are all still dead in our sins.

If you are not yet a Christian, please consider reading one of these two articles:

Have a memorable Good Friday celebration next week, and a meaningful Resurrection Day remembrance on April 8th.


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Page Originally Posted: August 10, 2007
Page Last Revised: August 10, 2007