What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Your worst? Hear my experiences at http://mca.byoaudio.com/files/media/without.mp3 or by subscribing to the “Maltby Christian Assembly” podcast on iTunes.com and listening to the November 28, 2010 message. I would love to hear your thoughts. Share them below.
I would highly recommend Gabe Lyons’ “The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith.” I was fortunate enough to be provided a copy in a special pre-release directly from Random House for review purposes. You can purchase a hardback copy for under $14 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=next+christians+&x=0&y=0) or directly from the publisher at http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780385529846.
My favorite chapter was titled, “Provoked, Not Offended” Lyons suggests, “When a community is provoked, they assume a proactive posture; when a community is offended, they assume a reactive posture” (Lyons, 75). He goes on to suggest, “In this context Jesus came and exposed the shortcomings of the Pharisees’ response to the dirtiness and darkness of or world. Story after story in the Gospel accounts reveal God’s heart for the lost, the down and out, for those who were ‘dirty.’ Jesus wasn’t offended by their actions or broken lives; he was provoked to engage them. He sought them out to find a way to restore them both physically and spiritually” (77).
The bible reads, “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, ‘Hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully” (Luke 19:5-6, ESV). Jesus even invited himself over to the house of a tax collector. A tax collector! Zacchaeus was a traitor to the Hebrew people. Not only did he side with the Empire – but he profited off the oppression of his own people. And yet, after a startling conversation, the Christ – the real King, announced that salvation had come to this house . . . even the most corrupt could be restored.
Church history is full of moments where disciples of Christ looked and acted nothing like him. We not only failed to do something right – we often were participants in doing wrong. The crusades. The inquisitions. Slave trades. Aparteid. The list goes on and on. And while so-called Christians were often instrumental in starting such injustices they were often influential in ending them. Individuals were compelled by God to do something. My question . . . why did it often take so long? Here is what often keeps me up at night: What injustices am I am missing? What injustices am I missing – and if not careful I will have to answer to my grandchildren one day? What people group needs the gospel more than any other? What can we do about it?
Two significant parties come to mind. First, there is the homosexual community. I am encouraged as I read books like Andrew Marin’s “Love is an Orientation.” Here is an example of an individual who is determined to show the love and loyalty of Christ to a group that few understand and even fewer care for. The gospel must be extended with truth and love – with words and actions. Second, there is the Muslim community. I am afraid that there are far too many Western Christians who are holding offenses against this group and therefore are not willing to start a conversation. Jesus healed a Centurion’s son. He healed a soldier’s ear. He forgave the very soldiers who shamefully, painfully, and publicly executed him. Why should it be any different than us? Loving our enemies includes those who wish us harm – especially those types of enemies.
The church is entering an era of diffuculity – but great opportunity. I pray that we will have courage and creativity as well as confidence and conviction. We have to find a way to meet people where they are at but love them enough to refuse to allow them to stay there. Lyons proposes, “Jesus is saying, ‘Enough of what is; I see things in terms of how they ought to be, and I’m here to do something about it'” (204).
Official Book Description: Turn on a cable news show or pick up any news magazine, and you get the impression that Christian America is on its last leg. The once dominant faith is now facing rapidly declining church attendance, waning political influence, and an abysmal public perception. More than 76% of Americans self-identify as Christians, but many today are ashamed to carry the label. While many Christians are bemoaning their faith’s decline, Gabe Lyons is optimistic that Christianity’s best days are yet to come. In the wake of the stunning research from his bestselling book, unChristian, which revealed the growing disenchantment among young generations for Christians, Lyons has witnessed the beginnings of a new iteration of the faith. Marked by Lyons’ brutal honesty and unvarying generosity, Lyons exposes a whole movement of Christians—Evangelicals, Mainline, Protestants, Orthodox, Pentecostals, and others—who desire to be a force for restoration even as they proclaim the Christian Gospel. They want the label Christian to mean something good, intelligent, authentic, and beautiful.
The next generation of Christians, Lyons argues, embodies six revolutionary characteristics: “When Christians incorporate these characteristics throughout the fabric of their lives, a fresh, yet orthodox way of being Christian springs forth. The death of yesterday becomes the birth of a great tomorrow. The end of an era becomes a beautiful new beginning. In this way, the end of Christian America becomes good news for Christians.” In THE NEXT CHRISTIANS, Lyons disarms readers by speaking as a candid observer rather than cultural crusader. Where other people shout, Lyons speaks in a measured tone offering helpful analysis of our current reality while casting a vision for how to be a Christian in a world disenchanted with the faith. Both a celebration and a reckoning, THE NEXT CHRISTIANS combines current day models and relevant research with stories of a new generation of Christian leaders. If you are worried by what you see transpiring around you, this book will take you on a surprising social exploration in hopes that you too will restore confidence in your faith.
In relation to the future of the church as it relates to strategic digital outreach, Frank Johnson proposes, “Today, the church has been given the opportunity to travel the world via the Internet and declare the gospel in the midst of today’s marketplace. The Internet is therefore a core component of what the church’s strategy should be to reach the world with the gospel. With that in mind, emerging leaders can learn valuable lessons from the systems and strategies of Craig Groeschel and LifeChurch.tv. The Internet church aims “to help [the seeker] get to know God better and enable [him or her] to become who He’s created [them] to be. No matter where [they] are in life, [LifeChurch.tv will] help [them] figure out some next steps in [their] journey with Him. Along the way, [the church] hope[s] to work with [them] to make the world a better place.”
The first aspect of missional leadership is to be conversational in method. LifeChurch.tv participates in conversation with God through over forty meeting times in several different time zones – both at campuses and in cyberspace. Along with worship, Groeschel, a teaching pastor, or video will present a challenging message that is centered on the Scriptures. Recent topics include series on authenticity, leadership, relationships, and sin. These gatherings take place at scheduled times or individually via video and audio downloads. Conversations with the church take place via “Talk it Over” segments. Everyone is encouraged to download the questions and discuss them in the context of a small group or on YouVersion Live (a website designed by LifeChurch.tv specifically for bible study). Finally, they aim to have conversation with the world. They are incredibly accessible – whether it be live or in online form. There are many ways to get connected to who they are and what they do.
Secondly, a missional community should be biblical in basis. As was already mentioned, LifeChurch.tv offers YouVersion.com as a mobile interactive resource for individual and corporate studies and events. In addition, they offer hundreds of free sermons, illustrations, and other resources to churches worldwide – with very few guidelines and stipulations on when and how to use them. Finally, they offer written word, audio, and video studies for personal growth, leadership development, and even family devotions (for children or students). It is evident that Groeshel’s church is not just about gathering but also about growing – that they might go out and be the church.
Third, a missional leader is spiritual in dimension and relational in context. This is where the struggle begins with strategic digital outreaches. There is no question that LifeChurch.tv promotes and propels mass gatherings and transformative growth. However, there seems to be the danger of disconnect when someone can view a message from such a long distance. Who is there to always share that experience with them who really knows them? Can someone really share life with someone else through a chat room or by instant message? Do they even face the same dilemmas – culturally, economically, etc.? Will that personal have opportunity and maturity to use their respective spiritual gifts? Will they find people to pray with and pray for? It seems that the people who do find authentic friendship and accountability have to do so by being incredibly proactive – finding a small group of their own, developing their own plan of action, etc. And all of these attributes seem to fit best in a local and live context rather than one that is limited to being virtual and viral.
Finally, a missional community is holistic in scope. LifeChurch.tv devotes themselves to several different causes that they might “follow Jesus with open arms; living and working to invite others to join [them] on this journey of forgiveness, hope, and love. [They] communicate his message not just in what [they] say, but also what [they] do.” The site offers clear and compelling ways to give as well as projects to give to. They offer information, stories, and opportunities in which to show kindness and care. And yet again, with giving there is also the need for one to go. No one knows a local context better than the person who lives there. Will LifeChurch.tv be able to mentor and mobilize a person to serve in their local context with the same effectiveness as a church that is imbedded in their own community? The campuses will indeed be able to do that – but for the cyber-churches it might not be as realistic.
Johnson suggests, “We must aggressively seize the opportunity and establish a presence in the midst of today’s marketplace so that we can effectively declare the gospel to the Internet generation.” LifeChurch.tv should be commended for their creativity and conviction to embody the mission of Christ with such urgency and entrepreneurship. They not only do what they do with excellence but they offer their resources to others with such joy and generosity. That being said, it seems to that the cyber-experience is best used as an addition to the local context rather than as a viable replacement.
I have recently made a change concerning what bible I primarily study from and preach out of. My preference is now the English Standard Version. This is really nothing new. I grew up with the New Kings James, used the New American Standard Bible while at Northwest University, and have used a New International Version for the past five years. I would never claim that only one translation is worthy of our time and allegiance. In fact, I would recommend that we use different translations at different times for different purposes. For example, I went two years in a row where I did my personal devotions through the New Living Translation but would use a much more literal translation like the NASB for sermon preparation. When we only read one translation for devotions, the readings can often become predictable and mundane – a different emphasis or angle might just bring a passage to life. However, we must also be aware of each translation’s intended aim, type, and weakness. After much study, I have reached the conclusion, as of right now, that Crossway’s ESV has found the best balance between being literal and yet readable ().
Many prominent and trusted scholars, pastors, and leaders have endorsed the ESV (). Many experts have done a far better job of explaining their new found love for the English Standard Version:
* John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church
* Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church (http://www.acts29network.org/article/pastoral-reflections-on-bible-translations-why-we-preach-from-the-esv/)
* Dr. J.I. Packer of Regent College
Readers who are interested in the origins of Scripture should check out Peter D. Wegner’s “Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible” (under $25 at Amazon.com ) and for further research on different types of translations, one should read Philip Comfort’s ‘Essential Guide to Bible Versions” (http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Guide-Versions-Philip-Comfort/dp/084233484X/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291327835&sr=1-5). I would also encourage everyone to take full advantage of sites dedicated to assisting readers to engage with multiple translations (YouVersion.com is my personal favorite ().
Finally, regardless of which translation, method, or preference – just take time to actually read the bible. The Apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV). One scholar to come out of the Assemblies of God suggests, “We must realize the most important issue in the translation discussion is truth. The church must never be afraid to unveil barriers that bar us from the ultimate truths of God. We must realize that by further reducing barriers, whether by improved language or by heightened accuracy in translating the Scriptures, we will find ourselves more effectively connected to the revelation of truth, and ultimately closer to God” (). May God speak to us – and may we be willing to listen.
I would highly recommend Chris Seay’s “The Gospel According to Jesus: A Faith that Restores All Things.” I was fortunate enough to be provided a copy in a special pre-release directly from Thomas Nelson Publishers for review purposes. You can purchase a hardback copy for under $14 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-According-Jesus-Restores-Things/dp/0849948169/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1289197763&sr=8-2) or directly from the publisher at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0849948169&title=The_Gospel_According_to_Jesus&author=Chris_Seay.
My favorite chapter was titled, “We Fell, but Can We Get Up?” Seay suggests, “Sin is about relationships, not about rules. We are meant to reflect God, and if we are to do that, there must be an unobstructed connection in our relationship to God” (Seay, 88). He goes on to say, “Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Blame. Temptation often snares our pride with promises to know the great mysteries and possess the knowledge that will make us like God, or give us power. So sin – as you see it in your own story and in Genesis – is rooted in selfishness; it is an expression of narcissism” (90). The most chilling part of the book is the way he describes how much sin had robbed the world’s first inhabitants. The author proposes, “This is a pain that Eve knew as sin began to transform the world she lived in A blast of pain suddenly entered her family when one of her sons murdered the other. What a world, right? Only years before, she was lingering picking fruit, lounging naked with her husband, and strolling with God. Suddenly, tragically, she is experiencing the most devastating kind of grief a mother could know” (92).
How fast and far does humanity fall. Hear the contrast as the bible reads, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord'” (Genesis 4:1, ESV). Life . . . even in the midst of being banished. But then we read, “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it'” (Genesis 4:8, ESV). Sin crouches. Sin destroys. Sin taints and tarnished a heart that was meant to display the image of God. Death.
So why do we insist on flirting with sin? Attempting to get as close as possible to rebellion without becoming a rebel? Look at what it cost Eve? Her children? Was it worth it? She had Paradise and ended up with Hell on Earth. Do we think it will be any different with us? As if we can outsmart the system? As if we can do what Eve did and not get what she recieved? As if our family won’t reap the rewards of our rebellion?
And then there is the thought that you and I are not that far from Cain. Are we? We probably see far too much of him in us and therefore do everything in our power to draw attention to other people’s sin. Do we really believe that everyone was created to display the glorious and good image of God? Or do we think that certain individuals or people groups have gone too far and therefore are unable to return? That God’s limitless grace is really with limits? How many of us are guilty, at one time or another, of labeling people by their sins rather than praying for their salvation? I guess what I am really trying to ask is this . . . why do we love sin and hate people? Isn’t this as contrary to Christ as one can get? Allow his grace to restore you . . . and extent that grace to someone else that they might share in Life.
Official Book Description: True Christianity is about restoring what is broken. Surveys indicate that 84 percent of Christians have a misunderstanding of the true meaning of the word righteousness. Referring to God’s restoration of our sinfulness and not personal piety or some code of moral purity, pastor Chris Seay offers that Jesus came to breathe life and light into the depths of all darkness. This gospel that lives according to the ways of Christ is the true Christianity. It gives us a new way to see the world and brings God’s restoration to marriages, to the sick and diseased, even to the environment, and he offers a deeply personal spiritual transformation for all followers of Christ. Whether it’s building a park bench at a bus stop or bringing groceries to the sick, the gospel of Jesus restores the heart, the mind, and the body.