The Ethos of ‘Gathering Together,’ A Hebrews 10:25 Contemplation

In a bit of self-reflection concerning 2016, I took an account of how much ‘gathering’ I’ve done with other believers. I can remember at least a half-dozen times, when ‘humble exhorters’ verbally expressed; based purely on speculation, that I just might be developing a custom or habit of forsaking/neglecting the gathering of myself with the saints.

Although, and in many situations, the kind of gathering that they’re talking about is not what I would consider gathering.

The author of Hebrews says; “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

It is interesting that the Greek uses the word ‘episunagógé’ for ‘gathering’ or ‘meeting together.’ Literally ‘synagogue-ing,’ It would suggest that our time together should reflect what took place in the early synagogues.  I’ll leave that to you, but I’m still not sure that temple gatherings or synagogue gatherings are the best models for the Church today.

More importantly, the reason for gathering is to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Gathering for the sake of gathering is just not supported by any biblical text. We don’t gather for theological reasons, but for teleological ones. We gather towards a purpose.

I saw one of my twitter friends today make this tweet: “We don’t go to church. We are the church. The church goes to worship.”

To which I would have made this slight change;

“We don’t go to church. We are the church. The church worships as it goes.”

Ever so slightly nuanced, it makes all the difference in the world to me. I find gathering without purpose distasteful. I consider mission-less churches enemies. And yes, I will love my enemies, but it doesn’t mean that I have to gather with them if all they’re going to do is foment momentum for the next gathering.

When the author of Hebrews says not to forsake the gathering ‘as is custom’ (ethos) with some, it makes me think about what kind of ethos I’d like to see. ‘Ethos’ technically – a custom or behavior based on tradition (a habit) fixed by the religious social life of a group of people, cannot stand alone just because it’s a tradition that has been fixed by repetition. Our gatherings are to be fixed toward future purposes and not on antique assumptions.

If there’s no ‘purpose’ being manifested by the gatherings other than self-propagation, then NO THANK YOU. I’d rather gather with a people of direct purpose than with a people of misdirected purpose.

To put it more simply, If a gathering is not focused primarily toward acts of love and good works (mission), then I’m not interested. Am I being overly harsh? Maybe. Is my attitude keeping me from gathering as much as I should? Probably. But I will say this. My fewer gatherings in 2016 have been more impactful than the abundance of gatherings in years past. This overarching principle to ‘worship on the way – as you go’ has birthed new fellowships and deepened the ones already in existence.

It makes me wonder if gathering less and purposing more isn’t ‘the higher road,’ and if reshaping the ethos instead of just accepting the one in play is the better path.

Your thoughts?

Advent Apologetics Day #11 – Is It Suppose To Hurt?

Modern apologetics tends toward spending more time defending the historic Christian faith… or a perceived one… than demonstrating hope in the present or expressing a future confidence.

An advent apologetic sometimes needs to ask “Where does it hurt?”

A well reasoned logical argument, an attempt to rationalize the pain of others, or defense of the tenets of one’s faith, does little to acknowledge or alleviate the hurt or answer suffering.

 In fact, much of modern-day apologetics causes unnecessary and untimely hurt.  It’s often glossed over by the curt and insensitive philosophy “The Truth Hurts.”  If you are prone to use that phrase, then take a meditative pause before using it again.  It is unlikely that those speak life, restoration, or reconciliation.  It can be devastatingly deceptive to tell a truth at the wrong time. The truth, spoken at the wrong time or in the wrong context can become a manipulative lie.

C.S. Lewis once said;

“We accept the claims of Christ because they make sense and then abandon them when a painful or confusing situation causes us to be overcome by feelings of fear or guilt.”

Struggle in apologetics is often thought of as the frustration or inability to convince the other party of their error. Thoughts like these often lead to shame for both parties and deviate far from a biblical apologetic goal. An Advent Apologetic, is one that is familiar with real struggle and is willing to join others in it. 

Most of us, if we’ll admit it, do not trust God in times of struggle because we really don’t trust God when things are going well. We develop our faith arguments to cover up our own frailty and then foist them on others to make ourselves feel better.

Apologetics is about hope, and not hoping you’ll be able to win arguments. Advent Apologetics is benevolent. But again, as C.S. Lewis has said;

“Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.”

An Advent Apologetic based in love is not rude, does not irritate, and does not portray resentfulness. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

We are about to enter in to the hurt and suffering of many. Our goal is to develop long-lasting relationships and alleviate a bit of the physical needs right now. You can help by contributing to feed a family of 4 for a week via our Christmas Basket Project. Click here for details.

51 Things You Can Do To Make Mission The Priority Of Your Church – Part I

images1.  Dedicate 51% of your entire budget to Missions

2.  Dedicate 51% of your time to mission work

3.  Declassify 51% of what you call ‘ministry,’ and ask yourselves if it qualifies as the Missio Dei.

4.  Sell off 51% of your sound and media equipment used in ’worship,’ and use it to support international missions.

5.  Make Sunday School 51% less about studying the bible, and more about serving others who would never attend Sunday School.

6.  Spend 51% of your church planting and church growth planning sessions on figuring out how to better make disciples.

7.  Shrink your coffee and pastry servings by 51% and go feed some homeless people.

8.  Figure out how to shave 51% off of your new building project and instead, invest it in your local community.

9.  Shut down any ministry that requires more than half of its income to sustain itself.

10.  Cut your short-term mission budgets in half and have the same impact. (Yes, it’s entirely possible)

11.  Stop taking out newspaper ads which are only read by 3% of the population and send real letters to harvest workers all over the globe.

12.  If someone mentions a Fog Machine, ‘restore such a one with humility.’

13.  Stop sending your leadership to learn from successful Mega-Churches which practice none of these things.

14.  That ‘Discipleship’ Conference? Nix it. They rarely result in Disciples anyway. Instead, send them out 2 by2 into the real lives of others.

15.  The ‘Gospel of the Kingdom.’ Get it Straight!

16.  Tell your ‘Mother Church’ or Denominational Headquarters that instead of kicking up a percentage of your offerings to them, you’re going to send and support more missionaries from your local congregation. They’ll understand.

17.  Did I mention Make Disciples?

Parts II and III to follow shortly…

Before I get to those, What would you add to this list?

Advent Apologetics Day #10 – Unable to Cope

harpSome would think that the attitude of Advent and those often expressed via Apologetics, are at odds with each other.  Advent actions and attitudes are often described with words like patience, waiting, and hope.  Apologetics is often associated with abrasiveness, pompous posturing, and pithy argumentation.  

What if we adopted an attitude of Advent in our apologetics all the time? 

This series will conclude with  1 Peter 3:15, everyone’s favorite apologetics verse.  Until then, I’d like to look to some other texts that I believe are important to any discussion on apologetics. Todays text is Acts 6:8-10

“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.  But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.  But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

Of particular interest is the last sentence, “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”  The NIV translates it this way;

“But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.”

When they could not answer Stephen’s arguments as a well known debaters, they prosecuted him as a criminal.  They could not resist the Spirit that was in him.  Later, Steven would say concerning them; “How stubborn can you be? How can you be so heartless and disobedient? You’re just like your ancestors. They always opposed the Holy Spirit, and so do you!”

Often, apologetics is centered on intellectual prowess or keen debating skills.  It is also primarily focused on the spoken word.  Steven’s apologetic contained three critical components;

  1.  Action or deeds

2.  Being present amongst others

and

3.  Spiritually empowered disposition and discourse.

An Advent Apologetic includes all three.

Thomas a Kempis once said;

“For truly it is not deep words that makes one holy and upright; it is a good life which makes one dear to God. I had rather feel contrition than be skillful in the definition of it. If you know the whole Bible, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what should this profit you without the love and grace of God?”

 

Celebrate Advent by feeding a family over the Holiday Season. Click here for more details.

 

 

Advent Apologetics Day #9 – Changing Minds?

starIf repentance = “Changing one’s mind,” and “repentance leads to life” (Acts 11:18, 2 Corinthians 7:10), then changing one’s mind leads to life.  

If that’s correct, then the goal of apologetics should be to help others (with the hope) (1 Peter 1:3) change their minds.  

The Bible points out that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19). Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

Regarding these thoughts, I’ve come across two interesting quotes that seem to contradict each other:

1.  “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.”  

This quote comes from Jerry Sternin’s book The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems.

and

2.  “You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and move.”  

This quote is by singer Scott-Heron and pointed out in a book by Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw titled Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians

I love the tension in these two ideas, especially as it relates to apologetics and this series. Whether we must act our way into a new way of thinking or think our way into a new way of acting well represents the challenge and friction in modern-day apologetics.

It would be easy to say this is a “Both & And” situation and not an “Either Or,” but how you approach apologetics and people will demonstrate which approach you are more disposed to.  Two questions:

What has been your best approach to get another to change his or her mind?

What does an apologetic action look like to you?  Be specific.  

 

Celebrate Advent by feeding a family over the Holiday Season.  Click here for more details.

 

Advent Apologetics Day #8 – It’s the Question That Drives Us

15356016_342069826161549_973305508_n“The best responses to the questions people ask us about our faith are not those borrowed from textbooks, logically forced from biblical texts, or based on  some ecclesiastically machined template.  The best ‘defenses are those developed by individuals acting apologetically as they reflect on the questions being asked, the situations of the people asking them, and the resources available to answer them.” *

Apologetics can be problematic if we only want to regurgitate what we’ve eaten from traditional theological troughs.  Good alliteration there huh?   What we’ve learned form a book or classroom, absent from real life situations, may just be well reasoned but self-serving and ungraceful banter.  If your apologetics is only making you feel better about yourself, then it’s quite possible that it’s parasitic. You might just be defending a position instead of a hope.

Advent Apologetics is about communicating joy, coherence, relevance, and hope, but also rightly handling the anxieties, difficulties, and concerns of others.  Advent Apologetics is a dialogue or narrative.  We enter in to other’s stories and share our own.  Humans, whether we like it or not, don’t process this sort information in bullet points as well as in story form.  We strive for bullet point apologetics because, if we’re honest, we don’t want hear other’s stories, and we really don’t have one of our own to tell.  We’d rather go in blindly with assertions to deliver than dare to let our audience dictate the proper course of actionable conversation. 

This series is called “Advent Apologetics” for the season, obviously, but I’m convinced that this “good will toward men,” in how we approach apologetics year-round has merit.  What if we considered, at least for a season, that apologetics is about being drawn into the life scenes of other people and living in such a way as to have them written into ours?  

Our text for today is 2 Corinthians 5:20

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (NLT)

We model the values of the gospel in our response to people. Like it or not, we’ve been tasked with putting God’s graciousness  on display, not our human arrogance or impatience.   If we strive for patience, politeness, consideration, and helpfulness with others and their stories, then apologetics won’t be something we have to trained up for.  It will be second nature.

* For the past 10 years, we have been ADVENTING during the holiday season by providing tons of food to the families in need during the holiday season. It’s not a fanfare and forget event. We go back throughout the year and visit with them, pray with them, and give them a message of hope. Please consider sponsoring one family this year. Find out more here.

 

 

* Adapted and edited from McGrath, Alister E. (2012-01-01). Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (pp. 158-159). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.

Advent Apologetics Day #7 – The Samaritan Approach

James Fissel, Jim Fissel

Jesus was the greatest apologist who ever lived.  If there ever was an archetypal model of how we should do apologetics, I believe it was The Christ. 

I love Jesus’ questions!  I especially love the ones where he politely checkmates his opponents.  I’ve never thought of the Parable of the Good Samaritan as an apologetics text, but I believe it’s well suited to be one.  After Jesus was challenged on how one obtains eternal life, and who qualifies as a “neighbor” by “an expert in the law” (Luke 10:25), Jesus tells a parable.  We know this parable as that of “The Good Samaritan.”  Jesus told this parable in the context of the hope for eternal life.  

Let’s take a look:

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

I think there are 9 Attitudes we can adopt from this passage that reflect Advent and Apologetics;

1. But a Samaritan, “as he traveled,” – Went about his life routine, disposed to help others.

On this, Dallas Willard said, “We should not only want to be merciful, kind, unassuming, and patient persons but also be making plans to become so.  We are to find out, that is, what prevents and what promotes merci­fulness and kindness and patience in our souls, and we are to remove hindrances to them as much as possible, carefully substituting that which assists Christ-likeness”  – The Great Omission, p. 29.  

2. When he “Came where the man was” – Assessing his context, evaluating the situation, and conscious of his environment. 

3. Saw him – He sees people and not just the problem.

4. Took pity on him – not with disdain, not disingenuous pity, and not unrighteous judgement, but real empathy.

5. He went to him and bandaged his wounds – brought healing, restoration, and human touch.

6. Pouring on oil and wine – Spirit motivated love and shared joy comes at a cost.

7. Then he put the man on his own donkey – Gave up his comfort and stature and became lower than the man.

8. Brought him to an inn and took care of him – expended time as if it were not his own (availability)

9. The next day he took out two denarii, and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ – committed to the future care and development of the man. (Hospitality) It was not a hit and run “act of passion.”

The above 9 components of Jesus’ apologetic by parable may be applicable in many situations where we are inclined to defend our faith instead of giving a reason for the hope within us.  An Advent Apologetic is one that’s courageous, compelling, caring, helpful, hopeful, unselfish, generous, sacrificing, available, hospitable, and neighborly.  What do you think?

10153045934835087For the past 10 years, we been adventing during the holiday season by providing tons of food to the families in need during the holiday season. It’s not a fanfare and forget event. We go back throughout the year and visit with them, pray with them, and give them a message of hope. Please consider sponsoring one family this year. Find out more here.

 

Advent Apologetics Day #6 – Countering Foolishness

8x8 multi-media

Living in the tension between foolishness and wisdom while being amongst others can be a delicate matter, even for the most mature of believers. When tempted to give an answer to asked or unasked questions, prudence decides between:

“Not answering a fool according to their folly and becoming like them.” (Proverbs 26:4)

and

“Answering fools as their folly deserves,That they not be wise in their own eyes. (Proverbs 26:5)

Foolishness has a certain appeal, a form of freedom if you will. Foolish people don’t stop to reflect on their actions and often are convinced that they don’t need to. They are characteristically unimaginative, don’t stop to consider how their words affect others, and amplify their own thoughts through anger, selfishness and ignorance. Foolishness despises wisdom and teaching (Proverbs 1:7), quarrels over opinions (Romans 14:1), serves with divided interests (Luke 16:13), and seeks refuge amongst insecure people and places (Psalm 118:8).

Advent Apologetics is about hoping with others, not heaping hurt on them.

But being smarter or even right doesn’t always equate with being more reflective or thoughtful. For many, apologetics is more about proving rightness rather than showing and righteousness. Dallas Willard once said;

“A thoughtless or uninformed theology grips and guides our life with just as great a force as does a thoughtful and informed one.”

Leading up to everyone’s favorite verse on apologetics, 1 Peter 3:15 on Christmas Eve, today’s text comes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20-22)

Paul is not asking where the Grecian sophists or well reasoning rabbinical hair-splitters are. He’s asking; “Where are those who have hope?” Where are the proclaimers of hope and what is their message?

“It is one thing to show (or attempt to show) that assorted arguments against religious faith are weak or unsound; it is a rather different task to offer people reasons why they should believe. The latter is the task of Advent Apologetics.” ~ Adapted from Ronald Nash

It’s easier, for all of us, to be cynical or angry than hopeful or kindly towards others where matters of faith are concerned. It’s easier for us to leave the true work of apologetics to the few “gifted ones.”

Advent Apologetics is not an intellectual enterprise for the elite or a franchise for the few. Advent Apologetics is the task of all believers at all times. We can all give reasons for the hope within us.

10152232767335087For the past 10 years, we have been adventing during the holiday season by providing tons of food to the families in need during the holiday season. It’s not a fanfare and forget event. We go back throughout the year and visit with them, pray with them, and give them a message of hope. Please consider sponsoring one family this year. Find out more here.

Advent Apologetics Day #5 – It’s Humane

054_hcd1104_ufig1An Advent Apologetic is one that speaks to the entire person. It speaks to the intellect, emotion, imagination, and experience. Make one of these the primary goal of apologetics at the expense of the others and your ‘apology’ will crumble and you will take down the hopeless with you.

Apologetics can no longer be about providing answers to questions and then defending those answers. An Advent Apologetic seeks to answer the deeper spiritual questions that lie just underneath casual perceptions.  Ultimately, apologetics is about souls (people), and not theological problems and puzzles.  John MacArthur once said;

“If the truth offends, then let it offend. People have been living their whole lives in offense to God; let them be offended for a while.”

While I understand the above statement, it still sounds overtly superior. In contrast, lets look at Paul’s advice to Timothy:

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24,25)

Paul doesn’t separate apologetics from people. He is not inhumane. We don’t have to be either. While planting a seed of hope is much more difficult than defending a stance, our target is the former. Our goal is to augment faith, not argue someone into it.  Sinclair Ferguson once said;

“We best defend the Lord’s glory by speaking first TO Him about unbelieving men rather than speaking first ABOUT Him to unbelieving men.”

That’s our ‘ready posture,’ our premeditated hope, and our inclination to be human. We identify with image of God in others, amongst others, and for others. We finitely incarnate, to the best of our ability, the infinite person/human of Jesus.

For the past 10 years,we have been adventing by providing tons of food to the families in need during the holiday season.  It’s not a fanfare and forget event.  We go back throughout the year and visit with them, pray with them, and give them a message of hope.  Please consider sponsoring one family this year.  Find out more here.  

Advent Apologetics Day #4 – Christ Conquered Chaos

masterpol_modern-confession“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)  This verse is not about apologetics.  Unfortunately many use it to justify their chaotic and abrasive approach to it. 

We’ll eventually get to everyone’s favorite apologetics verse, 1 Peter 3:15, but over the course of the next couple of weeks I wanted to look at some seldom considered apologetics texts and combine them with some Advent meditations.  Here is today’s text.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col 3:15-17)

We should strive for peace with one another because Christ has conquered chaos. (Col 3:15)

Advent Apologetics assumes the role of a peacemaker. (Matthew 5:9)  If your apologetics is disrupting peace or creating chaos, then it might be time to reconsider your approach. Of course this begs the question; “Can apologetics be peaceful?” I’d like to answer that question with a quote from an unlikely source, John F. Kennedy –

“If we make peaceful revolution impossible, we make violent revolution inevitable.”

There is much violence in modern apologetics. Violence thrives in chaos. Advent Apologetics seeks peace, establish bridges to peace and uses peace a conduit for hope. Alister Mcgrath, in Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (p. 154) states:

“Many are moved to ask about faith when they realize that their friends seem to have something they do not—for example, a sense of peace or purpose, or a deep-seated compassion and love for their fellow human beings. “Where did that come from?” they ask, secretly wondering if they could possess it as well. The love of God is both embodied and proclaimed when Christians serve their neighbors or the world.”

See the progression there?  Love – Embodiment – Service – Curiosity – Peace.  

An Advent Apologetic is one that creates a space where others can dialogue. It’s not one that puts more space between those that have hope and peace and those that need it.

* For the past 10 years, weave been adventing by providing tons of food to the families in need during the holiday season.  It’s not a fanfare and forget event.  We go back throughout the year and visit with them, pray with them, and give them a message of hope.  Please consider sponsoring one family this year.  Find out more here.