Category Archives: Evangelism

What Harold Camping Taught Me About Following Jesus

There has been so much hype lately around Harold Camping and his prediction that the rapture would occur on May 21. Well, May 21 has come and gone and we are all still here. Either the rapture was far smaller than even Camping predicted and the tribulation rings far more of normal every day life than of all out craziness OR it didn’t happen. Now, for anyone who knows me I’m not one who spends a lot of time dwelling on the end of the world or eschatology, in fact I find that it is by far the theological practice that can do the most danger when in reality we are called to make Disciples today so they can follow Jesus today. The present is what I’m concerned about, I’ll let God deal with the end. BUT there were a few things that I learned from Harold Camping and his followers that I wanted to share.

1. Eisegesis leads to neglecting the obvious parts of Scripture.

Most Christians that I know disregarded Camping and his predictions because of what Scripture blatantly says, no one knows when Jesus will return except for the Father. This seems fairly obvious but it wasn’t for Camping. Now, I don’t know his response to that passage however, what I can see in his interpretation was that he became so consumed with what he wanted Scripture to say that he disregarded what Scripture did say. Placing your own interpretation into Scripture is eisegesis and this is what Camping was doing, so much so that it blinded him to what Scripture did say. Exegesis is the practice of taking the meaning from the text rather than placing meaning into it. Exegesis leads to in depth study of original languages, historical and cultural contexts as well as basic literary criticisms. Exegesis is a healthy and necessary practice for studying the Bible, but one must be careful not to confuse the two. Harold Camping taught me to be extra aware of what I’m doing when I’m studying the Bible because otherwise I can look like an idiot. It wasn’t his intent but I’m gonna give him credit anyway.

2. People Don’t Equip Themselves to Study Scripture Enough on Their Own

In #1 I mentioned the practice of exegesis. If the followers of Camping had taken the time to learn to properly study the Bible then they would have been able to not only save themselves humiliation but also vast amounts of resources. (I read one article that mentioned a man who spent 140K on promotions.) Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to learn to study original languages but people need to be willing to look at outside resources from theologians who have studied the historical aspects of Scripture. When doing this they also shouldn’t study only people from their theological tradition but various traditions to get a better scope on their understanding. When we learn to study Scripture we can better way out what is an accurate teaching and when someone has been misguided.

3. It Shouldn’t Take the End of the World to Motivate Us To Be Reconciled To God

The campaign to spread the word of May 21 as the end of the world was to motivate people to repent and turn to God. This type of idea just has bad news written all over it, particularly if it doesn’t happen then people will look at it as a joke and disregard any true teaching that may have been hidden below the wrong teaching. Along with this, people’s motivation to turn to God is simply out of a fear of the end and not out of a sincere embracing of the transforming love of God. Their reaction is out of survival not out of passion or conviction. If it takes us trying to predict the end of the world to motivate and scare people into turning their lives over to God then we are just crappy ambassadors for Christ and need to learn to live as Jesus called us to and to love as Jesus did so that we can actually create devoted followers of Jesus.

Overall, I had a good laugh when thinking about this prediction. It’s not a bad thing to hope for Jesus’ return but I also think that we need to remain in the present to reach people in the here and now. While my hope was that after this weekend Camping may stop trying to predict Christ’s return, I realize that isn’t the case and now the date is for October 21. Well, between now and then I hope that God uses us to reach more people for Him so that they can be a part of God’s advancing Kingdom after October 21 and after December of 2012.

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Context is everything…well, almost

Whenever I have a discussion with someone about reading the Bible I always emphasize context. The background surrounding a passage of Scripture is vital to understanding what the intended message is for the reader. Not only must one look at the surrounding context within the text but they must also look at the context in regard to the community that was receiving the writings, and the larger context of the authors other works as well. This provides a better understanding of both the author and the recipient.

I have found throughout my experience that context is the most important part of building a successful working ministry. If you, for the sake of this argument, are the author then you have to understand the background of your recipients, those who are receiving your message. While the core idea in the message will never change if you are preaching the Gospel, the way in which you communicate that message will if you want to be successful in reaching people in your area. The most difficult part of being contextual in ministry is shedding the context of your past experiences. We are so often influenced by our own lens, theĀ  way we were reached or the presuppositions we bring into a community often make us too lazy to engage in figuring out the appropriate method for reaching a community. If we want to better reach our surroundings then we must be willing to adapt, willing to shed our preconceived ideas and put in the work to understand the recipients.

There are two big downfalls to contextual ministry that poison our churches today.

1. Personal Preference

Personal preference can damage ministries because personal preferences are selfish. This happens when a pastor enters into a community and expects a community to understand, enjoy, and be affected in the same way as the pastor. This is especially dangerous in cross-cultural settings where there is racial diversity. While there may be limited success at first, if the pastor does not shift from his or her own personal desires eventually people will look for something that they can better relate to. Being a shepherd of people is to be selfless and to do whatever it takes to reach people, therefore we cannot operate with our own personal preferences driving our methodology.

2. The Bandwagon

This is probably the largest obstacle to contextual ministry. There are thousands of churches all over the world doing many different wonderful things. Most of these ministries have put in the legwork to understand their communities and how to reach them effectively. Unfortunately, a large number of pastors look at the success of other ministries and merely try to copy what they are doing. After all if it worked for them then of course it’s going to work for me. The problem is not that pastors utilize the same principals that successful ministries have used but rather that they don’t take the time to adapt those principals to fit their community. For example, Purpose Driven. Saddleback has done a lot of great things under the leadership of Rick Warren and in order to provide resources to others they advertised the Purpose Driven model of ministry. This model worked well for them and has had a positive impact in there community and others. The problem is that many pastors simply copied Saddleback’s methodology and tried to implement in their communities without adapting the strategy to fit their context. The bandwagon approach to ministry is a short cut method to damaging, or at the very least limiting, the potential of a successful ministry.

Context, for me, is a founding principal within my faith. Context in Scriptural study leads to a better understanding of what God wants me to discover. And context within ministry. To better reach people we must understand who they are, where they’ve come from, what their lives consist of and where they desire to go. Once we understand those things then we can create a methodology that will be effective in reaching them for Jesus.


Apologies for the 9/11 Christian Center

Over the past few months there as been an uproar over the plans for a mosque to be built near Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 Terrorist attacks. While people have varying opinions on this matter and I have mine, I believe that much of the uproar is misguided, violent, hateful and not Christ-like. I had a conversation with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago about this and mentioned to him that I think the solution would be to have the mosque built and a Christian church and a synagogue to promote inter-faith dialogue and peaceful relationships. During that conversation I never had any intention of writing about this situation on here. That was until I came across the 9/11 Christian Center and became utterly appalled. The subtitle of this “church’s” website is : “A Christian Response to the Muslim Ground Zero Mosque”. Now call me an idealist, naive or what have you, but this is not a Christian response. A Christian response loves thy neighbor. A Christian response is not one that is made in regard to a mosque being built it is one made in response to people needing to encounter the loving, grace giving Jesus that was crucified and resurrected for us.

I’m appalled because this will only do more to damage the relationship between Christians and Muslims. It will close doors for dialogue, it will offend Muslims to the point of closing off conversations and opportunities for the true message of Jesus to be preached.

So to anyone who reads this please know, I am sorry to those who are offended by this church and I’m sorry for it’s actions. God’s grace is abundant and is love knows no bounds. I pray that you may encounter that Jesus and not the distorted idea of who Jesus is from politically motivated news commentators or extremist “evangelists”.


Why I’m Offended by the Christian Subculture!

There are a lot of things in this world that offend Christians but I find that more and more the things that offend me as a Christian have less to do with what non-Christians do and more to do with the way Christians behave. TV shows that promote the “Christian” worldview, commentators (Glenn Beck) that advocate a supposedly Christian/Biblical Perspective; these are just a couple of the things that offend me. But I found something that really offended me after being enlightened to it by a friend. Recently there was a Christian music festival here in Washington called Creation, while I do believe that there were many great things that happened there and many wonderful and Christlike leaders and musicians there was also at least one thing that I found completely offensive. Why did I find it offensive? Well, simply put it does not present the Gospel in a way that is advantageous nor loving. It creates and Us vs. Them mentality, it closes doors to conversations about Christ, it doesn’t allow for grace to be clearly seen and it makes an already difficult subject even more difficult to talk about, especially with those that it directly responds to. What is it you ask? It’s fairly simple…a t-shirt. What t-shirt? The t-shirt that you see below. “Straight Pride”.

I understand the mentality behind this shirt, while I disagree with the methodology behind it, I can see how this has become a Christian “cult classic”. This shirt speaks loudly…”If they are going to advocate their lifestyle then we are going to respond in the same way, not only by advocating ours but by condemning theirs.” Herein lies the problem. The Gospel is offensive, but not offensive in this way. The Gospel responds to the world saying: “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, the Kingdom of Christ is available to all. YOU ARE LOVED!” This shirt screams at people, I have no respect for you, I am going to show you that I think you are a sinner and that your way of life is wrong. Some people may argue that this shirt is a conversation starter, WRONG! This shirt is an argument starter. It does not promote loving dialogue. We want to make the Gospel available to all, we want to make it accessible, we want to promote conversations not close them off. We want to open doors not close them. I pray that these shirts will dwindle and fade away. I pray that those non-Christians out there that have encountered these shirts are not pushed even further away from Christ and that they are not even more closed off to Christians. I pray that we repent of the way we tell people more about how awful the sin is in their lives than about how much God loves them and how much Christ wants a relationship with them.


Old People Need Jesus Too

My Grandma passed away last week. I didn’t know her all that well. She lived in Kansas, where I was born, but before I was a year old my family moved to the Pacific Northwest and I’ve been on the West coast my entire life. I would see her occasionally, probably once every 3 or 4 years, but it’s probably been around 6 years since I last saw her. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral or be back there to support my Dad during this difficult time. I can’t honestly say that I have had that difficult of a time with her passing, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her but I have had a difficult time in my empathy for my Dad and his loss.

I say all of this, not to show how heartless I am but because there’s more to the story. As I have thought, over the past week, of who my Grandmother was and who my Dad has become I realized something. My Grandmother had no faith or religion. In fact, when my Dad decided to go to Bible College to pursue his calling into ministry, my Grandfather and Grandmother cut off his financial support simply because they didn’t think that being a minister was a career. While thinking about this history my heart did break at the fact that my Grandmother never came to know how gracious and loving Christ is. She was never evangelized to. Is this my fault? Sure, I bear some of that responsibility that as a Christ-follower and a pastor, I never took the time to talk to my own Grandma about Jesus. Does my Dad have some of the burden? To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know if he ever talked to her about Christ. One thing I do know is that she was bathed in prayer.

This realization brought about the thought that the way I have perceived evangelism and conversations about Christ have all been in regard to younger generations and our responsibilities. We have largely neglected looking at evangelism for our older generations because we buy into the myth that during that time Christianity was more prevalent and therefore it’s not as urgent of a need. Old people need Jesus too, and not all people who are 60+ know him. The amazing thing is that I believe our older generations truly value story telling. Just think about the last time you were with a Grandparent and they would tell stories about their past, they love stories. We love stories. Christ was a story teller and lived the greatest story of all time. This common ground opens up an opportunity to share Christ with older generations because everyone can tell a story and everyone loves listening to a story.

We, as younger generations, have a responsibility to take care of the aging members of our society and young Christ followers have a responsibility to share the amazing story of Christ with them. Don’t bear the burden of wondering if your loved ones, in particular your Grandparents ever knew Christ.

(The picture is of my Grandfather and I, he passed a few years ago. He was a truly devoted man of God.)