Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bliss and Thistles

I read a hymn a day as part of my devotions. I learn the history of the author, the motivation behind the hymn and some helpful ways to pray and worship through it. I love the crafting of the lyrics, the richness of the theology, and the connection to the vitality of a historic faith.

Around this season of Thanksgiving the theme has appropriately been around giving thanks.

Towards the end of the 19th Century Adelaide Proctor wrote;
"I thank Thee, God, that all our joy is touched with pain,
that shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain,
So that earth's bliss may be our guide and not our chain."

All too often, the writers of the hymns went through horrific trials. Their praise rose up from valleys of such intense distress and suffering that my struggles seem brief and insipid by comparison. Still, the treasures forged in their crucibles can be ours, no matter the intensity of trials.

They seemed to be able to tell that the difference between shallow happiness and deep sustaining joy, was sorrow. Pure joy was not the absence of sorrow, it was being able to rejoice in the presence of sorrow. It was a sober admission that there may never be a perfect season to praise. That though God was redeeming the bliss of Eden, our fallen world would always contain some thistles. That this was a gift that caused to long for our true home in heaven, which meant that every season could be a good season to praise.

It's an amazing irony that Thanksgiving and Black Friday stand only hours apart.Have you noticed how the grateful thanksgiving around the table turns into a mad rush just a few hours later to grab the things we simply cannot live without.

Horatio Spafford wrote 'It is well with my soul' as his ship passed the place where his wife and daughters had drowned in a previous shipwreck.
"When sorrows like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
it is well it is well with my soul."

Lord teach us to be thankful in loss, and joyful in sorrow.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Disciplemaking is patient pursuit

This past Sunday my neighbor and his wife came to church for the first time. I can tell you this here because he insists he does not do facebook, twitter or blogs.

We have known each other for around 9 months. They've been amazing neighbors.
The first time he came over to our house we were hosting a southlands@home bbq. He met some of our friends but didn't hang around too long, so we invited his family back for a bbq a month later. He said we were the first people on the street to invite them over.

We discovered that both he and I shared an ambition to cook a whole pig underground. It's called a Luau. We started planning one, and tried a practice run a month later with two big chunks of meat in a hole. They were tasty. I suggested we do the Luau with some friends in our back yard to raise money to fight sex slave trafficking. He was all up for it. A month later we had 60 people in our backyard with a pig, which he cooked, and raised almost $1000 for Love 146.

When I asked him to come to church so that we could honor him and his wife for their part in the evening, he wasn't enthusiastic. "We're not into church and God. Something will fall on our heads if we come!" he protested.
So I confess. I bribed him. I said that I would buy him a crate of his favorite beer if he came to church and hated it. So he came.

Funnily enough, he actually loved church. He said there was an amazing sense of warmth and love in the room, great energy and he enjoyed the sermon. He does not believe in Jesus. Not yet. He says he believes in love and peace. But he wants to talk more and wants to know if it would be okay that he came back to church to listen more. I think that's okay with me!

I think sometimes we are impatient to close the deal with our friends and family when it comes to faith in Jesus. The fact is that Jesus called his disciples to follow Him and be with Him before they fully believed. His calling included patient relational investment. It was around two years before Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Christ.

It was three bbq's before my neighbor came to church. He is still not a Christian, but our relationship has moved from food and friendship, to working together on a common cause, to a shared Christian gathering, to intentional conversations about Jesus. It's not always this slow, but I think often it is.

Tim Keller bears this out in his '10 tips for evangelism'. I'm not a big one on 'tips', but I think when it comes to making disciples we need all the help we can get.

1.Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
2.Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
3.Listen to your friends problems – maybe offer to pray for them
4.Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
5.Give them a book to read
6.Share your story
7.Answer objections and questions
8.Invite them to a church event
9.Offer to read the Bible with them
10.Take them to an explore course

What Keller also advises is that we (generally) start with 1-4. If people are interested and want to talk more you can move them to stages 5-7. If they’re still interested go on to stages 8-10. Sometimes people will want to go straight to 10, but often people start from way back and need some time to think and discuss things in a non-pressured way. We often think that only stages 8-10 count and invest all our energy there. TK suggests that to get people at stages 8,9,10 you have to put the work in at 1-4. Sometimes you’ll have to keep going round the loop multiple times.

Keller suggests to leaders that we should aim to get 20% of our folk doing this (of course it should be 100% but let’s be realistic). If we do, we’ll see a steady stream of conversions over the long term, and sustainable church growth.

I don't want to get too realistic. Let's all get disciple making!