OUTREACH & A book review of Rebecca Manley Pippert’s follow-up to “Out of the Saltshaker” titled “Stay Salt.” #MustRead #ShareYourFaith

Book review by Sam Chan, Christianity Today, 6/29/20.

… Pippert, of course, is best known for her classic book on evangelism, Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life. First published in 1979, Out of the Saltshaker was written to equip believers for evangelism in a culture that was drifting in post-Christian directions. Four decades later, those forces have only accelerated, but Pippert hasn’t lost any confidence that the gospel message can break through walls of hostility and indifference, even in the context of everyday conversations. As the subtitle of Stay Salt puts it, “The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not.”

A Multi-Pronged Approach

There are three sections in Stay Salt. In the first, Pippert looks at what she calls the means of evangelism—in other words, you and me, the “evangelists.” None of us feels adequate when confronted with the juggernaut of hostile Western secularism. But Pippert reassures us that this is precisely how God works our circumstances. God uses us not despite but because of our smallness, weaknesses, and inadequacies. We are supposed to depend upon God for the courage and strength to evangelize.

In the second section, Pippert takes us through the message of evangelism—the gospel. Here we might roll our eyes. Don’t we already know this stuff? But Pippert got me excited about the gospel with the fresh language she uses. She skillfully presents the gospel as both a rebuttal to the accepted doctrines of secularism and a positive message our friends will want to hear.

In the final section, Pippert outlines the method of evangelism. This might seem like another occasion for eye-rolling. Surely not another formulaic technique! But Pippert instead motivates us to love our friends and to “proclaim” the message through questions and conversations rather than a pre-rehearsed monologue.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/june-web-only/rebecca-manley-pippert-stay-salt-evangelism.html

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Did you know Charles Wesley wrote a song “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion.” It is more popularly known as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

by Jeffrey Barbeau, Christianity Today, 2/14/19.

…John Wesley’s subsequent “conversion” at Aldersgate Street in London is well known, but fewer realize that Charles experienced his own “heart strangely warmed” experience only a few days before. On Pentecost Sunday (“Whitsunday”), May 21, 1738, Charles attained what might alternately be called a deepening of faith, a new birth, and an assurance of God’s love that helped launch one of the great revivals in modern Christianity.

As he lay sick in bed, Charles experienced what he described as a new “Pentecost.” He heard the voice of a woman, calling out to him: “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise, and believe, and thou shalt be healed of all thy infirmities.” Charles records in his journal: “The words struck me to the heart.” In a moment, Charles, with “strange palpitation of heart,” declared “I believe, I believe!”

Three days before John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, Charles beat John to the punch. He came to recognize the love of God in the presence of the Spirit, dispelling the darkness of doubt from his heart.

The event was so moving that he later memorialized the day in one of the great hymns in Christian history, “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion,” more popularly known as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

In fact, the hymns of Charles Wesley are replete with references to love. At Easter, Christians around the world repeat the words of his most famous composition, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and declare “Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!” Elsewhere Charles praises “Love divine, all loves excelling” and honors God’s great and “universal love.”

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2019/february/charles-wesley-romance-love-sally-wesley.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=20830743&utm_content=635605081&utm_campaign=email

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Acknowledged a great sinner (though likely not the prostitute some claimed her to be), Mary Magdalene offers a narrative of salvation, conversion, and unswerving devotion to Jesus that is one of the most beautiful portrayals of discipleship in the Bible.

by David Ives, Aleteia Magazine, 4/12/19.

While the look of the film (Mary Magdalene) is fine and the acting is uniformly good, any viewer with an ounce of respect for the actual biblical narrative will find themselves far too distracted keeping track of all the little ways the film butchers history to enjoy any of it…

Worst of all, though, is what the film does to Mary herself. The Magdalene is justifiably considered one of the greatest saints in the history of Christendom. She followed Jesus throughout his ministry, was present when he was crucified, and was there for his resurrection. More importantly, as the woman

… possessed by seven demons, and in tradition and art an acknowledged great sinner (though likely not the prostitute some claimed her to be), Mary Magdalene offers a narrative of salvation, conversion, and unswerving devotion to Jesus that is one of the most beautiful portrayals of discipleship in the Bible.

None of that applies to the woman in this film, however. Instead we are presented with an insufferable “Mary Sue” Magdalene

Read more at … https://aleteia.org/2019/04/12/this-films-modern-take-on-mary-magdalene-will-disappoint-devotees-of-this-great-saint/

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Catholic evangelism? Yes, and why it matters for you.

(Guest post by Jason Tucker & Jesse Skiffington of http://www.ReclaimedLeader.com)

So I confess… I had no idea that Catholic revitalization/renewal was a thing.  Then I was introduced to Rob McDowell of Divine Renovation. I quickly discovered that not only is it a thing, but it is a huge and growing thing that is changing parishes all over the world.

Here’s something else… Divine Renovation’s strategies will help ANY church to experience revitalization.  Don’t get me wrong, it takes commitment and hard work, but the theology and methodology are strong and transferable.

Oh yeah, and Rob was a Wesleyan Pastor who joined a Catholic church’s staff.  Sound crazy right?  Well, check out today’s episode and decide for yourself.

Or, listen direct on your device at:

Apple Podcasts

Google Play

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TuneIn

Hope this helps you lead change without losing your roots!

Jason & Jesse

ReclaimedLeader.com

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Do 47 Percent of Christian Millennials Think Evangelism Is Wrong? – Part 1 #RickRichardson

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: My friend and colleague Dr. Rich Richardson of Wheaton College has penned an excellent analysis of recent data regarding the millennial generation’s uncomfortable relationship with conversion and spiritual transformation. To understand their quandary, read this important article.

by Rick Richardson, Christianity Today, 3/13/19.

…So it’s not surprising that a new statistic is making the rounds on social media and in church board rooms across the United States. A new research study out of Barna found that “47% of Millennial practicing Christians think it is wrong to share one’s beliefs with a person of another faith in hopes that the person will come to share one’s beliefs.”

Moreover, 40 percent of practicing Millennial Christians believe that “if someone disagrees with you, they are judging you.” More concerning, these are not nominal or cultural Christians that we can dismiss as not the real deal. These are “practicing Millennial Christians” by which Barna means they, “identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.”

While the first stat is garnering the majority of the headlines, the combined message is that many young Christians hold a clearly negative view of evangelism.

Yet with this statistic—like every startling number that reinforces a bias or stirs up controversy—we need to look beyond the number to consider the causes and our reactions. Barna has given the church a much-needed wake-up call to the state of evangelism in the church, particularly among its younger adults. However, it is up to us to interpret what this means and to chart a pathway forward to greater gospel effectiveness.

Over the course of two articles, I want to do just this. In Part Two, I’m going to outline four principles of evangelism that we need to drill down on in light of the fact that many young believers have strong reservations. But first, I want to explore the Barna study itself and provide some greater context and clarity.

Millennial attitudes toward evangelism are complex

While many of the articles responding to the Barna study focused on the 47 percent, it is crucial to note that other findings in the same study seem to contradict or at minimum offer a more complex picture of millennial evangelism. Delving deeper into the study, three statistics jump out that should give academics, pastors, and everyday Christians pause in jumping to a conclusion.

1 – Millennial practicing Christians feel as strongly as other generations that being a witness is part of faith, at a rate of 96 percent

2 – Millennial practicing Christians feel just about as strongly that the best thing that could ever happen to others is to come to know Jesus, at a rate of 94 percent.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/march/47-christian-millennials-think-evangelism-wrong-part-1.html

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Statistics on the Decline in Conversions in Churches.

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, Christianity Today, 3/6/19.

…Church conversions

The lack of growth in worship attendance in most churches is matched by a lack of new commitments to Christ last year.

Fifty-four percent of pastors say fewer than 10 people indicated a new commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior in 2018, including 8 percent who had none.

In some ways, however, those numbers mask deeper evangelistic issues. When evaluating churches based on the number of conversions per 100 attendees, 67 percent had fewer than 10 per 100 people attending their church. Around a third (35%) had fewer than five new commitments for every 100 people attending their worship services.

Forty-six percent of smaller churches (fewer than 50 in worship services) say they had 10 conversions or more for every 100 in attendance, while only 18 percent of churches 250 and above meet that benchmark.

While there are no major differences between evangelical and mainline churches in terms of new converts, denominational differences do exist.

A majority of Pentecostal pastors (57%) say they saw 10 or more new commitments to Christ in their church last year per 100 attendees. The next closest denominations are Lutherans (39%), Holiness (38%), and Baptists (35%).

A quarter of Methodist (25%) and Presbyterian or Reformed pastors (23%) say they had 10 or more new commitments to Jesus in 2018 per 100 attendees. Half of Methodist pastors (50%) had fewer than five new commitments last year.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/lifeway-research-church-growth-attendance-size.html

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Alister McGrath eulogies Michael Green, saying: “He taught me the importance of evangelism.” He taught me that too.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: a couple years ago I took a group of doctoral students to Wycliffe College at Oxford. One of the most famous professors there was Michael Green who had tremendous impact upon me when I was in seminary when I read his books “Worship in the New Testament” and “I Believe in the Holy Spirit.” Both of those books transformed me.

by Alister McGrath, Christianity Today, 2/12/19.

… Green, an academically talented student, was converted to Christianity as a teenager. In quick succession, he earned first class honors in classics at Oxford and first class honors in theology at Cambridge. His sense of calling to minister in the Church of England reflected his lifelong passion for evangelism. While serving on the staff of the London College of Divinity, a theological college of the Church of England, Green published two works aimed at a student audience that established his growing reputation as an apologist and evangelist: Man Alive (1967) and Runaway World (1968).

These books were widely read and shared by Christian students and led to invitations to speak at major churches and student gatherings throughout the United Kingdom. I read them both myself while a student at Oxford in the early 1970s, and I recall vividly the impact of a sermon Green preached in Oxford on John 3 which helped me grasp the core themes of the gospel.

… In 1975, Green became rector of St Aldate’s Church, Oxford. As an Oxford student at the time, I recall well the sense of delight and anticipation within Oxford’s Christian student community on learning of this appointment. Many were thrilled at the thought of sitting at the feet of such a gifted and well-known preacher and evangelist. They were not disappointed.

Green’s preaching wove together his love for the New Testament, his passion for evangelism, and a deep sense of care and compassion for his congregation. Green’s remarkable capacity to encourage others in their faith and in exploring their callings led many to explore ordination, missionary work, or ways of ensuring their faith and professional callings were woven together.

Somehow, Green managed to find time to write. His works of this period include his I Believe in the Holy Spirit (1975), whose warm and winsome tone did much to commend the new interest in the Holy Spirit that was gaining sway in student circles and beyond.

Read more of McGrath’s eulogy here … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/february-web-only/alister-mcgrath-michael-green-tribute-evangelism.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=20830743&utm_content=635605081&utm_campaign=email

SYSTEM 4 of 7SYSTEMS.church: REGENERATION & People/Places are supernaturally changed for the better.

7.4 systems yellow

This is fourth (4th) in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (5/17/17) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.

The “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) is based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice.  An introduction to the “7 Systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) can be found here: www.7systems.church

People & places are changed (regeneration system).

Regeneration most notably happens at conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17). And though spiritual transformation may sometimes be downplayed as it is unfashionable, people still want to be changed (the self-help industry is a testimony to this). Furthermore, the Bible makes clear that spiritual transformation lies at the center of Jesus’ message (John 3:16) and humankind’s destiny (Romans 6:23).

When people are spiritually transformed so too will be their neighborhoods. Not by politics nor coercion, this happens by transformed people daily living out their changed lives (Acts 2:43-47). Healthy churches embrace a system that equally emphasizes spiritual and neighborhood transformation. (The following is excerpted and adapted from Bob Whitesel’s Cure for the Common Church, chapter 7: “Why New is Needed.”)

Newness for Those in Spiritual Need

There is the true newness that will permeate the uncommon church.  It is an expectation and invitation for people to be transformed physically and spiritually by a reunification with their loving heavenly Father (and among a community that embraces such newness).  Figure 7.1 gives an overview of why and where supernatural newness comes.

Figure 7.1 An Overview of Newness for Those in Need

God cares about those in need.
  • “I know that the LORD will take up the case of the poor and will do what is right  for the needy.” Psalm 140:12
  • You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in distress,” Isaiah 25:4
God wants to bestow upon those in need a spiritual and physical newness
  • Jesus declared, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest” (John 10:10)
  • “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Christians are to provide a fellowship that fosters and anticipates this newness 
  • “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” James 1:27
  • “Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.  And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.” Luke 14:13-14

In the previous chapters we saw that the term missio Dei describes God’s quest to be reunited with his wayward offspring.  Once this reunion is made, a real newness in personal lives emerges, a newness toward which the uncommon church will be orientated.  Though growing O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L. and L.E.A.R.N.ers are part of the process, a church will not become uncommonly supernatural unless it welcomes and expects spiritual and physical transformation.

People today (but probably no more than in any other period) are in search of newness.  They want to alleviate bad habits, overcome harmful enticements, curb destructive behavior, be more loving, kind and generous.  But something deep inside of each one of us seems to pull us back toward bad actions.  The cure, the real, long-term cure for uncommonness is a church where supernatural encounter and expectation is woven into the fabric of the congregation.  And so, an uncommon church will exhibit many of the characteristics of Figure 7.2. 

Figure 7.2 Church Patterns That Welcome Transformation 

The uncommon church
  • Expects miracles to happen
  • Expects people to be changed in positive ways that no human effort could accomplish
  • Expects people to show signs of growing in their dependence upon God rather than dependence upon humans
  • Does not put its trust in programs, pastors, the past or trends; but daily increases in their dependence upon God’s supernatural assistance to meet physical and spiritual needs

Why NEW is Needed

Humans Are in a Pickle.  

As we just noted, humans want to do the right thing, but we find ourselves constantly and repeatedly failing to do what we know is right.  God knows we are prone to this (after all he’s a long time observer of our behavior).  And, God has made a way for us to be changed.  The Message Bible is a good translation for putting such principles in modern idiom, and Figure 7.3 explains this fracture.

Figure 7.3 Our Wrong Actions Fracture Our Fellowship With God

We have an inner pull that makes us do the wrong thing, even when we know better
  • “It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back..” Titus 3:3 (MSG)
These wrong actions separate us from our loving heavenly Father
  • “There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you.  Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God.  Your sins got between you so that he doesn’t hear.” Isaiah 59:2 (MSG)
If we accept God’s plan to have Christ bear our punishment, then God will restore our fellowship with Him, help us change and give us eternal life too!
  • “But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.” Titus 3:4-7 (MSG)

How Did God Create a Route Back?

Once humans see that we are prone to do what is bad for ourselves and that we are incapable of changing by ourselves; we then notice that God has created a route, a bridge so to speak, back to fellowship with God.  Figure 7.4 is how the Message Bible explains it.

Figure 7.4  God’s Plan for a Route Back 

Jesus took the punishment for our wrong actions (so we could be restored to a close relationship with our loving heavenly Father):
  • “But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death … Romans 5:8 (MSG). 
  • “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24 (MSG)
Trusting in Jesus’ actions will acquit us from the punishment due for our wrong doings and give us a “whole and lasting life:”
  • “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted…” John 3:16-17 (MSG)
This route back is only available through Jesus Christ.
  • “Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.” John 14:6 (MSG)

How Do We Take That “Route” Back to God?

Now that we understand that God has created a route back to fellowship with himself, we begin to grasp that the all-powerful Creator of the universe wants to have personal friendship with each of us who will return.  So, what is involved in returning to him?  The answer can be summed up in the statement of Figure 7.5.  let’s look at this figure and then examine three important words in it.

Figure 7.5  How We Take the Route Back to God

Repentance must be combined with faith in order to bring about spiritual transformation.

Repentance

Repentance is a decision to “break with the past” which also carries the idea of turning and going in a new direction.  This is what it means when 1 John 1:8-9 says “…if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing” (MSG).

People come to this stage when they realize they are dissatisfied with the way their life is going and know they need help beyond what humanity can provide.  They may be frustrated that their life is full of animosities, pride, biases, deceptions, conflicts and a host of other maladies.  And so, they seek inner change.

The good news is that God wants that change for you too!  He even promises to give you supernatural power to help you make those changes.  It is this trust (or faith) in God’s ability to help you that takes you to the next step.

Faith

“Faith” is a reliance and inner sense of knowing that God has the power to transform you.  The author of Hebrews offers a classic statement about faith:

It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.  Heb. 11:6 (MSG, italics mine)

Author and lay theologian C. S. Lewis reminds us that faith also carries the idea of growing in unwavering faith, stating, “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.”

New People (Spiritual Transformation) 

Spiritual transformation in biblical terms means divine empowerment to reverse direction and go in an opposite direction with your life.  The author of Titus describes it this way:

He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.” Titus 3:4-7 (MSG, italics mine)

Therefore … 

  • When repentance (for our wrong doings) 
  • combines with faith (in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf) 
  • then spiritual transformation (into a new person) occurs.

  This spiritual transformation into a new person has been called many things: conversion, salvation, being born-again, etc.  And, though these are important terms they also have been mischaracterized.  Unfortunately to many people today they do not bring to mind the original meaning of being transformed from our old way of life.  

Today spiritual transformation may be the best term to sum up what God is doing.  When he creates a new person our old desires for self-satisfaction, preferring oneself over others, etc. will still be there, but spiritual transformation reminds us there is divine power to increasingly overcome these self-serving lures.   And, we experience an emerging confidence and power as we see God daily helping us come closer to him and as we participate in his mission.  And so, spiritual transformation is a remarkable intersection of human will, Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s forgiveness and a rekindled heavenward relationship.  This is not a transformation that we can muster up ourselves.  This is a change that goes deeply to the purpose of the One who created us.  It goes to the core of our relationship with a heavenly Father who loves us and can help us. 

And so, the Church is primarily a community that is collectively and constantly welcoming and experiencing this spiritual transformation where new people emerge.  Yet, the gloomy fact is that most commonly today, congregations are not experiencing this.  And, it does several things to a church, including robbing a church of its supernatural expectation and making a church more familiar with churchgoers than non-churchgoers.  

Thus, the “HOW” of Growing N.E.W. is critical for nurturing an uncommon church, But, before we look at Chapter 8: Grow N.E.W. HOW let us look briefly at why spiritual formation is at the pivot point of the uncommon church.

You can download the rest of the chapter here:

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For an overview of the “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice, see www.7systems.church

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SHARING THE GOOD NEWS & Univ. of Illinois researcher finds the best person to share it is a friend, who listens.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Flavil Yeakley, a colleague and former PhD graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, studied factors that contribute to people accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Not surprisingly, he found that a friend, who listens is the most effective carrier of the Good News. He also found that sharing the Good News follows a “process” model. For more on this see the review by Dr. Kwasi Kena of my book, Review of “Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey”.

Here are Dr. Yeakley’s words:

SPIRITUAL TRAMSFORMATION & Christians more intentional, but less likly to share the message of the Good News since 1993.

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 5/1

… According to a new study from Barna, compared to 25 years ago, Christians today say they try to be more intentional about sharing their faith, but fewer say evangelism is the responsibility of every believer.

In 1993, 9 in 10 Christians (89 percent) who had shared their faith said every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith. Today, only two-thirds (64 percent) of Christians who had a conversation about faith agree—a 25-point drop.

When asked about how they share their faith, modern Christians are more likely to stick to a set formula or certain strategy than were Christians in the early ’90s. More than 4 in 10 Christians in 2018 (44 percent) say they use the same basic approach each time they have an evangelistic conversation, compared with 33 percent in 1993.

The most common approaches today are asking questions about the other person’s beliefs and experiences (70 percent) and sharing their faith through their lifestyle (65 percent).

Those methods were common a quarter of a century ago as well, with 74 percent saying they ask questions and 77 percent saying they share with their lifestyle rather than their words.

The most common method in 1993, however, has since fallen out of favor. Almost 8 in 10 of Christians who had a conversation about faith (78 percent) said then they spoke about the benefits of accepting Jesus. Today, only 50 percent do that.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/05/16/christians-more-intentional-less-evangelistic-since-1993/

ENTHUSIAST.life & Churchgoing versus conversion?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Jan. 2018.

Waypoint 11 – Churchgoing versus Conversion

In the fall of 1740, parishes in the English countryside were emptying as people moved to the cities to find work in newly built factories. Farmworkers left an uncertain economic life for the promise of financial stability, even though factories were known for inhumane working conditions and squalor. Cities teemed with disadvantaged strangers from the countryside. This was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

City dwellers, feeling more sophisticated than their country cousins, treated these economic immigrants with disdain, suspicion, and exclusion. Wesley saw the church as God’s instrument to reconcile this cultural hostility, though his message gained little headway. 

All this changed after his Aldersgate experience. He started to preach that poor and rich alike would instantly change their outlook when they realized they were God’s children and not His servants. For a servant, loving people who are different from oneself is a duty. But loving those who are different is a personality trait of the sons and daughters of God.1

The idea that such a change of heart might happen quickly came from Wesley’s theological colleague Peter Bohler,2 as well as Wesley’s reading of Jonathan Edwards’s descriptions of conversions in New England. 

John measured his own experience with the guidelines given by Paul, and added a commentary. Paul wrote, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17 kjv). John commented: “First, his judgments are new: his judgment of himself, of happiness, of holiness. . . . Secondly, his designs are new. . . . Thirdly, his desires are new. . . . Fourthly, his conversation is new. . . . Fifthly, his actions are new.”3 And later he stated, “Love of the world is changed into love of God, pride into humility, passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all humankind.”4

Outlooks, intentions, desires, conversations, and actions had changed and would continue to develop in both John and Charles. They were not continually happy, nor free from worry,5 but the faith of a child signaled a new trajectory.6

Wesley entered English pulpits with the message that churchgoers must be converted from the faith of a servant to the faith of a son or daughter. Since poor and rich alike dutifully went to church and struggled to obey God’s commandments, both groups resonated with the idea that He wants a relationship rather than just cold, religious duty.

Not all resonated with John Wesley’s teachings. Some were threatened. Churchgoers, pastors, and even bishops, who had long preached service to God out of duty and obligation, were offended by Wesley’s message that the rabble of the city should think of themselves as God’s children. John used his own life as an example, pointing out that he had been an Oxford lecturer, even a renowned church planter, but still had not been converted from the faith of a servant to something better. He invited his hearers, parish priests, and bishops, to be converted to the faith of a child. 

Not surprisingly, some pastors who opened their pulpits to Wesley were not overjoyed. They felt that Wesley insinuated that they might not be converted. Furthermore, some congregants didn’t like to hear that their years of service and church attendance didn’t alone please God.

Lesson

Enthusiasts move beyond religious observance to embrace a parent-child relationship with God.

The Bible reminds us that serving God is not about obligations such as laws and rules, but rather is an opportunity to have a personal relationship and journey with God.

Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5)

Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. (v. 6)

Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. (v. 9)

An instantaneous change and a new beginning brought about by accepting our father-child relationship with God was at the heart of Wesley’s message. Is it at the heart of your faith?

Application

[Special block or other formatting.] For personal devotion, read the questions, meditate upon each, and write down your responses. For group discussion, share, as appropriate, your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

Are you going through the motions of being a Christian because of fear, guilt, or even expectations? Or do you have the liberating and empowering sensation of serving God because He loves you like a daughter or son?

In the following list, circle all the statements that represent your true feelings. 

Faith of a Servant

I fear going to hell.

I serve God because of duty.

I serve God because people expect me to do so.

Faith of a Son or Daughter

I look forward to meeting God in heaven.

I serve God because of my relationship with Him.

I serve God because He daily empowers me to do so.

Ask God to show you the faith of a child rather than the faith of a servant. Read seven Scriptures that depict our relationship with God. Start with those below, then add at least three more.

You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26)

Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Gal. 4:6–7)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Because the world didn’t recognize him, it doesn’t recognize us. Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. (1 John 3:1–2)

Finally, ask God to transform your faith today to that of a son or daughter. Did you feel something happen inside of you? If you didn’t yet, keep praying and seeking God. And when it happens, tell someone!

Speaking hashtag: #Kingswood2018

ENTHUSIAST.life & How to find the faith of a son or daughter.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Jan. 2018.

DAY 9

The Faith of a Son or Daughter

Stormy relationships and more storms at sea reminded John Wesley he was not prepared to die. The ministry that began with such promise had ended in disgrace, a lawsuit, and broken relationships. Describing his feelings about the mission’s promise and its failure, he realized that though he had gone to the colonies to convert native Americans, he too was in need of a spiritual change. He knew he needed a spiritual change because “when no danger was near” he could believe, but when facing death his spirit was troubled.” 1 He lamented that could not say, like the apostle Paul; “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21 NIV). 

Have you ever felt the same way—that squandered opportunities and the shame of sin make you fearful of meeting God? Wesley’s experience points us toward the spiritual change God wants to make in you. 

Once John arrived back in England, Peter Bohler, a Moravian, cautioned him that good works and methods were no substitute for a faith that saves a person not only from eternal punishment but also from undue worry and debased passions in this life. John would later recall that, in Georgia, he had had the faith of a “servant,” seeking to please God because of obligation and duty, but that he later came to experience the faith of a “son,” seeking to please God because of their father-son relationship.2

After returning from Georgia, Charles Wesley became gravely ill and was attended by a godly woman. Impressed by her faith, Charles asked, “Then are you willing to die?” The matron replied, “I am, and would be glad to die in a moment.” After she left, Charles said he felt “a strange palpitation of heart” and declared, “I believe, I believe.”3

Though we are sometimes weak in faith and lack assurance, God promises that He can grow a “new heart” within us, as Ezekiel reminded the similarly downtrodden Israelites: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one” (Ezek. 36:25–26).

A few days later, John attended evensong, an early evening service of prayers and psalms, at stately Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The choir sang Purcell’s profoundly stirring anthem “Out of the Deep Have I Called,” in which Wesley saw his own “godly yearning, mingled with heartfelt anguish.”4

After evensong Wesley ambled down the adjacent Aldersgate Street toward a Moravian Bible study. He arrived to find the group reading Martin Luther’s Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, in which Luther reminds readers that living out faith fosters a newness and an assurance. When the following passage from the book was read, John’s life was forever changed: “Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1:12–13. It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and brings with it the Holy Spirit.”5 

In Wesley’s own words here is what happened next: “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”6 

Lesson

Assurance of one’s relationship with God overcomes fair-weather faith.

From that moment of conversion, a new assurance took hold of Wesley’s life. No longer was he focused upon a successful career or cultivating relationships with friends and family. Instead with faith like that of a son, characterized by assurance of salvation, grew so that he would be ready to stand before God’s throne at any moment and be welcomed with the words, “Well done! You are a good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). Formerly John’s career as a churchman and a theologian had focused on his efforts to serve God with strict rules and precise theology. But after his Aldersgate experience, John saw that his relationship with God as a son of a heavenly Father meant that rules and theology serve the relationship, rather than the other way around.

The lesson for today is that assurance of salvation moves us beyond a fair-weather faith that is dependent upon circumstance. Instead, assurance grows in us the faith of a daughter or son, reminding us that we possess our heavenly Father’s genetics. We represent Him not because we are His servants but because we are His family, doing so with the graciousness, forgiveness, and joyfulness He exemplifies. 

Application

[Special block or other formatting.] For personal devotion, read the questions, meditate upon each, and write down your responses. For group discussion, share, as appropriate, your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

Ask yourself, “Do I have a fair-weather faith, confident in my Christianity only when everything is going well? Do I attend to spiritual matters (like Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship) only when times are good? Do I find it difficult to have peace and calmness when facing temptation or death?”

Then ask, “Is my relationship to God more like that of a servant or of a daughter or son? Do I follow God as a servant might, because of obligation and duty? Or do I seek to follow and please God because of a relationship—because I am His child?”

Can you say, “I am ready to stand before God’s judgment this very hour,” or, “I have the assurance that if I were to die this instant, I would hear God say ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant’”? 

Read these verses about assurance. Then write down three things you have learned. 

God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. (Eph. 1:4–6)

All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ (Rom. 8:14–15)

You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal. 3:26–27)

Finally, speak out a short prayer to God, describing your assurance as His enthusiastic child. 

Speaking hashtag: #Kingswood2018

SPRITUAL WAYPOINTS & How to help people at waypoints 10, 9, 8 & 7 (spiritual transformation)

Excerpted from Bob Whitesel, Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (2010).

Personal Problem Recognition

Waypoint Characteristics: 

Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 10

Feelings of rejection or despondency that can result in depression and/or excessive self-reliance.  At this juncture the personal failings of a wayfarer can become so overwhelming that the traveler suffers from one or a combination of four maladies: rejection, despondency, depression and/or excessive self-reliance.  Let us look at each of these characteristics that often accompany travelers at Waypoint 10.

Rejection arises from lack of acceptance.  A person may feel that they are not accepted due to background, personal habits, status, lifestyle etc..  Though people usually yearn to be accepted, they may view themselves as not living up to community standards, and thus see themselves as unacceptable and an outsider.  Subsequently, they often feel they must rely only upon themselves for survival.

Despondency signifies a hopelessness about the future.  Psychologist William McDougall coined the classic definition that “despondency drives out hope.”  A person suffering from this malady will view the future as uncontrollable, bleak and unwelcoming.  

From rejection and despondency can result two debilitating reactions: depression or self-reliance.  

Depression is a sadness, helplessness and hopelessness.  A depressed person sees little chance for change in their failings or in their outsider status.  Thus, the person gives into despondency, gloominess and/or mood swings.  Because the magnitude of these outward behaviors makes the person socially unacceptable, depression is often easier to spot than the underlying forces of rejection and despondency.

Excessive self-reliance is another reaction that can arise from feelings of rejection and/or despondency.  While moderate self-reliance is laudable, excessive self-reliance can be dangerous.  An excessively reliant person may feel they can tackle unreasonable tasks, and will set about to do so with frenzied energy.  Excessive self-reliance eventually leads to grand failures, which can devastate the exceedingly optimistic traveler.  O.J. Simpson’s quote that began this chapter may be an example of over self-reliance.  

Actions That Help W10 Travelers

Action 10.1: Good News From Fellow Travelers.

Biblical stories of optimism and divine accompaniment can provide a starting place for helping travelers experiencing rejection, despondency, depression and/or excessive self-reliance.  Let us just look at a few illustrations that can provide a introductory understanding. 

Excessive self-reliance.

Others have felt like you.

 The story of Samson (Judges 13-16) yields a powerful story of a failed leader, who once was brimming with leadership potential. Peter Northouse says that leadership is made of our five elements, let us look how each is manifest in the life of Samson.  Leadership traits are inherent and natural qualities with which a leader is endowed according to Northhouse.  Samson was given enormous strength to deliver Israel from their enemies (Judges 13:5, 14:5-6).  Leadership abilities are aptitudes developed by experience.  Samson political savvy was developed by his keen understanding of ancient customs and politics (Judges 14:12-20).  Leadership skills are the means and methods of carrying out leadership responsibilities.  For example,  “a skilled leader in a fund-raising campaign knows every step and procedure in the fund-raising process.” Samson too knew every step in the process of leading Israel (Judges 15-16), though he subverted the process for his own gain and sensuality.  Leadership behavior is what leaders do with the traits, abilities and skills they have been given.  Here we see Samson’s shortcomings, as his great skills, abilities and traits were squandered by a behavior of excessive self-reliance.  His self-centered and self-reliant behaviors were exhibited in his peevish demands to marry a forbidden Philistine woman (Judges 14:1-7), to frequent prostitutes (Judges 16:1-3) and to marry an alluring, yet avaricious Delilah (Judges 16:4-22).  Samson’s end came while captive by his enemies, where in a final act of protection of Israel, he brought down the Philistine temple upon his captors (Judges 16:23-31).  Samson’s story is a Biblical tale of self-reliance that evolved into selfishness, self-serving, and ultimately shame.

You are not alone, God promises help.

The story of Samson’s failings is dwarfed by Biblical examples of women and men who overcame their temptation to be self-reliant.  Paul was a great example of this, noting that his elite religious status was compost in comparison to the benefits of knowing Christ.

You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. Philippians 3:4-9 (The Message)

Depression

Others have felt like you.

 Even in small doses, depression is a part of the journey of life.  F. F. Bruce says describes the bitterness and difficulty of Biblical life, even beyond what most modern readers can comprehend.  The Biblical times were not an idyllic time of tranquility, but times of oppression, starvation, abuse and depravity.

You are not alone, God promises help.

The Scriptures promises:

  • “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” Psalm 34:17-19.
  • “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4
  • “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” Romans 5:5
  • “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” Hebrews 6:19.

Despondency

Others have felt like you.

  Jonah was a prophet called by God, who wallowed in racial prejudice to the point that he wanted the Assyrians in Nineveh to die.  So disappointed was Jonah with God’s love, mercy and forgiveness toward Nineveh that Jonah protested, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Judges 4:1-3).  In despondency over a loss of racial pride Jonah sat down to die.  Here he exhibited the first of two characteristics that often accompany despondency: thoughts of death.   Yet, God would not let him die, reminding Jonah of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness  (Judges 4:5-11).  A second sign of despondency is to withdraw and even run from responsibility.  Jonah’s exemplified this as he set sail to Tarshish to avoid going to Nineveh, only to find God chasing him first through a storm and then through the belly of a whale (Judges 1:4-2:10). English poet Francis Thompson has called God, the “hound of heaven” for God sees our potential and chases His offspring with love and call.

You are not alone, God promises help.

Scriptures that explain God’s assistance in battling despondency include (but are not limited to):

  • “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul…. But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.” Psalm 94:18-19, 22.
  • “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.” 2 Samuel 22:17-19.
  • Especially helpful for envisioning how God helps when things look bleak is the story of Abraham.  The writer of the Book of Romans retells the story: 

“We call Abraham ‘father’ not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody… When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!”  Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said.” Romans 4:17-22 (The Message)

Rejection

Others have felt like you.

Jesus experienced rejection as the throngs that shouted “Hosanna … blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Matthew 21:9) would soon shout “all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’” (Matthew 27:23).

You are not alone, God promises help.

Rejection is best addressed by a community of love and acceptance.  The Scriptures describe the faith community as a new kind of extended family (Ephesians 2:19) where inter-reliance, cooperation and clemency are hallmarks (Acts 2:42-47).  The community of Christ is the abode of imperfect humans where affronts and failings still occur.  But it is also a community which reflects God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.  To understand this, Luke chronicled the expansion of the Good News in the Acts of the Apostles.  This is another good starting place to help those feeling rejected recognize that God can reform and transformation ordinary and fallible fishermen, tax collectors, Pharisees and contentious siblings into tenacious leaders who will adventurously spread the Good News across the world.

Action 10.2: Three Lanterns to Illuminate the Route

Al’s view about self-reliance changed the night a church leader explained three simple, yet weighty lines of reasoning.  Al had felt all along that there must be “something more to make sense of life,” but he felt outside forces, such as God or others, were unable to navigate him in his plight.  He thus sought to become self-reliant, even though within him there was a thorny feeling that help was available.

At Waypoint 10, where a personal problem is recognized, three foundational principles will illuminate our path.  These are the three philosophical lanterns that illuminated Al’s life that night.

Lantern 1: God is real.  The leader Al heard did not seek to rationalize or confirm this statement, he simply stated it.  Too often Christians spend inordinate amounts of time validating God’s existence, but my experience of over twenty years studying evangelism is that most people deep inside sense God’s presence.  Most people by the time they have reached Waypoint 10 are not questioning God’s existence, but like Al are wondering what that existence means for them.  By stating the certainty of God’s existence, the church leader affirmed what Al had already been feeling inside.  And, then the leader began to take Al to the next step: what does this mean for Al?

Lantern 2: God can be known, in the person of Jesus Christ.  God sent His son Jesus Christ to be the supernatural yet personal guide and rescuer for humankind.  The relational nature of Christ, who experienced every temptation that humans have experienced (Hebrews 4:15) creates a unique and compelling bond between God and humans.  And, with the empowerment and inner accompaniment of His Holy Spirit in each believer (Acts 1:8), God has created the ultimate relationship.  This relationship is so dynamic, celestial and supernatural that it can only be described as birthing a new “being.”  

Lantern 3: God loves you, and in Jesus Christ laid down His life for all humankind.  Sacrificing oneself for others may not a popular action. But travelers sense that assistance is needed, as did Al.  Thus, the church must help wayfarers understand that though humans can’t solve life’s problems, God can.  The magnitude of God’s sacrificial action must be carefully explained to the wayfarer.  The community of faith must recapture in word and deed the enormity of Jesus’ death and resurrection where graves opened, departed saints reappeared (Matthew 27:511-53), and Sheol spewed forth her wrath and eventually her captives (Ephesians 4:8-10).

Christ’s regeneration of Al did not supplant his passion to help the needy, but empowered it.  Al’s sensitivity to the oppressed had been a pre-conversion characteristic.  Though Northouse would call this a “trait,” it can also be thought of as a God-given gift.  The New Testament lists approximately 26 gifts which are given by God to bring a focus to ministry.  One of these is the gift of mercy, which has been described as: 

“The gift of mercy is … to feel genuine empathy and compassion for individuals (both Christian and non-Christian) who suffer distressing physical, mentor, or emotional problems , and to translate that compassion into cheerfully-don deed which reflect Christ’s love and alleviate the suffering.”

There is no Biblical reason why these gifts could not be given in some measure before conversion, awaiting the regenerative experience for them to then be supernaturally empowered and expanded.  Thus, God did not supplant Al’s gift of compassion for the poor, but after regeneration He empower it.  In the following interview we will look at Al’s current ministry and see how God is using Al Tizon to infect thousands of people with a passion to share the Good News in word and deed.

Waypoint 9 – Decision to Act

Waypoint Characteristics: 

Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 9

Caught in a gap.  One of the most common sensations at Waypoint 9, is a feeling of hopelessness and suspension between two lives, two worlds, two monarchies and two calls.  Interestingly, church altars in the Middle Ages were often painted with scenes of Heaven and Hell, with many people perched precariously between both.  This may have been an attempt to portray sensations of being caught in the middle.  But, once the person who is tussling in this gap grasps a glimpse of their rescuer in Christ, they have an uncommonly strong urge to identify and escape.  And, this leads to the second sign that can accompany travelers at Waypoint 9, an urge to act without delay.

 An urge to act immediately.  At this waypoint the traveler often has a strong desire to do something, though what that something is can be vague and foggy.  Still, the traveler feels an overwhelming impulse to act. Engel describes this as “a firm intention to act one way or another.”   This compulsive urge has been brought on by the many waypoints that have led up to this juncture. The traveler now feels that he or she is on the cusp of a new awakening, a new life, a new destiny … and they are.  But, if the traveler rushes too quickly into this decision they can do so without full understanding what they are embracing.  

Vacillation due to the magnitude of the gap. At the same time a traveler can also be intimidated by the magnitude of the gap that separates the traveler from an all powerful God.  And, if the traveler is accustomed to having others make decisions for them, they may reel from moving forward, being brought to a standstill by the magnitude of the gulf.  The community of faith must help the traveler see that God understands this gap, and that God, Himself, has erected a bridge to span it.

Therefore, it is important for the faith community to gradually, yet steadily, help the traveler perceive the gap, the one bridge, and the necessity of a decision to cross it.  The following actions that will examine this assistance in detail.

Actions That Help W9 Travelers

Action 9.1: Understand the Trekker’s Feelings

The feeling of being caught in the middle.

As the soldier in Shane’s story came to grasp, Christ understands the travels and travails His offspring have experienced.  Jesus experienced both the wayfarer’s frailty and defenselessness:

  • “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”  Hebrews 4:14-16 (The Message).
  • “The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun. They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga. They plaited a crown from branches of a thornbush and set it on his head. They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said. “Bravo!” Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick. When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him. Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.” Matthew 27:27-31 (The Message).

Yet, in many Protestant churches the image of Christ that is portrayed is that of a victorious and/or everyday Christ.  There is nothing wrong with such imagery, but the images within Catholicism of a Christ on the cross may be more helpful for the traveler at Waypoint 9.  Often before arriving at this waypoint, the traveler has undertaken an arduous journey, and before they make a decision to act, the traveler needs to know that Christ understands the traveler’s predicament and journey.  Thom Rainer’s research discovered that most people visit a community of faith because a crisis in their life has driven them there.  When they visit our churches  because of a crisis, they may be looking for a Christ (as well as His followers) who can identify with their calamities and afflictions.  The community of faith must understand that although for many mature Christians the image of a victorious Christ overcoming all enemies is exhilarating, for the traveler at Waypoint 9 who is often pleading for help to overcome their own inadequacies, the images of a Christ who suffered as they are suffering is obligatory. 

The Feeling That They Must Act Immediately

A traveler at this juncture will have a resolute determination that they must act.  But, the seemingly impulsive and rash nature of this act, is really due to this being the culmination of a long process.  This does not mean however, that a person should be rushed through this stage.  On the contrary, the faith community must let the traveler know they appreciate and understand their impetuous feelings and that they are normal.  It is important that the community of faith does not chide them for this impulsiveness, but rather acknowledges it as a natural part of the process, and to slowly lead them to the next area of assistance.

The Feeling of Vacillation Due to the Magnitude of the Gap

Because many travelers will find this decision intimidating, the community of faith must help the traveler move forward neither in haste, nor delay.  This is a decision of eternal destiny, and thus a choice cannot be put off indefinitely even if it needs to be slowed down. The community of faith will want to take into account each traveler’s predicament and then help them navigate Waypoint 9 at the pace that is right for them.

Action 9.2: The Gap, the Only Bridge and the Decision

Subsequently, the community of faith will want to let the trekker know that there are three important works of God that must be grasped to fully understand the importance of the act they are about to undertake. These three understandings will be discussed in each of the following two chapters.  But, here it will be important for the traveler to be introduced to an overview of three critical Scriptural truths: the gap, the only bridge and the decision. 

  • The gap: There is a gap that separates humankind from God. The community of faith must slowly help the wayfarer grasp that every person who travels this journey makes mistakes, and falls short of God’s ideal.  In theological terms, every trekker is a sinner.  Scriptures that emphasize this gap include, but are not limited to: 
    • “There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you.  Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God.  Your sins got between you so that he doesn’t hear.” Isaiah 59:2 (The Message).
    • “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.” 1 John 1:8-9 (The Message).
    • “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
  • The only bridge:  The traveler must also understand that a sympathetic and compassionate God has erected a bridge to span their gap.  And, the traveler must grasp that this is the only bridge that can cross this chasm.  The following are some representative Scriptures:
    • A Bridge was built by one who understands and has experienced the traveler’s anguish and suffering:
      • “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted…” John 3:16-17 (The Message).
      • “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24 (The Message).
      • “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
      • “But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” Romans 6:23 (The Message).
      • “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Hebrews 2:9-11.
    • There is only one bridge.  Sometimes travelers wonder if there is another bridge spanning the same chasm.  They wonder if perhaps Buddha, Mohammed or Shiva has built a bridge. While other religious personages may claim to have spanned the chasm, Jesus clearly states that though others may claim else wise, no other bridge exists.
      • “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.” John 14:6.
      • The Message translation adds traveler imagery:  “Jesus said, ‘I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!’” John 14:6. (The Message).
  • The Decision.  Yet, with all of the usefulness and convenience of the bridge, some find such a decision daunting.  For some it seems easier to stand on the cusp of the gap and gaze at the future from afar, than to actually cross the bridge and reach it.  Thus, the community of faith must help the traveler cross this span not in haste, but not in delay either.  Remaining perched on one side of the gap is not crossing it, nor getting the traveler any closer to their designation.  The scriptures accentuate the importance of decision:
    • “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15.
    • “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20.
    • “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13
    • “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” John 1:12
    • To the young businessman, Jesus replied. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” Matthew 8:22 (The Message).

It is important the community of faith introduce, discuss, and receive questions about these three truths in an unhurried manner. These are world changing truths that take time to digest and absorb.  

Waypoint 8 – Faith and Repentance in Christ

Waypoint Characteristics: 

Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 8

A traveler mistakes belief with following.  As a youth, I had been confused into thinking that mental assent was all that was needed to go to heaven.  Living a changed life seemed optional.  But, as a fuller understanding of God’s words emerged, I began to understand that God requires holy living to emerge as well.  Scriptures that underscore this include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • “As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy” 1 Peter 1:15-16 (The Message).
  • “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Tim. 4:8
  • “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  James 4:7-10.

A traveler is struggling with surrendering their will to God.  C. S. Lewis once wrote “there are only two kinds of people in the end, those who say to God ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done’.” The traveler at this waypoint may be struggling with the thought of relinquishing control of their life.  They may have grown up in an environment that required they be self-sufficient.  Regardless of the genesis, they now find the thought of relinquishing control to an unseen Deity unnerving.  Yet, Jesus reminds us:

“What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here’.”  Matthew 7:21-23, The Message.

A self-centered aspiration for impersonal ministry.  The Good News travels best over what Donald McGavran called the “bridges of God” or the natural relationships that God has brought into our lives.   While is seemed to me somewhat romantic and impersonal to be called to a mission field far away, God knows that we can best reach out to those around us.  For example, it must have been embarrassing for Peter to preach his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Many in the crowd would have known the hot-headed fisherman, and some would have heard about his swearing and denials only 50 days before.  Yet, preaching in Jerusalem, the social center of his world, was where Peter would have the greatest impact. A key to understanding the life changing magnitude of the Good News is to understand the role of the heart, the seat of the emotions, and the mouth, through which we proclaim our emotions.  As Paul says “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” Romans 10:9-10.  Thus the journey into the Good News is a public excursion, because God wants more people to join the journey.

Actions That Help W8 Travelers

This waypoint, and the following Waypoint 7, address conversion which is a topic of great interest to both religious and secular scholars.  Among such scholars, psychologist and philosopher William James’ definition remains one of the most accepted:

(conversion is) …the process, gradual or sudden, buy which the self hitherto divided and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy becomes united and consciously right, superior and happy in consequence to its firmer hold upon religions realities.

Let us briefly recap the three most recent waypoints that have led up to this definition.  They are: 

Waypoint 10:  Problem  recognition with “a sense of intolerable discomfort that compels the individual to make a choice.”

Waypoint 9:    Christ is who he claims to be and is the only way to God.  As Jesus says in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Waypoint 8:     In Engel’s words, the Holy Spirit now works to “intensify the perceived gap between what is and what might be, thus leading to a firm intention to act one way or another with respect to Christ.  No human persuasion enters into this process.”

To understand how this process unfolds at Waypoint 8, let us look at four actions that communities of faith can undertake to help travelers at this juncture.

Action 8.1: Embrace the Supernatural

Much of the research on conversion by psychologists and philosophers has ignored or downplayed a supernatural connection.  Yet, Scripture makes it clear that a supernatural intersection is at the heart of this experience, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship” (Ephesians 2:8-10).  The Message Bible paraphrases this passage to make God’s participation even more blunt:

Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. Ephesians 2:8-10.

Therefore, a faith community helps wayfarers by allowing the supernatural to participate and to guide the process.  Yet, this does not mean sanctioning spiritual anarchy.  Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, a church struggling with spiritual disorder and chaos, emphasizes that God works in a logical and reasonable manner, stating “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40).  

Action 8.2: Authenticity and Relevance

Human manipulation should not enter into this process.  As seen above, human manipulation is inauthentic and ultimately fruitless.  God’s Holy Spirit is working, and only an all loving God could ensure that this process is free of manipulation and coercion.  The process is organic, with dialogue and intersection with a loving Heavenly Father guiding the process.  Christians must pray, support and aid, but let the Holy Spirit guide.

Relevance and free will are involved.  Though there are different theological options regarding the degree to which choice is involved in human decisions, free will does exist at the point of decision.  The Scriptures make it clear that a human must make an individual decision regarding the relevance to them of God’s declarations (Romans 3:23), their personal estrangement from God (Romans 6:23) and a willingness to accept God’s rescue plan through Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Action 8.3: 3 Fallen, Imprisoned & the Ultimate Solution

The Holy Spirit now works to “intensify the perceived gap between what is and what might be, thus leading to a firm intention to act one way or another with respect to Christ.  No human persuasion enters into this process.” This takes place as the traveler grasps three “realities.”

REality 1: Fallen – the wayfarer has fallen short of God’s expectations.  The traveler at this point is coming to the conclusion that he or she has fallen short of God’s expectation and is a sinner.  Below are foundational verses for understanding this:

  • “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
  • “But your iniquities have separated  you from your God;  your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:2

Reality 2: Imprisoned – the wayfarer, imprisoned by self-seeking, can thus never please God and will ultimately experience spiritual death. Below are a few foundational verses:

  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
  • “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” Ephesians 2:1

Reality 3: The Ultimate Solution – the wayfarer becomes willing to go in a new direction, seeking the ultimate solution through an act of will to accept Christ’s salvation. Foundational verses include:

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16.
  • “And this is the real and eternal life: That they know you, The one and only true God, And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” John 17:3

Action 8.4: Cultivate Declaration.

Paul wrote, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).  Here Paul is emphasizing that faith and repentance result in a conversion, “a turn around … a change of mind … (to turn) from something to something (else).”  In addition, Paul emphasizes that such a turnaround should be conspicuous.

Thus, this declaration should be in public behavior, and not just words.  Engel notes that when Paul says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,” (Romans 10:9) he is emphasizing that this is more than mental agreement.  The reference to the heart means a decision “that penetrates to the very core of one’s being.”  Engel notes that this is “betting your life” on the route you are taking.  A public statement or action verifies this bet.

Faith communities must provide relevant, authentic and appropriate circumstances for such declaration and community accountability.  Such proclamations in word and deed are not Biblically optional (Romans 10:9-10), but they must be culturally relevant. For example, for me an appropriate venue for declaration was the 100+ men who lived in the same fraternity with me.  The common bonds, experiences and inter-reliance we shared had created bridges of God which I crossed for the next 35 years.

Waypoint 7 New Birth

Waypoint Characteristics: 

  Waypoint 7 may be the most important, and misunderstood, juncture in the journey.  Subsequently, the reader will notice some overlap with the previous chapter, and this is intentional. The intersection of the Holy Spirit with the human soul is so critical that this is best observed from several perspectives. Thus, to understand this event, it will be necessary to look at several aspects.

What Kind of Conversion Are We Talking About?

Conversion to Christianity.  I will limit this present discussion to conversion to Christianity.  There is an abundance of literature dealing with different types of conversion and the author is indebted to Richard Peace for classifying these varieties.  There are secular conversions, where a drug addict might be transformed from drug dependence to a drug-free lifestyle.  There are manipulative conversions, where coercion is used by a cult or a government.  There is conversion between religious worldviews, for instance the conversion from Sikhism to Hinduism that is taking place in India.  And, there is conversion from one Christian denomination to another, for instance when popular Catholic priest Rev. Alberto Cutie (nicknamed “Father Oprah”) converted to the US Episcopal denomination.  Though all of these areas are of interest to scholars and researchers, we will limit this discussion to conversion to Christianity.

What is conversion?

A look at Church History reveals that there are a wide range of experiences, tempos and progressions associated with conversion.  However, there are common characteristics and elements that run through all of these conversations.  Philosopher William James best summed up these common aspects when he defined conversion as:

“To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance, are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, interior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.”

The Bible uses several Greek words to describe this conversion process.  Each of these terms will help us more accurately understand conversion. 

  • Epistrophe is the most basic term, and means to “turn around … a change of mind … (to turn) from something to something (else).”  Peace notes this is a “reversing direction and going the opposite way.”  
  • Metanoia often appears with epistrophe, and is the Greek word for repentance, which “conveys the idea of turning, but focuses on the inner, cognitive decision to make a break with the past.”
  • Pistis is the Greek for “faith, trust, confidence in God” and conveys a reliance and assurance in God that can lead to conversion.

Combining these three terms is important to understanding the matrix of conversion.  Peace sums this up stating, “Metanoia (repentance) must be combined with pistis (faith) in order to bring about epistophe (conversion).”

How and When Does Conversion Occur?

Does conversion occur in a flash, with miraculous transformations and heavenly encounters?  Does conversion take place over time?  Or perhaps conversion is a stumbling process, where the conversionary experience takes place in what Richard Peace calls “fits and starts.”  Richard Peace, Scot McKnight and others have looked at the New Testament record and conclude that the answer is “all of the above.”  Let us look at three basic categories.

Sudden Conversion.  Sometimes conversion takes place “in a flash … a sudden point-in-time transformation based on an encounter with Jesus.”  This is the experience of Saul/Paul in Acts 9, and has became the standard way the evangelical church looks at conversion.  At the altar sudden and dramatic responses are often expected, door-to-door visits lead to a “prayer of commitment,” and mass rallies end with an appeal to come forward for conversion.  While this may be required to facilitate a person on the verge of a sudden conversionary experience, not all conversions happen in this manner.  Psychologist Lewis Rambo, in an exhaustive look at religious conversion, concludes that “for the most part it (religious conversion) takes place over a period of time.”  Thus, the evangelical church may be limiting the number of wayfarers she can help by focusing too exclusively on sudden conversion.  

Progressive Conversion. A closer look at the Gospel of Mark reveals that Mark was describing a different, more gradual paradigm of conversion.  As Peace notes:

“What Mark sought to communicate in his Gospel was the process by which these twelve men gradually turned, over time, from their  culturally derived understanding of Jesus as a great teacher to the amazing discovery that he was actually the Messiah who was the Son of God. In showing how the Twelve turned to Jesus, step-by-step, Mark was inviting his readers to undergo the same journey of conversion.”

Peace concludes that “what happened to Paul, and what happened to the Twelve was identical in terms of theological understanding, though quite different experientially.”

 Scot McKnight describes how progressive conversion can take place in churches that practice infant baptism.  McKnight states, “for many Christians conversion is a process of socialization,” meaning that nurture is confirmed later by personal affirmation.  For example, an infant baptism or an infant dedication can be seen as a public affirmation that the church community and parents will nurture that child (i.e. via spiritual socialization).  After growing up in this environment of spiritual socialization and religious community, the grown child will be expected to ratify this effort via further instruction (i.e. catechism) and confirmation.  

Liturgical Acts and Conversion.  McKnight also notes that in some liturgical traditions, such as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, while conversion is experienced, the sacraments are more involved.  Thus, baptism, the Eucharist and “official rites of passage” are where conversionary experiences often take place for “liturgical converts.”  There is nothing to preclude that God can use such spiritual rites as touchstone experiences where metanoia (repentance) is combined with pistis (faith) in order to bring about epistophe (conversion).

Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 7

Travelers at W7, the New Birth, are usually experiencing three growing yet competing feelings: metanoia (repentance), pistis (faith) and epistophe (conversion).  Let us look at signs the traveler is wrestling with each.

Wrestling with repentance (metanoia). Travelers at W7 experience an inner, mental decision to make a break with their past.  Mental gyrations are going on where memories of the positive attributes of the past are being superseded by visions of what an ideal future can contain. The traveler will often be vacillating between anticipation (of the future) and guilt (over the past). The church must be prepared to gracefully and gradually help the traveler make sense of these polar forces and to focus on God’s design for their future.

Wrestling with faith (pistis).  At this juncture travelers often feel a new inner certainty and confidence in God and His Good News.  Sometimes Christians are taken back by such passionate belief.  This may be especially hard to understand if the observer has experienced a liturgical or progressive conversion, and the traveler is experiencing a sudden conversion.  And the converse is true, if a person experiences a progressive conversion then this can often mystify and confuse the sudden convert, because that has not been her or his experience.  We will talk more about overcoming this confusion under Action 7.1: The Church Must Recognize That Conversion is a Mystical Matrix of Forces.

Wrestling with conversion (epistophe).  Travelers at Waypoint 7 are on the cusp of reversing course and setting about in a new direction.  Phrases such as a new outlook, a new beginning or a new lease on life occur in their vocabulary.  The traveler is encountering a powerful sensation that a new direction is warranted.  But as noted above, this feeling can be lived out in a slow, sudden or even sacramental encounter. Regardless of the venue or the pace, the key to repentance is in William James’ words “…by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, interior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy.”

Actions That Help W7 Travelers

Actions 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3  will deal with helping the traveler wrestle with repentance (metanoia), faith (pistis) and conversion (epistophe).

Action 7.1: Helping Those Wrestling with Repentance (metanoia)

Repentance is the process of turning that focuses on the inner, cognitive decision to make a break with the past.  Here the church assists the traveler through prayer, support and by getting out of the way and allowing the Holy Spirit to work. The church’s job is not to convict of sin, for that is the Holy Spirit’s role (John 16:8-9).  Usually at this stage the traveler is so riddled with shame and guilt due to the Holy Spirit’s working, that any additional derision lumped on by the unaware Christian, can thwart the process. 

Also the church must help the traveler see that others have experienced similar remorse for the past.  And, the church must help the traveler see that Christ can create a new creature “and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, The Message).

At this waypoint the traveler is summing up all he or she has known of the past and is now comparing that to an emerging understanding of God’s future for their life. The reality of the past is now being compared to the hope of the future, and overcoming the concreteness of the past will take some support.

Action 7.2: Helping Those Wrestling with Faith (pistis)

At this waypoint the traveler is often in the final gestation of a faith development leading to conversion. Thus, the traveler will be inquisitive, confused and befuddled because they are growing in faith, trust and confidence in God.  

The church can thus help the traveler at this waypoint see God’s promises as reflected in Scripture. The Scriptures are filled with examples of stories, poems and songs given to a people or person that was struggling with trusting God in the midst of calamity.  I have often found that at this juncture Psalm 23 and its emphasis upon trust in calamity is appropriate, for it emphasizes the positive future of God’s assistance, even over the calamity of the present. 

Action 7.3: Helping Those Wrestling with Conversion (epistophe)

Travelers at Waypoint 7 will be ready to experience a “turn around … a change of mind … (to turn) from something to something (else)” (i.e. conversion, Greek epistophe).  The traveler will seek help in reversing direction and going the opposite way, and this may require significant effort by the church.

For example, the church may need to help an abused spouse find a new place to live, if that spouse is to reverse their direction and go in a direction away from an abusive relationship.  Or a church may need to provide housing, counseling, a job, and a host of other assistance. While this type of ministry was described as a congregational action at Waypoints 14, 15 and 16, it must be offered again here. At the conversion stage, the traveler is making a lifestyle change along with their spiritual decision.  The traveler is deciding to turn in a new direction, that will be of such radical nature that the traveler will need significant help to reverse course.

Action 7.4: Conversion Is a Mystical Matrix of Forces.

Many churches today focus on one of the three variations of conversion.  McKnight says that “each is aligned with a major component of the church and each appears to be allergic to the others.” Let us look briefly at each in Figure XX: A Comparative Look at Conversion.

Figure XX: A Comparative Look at Conversion

Types of Conversion
Personal Decision Socialization Liturgical Acts
Customary Denominational

Context

Evangelicals, c e 

Pentecostals c e

Mainline 

Protestants c e 

Roman Catholics, c e

Orthodox Church c e

Strengths Radical departure from the past. Point of conversion does not require a sordid past. Mystery and encounter with the supernatural.
Weaknesses In some studies only 10 percent of these decisions “resulted in long-term changes in personal behavior.d

Mechanical tools can replace community. e

The work of conversion can “drift from the center of one’s ecclesiastical vision.”e

Faith can become a matter of duty and obligation. e

Liturgy has to be learned, as well as how to participate in it before conversion.e 
Adage “Conversion is                    an individual experience that can be dated exactly.” e “Belonging before believing.” e “To arouse the sleeping faith in the nominal Christian.”e
Customary participants. Raised in a secular environment. e

First generation Christiansa

Raised in a Christian home.b

Second generation Christiansa

Second generation Christiansa
    1. Charles Kraft, “Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin (Colorado Springs, Colo.: International Christian Broadcasters, 19740, Second Quarter.
    2. Scot McKnight, Personal Interview, June 2, 2009.
    3. Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels.
    4. Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the new Millennium (Berkley: University of Calif. Press, 1997), 171-172.
    5. Richard Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, 8.

 As noted in this chapter, the New Testament and experience tells us that conversion takes place in several ways and with different cadences.  Scot’s story that began this chapter mirrors many of the people I have met over the years, as well as this author’s personal experience.  While it seems tidy to categorize into neat categories the different types of conversion, the Holy Spirit appears irked to behave in such categorical fashion.  Scot’s experience was a combination of personal decision and socialization.  For Scott, this was a culmination of three personal encounters (ages 5, 12 and 17).  God had been connecting with Scot for some time via the influence of friends, family and the Holy Spirit.

Download the chapter here (and be sure too support the publisher and the author by purchasing a copy if you enjoy it): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 10, 9, 8 & 7

Speaking hashtags: #Kingswood2018

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & 4 waypoints I use to explain salvation & conversion

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 4/22/18.

As my clients, colleagues and mentees know … I believe every person should be ready to explain the Good News at any time. I’ve created a short version based upon the most popular presentations (such as the Romans Road, the Four Spiritual Laws and the Four Steps to Peace with God). The 4 Waypoint presentation is a work in progress, but here it is:

(intro.) Think of life as a journey, it’s easy to do. You are going from Point A to Point B, etc. These are called “waypoints.” Here are the 4 waypoints God wants you to encounter.

1. God loves you & wants to give you eternal life.

(John 3:16) For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

2. But our poor choices have wrecked our relationship with Him and doomed us.

(Romans 3:23) For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

(Romans 6:23) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

3. Only Jesus can get us back in a right relationship w/ God.

(Romans 5:8) But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(John 14:6) I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

4. Accept His forgiveness & start living a full and eternal life.

(Acts 16:31) Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

(John 10:10) I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

For other Good News presentation tools: CLICK HERE.

Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018

CONVERSION & An interview w/ the author of “The Triumpth of Christianity,” Bart D. Ehrman, on why spiritual transformation was central to Christianity’s growth.

Interview by Terry Gross, Fresh Air, National Public Radio, 3/29/2018.

“On why conversion was so important to Christians.”

It’s one of the things that made Christianity quite distinct in the ancient world. It had to do with the nature of the Christian religion. Christians from the very beginning believed that it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that could make a person right with God and that if a person was not right with God, they would pay an eternal penalty. There would literally be hell to pay if somebody didn’t convert. And so Christians believed that their religion was the only right religion and that people had to practice their religion or else they would go to hell.

Moreover, Christians maintained that they were to follow Jesus’ teachings of love. You’re to love your neighbor as yourself. Well, if your neighbor is going to go to hell by not believing what you believe, and you love this person, then you need to make them see the error of their ways and convert them to your faith. And so that’s what Christians were doing from the very beginning: Trying to convert others so that they could join the church and avoid the terrors of hell.

On how conversions to Christianity were largely voluntary in the religion’s first centuries of existence.

I think early in Christianity it was always voluntary. People were simply deciding that the Christian God was the one to be worshipped rather than the traditional pagan gods, and for several centuries it went on like that. We don’t actually have records of forcible conversions in the sense that Christians were wielding the sword and forcing pagans to convert. We don’t have that kind of thing.

By the end of the 4th century, we do have some Christian intolerance of other religions that was manifest on the political level, where pagan religions became illegal to practice. At that point you … don’t have forced conversions to Christianity; what you do have is enforced illegal religions, so the pagan religions became illegal to practice at one point.

On why there weren’t more Jewish converts

Christianity started out as a group of Jesus-followers, who were all Jewish as he was, who agreed with his teachings, which were Jewish teachings. They believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures. They were Jewish.

But this message that they had — that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah after his death — simply didn’t take among the Jews. Most Jews absolutely rejected the message, and they didn’t think it was simply wrong — they thought it was somewhat ludicrous. Jews who were expecting a Messiah had a variety of understandings of what that Messiah might be, but the various understandings of the Messiah was that the Messiah was going to be a powerful figure who would destroy the enemies of the people of God and set up Israel as a sovereign state in its promised land. He was going to be a powerful warrior political figure.

Jesus, on the other hand, was a crucified criminal who is executed for crimes against the state. To call Jesus the Messiah struck most Jews as completely crazy. … So most Jews simply didn’t accept the Christian message, and early on at least, were quite opposed to it.

Read more at … https://www.npr.org/2018/03/20/595161200/author-traces-christianitys-path-from-forbidden-religion-to-a-triumph

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Another simple 5-step way to explain it.…

  1. Acknowledge your need. You cannot reach God by your own efforts or your own good living. Read Romans 3:23.
    • 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
  2. Be willing to turn from bad actions (i.e. sin). Repentance involves unconditional surrender of your life to the control of Jesus Christ. Read Romans 6:12 – 14.
    • 12 Do not let sin control the way you live;[a] do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
  3. Know that God loves you. God is seeking you. He demonstrated his love on the cross. Read John 3:16.
    • 16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
  4. Believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty of your sin. Christ is the only way to God. His death on the cross accomplish what you cannot do for yourself. Read John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.
    • Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
    • 12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
  5. Invite Jesus Christ is enter and control your life. Through prayer, receive Him as Savior and Lord. Read John 1:12 and Revelation 3:20.
    • 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
    • 20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

Prayer:

Dear God, I confess I am a sinner. I now turn from my sinful ways believing that Jesus Christ died to bear the judgment of my rebellion. I ask Him to forgive me, save me and control me as I promised to follow Him.

The Free Bible Literature Society. Hawthorne, New Jersey, n.d.  The above scriptures are from the New Living Translation (NLT).

four spiritual laws Romans road steps to peace with God

CONVERSION & Why for Snyder, Stott, de Wall, McLaren, Newbigin, etc. it is metaphors that best capture the sense of a transformative journey & the word: evangelism

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2010.

“Bridge Building Requires a Plan”

A helpful metaphor toward depicting this planned and purposeful process, is that such bridge building can be thought of as a journey. A journey reminds us that outreach is a bridge-building process, requiring time, patience, mapping and perseverance.

Sociologists James Engle and Wilbert Norton depicted this journey as a processes of deepening communication. They noted that it took place over time with a variety of adaptations, stating “Jesus and His followers … always began with a keen understand of the audience and then adapted the message to the other person without compromising God’s Word. The pattern they followed is as pertinent today as was two thousand years ago”[i]

Richard Peace, professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation at Fuller Seminary, looked carefully at the 12 disciples in the New Testament and concluded that a step-by-step process unfolds through which the disciples eventually have a transforming experience.[ii] Peace calls this “process evangelism,” summing up,

“The Twelve came to faith over time via a series of incidents and encounters with, and experiences of, Jesus. Each such event assisted them to move from their initial assumptions about Jesus to a radically new understanding of who he actually was. In his Gospel, Mark invites his readers to make this same pilgrimage of discovery.”[iii]

Esther de Wall, in The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination notes that the Christian life has always been viewed as a journey, stating,

“Life seen as a journey, an ascent, a pilgrimage, a road, is an idea as old as man himself. One of the earliest titles for Christians at the time of the Acts was “the people of the way’. We see the individual Christian as a pilgrim on earth having here no abiding city; we speak of the Church, particularly since Vatican II, as a pilgrim church. But we cannot think of life as a journey without accepting that is must involve change and growth.”[iv]

Lesslie Newbigin sums this up nicely, saying that “as a human race we are on a journey and we need to know the road. It is not true that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. There are roads which lead over the precipice. In Christ we have been shown the road … God has given us the route we must follow and the goal to which we must press forward.”[v] Thus, the journey metaphor accommodates the imagery of planned, deliberate and unfolding bridge-building across cultural chasms.

“The Holism of a Journey”

A journey also denotes a flexible progression with varying scenarios, milestones, interruptions and course corrections. The journey metaphor conjures up the image of strenuous assents, downhill traces, varying impediments and careful mapping. Maps, sextants, and modern GPS devices attest to the desire of a traveler to pinpoint where she or he may be on their journey. Thus, the use of the journey metaphor accentuates the importance of understanding place in relation to process. Wilbert Shenk emphasized that the “flaw” with most thinking about outreach is that the “parts rather than the whole” are emphasized.[vi]

The metaphor of a journey can help overcome this flaw, by emphasizing the totality of the journey. In three separate books, Ryan Bolger,[vii] Eddie Gibbs,[viii] and this author[ix] have noted that younger generations seek holistic understandings of evangelism that do not separate the Great Commission (to make disciples of all people) from the Great Commandment (to love one’s neighbor as oneself). Gibbs and Bolger suggest this be viewed as “different sides of the same coin”[x] which is an attractive metaphor because only one substance is involved. But, coin imagery suggests that the coin at some point must be flipped over, and a new emphasis begins. The coin imagery in this author’s mind, unfortunately separates into two phases the inseparable progression of a common and continual journey.

Author Bryan McLaren appropriates the term “story” to describe this process, noting,

If you ask me about the gospel, I’ll tell you as well as I can, the story of Jesus, the story leading up to Jesus, the story of what Jesus said and did, the story of what happened as a result, or what has been happening more recently today even. I’ll invite you to become part of that story, challenging you to change your whole way of thinking (to repent) in light of it, in light of him. Yes, I’ll want you to learn about God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and about the gift of salvation.”[xi]

This is a more attractive metaphor. But still, a story is static, inflexible and even when modernized … historically captive. It carries none of the dynamic, flexible and indigenous attributes of the varying obstacles, excursions, accompaniments and progressions encountered on a journey. Thus, the imagery of a journey better highlights continuity, commonality and elasticity. And, a journey is often a communal undertaking, and thus the journey metaphor accommodates the idea of accompaniment, companionship and inter-reliance.

“A Journey of Breaking and Refreshing News”

The term evangelism is maligned today, often associated with churches that coerce or force conversion in a self-seeking or exploitive manner. Yet Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourn Magazine, argues that a response to bad religion, should be better religion.[xii] In similar fashion, the argument could be made that our response to bad evangelism should be better evangelism.

Such disparagement was not always the case. The term evangelism originally signified breaking and revitalizing news. Evangelism is an English translation of the Greek work euangelion (Matthew 24:14), which described the “good news” that Christ and His followers personified and preached.[xiii] Customarily an optimistic message brought by a courier, euangelion was a combination of the Greek words “good” (eu) and “messenger” “angel” or “herald” (angelion). For early hearers “to evangelize” or “to bring Good News” carried the connotation of great responsibility, fantastic insights with more news to follow. Alan Richardson says, “for those who thus receive it the gospel is always ‘new’, breaking in freshly upon them and convincing them afresh…”[xiv]

Because evangelism is a process of bringing this refreshing and breaking news, it is logical that not all of that news could be communicated at one hearing. Because the news we bear is both deep and broad, it requires a journey of dialogue. And as with any subject, this news is best understood when the learning starts with the basics and the moves into more complex and complicated themes.

“Is the Joy in the Trekking, Or In the Destination?”

Some readers may wonder if merely heading out on this journey of Good News might be sufficiently rewarding, feeling that the recompense is in the going. Robert Lewis Stevenson once famously intoned, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”[xv] While a trek by itself can be a rewarding experience, the journey of which we speak is comprised, as Doug and I discovered, of life changing renovations and eternal destinations. Such consequence indicates that simply enjoying the journey along an adventuresome route is not sufficient.

John Stott reminds us that there are spiritual triumphs on this journey and their importance dwarfs even the excitement of the trek., writing:

Evangelism relates to people’s eternal destiny, and in brining them Good News of salvation, Christians are doing what nobody else can do. Seldom if ever should we have to choose between satisfying physical huger and spiritual hunger, or between healing bodies and saving souls, since an authentic love for our neighbor will lead us to serve him or her as a whole person. Nevertheless, if we must choose, then we have to say that the supreme and ultimate need of humankind is the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and that therefore a person’s eternal, spiritual salvation is of greater importance than his or her temporal and material well being.[xvi]

Howard Snyder, in his book The Community of the King, agrees with Stott, stating that,

Evangelism is the first priority of the Church’s ministry in the world (italics Snyder). This is true for several reason: the clear biblical mandate for evangelism; the centrality and necessity of personal conversion in God’s plan; the reality of judgment; the fact that changed persons are necessary to change society; the fact that the Christian community exists and expands only as evangelism is carried out. The Church that fails to evangelize is both biblically unfaithful and strategically shortsighted.[xvii]

Wagner creates a good summation, stating “When a person dies without hearing that ‘God so loved the words that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, RSV), it is too late. The best thing that could possibly happen to that person has been denied.”[xviii]

Some rightly fear that prioritizing either one can undermine the other. Concern about this could be a reason for the evangelical church’s nearsightedness. But Snyder reminds us that, “an evangelism that focuses exclusively on souls or on an otherworldly transaction which makes no real difference here and how is unfaithful to the gospel.”[xix] As such, both the trek and it’s destination are important.

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 10, 9, 8 & 7  and read more in Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Abingdon Press, 2010) (Please remember, if you enjoy the free download please consider supporting the author and the publisher who invested in this book by purchasing a copy)

Footnotes:

[i] James F. Engel and Wilbert Norton, What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 35.

[ii] Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999). Peace offers a helpful examination of Mark’s account of the 12 disciples and their conversionary experiences. Peace argues that they were not converted while traveling with Jesus as members of his apostolic band, but that Mark’s Gospel is organized in part to underscore that “were brought step-by-step to the experience of repentance and faith,” 12.

[iii] Ibid. 309.

[iv] Esther de Waal, Seeking God, 69.

[v] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1989), 183.

[vi] Wilbert Shenk, Changing Frontiers of Mission, 28.

[vii] Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Academic, 2005), 149.

[viii] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 22-27.

[ix] Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church, xvi-xvii.

[x] Gibbs and Bolger, Emerging Churches, 149.

[xi] Brian McLaren, The Method, the Message, and the Ongoing Story,” in Leonard Sweet, ed., The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 214-215. For a critique of McLaren’s perspective see Martin Downes, “Entrapment: The Emerging Church Conversation and the Cultural Captivity of the Gospel,” in Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, ed.s Gary L. W. Johnson and Ronald N. Gleason (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 224-243.

[xii] Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and The Left Doesn’t Get It (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 66.

[xiii] Though familiar to the New Testament hearer this term would be strangely unique because it was rarely used as a verb, i.e. “to evangelize.”

[xiv] Alan Richardson, A Theological Word Book of the Bible, ed. Alan Richardson (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1950), 100.

[xv] Robert Louis Stevenson, Selected Writings, “Travels With A Donkey in Cevennes: An Inland Voyage” (New York: Random House, 1947), 957

[xvi] John Stott, Evangelism and Social Responsibility, 25.

[xvii] Howard A. Snyder, The Community of the King (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press), 101.

[xviii] Church Growth and the Whole Gospel (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1981), 52.

[xix] Snyder, The Community of the King, 102.

(to use on biblicalleadership.com)

CONVERSION & Kinds of conversion w/ a rationale for the term: spiritual transformation

 

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2/8/18.

Personally I use the term “spiritual transformation” because it is a more precise descriptor for the often over applied term “conversion.” In fact here are just a few of the ways that the word conversion can be applied today:

Conversion to Christianity… There is an abundance of literature dealing with different types of conversion and the author is indebted to Richard Peace for classifying these varieties (1).

> Secular conversions, where a drug addict might be transformed from drug dependence to a drug-free lifestyle.

> There are manipulative conversions, where coercion is used by a cult (2) or a government (3).

> There is conversion between religious worldviews, for instance the conversion from Sikhism to Hinduism that is taking place in India.

> And, there is conversion from one Christian denomination to another, for instance when popular Catholic priest Rev. Alberto Cutie (nicknamed “Father Oprah”) converted to the US Episcopal denomination.”

The term “spiritual conversion” is thus a more precise term though perhaps not precise enough to always designate conversion to Christ. However in lieu of a more precise term and to not muddy the meaning too greatly, I usually embrace the term “spiritual transformation” or “spiritual transformation in Christ.”

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 10, 9, 8 & 7  and read more in Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Abingdon Press, 2010) (Please remember, if you enjoy the free download please consider supporting the author and the publisher who invested in this book by purchasing a copy)

Footnotes:

(1) Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 7-11.

(2) For more on manipulative conversion see Flo Conway and Hi Siegelman, Snapping America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1978). For an overview of the New Testament milieu of conversion, and varieties of conversion in secular life, see A. D. Nock’s classic historical treatise Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1933).

(3) Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China (New York: Norton, 1961).

 

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & A short video churches can embed online to share the “4 Steps to Peace with God”

Commentary by Prof. B.: Over 25 years of consulting has taught me that churches whose congregants know how to share their conversion story and Biblical Scriptures that accompany it, I’m much more likely to grow. This to me is because, as Donald McGavran and John Wesley both emphasized, that spiritual transformation or “conversion” must be at the center of every congregant’s explanation of the Good News.

I’ve suggested in the book “Cure for the common church” and the book “The healthy church,” that church planning should include that every congregant  understand the basic scriptures regarding spiritual transformation. I’ve also suggested that pastors preach a 5 week series before Easter, during which each of the four weeks before Easter covers a different one of the so-called “Four steps to peace with God” or “Four spiritual laws.”

Also, check out these tools:

Another helpful idea is to embed on the first page of every church website this video the following video.

http://downloads.cbn.com/widgets/stepstopeace.swf

Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018

 

CONVERSION & Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England

A review by Christina Marie Devlin of  D. Bruce Hindmarsh, The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. xiv+384 pp. $110.00 (cloth) in The Journal of Religion 87, no. 2 (April 2007): 277-278. https://doi.org/10.1086/513217

Read more at …  http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/513217