GOD’S EXISTENCE & Stephen Hawking: Only the Christian View of God Makes Sense.

by Fr. Matthew Schneider, Pathos, 10/22/18.

There are many different views of God. Hawking tries to argue against God’s existence but ends up leaving the Christian view of God as the only possible one.

In his final book, famed astrophysicist and atheist, Stephen Hawking spoke about God’s relationship to the universe. Live Science published an article titled: “Stephen Hawking’s Final Book Says There’s ‘No Possibility’ of God in Our Universe.” It includes some key quotations and summaries from the book, “Brief Answers to Big Questions,” published this week:

“If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”

Hawking will argue for the universe existing at random:

“The universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature.”

Following this up, Hawking states:

“We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in,” Hawking wrote. “For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.”

Other God’s Can’t Exist

These lines rule out many conceptions of God but leave the Christian conception of God unscathed.

The Judeo-Christian God Can Exist

However, the God of Judaism and Christianity is exempt from Hawking’s critique. Hawkings assumes properly, “the laws of nature are fixed,” then notes that the universe could have just started existing without violating the laws of nature. So far I concur. However, he makes three mistakes.

All Material

First, he assumes God is the level of the universe. Hawking states, “If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence.” However, the Christian view has never been a God at the level of the universe but one far above on a totally different level of existence.

All Temporal

Second, he assumes all causes are temporal. He explicitly states that God couldn’t have caused the universe as there was no time for God to exist in (3rd quote above). Even in science, some things would be simultaneous but causally related. We say gravity causes a rock to fall, but the force of gravity is simultaneous to the rock falling. Furthermore, time is the measurement of change but change indicates imperfection as it is a moment towards or away from perfection. Thus, the Christian conception of God is unchanging and thus outside of time.

Why?

Third, he forgets to ask why? Why is there anything, not nothing? Hawking just assumes it all just randomly happened but even randomness has a cause. The lottery is random but we all know that there is a cause behind the randomness.

In Christianity, we view God as the very act of being himself. In other words, God is IS. If you get this, you can pass Christian metaphysics 101. The idea is that “to be” doesn’t change the nature of a thing – we can think of a wookie even though no wookies are. It is God himself who maintains all – from quarks to humans to super-massive black holes – in existence. Each is insofar as God grants it existence. 

Conclusion

Hawking was an atheist and critiqued the concept of God, thinking it didn’t match physical reality. He, however, seems to understand God differently than orthodox Christians do. His critiques leave the orthodox Judeo-Christian view of a transcendent and intellectual God as the only possibility.

Christianity has two more concepts of God that are above reason but not contrary to it: the Trinity and the Incarnation. Hawking’s critiques of God don’t address these either for or against.

There is a reason science grew and developed most in Christianity: our rational view of God. Next time an atheist tries to argue against God, realize they often mean something other than God when they use the word “god” …

Read more at … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/throughcatholiclenses/2018/10/stephen-hawking-only-the-christian-view-of-god-makes-sense/

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

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SPIRITUAL WAYPOINTS & How to help others navigate some of the most important stages of faith #WaypointsBook

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

Awareness of the Fundamentals of the Good News

Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 13

Spiritual Curiosity.  Wayfarers at this point are usually inquisitive, curious, perplexed and frustrated by all things spiritual.  They have been drawn to investigate further their initial experience with the Good News at Waypoint 14.  But  they may bring with them the skepticism about religion that is rising in North America.

And, at Waypoint 15 some travelers have not yet grasped the differences between varying religious viewpoints.  They may be drawn to investigate the occult, mysticism and other religions.  Once spiritual curiosity has been stirred, they often launch full bore into multiple religious directions.  Though natural, their openness to varying viewpoints challenges Christians. 

  The church sometimes overreacts, humiliates and/or banishes such inquisitiveness.  Instead we must see them as normal explorers on a spiritual journey, and expect their curiosity.  Churches can best help travels by encouraging discussion, inquisitiveness, disagreement and even prying.  And thus the church must not be defensive, closed or inauthentic, for in doing so it can belie that it has the truth the traveler seeks.

Frustrated By Language.  Another sign a traveler is at Waypoint 15 is that they can be confounded by the language of Christian culture.  Christians frequently employ terminology that is not broadly understood.  Terminology such as “sanctification,” “the Kingdom of God,” and “the blood of Christ” can express grand concepts in concise terms.  But to those newly introduced to the journey, these terms may be too much, too soon.  The result is that travelers may feel that the ardor of the journey, coupled with learning a new language, is too much to bear.  In addition, not knowing the terminology may make the traveler feel ignorant, in the dark, naïve and possibly excluded.

Churches must undertake the task of adapting their terminology to the metaphors of the hearer, without sacrificing content.  Action 13.2 will describe how to create metaphors that are equivalent to images in the traveler’s world. Finding and utilizing such equivalent metaphors is a challenging task.  But it is part of every missionary’s work, and in North America’s cultural mosaic it must be the work of every church.

Travelers Are Accepted … But Not Accepted Enough. Travelers at W13 often feel they are being courted by Christians, but when they try to volunteer the church often tells them they are not yet ready.  This is the frustration that Kimball observed and sought to address.  Some churches feel that God’s intention is to only utilize Christians to serve the community.  While this should be true in distribution of the sacraments and certain religious ministries (c.f. Acts 6:1-3, 14:23, 1  Timothy 5:17), the Scriptures are replete with examples of those who traveled with a faith community and even assisted it prior to partaking in that community’s faith (c.f. Joshua 2, Ruth 1, Matthew 2, 9).

A popular Christian musician once told me he only employed Christians in every aspect of his musical recordings.  This might be an appropriate strategy if Christians were being excluded because of their beliefs and his action was designed to bring parity.  But to me it seemed that many non-Christian musicians missed an opportunity to work alongside and learn from this gifted Christian artist.  Kimball is focused on ensuring this does not happen at the church he pastors. 

Actions That Help W13 Travelers

Action 13.1: We Journey With Them, And They With Us

At Vintage Faith Church wayfarers are encouraged to participate in administrative tasks.  Most churches reserve administrative involvement for those who have experienced new birth.  Yet, such involvement can be an important learning opportunity for three reasons. 

  1. It helps people at W13 recognize they have God-given gifts.
  2. It helps people at W13 to understand that a community of faith is there to support them in their service to others. 
  3. It helps people at W13 see participation in the community is not reserved for only a privileged group.  This keeps a church from developing elitism.  

It is also best if their volunteer opportunities are directed toward serving those outside of the church, rather than serving the church.   This is because a person at W13 may have only recently departed a realm of inequalities, injustices, deprivations and oppression.  Therefore, to them the organizational needs of the church will pale in comparison.  They can easily, and rightly, be offended when we ask them to clean up the church, arrange chairs in the sanctuary or paint a nursery.  Though these organizational tasks are necessary to support outreach, to the wayfarer these connections can be too obscure.  Instead, it is important to let the wayfarer become involved in volunteer actions that help people at waypoints the volunteer has recently experienced.  The needs of others are fresh in their mind, as is the difference they’ve experienced by moving forward on their journey.  

Still, two caveats must be considered.  

  1. First as Kimball noted, some activities require a level of spiritual maturity, sensitivity and/or organizational history that the volunteer at Waypoint 13 may lack.  Therefore, it becomes important for leaders to tactfully guide the person into appropriate volunteer opportunities.   
  2. Secondly, many wayfarers do not want to volunteer.  Many may be reeling from disappointments, resentments, oppression, etc. and thus only desire our assistance, not our recruitment. 

At Waypoint 13 it therefore becomes essential for the Christian to move slowly with fellow travelers, never manipulating or forcing them.  The Holy Spirit is the one that draws a person on this journey (John 16:8-9) and thus the faith community must ensure that we assist, but not replace the Holy Spirit.

Action 13.2: Translate the Good News

At the same time that the traveler is growing in a knowledge of the Good News, the Christian is often bombarding the traveler with a specialized language.  Earlier in this chapter we saw how travelers can become frustrated with a Christian’s cryptic language.

To underscore such communication break down, a Christian troubadour named Larry Norman created an imaginary dialogue between a Christian and a person at Waypoint 13.  “Have you been saved?” began the Christian.  The traveler replied, “I fell out of a canoe at camp once, and the lifeguard rescued me.”  “No, I mean have you been born again?” continued the Christian.  “I don’t believe in reincarnation,” came the traveler’s answer.  “Have you been washed in the blood,” replied the Christian in growing exacerbation.  “Ugh!  I don’t think I would want to,” came the wayfarer’s astonished response.  After which the flustered Christian blurted out, “I’m trying to tell you the Good News!”  “What’s that?” came the traveler’s hopeful reply.  “You’re going to hell,” retorted the Christian, and the conversation ended.

This narrative illustrates how Christian musicians have grappled with translating their message to a non-church culture.  Though we do not want to change our message or its content, Christians helping those at W13 must translate the Good News.  Missionaries and Bible-translators spend years honing their skills in translating truth without sacrificing content. But regrettably, most Christian leaders in North America rarely try. With the growing mosaic of cultures and sub-cultures in North America, coupled with a large unchurched population that is unfamiliar with Christian terminology, churches must begin to learn from missionaries and translators the important skills of translating the Good News.  The following are four basic steps for translation.

Step 1: Decide what are the essential principles that must be translated.  For a person at Waypoint 13, headed toward Waypoint 12 (grasp of the implications of the Good News), this means explaining that the Good News holds promises as well as requirements.  Jesus reminded his hearers of these requirements, but also reminded them that they are not odious nor overwhelming, stating “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Initial principles that should be broached at Waypoint 13 include, but are not limited to, God’s unconditional love, (John 3:16, etc.), that wrongdoings destroy lives and separate us from God (Romans 3:23, etc.), how Jesus bore the penalty for our wrongdoings (Romans 5:8, John 14:6, etc.), in order that we might have a better life here and ultimately eternal life (John 17:3, 1 John 5:13, etc.).

  Step 2: Put the basics of the Good News into the language of the hearer.  This step is best accomplished by a team.  And, it is good to have non-church goers involved, so that through dialogue, questioning and discussion an up-to-date translation is created.  While non-church goers should not have veto power, their involvement helps ensure that the translation is relevant and accurate.  In addition, the Christian must be careful not to be offended or affronted by another culture’s terminology.  Anthropologist Eugene Nida recalls how the tribal people of Papa New Guinea had never seen a lamb, and thus the phrase “Look, the lamb of God” (John 1:29) was confusing.  Yet, in their tribal culture they raised and valued pigs in similar fashion to the way ancient Israelites prized sheep.  The missionaries therefore translated John the Baptist’s declaration “Look, the Lamb of God” as “Look the Pig of God.”  To many Christians this is distasteful, for most Christians are sensitive to the Jewish repulsion to unclean animals such as pigs.  However, Papa New Guineans have no knowledge of such aversion, and because they value their swine so greatly, Jesus was to them the cherished, sacrificial “Pig of God.” 

Step 3:  Keep modifying and improving your terms. Translation is an ongoing process because the meaning of words can change, as well as our understanding of them.  Thus, translated terms must be updated and modified in an ongoing fashion, from Waypoint 13 forward. The Christian must gather regularly with others to discuss and improve the translation of the basics of the Good News.  Too often, churches ignore the need for updating their terminology, becoming mired in language from earlier and outdated renditions.  A result is that wayfarers often view the church’s terminology as outdated, obsolete and often incoherent.

Step 4: Sift out the bad and keep the good.  Each culture has elements that run counter to the Good News of Christ.  Yet, at the same time each culture has elements that are consistent with Christ’s Good News.  For example, postmodernism emphasizes that people should not just talk about changing the world, but actually be engaged in changing it.  Karl Marx famously intoned “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”  The result has been that postmodern influenced young people exhibit a growing concern for changing the plight of the poor.  This is also a major element in Jesus’ Good News, for example when He proclaimed in the Nazareth synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me, to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Thus, this postmodern passion for helping the needy should be lauded.

  But, there are also elements of a culture that can run counter to the Good News.  For example, premarital or extramarital affairs can be viewed by postmodern culture as a natural and recurrent part of life.  But, this runs counter to the Biblical injunction against pre- and extra-martial sex.  The Message paraphrase crafts a good translation of this Biblical injunction, “Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex” (Hebrews 13:4).  Thus, when translating the Good News, a translator must be careful to not deemphasize  nor obscure God’s commands and expectations. 

When elements of a culture run counter to the Good News, and others are in agreement with it, what should be done? Eddie Gibbs has provided a helpful metaphor in the image of cultural “sifting.” Sifting separates out unwanted elements from wanted elements, most notably in cooking where a mesh strainer such as a colander will sift out impurities. The task of explaining the Good News to wayfarers at Waypoint 13, also carries the requirement that we sift between elements of a culture that go against Christ’s news and those that do not.  To not fully explain God’s expectations is to misinform and ill prepare the traveler.  Some Christians avoid the task of doing this, perhaps because championing God’s requirements is awkward in comparison to lauding His rewards.  But both must be undertaken.  A leader who is not ready to sift elements of a culture and tactfully explain what can be retained and what must be abandoned, is not ready to travel forward with the wayfarer.

Personal Relevance of the Good News

Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 12

The Personal Trekker.  At this point the journey becomes terribly personal for the traveler. The trekker begins to realize that the Good News has ramifications for them personally.  For Lauren it was the recognition that God was a personal God, and had sent His own offspring into Lauren’s world to rescue her from herself. The implications of this for Lauren’s personal journey fostered a huge impact.

The Traveler Caught Between Two Opposites. At this waypoint the traveler will often experience diametrically opposed forces between Christianity and their former worldview. While the Christian may wonder why this bothers them so, to the traveler they are crossing over an all-encompassing threshold. The traveler is comparing and contrasting their former worldview with an emerging Christian perspective. They will need time to make comparisons, assessments and conclusions.

Actions That Help W12 Travelers

Action 12.1: Understand a Post-Christian Worldview

 The very word post-Christian requires some definition.  The term post-Christian indicates in part that today we live in an age where Christianity is not the dominant belief system, nor the religious culture.  The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicates that the majority of North Americas consider themselves religious, but do not necessarily embrace a Christian belief.   Researchers of American Church History note that at one time much of North America embraced a Christian worldview, though there were various permutations and factions.  Yet, the dominance of the Christian worldview has dissipated, and it can now be said that North America is in a post-Christian era.  Darrell  Guder states, “rather than occupying a central and influential place, North American Christian churches are increasingly marginalized, so much so that in our urban areas they represent a minority movement.  It is by now a truism to speak of North America as mission field.”

There have been numerous attempts to describe this post-Christian milieu.  However, for succinctness let me tender six basic (but not exhaustive) characteristics of a post-Christian milieu.

  1. God, if He exists at all, is just an impersonal moral force.
  2. The Bible is nothing other than a book written by humans.
  3. Humankind basically has the capacity within itself to improve morally and make the right choices.
  4. Happiness consists of unlimited acquisition of material, knowledge, experience, etc.
  5. There is no objective basis for right and wrong.
  6. If a person lives a “good life,” then eternal destiny is probable.

Each of these distinctives must be understood and addressed by the Christian who travels along with others Waypoint 12.  Therefore, Action 12.2 will address the importance of dialogue and companionship.  And, Action 12.3 will discuss how each of the above distinctives can be addressed.

Action 12.2: Discuss the Post-Christian & Biblical Worldview.

  The metaphor of a journey reminds us that a trekker will encounter fellow travelers, guides and hosts along their way.  Yet, the church has lost her way in creating dialogue with travelers who embrace a post-Christian worldview.  Richard Peace regrets the church has lost this art of companionship, and thus he suggests the church must renew her efforts to assist, engage and travel with wayfarers with divergent points of view.  Here are three guidelines for reviving the lost art of journey companionship.

Don’t have a goal in mind.  For many Christians the goal of companionship is to lead the traveler to a new birth.  But, as we have seen in the forgoing chapters it is the Holy Spirit’s role to draw wayfarers to this waypoint (John 16: 8, 9).  Thus the church’s role is conversation, not conversion; assistance not damnation.  The church must resist the temptation to be goal orientated, for we know not the length nor the route of the fellow traveler’s journey.  When Peter asked Jesus about the apostle John’s destiny, Jesus reminded Peter that his role was to be faithful and to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:156-25).  Destiny is in God’s hands, but accompaniment is in ours.

Respect post-Christian and even anti-Christian worldviews.  For honest and candid discussion to emerge, respect must be the foundation.  If a Christian joins a traveler on the journey and the Christian only lauds their own journey and the primacy of their route, then the traveler will feel the Christian has no respect, nor understanding, for the wayfarer’s personal passage.  

Understand that modern culture is fascinated with spirituality.  Though there is a growing agnosticism and atheism in North America, still almost 3 out of 4 people say they are interested in spiritual things.  Yet, many may have divergent belief systems to Christianity.   Thus to foster authentic dialogue, the Christian must show respect and reverence for different religious beliefs.

Action 12.3: Explain the Relevance of the Biblical Worldview.

The above list of post-Christian beliefs deserves an extended discussion beyond this book.  However, to begin to addressing each, I have below tendered suggestions, ideas and books. These can be the starting place for the leader that wishes to increase his or her knowledge of the relevance of the Good News.

Resources to Answer a Postmodern Worldview

  1. God, if He exists at all, is just an impersonal moral force.
    1. The Good News: Genesis 2, Exodus 15:11, 20:2-6, John 3:16, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:1, etc.
    2. Books: “Why I Believe God Exists” by William Lane Craig in Why I Am a Christian.  Also, How Does Anyone Know God Exists? (Tough Questions) by Gary Poole.
  2. The Bible is nothing other than a book written by humans.
    1. The Good News: 1 John 5:13, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Mark 13:31, Luke 24:44-45, etc.
    2. Books:  “Why I Believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable” by Gary R. Habermas, “Why I Believe the Bible is Scientifically Reliable” by Walter Bradley, both in Why I Am a Christian.  “Examining the Record” in The Case for Christ, co-written by Lee Strobel and others.  The Ring of Truth: A Translator’s Testimony by J. B. Phillips.
    3. Research:  Biblical scholar F. F. Bruce has stated that critics of the Bible’s text have uncovered no variants that affect any historical fact or belief on which Christianity is founded.
  3. Humankind basically has the capacity within itself to improve morally and make the right choices.
    1. The Good News: Psalm 51:1-4, 143:2, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 2:14-16, 3:23, 3:10-18, Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 John 5:1-10, etc.
    2. Books:  “Postmodernism: A Declaration of Bankruptcy” by Kathryn Ludwigson,  and “Evangelism in a Postmodern World” by James Emery White, in The Challenge of Postmodernism. 
  4. Happiness consists of unlimited acquisition of material, knowledge, experience, etc.
    1. The Good News: Romans 1:18-32, 2 Peter 2:18-22, Titus 2:11-14, etc.
    2. Books: Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believer and Skeptics Alike by J. B. Phillips, The Hole in the Gospel: The Answer That Changed My Life And Just Might Change the World, Randy Alcorn’s Money, Possessions, and Eternity, and The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne.
  5. There really is no objective basis for right and wrong.
    1. The Good News: Jeremiah 6:16-19, John 8:34-44, Romans 2:1-16, Galatians 2:15-16, etc.
    2. Books: God in the Dock; Essays on Theology and Ethics by C. S. Lewis, Christian Apologetics by Normal L. Geisler, and N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense.
  6. If a person lives a “good life,” then eternal destiny is probable.
    1. The Good News: Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-25, John 14:6, Romans 5:12-21, etc. 
    2. Books: Why I Am a Christian edited by Norman Geisler and Paul Hoffman, Faith on Trial by Pamela Binnings Ewen, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, and The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller.

Resources to Support a Biblical Worldview

To aid in this dialogue, the five elements below of a Christian worldview are accompanied by applicable Scriptures, suggestions, ideas and books.

  1. There is one God, Creator, who actually exists in space and time.
    1. The Good News: Genesis 1-2, Exodus 15:11, 20:2-6, Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:5, 6, 21-22, Malachi 3:6, etc.
    2. Books:  “Why I Believe the God of the Bible is the One True God” in Why I Am a Christian, Faith on Trial by Pamela Binnings Ewen, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (these books are also useful with the following four elements).
  2. Humankind, because of a willful act of disobedience became severed from a personal relationship with the God who made him and her.  The consequence is that humankind has become imprisoned and most live a self-seeking life with no possibility on their own of restoring this lost communion.
    1. The Good News: Genesis 2:16-17, Genesis 3:7-8, Ephesians 2:13-16, Romans 3:23, Romans 3:9-18, Romans 6:23 etc.
    2. Books: Tears of God by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little, and Epic: The Story God is Telling by John Eldridge.
  3. Jesus Christ, a human being who actually lived on earth, is God’s Son who has provided, through His death and resurrection, the only way for humankind to be restored to fellowship with God.
    1. The Good News: Isaiah 53:5, Hebrews 9:22, 11:6, 1 John 1:7-9, John 1:29, 6:47, 14:6, Colossians 1:4, Matthew 1:21, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2: 8-9, 1 Timothy 2:5, etc.
    2. Books: “Why I Believe Jesus Is The Promised Messiah” by Barry R. Leventhal, “Why I Believe Jesus Is the Son of God” by Peter Kreeft, both in Why I Am a Christian.  “Analyzing Jesus” in The Case for Christ, co-written by Lee Strobel and others.  How to Give Away Your Faith by Paul E. Little, Philip Yancy’s The Jesus I Never Knew. 
  4. The Bible is a valid witness to eternal spiritual truth.
    1. The Good News: Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Jude 3, etc.
    2. Books: “Why I Believe the Bible Alone Is the Word of God” by Winfried Corduan in Why I Am a Christian.  Also see F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
  5. Restoration of fellowship between God and humankind requires an acceptance by humans of the free gift God offers, but only on the terms that God has provided.
    1. The Good News: Zechariah 13:9, Matthew 6:33, 7:7-8, Romans 10:9-13, 2 Peter 3:9, Romans 5:1, Romans 8:1, Romans 8:38-39, etc.
    2. Books: “Why I Have Made Jesus Christ Lord of My Life” by J. P. Moreland in Why I Am a Christian., Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell, The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge,  and the classic treatise Peace With God by Billy Graham.
    3. This point will be discussed further in the remainder of this book, especially along the journey between Waypoints 11 and 4.

Positive Attitude Toward LIVING the Good News

Waypoint Characteristics: 

At Waypoint 11, the traveler is growing with an increasingly positive attitude toward the act of accepting Christ and joining His community.  Yet, this is a very fragile and complicated waypoint.  As noted earlier, media and popular culture may have painted a pessimistic picture of the Christian lifestyle.  Therefore, the Christian community must be prepared to patiently, unwaveringly and loving help the traveler gain an authentic picture of a faith community, as well as the person God intended the traveler to be.

Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 11

The Lost Traveler.  This is a traveler who has exhausted all other road maps.  Like Mike Franzese, the trekker may be at the end of their options.  It is here the faith community must begin to help the traveler understand the direction and basics of this new route.  Yet, often at this waypoint the church will feel compelled to remind the hiker of the errant paths he or she has taken.  However, one of the lessons of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is that the unwavering older brother should celebrate the return, not reprimand it.

The Returning Traveler.  Other travelers may be returning to the road map of their youth.  Again, it becomes tempting for the faith community to disparage the years the trekker has squandered.  Still, the Parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us that the faithful older brother should not only celebrate his own faithfulness, but also celebrate his brother’s recovery.  Jesus concluded this parable by putting the spotlight on the trekker’s return, saying, “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” Luke 15:31-32 (The Message).

Actions That Help W11 Travelers

SWOT is an acronym for a helpful analysis tool.  Though often employed to analyze businesses, it’s holistic nature makes it a good tool for understanding a person’s aspirations, fears, hopes and dreams.  Each of the letters of SWOT stands for an area that must be studied.  And, when a community of faith is helping a traveler at Waypoint 11 gain a positive attitude toward living the Good News, it is critical to look at these four areas. 

Action 11.1: Empower Strengths

“S” in the acronym SWOT stands for strengths.  These are strengths that each person possesses.  Leadership researcher Peter Northouse believes such strengths can be traits, abilities, skills or behaviors.  Traits are inherent and natural qualities with which a leader is endowed.  Abilities are aptitudes developed by experience.  Skills are means and methods for carrying out leadership responsibilities.  And behaviors are what people do with the traits, abilities and skills they have been given.  Though we will discuss their differences more in the next chapter, for this chapter the reader should keep in mind that a person’s giftings include things they are born with (traits), things they learn through experience (abilities and skills), and the behaviors that result.

There is little doubt that everyone possesses strengths in some traits, abilities, skills and behaviors. Yet the Scriptures indicate that a full unleashing of such gifts awaits a new birth experience that originates in God’s Spirit.  Such strengths and gifts testify to the goodness of the divine Giver.  Speaking to the Corinthian church, Paul states: 

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:

    wise counsel

   clear understanding

   simple trust

   healing the sick

   miraculous acts

   proclamation

   distinguishing between spirits

   tongues

   interpretation of tongues.

   All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, The Message).

When encountering a wayfarer that has arduously traveled a spiritual journey, churches can easily be put off by the demeanor, appearance, habits and opinions of the traveler at Waypoint 11.  Yet, every person has redeeming strengths, and it is the Christian community’s task to nurture what God has planted.  Helping travelers at Waypoint 11 means helping them uncover their fledging strengths, to see these gifts were given by God, and that they still await His full empowerment.  The following two actions will assist in that process.

Action 11.1A: 

Help the traveler recognize the diversity of God’s gifts.

The Scriptures describe a variety of God-given gifts.  Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 along with secondary lists in 1 Corinthians 7, 13-14, Ephesians 3 and 1 Peter 4 describe many of the “gifts of the (Holy) Spirit” that God uses to empower people for service and ministry.  Here is a brief, yet annotated list:

  1. Administration: Effective planning and organization (1 Cor. 2:28; Acts 6:1-7).
  2. Discernment: Distinguishing between error and truth (1 Cor. 12:10; Acts 5:1-11).
  3. Encouragement: Ability to comfort, console, encourage and counsel (Rom. 12:8; Hebrews 10:25; Timothy 4:13).
  4. Evangelism: Building relationships that help travelers move toward a personal relationship with Christ (Luke 19:1-10; 2 Timothy 4:5).
  5. Faith: Discerning with extraordinary confidence the will and purposes of God. (1 Cor. 12:9, Acts 11:22-24, Hebrews 11, Romans 4:18-21)
  6. Giving: Cheerfully giving of resources without remorse (Romans 12:8; 2 Cor. 8:1-7, 9:2-8; Mark 12:41-44).
  7. Hospitality: Creating comfort and assistance for those in need (1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:9-13, 16:23, Acts 16:14-15, Hebrews 13:1-2).
  8. Intercession: Passionate, extended and effective prayer. (James 5:14-16, 1 Timothy 2:1-2; Colossians 1:9-12, 4:12-13).
  9. Knowledge: To discover, accumulate, analyze and clarify information and ideas which are pertinent to the well being of a Christian community. (1 Cor. 2:14, 12:8, Acts 5:1-11, Colossians 2:2-3).
  10. Leadership: To cast vision, set goals and motivate to cooperatively accomplish God’ purposes (Luke 9:51; Romans 12:8; Hebrews 13:17).
  11. Mercy: To feel authentic empathy and compassion accompanied by action that reflects Christ’s love and alleviates suffering (Romans 12:8, Matt. 25:34-36; Luke 10:30-37).
  12. Prophecy: Providing guidance to others by explaining and proclaiming  God’s truth (1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Eph. 4:11-14, Romans 12:6; Acts 21:9-11).
  13. Helps: Investing time and talents in others to increase other’s effectiveness (1 Cor. 12:28, Rom. 16:1-2, Acts 9:36).
  14. Service: A tactical gift that identifies steps and processes in tasks that results in ministry to others (2 Tim. 1:16-18, Rom. 12:7, Acts 6:1-7).
  15. Pastor: Long-term personal responsibility for the welfare of spiritual travelers. (Eph. 4:1-14, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, John 10:1-18, 1 Peter 5:1-3).
  16. Teaching: Communicating relevant information that results in learning (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-14, Rom. 12:7, Acts 18:24-28, 20:20-21).
  17. Wisdom: To have insight into how to apply knowledge (1 Cor. 2:1-13, 12:8. Acts 6:3, 10; James 1:5-6, 2 Peter 3: 15-16).
  18. Missionary: Using spiritual gifts effectively in a non-indigenous culture (1 Cor. 9:19-21, Acts 8:4, 13:2-3, 22:21; Rom. 10:15).
  19. Miracles.  To perform compelling acts that are perceived by observers to have altered the ordinary course of nature (1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Acts 9:36-42, 19:11-20, 20:7-12; Rom. 15:18-19, 2 Cor. 12:12).
  20. Healing. To serve as human intermediaries through whom it pleases God to restore health (1 Cor. 12:9, 28; Acts 3:1-10, 5:12-16, 9:32-35, 28:7-10).
  21. Tongues. There are various explanations of this gift.  For instance it can be to speak (a) to God in a language they have never learned and/or (b) to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to his people.  Another option is that this can mean an ability to speak a foreign language and convey concept across cultures (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 14:13-19, Acts 2:1-13, 10:44-46, 19:1-7).
  22. Interpretation: To make known a message of one who speaks in tongues.  And/or it can mean “those who help build bridges across cultural, generational and language divides.” (1 Cor. 12:10, 30, 14:13, 26-28).
  23. Voluntary poverty.  To renounce material comfort and luxury to assist others (1 Cor. 13:1-3, Acts 2:44:45, 4:34-37, 2 Cor. 6:10, 8:9).
  24. Celibacy: To remain single with joy and not suffer undue sexual temptation (1 Cor. 7:7-8, Matt. 19:10-12).
  25. Martyrdom. Ability to undergo suffering for the faith even to death, while displaying a victorious attitude that brings glory to God (1 Cor. 13:3).

There is no Biblical reason why some of these gifts are not given in some measure before conversion, awaiting the regenerative experience to unleash them with divine empowerment.  Therefore, the Christian community should look for signs of such pre-empowered giftings in travelers at Waypoint 11, and then move to Action B.

Action 11.1B:  

Explain that new birth will unleash and empower these strengths.

A Christian community can help a traveler grasp that along with new birth will come divine empowerment for good deeds.  And, these good deeds will rise from the traveler’s traits, abilities, skills and behaviors.  People today often suffer from poor self-esteem, yet God’s intention is that each person has gifts to contribute to the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10).  Christian communities should be a place where travelers with such emerging giftings discover that:

  1. Gifts, as listed in Scripture (i.e. above), are from God (Romans 12:5-6, 1 Corinthians 12:18, 1 Peter 4:10).
  2. These gifts were given so that travelers can serve others (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:7, 18).
  3. The full empowerment and release of these gifts occurs following new birth. (1 Peter 4:10).

Action 11.2: Offset Weaknesses .

“W” in SWOT stands for personal weaknesses.  A Christ-like community can help travelers grasp that new birth (W7) and growth in God’s new community (W5-W0) can result in the traveler overcoming personal weaknesses.  The Scriptures promise that:

  • “Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.” 1 Cor. 6:9-11 (The Message).
  • “Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.  I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” Isaiah 41:10 (The Message)
  • “Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.” Psalm 34:17 (The Message).
  • “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Luke 12:29-31.
  • “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13.

Action 11.3: Capitalize on Opportunities.

“O” in SWOT stands for “opportunities” and God’s Good News is that His intentions are to help His offspring make the most of opportunities. Scriptures state: 

  • “Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it! Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.” Hebrews 13:1-4 (The Message).
  • “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all’.” Mark 9:35.
  • “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” James 1:26-27 (The Message).
  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.
  • “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Matthew 25:34.
  • “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” Matthew 6:20 (The Message).
  • “What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (The Message).

Action 11.4: Overcome Threats.

“T” in SWOT stands for “threats” and these are things that are beyond a person’s control and which they fear.  Death, illness, estrangement, etc. are but a few of the threats that humans can be anxious about.  Again, here are just a few Scriptures that paint an image of triumph over anxiety and adversity:  

  • Fear of persecution:  “Fear nothing in the things you’re about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won’t last forever. Don’t quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you..” Revelation 2:10 (The Message).
  • Fear of death:  “’Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Cor. 15:55-58. 
  • Fear of hardship:  “That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.” Romans 8:18 (The Message).
  • Fear of not being successful: “Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what.  Who or what can get to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 (The Message).

At Waypoint 11 the church must be careful to not overly romanticize nor paint a rosy picture of the future, even with Christ.  The Bible states that challenges lie ahead on our route, but advises: “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner” (1 Peter 4:12-13).  Thus, the Christian community must realistically and authentically let the traveler know that there will be barriers, detours, and challenges on the road ahead, but that Christ and his community provide aid and strength to continue the journey.

Download the chapters here (but remember, if you enjoy the content please purchase the book to support the publisher and author): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 13, 12, 11

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SPIRITUAL WAYPOINTS 16, 15 & 14: How to help people navigate their spiritual journey

Excerpted from Bob Whitesel, “Waypoint 16: No Awareness of a Supreme Being” Waypoint 15: Awareness of a Supreme Being, No knowledge of the Good News” and “Waypoint 14: Initial Awareness of the Good News” in Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (2010).

Spiritual Waypoints [cropped top 1:3 65kb]

Waypoint 16: No Awareness of a Supreme Being

Actions That Help W16 Travelers

At Waypoint 16 a Christian must offer assistance to wayfarers via two avenues, intellectual engagement and social modeling.  Let us look at intellectual engagement first.

Action 16.1: Release Your Organic Intellectuals.

 Most faith communities are weak at explaining their belief in God to someone who has rejected the very notion of God’s existence.  However, in such communities of faith there are individuals that are skilled at intellectual analysis and engagement.  They are the ones who gleefully teach Sunday Schools and Bible Studies, for the mental stimulation of the task.  The Bible mentions around two dozen “gifts of the Spirit” (c.f. Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28, Ephesians 4:11) and these people may have the gift of teaching (Romans 12:8, 1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11-14, Acts 18:24-28).  The gift of teaching has been described as an ability “to communication information … in such a way that others learn.”  Yet, the gift of teaching is not the same as entertaining oratory or cheerleading, for the last phrase “that others learn” reminds us that listeners will gain knowledge.  Michael Griffiths states, “traditionally too much Christian teaching is pulpit soliloquy and nobody ever checks up to see where anyone takes notice of whether teaching produces any action.”

In the field of political science such gifted communicators are called “organic intellectuals” for they naturally understand people and are able to help the average person understand difficult concepts.  Antonio Gramsci, the political activist who coined the term organic intellectual, emphasized they were not just academics, but were playwrights, media professionals, novelists and journalists.

C. S. Lewis was an organic intellectual who is best known as an eloquent champion and writer on Christian themes.  Yet, in his memoir Surprised by Joy he tells how he began life as an atheist.  It was through intellectual analysis and mentorship (via Christian fantasy writer George McDonald and friends like J.R.R. Tolkien) that Lewis became a passionate advocate of Christian belief.  His, Mere Christianity has been heralded as “…not the shouting, stomping, sweating, spitting televangelist fare so often parodied; Lewis employs logical arguments that are eloquently expressed”  While some of his writings were directed at mostly Christian audiences (e.g. The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer), Lewis wrote many books for people without an awareness of the supreme being (i.e. God in the Dock and The Pilgrim’s Regress).

And, through Lewis countless young people have been introduced to the rationale for Christ’s sacrifice through the childhood eyes of Lucy, Edmond, Susan and Peter as they witness the savage death and resurrection of the kindly, yet kingly lion named Aslan.  In a similar organic fashion J. R. R. Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy exemplifies to adolescent readers the nobility of sacrifice, obligation, lineage and inter-reliance. 

I knew one such organic intellectual named Linda B.  She has risen to the top of her profession: president and general manager of a large television station.  As such, one magazine named her the “most powerful woman in Minnesota.”  Her gift was communication (after all she was in the media business) and in her church she started a Bible study that grew rapidly due to a sharp intellect and easy to understand style.  However, most of the attendees were Christians.  Now, there is nothing wrong with such gatherings.  But, often we keep our best intellects ministering to Christians and do not release an equal number to engage our mission field.  

If your church has leaders possessing organic gifts of teaching, whereby they can readily and convincingly explain difficult concepts, it is time we send them out to start book studies, readings and discussion groups with people that are, as C. S. Lewis once was, “very angry with God for not existing.”  Libraries often host book studies and are looking for communicators, service organizations have leadership training and seek gifted trainers and poetry readings engage hearers with challenging yet prosaic ideas.  These are all valid venues for a church’s ministry.  But remember, when leaving the confines of cloistered halls, all opinions are welcome and appreciated. Such external venues are not a time to stifle opposing viewpoints, but to welcome them. The organic intellectual welcomes new ideas, and appreciates the skillful and probing mind that fosters them.  This is called fostering an ask-assertive environment, and we shall study it further in the following section.

Action 16.2: The A, B, C & D of Social Modeling

Social modeling is exactly what it asserts, modeling behavior that is inter-relational and social. Here we are speaking about Christians modeling the positive attributes that Christ exhibited.  The very word for Christian means “little Christs” and should remind us that when we use it we are envoys and ambassadors of Christ.  Even detractors such as self-avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens acknowledges the power of social modeling, stating, “the good effects of Christianity are neither to be denied, not lightly esteemed, though candidly I will admit that I think them overrated.”   It is toward ensuring that such modeling is not overrated, but authentically affirmed, that the church must set her sights.

While social modeling can be helpful at all waypoints, it is especially important at Waypoint 16.  At this waypoint a person has no awareness that a supreme being exists and thus social modeling can be the first encounter with Christ-likeness.  To be effective, social modeling has two premises:

 First social modeling must be based on a “mutual relationship.” This means that a two-way personal connection must be established before modeling has any power.  Research has shown when outreach is conducted in an impersonal manner that it can create three to ten times as much negative as positive response.

Secondly, social modeling is only effective if the one modeling is admired, i.e. it is based upon a “positive and mutual relationship.”  The church that is reaching out at this waypoint will realize that it’s people must act in such a way that their lives attest to a belief in a God that is eternal, compassionate, loving … and just.   Therefore, let us look at four things a church can undertake to redemptively exhibit social modeling.

Action A: Truth telling.  This means telling exactly the truth and not embellishing it.  Communities of faith can become cultures of exaggeration and overstatement.  Such amplification often occurs when attendance figures are bantered about, or conversion statistics stated.  An organization can become so infected with exaggeration that budgets will be inflated beyond what is needed, because amplification is expected.  For example, truth telling is waning if a department always has to ask for two new employees to be assured they get one.  The entire organization often mutates into an unhealthy environment of overstatement and hyperbole.  To an outside word that is watching and having financial dealings with the church, it appears that we have no respect nor concern about the retribution of a God who demands truth telling (“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” Matthew 5:37).  The result is that churches say they believe in God, but by fudging on the truth give an impression to a watching world that His requirements and retributions do not really matter.

Action B: Fair dealing.  This is when a church has two sets of standards, dealing with Christians in a more honest and fair manner than they deal with people who are not.  By breaking contracts, not paying bills, finagling for the lowest price, etc. churches may feel they are stretching God’s money at the expense of the un-Godly.  But in actuality Christians are modeling a lack of fair dealing and equality.  People observing this behavior may conclude that because Christians are a reflection of God, then their God must be a deity that does not deal fairly.

Action C: An Ask-assertive Environment.  This is an environment where questions are not only welcomed, but also encouraged.  Churches that are reaching out to people who have little awareness of God will want to demonstrate God’s approachability by being open themselves to questions, and never offended.  In a church this environment may be manifest in questions arising from the floor during a sermon or on the street during the week.  It was C. S. Lewis’ questions that peppered his conversations with friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien that led Lewis to Waypoint 7: new birth.  Yet, in many churches questions, if allowed at all, are organized into tidy little segments after a long lecture.  The lecture format of most church preaching keeps this practice entrenched. Asking questions however is encouraged in an ask-assertive environment.  This is especially important since we model a supreme being who personal engages His creation from the Garden of Eden (where He was walking and conversing with Adam, Genesis 3:8-9) through the New Earth (Revelation 21 where He shall be among his creation again).

Action D: Imagery of Hope.  This final action is exemplified by Richard’s story.  This story captures the image of utilizing organic intellectuals crafting an aesthetically pleasing and emotionally engaging media presentation of the hope and help that God offers a floundering world.  Recall how the first half of Dick’s presentation emphasized the lostness and estrangement of the youth culture.  But, then the second half lauded how God provides hope and meaning.  This tension between despair and hope is reflected in the quote by C. S. Lewis that began this chapter.  Lewis lamented, he was caught in “a whirlwind of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing.  I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.” Lewis was exasperated because the world needed hope and he saw none coming, until portrayed in the writings of fantasy writer George Williams.  Whether the fantasies of Williams or the light and music presentation of Richard Peace, the imagery of hope can be so powerful and so needed, that it will propel a traveler on their journey forward … and God-ward.

Waypoint 15: Awareness of a Supreme Being, no knowledge of the Good News

Action 15:1: Research Needs

The type of research conducted is important, for some research is more helpful than others.  Primary research occurs when information is gathered first-hand.  Secondary research is when someone gleans insights from another’s research.  Secondary research is helpful, but often pales in potency to primary research where a researcher is personally immersed in a local mission field.  How can a church gather first-hand information on the needs of its community?  Let us look at three actions that can produce primary research.

Action A: Live Among Them.  To ascertain community needs it helps to live among them, eating where they eat and shopping where they shop.  In fact, one of 10 major factors in halting church growth is when leaders become distanced from their constituency.   If this occurs church leaders will be only guessing at community needs.  

Action B: Meet With Them in Group Settings.  Informal gatherings, focus groups and Town Hall meetings are ways to connect with community residents. Often when people are interviewed one-on-one, they hold back their feelings.  Research into group dynamics tells us that people will often expound more deeply … and expressively in groups.  If the purpose is to ascertain needs, then understanding can be enhanced by group intensity.  However, churches must be very careful to only solicit input and not to politic for the church’s viewpoint.  To do the later will result in immediate distancing and suspicion.  Guidelines for hosting effective focus groups are described in a previous book.  

Action C: Don’t Clone Another Church’s Ministry.  Unless necessary, don’t merely reduplicate ministry that other churches are utilizing.  To do so will rob you of a locally developed and contextualized ministry.  However, if your church is too small it can partner to expand its ministry.  Look for other churches that are reaching out at adjacent waypoints and partner with them.  Success often depends upon doctrinal and historical factors.  But, if the needs of a community can be met by collaborating with another ministry, then pursue this option.

Action 15:2: Design Your Ministry from the Bottom Up

As a consultant with church clients of all sizes, I have found that the most helpful ministries are those that emerge from a collaborative effort between church leaders and needy residents.  There are two elements for designing a contextualized ministry.

  Action A: Inclusion.  Include non-church goers in the planning and design of your ministry.  <any will reject this offer because they are not yet ready to volunteer, even advice. But those who are emerging out of lower need stages may be entering the Belongingness and Love level.  They will want thus to contribute, and at least give their thoughts.  Yet, a natural inclination of Christian leaders is to reject such offers, feeling that the emerging person needs more time to grow or to gain more secondary knowledge (e.g. book knowledge, theological knowledge or doctrinal knowledge).  But, once a traveler has had their physiological needs and safely needs met, they must be allowed to contribute, even minimally, to the ministry of a faith community.  Churches can help wayfarers by inviting them to participate in the ministry planning process, and this invitation must be extended much earlier and more earnestly that most churches realize.

Action B: Allocate Sufficient Money.  As noted in the first two chapters, churches customarily err on the side of either the Cultural Mandate (social action) or the Evangelistic Mandate. It was also shown that God’s intention for His church is a more holistic approach where a church ministers at many waypoints, rather than just in a narrow range.  Narrow ministry becomes entrenched because churches tend to budget based upon history, rather than forecasts.  A church that understands it should reach out at early waypoints will also understand that it must allocate sufficient funds to do so.  Churches must evaluate what percentages of its budgets are going to support the Evangelistic Mandate and the Cultural Mandate.  And, a plan can be brought about to create a balance, where roughly 50 percent of a church’s budget goes to support the Cultural Mandate and 50 percent goes to support the Evangelistic Mandate.  Regardless of intentions, these mandates will never be brought into parity until finances are allocated with equivalence.

Action 15:3: Connect Your Ministry to the Community.

For a community established to communicate good news, communication is one the weakest skills in most churches. Many congregations design fantastic ministries only to have them marginally attended because residents do not know they are available.  The following are three basic actions for successfully telling the community about ministries that can meet their needs.

Action A: Have a Trial-run. A church should initiate a trial-run with little initial fanfare. This will give the church an opportunity to try out the ministry without being deluged by community needs. To communicate that you are hosting a test-run, use word-of-mouth communication. 

  Action B: Use Indigenous Communication Channels.  Church leaders often do not understand how community residents communicate.  In one church’s community, fliers in self-serve laundromats communicated better than online advertising (few needy residents had regular or easy access to the Internet).  Each community has developed different communication channels.  If a church invites residents to participate in the planning process, then residents can share the veiled yet influential ways that news travels in their community.

Action C: Be a Good-doer, not a Do-gooder.  The difference between a do-gooder and a good-doer was revealed to me ten years ago.  Dan was auditioning to be the drummer in a worship team I led.  Though he was more than suitable for the task, I was confused because he looked familiar.  “You visited me last Christmas,” Dan responded noticing my bewilderment.  “Brought a lot of nice things for the kids.”  Each year our church visited needy residents, giving them gifts and singing carols. “You were nice enough to come,” Dan would say to me later.  Dan and I had become friends, and now our team was planning to visit needy households.  “You go, I won’t,” Dan stated.  “I want to be a good-doer, not a do-gooder.”  Further conversations revealed with Dan saw a difference between “do-gooders” and “good-doers.”  On the one hand, Dan saw do-gooders as people who go around doing limited and inconsistent good deeds.  He perceived that they were doing good on a limited scale to relieve their conscience.  Thus their good deeds were perceived as self-serving, insincere and limited.  A church that brings food a couple times a year to a needy family does little to minister to their long-term physiological needs or safety needs.  On the other hand, Dan saw “good-doers” as those who do good in a meaningful, relevant and ongoing manner.  And, he was right.  In hindsight I had been striving to do good, not trying to do good better.  Therefore, a church should connect with its community by offering ongoing ministry and not just holiday help.

Action 15:4: Evaluate the Results

Donald McGavran called the church’s aversion to analysis the “universal fog” that blinds the church to her mission and effectiveness.  And, McGavran preferred the term “effective evangelism” as the best way to describe what we should be measuring.  The term “effective evangelism” has much to commend it.  Evangelism, as we noted in Chapter 1, means “Good News” or a heralding of “unexpected joy.” Thus, if we are embarking as fellow travelers and guides on this journey of Good News, shouldn’t we want to travel that route more effectively?  And if so, how do we measure progress?

 Some mistakenly perceive that counting attendance is the best way to evaluate effectiveness. Yet, there are four types of church growth mentioned in the Bible, and growth in attendance is cited as God’s task (and not the job of the church).  In two previous books I have looked at measuring these in detail, but let’s briefly examine four types of church growth and a Church Growth Metric that can measure each.

The Context: Acts 2:42-47.  Here we find Luke’s description of the church’s growth that followed Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost.  Luke describes four types of growth.

Growth A: Growth in Maturity.  In verse 42 Luke notes that the followers were growing in a passion for the apostle’s teaching, fellowship and prayer.  Our first metric is to ascertain if, as a result of our need-based ministry, wayfarers are increasing in their participation in Bible study, fellowship and/or the practice of prayer.  One way to measure this is to measure if people are becoming increasingly involved in study groups, fellowship networks (i.e. informal small groups) and/or joining with others for prayer.  If these numbers are calculated as a percentage of overall attendance, growth in maturity may be estimated.

Growth B: Growth in Unity.  Verses 44-45 describe how the church grew in unity and trust.  This is much harder to measure, for it requires subjective evaluation. But, if people open up, much like Doug did about “do-gooders” then these and similar actions can indicate that ministry is creating deeper and more honest levels of communication.  Unity often results from deepening levels of communication.

Growth C: Growth in Favor in the Community.  Luke emphases that the church was increasingly “enjoying the favor of all the people.”  Here is a metric often overlooked, which asks: is the community increasingly appreciative of the ministry the church is offering?  Asking community residents for regular feedback is a way to accomplish this.  One church crafted an online survey and gave away coupons for free coffee at a coffee shop for those that completed the survey. This survey was not designed to augment the church database, but was used only to ascertain if community residents felt the church was doing-good better.  Another church regularly polled socially sensitive community residents such as school principals, public leaders, community organizers, business-people, etc. about how effective the church was in meeting community needs.  The results were that these churches could gauge effective ministry by observing changes in community appreciation.

Growth D: Growth in More Christians.  Luke concludes this paragraph about early church growth by reminding his readers that “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Luke was pointing out that because it was a supernatural intersection, it was God’s task to bring people to and through the experience of salvation.  But in the preceding verses Luke emphasized that it was the church’s role to grow people in the other three types of church growth: maturity, unity and favor in the community. 

Church Growth Metrics remind us that we are engaged in a task that is not about large cadres of attendees, but about the inner growth of God’s creation into 1) a deepening relationship with Him, 2) more unity among His children, and 3) in such a way that a watching world rejoices.

Waypoint 14: Initial Awareness of the Good News

Action 14:1: News You Can’t Ignore

Let us look at the last category of travelers first, the traveler whose initial awareness of the Good News results in a neglect of it.  There are two steps for helping someone deal with such a difficult issue. The first is to help the person grasp the seriousness of the subject, and the second is to visualize the future.

Point 1: The Seriousness of the topic.  C. S. Lewis, an organic intellectual, skillfully illuminated grand biblical themes.  Regarding the seriousness of the Good News he stated, “…Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”  What Lewis meant by this, is that if the claims of eternal life (John 14:1-3) are true, and if the parallel claim that only through Christ can eternal life be reached (John 14:6), then Christianity holds the all important key to infinity.

  Point 2: Picture the future.  But, how does a congregation emphasize the importance of the topic.  For most travelers it will not be enough to just logically explain (as Lewis did) that eternal life if a possibility and attainable.  Instead, most people will need a mental picture. Alister McGrath analyzed how the Bible and Christians have looked at heaven and summed up, “The Christian concept of heaven is iconic, rather than intellectual (heaven is) something that makes its appeal to the imagination, rather than the intellect, which calls out to be visualized rather than merely understood … It is much easier to reflect upon an image than an idea.”

This fact was driven home to the American medical community when a study on heart patients found scaring patients into changing their behavior did not work.  On the one hand, when future illness was graphically described only 10 percent of the patients changed their behaviors. On the other hand, 77 percent changed their behavior when they were given a mental picture of a healthy future life (e.g. enjoying life with their family, friends and grandchildren).  In other words, describing the poor health associated with heart disease only motivated one in ten people to change.  But, describing a bright future enjoying children and grandchildren was almost 80 percent effective in helping patients change their lifestyle.  And thus, when sharing the Good News a depiction of a happy future may be more powerful that depicting a fiery doom.  The church should focus on the penalty and punishment of hell, but in today’s world only about 10 percent of the people will change their outlook because of scare tactics.  But, if Christians focus on the bliss of heaven and the wholeness of a Christian life, then perhaps up to 80 percent may change their outlook.  

The Bible is replete with Scriptures that visualize eternal joy.  Jesus underscores the communal and residential nature of heaven when He states, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” John 14:1-3.  Peter knew the Jewish people pictured their “promised inheritance” as Canaan (Numbers 32:19), but Peter suggested they visualize this everlasting inheritance as eternal life, stating “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4). And, throughout Scripture it is emphasized that Jesus is the only way to this bliss.  When Thomas asked Jesus to clarify the above statement about “going to prepare a place” (John 14:2b) Jesus decisively and authoritatively responded, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

How then can Point 1 and Point 2 be fostered in our churches? A good place is in what we read and discuss.  Many popular books today are inspirational guides aimed at Christians, and there is nothing wrong with this.  But, when a church wants to engage travelers at Waypoint 14, the church may need to recast its reading lists.  There are many books that give descriptive and positive images of heaven and/or Christian life that could become book studies in our churches and our community.  C. S. Lewis’ books The Chronicles of Narnia (especially the last book), The Great Divorce (especially the sections on heaven) and The Space Trilogy (again, especially the last book) are but of few of his books that paint inspiring pictures of the future.  Lewis’ friend and Christian mentor, J. R. R. Tolkien, painted pictures of an idyllic world where good triumphs over evil, sacrifice leads to nobility, and ultimately humankind and nature conspire to overthrow evil (The Lord of the Rings). John Milton’s classic Paradise Regained illustrates in luminous words the worlds that lie ahead (and in Paradise Lost those luminous realms that lie behind).   Even modern stories such as Trudy Harris’ Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey, and Piper and Murphy’s 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life can help travelers at Waypoint 14 focus on the promise of the Good News.

Action 14:2: The Good News That God Cares

A church also must understand and articulate a theology regarding God’s concern for His creation, if its congregants are going to help people move beyond Waypoint 14.  Yet, a theology of creation must be a holistic theology and include not just God’s creative activity but also humankind’s woeful response. For in response to God’s gracious creation of a paradise on earth, humans chose a selfish route disobeying God’s directives and forfeiting paradise.  Thought there are many elements to a theology of creation, let us look at five points that bear upon our current conversation.

Point 1:  Injustice, poverty, etc. are the result of human activity, God does not desire it for his creation.  When Adam and Eve forfeited the paradise of Eden, they embarked upon a journey of selfish arrogance. The Scriptures tell us their journey led to self-centeredness, injustice and greed (Genesis 3-5). Ron Sider reminds us that this disappoints God, stating “the Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that God is at work in history casting down the rich and exalting the poor because frequently the rich are wealthy precisely because then have oppressed the poor or have neglected to aid the needy.”

Point 2:  This injustice was not always so.  God provided Adam and Eve an Eden of goodness and wholeness in every aspect of their life.  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann pointed out that the Hebrew word shalom comes closest to describing this “wholeness in every are of life, where God, creature, and creation enjoy harmonious relationships.”  God had warned that disobeying him would result in a  loss of this life of shalom (Genesis 2:15-17).  But, Adam and Eve picked selfish choices putting to an end this world of  balance, bless … shalom (Genesis 3).

Point 3:  Humankind was put in charge of caring (i.e. stewardship) for God’s creation.  Yet early on in the Genesis story, before the fall of humankind from the era of shalom, God had given humankind a task, to take care of the garden and to be a steward of it (Genesis 1:26-30).  This requires Christians, to be good stewards of God’s earth and life upon it.

Point 4:  Humankind was put in charge of caring (i.e. stewardship) for the needy, oppressed and disfranchised.  Proverbs 19:17 says “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.”  Judah was punished in part because of her mistreatment of the poor, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.  What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? (Isaiah 10:1-3).  King David said, “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Psalm 140:12).    And, Howard Snyder reminds us that “God especially has compassion on the poor, and his acts in history confirm this.”

Point 5: God requires his people to sacrifice for this task.  Adam and Eve were put in charge of caring and cultivating the garden (Genesis 1:26-30), and this required sacrificing their own will to taste the forbidden fruit.  From this beginning, serving a loving, creative God required self-sacrifice.  At this sacrifice, Adam and Eve failed.  In doing so they condemned their children and their children’s children to laborious toil, hostility, repression and ultimately death (Genesis 3:16-24). Still God’s desire is that His children serve and sacrifice for others.  Jesus stated, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors…. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).   This sacrifice for others is exemplified in the sacrificial actions of Godly men and women in the Bible, ultimately culminating in the sacrifice of Jesus for humankind’s disobedience.  

When a congregation grasps the five points above, wayfarers will understand that evil, oppression and the like are not God’s doing, but human doing.  And wayfarers such as James can see that God wants Christians to help the oppressed, disenfranchised and neglected.  The church must help travelers at Waypoint 14 see the Good News is that “…the sinfulness of the social order offends thoughtful Christians everywhere.”

Read more by downloading the chapter here (but remember, if you enjoy the input please purchase a copy to support the publisher and the author): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 16, 15, 14

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

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Helping others navigate the evangelism journey #BiblicalLeadership

by Bob Whitesel DMin, PhD, 3/18/18.

…To describe evangelism as a journey reminds us that outreach is a bridge-building process, requiring time, patience, mapping and perseverance.

Bridge building requires a plan

A helpful metaphor for 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 process 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 understanding 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…

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/helping-others-navigate-the-evangelism-journey/

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.

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.

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