Scaring the Hell out of people

Earlier this week I listened to a church service from a congregational church in London on my ipod. This Sunday's service was about "loving people to Jesus." As an example the pastor had a few people give testimonies.
There were two "good" stories that showed the love and compassion present in their local church. The other two were "bad" stories about people's experience in other churches. One testimony was given by a lady that was raised a Catholic but went to a Seventh-day Adventist School.
She spoke very highly of the education at the school and the Christian teaching. She was very affirming of everything the Adventist system, teachers and staff did at the school. But, then she spoke of the other primary students and the severe emotional and spiritual damage they inflicted upon her with their words. She was told on a daily basis that she was "going to hell" because she was a Catholic. She cried as she told of how much she liked the other kids and wanted to be their friend but always feared the onslaught of damnation that would inevitably be hurled at her. As an Adventist, I was devastated by her story.
As she told her story one thing she said puzzled me. She said that the kids would say, "You are going to Hell because you are a Catholic and you are going to burn forever and ever!" For the Adventists reading this you will see the conundrum. But, those readers who are not familiar with Adventist theology will not.
Seventh-day Adventists use the entire Bible to understand Death, Hell and Judgment. The results of this careful study demonstrate that Hell is not a present reality but a future time-limited event that starts and finishes after the final phase of Judgment. Adventists believe that those who die sleep in the grave - body and soul - and will return to life and judgment at the return of Jesus. There is no current burning hell. We also believe that Hell is an event in time not an eternal event. Judgment happens. Hell fire happens. And the death received is permanent and eternal unlike the first death that is rectified by the 2nd coming.
OK, sorry for going so much into that, but I just wanted you to understand the struggle I was having while listening to this tearful testimony. My heart ached for her. She was distraught decades after the event. The first question I thought was, "Would Adventist kids say that to a Catholic kid?" I have been an Adventist kid in Adventist schools with other Adventists... The pack mentality is certainly present as it is at any school...

So, yes, Adventist kids would say, "Catholics are going to hell" because, unfortunately that's what the Adventist Pharisees where parroting in front of us when we were kids. It's different now, but it certainly was said (and is still said by some of the ungracious).
But what about the second part? Would an Adventist kid say, "You will burn forever!" I have to say that it just wouldn't happen. In the modern era, it was modeled by some church leaders that "knowing the truth" would lead to Jesus (rather than the other way around). So most Adventist churches focused on teaching doctrine to everyone - through evangelism programs, church services, Sabbath school classes, school Bible classes and family worship. Kids were, and still are, involved in all of these programs in healthy churches (as they should be!) So, most Adventist kids know what Adventists believe.
Then I realised something. This little girl, being told she would go to hell, was (of course) applying her Catholic understanding of Hell to the statements being said by the Adventist kids. So, while they were saying (from their position) "You will go to hell and that's the end of you!" She was hearing (from her position) "You will go to hell and be tortured in eternal hell fire, blistering for eternity!"
This realisation really made me think. People interpret our words and actions through their filters of reality - physical, emotional and spiritual. How often are we misunderstood? Perhaps a better question is: "How often are we understood correctly?"

A number of lessons emerged from my pondering:
1. Don't use loaded language when talking to anyone. Keep it simple.
2. Don't expect people to understand you or where you are coming from. Listen to them. Answer their questions. If they don't ask any questions, ask them to!
3. Don't ever say, "You are over reacting!" They may be hearing something very different than you are saying. Seek to understand then to be understood.
4. Lead people to Jesus first. Let Jesus teach them the truth in time and experience.
5. Oh be careful little mouth what you say!

How do we teach this to our kids?
1. Example first. Treat people as precious to Jesus.
2. Teaching second. Teach you children to love through the stories of the Bible, especially stories about Jesus.
3. Reality check. Explain, over and over, to your kids that other people are different and every single one of them is extremely loved by Jesus. Every time you see someone that is clearly different explain how precious that person is to Jesus and give some good reasons. Doing so will help you with your example and teaching!

I am really overwhelmed by this. That lovely woman's testimony helped me remember that the truth is divisive. Jesus taught that. Therefore the truth must be handled with great care. And people must be treated with even greater care! Jesus came to save people, not truth. True, he explained the truth more fully through his example and teaching. But that was the natural outgrowth of his loving life-saving nature. He loved people deeply and taught people thoughtfully. Oh, to be like Jesus!

Bad Language

I grew up in California, lived for a while in Hawaii, did volunteer work in the Marshal Islands and now live in Australia.

Lemme tell ya, mate. English is one well used and rarely unabused lingo!

When I started as a pastor here in Australia, with an American background, I found that the words I used could distract the audience so much that it felt like I never got them back. I learned to weed-out the Americanisms that interfered with the spoken Word of the day. Interestingly, there was nothing wrong with what I was saying. It was just to whom I was saying it.

I think that's how language works - especially when you are a communicator. Be yourself, even be origional, but don't be a stumbling block to your listener.

My accent (a mix of Aussie and Yank now that I've been here for 12 years) is often commented on. People like the unique pronunciation and cadence of my speech. Once a lady commented after church, "Pastor, you could say anything and I would listen!" I didn't know weather to be thankful for my accent or read the phone book the next weekend to save a few hours of prep time!

My point... Language is for communicating. If it gets in the way - either by being too crass or too upity, too flat or too animated, too quiet or too loud, too short or too long - it is doing harm to your message. So, when speaking - speak to your audience with authenticity and studied sincerity.

When listening to others speak, consider what you can learn about them from their speech. Primarily remember that 95 per cent of the world would rather die than speak to a large audience. So, they are not refined speakers that study their communication skills. They are just talkin' like they done heard momma talk and they e'spec some r'spec. And they should get it!

Speak well. Listen better.

The gift of faith

As far back as I can remember my Mom always said she wasn't sure what her spiritual gift was. We were all pretty sure that it was hospitality because she could feed every kid on the block and still be smiling!

But, one day early in my ministry, I was reading through the passages on spiritual gifts and came upon 1 Corintians 12.

1 Corintians 12:7-11 (NIV)
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. . . . to another faith by the same Spirit. . All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines."

As I read the bit about faith being a spiritual gift, and noticed that it is very clear that not every person gets every gift, I had a de-ja-vous experience.

My Mom has never doubted her God. She has, from the time she was a little girl living in an atheistic home, always known that God exists, loves her and has a plan for her life. She has told us (her kids) story after story of the times that her faith was rewarded.

And I often wondered, "Why don't I have that faith?!" In my last year of studying theology I went to the systematic theology lecturer and said, "You know what theology is?" He was kind enough to ask me for my definition to which I replied, "It's the thinking Christians way of avoiding is Christ given responsiblities!" He told me that wasn't fair, and then asked me, "So, what's really bothering you?"

Smart man. :)

I told him that I wasn't sure God even existed. He said something pretty simple in reply. But it really helped. He said, "Dave, you've been studying the Bible too much. Stop studying it and just go read it. Pick a book and read it through. Then come back and tell me if there is a God."

I picked Esther. Because God is never mentioned. But my streategy didn't work. I was overwhelmed by the presence of God in Esther's life.

Faith is a gift that some people are blessed with and others live with a small measure of. I get my faith through others. The more time I spend with faith rich people, the more my faith is encoraged. I also get my faith through telling the story. The more I confess faith in Christ and tell the stories from His Word the more in tune I am with him.

Post-literate society?

This afternoon I was in a computer game store when I overheard an insightful conversation.

There were three teens talking to each other - two girls and one boy. One of the girls said to the boy, "Where did you go earlier? You just disappeared." He replied that he had gone home for a few hours. "What did you do at home?" she asked, "Just sit and stare at the TV?"
He didn't respond immediately. She repeated herself and then he answered, "I was reading." He said this almost as if he was embarrassed.
The girl laughed and said, "Reading? What kind of person reads?" I couldn't see the looks on their faces as I had my back to them and was trying to look busy riffling through a stack of discounted games. Evidently the other boy and girl had exchanged concerned looks (I think they were brother and sister) and so the girl did what she thought was a backflip on her previous statement. "There is this girl in my class, I totally don't know how she got in year 8. She can't read at all. She asked my friend how to spell 'it' and she was serious!" Things started to lighten up a bit and the brother/sister combo laughed and the boy said, "yeah, 't.i.' that's how!"
Then the girl continued, "I mean, I can read. Like not a book or anything. But I can read that,” she pointed at the binding of a game that had three words on it. "That's the kind of stuff I read. But, I'm not good at reading books.”

So... She's not the worst reader in her class-which makes her feel good. But, she also wouldn't go home on a school holiday and read a book, because, she can't (or at least it would be too much of a struggle for her).

What are kids learning in school these days? Indeed, how do they get into year 8 without being able to read a block of text? Are we so technologically advanced that we no longer "need" to read, or are we slipping backward into an illiterate society for the poorer classes? Is it just the poor?

As a Christian communicator, this dilemma leads me to a different group of questions. The 1st century Christians were good at converting Jews because they understood their mythology and could answer their longings. They had a harder time leading non-Jews to Jesus because they didn't know how to convince them Jesus was the answer to their needs. Often they attempted to make "Jews" of them first so they could make "Christians" of them. While it is and was important for Christians to have a good understanding of the Old Testament, there was a lot of baggage in the Jewish culture that was not required for Gentiles.

What about today? If we truly are living in a post-literate society, do we need to teach them to read first so they can fully appreciate the Word of God? Or, is there some other way?
We live in a story based culture. People love to share, watch, tell and retell stories. Our very mythology is story based - the transmission of values and concepts is done primarily through story telling by today’s best communicators. Is it possible to introduce and integrate the story of Jesus without written text?

How necessary is the written Word for the growth of the Christian? Can one become a fully committed follower of Jesus without reading His Word? If so, what would this look like? How would it work? How could such a environment be designed, implemented and maintained to grow fully mature followers of Jesus without text?

Space

I thought of a really great answer. I thought it was brilliant. And since I new the answer, I framed a quesiton for it... And asked Mikey - my theologicially astute six year old.

Q. Why is the universe so big?

Without even pausing to breathe (or think for that matter), Mikey stole my thunder and gave me the exact answer that I had been so proud of.

A. So God can live there.

My actual answer was, "So God can have somewhere to live." Mikey just got straight to the point and hit the nail on the head. He's a sharp cookie. (so don't bite him, because he's likely to damage your gums!)

Dallas Willard writes (in "the divine conspiracy") that God made the universe as big as it is so that we could have space. Space.

Space to hold galaxies.

Space to make decisions.

Space to house universes.

Space to be yourself.

Space to frame earth.

Space to search for meaning.

Space to be free.

Space to search for God.

Space to be alone in.

Space to compel us to question.

Space. God made the universe SO BIG so that we can have space.

I like it.

Go in peace!

There is an amazing ending to the story of Naaman's healing from lepersy that is often not mentioned when the story is told. And yet, I think it teaches amazing lessons about God's nature and his love for true worship.

Naaman has just finished dipping seven times into the Jordan river, has been healed and has returned to thank Elisha the prophet. Elisha will accept no reward and so, here is Naaman's response:

2 Kings 5:15-19
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant."
The prophet answered, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing." And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
"If you will not," said Naaman, "please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this."
"Go in peace," Elisha said.

What just happened here? Naaman offers gifts to Elisha and is told: "Worship God, not me."
So, Naaman asks for a bit of Israel to take home with him so he can build an altar on "God's soil." He even takes it from the prophet's front yard! Naaman is serious about his new commitment to worship only Yahweh - the true God.
But then Naaman asks for something very strange. In one breath he says he will never again worship any God but the one true God. And then, after loading two donkeys with dirt, he comes back to say, "Actually, I will be worshipping Rimmon with my king, may the lord forgive your servant for this?"
Elisha's response is absolutely remarkable. It should take our view of God, turn it upside down, shake it around a bit and then hand it back to us, glorified.

Elisha says, "No, you can't worship false gods! You've just made a full commitment to Yahweh." ummmm... no...

Elisha says, "You will have to tell the king of your new faith, leave your old ways and cease all things that take you near false worship." actually... no...

Elisha says, "False worship is the mark of the beast. Go ahead and worship, but you're marked, buddy. Either 'choose you this day whom you will serve,' or 'try and serve two masters'...but h" Nope...

Elisha actually says, without condition, "Go in peace." That's it.

What? No condemnation for false worship? No new convert compelled to tell the conversion story to his boss? No distancing self from temptation and false worship? What is going on here?
Elisha is showing us some remarkable things about God.

I'm sure I haven't found all the lessons this postscript can teach us, but here is what I have learned so far:

1. God sees the heart and what resides there. He judges us by what he alone can see.

2. God honours those who honour their leaders - and He even honours 'pagan' leaders (see vs 2 Kings 5:1 -- the often forgotten begining of this story!)

3. God believes in his believers and trusts them to be faithful - even in their 'pagan' culture.

4. It is impossible to judge people by their actions alone - their heart may not be 'in it'.

What a powerful story! And what an amazing God. What do you see in this story? What have you learned? What will you do about it?

Am I a monkey's nephew?

In the news this month Spain is considering giving human rights to apes. Yes, you read that right, they are considering that Apes are more like us than other animals and deserve to be recognised and treated as such.

This is where the theory of evolution, inevitably, was and is heading... I suppose. What other conclusion could come from saying that all of life has a common primordial source and that we are just "more advanced" than other animals? We tell kids to respect their elders. Now, law makers are just telling us adults to do the same - show Uncle Ape some respect!

So, the idea in this proposed legislation is that apes are not to be owned, but are to be "morally" guarded. They will have similar rights to children (human) and severly handicapped people. To harm an ape would no longer be animal cruelty, it would be a criminal offence punishable under human treatment laws.

Discussion is rampant, as you can imagine. Numerous people are speaking against it and many are supporting the bill. I heard a debate on the radio about the bill. Evidently we share somewhere between 95-98 percent of our genetic material with apes. Not that I'm sharing any of mine, to be perfectly honest. I'm using every bit of my matter, grey and otherwise.

But, back to the debate... One of the debaters said, "We share over 50 percent of our genetic matter with banana's. You don't hear ANYONE suggesting that we give rights to bananas." No, I don't think the apes would be in favour of that in the slightest! Imagine the dilema we would have - teaching apes (in gentle respectable ways) that they can not eat their ancestors. "Show some respect Uncle, that's Grandpa you're trying to peel."

Anyway, what I think the anti-banana-rights-activist is actually getting at is that just because we look like apes (some more than others) we don't need to anthropomorphise them to the point that we give them names (opps, already doing that), teach them to read (oh yeah, doing that too, drat), teach them to communicate with us ("apple" "good girl!"...) I'm digging myself into a hole here.

Perhaps we should just move out and give the keys to the nearest ape. We could always go back to the trees.

Progress vs Purpose

I've just started reading "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard and was struck by a quote from the writings of Tolstoy. The basic concept of this chapter is that life without moral structure is meaningless (at least) and enevitably dangerous. In our world today, universities are allowed to teach morality only as something to "understand" rather than something to believe and follow.
For example, you may study Christian morals and then Communist morals and then Muslim morals for the purpose of understanding and comparing the moral codes as an exploration in culture and thinking. But, it does nothing for the student other than to inform. Understanding of moral living without a compulsion to apply that morality is, in post-modernity, the point of religious or philosphical study.
This basically leads to very educated people with no personal moral code. And what is the result of that? It could lead to manipulative managers or vascilating leaders or permissive teachers or frustrated parents or damaged people... But, one thing it wont lead to is someone who passionately lives for a set of ideals because it is true, right and holy. That is, to the post-modern immersed reality, both arrogant and naive.

So, here's Tolstoy's statement considering the above worldview:

Leo Tolstoy in "Confession"
I was like a man in a boat who when carried along by wind and waves should reply to what for him is the chief and only question. "whither to steer", by saying, "We are being carried somewhere".

When I read this, it reminded me of a passage from Acts 27 telling the story of Paul's shipwreck experience. Paul had warned the sailors that if they sail on, at that time of year, they will get caught in a storm. The sailors, recognising that Paul was not a sailor and they were, stated that they were aware of the seasons and that they would easily make it to the next port before winter weather set in. Further, they assured Paul that if they hugged the coastline there would be no worry because they could sail into port at the first sign of bad weather. Paul, in his chains, shrugged his shoulders. He had warned them.

Acts 27:14-15
Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster," swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.

This passage was brought back to mind as I read the above quote from Tolstoy. He sees the post-modern plight as someone, in control of a ship called life, being told, "Don't try to stear, we are being carried somewhere!" Progress is not success. In fact, success is not necissarily beneficial. Both can be brought randomly by the winds of change. Only purpose - a north star - can bring true success or progress. Merely "going" is not valuable. But, going with purpose is everything in life. If that purpose is the right purpose!

Jesus said, "As you are going make disciples, baptise them, and teach them everything I taught you." We call that the great commision. But, it is not complete as I have quoted it because it does not have the purpose - the north star by which to steer - of going. Just before this three-phase commision Jesus said, "All authority in Heaven and on Earth are given to me, therefore..."

If you are going - discipling, baptising, teaching - with another purpose other than leading people to the authority of Christ, you are going astray. If the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.

We need to steer our ship toward Jesus, toward his reality, his authority. Without the North Star we will be blown by the winds of change and there will really be little reason to steer as, indeed, we are always being carried somewhere...

The flea and the elephant

Once an elephant and a flea crossed a bridge together. When they got to the far side the flea said excitedly to the elephant, "Boy, did we shake that thing!"

Are you walking through life with God? Are you seeing things for what they are? Are you seeing God for who he is? Are you seeing yourself in "Jesus Follower" context?

If your Christian witness is really changing people, your voice is being heard, your gifts are blessing people—remeber the flea and the elephant. You may just be walking in the footprints of God.

TnT - a powerful secret

Would you like to know a secret? It’s a secret that has come down to us through the ages. Noah knew the secret. Moses knew it. Elijah knew it. All the prophets knew it. Jesus knew it. From Genesis to Revelation the secret is revealed through the lives recorded and the stories told in those hallowed pages. What is the secret?

Before I tell you the secret, let me tell you what participating in the secret will create. Participating in the secret will create passionate followers of Jesus Christ. Look back at the people I listed – Noah applied the secret and saved his family in the ark. Moses’ skills in the secret released his people from slavery and built a nation. Elijah passed the secret onto his protégé, Elisha, before ascending into heaven in a fiery chariot. The prophets embodied the secret in every age and their message repeatedly drew God’s people back to obedience. Jesus’ implementation of the secret changed eleven headstrong men into soul winners and through the influence of those disciples the secret continues to change men and women the world round into Christ-followers.

So, what is the secret? The secret provides the power for life change and spiritual growth. Pastors, it will lead your people to fruitful spiritual maturity. Teachers, it will lead your students to active learning. Parents, it will lead your children to a desire to know Jesus personally. Obviously this secret is powerful—as powerful as TnT.
In fact, that is the secret: TnT—Testimonies and Training.

Testimonies: You don’t have to explore the above stories very deeply to discover the presence of people sharing their stories. And, when the foundation of the person’s story is understood it is clear that their story connects back to the moment that God spoke our planet into existence. The teller of the testimony is a conduit reconnecting Heaven and Earth—God and lost humanity—through their story.

This story, which has been alive from before creation has been told and retold in the form of a personal encounter. Noah told of a conversation with God and lived out that conversation by building the ark. All God’s great leaders model their message. Moses told the story of the burning bush—he showed the Hebrew slaves the miracles that God could do to his staff, his hand and his bowl—and once the people believed his story they followed him to freedom.

Elijah threw his mantle over a young man working in a field. The young man, Elisha, knew what it meant—“I am to follow him and learn his message and ultimately I will wear this mantle as my own.” The prophets told story after story trying to reconnect a wandering people with their steadfast God.

Jesus brought the story of the Redeeming God into view as he said to Philip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The disciples showed that to lead someone to Christ you must connect them to the story of Jesus. “Let me tell you about the day that I met Jesus.” is how we would say it today. I call it my “Christory”—When my story and His story collided.

Testimony is the greatest tool in the arsenal of every Jesus follower. Without your story you are a stack of statistics. With your story you are a living, breathing dwelling place of the Holy Spirit testifying of your Saviour and His love. To share your story is your greatest gift.

Training: Once we become serious students we seek out training. It’s wired into our nature. We begin to seek deeper truth, higher ideals and wider understanding—we embrace the teacher.

Noah taught his sons to build. Moses mentored Joshua into a Kingdom claiming conqueror. Elisha walked in his master’s sandal prints and learned to be a Godly prophet. The prophets paired tough lessons with their piercing narratives.

Jesus said, "follow me," and once they did the teaching commenced. Ultimately those disciples, because they listened and learned, went making disciples, baptising them and teaching them everything Jesus had taught them. Now the mantle rests on your shoulders. Go tell your story and never stop learning!

Dave Edgren ~ Story: Teller, Author, Trainer ~

BOOK DAVE NOW! Dave Edgren is passionate about creating a values-based storytelling culture. In his engaging and often hilarious way,...