Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sharing faith - what works?

Last week I got into a very opinionated conversation (Christian euphemism for an argument) with a friend over the issue of sharing our faith story with others. The substance of the conversation was whether our witness should be a life lived in the fullest sense of Christian faithfulness or should believers verbally witness to their faith with others.

The context of the conversation was evangelism and youth. I came down on the side that believers should develop the skill to verbally express their faith with anyone who asks for the reason of their faith. I believe that includes other believers who want to learn from you as well as non-believers.

As we discussed the positions, we were deadlocked in our position. Now that the moment has passed and I have had time to reflect I can see my friend's position. Our witness should be a life lived in faithful obedience to God through Christ. I can't deny that how we live is critical to our witness. If our outward life is not an example or model of our faith then our faith is worthless (I believe that is in the Bible, book of James as a matter of fact).

I am currently reading unChristian, a study of persons who do not hold to Christian beliefs. It is a harsh reality check for people who believe we live in a Christian nation. It shows us the picture that Christians (all Christians, not just conservative/fundamentalist/evangelical) are painted in colors of bigotry, anger, and judgmentalism. Much of that opinion has arisen from Christians who have not lived out what they claimed to believe. So faith and practical life are intertwined to produce an overall effective witness.

But there comes a point when actions are not enough. We are in a period of growing biblical illiteracy and emotion-laden spirituality. In general, most Christians cannot identify the significant beliefs they hold, nor share them. But that is not witness. Witness is sharing the impact that God's grace through Jesus Christ has had in a person's life. And very few believers have developed the ability to express this.

Witnessing, evangelizing, sharing faith story, whatever we call it is simply put - telling others about how your life has been influenced by God through Christ. As mainstream churches continue to see declining numbers and as we lose ground on the cultural front, we have to evaluate what we have been doing in order to change to respond to the problem.

I believe that believers in every church need to work on witness. There are a lot of faulty notions regarding Christianity. Most of them are borne out of experience with Christians who did not live up to what they claimed to believe. But there are many Christians in our churches who do live what they believe. They just aren't making an effort to share their life AND their faith with others. This will be necessary to change our course.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sources of Hope

Late last year 13 year old Cori Baker disappeared. An 18 year old man has been charged with her disappearance and likely death. There have been searches throughout the Tulsa metro area. The searches have been struggling to find volunteers to expand the search. The family is understandably distraught over not knowing what happened and move toward closure.

The latest development in the search involves the use of a psychic medium to discern clues to what happened to Cori. After watching the press conference with the medium I am really concerned about how this case will proceed.

First, the medium reserved divulging information until the press conference. If this family's emotional well-being were at the forefront, I have to wonder why search teams were not coordinated with maps prior to the event. It appeared from the press conference that he was withholding all of the information he had for that time.

Second, the medium was allowed access to the suspect to "interview" him on what seems to be more than one occasion. The medium proceeded to share some of those conversations with the press. Knowing how protective District Attorney's office can be about details surrounding an active case, this makes me wonder if the case has not been tainted by this. The medium has compromised any case by allowing him to share information from the suspect.

My last concern is for how the press is portraying the role of this medium. The news sources I have heard reporting this have presented this individual as a source of hope for this family. They report that he has spoken to Cori and Cori has revealed where her body is located. The family now has hope hinging on the claims of this individual.

I have written on my opinion of ghost hunting. The paranormal is becoming a healthy business for television networks (thanks to the writers, "reality" shows are seeing another explosion). This includes the growth of personal and group services in paranormal experiences. This is going to continue to grow in the coming years. It is also going to cause some possible problems for the church.

The Old and New Testament call God's people to turn away from mediums and those who speak with the dead. It is not ever called demonic but it is considered to be outside the practice of those who wish to live within God's righteousness. But as the paranormal continues to grow, the church is going to have to find the response to these practices.

But the even greater issue behind this is, where is the church in ministering to this family? If their hope is hanging on the word of a person who is claiming to talk with their dead daughter then where is the healing that Christ offers. If we wait for that healing to be proclaimed at the memorial service, then we have missed the chance to minister to this family in their greatest time of need.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Back from the winter doldrums

I have been highly uninspired, unmotivated, uncreative (actually I believe that is non-creative, but I'm going for alliteration points here), and unproductive over the last few weeks. I believe it may be a bit of SAD. SAD is seasonal affective disorder.

I have noticed that over the years I have hit "low" times during February-April. During these times I would experience a sense of lack of motivation. My energy levels would dip very often. Sometimes I would have full blown episodes of depression. I always believed that it had more to do with school (college and seminary). I attributed it to overload or burnout. But after seminary, I saw the same patterns occurring in my role as pastor. Again, I attributed to overload (post Christmas burnout, working with curriculum deadlines, etc.).

But I believe that SAD may lie behind this. The hypothesis regarding SAD is that light plays a role in the affective condition of a body. The idea is that because of diminished light during winter months, some bodies react by entering a depressive state.

My family has dealt with depression. It is a real manifestation of a biochemical condition within the body. I have been fortunate enough to not face a medical/chemical treatment for my condition. I try to fight mine by getting as much natural light as possible. Exercise and good diet can also make a big difference.

But I am trying to kick it in the behind today. So, perhaps this week can be a little more productive.