Monday, October 27, 2008

"Just Walk Across the Room"

An uncle sitting alone after the funeral service for his deceased nephew. Tennis players sitting around afer practice. A Christian lady trying to find her way in a new church. And only a few steps from where I stood in each case and an attempt at friendship. I started a conversation, planted a seed.

Why walk across the room and spend time talking to people? Bill Hybels recently published a book called "Just Walk Across the Room". Hybels is known for his many books on evangelism. In this latest book he asks the question, "Are you using your steps wisely"? (19). He calculated that each of us travel about ten thousand steps each day which adds up to about 115,000 miles in one's lifetime. He writes the following: "Assume the average distance across most rooms is twenty feet -about ten steps. The question I hope to answer is this: What if ten steps - just one one-thousandth of your daily average - could actually impact eternity? If so, it might well change the way you walk" (19).

You'll have to read the book for yourself. But, the stories of people making a difference for eternity in the lives of others to whom they decided to simply walk across a room or a ball field to start a conversation, are amazing. One of the stories is about a Muslim man who shared with Hybels how he was approached by a follower of Christ during a business party. The Muslim as usual sat alone while others piled together and discussed whatever was on their mind. But one day things changed when someone was willing to step across the room.

Approaching people is always like stepping into the "Zone of the Unknown" says Hybels. For many people this zone is freightening. Hybel shares the following about the Christian who took the risk: "It's foreign territory, this zone. He had no clue what would happen when he stuck out his hand to the tall Muslim man. He knew nothing about where the conversation would go or if there would be any conversations at all. He was uncertain what this individual's reaction to him would be. But he was already committed. He had left his Circle of Comfort, he had walked by faith all the way across the room, and he had resolved in his heart, probably praying every step of the way, to enter into the Zone of the Unknown and see what God might do. (In my opinion, it's within this zone that God does his very best work.)" (23).

Hybel asks the question, "What if redirecting a person's forever really is as simple as walking across a room?" (22). I'm enjoying reading this book. It inspires me to continue seeking people and waiting patienty for them to respond. Why not try this approach to evangelism for yourself? I would love to hear your stories.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More Food for Thought on Worship - Part II

Marva J. Dawn’s views on worship are reminiscent of other authors I have quoted before on the topic of worship, such as Vanhoozer and Piper. She writes: “We must therefore be constantly asking how our worship reveals God and what kind of people we are becoming, because the perspectives and understanding about God and the specific attitudes and habits of being that are created by all the elements of worship services affect how we think, speak, and act as we worship in the rest of life” (119).

For Marva, the question is not attractiveness but usefulness. She discusses this in relationship to liturgy. “We must not ask, Is this liturgy attractive? But always, What kind of character does this nurture? Does our liturgy focus on feelings rather than on God’s character, which evokes those feelings?” She adds, “If so, it will nurture a faith that depends on emotions rather than a faith that can cling to who God is in spite of human experiences of sorrow or estrangement” (249).

What about the relation between experience and worship? Should we seek to 'experience' worship? In discussing worship Leonard Sweet in his book Postmodern Pilgrims believes experience is indispensable for the postmodern generation. He affirms that "Postmoderns literally 'feel' their way through life. Want to create change? Give postmoderns a new experience they haven't had before" (43). It seems that Sweet stresses innovative art-forms and interactive preaching and images to “create” worship experiences, while Marva – although not against using those things – would argue to make sure that those experiences reflect God’s character and are not confused for experiencing God himself. It is looking upward and intensely to God, and obeying his word, that will ultimately bring about inward change in believers. Even Sweet agrees that "Experience is not the final arbiter of truth. Experience cannot be trusted except it has been transfigured by Scripture and Tradition. Besides, there comes a time when it's not time for experience, but for obedience" (46).

Marva J. Dawn invites us to ask how the way we worship God is faithful to scripture, and to further ask what kind of believer we are becoming as a result of how we worship God. Good thoughts for us to keep in mind as we worship daily and in our faith communities each week.

I close this week with a quote found in Dawn's book on the definition of worship written by William Temple: Worship is "The submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of the mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose - and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable" (Temple, Readings in St. John' Gospel, 68, quoted in Dawn, 80).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Food for Thought on Worshipping God - Part I

What is the goal of worship? This is the question I would like to consider as I continue the week long theme on worship. Marva J. Dawn serves as Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Years ago she wrote a very helpful book on the theme of worship, “Reaching Out without Dumping Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture.” Marva provides readers with a much needed balance to the discussion on worship, as well as profound insights for reflection.

What stands out the most and is useful for evaluating worship in her book is Marva’s drive to make worship intentional in fulfilling a specific goal in worship. What is this goal? She states the following:
"I am very interested in using modern music . . . but our music must contain the substance of the faith, the heritage of the Church’s uniqueness, the character-forming truths of Christianity . . . Our worship services ought not to be designed by what appeals to the masses in order to survive financially; rather, they must be planned in a genuinely worshipful way that invites persons into the essence of truthful Christianity" (46-47). Paramount to Marva (see Vanhoozer in yesterday's blogspot) is the centrality of God in all of worship. His person must be the object of our worship. She believes that, “We cannot respond to God as the object of our praise unless we first see him, know him, let him be God in our lives” (87).

Marva goes on to discuss the significance of praising God. She writes, "Praise encompassing all of God’s character provides a safe haven within which we can face ourselves and acknowledge the truth of our brokenness, rebellions, and idolatries” (91). This means that the internal transformation that ought to characterize followers of Christ will take place as we consistently take the focus off ourselves and place them more intently on God.

What is the goal of worship? Marva quotes from C. Welton Gaddy, who writes the following: "'For whom is worship? Worship is for God. Only! The chief aim of worship is to please God - whether by adoration and praise, prayer and proclamation, confessions and offerings, thanksgivings and commitment, or by all of these actions combined'" (Gaddy, The Gift of Worship, 201, quoted in Dawn, 80). In worship we are saying "'God alone matters.'"

Is your goal in worship God alone? What should happen as we enter a time of worship where God alone is our focus? What kind of believers are we becoming as a result of how we are deepening our relationship with God? This will be our topic tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Worshipping More Clearly - Part II

Yesterday I shared with you about an article I read on worship by Trinity professor and theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer. Vanhoozer says that when we catch “the vision of who God is and what God has done, it stops us in our tracks and elicits our praise” (10). This is similar to what John Piper has written with regards to the missionary heart that the honest worship of God creates in us (see blogspots for Sept 22-24). Vanhoozer writes the following concerning the meaning of worshipping God "in truth": “Truth sets us free ‘from’ idolatry: from false religion and false striving after meaning and happiness and righteousness. Consequently, truth sets us free ‘for’ right worship, for worship bent on ultimate reality” (10). What does it mean to worship God "in spirit"? Does it mean to worship according to the Holy Spirit, or is it related to our own spirit? To worship God in spirit, says Vanhoozer “engages not merely our mind, but our whole being or ‘spirit’: not only minds, but hearts, hands, and imaginations too” (11).

Vanhoozer goes on to emphasize how proper theology (=understanding of God and his ways) leads to true worship: “Theology, then, both emerges from and leads us back to worship. Conversely, worship must be theological: it must reflect faith’s understanding of who God is and what God has done. Furthermore, worship must be corporate, for one of the great things that God has done is precisely to form a people. Worship involves – in praise, in commemoration – of what Christians know about God” (14). If it is true that worship forms us spiritually, and I believe it does, Christians must deepen their understanding of how God is portrayed in the Bible and expose themselves to writings that help them challenge cultural depictions of God which are inferior to the inspired text.

What does Vanhoozer say about the various styles of worship? Who’s right on the issue? Vanhoozer exhorts the Church to go “beyond the worship wars” and says, “Whatever one thinks about musical styles, let us at least agree that worship must be theological – God-centered – not anthropological. It’s not primarily about us!” (14). Within our Christian narcissistic culture thinking of worship as “not primarily about us” is easier said than practiced. Worship through my life, as well as when with my faith community must be about God's glory and his exaltation. It should never be primarily focused on what I can get out of a worship experience, although I am always blessed when I wholeheartedly praise the Lord. It is about living worshipfully in submission of everything I am before all that God is.

Worship is indispensable for your life and mine. Both private and faith community worship should seek to worship God in “spirit and in truth”. Clarifying true worship, its subject and object, and its importance for shaping one’s life, must be the sine qua non of how we live our lives today. Not to worship God as the centerpiece of our lives will lead us to the false religions and substitutes spoken about by Vanhoozer in his article. He alone deserves our allegiance, our focus, and our loyalty.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Worshipping More Clearly - Part I

I’ve been thinking a lot about worship lately. In fact, our entire staff at church has been discussing the implications of worship in fantastic and marvelous ways that will be shared with our congregation in the future. I'll be dedicating this entire week to blog on the subject of worship. One theologian who has thought and written on this topic is Kevin J. Vanhoozer, professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His article, “Worship at the Well: From Dogmatics to Doxology (and Back Again)" [Trinity Journal, 2002, V. 23, No. 1, 3-16.] attempts to clarify the meaning of worship and the response that is expected from those who honestly seek to worship God.

Vanhoozer discusses the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan women in John 4. In the article he asks, “Does it really matter how we worship? Yes it does, because ultimately it is not simply a question of ‘how,’ but also of ‘what.’ Questions of style are not unrelated to questions of substance”(5). What does he mean? Vanhoozer says that "The Samaritans’ knowledge of God was partial, hence their worship was defective. The problem was not that the Samaritans lacked exhaustive knowledge of God (who does not?), but that they did not know enough to worship him correctly” (8). So what is the point? Well this would mean that we must demand, for example, that our worship songs be scripturally clear in what they say about God, his nature and his ways. Because worship forms us we want to strive to worship God according to what he has revealed about his holiness and Sovereignty, as well as about his love, mercy, and justice.

Worship must go beyond what we do on Sundays. Our corporate worship should be an overflow of our daily practice of worshipping God "in spirit and truth". This leads to the following question: What happens when the eyes of believers are opened so that they see God for who he is? We'll look at what Vanhoozer says about this question tomorrow.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Didn't God Know that Adam & Eve Would Sin?"

And the questions continue coming. I was enjoying my chicken salad with my wife and child, digging into the blue corn organic chips, when my daughter asked me one of those theological questions. "Dad, why did God test Adam and Eve if he knew they were going to sin anyway?" I finished swallowing the piece of grilled chicken, sipped once again from my tea drink, and prayed, "Lord, help me explain this one to her in a simple way."

"Well think of it like this," I began. I spread some of the blue chips close to her plate and placed a little piece of red tomato in the middle. "Think of it like this. God told Adam that he could eat from all the trees in the garden (chips), but he told him that he must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (tomato) because he would surely die." I hadn't concluded my illustration when she had already picked up the tomato from the middle and eaten it. I did this a few times over and each time she messed up my illustration. I was loosing her.

"You see, you must truly be able to choose between eating these chips or eating the tomato, or you really are not free. And this is what happened to Adam and Eve. God had told Adam and Eve that they were free to eat of any tree, but not from one particular tree. God created them with the freedom to choose. Do you get it?" I wasn't sure she got it, and the distractions during dinner time didn't help any.

This was once again a good question from the lips of a child. Think about it. Without a test our love and response for God would only have been possible if we were simple automatons, or mere robot like creatures. Instead, God created Adam and Eve as free moral agents with the ability not to sin. Anything less would have been bland automation, and loveless existence.

If she was a blossoming teenager I could have said it like this: "Adam did not have inability to sin; he had ability not to sin; he could choose." Yes, God did know the outcome of the test. But God wanted to establish the principle of obedience from the beginning, and to establish his rule or Kingdom on earth. God's desire to establish his rule on earth is the central theme of the Bible. We were created to know God, but also to obey him as King and Sovereign. Man has struggled ever sin creation with the issue of God's rule.

I'm not too sure how much of my explanation sunk in, but I'm glad that she's asking these kinds of questions and that the topics discussed around the table include issues concerning God and not just school homework, grades and politics. I like that.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Can I Read 6 Books @year & Remember What I Read? Part II

James W. Sire in his book, "How to Read Slowly: Reading for Comprehension," provides a motivating reason for us to read, and to read with understanding. He writes, ". . . I am most interested in encouraging Christians to think and read well. Christians, of all people, should reflect the mind of their Master. Learning to read well is a step toward loving God with your mind" (12). Sire's book is a classic on the topic. Reading, reflecting, and living well, are all ways we can love God with our minds (See Sire's helpful chapter on "A Time to Read: Knowing What to Read and When").

When picking up a book at your church or local bookstore, sit down and read it in ten to 15 minutes. How? Begin by overviewing the book (see the link to the article below). Read the back of the book to get an idea about it's topic and who endorses the book. Then read the front and back inside jacket. Skim quickly through the preface and introduction and read the last three pages of the book. If you have time, look over the outline. Select one chapter that catches your eye. Turn to that chapter and read the first line of several paragraphs in the chapter. By then you should have a good idea of where the author is going with the book, and whether or not you want to buy it.

You may want to simply read most books at leisure, but other books you may want to master. The following is from a web article written by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason ministries ( The three steps he suggests for mastering a book are: Preview, Read, and Postview Immediately. I've applied this process on a few books whose content I've wanted to master. With discipline you too can obtain mastery over books you read.

When previewing a book you want to skim the entire book at a rate of 4-10 seconds per page. Don't stop, just read through to the end. Then write in pencil on the title page a concise summary statement what you think the book is about. Once you have previewed the entire book you are ready to preview each chapter. Read each page quickly just as you did before. Then go back and read the chapter again as fast as possible, using a pointer, but this time stopping only to mark margins for later study. The final step in the preview stage is to go back to the beginning of the chapter and write a 1-4 sentence summary in pencil on top of the title of the chapter.

Now you are ready for the post-read of the chapter. Re-read the chapter one more time. Do this quickly, but stopping at points where you made a mark in order to interact with the author, adding additional comments or questions on the margins. After reading through the chapter refine your 1-4 sentence summary at the beginning of the chapter. Then return to the end of the chapter and try to write an outline of the main points you read. Before going on to the next chapter in the book always review your summary statements and outlines from the previous chapter. Although it requires patience, I've found this method to be a valuable tool in helping me learn well the material covered in a book.

Do you think you can read six books in year? Some of you may be avid readers, but for others this would be a challenge. However, it isn't difficult if you discipline yourself to read a book of about 200 pages in sixty days. How? Simply read four pages per day. You can read any particular book for mastery if you apply the steps given above.

There's one more thing I want to touch on. Some people might say, "But isn't reading the Bible sufficient?" "Shouldn't I concentrate only on devotional readings?" Or, "Why read anyway when there's better things to do with my time?" Sire encourages us to read beyond the Bible, although reading and studying the Bible should be done regularly. He challenges us to think of the value of reading, and of reading broadly. Sire writes: ". . . Those who read little other than the Bible do so to the detriment of themselves and to diminishing of the radiant glory of God who is the fount of all knowledge and truth" (155). In other words, God's truth in creation comes to us through many disciplines, and is not limited only to the spiritual truths found in Scripture. And don't worry about how many books you read, just enjoy your reading experience, stretch yourself a little, and continue growing as an individual. "The point is to start and then to read well. How far we get, how many books we read, must not become the issue" (Sire, 155).

Once again I want to encourage you to read a book, grow in your understanding of our world, and share your knowledge with others. Then pass the good title along.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How Can I Read 6 Books @year & Remember What I Read? Part I

Do you like to read? Back on September 16 I posted on the need for us to continue growing by focusing, among other things, on reading. I love reading. In fact, one of the things I like to do most is to go through different books at the same time. On my desk in the office I have more than ten books that I am currently reading. I'm writing reviews on some of the books in order to share my thoughts in future blogspots. Most of what I read informs me about issues dealing with church life, culture, or help me to understand more clearly a biblical topic.

At home I do the same, reading tidbits of a particular book and moving to another topic often. Right now at home I'm reading through the massive (680 pages)"Mito y Realidad," (Myth and Reality) by Juan Clark which deals with the history of Cuba until the early 90s. But, I'm also peaking into "The Problem with Evangelical Theology" (Witherington), "How Christianity Changed the World" (Schmidt), and a few other titles. My practice is to glance at many books, magazines and journals, selecting for further reading those topics that interest me most at the time.

Yet I have to admit that with the exception of some books I've read, I would still have to go back to most of the books I've recently read in order to have a full conversation about their content. Of course, I can tell you a few things about most books I've read, but how about their details? Is there a way we can read a book that will help us gain mastery over its content? Yes. Can we read a half dozen books each year and be able to talk intelligently about their content? Yes. Tomorrow I will point you to a web article that will provide simple steps you can follow to read for comprehension and retention.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Living Life "Heart to Heart"

"We have to love people 'heart to heart'" was the mantra of Pastor Jorge, my former pastor under whom I served for sixteen years in Miami. I learned a lot under his leadership, and much of the way I do ministry today and what I think ministry should look like has been greatly influenced by his 'heart to heart' attitude. Yet, learning to love people by tangibly trying to establish a relationship with them is not always easy to do.

Years ago I met a Brazilian pastor/missionary, Jerry De Oliveira. Jerry was a people person, but he had not always been so openly friendly. One day he told me, "Roger, I used to be the most introvert person ever. But, one day I told myself, 'I'm going to change. I'm going to strike up conversations with people and I'm going to learn to build relationships with them.'" You would never have imagined from looking at Jerry that he had been a very private individual earlier in life. It was probably difficult for Jerry at the begining to break out of his usual pattern but in time he conquered his timidity and developed an outgoing personality.

I'm not sure everyone can change to the same degree that Jerry did. But I do think that many of us can learn to be more sociable, and learn to risk reaching out to others. Any one of us can say hi to a neighbor, introduce ourselves, and be open to share a few comments. Recently I exchanged a few words with a neighbor who was walking his dog. I knew that he had been in Kuwait because months earlier his wife had told me about it when my daughter was collecting money from neighbors for a school fund raiser. I told him about his wife's generous donation. He shared a few things about his experience in Kuwait and extended an open invitation for me to go to his house to view pictures he had taken while abroad. The point is that I could have easily gone my own way as he walked past my house, but I chose to make eye contact and say 'hello'.

Jesus was an expert in engaging people. One example of this was the woman at the well described for us in John 4. Cultural taboo should have steered him away from talking to any woman, and in particular, to this one. But that was not the way of Jesus. He took time to reach out to her and the results were amazing. There are other examples as well from the life of Jesus, such as being willing to talk to some Greeks who came looking for him (they were Gentiles), spending time with people of ill reputation with whom he visited, a tax collector who was hated by the Jews with whom he ate, and many more examples found in the Gospels.

I want to encourage you to seek out people by simply opening your eyes to those God brings your way. Ask God to give you a big heart and a big smile. Reaching out to folks will go a long way in communicating to them that they matter and that you care. Building relationships will take time. But, over time, it might just help us earn the right to share our faith with them.

Whether or not people respond to the gospel message is God's business and theirs. We can, however, be on the look out to take small steps through the doors to relationships that God seems to open for us. Let's enter through those doors and learn to love people 'heart to heart'. If we do, some people may just find the love of God through our heart.