Positive Facebook Story

I sometimes tend to rag on electronic media and our culture’s embrace of such advances as a positive development a priori. So, I thought I would pass along a story about how God has used Facebook in a cool way. This comes via email (shared with permission) from someone in our community, and the names have been changed:

Linda has a friend, Sharon, who goes to [a church in our community] and is due to give birth soon. Sharon has been uncomfortable and on facebook mentioned something of her situation. Instead of just posting “I’ll be praying”, Linda wrote out her prayer on her facebook wall. Sharon has several LDS friends. Her LDS friends commented how awesome it was that someone took the time and used facebook as a means to immediately pray.

These same LDS friends had a gathering of people after this and Sharon was there. The LDS friends said something about needing prayer and asked, “Will someone pray for me.” Nobody stepped up, but Sharon. Again these LDS friends thought it was amazing that people actually took time to pray right then and there for one another. Some time passed and this LDS friend was so taken back by this whole thing, that she inquired more about Sharon’s story. Sharon shared her faith in Christ.

Next, this LDS friend received her “calling” to the young women’s group. The friend asked her bishop if Sharon could come and share her testimony at their group. Yes, she told the bishop that Sharon was an evangelical Christian and attends [same church in our community]. The bishop still said yes. So, point of the story: from one little prayer written on facebook, doors were opened and now a sister in Christ will go share her testimony of her relationship with the true and living God in an LDS young women’s group.

Pretty cool story. God is good.

Youth Ministry and Apologetics

One of my passions in ministry is teaching on apologetics–the branch of theology devoted to giving logical evidence that the claims of Christianity are true. I believe that this should be a common topic in youth ministry–whether as a series or just as a point woven throughout large group and small group teaching. Students should be encouraged and led to study Christian apologetics because

It encourages them in their walk with Jesus. It helps students know that what they believe is true and trustworthy. Faith is trusting in what we don’t necessarily see (Hebrews 11:1). However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t good logical reasons to believe in the Jesus of the Bible. In the marketplace of ideas, students need to be able to give good, solid reasons for why what they believe is true.

It helps remove barriers to believing in Jesus. Mack Stiles in Speaking of Jesus (IVP, 1995) says, “No one was ever argued into the Kingdom; but no one ever entered the Kingdom without a reason.”

Students eat it up. We sometimes avoid diving into meaty issues like apologetics because we think the topic may be a bit over the heads of our students. Certainly there’s a range of intellectual prowess in any group of teenagers, but in general, students love to grapple with this stuff, even when they don’t understand all of it.

So how do we get started incorporating apologetics into our teaching/leading repertoire? The first step is to study it yourself. This doesn’t mean that you have to have it all down, but you do need to be familiar with the topic and confident in what you’re talking about. The second step is to incorporate it into your teaching in a way that matters to your students. It can be easy to detach this deep kind of teaching from any practical application, reducing it to an irrelevant academic exercise. While I do sometimes teach an entire lesson or series on apologetics, I find it much more effective to simply weave it throughout a lesson where appropriate. For instance, this Sunday I will teach our high school students on one of our church’s four core values: “Biblical Foundation.” I’ll include a topic on why we can have confidence that what the Bible says is true.

Further Study:
Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith (Zondervan, 2003), Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, eds.

Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Baker Books, 2004) by Kenneth Samples.

Bethinking.org – a great site with a lot of apologetics resources, organized topically.

Veritas Forum – Non-profit organization that hosts Christian speakers as well as debates on college and university campuses. All of their presentations, lectures, and debates are online, and can be great viewing for a youth group setting.

Stephen Colbert interviews Stephen Prothero

I’m very interested in Stephen Prothero’s new book, God Is Not One. Essentially, he argues that all religions do not say the same things regarding the most significant questions about our existence and purpose in life, and that those differences are very important in how people of different faiths relate to one another. Here is Prothero on the Colbert Report:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Prothero
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

Hat Tip: Kendall Harmon

CNN.com: "When did God become a sports fan?"

Despite the misguided title, this is a pretty good article. This is one of those issues that is often trivialized, because to understand the role of faith in public life, we need to good depth of biblical and theological study.

On one hand, it is appropriate in all instances to give thanks to God (1 Thessalonians 5:18). However, there can be some pride in linking a public victory to one’s faith in God. I’m not sure how the Christians quoted in the article conduct themselves in their private lives, but I think a positive example in this arena (pun intended) is Tim Tebow, who follows Jesus in all areas of his life, including when he plays football. Consistency is the key.

Here’s the CNN.com article:

Yet some sports commentators say assuming God is a sports fan trivializes faith.

Athletes who publicly thank God for victory are often calling more attention to themselves than their faith, says William J. Baker, author of “Playing with God.”

They are selling their goodness, and their brand of faith, to a captive audience, says Baker, who describes himself as a Christian.

“I don’t think it’s the right place and it’s not the right gesture,” says Baker, a former high school quarterback. “It’s an athlete using a moment to sell a product, like soap.”

What many of these pious athletes are also selling is an evangelical, winner-take-all gospel, Baker says.

CNN.com: Jesus Christ cartoon in development at Comedy Central

Um…no comment. But I do sense a great video illustration on the deity of Christ coming.

Jesus Christ is regularly depicted as a supporting character on one of Comedy Central’s staple programs, “South Park,” but now he might star in his own animated series.

The network announced their programming plans for the upcoming year Thursday, and among some of the shows in the script development phase is a half-hour cartoon called “JC.”

The series would be about “JC (Jesus Christ) wanting to escape his father’s enormous shadow and to live life in NYC as a regular guy. A lot has changed in 2000 years and he is the ultimate fish out of water,” according to a press release. “Meanwhile his all-powerful yet apathetic father would rather be playing video games than listening to JC recount his life in the city. JC is a playful take on religion and society with a sprinkle of dumb.”

It’s important to note that script development is the very earliest stage a program can be in, said Comedy Central’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications Steve Albani in a statement to CNN.

In fact, this stage is so early, Comedy Central’s Albani “wanted to emphasize that projects at the script deal level are several levels away from being greenlit to series and appearing on air … most script deals do not even get a pilot order, the next step in the development process.”

The comments on the CNN.com post are quite interesting. We seem to act like Jesus is a taboo subject, but when the topic comes up, lots of people chime in. If we’re willing to have a little faith and boldness, there are plenty of opportunities to discuss Jesus with people. Hmm…I guess I did have a comment after all.

Stephen Prothero: All Religions Are Not Alike

I don’t know much about Stephen Prothero, but he apparently describes himself as a “confused Christian.” I think I’ll put this book, God is Not One, on my reading list. It’s a good topic to teach on in our student ministries. For me, it comes down to teaching students to think critically. Here’s an excerpt from an article in Boston University’s news service:

The notion of “pretend pluralism,” as Prothero derides it, may be nobly intentioned, but it is “dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue.” It blinds us to understanding, and therefore solving, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism or Jewish-Arab disputes over Jerusalem or the contest for Kashmir between two nuclear powers with competing religious majorities (Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan), he writes.

“People are thirsty for information about this topic,” Prothero says. “We are in a post-9/11 moment. It became clear we did not understand what was going on in the world — ‘Oh my God, there are Muslims who want to kill us.’”

For many students, the first step to really understanding a biblical worldview is understanding that it matters what you believe–that all religions really do not fundamentally teach the same things. It’s a challenge to teach on, but in my experience, high school students (both Christians and non-Christians) usually love diving into this stuff, perhaps because they’ve never been challenged to do so in other settings.

Slant33.com: Apologetics and Evangelism

I recently found this site, and it’s a great concept: take an issue, and have three Christian leaders give their views. I enjoyed the discussion on apologetics and evangelism. I encourage you to go and read it all, but here is one section I commented on from Chris Folmsbee, the head of Barefoot Ministries:

To me, there are three primary elements of a new kind of apologetic that move apologetics in a post-Christian context from rational argument and logical reasoning to a way of life. The three primary elements are: (1) personal holiness, (2) embodied practice, and (3) trusted guidance.

I worry about leaving behind rational argument as an aspect of evangelism. Should we beat someone over the head with tons of information and demand that they repent? Not unless we are under clear instruction from God to do so, which means in general, the answer is no. But people do want and need to know that our beliefs correlate to reality, and when people ask honest questions, we as Christians need to be ready with honest, intelligent answers. Here’s the response I wrote:

I appreciate this discussion, and it’s a very important one to have in our “post Christian” culture. Chris is on the right track here. In our culture, more and more people are asking “Is it livable?” before they ask, “Is it true?” However, to say that “there are three primary elements of a new kind of apologetic that move apologetics in a post-Christian context from rational argument and logical reasoning to a way of life” discounts the need to know whether something is true. At some point, a new believer or a seeker will want to know whether the reality of Jesus and his work on the cross is something that can be counted on. To give an illustration: when I met my wife, Jennifer, we became close friends and then began dating. At the start, I was essentially asking the questions along the “Is this livable?” line. I wanted to know that a relationship with her resulted in good things. Did she make me happy? Yes. Was she a good influence on me? Yes, she was and is a faithful follower of Christ who gives sacrificially of herself. As time went on and we moved towards marriage, I needed to ask questions along the “Is this true?” line. Will she be faithful? You bet. Will she be a good mother to our children? No question.

A faithful follower of Jesus or an amazing church community that truly loves in Jesus’ name can and should be a powerful apologetic. However, it cannot be the only apologetic. No matter how our culture changes, there will always be a need to show how the claims of Jesus–however displayed in a community of believers or an individual Christian–correlate to reality. Is there a need for a “newbie” to “hear the story,” as Scot puts it? You bet. Do non-believers need to see that Jesus can live inside a person and reveal some of his Kingdom through miraculous change and unfettered love? There’s no question. But when a believer or a seeker asks an honest question, we need to be prepared with an honest answer (1 Peter 3:15-16).

NYT: What Could You Live Without?

This is a great story, make sure you read the whole thing:

It all began with a stop at a red light.

Kevin Salwen, a writer and entrepreneur in Atlanta, was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, back from a sleepover in 2006. While waiting at a traffic light, they saw a black Mercedes coupe on one side and a homeless man begging for food on the other.

“Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal,” Hannah protested. The light changed and they drove on, but Hannah was too young to be reasonable. She pestered her parents about inequity, insisting that she wanted to do something.

“What do you want to do?” her mom responded. “Sell our house?”

Warning! Never suggest a grand gesture to an idealistic teenager. Hannah seized upon the idea of selling the luxurious family home and donating half the proceeds to charity, while using the other half to buy a more modest replacement home.

Eventually, that’s what the family did. The project — crazy, impetuous and utterly inspiring — is chronicled in a book by father and daughter scheduled to be published next month: “The Power of Half.” It’s a book that, frankly, I’d be nervous about leaving around where my own teenage kids might find it. An impressionable child reads this, and the next thing you know your whole family is out on the street.

Rick Warren on the "Future of Evangelicalism"

Take some time to read through it all. It’s a good reminder that for those of us who live in the States, we are the mission field now, not the home base. What does this say about youth ministry in our culture?

The last 50 years has seen the greatest redistribution of a religion ever in the history of the world. There is nothing even to compare to it. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, in 1900, 71 percent of all, quote, “Christians” lived in Europe – 71 percent. By 2000 that percentage had declined to 28 percent. Only 28 percent claimed to be Christian, and I’m sure it’s far smaller than that who actually even go to a church.

On the other hand, Christianity was exploding in Africa, Asia and Latin America. If you want to know the future of evangelicalism, it is in those continents. To give you an example, in 1900 there were only 10 million Christians in all of Africa – 10 percent of the population. Today there are 360 million Christians in Africa, over half the population. That is a complete turnaround on a continent that’s never, ever been seen or done in history.

You may be surprised to know that there are more Christians in China than there are in America, by far – by far. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than there are in Scotland, where they came out of with John Knox. There are more Baptists in Nagaland, a state in India, than there are in the South here in America. There are more Anglicans in either Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria – any of these – than in England. There are 2 million Anglicans in England. There are 17 million Anglicans in Nigeria.

The Church of England is a misnomer. It is now the Church of Africa. I have been involved in the ordination of many of those Anglican leaders. They have spread all over. Last Sunday there were more Christians who went to church in China than all of Europe combined. That is a fundamental shift. If you want to know the future of Christianity, it is the developing world. It’s Africa, it’s Latin America, and it’s Asia.

In fact, there are about 15,000 missionaries now working in England from Brazil, China, Korea, other countries that you used to think, well, those would receive missionaries. In fact, Brazil sends out far more missionaries than either Great Britain or Canada combined. So that’s a fundamental shift.

That’s all I’m going to say about the future of evangelicalism. It ain’t here. Okay? It isn’t Europe.