How to Witness to a Distracted World

Effective Christian evangelism and discipleship requires us to be disruptive.

Most days I can hardly hear myself think.

It feels like there are a million voices calling for my attention as long as I’m awake: text messages, work emails, kids wanting a drink of water, looming deadlines, billboards, the sense of missing Something Important on social media, breaking news, Instagram, app notifications, Netflix, podcasts, music, a smartwatch telling me to stand up.

My mind is scattered and cloudy most of the time. Probably as a result, I often discover that I’m anxious or depressed or worried about something but I can’t remember what, let alone why. There’s just too much going on. So when these feelings come, the easiest and most efficient thing to do is unlock my phone. And then the dread mostly goes away, for a little while. A shot of dopamine from Twitter keeps the anxiety away.

It’s not just the technology that creates this feeling, it’s also how ordered and scheduled and deadlined our lives are. We feel like we are constantly missing out on something or failing to do enough. There are always more shows, exercise, dishes, dieting, organizing, reading, and podcasts to catch up on.

The effect of all this is that from the moment we get out of bed until we crash at night, life feels like a buzz of attention-grabbing technology and busyness for a lot of modern people. One of my great worries about this distraction is that it makes recognizing and repenting of sin hard to do. When do we have the time to quietly reflect on our day and prayerfully evaluate our actions and words?

Not-So-Silent Night

The answer used to be at night. Traditionally, the moments before we fall asleep have been some of the most convicting in life. When you are stuck in bed with the lights off and nothing …

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Want to Share the Gospel Effectively? Always Ask About the Tattoo

The simplest questions can open the door to amazing conversations.

I asked Mike about his tattoo partly out of curiosity but primarily from an instinct of self-preservation. He was helping his cousin jumpstart a car in the middle of our street in Long Beach, California, where I was involved in planting a church. As he worked, I observed a tattoo of a large knife that covered his entire forearm. I don’t remember how I formed the question, but my relief was palpable when he uttered the words, “It’s a chef’s knife. I’m the Urban Chef!” A simple question about a tattoo opened the door to a conversation about training urban youth, which led to a Bible study, which led, eventually, to Chef Mike choosing to follow Jesus, the one who prepared a meal for a crowd with five loaves and two fish.

I recalled this story while reading an example from Good News for Change: How to Talk to Anyone about Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos. At the end of chapter 11, Mikalatos writes, “Every time you see a tattoo this week, ask the person, ‘Why is that significant to you?’ It’s one of the greatest entrances to deep conversation that I know.” In two short sentences, Mikalatos offers a key insight that I had intuited but never fully articulated: If we want to reach people with the gospel, we need to figure out what matters to them most.

Mikalatos argues that our ability to communicate the gospel has been clouded by Christian jargon unintelligible to the non-religious world, a desire to win arguments, and an overwhelming fear that we won’t get the “facts” right. He reminds us, instead, that “evangelism is, first and foremost, us participating with the Holy Spirit to tell people about God and his love for them and to invite them into deeper …

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Five Key Things About Church Revitalization That Most Leaders Miss, Part 2

We need to patiently endure as leaders. Don’t give up.

Third, most revitalization does not actually work at first.

Another thing about church revitalization most leaders miss is that most revitalization does not actually work at first.

Church revitalization is often a process of two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes, it’s two steps forward, two steps back. And sometimes, it doesn’t work at all. This is not always due to the resistance of people, although this can play a major role.

You need to become accustomed to slow, steady success with frequent failure.

Revitalization doesn’t usually occur with a sudden swarm of new believers zealous for sharing the gospel knocking down the doors of your church. It’s slow, steady success with frequent failure. It’s making the right choices, helping organize things well, leading from a spiritual perspective, and helping the church through revision.

Revitalization is frequent failure. There are many things that don’t work in church revitalization. If that freaks you out, you are probably going to really struggle with church revitalization.

One church where I led as interim pastor years ago was at a crisis point. It was near bankruptcy, but we were able to turn it around and get it healthy again. Then, the church hired a pastor and the pastor came in with an attitude of “I’m here and this is my plan.” He neither wanted to love the people nor wanted to walk with the people. His ideas shattered some of the unity we had worked towards as a church.

In the end, he got discouraged because he couldn’t figure out why the people weren’t doing what he wanted. Here’s the key that he missed: Revitalization usually doesn’t work at first. It’s a series of struggles, sometimes …

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How Do I Get Connected? A Conversation with a Hasidic Israeli Jewish Man

The relationship connection throughout all of the Lord’s promises was the same.

“How do I get connected?” The question was a text from an earnest Hasidic (ultra-orthodox) Israeli Jewish guy named Aviel.*

After a series of casual conversations, he made a theological comment about God and time. That was the introduction for deeper discussion. How could anyone know God? His religious orientation was around what he must do to connect with the Lord. My perspective was a little foreign to his way of thinking.

Although we met in Israel, both of us grew up in the United States. We were introduced to ideas about God through Judaism, though our ways of doing religion were pretty different, even before I believed in Yeshua (Jesus). Interestingly, as children we both wanted to know the Lord and to be his child.

Aviel texted me a Hebrew quote about God’s children from a passage early in Jeremiah 31. It spoke of God’s love for his children who returned from captivity in northern Mesopotamia. Since Aviel introduced Jeremiah, I was free to suggest something from the same chapter in response. With his permission, I sent Jeremiah 31:31-34, speaking of the new covenant relationship.

He immediately saw the words “new covenant” and asked what it meant. I tell Christians we shouldn’t assume other people know the Bible, even a religious Hasidic Jewish guy. And, no, I’d never heard of a “new covenant” in the Hebrew Bible before I believed in Jesus.

So I wrote, “It speaks of God’s promise for a new covenant RELATIONSHIP. Though offered to Jewish people, it’s for individuals. The text speaks for itself in context. God offered a covenant with our people that promised renewal of his faithful love.”

Aviel immediately understood but wanted to think about …

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Can Preachers Make an Impact in a Post-Christian World?

Herman Bavinck’s advice to 19th century pastors still holds true today.

In post-Christian Britain—a culture where few people listen to any kind of public speaking, sacred or secular—Rev. Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon succeeded in capturing the public imagination in a way that few had expected. For many Brits, the royal wedding’s most unexpected outcome was that a sermon, of all things, could spark a national conversation on race. “Who would have thought,” the response went, “that preaching could actually be engaging?”

At present, it seems as though preaching—in its quality and significance—is often held in low esteem, both within and outside of the church. The common reaction in the British media to Rev. Curry’s preaching is a good example of this. Reflecting on his sermon, one opinion writer in The Guardian noted quite frankly, “I had not expected to be moved.”

Within the Christian community it might be said that the internet, which offers us instant access to a small pool of exceptionally gifted preachers, has produced a general culture of dissatisfaction with preaching. Although few of our local preachers can preach at that superstar level, many of us nonetheless hold them to that unattainable standard. In 2018, it is common for Christians to be enthusiastic about one or two preachers, who are almost never their own pastors, rather than about preaching in general.

T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach has put forward that current day preaching is not particularly good, and that most churchgoers do not expect it to be. In his argument, the typical 21st-century sermon is a rambling, inarticulate, and unsuccessful attempt to say something that is somehow connected to the Bible. This is the case, …

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A Degree of Contention at Christian Schools

Rise of honorary degrees raises concern about misuse of “Dr.” in ministry.

What do figures as wide-ranging as Billy Graham, Rick and Kay Warren, Fred Rogers, and Donald Trump have in common?

All have been awarded honorary doctorates by Christian colleges.

Each spring, another batch of distinguished guests receives these symbolic degrees. Among others this year, outgoing World Vision president Rich Stearns was granted an honorary doctorate of divinity from Gordon College; Tim Keller, an honorary doctorate from Westminster Theological Seminary; and comedian Jamie Foxx, an honorary doctorate from Jarvis Christian College. Eastern Mennonite University awarded its first-ever honorary doctorate this May to Liberian peace activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee, a Nobel laureate and alumna.

By granting such awards, “we’re honoring an action, a commitment to a principle, or an action that serves the community,” said Ben Gutierrez, co-provost and vice president for academic affairs at Liberty University, which conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree to President Trump when he spoke at the school’s commencement in 2017, and an honorary doctor of humanities degree to President Jimmy Carter, the 2018 speaker. “We’re acknowledging an example of someone who personifies excellence within their discipline, within their passion, or within their field.”

Honorary degrees have a centuries-long history in higher education. But many institutions—including evangelical colleges—have begun to issue them more routinely in the past two decades. The influx of honorary doctorates has led some in academia to call for more clarity in the process; others are ready to do away with the prize altogether.

It’s taboo for honorary doctorate recipients to adopt the title of doctor (unless …

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Jesus Is Lord. Period.

We’re rendering unto Caesar too much time and attention.

Back in the day, the evangelical fantasy went something like this: As you get settled into your airplane seat, you casually remove your Bible from your carry-on. A few moments of solemn reading later, your neighbor taps you on your shoulder. “Pardon me,” he says. “But I couldn’t help but notice a certain … peace about you. Where might I find that peace?”

In mid-2018, the fantasy has been flipped on its head. The pagan neighbor is now reading your tweets. “You’re so angry at Trump!” she gasps. “What can be driving such passion for justice and mercy? … An evangelical who opposes Trump’s policies? How can this be?” (There’s another version of the story where the neighbor earnestly wants to know about “these Christian values you keep talking about.”)

Those stories might even happen once in a while. The Spirit works in strange ways. Still, the apologetics potential in opposing Trump (or supporting him) is too easily exaggerated in our minds. Scripture promises that Christian unity will point the world to Jesus (John 17:21) and that good works will prompt non-Christians to glorify God (Matt. 5:16, 1 Pet. 2:12). It doesn’t indicate that our voting record can be the 21st-century equivalent of the Four Spiritual Laws.

With the US midterm elections a few months away, this is not a call to political silence, to a privatized, “spiritual” faith. Rather, this is a call to speak politically as the Bible does. We should be on guard against talking about Trump more than Paul talked about Nero—especially if we’re talking about Jesus less than Paul talked about Jesus.

Bible Subversion

It’s clear enough from a plain …

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Cover Story: Out of the Flood

Three teens survived a rising river at a Bible camp in Comfort, Texas. Would their faith?

Chip Asberry removed his socks and shoes and rolled up his jeans before he stepped out of the van. The 15-year-old looked over his shoulder just as the wave hit.

He saw it take one person, then another, then he was under water. The current, moving at 60 miles per hour, rendered swimming impossible, and Asberry struggled to keep his head above the water.

“I was just trying not to drown and grabbing onto whatever I could,” he said. Eventually he grabbed a limb and used it to pull himself up into a tree. He lost his glasses in the river, clouding his comprehension of the chaos. God, just let me out of this and I’ll do whatever you want me to do, no matter what it is, Asberry bargained from his perch 40 feet in the air.

Gene Marsh, 14, dug his fingernails into the bark of a different tree and pulled himself up. He broke two ribs in the scramble, but adrenaline overpowered the throbbing pain in his torso. An 11-year-old girl rushed toward him in the water. She had blacked out when the wave hit, and her next memory was Marsh pulling her into the branches, the two of them inching higher up the tree as it shook and swayed amid the current.

“She just kept asking if we were going to go home, and all I could tell her was ‘yeah,’ ” Marsh said, certain they wouldn’t make it out alive. “I couldn’t tell her what I was really thinking.” He heard helicopters circling above, but the current wasn’t slowing.

If anything, it was rising.

In the pre-dawn light of July 17, 1987, nearly 40 kids struggled in the Guadalupe River as it overflowed its banks in Comfort, Texas, 50 miles northwest of San Antonio. They had woken early on their last day of Bible camp and skipped breakfast …

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Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Is Brett Kavanaugh, Another Religious Liberty Defender

GOP establishment darling and Court of Appeals judge nominated to fill outgoing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s critical seat.

President Donald Trump has nominated appeal court judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who after three decades of service, will retire at the end of this month.

“Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law,” said Trump on Tuesday night.

The president praised Kavanaugh as a “judge’s judge,” “a true thought leader among his peers,” “a brilliant jurist,” and “universally regarded as one of the sharpest legal minds of our times.”

“Mr. President, I am grateful to you. I am humbled by your confidence in me,” said Kavanaugh, after the President’s introduction.

“A judge must be independent, must interpret the law, not make the law,” said Kavanaugh. “…A judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history, tradition, and precedent.”

Kavanaugh, 53, has a long history of genuine legal experience and support from establishment Republicans. Should he be confirmed, his presence will tilt the court further to the right, as he is considerably more conservative than the more centrist, swing-vote conservative Kennedy.

Having issued nearly 300 opinions during his tenure on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh boasted considerably more bench experience than any of the other prospective nominees—Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett, and Thomas Hardiman.

Christian conservatives had little but praise for Trump’s nomination.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore said that he was confident that Kavanaugh would be a “strong …

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New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

Don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

I used to lead, and now work with, LifeWay Research. Here’s an interesting piece of research they just released. It’s a bit counterintuitive in ways, so it caught my interest and I decided to share the story with you!

Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies …

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