Thursday, February 4, 2010

Effective Evangelism

Those who are familiar with my former rantings know that I personally don't approve too much of the vast bulk of organized religion and the way it's being practiced, which is why I'm such a fan of Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings and all the folks involved with their website "The GodJourney," which is encouraging people to establish a personal relationship with God, rather than placing their faith in any group of people or organization, which can often become a substitute for the Real Thing - that's what I refer to when I think about Jesus, and a real, personal relationship with Him, or also the Spirit, which Jesus said was the only thing that brings life, as opposed to the flesh, which profits nothing...(John 6:63).

Although in theory the ambition of encouraging folks to establish a personal and direct link with God might be shared by many a sincere preacher or pastor of an organized and established church, there is, nonetheless, often a difference when realistically assessing how this is playing out, compared to what one might hope for.

Generally, humans are social "animals," which has many pros, of course, but can also present some drawbacks such as our "copy cat" habits and "assimilating" each other's behavior, which is great when the behavior we follow is good, and detrimental when it isn't (a classic historical example of such negative peer pressure would be the Third Reich)...

In other words, we look at what everybody else is doing and tug along, figuring that if everybody does it, it must be okay, instead of trying to get ahold of God's consent and approval and a confirmation that what we are doing is really His will (classic historic examples of such exceptions would be, for example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oskar Schindler, Corrie ten Boom etc.)

Perhaps I will manage to illustrate graphically the difference between the two forms of evangelism I'm trying to show, but for now I'll have to try to make do with words:

In conventional evangelism, a number of people will flock to a building where they come to listen to one man speak. Some output goes directly to God via their prayers and songs of praise, etc., but the main exchange of information goes from the preacher's mouth to the ears of the congregation. According to the content of that information and each individual's readiness to use that information and put it into action, some later results (= fruit, such as in sharing the information with others) may or may not be achieved.

In the alternative, and in my opinion usually more effective version, an individual is learning via personal communication with God via His Word and direct revelation (as promised by God in His Word) to establish a living, two-way-communication relationship with Him, and thus becomes a living example of such a relationship, which he will inevitably pass on to others (as in "let your light so shine before men") practically anywhere they'll go, encouraging others to establish such a personal relationship with God, too. The results (fruits) are usually more obvious and inspiring, as well as often more real, since what is being shared and exchanged does not so much consist of ceremonies, rituals, or "something everybody does," but personal communication between two or three parties ("Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them"), often of such quality that a person will feel compelled to share this high-quality device with others.

Instead of referring someone to a building where they can hear someone talk for an hour a week, you're equipping them with the ability to communicate with the Creator 24/7.

It's not that this wouldn't be possible in the conventional model, but generally, it's not commonly practiced.

What if everybody would start hearing from God, and they might have a lot more exciting stuff to tell than the preacher's sermon? - This might happen, you know? - And it might be embarrassing! So, for the sake of preserving peace and order in the church, it is commonly not encouraged that people should engage much in prophecy. In Pentecostal Churches, the speaking of tongues may be a welcome alternative to prophecy, but as Paul said himself, the disadvantage with tongues is that unless what has been said is also being interpreted, none but the speaker will be edified by it, which is one reason why he advocated prophecy as the best gift, except for the gift of love or charity, of course, which he dedicates the entire 13th chapter of 1Corinthians to.

There we also find the information that one day, when that which is perfect - Jesus - will have come, our knowledge, speaking in tongues and prophecies will cease. We won't need them anymore. Other passages (such as Zechariah 13:1-5) seem to confirm this. Why? Because we'll have something better then. Who needs prophecy when you can avail yourself of telepathy?

Hearing from God is something that's going to be as natural as thinking to us someday. So, why not start now?

Listening to a preacher can be great. But it's nothing in comparison to the thrills one can experience when they tune in to what Jesus has to say.

"But what about fellowship?"

As Wayne and Brad from "The GodJourney" often bring out in their podcasts, once you get hooked up with the Source and have a personal relationship with God, you'll be ready and eager for a lot more fellowship with like-minded folks, seekers and believers, than the usual one or two hours a week.

It will come a lot closer to the original excitement that was present when this whole thing started, roughly 1980 years ago: "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42).

You'll know - either for the first time or once again - what it means what the old Sunday School song went on about, "It's bubbling, it's bubbling, it's bubbling in my soul..."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Child Abuse

One of the toughest issues to deal with in any sort of positive way is one I naturally would have shunned to address, (especially as a first issue in a brand new blog), but it just so happens to be something I've just been confronted with recently: the issue of child abuse, and how to deal with it when you're a member of a church or organization that has a list of accusations in this category to deal with.

As my wife brought to my attention, one can research on virtually any religious group in context with allegations of child abuse, and will most likely find something.

It's one of those ugly parts of our reality we have to deal with.

On the other hand, she also said that she did not grow up in any religious movement and church and yet went through such experiences.

They're out there, and not just in the churches and "cults."

So what would be a positive mindset to deal with the issue? Certainly we cannot just wipe the allegations off the table.

An attitude of forgiveness may be what would be recommended for the victims, but that's not so much the issue at stake.

How do you deal with it when you're a member of a group that is being accused of such practices?

Obviously, most people’s immediate advice would be, “Well, get out of there, as fast as you can!”

But we can’t always just “get out of” society as a whole, either, just because bad things happen in it, nor can we always distance ourselves completely from those who have wronged us in the past.

Often, the abused have been victims of their own relative or even parent, and while some victims may choose to sever all ties with them, others may choose to forgive.

Most former abusers know that they have done wrong and take on an apologetic attitude, and thus seek forgiveness. And, of course, it’s always up to the individual whether they are willing to grant that forgiveness, or not.

Another situation arises when a religious group is categorically accused of such practices.

Former victims find themselves banding together in a devout attempt to “destroy” that community, which, realistically, they only stand a chance if the group is small enough.

Certainly, no amount of activism on behalf of abuse victims would realistically stand a chance to close down the Catholic Church, for that matter…

Then there’s another factor: the sensationalism factor. We all know that journalism isn’t necessarily what it used to be, nor is it necessarily what it professes to be.

It’s easy to produce scandalous reproductions of accusations against a small, already persecuted, maligned and harassed religious minority, and there’s nothing the public will welcome more eagerly than a juicy scandal, and some wicked culprit to clobber to make them feel a little bit better about themselves, or vent their inner suppressed frustrations and anger against.

So, while child abuse is certainly one of the ugliest evils in the catalog of human sin, the question is, is it truly noble to try to make profit off of it under the pretext of exposing this evil, but in the process using exaggerations, half-truths, or even downright untruths?

Apparently, the Early Church (what is being referred to as the first Christians during the first three centuries of Christianity’s existence), also had a few culprits guilty of some less than recommendable conduct. We find Paul’s reference to a man who seemed to condone or even advocate sexual intercourse with the wife of one’s father, which in most cases could have even been their mother (see 1Corinthians 5:1-5).

Yet we can safely assume that some of the distortions and exaggerated accusations against Christians, when they were still a small religious minority and persecuted sect, such as allegations of cannibalistic activities, eating human flesh, drinking human blood and making human sacrifices, or putting fire to Rome, etc., had no substance to them.

From my own personal experiences, I know that 70 to 80 percent of what journalists choose to write about the community I am a member of since 30 years, simply does not happen to be true.

Incidents from the past (speaking of two to three decades) are being hauled into the present, and mistakes of someone made long ago and long corrected and regretted are presented as common, everyday practice.

Just as I chose to find a more positive tone to address such issues (as opposed to my former approach), because I had to realize that you cannot combat a negative with yet more negative, it would seem that modern journalism and the way the media generally treat such issues are not really conducive to finding a solution, either, but are rather pouring fuel on a fire by demonizing groups with exaggerations and that sensationalist spirit that seems to have taken the place of what we once used to refer to as “news.”

Instead of reducing the evil of child abuse, it creates more hatred, discrimination and the general false notion that if you stay clear of such groups, you’re safe from any harm and evil.

So, maybe I’m not the only one who needed a change in approaching issues.

The difference is, I can do something about my mistakes, but I can’t do very much about those of others.

While I do understand and sympathize with victims of child abuse and can relate to their anger toward any such group that may have either condoned or perhaps silently tolerated such behavior (although most likely never realistically anywhere close to the extent as portrayed by the media), I also see another side: that of victims of slander, discrimination and labeling that may be causing just as much harm.

It comes easy to our human nature to promote our own side as the only good and righteous one, and another party as the one evil that needs to be destroyed in order to save humanity.

It’s also not beyond our human nature to take advantage of our role as victims. Although none of that excuses any abuse or indecent treatment of one human being by another.

Job, the ancient suffering figure and "victim of God" in the Old Testament, said, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me.” And there is no excuse nor justification for hurting another human being.

But one hurt is rarely ever cured by another, and it’s not really surprising to see that God evidently must have changed His program for the world from “An eye for an eye” to “Love your enemies.”

Perhaps the destruction of the party that wronged you is all you can see as the possible solution or option, but perhaps there is yet another, a better one, after all.

Maybe instead of seeking their destruction, someday we may be content with seeing merely their repentance, will finally hear their apologies and pleas for forgiveness, and thus be ready for forgiveness – a new way of life.

Forgiveness Is a Way of Life

I'm going to roll a new leaf over and try to open up a new chapter of my life with a new and different approach.

I used to deal with negative issues in a way that was honest, direct and in-the-face, but unfortunately not very conducive to finding a positive solution.
So, I'm starting this new blog - a new phase and, in many aspects, a new face for myself - in which I will start to deal with things in a more positive way.

As someone once put it: "The world knows enough hell; let's show them a little more heaven!"

My way of dealing with issues up until this point had a tendency to close doors, rather than open up new ones.

There are a lot of bad things happening in the world, but remaining focused on them too much, or dealing with them in a wrong and negative way, will only give you ulcers.

Nobody's perfect, and humans - all of us - are by nature simply programmed to disappoint another at some point, so we might as well quit expecting performances from ourselves and them that we can't possibly deliver.
- Not that we should only expect the worst from them, either, but we must try to be some kind of inspiration and positive force - a light that lights up the landscape around us, instead of just being another dimmer - that will motivate others to try to bring out the best in them.

I've learned today that forgiveness is more than an act, more than something you do when someone has harmed you.

It's an attitude and a way of life.

No wonder the only prayer the Great Teacher ever taught us to pray includes the phrase "and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" right after "Give us this day our daily bread."
It is dawning on me that a forgiving and merciful attitude toward our fellow humans is just as important to our health and our lives as our daily food.

So, I'm trying a new approach, dedicated to all who have serious issues with all the bad things happening in this world, in what I'm hoping to be a united effort to find some positive answers, a positive approach and way of dealing with these things, so that we can address them without negativity and thus truly contribute to making a better world.

It's relatively easy to see the negative and talk about it. It's by far a greater challenge to find a positive approach toward these issues and try to find a concrete solution.

One of my main issues used to be some people's refusal to even see, much less deal with certain problems in the world and seemingly ignoring them. But I found out that confronting them in the wrong way does not really contribute to improving things either.

So, here's a new attempt and a new start, a new effort to address things in a different, more positive way.
Instead of just pointing the finger at things, I'm going to try to find a positive approach or alternative first, before opening my mouth, or effectively, posting my opinion abut them, even at the risk that this first entry will remain the only one.

But since I have a very good Teacher, I'm positive that there are going to be more positive lessons, conclusions and perspectives to be shared in the future.

My chosen biblical motif for this year was "For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid, that shall not be known" (Luke 12:2).
But I'm going to expand on this and take it to the next level of not just trying to expose ugly truths, but presenting them in the light of the fact that there is no evil, no wrong in this world, that cannot be healed, and that God will not fix, like a song I used to love in the 80s points out, "Earth Has No Sorrow That Heaven Cannot Heal."