How To Stay In The Conversation (Part 3)

images.jpegI stumbled across this show on CBS called Bull. I probably have binged a little too hard on it, but the show has been fascinating. The lead actor plays a psychologist who is an expert in trial science. The premise of the show is how every case has facts and every jury (every day people) hear these facts differently. So, Dr. Bull and his team weave the objective facts of the case with a creative narrative together to win legal cases. In most episodes, Dr. Bull chooses to work for the innocent party. The defendant will likely be found guilty aside from his help because the jury has already subconsciously found the defendant guilty prior to any case being heard. Sometimes this subconscious verdict is based on the media, sometimes on how the defendant is dressed or appears, or even the jury’s own self-projection from their life experiences. Dr. Bull and his team choose to present a case and narrative together which highlights the facts the jurors will actually hear.

Throughout the episodes, the narratives usually get quite creative. However, what has never been argued: 1) the objective and verifiable facts, 2) our experiences color how we see and interpret these facts, and 3) there are always more facts to be discovered.

The natural question in today’s world: Can we ever be objective about the facts?

In my optimism, I believe we can get objective facts, but what to do about those facts and how we interpret them will always be highly subjective.

The initial blog post asked: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

My answer: Resilient communication.

So far, I have shared the first two steps (saturation & care). The third step is FACT.

I define FACT as information without bias. Bull provides a colorful depiction of how difficult it is to present the facts without spin. It is inherent in our nature to filter everything we hear through our own lens.

In our culture where truth is “relevant” or “subjective,” FACT seems like an elusive word. The term Fake News has been tossed around. CNN recently ran an ad campaign about defining facts (to which some of you may find ironic). In most cases, everything has a spin. Most facts are articulated from personal perspective and experience, which come in layers and vary widely. Give the NY Post’s quiz on how Facebook defines hate speech a try to see how subjective statements can be. What is the core truth beneath these layers?

Because people are not all-knowing we must learn to ask good questions about the potential narrative being sold to us. Therefore, when staying in the conversation we should present what we think we know humbly and sincerely. Direct information with no judgment is a must. Statements without sentiment should be shared to find common ground from which a relationship can be built.

I would argue whatever facts we do present should be loosely at our fingertips, ready and willing to hear new information. When new information is discovered, we should show grace. Further, avoid leading or suggestive questions. In a conversation which you are trying to listen and learn, you must be careful not to skew the potential response. Suggesting a prepackaged answer will likely create barriers, rather than take them down. We tend to share our views of the facts or our interpretations of them to win, persuade, or achieve some hidden objective.

If the goal is to stay in the conversation, then we must learn to present information without bias. Here are some examples of FACT:

  • Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness about the police brutality against black men, women, and teenagers.
  • Marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control emotions, memory, and judgment.
  • The Bible is God’s special revelation of himself.

These three sentences could be stated very differently.

  • Colin Kaepernick is desecrating the American flag.
  • Marijuana causes negative damage to a person’s body and image.
  • It is wrong to believe in both evolution and the what the Bible says.

These are probably exaggerated and not the best examples. However, when we are in the heat of conversation, we need to be aware of which statements are facts and which sentiments are our feelings toward what has happened.

As a Christian, we need not fear Christianity in the marketplace of worldviews. I believe a Christian worldview is unparalleled to any other worldview. The narrative of God himself coming to rescue and renewal all creation through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the ultimate narrative. Any other narrative which competes for supremacy will inadequately deal with the brokenness of life.

As you talk with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and others online, do you espouse a worldview consistent with Christ, or bias and barriers?

Find the facts. Listen and learn. Stay in the conversation.

Making Jesus Known

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach at The Branch again. View the sermon here. I will have a few more opportunities before the end of the year. We continued our series “Jesus is_______.” The idea from the series comes from Judah Smith’s book Jesus Is______. However, the burden for the series arises out of the mission of The Branch Church. Many people in the Pacific Northwest are uninformed, misinformed, or under-informed about who Jesus is. Therefore, the Branch has a singular mission which affects everything it does. Dave and Lori Vigna have done a wonderful job of keeping this mission front and center.

Know Jesus. Make Him Known.

We need to have an accurate depiction of Jesus. The Jesus we imagine will be the Jesus we follow. The type of Jesus we imagine or characterize a lot about how we feel and then subsequently act in light of our belief about who Jesus is.

How do you picture Jesus? Jesus uses various titles to describe himself in the Gospels, one of the most referred to titles is the “Son of Man.” It is a way in which Jesus testifies that He is the long-awaited Messiah. How would you complete the following sentence: ‘The Son of Man came…’?

There are three ways that the New Testament completes that sentence; while the first two are well known (and might have come to your mind), the third is usually surprising:

  • The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
  • The Son of Man came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34).

While the first two oft-quoted verses tell us about Jesus’ purpose in coming–to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost–the third describes his method. If you flipped through the pages of the Bible and made some basic observations, there are a couple things I think you will notice about Jesus: 1) He is always being invited to parties. 2) He is always at a feast or eating a meal with someone. 3) Complete strangers are coming up to him, both to make audacious requests and to simply be near him.  4) Jesus was always with people. 5) He was always celebrating—at parties, at festivals, at holidays even with the cross coming at the end of his life.

Unknown-1I am convinced some of us have a false view of Jesus. We think of Jesus as some stern old guy looking at everyone in disapproval.  We think Jesus and fun are fundamentally opposed, that God is a cosmic party pooper. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is a better picture of the Pharisees. Those far from God hated the Pharisees, but they absolutely loved Jesus. God invented happiness. He came up with the concept of humor. He created our ability to have fun. He built a beautiful world and gave us five senses to enjoy it.

Jesus is Happy. Jesus smiles. Jesus laughed. Jesus made jokes. Even think about your own experiences. You enjoy a good party. You enjoy friends and laughter. A defining theological principle throughout Scripture is that people are made in the image of God. Therefore, I think God has the best sense of humor and ultimately Jesus was one of the happiest people in the purest sense.

In talking about Jesus, Hebrews 1:9 says, “he was anointed with the oil of gladness above his companions.”

Jesus Is Happy.

That may be a controversial statement for some. Before I go too much farther, let me make another statement. I believe God wants us to be happy.

But here is the thing, being happy, or better, happiness is a fickle thing. In our culture today, happiness has been co-opted in a myriad of ways. Happiness is not an absence of conflict, nor of ultimate comfort. Happiness is not found, rather it is grown.

The pursuit of happiness is like trying to grab smoke. Happiness is like a mirage that we think we see as real, but as soon as we get close it disappears. People attempt to find happiness in status, individual satisfaction, security, and even in the search for self. Happiness makes a great emotion but a terrible master.

The outward display of happiness comes and goes like seasons. I liken the emotion of happiness to a plant. Let’s face it, sometimes we just do not feel happy, nor should we be. God has given us plenty of other valid emotions. Happiness is the fruit or flower of a plant, while internal joy is the root. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, which comes and goes with the circumstances of our life. Joy is rooted internally planted by the seed of salvation.

Therefore, if we want the genuine outward display of happiness to be Christ-like, then we have to cultivate the deep roots of joy. We should not chase after happiness. We should chase after Jesus.

I love how excited Jesus gets when the 72 return in Luke 10:17-24, even though Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, knowing he is heading there to die. I think it is one of Jesus’s happiest moments.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (I think Jesus is making fun of Satan). However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness is a natural result of knowing God and of experiencing his love. We are created by God and for God and we are restless wanderers until we find ourselves in God. Which means, we are happiest when we are joining God in what He is doing.

Trevin Wax in This is Our Time addresses the idea of happiness in light of following Jesus. Many movies allure us into thinking happiness is found when we follow our hearts.

Following Jesus in an era when everyone is following their hearts is difficult, partly because we think we must choose between two options: be authentic and true to yourself, or conform to society’s constraints.

Christianity says, “No thanks” to both. In response to people who believe we should be “authentic” above all else. we say: You don’t know yourself well enough to grasp your deepest desires, and even if you did, your desires are often wrong. We need deliverance from many of our deepest instincts, not the celebration of them.

In response to people who believe we should keep the rules and conform, we say: Salvation does not come through a checklist of rules, as if by willpower we can manage our sin. The gospel frees us from the burden of the law.

Christianity says something different altogether, combining authenticity and conformity in a most creative way.

To be authentic, as a Christian, means I am to be true to the person Christ has named me, not the person I think I am inside. I am to live according to what God says I am–His redeemed child, a person remade in the image of Christ–and I now act in line with that identity. As a Christian, saved by grace through faith, I am not authentic when I sin. I’m sinning against my newfound identity. I am being inauthentic when I choose to disobey God, when I give in to temptation. I’m rejecting the identity God has spoken over me. Tru authenticity is not accepting my own self-expression but accepting the self-expression of God through Jesus Christ.

To be a conformist, as a Christian, means we are seeking to have our minds renewed and our lives transformed. We want to be conformed into the image of Christ. But this conformity means we look like rebels to the rest of the world. The true rebellion is in the heart of the Christian who follows Jesus by swimming upstream against the currents of the world. That means, when everyone else is following their hearts, we will follow Jesus.

The disciples joined Jesus on the journey of eternity. When our story is shaped by God’s story as believers we are to be marked with joy and exude happiness. We should be people of celebration, who really love life! Christians should be the most fun people to be around. We get to live forever!

Eternal life does not start at death; eternal life starts the moment of your conversion. People should look at the church and say “I don’t know if I believe what they believe, but man, they have a good time!”

Jesus was happy and we should be too.

 

How to Stay in the Conversation (Step 1)

If you do a quick Google search on the definition of the word “saturate” chances are the first definition that pops up is:

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 10.00.58 PM

In order to understand why “saturate” is such a critical word, you have to understand the context in which it is coming from. I posted a recent blog on the idea of resilient communication. As a follower of Christ, I desire both my character and priorities to be like His. Therefore, I must be able to stay in tough conversations even when it is not convenient nor pleasant to do so. However, we will not be able to do this on our own.

Left to our own devices, we will default into pointing fingers and heaping blame. In the midst of chaos and pain, there is only one who will see us through. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

The first action step in resilient communication is consistently presenting the same message verbally and non-verbally over and over again. The only way in which Christians can stay in tough conversations and then act accordingly is when we remember that God is a refuge and strength. Remembering how God is our refuge and strength enables us to weather the storm of criticism, pain, suffering, and yet remain unmoved in mission and motive. As the refuge, God ultimately takes the brunt of the attack for us (Ps 57:1).

I asked a few others to help articulate the idea of saturating communication.

“Saturation in Jesus’s model is seen as much in rhythm as it is in my message. Regularly drawing away from the crowd for prayer; regularly explaining his message to the disciples; regularly spending time with both sinners and then religious; regularly proclaiming and sending others out to proclaim the kingdom; regularly refining his followers understanding of who he is and why he was sent to earth. Saturation is much more than a message and encompasses all of life presenting the same God-centered message. Jesus did not just say “seek first the kingdom of God” he himself sought first the kingdom of God. Saturation came through the message and the embodiment of the message.” – Andrew

Saturation is consistently presenting the same posture both in word and in deed until there is no room for any other discernable motive of my actions by the other people than that of genuine love. In communicating with others, a Christian’s posture should be so soaked in humility and grace that it overflows into the lives of others no matter the conversation. Basically, the person whom I am first listening to, and second speaking with, should see and hear a systematic kingdom worldview being expressed–because I am shaped by Christ I value you.

Please do not misunderstand valuing someone for agreement with someone. Valuing them is setting aside your response to what they may be saying in pursuit of giving what they are expressing your full attention and staying curious about it.

We have all been on the wrong end of mixed messages. It is not fun. Mixed messages usually cause conflict, harm, and prolong the underlying issues. Mixed messages do long-term damage because one side usually gets fed-up with the inconsistencies of the other. Frankly, mixed messages deteriorate the trust between people.

Christians are people shaped by the Gospel–the implications of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.

When we are prideful enough to prescribe a solution to a problem when the person whom we are prescribing the solution to does not feel valued and loved, we are sending a mixed message. In fact, in our arrogance we are undermining the Gospel. Pride is the antithesis of humility. A display of pride does not saturate the conversation and instead absorbs all the equity between participants.

In essence, humility is laying down your rights for another’s (Phil. 2:3-4).

Regardless of the context, Jesus consistently presented a message about the kingdom  (the way) of God. The way of God which Jesus presented was both consistent with the Law and the Prophets as well as His own actions. Jesus did not just talk about the kingdom; Jesus lived the kingdom. He did so with expressed humility as Paul articulates in Philippians 2.

Jesus’s life was a life of giving–giving away what the Father had given him (John 15:15; 17:4, 8, 14). Jesus gave himself to those about him so that they might come to know through his life a similar commitment to the mission for which he had come into the world. In everything, it was made abundantly clear that the word which had been written in the Scriptures and the word spoken by Christ were not contradictory, but rather complementary to each other; Jesus’s actions clarified the motive behind the mission. Here’s the thing, consistency is key because people will not always get the message you try to communicate.

My friend Spencer rightly articulates that “Saturation is when the message finally sinks in.” Spencer continued, “When I think of this in Jesus’s life, the first thing which comes to mind is how Jesus repeatedly told his disciples he must die and after three days rise; and, their repeated failure to understand why.”

However, it was only in experiencing the implications of the Gospel when Jesus’s message and model finally sunk in. In experiencing the consistency of Jesus, people responded with self-judgment because they realized how inconsistent they were. Jesus did not ask anyone to do or be anything which first he had not demonstrated in his own life. The first-century audience could not stay in the conversation because their lives were not willing to lay down their conceptions in exchange for the kingdom posture embodied in Jesus.

The message we want to saturate our world with is one of God’s grace and love for us, our gratitude and humility toward him, and our hope in the middle of chaos and pain.

Let that message saturate your worldview so that your model of that message begins to saturate the world.

 

 

Staying In The Conversation

Over the past several weeks, various questions posed to me have been sifting through my head. There is one, in particular, I would like to address: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

In light of the recent national anthem protests, I think the idea of staying in a tough conversation and actually having dialogue is more important than ever. The solution is never as simple nor as clear as we think it should be.

Unknown-3I am white. I am not a veteran. My worldview is shaped by my cultural experience. Therefore, I lack the perspective of both an entire population of people who have not had many of the advantages I have received and a group who have fought for life, liberty, and freedom. When issues like the protesting during the national anthem come along, I lack the ability ON MY OWN to see the complexity of how those unlike me are experiencing our country. I can easily dismiss the pain of people I refuse to listen to on the both sides of any issue. Our country is polarized once again.

The best answer, or better response, to the present tension I have come up with (so far) is called resilient communication. I spent some time recently in Mark 4 reading the parable of the sower and connected passages. One of the most difficult challenges about the passage is the seeming mixed message Jesus sends. Greg Lanier puts it this way:

In other words, Jesus speaks in parables so that some will “hear” his teaching and “see” the coming kingdom but not truly “hear and see” (and consequently, not respond with repentance and faith). One immediately uncovers the tension here: Is Jesus saying his preaching is designed for failure to produce results? Is he intentionally being obscurantist to turn people away?

As Lanier later describes, Jesus is standing in a long line of prophetic tradition. Mark cites Isaiah’s call in 6:9-10. Prophets use parables of all sorts to veil and unveil the truth, to bring hearers to the point of recognizing their own self-judgment, and to produce a response to God.

Jesus tactfully shares the word, so that listeners want to stay in the conversation even if they may never hear the words shared. Some stay in the conversation, which is why crowds follow Jesus. It is also why the Pharisees freak out. The Pharisees and scribes have rightfully perceived Jesus’s words and, in light of their own-self judgment, respond negatively. The sinners and tax collectors have also perceived and consistently gather to get to know this potential Messiah. Staying in the conversation involves both the communicator and the listener.

I would argue in today’s world we need to rediscover the art of resiliency in communicating, but primarily in the aspect of listening. When we resiliently communicate we can own our personal worldview, while also remaining humble and teachable in the conversation. First, what is resilience?

Resilience: The revelation of our innate human ability to cope, survive, and then grow.

Resilient listening: Staying in the conversation when I do not like it. Staying in the conversation when I disagree with the “facts” I hear and even the worldview communicated. Resilient listening is keeping curious even when I do not want to be. It is not merely waiting to talk, but listening to understand.

In the holistic idea of resilient communication, there are several action items. I hope to tease out each action item over the next several weeks as I attempt to listen to others. For the meantime, I will provide the list with brief definitions.

  1. Saturation – consistently presenting the same message (not-mixed messages).
  2. Care – meeting immediate physical needs.
  3. Fact – information with no bias.
  4. Demonstrate empathy – sharing another’s feelings.
  5. Follow-through – persevere with action in the process.

Throughout resilient communication the idea of self-judgment is key. It is our own self-judgment which prohibits us from resiliently listening. Our idols keep us from conversing with other humans.  In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”

Idols are the things that rattle us when they are threatened. As our model for humanity, Jesus stayed in tough conversations. He sat with people. He listened. He shared about  God’s design for the world (which transcended any geopolitical entity). Those who could not handle the diversity and constant challenges to their thinking withdrew from the conversation. Eventually, these people killed Jesus.

As people measured themselves against the compassion and kindness of Jesus, they realized how utterly they fell short of the beautiful standard. Because Jesus embodies God’s rightful kingdom manifested, those in the first century are fascinated and frustrated. The many parables, teaching, and life of Jesus provided saturation, care, fact, empathy, and follow-through. Jesus saw each person as having value and worth.

As we engage in the national conversation, how does our posture align with Jesus’s model of resilient communication?

Today, we verbally assault each other without resiliently listening to each other. We heap self-judgment upon ourselves when we cannot handle the reality that we don’t know what we don’t know. We live in a world of “experts” whose Ph.D. is Google, YouTube, and social media posts. In order to move forward together, let us practice the art of resilient communication. Sit down with someone different than you. Stop shouting. Start listening. Stay in the conversation.

 

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” – James 1:19-20

The New Apologetic

Reading and studying other writers and thinkers have been immensely helpful in shaping my view of cultural engagement and practical ministry. One of the most helpful thinkers I have followed is Derek Rishmawy. Yesterday he shared an excerpt from his essay in the new work Our Secular Age.

His essay focuses on applying Charles Taylor’s insights to ministry to Millennials growing up in the Super-Nova of belief and the internet age, (and really anybody inhabiting our cross-pressured age). Here are both the excerpt and his full post:

We’ve reached the point where everybody has to preach apologetically, even if your congregation isn’t mostly millennial. To be clear, I don’t think such preaching is simply a matter of incorporating in every sermon arguments for the resurrection, or the existence of God, and so forth (though some of that might help). Instead, we need to actively answer objections to the gospel from inside the mindset of our cross-pressured culture on a regular basis as a part of ourscriptural exposition.

We need to show the consistency, coherence, and comeliness of the gospel to this generation. But it is not enough to simply defend the gospel. Present the way it interrogates the dominant, unquestioned narratives of our hearers—on meaning, money, sex, power, politics, gender, and so forth—and actually makes better sense of the world than any other view on offer.

This precise line of thinking contributed my recent post on the Bible. The necessity of engaging people in the internet age apologetically is why works Unparalleled by Jared C. Wilson and The Problem of God by Mark Clark shot up my reading list.

I am also convinced that everybody does not only have to preach apologetically, but churches must disciple others with the apologetic necessity in mind. I am sorry (not really) but “because the Bible says so” is no longer a persuasive statement.

What might a few disciple-making essentials need to be, which will help establish a consistency, coherence, and comeliness of the gospel in the life of a believer?

 

I could probably suggest several essentials. Developmentally in the life of a believer, I think there are five core markers which are built on. However, primary to the other four is the understanding of one’s identity in Christ.

Did you know there are 33 Things that happen at the moment of salvation? That’s right. There are thirty-three instantaneous and simultaneously given riches of God’s grace poured out on the believer.

That’s right. There are thirty-three instantaneous and simultaneously given riches of God’s grace poured out on the believer.

There are thirty-three instantaneous and simultaneously given riches of God’s grace poured out on the believer.

When we rightfully understand who God is and how he acts, we grasp the power of our new identity. Because God sent Jesus to live a perfect life, die on the cross, and then be resurrected, we now have the ability to know God personally. When God saves us and we believe, we experience the thirty-three things.

God is, so God does; therefore, we are, so we do (living apologetically).Unknown-2

How would your life change? What apologetic would be projected into the world if you lived in light of your identity in Christ? Here are fifteen. Why not begin a search for the rest?

  1. Forgiven
  2. Child of God
  3. Having access to God
  4. reconciled
  5. justified
  6. Placed “in Christ”
  7. Acceptable to God
  8. Heavenly citizenship
  9. A part in the eternal plan of God
  10. Free from the law
  11. Adopted into the family of God
  12. Delivered from the power of darkness
  13. A chosen generation
  14. United to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  15. Possessing every spiritual blessing