Christianity 201

October 27, 2019

The Chain of Grace – Part Two

NLT.2Cor.5.20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

The Voice.1Cor. 1.17 The mission given to me by the Anointed One is not about baptism, but about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

CEB. 2Tim.4.5 But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances. Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully.

Yesterday we looked at what I could call the vertical chain of grace; the idea of one generation passing its faith and faith-values on to the next.

There is also a horizontal chain of faith that happens when peers share their faith with friends, relatives and acquaintances (neighbours, workmates, fellow-students) who respond. One of the best stories I ever heard in church a youth service where a girl, got up and (I’m changing the names at this point, I am sure) said, “My name is Amanda…” and then went on to tell the story of how her life was changed because of a friend named Brittany. Then the next one stepped up and began, “My name is Brittany…” and told her story of coming to faith because of the influence of a girl named Crystal. Next — and you’re probably guessing the pattern already — a girl stepped to the microphone and started with “My name is Crystal…” and told her story which included being invited to an event by her friend Danielle.

You might think this all sounds too contrived to be true, but when the last girl got up and said, “Hi, I’m Danielle…” I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. You could hear a pin drop.

My goodness, this works! This sharing your faith thing really, really works, and just last night we heard a very similar story involving three different peers…

…There is a third element to the chain of faith model, and as we thought in terms of horizontal (width) and vertical (length), we couldn’t think of a word to describe a depth of cooperation between various parties, so feel free to comment, but I’m calling this a trans-sectional chain of faith.

I took a picture of this page from The Message Bible to use in a presentation my wife and I shared yesterday morning. It’s from Romans 10:14.

NIrV.Rom.10.14 How can they call on him unless they believe in him? How can they believe in him unless they hear about him? How can they hear about him unless someone preaches to them?

What I believe sets this model apart is that it applies to a single conversion story and there may be different parties involved in the calling and sending of those who do the work of an evangelist. Different people responsible for the training and equipping. Different people responsible for the accountability and oversight. Different people caring for the follow-up and discipleship of this one individual.

Perhaps the above verse doesn’t have this as finely tuned, but it talks about process. Believing follows an awareness of the Jesus redemption story, which follows a presentation of that same story.

Perhaps this one is clearer, but I did want to include the above passage as well.

NLT.1Cor.3.It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

It’s similar to the horizontal chain, but each part is now serving a different purpose in a single story. Each participant is one part of a chain of grace leading a single person to faith.


Go Deeper: What’s involved in the decision making process? Refer back to this model we presented in January, 2018, The Steps to Decision.

 

January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision (C201 Version)

If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  (Romans 10:14)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:5-6)

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NLT)

One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! (John 9:25b)

…also…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…” (Matthew 7: 21-23a)

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud I shared that at home we had been discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. It reminded me of a graphic image I had in my files, but then discovered some people had improved on the one we posted there in March, 2014.

One of the challenges we face comes when we try to make things into a formula or try to over-analyze what God is doing by the Holy Spirit in human hearts. As someone once described it, “The problem of trying to figure out how a cat works is that once you dissect it, it no longer works.” Furthermore, God is working in different ways in different peoples’ lives.

So where did the graphic come from? Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, a pre-internet generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

Why does it matter?

I suspect that many of us, in our interactions with people expect them to move more rapidly to the point of decision. We’re aware of imperatives like “Choose today whom you will serve;” and “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” We’ve heard the story of D. L. Moody opting not to give an invitation at the end of a message, only to have many hundreds who were there that day perish that week in the Chicago Fire. We long for instantaneous results.

While a crisis experience can definitely spark conversion, I think it’s more likely to be a process. Furthermore, we know statistically that guilt and fear may result in short-term decisions, it definitely is detrimental to the making of long-term converts. The attrition rate for those guilted in or scared in is quite high.

Discipleship is also a process involving much followup post-decision. There’s a second part to Engel’s graphic that we didn’t share this morning at Thinking Out Loud that I want to share here:

Today’s thoughts began with some verses on the subject of salvation. To my mind, they seem much more simple compared with the complexity of the upper graphic. But I am aware that as God is a work the lives of our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers; it may be that a change in the heart needs to be accompanied by a change of mind on various aspects of the gospel, and this might move forward in stages, rather than all at once.

Read the verses again in the light of the chart, and read the chart again through the lens of the verses. Is there someone in your sphere of influence who God is telling you might want to progress on the journey to decision and discipleship?

 

October 30, 2012

Andy Stanley on Practical Teaching

This is from the recently released book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love To Attend (Zondervan, hardcover) in which Andy Stanley, writing primarily to church leaders, shares the behind-the-scenes secrets of North Point Community Church in north Atlanta, Georgia.

It’s unfortunate that someone can grow up hearing sermons and Sunday school lessons, yet never be captivated by the Scriptures. But, unfortunately, that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. And this is not a twentieth- or twenty-first century problem.

When Jesus finished what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records the crowd’s response:

Matthew 7: 28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

All teaching and preaching is not the same. The first-century teachers of the law were teaching from the same script Jesus would refer to throughout his earthly ministry. But there was something different about his presentation. He spoke with authority. Apparently he had a passion the other teachers lacked. More specifically, he wasn’t satisfied to simply say what was true. He want his audience to act on what they heard. As you may recall, he closed that particular message with a specific call to action along with an emotionally charged promise and warning:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock … 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

Jesus taught for a response. He taught for life change. He didn’t come simply to dispense information. We rarely find him chastising people for their lack of knowlede. It was almost always their lack of faith evidenced by a lack of application. “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” he asked the disciples in the midst of a terrifying ordeal on the water (Matt. 8:26). Jesus wasn’t after mental assent to facts. Jesus was after active, living, do-the-right-thing faith. And when he taught, he taught with that in mind.

…Practical teaching that moves people to action is one of the primary things God uses to grow our faith.

…Our messages and lesson preparations are not complete until we know what we want our audiences to do with what they are about to hear. To grow our congregants’ faith, we must preach and teach for life change.

Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide, pp. 112-114