On Sunday, P.J. Smyth interviewed Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett who shared about his journey from abject poverty in Louisiana, to college, law school, and ultimately, public service. Ike offered warm words of encouragement for getting involved in serving those in need in our community.
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March 7 2016 at 12:38 pm 1 Comments
I do a number of classes that introduce people to the Christian faith. Many who attend are not just exploring Christianity but religion in general. A regular question that comes up is: "How do I know what religion is the true religion?"
This is a hard question to answer because I know an answer loaded with Bible verses will not work. I try to give an objective answer and so here is what I often say.
First: Consider the place of personal satisfaction.
What gives you peace, comfort, and fulfillment? I start here because this is perhaps what draws most people to search for religion. People have a sense they were created for something, they have a sense they are not as happy as they should be. It is often the lack of peace, comfort, and answers to life that caused them to search for deeper answers.
Does this religion give suitable answers to why we lack peace, comfort, happiness? It’s not enough to give joy and hope but does the reason for why these things are not present really make sense. This side of our personal satisfaction and existence is an important one to look at but it is also a category that often gets elevated too high. True peace and comfort do not come from themselves but is often a byproduct of other things.
Second: Consider the normative or authoritative basis of that religion.
This focuses on the basis of its beliefs as well as the rightness of those beliefs. Religions give explanations for how to find happiness, peace, truth, life, and much more. These explanations should be examined. Anyone can make claims, but what is the justification of those claims? I can say I am a world class athlete but is there any justification to believe that? The basis for the claims of the religion should be grounded in truth. If they are based on fable or musings that either are not true or do not have a basis then they are not worth trusting.
The rightness of the claims, commands, and justification should also be examined. Does the religion speak of rules and commands that are right and just? Religion gives a way of viewing the world and of knowing what is right and wrong. These things should make sense of the world and accord with what is right, good and true. If it gives commands that are morally wrong, how can we submit to it or trust in it?
The rightness of religion can be hard to judge. We all sometimes look at true facts and refuse to accept them. Our failure to acknowledge such facts does not negate their truthfulness. After all, the truth is true by itself and not because we recognize it. So certainly the true religion must be true even if we do not recognize it. And if we are not following the truth then it only makes sense our judgment of it will develop as we experience it. This is why a search for truth often results in a change of our own standards.
The aspect of the authority or justification is important because a religion based on falsities can not provide peace. Imagine if you were in a building that is structurally unsound. You feel it swaying in the air and the floor shaking under you. You could try to have all the inward peace you want but if the foundation is not secure there is no inward peace. The same is true of religion. If its basis is not true there can be no peace, comfort, etc.
Third: Religion should illuminate the situation we are in.
It ought to be satisfying when applied and lived. The true religion must make sense of our situation and shed light on how to live and act rightly. This can in part be a way we judge the truthfulness of it. True religion ought to make clear the right and wrong way to do things. If it doesn’t illuminate these, how helpful is it? If it doesn't shed light on how to live and how the world works, then why would we believe its claims about God?
It ought to instruct what leads to happiness and peace. It ought to inform what is good and evil and also what is good and gooder. It ought to direct how we think, live, and feel. Here we see how the personal satisfaction and objective basis come together in how we live practically. If it is true then it ought to lead to a life that is desirable. If people are living according to the true God and in harmony with his plan and experiencing peace and joy then there should be something attractive about their life. We should see people, husbands, wives, children, workers, students, and so on knowledgeable about life and enjoying it.
If we want peace with God in our life then the true religion must instruct in how God is at the center of all we think, do, speak and feel. If we want his peace and comfort in every moment then there ought to be a way to experience his rule, guidance, and presence in all we do. The true religion must be personally satisfying, objectively true and circumstantially illuminating in all we do. It should give a view of all of life that is coherent and satisfying.
These are some reasons for determining the true religion. There are many others but these broad categories that you and your unbelieving friends or neighbors may find helpful.
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January 19 2016 at 12:43 pm 0 Comments
On Sunday, P.J. Smyth presented his 2016 "Outward Living Plan" to encourage us to make friends, build relationships with our co-workers, acquaintances and neighbors.
Step 1: Make Genuine Friends with Unbelievers
- Think relatives, neighbors, colleagues, those with shared interests in your current rhythm of life. God has placed you!
- Prioritize a few people and make it your aim to become a brilliant friend.
- Pray for them.
No friends? Think about rhythms of life:
a) Gym, hairdresser, out walking, etc.
b) Hobby: running club / walking club / dog / kids sports team
c) Meals: 21 per week
Step 2: Naturally Engage on Spiritual Things
- Let these friends know you are a Christian, in a natural, unforced way.
- Live an attractive, authentic life, not perfect, but not high maintenance.
- Be honest about your struggles: don’t hold out Christianity as a self-improvement scheme. Share how your faith helps you.
- Listen to your friend’s problems; maybe offer to pray for them.
- Ask about their faith, and just listen. You might say, “Are you a person of faith? What does that look like for you?” If they say, “I don’t believe in God” say, “Tell me more about that” Don’t show disapproval if you disagree with what they believe. Ask questions and listen with interest. This is what friends do! It is also an expression of love, respect and humility, and it will help you understand them better. It may also mean that in due course they are more open to hearing your view of faith.
Step 3: Draw people into your church community
- Informally socially, or more formally socially, e.g., interest groups (book club, sport)
- Can freeload on others’ friendships. Fish as a team.
Step 4: Personal and Public Proclamation
- Personal: Prepare and use personal tools:
a) Personal testimony: 30 sec and 3 min versions. Keep it real. Share how your faith helps you; e.g., stress, fear, drivenness.
b) Learn 2-4 ways to frame the Gospel
c) A stash of resources to give: “This helped me.”, “I would be interested to see what you think of this.”
- Public: Think what’s first: Social action or Introducing God course? Sunday? Particular preacher or series?
Our 2016 Goals
- Invite at least one unbeliever to our Easter Service. (i.e. “A tradition we have is to go to church on Easter and then eat together, and we would love you to join us.”, “Kids have a blast.”, “We’ve got this new pommie pastor who I am still working out; would love your perspective.”)
- Have a couple of friendships developing nicely by the fall. This gives our church a chance to gear up in a few areas.
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December 1 2015 at 3:06 pm 1 Comments
Covenant Life members: This week the first issue of Missio Dei will appear in your inbox. The Missio Dei is a new online newsletter produced quarterly by a team of church members and Missions Department staff. The title comes from a Latin phrase meaning “mission of God." As Timothy Tennent explains, “Mission is first and foremost about God and His redemptive purposes and initiatives in the world…To put it plainly, mission is far more about God and who He is than about us and what we do.”
Amazingly, though mission begins and ends with God, He calls us to be part of His mission in the world. In each issue of Missio Dei you will find stories about people in our church who are joining God in His mission, both locally and globally.
Some missions demand the elite training and courage of "the few ... the proud ... the Marines." Fortunately for us, God calls and empowers all of his followers to join His mission. We hope the Missio Dei will both inspire and encourage you to play your part. And no matter how big or small that part might be, we look forward to the day when we can tell your story in Missio Dei!
First issue of The Missio Dei HERE.
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November 24 2015 at 2:59 pm 0 Comments
This January we are once again holding the Introducing God course. On Sunday, we enjoyed Sharon Harvey's testimony of how God transformed her life through the last session of Introducing God.
"I can't begin describing my Introducing God experience without first sharing a bit about my personal spiritual journey. I grew up believing that success depended on my own efforts. I was hard on myself when I failed, and even when I did succeed, my life felt empty. I was never satisfied, and I felt I needed to be perfect all the time. Gradually, I began to think my hard work defined my self-worth, and I started seeking other people’s approval to fill that emptiness. I reached a low point after college, and questions in the back of my mind began to surface. What is all this hard work for and what is my purpose? I had grown up hearing my cousin speak about God, but I had always been indifferent. However, God, in his mercy and grace, used this weak point in my life to persuade me to learn more about Him.
With the encouragement of a friend and now a precious sister in Christ, Hannah Stogsdill, I started attending Sunday sermons at Covenant Life Church. Introducing God happened to be starting their Spring 2013 class around the same time, and Hannah invited me to attend the course with her. During the next 9 weeks, I witnessed God's transforming power, heard countless testimonies, and learned more about God's merciful and forgiving nature. Most of all, I came to experience Christ's love through the thoughtful conversations, questions, and care of my discussion group. As I grew closer to Hannah and these brothers and sisters, I also grew closer to the Lord. I learned through them that Jesus Christ sacrificed his perfect life on the cross for a sinner like me. I didn’t need to earn God’s love. He loves me unconditionally, and he was calling me to satisfy all my needs and desires in Him. The emptiness I felt in my life started to be filled. A few months after taking the course, I had proclaimed my trust and faith in my Lord and Savior.
The Lord used these godly brothers and sisters, some of whom have become my best friends, to be salt and light in my life, and it is with joy and thanksgiving that I can now be a witness to others of God's saving power. I would like to invite you now to join me in serving in this ministry to be a witness to others and to be a part of God's great commission to make disciples. God's plans are bigger than our own, and He may just use you to transform another person's life like he used many others to transform mine. And if you are not a Christian, I encourage you to attend. Not only will this course challenge your own beliefs and give you a fresh perspective on Christianity, it will also give you lifelong friends and a heart for the Lord."
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October 27 2015 at 9:58 am 1 Comments
Recently I read a blog post by Trevin Wax about Tim Keller's thoughts on the secularization of the American culture. Interestingly, Keller says the number of devout Christians is actually growing but the biggest change in the culture is the disappearance of nominal Christianity. The culture's nominal Christian majority has functioned as an umbrella protecting Christianity. Now this big majority is disappearing and leaving a polarization of the secular and the devout. Keller’s thoughts on this are insightful as always, and you can read the full article here. What I want to add to this conversation is what it means in regards to reaching the culture with the gospel. Here are a few points.
1. We will have to demonstrate our love to the lost by crossing greater distances.
Our Lord was a friend of sinners, and we ought to follow him in this. Our love today will have to cross seemingly greater barriers and distances than before. If we are going to show the love of Christ to those who do not know it, then it will mean going to people who are very different from us. It’s hard being around people who don’t think like you or share your values, and the differences between Christians and non-Christians are greater than ever in this country. Crossing these social barriers is hard but also a great opportunity to show the love of Christ to others, because without the love of Christ there really is no reason to go outside our own cozy network of people.
2. We will have to be bold.
It takes boldness and confidence to stand in the midst of those who are different than you or to stand up for something you believe is right. There will be many opportunities for this. It is not easy being a Christian, and as we stand out hopefully it will not be because of outdated wardrobes. Hopefully while the world dismisses certain things as cooky, they will also see something of the love, peace, joy, and hope that Christ promised to his people. The new contrast in culture may present a greater opportunity than ever for the hope of the gospel to shine forth. We should be confident of that.
3. We need to be articulate in our explanations of the faith.
Trite answers will not convince. A great number of people in the culture do not believe in God and their whole view of life orbits around a different center. We need to have well thought out and winsome answers to questions that come up. We should also remember differences on ethical or political topics are more superficial issues. These topics help us understand a person's view of the world, and we should dig deeper into their ultimate hope or purpose for life and the basis of their beliefs. Most people today are not religious nor are they philosophers, and so their views on life come together more like a set of random tweets than a coherent and connected system of beliefs. There are often large gaps in their views that a Christian worldview makes sense of. Christians should work hard for good solid explanations for the fundamental issues of life.
4. We should be in it for the long haul.
People don’t change their view of life very quickly. It takes time. If someone has never heard of Jesus or belief in God then they will probably have a lot of questions they want answered before changing their minds. We should embrace this as a part of reaching others, and we should not be discouraged if it takes a long time. People give up witnessing because they think it should be quick and easy. It's not. Convincing others about Christ more than likely will take a lot of time and conversation. If we genuinely love the people we are trying to reach this isn’t bad or hard. We can enjoy the process just as Jesus seemed to enjoy his company. And that is truly sharing the love of Christ.
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