Why the New Pew Report Ought to Energize Us As Christian Case Makers

Yesterday’s release of the Pew Research Center’s report, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” affirms what most of us already know: Fewer and fewer people in America identify themselves as “Christian”. I’ve been reading the reaction to the poll with great interest. Many of us seem to still be in denial about this continuing trend away from the Church; some interpret the statistics as little more than movement away from traditional denominations (and not necessarily a departure from Christianity). The interactive data doesn’t support this optimistic view, however. Fewer people appear to believe Christianity is true today than seven years ago, and this should energize all of us to become better Christian Case Makers. Here is what I see in the 2014 Pew Research Center Report:
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Not Opposed to Effort: Solutions for Better Discipleship

(This post is the 4rd blog in a series about the nature of discipleship in our churches today.)

 

In the first post of this series (Read it here) I argued that the American church’s misunderstanding of the phrase “grace is enough” causes us to miss out on what it truly means to be disciples of Jesus. 

To right the ship, we need to understand two roadblocks that prevent us, and others, from following Jesus into the life of discipleship we were created for.

True Greatness

I have always been fascinating by big buildings, especially really tall ones. The Empire State Building is my all-time favorite, but I also admire the iconic Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sear Tower). My dream would be to someday visit the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 160 stories and 2,716.5 feet the world’s tallest skyscraper.

On our recent trip to Israel, I wasn’t expecting to see any tall buildings, or any really big buildings for that matter. The Dome of the Rock is impressive, mainly because of that golden dome that dominates the “skyline” of Jerusalem, but mostly you see very old buildings that are more important for their age and place in history than for their size.

Of course, that was before I learned about Herod the Great, known by that name, not for his reputation as a King, but for his overwrought ambition to conceive and develop some of the most impressive building projects of the ancient world, or any world for that matter. Put all of those tall buildings I mentioned into one portfolio, and they wouldn’t begin to match the construction genius of Herod the Great.

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Transcending Mysteries: The Interview with Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens

Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens are long-time recording artists who tour the country using their gift of song to point people to the Transcendent. As songwriters, they are well versed in crafting melodies that help us connect to a powerful, loving, and all-too mysterious God. Their work with words has led them to write a book together: Transcending Mysteries: Who is God and What Does He Want From Us?   

The book, published by Thomas Nelson, is a deeply personal discovery of God through the pages of the Old Testament. Many of us – Greer and Owens included – struggle with the Old Testament text and the God we find (or think we find) in it. In the earliest pages they confess, “We fell in love with Jesus then had to figure out what to do with God.” And as you will see in the interview below, the authors discovered that when we embrace the struggle and venture into the unknown we will discover beautiful things about God and ourselves.  

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How Humility Helps Us Hear the Gospel

I’ve been writing recently about jury selection. If you are interested in making a case for what you believe as a Christian, you probably already recognize the importance of preparation. You know how important it is to investigate the issues and evidences diligently and to train yourself to articulate the arguments and philosophical premises. You may even envision yourself as a character in a courtroom setting: a detective or prosecutor who cleverly and powerfully makes the case for Christ. To further this vision, you may try to sharpen your investigative skills or your ability as a presenter, hoping your excellence in these areas will make you a better case maker. But as a cold-case detective and part of a three generation law enforcement family, I’ve got a secret I’d like to share with you: the majority of criminal (and civil) cases are won or lost well before the opening statements or closing arguments. Most cases are decided at jury selection.
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Champaign, Illinois

Currently, my office sits on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This public University is home to more international students than any other public institution in the U.S. Currently, we have nearly 10,300 from all over the world.

What is being brought to campus is ingenuity, creatviity, and expertise that will in turn go out worldwide. In other words, the Illinois footprint extends beyond the borders of its own state. Over 2000 students also leave the U.S. to study abroad. So, a constant exchange is going on. This sparks some fascinating conversations and has meant that we consistently learn to cross borders.

And to this end, let me ask you, what borders have you crossed today? From a spiritual perspective, many acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are not the center of all things. From a diplomatic or community perspective, we are also not the center of all things. In each case, we must listen. We must learn. We must engage with that which is different from us.

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What Proximity Is Worth

This post contains excerpts from a piece in mereorthocoxy.com.

Being a blogger and writer on the Internet, there are many amazing people from all over the world who I “know” and have occasional online exchanges with. On rare occasions I get to meet them in person at things like the Q Conference, and it’s a delight for which I am very grateful.

But more and more I see that the relationships that matter most are the ones right in front of me: My wife, church, neighbors, co-workers, the members of the life group I lead, the college students I teach or mentor. These are the people who inhabit my incarnational reality, who show up in my daily and weekly rhythms, who know me in an integrated way. These are the people I grow with. If any of the ideas I gleaned from Q are to develop into good-advancing action, it will be in collaboration with these people.

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How Open-Mindedness Opens the Door to the Gospel

In my last blog post, I talked about the importance of jury selection in any criminal trial. The secret of our success in cold case investigations and prosecutions has been simple: the majority of criminal (and civil) cases are won or lost well before the opening statements or closing arguments. Most cases are decided at jury selection. As the case agent and investigating detective in many high profile criminal trials, I’ve learned to look for three things in every juror, and these are the same attributes I seek in those with whom I share the case for Christianity: I’m looking for people who are passionate about the issues, open to hearing the case and humble enough not to let their ego get in the way. Today I want to talk about the importance of open-mindedness in criminal trials and in making the case for what you believe as a Christian.

Open-Minded Jurors
We ask jurors if they can be fair when making a decision, even though we know they have opinions and potentially dangerous biases. As humans, all of us are profoundly affected by our experiences and personal histories. Some jurors, for example, have law enforcement members or prosecutors in their family; some have family members who have been arrested. When these relationships come to light during the jury selection process, we ask jurors if they will be able to make a fair decision based purely on the evidence presented, in spite of the fact they may have had some past experience with law enforcement (either positive or negative). My son, for example, became a juror (and even served as the foreman) in spite of the fact his father and grandfather were detectives and his best family friend was a criminal prosecutor. Some people are able to put their feelings aside and some are not. If you can’t remain open-minded, you won’t be able to serve on a jury. Everyone has an opinion and a set of experiences. I want jurors who are capable of examining the evidence fairly, regardless of their relationships and past histories. I’m looking for open-minded jurors.

As a Christian case maker, I want to be as effective as possible but I know there are people who have deeply entrenched biases they are unwilling (or presently unable) to resist. They simply cannot be fair. It would be unwise to place someone like this on a criminal jury, and it may be equally unwise to set your sights on someone like this as the focus of your Christian case making. Don’t get me wrong, I still find myself sharing the truth with loved ones who are hostile toward Christianity. After all, when you care for someone it’s hard to resist the temptation to do whatever you can to reach them with the truth. But given my experience with jurors, I am far more realistic now in my expectations. I still look for opportunities, but I know when enough is enough. As Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 7, verse 6), “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” I try to identify people who are capable of examining the evidence fairly, regardless of their relationships and past histories. I’m looking for open-minded jurors.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably encountered your fair share of people who are hostile toward Christianity. Unlike apathetic jurors, people who are unwilling to evaluate our claims fairly have often had a bad experience with Christianity (or, more likely, with Christians). When I encounter people like this, I recognize my responsibility as yet another Christian in their midst. Am I contributing to a negative perception? I don’t want to be yet another reason they dislike Christians. But more importantly, I’ve come to understand the power of prayer in situations like this. Only after God removed my enmity was I ready to hear what anyone had to say about Him. Once I became a Christian, several of my Christian friends and co-workers told me they had been praying for me for years. Whenever I become frustrated with people who are unreceptive to Christianity, I ask myself, “When was the last time I prayed for this person and asked God to remove this hostility?” I’ve learned to pray, watch for God’s activity, and play my role as a good case maker.

The best jurors are passionate, open-minded, and humble, and it’s important to understand these characteristics if we hope to have an impact as Christian Case Makers. If you’ve spent time thinking through the evidence and you think you are prepared to make a case for what you believe as a Christian, take an equally conscientious approach to the selection of your potential jury. Remember, most cases are decided at jury selection. If you spend a little more time choosing your audience, you’ll be far more likely to reach your audience.

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In the Footsteps of Jesus

There are few places in the Holy Land where you can actually say, “I’m walking on the very stones where Jesus put his feet.” Most places the Bible talks about as familiar stomping grounds for Jesus—Bethlehem, Nazareth, the hillsides around the Sea of Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the tomb—are marked in modern-day Israel, but they are approximations, not the actual locations.

There’s no way to know if Jesus was actually at these particular places as they exist today, not with 2,000 years of dust and debris covering them, not to mention the many churches, chapels, shrines and souvenir shops that dot the landscape.

However, there is at least one spot where it’s pretty safe to say, “I’m walking where Jesus walked,” and that’s the Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Suffering,” which courses through the old city of Jerusalem. Our guide assured us that these stones deep beneath the current city streets are in fact the stones Jesus touched as he made his way to the cross.

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Learning Grace and Love from a Baby

Justice is 16 months old now. His personality is beginning to reveal itself and I'm starting to see glimpses of the man God created him to be. He's observant and pays close attention to detail, noticing nuts and bolts, light bulbs and wall clocks. He's relational and playful with our friends’ kids. His greatest joy is to pick up handfuls of dirt which he then meticulously transfers to a nearby location only to drop the dirt, watching its granules slip slowly between his pudgy baby fingers. He's full of life and joy and I absolutely love being his momma.

He's also full of opinions and never hesitates to tell my how he really feels. Like, when he kicks his legs at turbo speed in protest to being carried indoors after so many outside adventures.

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