Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Theology vs. simple minds, and a word of caution to smarty pants Bible students [Quote]

I sat in the back of the classroom rubbing my forehead and listening to my professor explain Soteriology (which is a fancy term for the study of Jesus' forgiveness of our sins). He explained the surprisingly vast views of Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Armenians, and a few other sects of Jesus' followers.

Photo courtesy of SMB College at Flickr.com
At some point during his lecture, after my eyes glazed over from the complexity of the issue, a question popped into my head. I thought, Wait a minute! If the gospel is for everyone, doesn't it need to be simple enough for even the simplest of people to understand it?

Monday, October 27, 2014

6 Things to love and loath about raising teenagers.

When I was 16, I swore to myself that I would never turn into my father. I thought he was the most uncool, out of touch, meanest, controlling person on the planet. I thought I'll never raise my kids this way. I'll be so much better. He doesn't get me, nobody gets me. Psh!

Fast-forward a bit and now I have a 16 year old of my own. Her name is Alura, and she has become my beautiful, spectacular reality check.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Facing the recent criticism on my blog. And how to respond to criticism wherever it pops up.

This may come as a surprise, but occasionally people will read my blog and disagree with the things I write. Gasp! I know. And some of those people have been leaving comments to let me know how much they disagree with me. Wanting to be respectful to my commenters, I won't point specific ones out in this post. Instead, I'll simply acknowledge the types of criticism that have been I've seen.

Photo of adorable cats courtesy of Found Animals Foundation on Flickr.com
The recent criticisms that have popped up on Timhswanson.com have been in response to some of my family leadership posts, and the ideas in those post. But regardless of where criticism come from , or where it's directed, there are only two kinds of criticism. There's constructive criticism, which seeks to inform and educate you on how you can do better. And then there's good ol' regular criticism, which simply voices disagreements without any concern for being helpful.

Recently I've received comments containing both kinds of criticism. Some of it seems to be well placed and constructive. And some of it seems less than constructive. The hard part about it is that criticism is painful.

Even constructive criticism, if intentionally worded, can be needlessly hurtful. And while we all experience criticism from time to time, the truth is, criticism only serves to put the ball in our court by giving us a chance to respond. So as I continue working to discover more potential in my life, I'm faced with the challenging question - how will I respond to criticism?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Regular waitresses are teaching the key to limitless inspiration, don't miss out!

There's a little cafe near my house that I go to frequently. So frequently, in fact, that I don't even have to order anymore. When I sit down, my favorite waitress, Sherrie, brings me a cup of coffee and a number 1 (sunny-side up, hash browns, wheat toast).

Photo courtesy of Chris Goldberg at Flickr.com
There are a lot of things that make that cafe my favorite breakfast joint, but near the top of the list is that, in more than 5 years of eating there, Sherrie has never let my coffee cup sit empty for more than a minute or two. Every few minutes, she passes my table and tops me off. And I always drink way too much coffee when I go there. And curing a recent visit, Sherrie's service showed me where I had been missing out big time in my own life.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The crucial difference between Jesus and the Devil, and what it means for your mind

If I asked you to, in one word, describe what the Devil does, what would you say? Most people (at least the ones I asked) would say "the tempter" or "the tormentor" or something like that. And those answers are accurate.

Photo courtesy of Willaim Brawley at Flickr.com
There is, however, another distinct title that bares more weight, especially to Christians. And you need to know about it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

My atheist neighbor knows God's heart for evangelism better than most Christians [Video]

So, I totally reneged on the commitment I made last week. I wrote about how I typically ignore the verses that my boss gives me to preach on, and this time I really wanted to stick with the given text for once. Then I threw it out anyway. But only because I found a really awesome one. 

My church's current series, Domino Effect, has been about God's plan to save the world. Part of the plan is Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection. And the other part of the plan is us. God has always intended to work through His people to save the world. 

The sermon below is about three types of Christians, and how they approach the sharing of the gospel. And here's a spoiler alert, two of them are not helpful. And the Bible only calls us to one of them. 

So please give the sermon a watch or a listen, and then feel free to stick your thoughts, questions, or constructive criticisms in the comment section below. I also included a synopsis of the sermon below in case you're unable to watch the video. 

Having trouble viewing this video?  Click here to watch. from moonvalley on Vimeo.

If you're unable to watch the video, here's a synopsis of the sermon. 

God wants to save the world, and He wants to use us to do it. So He's called us to lean toward our neighbors with love (Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31). And in Colossians 4:5-6, Paul addresses the way we're supposed to talk to our neighbors while we're leaning toward them. He says:

"Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." Colossians 4:5-6
Paul's words point out three kinds of Christians that live today, but only one of these three Christians takes an approach that is helpful in sharing the gospel with most people. So we'll use these three kinds of Christians as a framework for explaining Paul's words. Here they are.

Silent Stan
There's a mentality among some Christians that goes like this: We want to live our lives in such a way that our actions share our faith without any need for words. Here's the only problem with that - it doesn't work.

Our faith is such a central part of our lives, that we're bound to talk about it. And Paul's words acknowledge that. When it comes to communicating with outsiders, he says, "Let your speech be always gracious."

The implication here is that, as we interact with other people, we will talk about our faith. And claiming that we can do so without using words doesn't make any sense. It'd be as if  I claimed that the wedding ring on my finger clearly communicates everything my friends need to know about my marriage.

In reality, no one knows me for very long before I tell them about my wife, and how awesome she is. And the reality is this - if we have a living, growing relationship with Jesus, we're going to talk about it.

Megaphone Mike
This title belongs to Christians who see every non-Christian a conversion challenge to present the Gospel. His attitude says: If you don't know Jesus, I'm going to tell you about Him, no matter what. He's got a really noble heart. Unfortunately, he's relationally def and blind.

When his non-Christian friends and neighbors are talking to him, they sense that he's only listening to them in as far as he has to in order to jerk the conversation back to where he needs it so that he can give them a full gospel presentation.

Paul confronts the attitude of this guy with his very next phrase, "Let your speech be always gracious" His words call us to use common sense and authentic love when it comes to conversations with people who don't know Jesus. And that requires a totally different kind of attitude.

Authentic Andy
This is the attitude that Paul is calling Christians to. He says, "Let your speech be... seasoned with salt" And the imagery here is that there's a level of measuring that comes with quality interactions with you and your non-Christian neighbor.

If Silent Stan is represented by almost no salt and Megaphone Mike is represented by way too much salt, then Authentic Andy sits somewhere in the middle. He wants to make the best use of his time. And while he's not afraid to talk about his faith, he also ensures that his conversations are seasoned with salt and not containing an unwanted and off-putting gospel presentation.

My interaction with an Atheist. 
Last week, Allison and Invited our neighbors over for dinner. They don't go to church. In fact, Alex (the husband) identifies himself as an atheist.

At some point during the evening we ended up talking about our beliefs. And while I don't want to give out our whole conversation, I do want to share some of the text message that Alex sent me the following day. He said, "Thanks for reaching out and suggesting dinner last night. We had a really great time... I appreciate so much connecting with you on a human level, knowing that religion is always present, but like you said last night, never a hidden agenda."

I think that my neighbor, Alex, nailed the heart of Paul's words when he said, "religion is always present, but... never a hidden agenda," He nailed it so well, in fact, that I used his words as the big idea for my sermon.

This week as you interact with you neighbors and contemplate sharing your faith, think about the words of an atheist:

Let your faith be, "always present, but never a hidden agenda."

Please leave your comments in the section below. Thanks for reading.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Babies hold the universal secret to an awesome prayer life

Prayer can be so frustrating. Not only is it hard to find time to pray, but when you finally sit down to dig in it can feel almost impossible to focus.

At least, that was always my problem. In the past, I've often left prayer times feeling more anxious than when I sat down. I felt like I just couldn't get it. Then not too long ago, I felt God calling me to pray more. I told Him I wasn't any good at it, and He revealed the secret to me - through my two year old son.